The City That Doesn’t Sleep

A couple weeks back we ventured up to Westport, Connecticut for the delectable production of I Do! I Do! It was our first time going to the venue but Roxie fired up the ol’ caddy and off we went. The drive up was delightful. The whole afternoon and evening was perfect. Dinner, the show, our backstage visit at the theatre and our stop at McDonald’s on the way back to Manhattan. Everything was perfect… that is until we re-entered the Bronx. Suddenly traffic came to a stand still. We were stuck for a spell on the way out, but this was far worse and I don’t think any of us had anticipated it. We kept occupied with SarahB‘s playlist, spending quality time with Sweeney Todd and Anyone Can Whistle.

Well sir, as it turned out there was a pileup in the center lane of the Hamilton Bridge which had been holding us up. I was keeping steady enjoyment in the backseat, taking in the drive and company. But I was also keeping an increasing eye on the clock. The last train out of Grand Central up the Hudson Line departs at 1:50AM. There is nothing after that until 6:20, during which time the NY landmark is closed. Not taking account of the potential for traffic I didn’t think much of getting back to the city and heading home, and for a change I was actually looking forward to getting home and passing out.

As we approached the TLC, Roxie and I worked out our plan. Time was limited but she was going to drive me to 42nd Street – and I was going to dash over to the station. Kari wished me luck on my fool’s journey as we left her at the Snuggery and proceeded to race against the clock. We were pressed for time, but were somewhat positive since the streets of Manhattan were ridiculously clear. We headed to 42nd Street where I bounded out of the Caddy and started to make a run for it.

Barreling down 42nd Street, I braved the excessive late night pedestrian traffic which seemed as though people were just getting started. I was making brisk time but aware that it was slipping away from me. Well, I arrived at Grand Central at 1:53AM. I could see the train’s lights moving away from me down the darkened tunnel.  By the way, my cell phone battery was on its last legs throughout this odyssey. After learning there was an Apple Store open 24/7 up at Central Park South and 5th Avenue, the droid promptly powered down. Going back to the Upper West Side was out of the question at this point – the ladies would be in bed long before could I get there.

The riff-raff (myself included) were unceremoniously given the heave-ho by the men of the NYPD whose job at 2AM was to empty the joint so it could be locked for three and a half hours. Outside, shady cab drivers were offering service to Westchester, but I wasn’t about to get involved with that. So I started to walk around the building and made my way back to 5th Avenue. There really isn’t much open in NY at this point – even on a Saturday night – so I figured I might as well go to this Apple Store and check things out. It was about this time that the rain started falling.

The streets were for the most part empty. An occasional couple meandering around was about it. The homeless all appeared to be fast asleep on the church steps. I was amused, smirking at my own situation. I’ve had some interesting treks to and from Manhattan before, but this was the first time I’d be flying solo overnight. The Apple store was there in front of FAO, in what seems to be a feeble attempt at aping the Louvre entrance. I entered the glass cubicle and descended down the spiral staircase. Much to my surprise, the store was quite active. I wouldn’t peg it as busy, per se, but there were more customers than employees.

I’m not Mac savvy – I haven’t had one myself in ten years – but I still can maneuver my way through a system with considerable ease. So I took up a perch to check into Facebook, Twitter and Gmail to let people have some idea of my whereabouts. It was around this point, I started to realize the sense of adventure the night was bringing me and started to enjoy myself. I started to people watch because I curious to see who was out and about at this time of day. If worse came to worse, I’d resort to my abilities as an Eagle Scout to take care of myself. But one of the things I’ve noticed about my time in NY, most people tend to just leave you alone.

At 3:30 I found myself starting to slip a bit and realized I needed something liquid – and preferably caffeinated – to get me through to 6:20. I  googled Starbucks, and searched for one that was open. Much to my surprise there are only three in Manhattan that are open all night. By my great good luck, the nearest one was in Columbus Circle. So I trekked out in the light rain across the southern edge of Central Park. This was when I started seeing people whose weekly salaries probably equal my annual income tumble out of buildings in ruffled tuxedos and tired cocktail dresses. Every once in a while I would catch someone clearly on an early walk of shame. Traffic was so dead that I stopped paying attention to the lights.

Well, I wasn’t the only one looking for a late night fix. The Starbucks at 60th and Broadway was packed. I ordered a green tea latte and was able to get the last available seat. The people watching continued. At 4AM, there were people still on dates, construction workers on break and some foreign folks having very lively skype calls to Russia and other Eurasian locales. I stayed for about 20 minutes, taking advantage of the opportunity to sit down as seats are scarce in the Apple store.

When I was finished there, I decided I may as well venture back to the store. I was still amazed to see vendors out and about. More people were coming and going in the Apple Store. Folks were camped out in chairs on the plaza in front of FAO Schwartz. I’m guessing some had to be in a similar predicament. The rain had continued lightly, almost like an afterthought. The temperature wasn’t cold either so I wasn’t uncomfortable.

Heading back into the store to play with more gadgets, I noticed the morning crews had come. The floors were now being cleaned, and a very surly looking woman was going around restocking shelves. There were less people about this time, but still folks coming in. Some were taking advantage of the opportunity to get work done. Some were now playing games. The sales clerks were vaguely preoccupied; it seemed as though there were more of them than were necessary for the time, but that’s the great mystery of retail planning. I considered blogging that night…but forgot my password so I just roamed about facebook and twitter for a spell. I checked the weather channel to see what my trek south was going to be like and got up to go.

On my way to the stairs – the elevator was now blocked by a stern custodial worker – the elevator doors opened and much to my surprise, a gentleman rolled out with a child in a stroller who couldn’t have much older than my 18 month old nephew. It was the only time I saw anything close to a reaction on the workers’ face. I gave the blood-shot eyed man a quick glimpse of sympathy – that was a hyperactive baby he had on his hands.

That was when I bounded up and out. I was still marveling at the location of the store when I noticed that nothing much had changed outside The same vendors were still parked utside and the weather was holding steady, with light rain. My feet were pretty much in full rebellion at this point – miles in dress shoes do not a merry trek make and was just hoping to get home and into bed as soon as humanly possible. It didn’t take long to get back to the station where there was a rather amusing lineup of drunks waiting to get in and get home. Some were slouched, some were chatting, some were completely passed out. They let us in around 5:15.

At this point, I was done. Most of my friends know I like to stay up late but I really don’t like pulling all-nighters. I rarely did so in college. So I checked out the schedule and collapsed in front of the scheduled track. I started to doze off and waited. I eventually got home at 8:15 after a very long train ride (with connection) and unceremoniously passed the hell out.

Random Thoughts on This and That

Well, it’s certainly been a busy week. Fringe is well underway and invigorating the month of August. Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have brought renewed interest to a mostly humdrum revival of A Little Night Music. Kelsey Grammer is to be a father for the fifth time. The folks on All That Chat took the opportunity to go open season on the actor; however, I will take this opportunity to offer the La Cage Aux Folles star my heartiest congratulations. Race and Fela! have both posted their closing notices, however, the latter will go out with some added star quality when Patti LaBelle replaces Lillias White for the remainder of the run. I’m a bit disappointed to see Fela! announcing its notice this early, as it was one of the best things I saw last season but it will live on in London with an HD broadcast from the National Theatre. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf brings its production of August: Osage County to Australia. Previews start this week at Cate Blanchett’s Sydney Theatre Company.

The biggest show of the coming season (physically and financially) will be Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which has set its opening for December 21. It’s been a very pernicious gestation from the very first day – rumors about its projected budget, weekly running costs, bad producing and cast members coming and going have not done much to assuage investors or convince Broadwayites. However, a steady team seems to be in place and the show is getting ready to at long last get its legs. The score is by Bono and the Edge, direction by Julie Taymor, so it’s not like this isn’t going to be worth the wait: regardless of the outcome, it should prove interesting. Tickets are on sale and it looks to be a go.

However, it’s the theatre itself that I’m more interested in this week. Garth Drabinsky ripped apart the Apollo and Lyrics and assembled them into one giant performance space, originally called the Ford Center for the Performing Arts when it opened its doors in 1998 (with Ragtime). Then in 2005, it became the Hilton Theatre. Now Foxwoods Casino has teamed up with Live Nation, who operates the space to give their name to the theatre for a period of three years. They’ve immediately gone live with the new website for the theatre and even offer the opportunity to rent the lobby for a private affair. I don’t mind the idea, but it’s being promoted in a way that can only be described as tacky. The jury is still out as to whether the theatre will house a money-maker.

It’s the corporate hand that bothers me in all this. I know – it’s a business, I get that. But it just seems unsettling to me to see an corporation name on a theatre when one of the great rare honors for a theatre artist is his or her name above the marquee. For instance, I never once referred to the Winter Garden as the Cadillac Winter Garden when there was a sponsorship agreement. However, I was thrilled when Stephen Sondheim received the honor on the occasion of his 80th birthday. (The late, great Helen Hayes received the honor twice. When the first Helen Hayes was razed in the great Marriot massacre of 1982, it was decided that the Fulton would be named for her. Her quip: “Oh it’s so good to be a theatre again”).

Word comes through the pipeline that Ryan Murphy is adapting his hit TV series Glee for Broadway. I have to make a confession: I don’t really like the series. I watched the first 13 episodes so I could have an idea what was going on – and to know what the folks in the twitterverse and blogosphere were talking about. But, much to everyone’s surprise – especially mine – it has left me rather cold. It’s not the cast, for sure, but the uneven, inconsistent writing and the overuse of autotune. It got to the point where I was skipping to the end of the musical numbers to get through the scenes (but boy, can Amber Riley belt like it’s nobody’s business). One other minor quibble – they are not a glee club, they’re a show choir. I can’t help but feel that I would have liked the enterprise a lot more had it been a 90 minute feature film than a full length, hour long TV series.

Back to the original statement – in spite of my feeling about the series I’m not against a Broadway version. I just think they should wait. The series has only completed one full season and has an overlying arc that has yet to be determined. At this point, a Broadway show based on the series might just be too much too soon.

I have recently started reading two new blogs. Both are by women who have had important careers in performing arts. The first belongs to Tony-winner Phyllis Newman, who’s frank, amusing and anecdotal about events in her life and her career. She has experienced a lot both as a performer and also as Mrs. Adolph Green, sharing anecdotes about famous friends and memories. Ms. Newman is the sort of person you would want at your table at a dinner party.

The other belongs to Emily Frankel. The name might not be too familiar to you, but you certainly know her husband: one John Cullum. I discovered this blog entirely by accident. Now Emily has achieved great success on her own: dancer, choreographer, director, actress, writer. She’s pretty much done it all. I was doing research on Cullum when I discovered a video blog with the two of them, they create a new one every week. On top of the video posts, Emily writes honestlyand openly about anything and everything that might be on her mind and makes for some engaging conversation – and she’s a really lovely lady.

Speaking of Cullum, the two time Tony winner will be back on Broadway in the upcoming transfer of Kander & Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys at the Lyceum. When the show played off-Broadway at the Vineyard it got a less than stellar review from the NY Times, but it was the first time a negative notice only made me want to see a show more. However, other notices are much more positive, including raves from its current berth at the Guthrie. There are many other shows and stars I’m looking forward to, a sort of anticipation I didn’t quite feel last season (and those shows I did anticipate all closed prematurely). Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Lincoln Center, as well as revivals of Driving Miss Daisy, You Can’t Take It with You, La Bete and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. And this is just the fall.

Kelli O’Hara sings "God Bless America"

It made the Broadway press circuit late Wednesday afternoon that South Pacific star Kelli O’Hara would be singing “God Bless America” at the seventh inning stretch of World Series Game 6. As I am a big Yankee fan, I was excited that I would be seeing one of my favorite Broadway talents performing. However, the seventh inning stretch came and went over the course of a long commercial break. The dips at Fox decided that it was more important to see a commercial for DJ Hero instead. Turns out they don’t like to air the segment, and only did for the first game, where a decidedly mediocre singer from West Point did the honors. (The games aired on the YES Network always air the segment).

After 9/11, the Yankees have supplanted “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with “God Bless America,” a tradition that has remained in place. For most regular games at Yankee Stadium, they play an abbreviated version of Kate Smith’s rendition. However, for special games such as opening day, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan would sing the song. But he got in trouble a couple weeks ago for making a bad anti-Semitic joke and the Yankees were having none of that, so they canceled his booking for the rest of the 2009 season.

I checked Twitter trending topics to discover folks at the game saying things such as “Best rendition ever heard at the Stadium,” and other rave reviews for the stunning soprano. Least of which, the Yankees won the Series that evening. Now, better late than never is a clip of O’Hara singing “God Bless America,” taken by someone in the stands at the stadium that evening (so there are some non-Kelli O’Haras singing, but I do enjoy the one person who says “Ooh, what a voice!” midsong).

Your Intermission Interview: 1956

I love collecting theatre memorabilia, whether it be Playbills from older shows, cast albums on LP and other formats and souvenir programs. Leafing through “The PLAYBILL for the Sam S. Shubert Theatre” for the original Broadway production of Pipe Dream, I came across this page entitled “Your Intermission Interview” which presents a checklist of the shows on the boards. This idea has been modified into the “How Many Have You Seen?” pages in the contemporary theatre Playbill which isn’t as participatory. I thought I’d share it:


How many of these hits have you seen?

If your score is 14 or more you are a star; 13, you are featured; 12, you’re a bit player; less than 12, you need more rehearsals at the box office.


□ FANNY – Majestic – Ezio Pinza, Walter Slezak
□ THE PAJAMA GAME – St. James – John Raitt, Eddie Foy Jr., Helen Gallagher
□ PIPE DREAM – Shubert – Helen Traubel, William Johnson
□ SILK STOCKINGS – Imperial – Hildegard Neff


□ BUS STOP – Winter Garden – By William Inge
□ THE CHALK GARDEN – Barrymore – Gladys Cooper, Siobhan McKenna
□ THE DESK SET – Broadhurst – Shirley Booth
□ THE MATCHMAKER – Royale – Ruth Gordon, Eileen Herlie, Loring Smith
□ THE PONDER HEART – Music Box – David Wayne
□ JANUS – Plymouth – Margaret Sullavan, Claude Dauphin, Robert Preston


□ A HATFUL OF RAIN – Lyceum – Shelley Winters, Ben Gazzara
□ INHERIT THE WIND – National – Paul Muni, Ed Begley, Tony Randall
□ THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK – Cort – Joseph Schildkraut, Susan Strasberg, Gusti Huber
□ THE LARK – Longacre – Julie Harris, also starring Boris Karloff
□ TIME LIMIT – Booth – Arthur Kennedy, Richard Kiley