Six steps to a Broadway night you’ll always remember

There are so many choices available, it can be almost impossible to construct a perfect dinner-and-a-show night. Whether you live in Manhattan or are in town for the first time, it’s too easy to make a wrong turn, pick an unsatisfying restaurant or wind up chasing from one venue to the next. A single wrong turn can send you into a scramble, putting what should be the evening of your life at risk.

Plan ahead, even a little, and your theater getaway can be nothing short of amazing. There’s no reason it should go wrong, especially when you can think through the perfect night and put a few pieces in place before you step out the door. Keep in mind, a great evening, with no worries, may cost you a little more money, but predictability has value, so you shouldn’t expect it to be free.

1. Buy your tickets in advance
This seems obvious, but it’s not unusual to see a long line at the TKTS kiosk in Times Square or people shoving into the theater looking for discounted standing room only tickets. I did SRO once; my wife almost killed me. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, since I made the decision, but I wasn’t too happy either. If you order in advance, you’ll probably score better seats, and you won’t have any headache. In addition to convenience, you’re also buying some of your time back (no need to wait in line).


2. Consider something other than “Big Broadway”
New World Stages on W. 50th St. and Eight Ave. is like the theater equivalent of a major cinema. There are several stages, each of which home to a different production. The ticket prices are absolutely reasonable, and the productions are fantastic. I’ve seen several plays there and have never had anything other than a great experience. Unlike some of the really small stuff, you’ll still be in the Times Square area, so you’ll be near where you expected.

3. Start with a snack
Instead of showing up absurdly early for dinner or rushing through a meal to get to the theater in time, grab a drink and some appetizers before the show. The ideal spot varies with the show you’re planning to see and how much walking you don’t mind doing. I’ve always enjoyed raw bar offering at Thalia. It’s a great spot and understands the quirks of serving theater-goers.

4. Show up early
Don’t be so early that you’re standing on an empty sidewalk, but do give yourself 30 minutes or so before the show starts. If the extra time you’ll be in your seat will bore you to tears, bring a book. This is much better than having to shove your way through the crowd and risk not being able to hit the bathroom before the curtain goes up.

5. Nearby dinner afterward
Getting a taxi when a show lets out is like trying to get a stripper to buy you a drink. Don’t bother. Instead, have a later dinner (reservations should be easy). If you’re having trouble choosing a place, forget the coupons in the playbill. Before you go out, hit OpenTable and make reservations. You’ll probably find a kickass restaurant that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise. When in doubt, hit The Palm (W. 50th St. and Eighth Ave.); it’s convenient and the menu is fantastic.

6. Enjoy a last drink
Don’t finish the evening from your table at the restaurant. Rather, find a relaxing bar with comfortable chairs. If you’re a cigar smoker, you might want to try the Carnegie Club (on W. 56th St. between Sixth Ave. and Seventh Ave.). If you like your bars smoke-free, head up to the bar at the Hudson Hotel (W. 58th St. and Ninth Ave.).

Times Square becomes a pedestrian zone

New York City’s famous Times Square became free of cars this Monday.

This is the latest in two decades of radical changes to what used to be a dirty, dangerous, but uniquely vibrant part of one of the world’s greatest cities. City officials have blocked traffic from 42nd to 47th Streets at Times Square and between 33rd and 35th Streets at Herald Square in a much-anticipated move we first reported on back in February.

The traffic jams are being replaced by pedestrian plazas and more shops. The hope is to attract even more visitors to New York City’s iconic square by getting rid of noise, pollution, and frequent accidents. New Yorkers celebrated Monday with a big block party and setting up lawn chairs in the middle of the road. The city plans to have various events and street performers every night in the coming weeks to attract more people to Times Square.

Old-time New Yorkers like yours truly have fond memories of the old Times Square, full of seedy bars, seedier adult shops, and crumbling movie houses where you could watch a double feature of martial arts films for two bucks. I saw my first Jackie Chan film in Times Square, my first zombie picture, not to mention countless Z-list action flicks. Ah, the Eighties!

But not everyone liked Times Square at its decadent best. It was too close to Broadway, where accountants from Omaha wanted to see musicals without being reminded that the world isn’t like it is in A Chorus Line.

First to go were the movie theaters, replaced one by one by adult video centers, as if the area didn’t have enough of those already. No more blaxplotation or ninja flicks, just hard core. Then the porn shops got shut down. Times Square began to look like Disneyland. Now the squalling, bumper-to-bumper traffic has gone the way of the dodo. The armpit of New York has been replaced with the outdoor equivalent of a shopping mall. Progress? Well, it’s certainly safer (how I survived my teen-aged trips to the old Times Square still amazes me) but I can’t help but think that by killing Times Square, New York City has lost something.

Every city has its grotty area. Amsterdam has its red light district, London has Elephant and Castle, and New York had Times Square. The thing is, these neighborhoods are often really interesting and alive. The red light district in Amsterdam has some of the city’s best architecture. Elephant and Castle has an amazing variety of African shops and restaurants. Times Square has. . .well, had. . .an exciting street life and a variety of movie houses for every taste. And no, I’m not talking about the adult stuff. Back in the day, all sorts of people went to Times Square, everyone from well-heeled businessmen up to no good, to curious teenagers like I was, all the way down to street hustlers and petty thieves. That’s what I liked about it. Now it’s tourists and the middle class. Aren’t there enough places like that?

Any other old-time New Yorkers out there have any thoughts on this?

Les Misérables: Cross-cultural wonder

I saw Les Misérables the first time in Singapore when the touring company came through. There were Chinese subtitles of the lyrics projected on screens at the sides of the stage or across the top. I can’t remember which. Three of the cast members came to the school where I was teaching to talk with students about their lives as actors and about touring internationally. Afterwards, for a brief while, I had Les Mis fever. The symptoms being: the songs play over and over and over again in your head; you feel deliciously depressed and uplifted at the same time; and you feel like stopping repression somehow–somewhere–some way.

One of the wonderful things about living overseas is being a part of something that has universal appeal, even if it just means sitting in an audience. Here’s something that tops the feeling I had when I sat in the 12th row of the orchestra to the left of center stage.

For the 10th anniversary celebration of Les Misérables there was a concert at Royal Albert Hall that included 17 different Jean Valjeans from different countries, each singing a few lines of “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “One Day More” in their native language. I found it on YouTube. Watching it gave me a touch of Les Mis fever.

If you want to see “Rent” on Broadway, don’t wait

If you’re looking for a show to see on Broadway, why not pick one that won’t be there after June 1? “Rentis closing after a 12-year-run. [via New York Times] This has me thinking that perhaps I ought to head to NYC to see it once more myself. I saw this show several years ago when the Broadway touring company was in Columbus. I can vouch that there’s not another show out there with so much heart.

For anyone who has struggled to find ones place in the world, make a difference, and be heard, you’ll relate. Even if you know someone like that, you’ll relate. The musical, based on Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” was written as a partial response to the AIDS crisis, as well as the gentrification of many New York City neighborhoods.

Since the mid-1980s there are neighborhoods in NYC, once affordable and a bit edgy, that have become more and more boutique drenched with nifty little eateries only middle class folks and those with deeper pockets can afford. My brother’s neighborhood near Mark’s Place is one of them. One of my favorite restaurants, Rectangles once served a wonderful Middle Eastern appetizer plate, but it closed because of not being able to afford the rent anymore. This was only two or three years ago, but it was affected by the change.

Some critics wonder if “Rent’s” message has passed, similar to the criticism of the musical “Hair” that made a small comeback this past year (I know of two productions.) Personally, I don’t think so. Regardless, the lyrics and music are absolutely wonderful. Now that it’s closing, this opens up the possibility of more regional theaters staging a production. Already the song “Seasons of Love” has made it into school choir concerts.

I think the story remains pertinent. There are always people who struggle, make friendships, get disappointed, feel hope and looking for fantastic lyrics to sing their heart out (at least to themselves.) In “Rent’s” case, the singing–boisterous, often joyful, and mostly hopeful–comes in the type of songs that you’ll actually remember once the curtain has gone down and you are back in your own life searching for your “one song” that lets you know that you’ve made a difference. Here’s a You Tube video that includes “One Song Glory.” Switch the in the word “post” for “song” and there is the blogger’s version. I always keep my guitar on hand.