Sunday, July 1, 2012

New York Stories: Broadway and Times Square

My ultimate, most favourite place in New York was Broadway.

Researching the shows was one of the first things I did after booking my flights. I had been given a tip to subscribe to Playbill. I did, and was soon in-the-loop with New York's best shows, the best prices and what was coming up. In fact if you only take one thing away from this blog it's this: if you want to see a show on Broadway, subscribe to (and read) the Playbill emails.

On my first 'Broadway Day' I left the hostel for Broadway ridiculously early. I think I got there between 7:30 and 8am. I located the theatre and decided to have a look around (because my first show wasn't until 2pm). A couple of blocks away I found myself in the middle of the most overwhelming place I have ever been.

Fish eye from the red steps
Times Square.

I mean wow.

No photograph or video footage I have ever seen quite prepared me for that place.

In fact I had to sit down and just look like a tourist for about 30 minutes. I made a video, but for fear of it becoming a meme I've left it unlisted. You can check it out here though.

Once I got over Times Square and did some shopping, it was around 11am. The tourists were starting to pour in and the day was beginning to heat up, so I wandered a couple of blocks over to 30 Rockerfeller Plaza, otherwise known as '30 Rock'. I broke in my New York pass with a trip to the top. Top of the Rock is definitely worth doing. On a clear day you can see the whole of Manhattan, and the lines are considerably shorter than the Empire State Building.

I came down, grabbed some lunch and headed to the Music Box Theater for my first show - One Man, Two Guvnors. I'd booked it because it was cheap (thank you Playbill) and it had had great reviews on the West End. I didn't really know much about it going, but I ended up enjoying it immensely. It's a very funny show. It relies heavily on physical humour and, when I walked out my lungs hurt from laughing so hard. James Cordon, who plays the 'One Man' in the show's title won a Tony for best actor this year which I am happy to say, was very well deserved.

Just a few hours later I found myself up the road at Studio-freaking-54 to see Jim-freaking-Parsons in Harvey. Harvey is a play about a man who has an imaginary 6 foot tall rabbit named Harvey for a best friend. It was really wonderful, but it did leave me wondering about Jim Parsons' range. Don't get me wrong, he was wonderful in the play, but it was basically less-nerdy Sheldon crossed with Jimmy Stewart (who played the role of Harvey in the movie). Parsons is supported by a wonderful cast including Jessica Hecht (who played Ross's first ex-wive's wife, Susan, in Friends) and Rich Sommer (who plays Harry Crane in Mad Men). I really enjoyed the play, but it was certainly a change of pace from One Man, Two Guvnors.

My favourite thing about Harvey was the effects and set. Maybe I'm boring, but I always love theatre sets. Always. Or more to the point, I really love the way the set designer has designed the set to make the action of the play come alive. The set rotated in three sections to create the two main settings for the play - in a home, and in a mental health facility. It regularly took chairs and actors around with it. They also had a cool set of 'moving prop' effects which turned 'Harvey' into a character so real I felt like I could see him myself.

The next day, I went to Wicked at the Gershwin Theater. I picked up a program and a Winter jersey at the  merch shop, then went to the bathroom where I encountered my first ever bathroom attendant.... if you can call a woman who points at toilets as they're being vacated and managing the 'traffic' towards them an 'attendant'. 

I had a bit of a rage in my head at this point. Really, America? You can't go to the toilet without someone pointing out which bathroom is being vacated and pointing it out to you? They weren't even that clean (they were in decent condition, but I would have thought it might be a little nicer if there's a person whose job it was to sit in the bathroom)! When I came out, I noticed some women had tipped. I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm sure she's very nice, and she certainly speedily pointed me to the next available bathroom - but honestly I saw the door open and was making my way toward it before she barked out 'there!'

Anyway, I found my way up (and I mean UP) to my door. It was 3 floors up. I had a nosebleed ticket. At that point I realised just how big the Gershwin is. The set itself was HUGE, with a big mechanical dragon hovering over top. I will admit, I wasn't sure at the beginning if I would like it or not (which would have sucked because I have wanted to see this musical for years), but by the end I was completely in love with it. If you loved Wizard of Oz, this musical will completely change your perspective on it. It was everything I could want my first big On-Broadway musical to be.

All in all, if I am ever lucky enough to go to New York again, I will be spending a considerable amount of time seeing plays and musicals on Broadway. I am definitely looking forward to West End when I get to London as well. While we don't lack for quality productions in New Zealand, the sheer number of options available in the big theatre cities is incredible. I would have happily seen (or tried to see) at least a dozen more shows currently on Broadway. I recommend everyone to go see one big huge musical and one play. I loved every minute.

Broadway Tips
  • If you plan to do theatre in New York, subscribe to the Playbill emails for a couple of weeks/months before you go. Easily the best way to find out what's worth seeing, who's in what, and what's about to open.
  • Preview shows are still good, but are slightly cheaper than the main season. You may not see many reviews during the preview period, however, so no-one can really tell you if it's worth seeing.
  • For cheap tickets, you can also go to the TKTS booth, or rush them. I didn't do either of these options, but I definitely saw others doing them. 
  • The TKTS booth is in Times Square, under the red staircase. The lines are long, and not all shows are available. You can only buy tickets for that day's performance.
  • To rush a theatre is to wait for it to open early in the morning and try to get the last-minute tickets for a performance that day. There is usually a limit of 1 ticket per person. I saw lots of lines for this there, each one was about 40-50 people long from 8am.

The Details
One Man, Two Guvnors 
  • Runs until 2 September 2012 at the Music Box Theater
  • Tickets $67 to $142 from the website.

  • Runs for the indefinite future at the Gershwin Theater
  • Tickets $65 to $238 from Ticketmaster

  • Open daily from 8am to midnight.
  • Free, with a New York Pass or $25 to $38 without it
  • Tip: Whenever you go, try and go on a clear day. On the day I went it had been clear and sunny for 2-3 days prior. We discovered that NYC is not as clear a day or two after it has been raining.

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