NYC Trip Day 2

My second day of this trip was my theatre day. Usually when I go up to NYC there are very specific shows that I want to see on Broadway. They are often the reason I’m traveling up there in the first place. Unfortunately Broadway has been full of jukebox musicals and musicals based on movies that I am just not interested in. Since there wasn’t anything I was dying to see I figured I would just get tickets for whatever I could get at the TKTS booth. I did figure out what my top choices were though and hoped that I could get tickets to them, which I did.

My top choice for the whole trip was to see The Ferryman. My friend Jenn who lives in the city is a TDF member and managed to snag me a cheap seat to the matinee. I wanted to do this show as the matinee because it’s 3 hours and 15 minutes. There are essentially three 1 hour acts with a 15 minute intermission between the first two acts and a three minute pause between the second two acts. I didn’t know a whole lot about the show going in other than it is about an Irish family. It takes place during the 1981 during “the troubles” when the actions of some family members a decade before come back to haunt them all. It is a sprawling cast of kids through seniors. Parts are very joyous and parts are super intense, especially the ending. I can’t imagine having to perform this show 8 times a week both to the length and the emotional toll I imagine it must take on the actors. I very much enjoyed it though and the three hours went by very quickly. It’s closing in July, but if you’re looking for a show to see in New York and are open to plays I would recommend it.

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Between shows I met up for a quick dinner with my friend Jenn, who I hadn’t seen for pretty much exactly a year which I know because Facebook started popping up memories of my trip to New York last April when I went up to see Brandi Carlile in concert and to see Children of a Lesser God and stayed with her. Since we were meeting up after she got off work and we both had tickets to separate shows at 8 pm, we met up the Turnstyle which is a food hall/shopping place built inside the Columbus Circle subway station. It was conveniently equidistant from our theatres and made it so we weren’t stressing about getting in and out of a sit-down restaurant. I had some very tasty plantain tacos from some taco place in there. I would definitely eat there again.

My evening show was My Fair Lady, which I wanted to see solely because Laura Benanti was playing Eliza Doolittle. I very carefully made sure that she was not scheduled to be out during this performance because otherwise I did not care. She was very good in the role, and it was a good production, but this show pretty firmly falls into the all your problematic faves category at this point. I couldn’t stop thinking about the recent Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode where she discovers that all her favorite musicals are all very problematic when looked at through today’s lens. They did try and make it a little better by returning to the original ending of the play where Eliza walks away from Professor Higgins, which was changed in the musical. I thought it was a little awkward since they see the script all the way through and she comes back to him only to turn right around and walk away. I appreciate the sentiment though I guess because he is really terrible to Eliza throughout the whole show and never really, truly comes around.

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NYC Trip Day 1

My husband had to go up to NYC for work for a few days this past week. I needed to use up some vacation time, so I decided to make use of the free hotel room and join him. Since he had to be downtown for work we stayed down there in the Millennium Hilton, which is right across from the World Trade Center site. Our room had a fantastic view of the memorial.

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We took the train up on Tuesday morning. He headed into work and I wandered around the city. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money to get into a museum, so I decided to go up to the main building of the New York Public Library to see the exhibits they had up. On my way up to the library I walked past Macy’s and saw that they had some flower show up called Journey to Paradisos, which involved elaborate flower displays with spaceships and aliens in their windows and all over inside the main level. The subject matter was kind of weird, but the flowers were pretty. I didn’t get any good shots of the window displays because the sun was at a bad angle and the reflections of the buildings in the glass blocked out was actually inside the windows.

It’s been over a decade since I last went inside the library. The last time I was there they had really cool exhibits on illuminated manuscripts and maps. The exhibits up this time were not nearly as elaborate. They had a Stonewall 50 exhibit celebrating LGBTQ rights and 50 years since the Stonewall riots. There was also a Walt Whitman exhibit that I didn’t spend a lot of time in because I don’t care that much about Walt Whitman and the space felt really crowded and claustrophobic so I just kind of wanted to get out of it.

I hadn’t originally planned to see a show on Tuesday night, but I had looked at what else was going on around the city and didn’t see anything that struck my fancy. I noticed that the new play Burn This starring Keri Russell and Adam Driver was in previews, so I convinced my husband we should go see it. It’s a revival of a 1987 play and is still set in the 80s here although for the most part it could have been set today. There are a few references and one scene that revolves around an answering machine that would have had to be changed, but other than that it could have happened in modern times. It did allow us to joke about Keri Russell only wanting to play 80s characters and my husband wondering if she just brought over her wardrobe from The Americans.

It’s a 4 character play with Keri Russell playing a woman whose roommate and dance partner was recently killed in a boating accident with his gay lover. The other characters played by David Furr and Brandon Uranowitz are her boyfriend and her other roommate and Adam Driver who plays the brother of the dead roommate who comes in and sort of upends all of their lives. Adam Driver is perfectly cast in this role. I can’t imagine anyone else in the part. There is some wonderful humor with him and articles of clothing. I’m really glad we decided to go see it on somewhat of a whim as I really enjoyed it.

I also really wish I could have someone associated with the show make me a playlist of all the songs used in and around it. To get you in the mood for the 80s setting of the show they had a fantastic playlist of 80s songs playing while you were waiting for the play to start. Then there were some really great music cues throughout the play itself. They really all felt perfectly placed and meaningful and not just let’s throw some 80s songs into this. I don’t really know anything about the original run of the play, so I would be curious to know about the music used back then. I’m hoping once the play is fully running that maybe some equally nerdy music person will create a playlist from it or if nothing else tell me what the song used as the main music cue at the beginning and end of the first act is because while I totally know the song I can’t for the life of me remember what the name of it is or who it’s by and I couldn’t pick out enough lyrics to even try and Google it and it’s driving me crazy. So you know, someone else go see it and tell me what that song is.

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Be More Chill

This past weekend I went up to New York with a couple of my friends in what has unintentionally apparently become our annual March Broadway trip since this is our third year running. I went into the show fairly cold. I had a general idea of what the story was about, but I hadn’t heard any of the music yet. I knew the backstory behind its run in New Jersey several years ago followed by a cult online following of the album recorded for that production that then propelled the show to off-Broadway and now onto Broadway. It just opened on Broadway this week, so it’s been pretty easy to avoid unless I guess you’re a theatre obsessed teenager on Tumblr or wherever the teenage fandom hangs out online these days. Most people I know have never even heard of this show before.

In my mind the show is a cross between the tv show Chuck (guy gets computer implanted in his head that makes him cooler, but then it causes mental problems), the movie Can’t Buy Me Love (teenage dork does something to try and make himself popular, but winds up blowing off his good old friend in the process), and the movie Labyrinth (because the representation of the super computer in the boy’s head reminded me of David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth even though it was supposed to evoke Keanu Reeves’ character in The Matrix). In non-pop culture references the show is about a nerdy teenage boy who wants to be more popular and finds out about some super secret super computers “from Japan” the size of a pill called squips that you can drink and they will implant in your brain and tell you what you should do to “be more chill”. Then of course all the lessons about learning how to like and be liked for yourself that teenage stuff like this likes to teach you.

I waited to read the New York Times review of the show until we were driving home last night because I didn’t want their critic’s view of the show coloring mine. I’m glad I did because his basic assessment of the show was teenagers get off my lawn. I guess he felt like he just couldn’t completely outright pan the show because it already has such a large following and it broke the Lyceum Theatre’s box office record for weekly ticket sales. So instead he basically just said it’s a terrible show by theat-ah standards, but I guess it’s okay for you teenagers. No one over 21 should bother.

Well, I’m 40 and I thoroughly enjoyed the show as did the other three over 40 adults and yes two 13 year-olds I was with. The other adults sitting around me all seemed to really like it too. I heard multiple people around me during intermission talking about how much they were enjoying it. So sorry it wasn’t up to your exacting standards Mr. NYT Critic. Sometimes you just want to go to the theatre to have fun. Is it the best show I’ve ever seen? No, but was I thoroughly entertained for 2 and half hours? Yes, I was. Plus I’ve had the song “Michael in the Bathroom” stuck in my head since the show. Also that song leads to perhaps one of my favorite theatre callbacks ever which I won’t spoil here. That’s pretty much all I’m asking for in Broadway show, and Be More Chill delivers it.

I will agree with him on one thing though. The show is needlessly loud. They definitely can and should take the sound down a notch or two. There’s no need anyone needs to risk hearing damage at a Broadway show. Yes, the music is more rock based, but that doesn’t mean the show needs to be rock concert loud. Concerts themselves are out of control with the sound levels, but at least there they can make the excuse that they have to overpower the ambient noise of the crowd and the bar, which is not an issue in Broadway theaters.

Is this a show I’m going to recommend to my 70 year old mother? Probably not, but if you still have a soft spot for teenage related pop culture like I do then this show is well worth your time. And obviously if you have some teenage theatre lovers in your life then apparently this show was made for them.

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The Boys in the Band on Broadway (AKA Matt Bomer Day)

My friends Jenny, Sarah, and I have a longstanding crush on our “gay TV boyfriend”, Matt Bomer going all the way back to his days as Bryce Larkin on Chuck. It of course was firmly cemented during his years on White Collar and then sent into complete overdrive with the Magic Mike films. Sadly I haven’t loved a lot of what he’s been doing lately on TV as I am not into American Horror Story at all. I also never watched whatever that Amazon show he did was. I watched the pilot and didn’t love it and then eons later when the show finally dropped I didn’t have time to watch it at the time and then sort of forgot it existed until I started writing this. Maybe I’ll watch it, but probably not.

Anyway, when we saw that Matt Bomer was going to be starring in a revival of The Boys in the Band on Broadway there was no way we couldn’t make a trip to NYC to see him in it, something I kept calling Matt Bomer Day in homage to Rex Manning Day from Empire Records. The rest of the cast including Andrew Rannells, Jim Parsons, and Zachary Quinto. My sister assures me that Michael Benjamin Washington who is also in the cast is someone that we went to high school with in Plano, TX and that he was her class president. Our high school was huge and I didn’t know most of the people in my own class let alone anyone in the year behind me so I don’t feel bad for having no clue but now I think it’s a fun tidbit.

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The last time the three of us went up to NYC together to see a show was a few years ago to see Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. We took the MegaBus and got stranded on the New Jersey turnpike for 3 hours in the middle of the night on our way home, so this time we decided to take the train which was a much better choice even if it is more expensive. We just went up for the day without enough time to really do much between our show and the train on either side, so we just wandered around mid-town, had brunch, and of course got cookies at Schmakery’s.

I didn’t know much about the play going in other than knowing the amazing cast and that the show was a revival on it’s 50th anniversary. Having now read the New York Times review (which liked it much less than I did for some of seemingly the same reasons they didn’t care for Children of a Lesser God as much as I did), I now know that the original play was in fact two acts and that this production was trimmed and condensed into a 2 hour one act play. You can definitely still feel the shift where the act break would have occurred so I was not surprised to learn this.

It’s certainly not a perfect show, but it kept me entertained for 2 hours and that’s pretty much all I’m looking for in my Broadway entertainment. It’s still set in 1968 and is still a show that was written in 1968, so it still retains the sensibilities of homosexual life (or at least the way it was viewed) in 1968, which is one of the things the New York Times reviewer seemed to take issue with. I on the other hand am willing to view things as period pieces. Yeah, if this play about a birthday party being thrown by a group of gay guys for one of their friends was written 2018 it would probably not be this play, but it was written 50 years ago so it is and the characters act and react in the ways that they do because it was.

The first half was really amusing. There are still some zingers in the second half, but it does take a much more dramatic turn. I maybe do agree with the reviewer that Jim Parsons was perhaps not the right actor for the lead role. No offense to Jim Parsons, but he’s a pretty one note actor and while that worked for some facets of the character I’m not sure it worked for all of them. My boyfriend Matt Bomer was perfect though. That man is so pretty it’s almost criminal. We got to see a lot of him mostly naked on stage. It’s worth the ticket price just for that. The first half of the show was better not only because it was funnier, but because he did more than stand in a corner and be eye candy which is mostly what his character did in the second half of the show. At any rate I definitely enjoyed the show and getting to be so close to a long term TV crush.

After the show of course we went to the stage door to hopefully get autographs and photos. Given the large cast of well known actors it was unsurprisingly mobbed by the time we got out there, so we were a couple people deep from the rail. Everyone in the cast came out except Jim Parsons. I don’t blame him though because it was a 2 show day and he is working on a broken foot. Even though we weren’t right in front we were close enough that I managed to throw my arm across the shoulders of the people in front of me and get everyone in the cast to sign my Playbill except Zachary Quinto because some other woman threw hers on top of mine at the last second and he moved on down the line too quick to notice mine once she pulled hers back.

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We sadly weren’t close enough to get our photo taken with Matt Bomer right next to us, but my friend Jenny did yell out and ask him to look up and smile for us so we could get a selfie with him in the background and he totally did. Sarah also got lots of good photos of all the actors as they came out and were interacting with people. I did get a little bonus in that as we were walking away a gentleman grabbed me and said hey I got this photo of you with Matt Bomer would you like me to send it to you. I was like uh yes, please. It’s not the greatest photo ever. Someone else’s camera is blocking part of it and it’s a little blurry, but I’ll take it.

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It was a super fun day and really glad we did it. Hopefully this won’t be the last Broadway show that Matthew Bomer stars in. And I’m sure we’ll be up to see something else even if he’s not starring in it.

 

David Bowie Exhibit and Children of a Lesser God

I did a few other things in my trip to NYC last weekend. Because of my concert ticket mix-up that led to me staying an extra day I had all of Friday during the day to do something. I have been wanting to go to the Tenement Museum for forever, but since it’s all timed guided tours I often feel like I don’t have time to fit it in between whatever else I have scheduled. I thought this trip might be a good opportunity, but from what I understand some of the tours are outside and they recommend you pairing an inside and outside tour. The weather was supposed to be not great so I nixed that idea.

In looking through the weekly New York Times article about what exhibits to see this weekend I stumbled on the fact that there was a David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that sounded pretty cool. I decided that was what I wanted to do. I told my friend who I was staying with and she decided she wanted to go too, so we both got tickets (it’s timed entry and you should definitely buy tickets online ahead of time).

Our entry wasn’t until 1:15 so we decided to head down to Brooklyn early and find somewhere to grab brunch/lunch beforehand. Based on Google maps it looked like there were a number of options up one of the major roads near the museum so we just decided to wander. We saw a place on Google maps as we were walking called Tom’s that said it was a Brooklyn institution since 1936. After popping our heads into a couple of other places that we decided weren’t what we were looking for we wound up at Tom’s. At first it looked like we might not be able to get a table, but there was a an open table for two hidden away in the back corner. We were sitting there talking and all of a sudden I glanced at the wall and saw this

framed lyrics to Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega

So we apparently accidentally stumbled on eating at the Tom’s where Suzanne Vega wrote the song “Tom’s Diner” and only knew about it because we wound up sitting at that particular table. I love serendipity.

The David Bowie exhibit was really cool. I don’t have any photos of it really because there weren’t any photos allowed. I’m happy about that because it was crowded enough and difficult to see and read everything without having to deal with people trying to take photos of everything. The exhibit was really cool. When you go in you get handed a pair of headphones to use through the entire thing. There’s some mechanism set up so that what is playing changes as you move through the exhibit most often providing you the audio to whatever video is playing. There were of course lots of artifacts, lots of video and audio, and costumes. If you even remotely like David Bowie I would highly recommend this exhibit if you can make it to Brooklyn before it ends in July.

Before heading home on Saturday I saw a matinee of Children of a Lesser God. Although I had some knowledge of what it was about I had never seen a previous staged production of it or the movie. This revival stars Joshua Jackson as James Leeds a speech teacher at a school for the deaf and Lauren Ridloff as a Sarah Norman one of his students who doesn’t want to learn to speak or read lips and whom James falls in love with. She signs her entire performance and you basically get what she is saying by the way he responds to her. I wonder how it would change the experience if you knew sign language and were watching. It’s a very thought provoking play about communication and power.

I really enjoyed it and though Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff were both great. Anthony Edwards is underutilized in the role of James’ boss, which is one of the few things I agree with in the New York Times’ less than favorable review of the production. The set also didn’t do much for me, but those are about the only disparaging things in that review that I agree with. The show like the original is still set in the 1970s. The gender dynamics were treated as such which is something the reviewer seemed to take issue with. He seemed to want the show to also address race and gender in ways the show wasn’t meant to. I thought it was a great show and I would definitely recommend it if you’re in New York and looking for a play to see.

Dear Evan Hansen

I recently went up to New York for the day with some friends to see Dear Evan Hansen. It was a show I wanted to see for a long time, but I didn’t jump on the band wagon soon enough and it was hard to get tickets. So we bought these almost 9 months ago, and the day finally came the weekend before last.

I loved the show, and it was as great as I had been hearing. The musical is beautiful and moving. I definitely cried multiple times during the show. At a time when everyone seems so divided the show’s message about human connection felt really poignant.

I often like to go into shows cold especially if I know I’m not going to be seeing the original Broadway cast because otherwise I wind up comparing the cast I’m seeing to what I hear in my head from the cast recording. Although there were still a few people left from the original cast most of them were new, so I did studiously avoid listening to the cast recording and only knew the bare minimum of the plot going in. In retrospect I wish I had known a little bit more going in because I spent three quarters of the show anxious about how Evan’s lie was going to blow up in his face. It actually turned out to be much less terrible than I was anticipating, but either way I kind of wish I had known what was coming so that I didn’t feel so much stress about it for most of the show. Stupid anxiety brain.

Speaking of anxiety brain that was my one complaint about the show. You can’t really think too hard about the mental illness piece of it otherwise you’ll hate it. I mean it’s not instantaneous, but there is a lot of subtle suggestion that getting popular and getting a girlfriend seemingly cured Evan of his debilitating anxiety, which is just not how that works. I loved the rest of the show, so I’m just going to set that aside and not worry about it too much.

It’s definitely a great show, and if you can get tickets I would recommend it to you if you’re looking for a Broadway show to see. That being said I think it’s a show that you can also wait and see as a touring production if you’re like me and weigh out which shows are best seen on Broadway versus those which will be fine as a touring production. There’s not really anything in this production that can’t be recreated well enough on a tour, and especially now that you’re not really going to see the original Broadway cast if that’s something you’re into there’s no reason that the touring actors aren’t just as good as who you would be seeing on Broadway.

February in New York

My Christmas present from my husband this past year was tickets to see Hello, Dolly! as well as spend a day in the city going to museums. His company has corporate memberships with a number of museums in New York City, which means that he and at least one guest can get in to them for free. I often go up with friends or on my own to see shows. When we go up together we are usually visiting his sister and family. Hanging out with our niece and nephew is not generally conducive to going to art museums, and I can’t take advantage of the discount unless he’s with me so part of the present was spending a day in the city going to whatever art museums I wanted to go as well.

We rode the train up on Wednesday afternoon in time to get into the city, check into our hotel, and grab dinner before the show. For some reason I had zero interest in seeing Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler, but as soon as they announced Bernadette Peters I really wanted to go. It was an extra added bonus that Victor Garber took over from David Hyde Pierce since I was definitely way more into that casting too. I thought they were both fantastic. Normally if I see a show where an actor has replaced a different actor I’m familiar with I can see how the actor who initiated the part is informing what the replacement actor is doing. I could not see that at all in this case. Both Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber made the roles of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder completely their own. I adored the show. This was my first time getting to see Bernadette Peters perform on stage and she was a complete delight. I was not the only one to be excited by her as I have never heard a crowd go as crazy for an actor not only during initial entrance applause but multiple times during the show and of course during final bows. Her ability to make me laugh uproariously with just the way she moved her eyes in certain scenes was amazing. I don’t remember the last show I laughed at as hard as I did this one. I could have done without the woman next to be singing along with all the music during the performance, but everything on stage was a complete joy. If you get the chance I highly recommend this show, and as a bonus unlike when Better Midler was playing Dolly I think you can actually get tickets for non-astronomical prices.

On Thursday we hit up a couple of art museums during the day. I wanted to go to museums I had never been to before so I chose the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. I particularly enjoyed the Incomplete History of Protest at The Whitney, which showcased protest art from their collection from the 1940s to the present. At MoMA I was taken by the Stephen Shore exhibit, which encompassed the entirety of his photographs from his five decade career. I wasn’t familiar with him previously, but he apparently became famous for his photographs of the mundane using a variety of cameras including a cheap children’s camera that looked like Mickey Mouse. He continues his work today in digital platforms including Instagram. It was interesting see the timeline of his photos showing mundane daily life as he traveled around the country over several decades.

Thursday night we were supposed to meet up with some friends who live in NYC for dinner, but unfortunately she came down with the flu and was still not better by Thursday night. Apparently what you do when your dinner plans fall through is you go buy half price tickets to see the SpongeBob Square Pants musical. Our hotel was literally right above the Palace Theatre where it is playing and we had both heard surprisingly good things about it, so we decided why not. I’m not mad that I went to see it, but I definitely did not think it was great. I don’t have a huge background with SpongeBob, but I know enough to know the characters and their mannerisms. The best part of the show was seeing how they staged everything and how the actors evoked the characters without being costumed like them. As for the actual story and music, eh. I expected it to be a lot funnier than it was. I don’t think I really laughed much at all. The audience was full of kids unsurprisingly and I expected to hear lots of kids laughing and shouting during the show, but it was a lot of silence. Squidward was definitely the best part of the show for many reasons, but the highlight of everything was definitely his tap number. You know how much I love a tap number. Unless you have a kid who really loves SpongeBob and wants to see this, you can probably skip it.

Friday morning my husband headed off to work and I met up with my other New York City friend for breakfast. I always like when I can catch up with my friends in real life while I’m in the city. After breakfast I caught a NJ Transit train out to New Jersey to visit my family where will pick up next time.