Thursday, July 10, 2008

Our NYC trip

Husband Eddie expounds on our NYC trip:
Our once-a-year theater and club marathon in New York was better than ever this year. We were blessed once again with warm but not oppressive weather and only a few rain sprinkles here and there. We saw some dear friends and stayed once again at our home-away-from home, the gorgeous and Chelsea-centered apartment of our best buds, M&M. And then there was the theater: 13 shows with all but one being great choices. Here's the day-by-day assessment and account:

August: Osage CountySaturday: We touched down early at JFK in the late afternoon and were soon at one of our favorite Chelsea restaurants, Nisos, by 5:45 with a genuine, New York martini already ordered. After a wonderful seafood dinner, we saw the 3.5-hour, gripping, Tony-best-play "August: Osage County." This dysfunctional family drama set in a beautiful 3-story house on stage was so good that even at 11:30, we were ready for another act or two. It is a must-see for anyone loving Tennessee Williams types of shows.

We met our cousin S, his European beau St, and S’s ex and still friend B for 3 hours of drinking and chatting at Ate Ave bar on 8th and at Gym, the gay sports bar next door. (Yes, that means we did not get home and to bed until about 4, which was true for the entire trip.)

Sunday in the Park with GeorgeSunday: We started Pride Sunday at another favorite Chelsea spot for brunch, Rocking Horse Cafe, where the egg burritos are incredible. That afternoon was Eddie's most-anticipated show: the closing performance of the celebrated revival of "Sunday in the Park with George." (This musical is on Eddie's all-time "Top 5" list and brings him to tears -- ok he weeps -- at several points in both the first and second halves.) What made this production especially great was the use of animation, with scenes and painting progressions splashed across the entire 3 walls of the stage. Characters of George Seurot's painting also appeared in this other dimension, joining in conversation and pose with the live ones on the stage. This production also added a needed touch of humanity and humor to the main character, George. (For those who know the show, George does the 'dog song' in a really touching and funny way, rather than the dogs themselves as in the original show.) The production also brought new dimensions to the oft-poopooed second act and highlighted a family and artist-in-search-of-his-art story in ways the original productions 20 years ago often did not. The highlight of the afternoon was the final number when the lead characters broke into tears on their final number of the show and of the run, followed by the entire cast and audience having a good cry. It was a really moving and special moment in our theater lives.

Kicking a Dead HorseWe rushed from that show to a 7 p.m. curtain at the off B'Way venue, The Public Theatre, which is known for sending 50+ shows to B'Way and for then winning 40 or so Tony Awards ("Chorus Line", "Caroline, or Change", "On the Town", "Take Me Out", etc.). We were excited to see a new Sam Shepard play in previews, which he was directing, and one starring the much acclaimed Stephen Rea (of "Crying Game" movie fame). Well, this one is going nowhere else, in our humble opinions. It STINKS. One man on a bleak stage, set in Monument Valley somewhere in the West, with a dead horse and a dug grave that he cannot figure out how to get the stiff horse into. "Kicking a Dead Horse" describes the entire action of the play ... and every time he kicks the horse (probably 50+ times in the 65 minutes of the play ... and don't get me started on the gall of the recent trend of theaters to offer barely hour-long plays at full-ticket prices), every time that damn horse is jabbed, someone unseen hits a set of drums. Our famous actor then rants in a rather monotone way about how bad his world and life is, and we listen in between a few snoozes. Sam, baby, stick with the brother-brother, husband-wife dramas in the kitchen with the refrigerators. That is your forte.

One more commentary on Sunday: We ate a rather late dinner for 2.5 hours at a great Italian restaurant back on 8th called Chelsea Ristorante where we had a multi-course dinner (with complimentary dessert and port from the staff...maybe because we are so cute??) while watching hundreds of Chelsea boys parade back from the Pride party at the Piers. What fun! Our evening ended at Monster, a gay "Cheers" type of bar and disco club that we frequented a lot this year. We got to be friends with one of the bartenders who is from Orange County in SoCal and with several visiting folks, including employees of Qantas, United and AA.

Phantom of the OperaMonday: Shop 'til we dropped was the theme of the day (once we got up and had breakfast around noon). We love the men's shops in Chelsea; and we hit them all, coming away with new shirts, shorts, shoes, belt, etc. That night, we dined for a second time at Nisos with S and St and then made our way to "Phantom of the Opera". Why, you ask? Because Ed somehow made it through the last 20 years (that's how long it has been on B'Way, not counting the 5 it was in San Francisco) without ever seeing it. Even though Eddie has seen it 4 times, we both really enjoyed it. The masquerade scene is one of the grand spectacles in all musical theater; and now that we have become opera queens, we could both enjoy better all the opera references built into the book, settings, lyrics, etc.

Our late night was filled with more B'Way musical numbers at our favorite night club, "Splash Bar," since Monday nights draws there a packed house of boys to watch on big screens scenes from musicals, followed by a live, current B'Way diva at midnight ... and then followed by 3 more hours of musical numbers from past Tony shows downstairs. We stayed through it all!

Tuesday: Crawling out of bed at noon, we spent the afternoon in the lower East Side. Originally, we were going to do an immigrant, 3-hour walking tour with Big Onion Walks (whose tours we have taken before), but our taxi driver (we had to take one because we got up too late to walk or even to rely on the subway) dropped us off at WEST B'Way and Chambers, rather than B'Way and Chambers. Who knew there were two avenues in NY named B'Way. Neither we or he did, for sure. Once it was clear we had missed the 1 p.m. tour, we made our way to the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum and had a fascinating tour (one of several they offer) of two Jewish immigrant families' apartments from 1905 and 1917 whose members were all employed in the sweat-shop, garment industry. We were also able to return three years after an earlier visit to the Museum at Eldridge Street. This recently renovated 1887 synagogue (22 years in renovation) is absolutely stunning and breath-taking. It is a MUST SEE.

Les Liaisons DangereusesOur evening dinner was with friends we had met 3 years ago on a TravelPride gay cruise in Central America (M&R), a relationship we have continued since and one we really treasure. (They introduced us to a restaurant in the upper West Side that has an incredible $11 pre-theater, 3-course dinner with $5/glass wine ... and it was all really good!!) We then saw "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," a good production with gorgeous costumes, but not an outstanding show. We had both seen earlier productions on the West Coast that were as good. We then proceeded to visit 4 gay bars in the theater/meat-packing/Chelsea districts (Therapy, Vlada, Ritz Bar and Lounge, and G Lounge), not always having a drink, but mostly just checking out the scenery, so to speak.

Wednesday: This began 4 days of matinee-evening plays, an aberration of July 4th week that draws us to NY this same week each year. Since many venues do not perform on the evening of the 4th (competition with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, etc.), they fill out their week with other odd times (Sunday evening, Monday evening, Thurs./Fri. matinees, etc.). That's how we get to see 13 shows in a week.

The 39 StepsWe laughed, no we roared, through Wednesday afternoon watching Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" done as a play. About 150 characters are done by 4 actors ... actually only 3 because one actor only plays one person throughout the play. This is such a fun play with lots of slap stick while at the same time telling the entire movie from beginning to end. (We were glad we had rented this early Hitchcock film 2 weeks earlier to prepare ourselves.) We walked home to have dinner at our favorite Nouvelle Vietnamese restaurant in Chelsea (Safran) on 7th, where our waiter actually remembered us from past years. We then took the subway to the Lincoln Center for another highlight of our theater lives: the first B'Way revival of "South Pacific" in 50+ years. On that huge, beautiful Lincoln stage, this was a magnificent show. South PacificFrom our second-row center seats, we marveled at the South American, opera star's (Paulo Szot) Emile. He has a heavenly voice, a really handsome persona, and great acting ability. His co-star, Kelli O'Hara as Ensign Nellie was also amazing and sang with an angelic voice. The scenes were large with as many as probably 50+ people on stage at times. The use of 3 African-American sailors who were mostly in the background and rarely interacted with their white colleagues but watched silently and among themselves was really a powerful addition to this classic about stereotypes and prejudice. Wow! This is another MUST SEE.

Our late-nights now took on a pattern of going to and closing Monster every night. In the past, we usually go there once; but for some reason, we really loved the place this year and enjoyed the mixture of a place where upstairs it is not too loud to talk and downstairs it is a good dance scene with a very racially and age-wise mixed crowd.

A Catered AffairThursday: The week's sleeper for us occurred this afternoon. Eddie had read the reviews for "A Catered Affair" when it opened and was not inclined to get a ticket. Reviews were not awful, but there were hesitations. Early audience reviews through NY Times and other sites were very mixed. However, he watched the weekly gross attendance figures and noticed that the play really gathered steam in May and June. So, when 2 weeks before we went to NYC the production announced it was switching all its Wed. matinees in July to Thursday, we jumped at the chance. Well, it turns out we REALLY like the show a lot. The story is very good. The sets were fun. The music is compelling while not as rousing as some people might want. Harvey Fierstein was really fun to see, and Faith Prince (the original, Tony-winning Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls") was fantastic as the mother of the family of subject. We both want our local theatre company, TheatreWorks, to do the show in the future, for we believe they could really make this show hum (so to speak).

Thursday, by the way, our annual visit with Eddie's first-ever boss -- PhyllisM -- began we she came in from DC to join us for the next 3 days. We see PhyllisM twice each year (NYC in July and Palo Alto in Feb.) and always have a great time seeing theater and eating in the best of restaurants (which she picks). This first evening with her, we returned to the top-rated Gramercy Tavern and had a remarkable dinner.

GypsyAnd now for Lupone, as in Patti in Gypsy. How many ways do we love her? Let us count them: a voice to die for, lungs that bellow to the heavens, humor that sparkles in her eyes all the way to the balcony (although we were on the 4th row), acting talents out the gazoo, etc. We have traveled to LA to see her. Eddie saw her as the original Evita. We were on first row center to see her 2 years ago in "Sweeny Todd." But this is MAMA ROSE. And perhaps our best ever moment in theater (How many of those do we get? Who's counting?) happened near the end of the second act when she belted "Rose's Turn." Immediately on the last note, the audience was on its feet, literally YELLING with praise. The ovation and 'bravas' went several minutes. It was special. And while there are those that say nobody but can play Rose but Merman (Ethel, of course), we would say 'get over it and go see Lupone.'

Passing StrangeFriday: When Berkeley Rep offered "Passing Strange" as a world premiere in conjunction with the Public Theater, we did not go to see it even though reviews were fantastic. The description as a mixture of rock concert, interpretative dance, and musical play just did not interest us that much at the time. This is another play we put on the bill in NY mostly because it continued to have great acclaim (for a time sounding like it might actually beat "In the Heights" for best musical) and because it was one of 3 plays offering Friday afternoon matinees. After going, we were both really pleased we did go. Even though many people may find the LOUD rock music a bit too much at times, we overall liked much of the music and really like the loose story that weaves its way through the 1.5 hours. We also were really impressed with the writer/lyricist/narrator Stew (no last name, just Stew). He has a beautiful voice and great stage presence. We also saw a stand-in for the main character, "Youth," (Lawrence Stallings), and he was fabulous.

Young FrankensteinWhat we thought would be a mistake, "Young Frankenstein," was actually very much fun and enjoyable. I would pass seeing it if I could only see 4-5 shows in a visit to B'Way; but as part of our entourage, it offered a mindless romp of fun numbers, great sets, and silly story. In our opinions (and counter to the critics, we know), it is much better than "Spamalot."

Saturday: What! Only 2 more shows! If you are still reading, you must be ecstatic. For us, it was unbelievable the long-anticipated week was almost over.

The Adding MachineEach year, we try to see what seems to be the most-lauded Off-B'Way musical. By doing so, we saw "Spring Awakening" and "In the Heights" a year before lots of others saw them. This year, "Adding Machine, the Musical" has garnered a number of Off B'Way awards and lots of kudos from NY Times, Theatermania, etc. critics. So, even though we had listened to the CD and went "HUH?," we went. We are glad we did, but neither of us would particularly go again if the chance occurred. The music, stage, plot, costumes, etc. are dark and eerie. This is very much in the Kurt Weil world of plays/musicals. The message is not particularly up-lifting in any way. The characters are not people you would probably ever want to meet or even care about. But, the experience was 'interesting,' to employ that over-used but very functional word.

Damn YankeesAfter a drink in the "Blue Water Grill" and another incredible meal at "Union Square Cafe" with PhyllisM, we ended with one of Eddie's other favorite (but not Top 5...maybe Top 15) musicals: "Damn Yankees" at City Center Encores!, the “42nd Street Moon” of New York. This company revives plays not often done or does past ones in some not-often seen ways and versions. We think the latter describes this production. The story line was quite different in this production from the several other times Eddie had seen the play (including once with Jerry Lewis as the devil Applegate). The court scene, the resolution, Lola's entrance to the play, etc. were all different. We have not researched enough yet to know if this was the 'original,' pre-later revivals version (and/or pre-movie version) or if this was someone a 'lost' version or Encores' new take on the musical. In any case, this limited, one-month run is very good and very worthwhile to see. We went to see once again Cheyenne Jackson (our out-gay hero actor we saw last year in "Xanadu") as "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO." (He is taking one month off from that production to do this one.) We also got to see a wonderful, quirky performance by Friends' Jack (Sean Hayes) as Applegate, who added a very different quality to the part than we had either seen in the past. (It was his first time on NY stage, and we think he did well. We'll see tomorrow what the critics think, since we saw last week the first night of previews.) The chorus line of ball players was also really good in this production.

What didn't we see that we have not seen in past years but would have liked to see? Almost nothing, since we have seen in NY (or in SF pre-B'Way) 29 of the current 34 B'Way shows. The one we probably did want to see is "Boeing-Boeing," but its times and our open slots just did not match.

So, now our parting dilemma. We are booked next July 4 for a Tahiti TravelPride cruise (our favorite line of small cruise boats). Neither of us has ever been. However, due to the number of days Ed can get off a year, we probably cannot do that and go to NYC next year. When we signed up for the cruise in January, it seemed like a sacrifice well-worth making. However, at this point, we are both (esp. Eddie) having serious second thoughts. The B'Way openings of the fall and spring are just too enticing. Hmmm...Sun and beach ... or ... curtains and lights? Life is only too good when you get to make such choices.


Rob said...

Thanks for the great report! We're going to NYC in late August. Can you tell me the name of the upper West Side restaurant that has that $11 dinner? Your Tahiti cruise sounds good but I understand the dilemma. We were in French Polynesia this past October and liked Huahine the best.

Best Aloha,

Esther said...

Wow, what a terrific roundup! I'm so glad you saw the movie of "The 39 Steps" beforehand. It definitely helps, doesn't it!

And I agree with you about "A Catered Affair." This was my introduction to John Bucchino's music and I thought his score was beautiful. It's such a small gem of a musical, a very poignant slice of life. It was my first time seeing Harvey Fierstein on stage, too.

Unfortunately, I never got to see "Sunday in the Park with George." I would love to have seen exactly how they did the video.

"Kicking a Dead Horse" sounds truly bizarre.

And I'm glad you loved "August: Osage County." I really think Tracy Letts has done a great job of exploring the pressures that women especially face. He's written some very sharp, insightful, funny dialog.

I know what you mean about going back to New York. I live much closer but I can't get there all that often. Still, whenever I read about a new show opening, I want to go see it. I'd rather go back to New York than anyplace else. It's great to be able to walk around all day, then see a great show at night and feel so safe and comfortable walking back to the hotel by myself at 11:30 at night.

Rob said...

I just purchased tickets for "The 39 Steps." Front row for $39. It's a special they have...39 seats for 39 most performances.

Anonymous said...

Saw and Felt Patti´s Rose LAST summer in the Encore production. I have seen Merman and the "others." Patti is definitely MAMA ROSE. I could hardly breath by mid-Mama´s Turn!

Anonymous said...

wow what on earth do you guys do for a living that allows you to do all that in NYC?

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