Saturday, March 10, 2007

Broadway Nights and Subway Days and Matinees

Times Square on a Saturday Night.

Times Square on Broadway is sparkling with light: golden, white, red, green, blue. It starts about a block before you reach Times Square, on 42nd Street, with a huge pink neon sign titled 'PARK HERE', flickering hypnotically. When I saw that sign, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to park my car - and I neither own a car nor drive.

Later I got to know Times Square very well indeed. And some of the other places in New York, as well - from Brooklyn Heights to The Village to Carnegie Hall to Smoke, a small jazz bar on Broadway and 105 st. But it was Times Square that dominated my time. I certainly can't say I saw all of the shows on offer, but I saw quite a few more than some. Herewith find appended a brief list...

The Drowsy Chaperone
This is a musical about a cranky old fart who tells us about his favourite musical, offering comments as he plays the LP. It's an interesting conceit that becomes funnier as the play continues on. He starts off by saying "I hate theatre!" and complaining about modern drama, before drifting off into reminisces about the shows he saw as a child - this as a way of introducing us to his album. Halfway through the play, he says "I hate intermissions. So we won't have one!". Then for the next few minutes he sits in the chair and drums his fingers...

This was the first musical I saw on Broadway. I went to see this basically because it was advertised on the side of a bus and I had no idea what else was on. But it was well worth it!

Avenue Q

Lucy the Slut with a friendly - very friendly - human.

This was a parody of Sesame Street. There's one Cookie-Monster-style character who spends all his day inside looking at porn on the net and beating off, and another monster who seems to be styled after Mae West named Lucy the Slut. You get to see puppets getting drunk and you even get to see what happens after the puppets get drunk and get in bed together. The whole thing was absolutely hilarious, and made even better by the sign I spotted outside the theatre:

Jim Henson Puppets would like to make it known that it does not endorse this production in any way.

Gutenberg: The Musical

Two of imaginatively-titled characters in 'Gutenberg: The Musical': 'Monk', and 'Another Monk'.

This was an off-Broadway production at a small theatre called 'The Actors' Playhouse' in The Village. (That's lower west-side Manhattan.) It's a rich part of town that Phillip Glass and Woody Guthrie and other artistic types used to live in when it was a poor part of town (hence making it into a rich part of town). 'Gutenberg' is more a comedy-style show about two daggy guys who have written a musical about the most unlikely of subjects - the guy who invented the printing press and used it to print Bibles. It covers a number of weird topics: anti-semitism, education and 'The eternal debate between God and stuff!' You kind of have to see it to understand, but it is great stuff. If this thing ever comes out to Australia for a comedy festival or something, everyone - go and see it!

The Producers
As absolutely everyone should know by now, I am absolutely obsessed with this musical, so it was kind of inevitable that I see it while it was still on Broadway. (The doors are finally closing on this show on April 22). The cast was pretty woeful: Max Bialystock - he of the penetrating voice, dramatic entrances, and showstopping numbers - was played by small, husky-voiced Tony Danza (of 'Who's The Boss' fame*). He can't act, he can't dance, he can't sing, and he has no stage presence, but he is naturally sympathetic with the part of Max - after all, they're both losers.

Still, I'm glad I saw this - the original dance numbers and sets are still intact, and a few of the songs in the theatre show aren't included in the movie - or in the outtakes on the DVD. There are also a few references that can only be understood if you know Times Square. Like the fact that Springtime for Hitler is staged at the Shubert Theatre - a competitor of the St James Theatre, where The Producers played. Or the following words in this Leo Bloom song:

I want to be a producer,
Wear my top hat on Broadway:
I want to be a producer -
Dine at Sardi's every day.

Sardis is the restaurant just next to the St James. Maybe this is actually just product placement, but who cares? It's still funny and clever.

I got a matinee ticket to this one on the day of production, partly becaused I liked the theatre - The Al Hirschfield Theatre, named after a Broadway caricaturist (he also did illustrations for a number of Perelman books) contains a number of Hirschfield illustrations and New York Times covers. The theatre itself is very old, with beautiful filigree designs around the stage, painted walls, and very tight seats - like the St James theatre. (Except with the St James theatre, you also sometimes have the pleasure of walking up several flights of stairs before squeezing yourself into one of the bone-crunchingly-tight seats).

The show itself was so-so - written by the guys who made Chicago and Cabaret, it's a whodunnit set in the backstage of a large theatre. The leading lady of a new show dies on opening night, and the detective insists that none of the actors leave the theatre. The rest of the show basically consists of a number of ridiculous excuse to get the actors in as many costumes as possible, and to perform as many large, showstopping numbers as possible. (The intimate love-duet between the two leading stars has an intimate twenty or so people singing at once, while wearing preposterous white silk costumes).

Oh, and just to prove that I've done my research for this review, and stuff, I'll just say that the guy who played the detective was played by the guy who was in Frasier. No, not Kelsey Grammer - the other guy.

The Pirate Queen
I got tickets to the first preview of this show on my first full day in New York. The tickets were for March 6 - the day just before I was due to fly out of New York. Frankly, I had no idea what it was going to be like. The comments in 'Time Out New York' magazine, which has great reviews of every show on Broadway suggested the show was going to be awful. So when I rocked up to the Hilton on the night of March 6, I was feeling a tad apprehensive about the whole thing.

And the show was pretty silly. Unlike almost all of the other shows I saw, the script had very little wit to it. Sometimes there were conscious attempts to be funny - the English women were made to wear big dresses, for instance. Big dresses are funny, get it? The show was based on the story of a girl who became captain of a pirate ship and led an Irish rebellion against the English, so as you might expect it is full of fight scenes and dungeons, and there's even a birth scene thrown in there just for fun. I was VERY disappointed with the lack of piratical adventures in this show, though - there was very little that was piratical at all, in fact. The Pirate Queen spends most of her time singing big show-stopping numbers and heaving her bosom voluptuously and getting married to the wrong guy. The show writers obviously wanted to get something with big emotions and passions, but they've ended up with a pale imitation of a Mills and Boon novel.

Though it was kind of fun when the villain got killed and dragged down to hell. You've got to appreciate a Don Giovanni reference.

Another part of Times Square on a Saturday night. Note the crowds, by the way: This was 44th Street, between Broadway and (I think) 8th Avenue, the busiest part of Times Square. The street, from one end to the other, was completely packed. It was hard to even breathe, let alone move...

*I'm not sure whether the phrase 'Of 'Who's The Boss' fame' is an oxymoron or not. Can anyone help me out here?

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