Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Und Brodvay, again

As a college graduation present to my daughter and her boyfriend, Anna and I took them on Lisa Starcher Collins’ most recent Arts & Culture Tours New York City bus trip. Anna and I took Halley on one of these three-day, two-night journeys last year (see my prior blog posting “Und Brodvay” (http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2011/11/und-brodvay.html) which also explains the title above). Lisa does a great job coordinating these trips, and we stay at a Marriott right on Times Square. It is a great way to see the Big Apple.

After checking in upon arrival Friday afternoon, we immediately went to the TKTS half-price Broadway ticket booth. Based on what was available that evening, Anna and I decided to see the revival of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man”—a political morality play set in a fictional election in 1960. We were drawn to this play not just for the story (both of us being interested in politics and old enough to have lived in the ‘60s), but also because it had so many stars. These included James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury (both of whom had begun their Broadway careers before I was born), as well as Candice Bergen, John Larroquette, and Eric McCormick (Will from TV’s “Will and Grace”). We enjoyed the show very much!

Prior to the show, we walked from Times Square down Broadway to the Empire State Building. Anna and I love walking in NYC, just soaking in the big city vibes. We decided to eat dinner at the Heartland Brewery in the base of the Empire State Building. I got the Ahi Tuna sandwich, with wasobi and ginger, and it was incredible! It turned out to be our favorite dish of the weekend. We then walked back north along Fifth Avenue, turning at Rockefeller Center and checking out the NBC store. We also ventured over to the Ed Sullivan Theater (home of the David Letterman show) and into a few more tourist stores, including the M&M’s store and Jamba Juice prior to heading for the show.

Halley’s boyfriend Robbie is a big baseball fan, especially a New York Yankee fan. His second favorite team is the Cincinnati Reds, and they happened to be playing the New York Mets this particular weekend (the Yankees were on the road). So the two of them spent Friday night watching the Reds beat the Mets at Citi Field (which included an after-game concert by the ‘70s rock group “.38 Special”). We had agreed to meet after our play and their game at Bubba Gump’s in Times Square for a late night appetizer and to talk about our evenings. Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company is a restaurant chain based on the Forrest Gump movie. The host and the waitstaff like to hit you up with trivia questions about the movie. It turns out that Robbie loves that movie and has watched it repeatedly, so both the host and our waitress were unable to stump us with their trivia questions.

On Saturday, I woke up early and got in the ticket line for an afternoon matinee. We were fortunate to get great half-price tickets to see “War Horse” at Lincoln Center at 2:00 PM. However, the TKTS office in Times Square doesn’t start selling evening show tickets until the afternoon—but a satellite office at the South Street Seaport starts selling them at 11:00 AM. So once I had the “War Horse” tickets (and by now, Anna was awake), we headed to the New York subway to ride to the southern end of Manhattan. The South Side Seaport is an interesting area, with historic old buildings and a few tall sailing ships moored at the dock. We had to stand in line for awhile, but we were able to purchase the tickets we wanted—Cirque du Soleil at Radio City Music Hall for that night.

We then ventured over to the Brooklyn Bridge, and made the walk across the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn. It was more crowded that I had expected, but it was still great to get that view of the spider web of old iron cables strung across the stone towers. It is featured in lots of movies and TV, but I especially associate it with the movie “Sophie’s Choice.” The nearly completed World Trade Center replacement building could be seen when looking back towards Manhattan, and made us wonder what the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian walkway must have been like on September 11.

We had hoped to eat some Brooklyn pizza for lunch at a famous place called Grimaldi's, but we were beginning to worry about our time situation, so we just went ahead and walked over to the Clark Street subway station and headed under the river and north to Lincoln Center. Exiting at the 72nd Street station, we grabbed a slice of pizza from a typical small New York pizzeria as our lunch before the play. We then walked down a few blocks to the Lincoln Center Complex, which includes several theaters, the Julliard School, and a wonderful fountain, reflecting pool, and grassy hillside. As an added bonus, Lincoln Center was hosting an arts & crafts fair, which (needless to say) included lots of creative and high end products.

The play itself was phenomenal! War Horse tells the story of a British boy and his horse, and the horrors of the Great War (what World War I was called before World War II came along). It provides a good look back on the history of that era, and the story itself is marvelous, but what really makes this play memorable is the way they created “puppets” to represent horses. Generally it required three people to manipulate the horses, but they did such a fantastic job that your mind was able to suspend the fact that humans were involved and instead, look at these representations as if they were real horses. It was incredible how life-like they could be, mimicking the way a horse breathes, or the movement of their ears or tail. They even had mastered the sounds a horse makes. It was a magnificent performance, and we had great seats just six rows from the stage—the best seats we got ended up being for the best show of the weekend.

After the show, we walked south on 9th Street, heading for the restaurants in the Hell’s Kitchen area for dinner. We wanted to find an interesting one that also allowed us to sit on or near the sidewalk, so that we could take in more of the New York city culture. We walked until the cross streets were in the 30s before turning around and walking back. It was a hard decision, but we both like Asian food so we decided to try a little place called Ideal Thai Restaurant (which offered an early dinner special). It was one of those restaurants whose front wall opens up, so we were sitting at the first table inside, but were immediately adjacent to the street and sidewalk. The view was nice, and price was right, but the food didn’t impress us—not that it was bad, but just that we expected something more than what we got. The new Thai restaurant in Morgantown was just as good as this place. Oh well!

We then headed back to the hotel and changed before going to Radio City Music Hall. I had been to a show there back in the ‘90s, but Anna had never been inside. I knew that the venue itself was a sight to behold, and since we both had always wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show (this one was entitled “Zarkana”), it worked out perfect. Unlike my previous visit when I was mired near the back of the hall, this time our tickets were only 13 rows back—not quite as good as what we had at Lincoln Center, but still great seats in such a humongous auditorium.

Cirque du Soleil is known for their ultra-creative combination of art, music, and acrobatics. This particular show featured trapeze artists, jugglers, tight rope walkers, sand artists, and more. It was one incredible performance after another, all presented in a most unique way on this grand stage. Although we were very impressed with the show (and the venue), it did not top “War Horse” for my Best Show of the Weekend award.

Halley and Robbie had ventured off on their own again this day, so that they could take the official tour of Yankees Stadium. They bought tickets that afternoon to see a Broadway play called “Nice Work If You Can Get It” starring Matthew Broderick, which they enjoyed very much. We again arranged an after show get together for appetizers and to discuss our respective activities of the day. This time we took them to Dave & Busters, a national chain that combines a restaurant with a large arcade full of computer games, skee ball, etc. Anna and I have been to D&Bs in both Columbus and DC, but Halley and Robbie were not familiar with this restaurant/arcade. We had a good time, especially watching the two youngsters playing games in D&B for the first time (I think they will be hitting D&B again someday).

On Sunday, we started the day with the four of us grabbing a bite at Junior’s bakery next door to the hotel. Then we caught the subway from 42nd Street to 86th Street. The four of us wanted to visit the American Museum of Natural History, a huge complex just off Central Park. We spent most of the day exploring this famous repository of world knowledge. There was everything from dinosaur bones to moon rocks, from cultures around the world to the microscopic world, from the depths of the ocean to the vast reaches of outer space. It would take a week to thoroughly explore this vast collection.

Upon leaving the museum, we again went our own way as we each ventured back towards Times Square to catch the bus home. Anna and I walked to the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon in Central Park, and then down 8th Street, stopping eventually for an early dinner at an Irish restaurant. One of their daily specials included something called “Black & White Pudding.” The thought of getting a dessert included with my meal appealed to me, but fortunately I asked the waitress about the pudding. It turns out it is a form of sausage made from pigs blood, so I decided to choose something else. Normally I am willing to be adventurous with food, but with a long bus trip home ahead of me, I decided to not try something that exotic for the first time. The food we had was good, and the old building housing the restaurant was interesting, but the prize for best meal goes to Heartland Brewery in the Empire State Building.

We stopped at Jamba Juice (a chain specializing in healthy drinks, and which has been featured in Saturday Night Live skits) for a green tea smoothie (a favorite drink that we had discovered on previous trips to NYC) before boarding the bus. We had a lot of fun in our limited time in the Big Apple, but there is never enough time to do everything we would like to do. I don’t want to live in NYC, but I do like visiting it, and so we will continue with our occasional forays to the Big Apple because there is also something new for us to see there. It is quite a place!

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