This weekend, I was able to cross yet another item off my pop culture bucket list. After years of misfires or scheduling conflicts, I finally made it to New York City to see a Broadway play. This particular omission was always somewhat a source of embarrassment for me; I live relatively close to the City and I like the theater, yet I had been unable to get a plan together to go. When I told people that I had never seen a show on Broadway, it was almost always greeted with an incredulous “really?” and a look of shock.
Even without going to Broadway, I had managed to see a fair share of plays and musicals. My high school had a very good theater program and many of my friends were involved so I saw most of them. The play selection wasn’t all that inspired, but I saw lots of classics: Grease, Godspell, Oklahoma, Pippen, Annie and a particularly terrible rendition of The Crucible. We have a gorgeous theater in the area that always has an interesting slate of traveling productions of shows and I try to see at least one a year. Over the years I’ve seen Avenue Q, Rent, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, Peter Pan, Movin’ Out and Spring Awakenings. Nearby Williamstown, MA hosts the Williamstown Theater Festival every summer and I’ve seen some great shows there as well, most of which are in the early stages of development. I particularly enjoyed The Last Goodbye, which is a rock musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet using the music of Jeff Buckley and which is slowly making progress toward Broadway. I’ve even had some good luck with the community theater in Albany; the productions tend to be hit or miss each year, but I quite enjoyed their rendition of Gypsy a few summer ago. As much as enjoyed most of these shows, I still had the nagging feeling that I was missing out on something by not taking in a show on Broadway. It was time to finally remedy this situation. Though many people over the years offered to go with me to a show, most of them never got through the abstract phase of “we should do this.” My pal Amanda stepped up this year and decided to help me make this a reality. After some negotiation on what to try and see – I wanted my first show to be a musical and tickets to our first choice (Book of Mormon) were hard to come by – we opted to check out Once, the 2012 Tony winner for best musical. I figured I might as well go with the best.
Once is based on the 2006 movie of the same name, which won an Academy Award for best original song. It tells the story of an Irish street musician ready to abandon his music. He meets a young Czech woman who takes an interest in him and his music. As they spend more time together, he finds a renewed passion for his music – and for her. I purposely did not know much more about the musical going into it; I had not seen the movie, though I was aware of it and had heard good things, and wanted to experience the show as it was performed without knowing where the story would take me.
Unlike many of the musicals I have seen, Once is a bare bone production. There are no elaborate set changes; everything is done on the same set and lighting, chairs and tables are used to give the illusion of new settings. There are minimal costume changes. This show fails or succeeds on the performances and the story; there is nothing to distract the audience. I liked the minimalism; I think a lot of shows rely too heavily on production value.
What is very cool about Once is that the actors are all musicians as well, and they play instruments throughout the show. There is no orchestra. The cast provides the entire musical accompaniment. That limits the number of people who can go out for roles – I don’t know how many actresses can also play violin, but I’m guessing it is a small number – but it is absolutely worth it. If you are going to tell a story about musicians, it is essential that the cast knows their way around musical instruments. Before the show, the cast jams on stage and invites the audience up on stage to watch. That was also a cool wrinkle, as I’d never seen anything like that before.
As we went to a matinee, we saw the understudy for the male lead rather than the actor who won the Tony for his performance. I was a little disappointed at first, but the understudy was so good that it took nothing away from the musical. If I hadn’t have known he was the understudy, I don’t know that I would have known the difference. I was unprepared for just how funny Once was; I guess I was expecting more it all to be more serious, but there are plenty of places to laugh throughout the show. I appreciated that it didn’t take itself too seriously. The cast was spectacular overall; not only do they act, since and play their own instruments, but they also serve as their own stage hands. It was really a joy to watch them all up on stage, doing their thing. The music in the show is beautiful and I was really impressed with just how talented they were. Even though this was a small show, it didn’t feel like it. I was totally drawn into the story and the time just flew by. I especially appreciated the ending, which was not what I thought it would be. I was sad to see it all end. It was a great first experience and I’ll definitely make more of an effort to check out more shows in the future, though I admit that it didn’t seem much different than the shows that I see at Proctors in Schenectady. The main difference was how small the theater was; Amanda had warned me, but I still was surprised when we walked in.
After the show, we were off to do something else that I’ve always wanted to do: see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Somehow I have managed to never been in New York City during Christmas time, so I had never experienced all the splendor that goes into decorating. I also wanted to check out some of the windows of the major department stores to see what their displays looked like. I was hoping that this would help jump start me into the holiday spirit and it seemed like something that everyone should do at least once. We picked a show in December specifically so I could kill two birds with one stone. The only thing we hadn’t anticipated was that it would be 60 degrees out in December; great for travel and for being outside a lot, but not so great for feeling Christmassy. I am no fan of winter, but it just doesn’t feel like Christmas to me unless you are all bundled up and there is snow on the ground. Blame that on spending a lifetime in Upstate New York. I just don’t know how people in warm climates do it.
Our first stop was Saks Fifth Avenue. I was kind of underwhelmed with their windows. They were kind of low key and primarily featured clothing to buy in the store. They didn’t feel very holiday-ish. It just looked like a nice cocktail party. Probably in keeping with their clientele, but not a lot of fun for people like me.
One of their windows did feature a cute plush Yeti, but when we ventured inside (all the way to the 9th floor) I discovered that it cost $55. That was less than I actually expected, but more than I was willing to spend on a stuffed animal that would probably wind up in the back of a closet shortly after purchase.
However, Saks did have a pretty cool light show that was projected onto the front of the store every seven minutes. I was suitably impressed.
After that, we hightailed it to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. It was really crowded, as we expected, but people were in pretty good spirits regardless and no one was rude or seemed annoyed by the mass of humanity all trying to get a good angle to see the tree. I wanted to get a photo of the tree with the skating rink in the front and we managed to find a way to skip the line of people who all wanted the same thing, because I am incredibly sneaky. It wasn’t a perfect sight line, but it was close enough.
We made a quick stop at Magnolia Bakery so I could try one of their cupcakes and then headed back to the theater district to have a late dinner at Carmine’s. As we were turning the corner to the restaurant, I almost ran into a camera man. I realized that there were several camera men and production trucks lining the street. It took me a second to understand that Carmine’s is directly across from the Best Buy Theater and that as we were standing outside as the Heisman Trophy ceremony was taking place. As a sports fan I was pretty excited by this, especially since a player from Notre Dame was up for the award. Even more exciting to me was as we sat in the bar waiting for our table (it was a 90 minute wait), I saw both Doug Flutie (former Buffalo Bills QB and Heisman winner and merchant of Flutie Flakes breakfast cereal) and Kirk Herbstreit (College Game Day Analyst) come in separately for a table. I never randomly see celebrities; the only other sighting I’ve had was I once saw The Rock at an Outback Steakhouse in Albany. I was less excited that they immediately got a table after I’d already been sitting there for an hour. I guess they didn’t recognize me as an obscure pop culture blogger; if they had I would have gotten a table more quickly. We ordered a Porterhouse Contadina, which was huge. It’s family style and all, but I wasn’t prepared for the plate o’meat that they brought out. This is what it looked like after we both took a serving.
By the time we left the restaurant it was after 11:00 pm. The next train back to Long Island was leaving at 12:14 am so I opted to skip the windows at Macy’s rather than waiting for the next train at 1:16 am. I was exhausted and it didn’t seem worth it to get home so late, especially when I was planning to leave to drive home at 8 am the next morning. Plus it gives me something to do when I return.
Some other quick thoughts:
- It was a weekend of firsts, but not all of them were great. On my drive to Long Island, I had my check engine light go on for the first time. I pulled off at the next exit, looked in the manual and then did what I assume every adult woman would do in this situation – called my mother crying. I didn’t realize that most of the time, the light is no big deal and has something to do with the gas cap. I didn’t want my car to break down on the highway. After some reassurance, that it was probably nothing and that if it wasn’t nothing I’d find out pretty quickly, I resumed my trip but I was stressed out the entire way. I also had this scene from The Big Bang Theory running through my head as this was all happening:
- It dawned on me that the last time I was in Manhattan was back in 2006 for an O.A.R concert at Madison Square Garden. That’s far too long. I go to NYC a lot, but I mostly go to the Bronx. I’ve decided that I’m going to start taking the train into the City and just explore. I really should be more familiar with it than I am. Plus there are still tons of things in the City that I still want to do.
- Times Square hurts my head; it is just too bright. I also don’t understand how stores like Swatch and restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp are still open. Shouldn’t stuff like that have closed in the late nineties?
- I had to give a shout out to my man, Jimmy Fallon.
- I was so tired after we got off the train that I actually hit myself in the face with the car door as I was opening it. A rookie mistake for someone with 30+ years of door opening experience.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I got to cross some items off my to do list and spend time with one of my favorite people. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to see a show. Book of Mormon tickets have got to become available eventually.