Living in the lights of Broadway.

Trip Start Dec 26, 2012
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Trip End Jan 15, 2013


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Where I stayed
Edison Hotel Times Square New York City
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Times Square New York City
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of United States  , New York
Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ok, I'll be the first to admit that maybe I got a little carried away with the number of photos I uploaded for this particular blog. However, if you like looking at photos and not necessarily reading my rambling chapters, then this is a good thing, right? Besides, New York is a place better described in pictures, but as good as they are, THEY can't tell you of the sounds, smells and feeling of it all. The stories of things that can only happen in New York City must be told in words. So if that's what you want, I'll try to satisfy. Enjoy, because I sure did!




I left Boston at 9:45 am, and as far as the heat and accommodation was concerned, not an hour too soon. (Wouldn't you know it, the heat wave was due to calm down over the next few days!) The train journey from Boston took very close to four hours.




We arrived at Penn Station, 34th street before 2pm, and I navigated my way though a seeming maze of corridors and thousands of pushing, on a mission people, to the city I've been so looking forward to coming back to : New York.




Taxiing it to 47th street, I had a driver who didn't hesitate to dash for gaps in traffic, and there were precious few of those! Once again I was enveloped into the sights, sounds and smells of New York.
I hadn't been here in summer before, so I knew it would be busier than ever. I got dropped off on the Times Square end of 48th street, as of course traffic is impossible in this area, and it was much quicker to just walk the short distance to 47th. When I rounded the corner, I couldn't believe how close the hotel was to Times Square, I mean, you may as well say it is IN Times Square! I'd known when it was booked that it was close, but less than 100 metres, wow! My next thought was maybe that's a little too close, but only my first nights sleep would tell. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I walked into the foyer, here was an Art Deco classic! Staff were friendly and helpful, and in no time I'd had my passport locked safely away and was headed up to the 16th floor. In a cool elevator.... My room was in the eastern corner, so I had windows looking in two directions, one right out to the east river, and another downtown toward Central Park. It turned out to be the perfect location, high up enough to be away from the worst of the street noise, and just far enough and facing away from the brightest lights of Broadway. After the spartan, cell-like conditions at my previous accommodation, this bedroom was looking like a paradise to me. Having my own, clean, bathroom was a relief as well. Did I mention that it also had heating and cooling that worked beautifully? I may be forgiven for not dumping everything and rushing straight outside, while I appreciated my fit for human habitation surroundings.




Venturing outside, I headed straight to Times Square. If I'd been worried that I wouldn't find it as exciting as I did the first time, I needn't have worried. It was more like a feeling of coming back to a place you had amazing memories of, and finding it the same in all the ways you hoped it would be, and seeing lots of new and exciting things to discover...such as the Broadway shows! Spinning slowly around, my mind began calculating which ones I'd love to see, and how many I could manage to fit in the four short nights that I had. I was hoping to see at least two, three would be wonderful, I had no idea then that I would get to experience FIVE! As it was a Sunday night, and already quite late in the afternoon by the time I'd wandered around soaking it all in, I didn't expect to be seeing one that evening. All the discount price shows at the tickets booth were not ones I wanted to see. They only sell for that particular days shows, but you can also buy full priced tickets to any other shows with seats available. I went and bought a ticket to see Annie on Tuesday, in two nights time. After this I explored all around the area and planned now and future activities. I found the Cake Boss bakery just off 44th. This is a show on the food network over here, and this guy and his team are famous for their incredible creations, making just about anything out of cake and icing, and getting orders from all over America.




After this, I went and checked at the booth for full price shows. I found out that "Let It Be" (a celebration of 40 of their most well known songs) was showing that evening, in only 40 minutes! Now, I have virtually every song the Beatles ever recorded and have listened to them often, but nothing else that was showing and available appealed to me, so I decided to risk it...boy was I glad I did! I didn't really have time to go back to the hotel and change, but the theatre was only a couple of streets away. Before I knew it I was sitting....in the very front row, I couldn't have been any closer to the stage unless I'd climbed onto it! The show was truly fantastic, and played in London's West End before coming here. All of the cast were very talented musicians, and some even bore an uncanny resemblance to the Fab Four, especially the guy who played Paul McCartney. He sounded so much like him too. As if my seating position wasn't exciting enough, when I walked up the aisle before the show began to ask the usher if I could take a picture of the theatre with the curtain still down, I was told that I was allowed to take photos during the show, even use flash photography, as long as what I was doing didn't disturb others around me! I could hardly believe it...how amazing this opportunity really was, was driven home to me with every subsequent performance that I attended. The staff were absolutely vigilant with making sure NO ONE took any pictures, before, during or after performances. I saw lots of people getting yelled at for trying to take photos in them. Anyway, back to this one. It started out with their very first hit when they became a name, and after their days in Liverpool's "The Cavern", She Loves You". They changed costumes as the music moved through the sixties, added facial hair, etc, and while there was occasional dialogue, it was all written as the boys had spoken it at various concerts, live performances and interviews during the years. Mostly, it was all about what we were there to hear, the music. At times they broke out of scripted words and encouraged the audience to get up and scream and shout, and by the time they got everyone fired up and going, we managed to catch an inkling of what the mania must have been like. They used a clever set of old fashioned t.v screens projected onto the stage curtain while costume changes were happening to show actual footage of the crowds, screaming girls and newscasts from the era, which only added to the vibe building up. I loved every minute of it. I took a few photos, some of which I've included in the blog, but also managed to film part of three of the songs. I wasn't able to load any of them up, unfortunately, so you'll have to catch up with me when I get back if you want to hear how great they sounded. By the end everyone was on their feet, and singing along. It should be noted that the audience was a real cross section of age groups too, something which even the performers acknowledged between songs, so it's great to know their music continues to stand the test of time. My favourite of all the songs performed would have to be "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be", which they only sang after they'd left the stage amidst a standing ovation and people began crying "more!" And "come back!" I'm not going to admit whether I was one of them, but those of you who know me would be able to figure it out! What a fabulous first night in New York City, it certainly helped me put some of the unpleasant experiences of Boston behind me. I slept very well in my comfortable, non bed bug ridden bed.




Day two saw me hunting out more theatre ticket opportunities before heading down to Central Park area. I went straight to the box offices this time, and got tickets to Spider-Man on Wednesday, at 1:30 PM, and decided to try out a musical comedy called " First Date" with Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez. I'd seen the big bill board in Times Square advertising it, and didn't know anything about it, but took a bit of a risk and took the good seats I was offered, I guess "Let It Be" had spoiled me for good seats and now I didn't want to be stuck up in the balcony miles away from the stage! All I knew about the actors was that Zachary is the guy who did the voice for Flynn Rider in the Disney movie "Tangled", and since I loved that, and his singing in it, then this show would be a chance to hear him sing, what's not to like about that? Krysta I recognized from somewhere but couldn't actually place it. I later found out she's in the T.V show "Smash", which I began watching at my brothers place last year, but haven't been able to see since.




I had spent quite a bit of time the night before trying to catch up on my blog, and wasn't in a hurry to get up the next morning after another late night. I hadn't had a decent lie in for weeks, and it was too hot and horrible to bother in Boston!




So, now that I had another two shows to look forward to, I continued walking down to Columbus Circle. First stop was the Northwest corner of Central Park, to visit the Apple Store. My iPad has had a few adventures over the last few months, and the cover was looking a little the worse for wear. I totally confess that I could have bought one in any number of places, but wanted to be able to say where I bought it if ever asked, how consumeristic and name drop tragic does that sound! So feel free to punish my shallowness by not asking me if you happen to see it, ha ha!




I then went only a few metres away to another one of my favourite places from last time I was here, F.A.O Schwarz. It's this incredible toy store and I'll let the pictures most of the talking. Lets just say that I didn't leave it empty handed, nor did I buy half of what I wished to! It's mainly a case of not being able to fit everything in my case. As it was I posted off most of what I bought, as well as a few other souvenirs I picked up along the way, later that day.




After this I took a walk through part of Central Park, thoroughly explored a number of times I was last there, to see the differences summer bring. You really need to allow a whole day for the place, if you want to begin to fully appreciate it. I walked all the way back to Times Square again, checking shows and seeing if there was one I could squeeze in, a choice between Mamma Mia and Rock Of Ages was before me. Since I'd already seen the first in London several years ago, I opted for the second. I then treated myself to a leisurely dinner at Olive Garden. I had to sit at the bar, but that was fine, I had a great view out of the windows in both directions, and got to chatting for ages with a girl who'd just come down from Boston for the day for a job interview. Everyone I've met in Canada, and especially in America, is fascinated by either my accent, or the fact that I'm on an exchange for a whole year, or both! Most people have never heard of such a concept, so I rarely need to open a conversation, or they hear me speak and its "I love your accent!" or they have fun trying to guess where you're from. Some get it right the first time, others nearly always think I'm from England, some New Zealand, and occasionally I get a "South Africa?"




Rock of Ages was great fun, and you could tell the actors were having at least as much fun as the audience. The plot was all a bit contrived, but funny dialogue made up for any gaps in that, and the music was classic 80's rock. It took me right back to high school, which was a good thing, apart from serving to remind me of my age! Once again they were unfailing strict about use of photography, with the number of smart phones around it keeps the ushers on their toes.




I slowly walked back to the hotel, and determined that I'd go downtown the next day to see the 911 memorial site, and the new skyscraper that now stands where there was only a massive construction site going on in 2008. The Square was swarming with tourists once again, but not quite as crazy as it was on the Sunday night, when locals were also Broadway bound and making the most of their weekend. There seemed to be triple or more the number of people dressed in costumes, to five years ago. I'd seen one person dressed in an Elmo costume then, now it seemed there was one every direction you turned! They do this to earn money, as it's not free to pose with them, unless you get in a sneaky shot, as I managed to do a few times. This one guy running around in a Spider-Man outfit was pretty popular, especially when he kept hanging off of street signs upside down.




At one intersection there were almost more "characters" than "normal"people, and it was a bit comical to see one Minny Mouse pull out a cell phone and begin chatting away! Kids were loving it of course. Then there were the weird and wonderful shock value "buck hustlers", as I like to call them. Just outside the Rock Of Ages theatre, and rather appropriately in front of the "Ripleys Believe It Or Not" attraction, stood two guys who wouldn't look out of place at a bikers convention. They had blue and pink dyed rats on their shoulders and were offering to put them on other people's shoulders, for a price, but not too many were taking them up on the offer! More scream worthy for other people at my hotel corner was a guy with an enormous python, also offering to place it around people's shoulders. In fact I saw him walk right up to a number of people, often women, and virtually shove the poor snake right in front of their faces. You had no trouble spotting him, for if you happened to miss the snake, the screams emanating from the immediate area soon drew attention!




A Starbucks just on the corner saw me visit most nights, as I used the free Wi Fi, and even received a Skype call from my best pal (shout out to Rose!) one night. I could have used it at the hotel but it wasn't free, as is the case with most places in America. I decided I'd rather spend my hard earned cash on Broadway!




Parts of the streets are pretty dirty, and bags of garbage and cardboard boxes pile up rapidly on the curbs come nightfall, waiting for pick up. I did notice the pavements being hosed down with a high pressure hose in places, but while this served to make them look clean, a smell something not unlike wet chickens rose up, and it was enough to cure any appetite! Food stands on most corners added a more pleasant smell to the air, but if you like hot dogs most locals will warn you against trying the "dirt water dogs" as they are referred to. Which means they've been swimming around in the hot water of those carts for who knows how long...eat at your own risk!




Tuesday dawned, my second full day, and I decided it was time to do something a bit more meaningful than scout out Broadway shows, besides, with tickets to three future ones already purchased, I didn't have time to see more!




Catching the subway downtown, I ended up getting off a bit too early, but exercise is a good thing, so it was a chance to see more of Lower Manhattan. The weather was warm and sunny, but not humid like Boston. I kept glimpsing the freedom tower through gaps in the buildings, a dark blue shard rising up and looking starkly new in its surroundings. It certainly is much more aesthetically pleasing to look at compared to the twin towers.





Eventually I found it rising up in front of me, with a huge gap still where the twin towers once stood, of course it was not built on their foundation, as doing do would be akin to disturbing a graveyard of hundreds of people, and to many families that is exactly what this place has become. Fittingly, the foundations of the buildings, which also went many levels underground, are now two huge square fountains. Around the edges are plaques with the inscriptions of the name of each victim of the tragedy, deep enough for the stems of flowers to be placed in them, which many people have. They have grouped crews and rescue workers together under titles of their company or precinct, and put names of those related close as well, upon families requests. The water pours down black marble walls toward the centre, where it drains into a smaller, deeper square, seeming to disappear into the depths. In a way it is symbolic of what happened when they collapsed.




It was all deeply moving and sad to see, but I'm glad that the effort is being made to remember those who died and those who sacrificed their lives trying to save others. I only saw all of this over an hour after I arrived at the site, however, as the whole area is still surrounded by high construction fencing. You have to buy entrance tickets on one side of the block, and then walk up several streets that are not clearly signposted, to get into the memorial area itself. Not buying tickets beforehand sees you waiting in an even longer line when you finally get there, pre-bought ones get you slightly faster passage through the maze of lines, an x-ray screening area, and more security and police officers than I've seen in one place in my life!




After getting through all this, it's another long walk around the boundary fence before you're finally in sight of the memorial fountains. They are still in the process of building a museum to document the event, but the ticket centres offer panels with photos showing how it all unfolded.




One of the things that really amazed me was this "survivors tree" that kept being referenced. I didn't realize exactly what it was until I came across it. The tree stands right in the middle of the space between the two towers, and somehow miraculously wasn't totally destroyed when they fell. Burned, broken and smouldering, the pear tree still stood, when all else around it was ruin. The tree became a symbol of survival and resilience in the midst of all that horror. It was removed by the city and began to recover, while the site was slowly excavated. It was only a number of years later that it was returned to the spot from whence it came, new limbs had sprouted from smouldering stumps, and it thrives once more. They have lots of souvenirs based upon it, even a book! I bought a pair of earrings with the pear blossom, all proceeds go toward recovery of the site and building the memorial. I'm happy to support that.




Before walking to the site I'd also spent time in the nearby St Paul's chapel, the oldest public building in Manhattan in continuous use since 1766. It's a beautiful building only a stones throw from ground zero, that also stood when most around it crumbled and burned. It became a place where rescuers and everyone else came to rest, eat, pray, sleep, or seek comfort, counselling and an escape from the horrors, heat and heartbreaking work at the site. They have a display set up there around the edges, including a set of one of the firefighters clothes, melted bottoms of his boots and all. The firefighters used to stumble in for a few hours rest when they could stand no longer, and at first slept on the pews, fully dressed. Eventually they took the pews out, and placed cots around the edge for shifts of rescue workers. They were never replaced, and the interior of this historic building has forever changed. Now, individual chairs sit facing each other in the centre, and worship services happen as before. George Washington's inauguration was held here, and the pew he sat upon is on display here. It too did not go unused by those who needed it.



After this sobering experience it was well into the evening, and time to head back into the heart of Manhattan for the musical "Annie". You could hardly fail to cheer up watching this! The music is just toe tappingly, infectiously happy, and it was just the perfect way to end the day.




The young girl who played Annie, Lilla Crawford, was only twelve years old, and she was the only one playing the lead role. It wasn't as if there were a few kids that they rotated, as often happens with other shows with children in the main roles. She had an understudy, of course, but eight shows a week, that's demanding for even a seasoned adult. She was a revelation, and played the role with just the right combination of charm and spunk, and had a fantastic singing voice to boot. All the young actors were wonderful, especially the little cutie who played Mollie, the youngest orphan girl. This kid was tiny for her eight years, but they were all so professional it made any little acting forays I'd attempted in primary school plays seem amateur indeed! The role of Daddy Warbucks was played wonderfully by none other than Australia's own Anthony Warlow, and his chemistry with the lead was lovely to see. The staging and props were also excellent, with clever sets that opened out like a pop up book, or a giant book that kept opening to reveal new rooms in Daddy Warbucks mansion.




Another full day in New York, city of excitement, and only my last full day was ahead, how had it gone so fast? Why didn't I spring for another couple of nights? And how much could I pack into my last day tomorrow? Only time would tell.




Day four saw me decide to stay around the general area since I had a matinee show at 1:30, "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark". Meanwhile, I slept in again, a bit, then walked a couple of streets to Madame Tussauds. I hadn't been that impressed with the one in London when I went years ago, to be honest, but I went by the models of Morgan Freeman and Justin Timberlake that they had out the front. I thought if they were anything to go by then it was worth a look. Since it was also just across the road from Fox Theatre, where Spider-Man was performing, it was also pretty convenient, so I went for it! It was great fun, and I confess I took way too many photos, but with the price you pay to get in, you want to make the most of it! If you think I uploaded lots, you haven't seen the half of it! Of course, the biggest attraction in the place at that time was the One Direction boys, and they were virtually the last exhibit on display once you'd worked your way down all the other floors. You get taken in an elevator to the ninth floor, and then work your way down from there. At certain models, they have photographers set up, so you can pose, and then view later on and decide if you want to spend money buying it. They must rake in an absolute fortune doing this. One exhibit was King Kong, another President Obama and his wife, and finally, 1D. I'll leave it to you to guess who was the most popular!




A New York cut steak was next on the agenda at an Applebee's restaurant, then it was Spider-Man time. This was my big theatre show day, and the two shows I'd chosen couldn't have been more different. Spider-Man is in its third year on Broadway, and is an extravaganza of a production in every sense of the word. It involved the most amazing sets and ariel stunt work, with times when the namesake was literally flying over the top of the audience, to gasps and cries of amazement from those below. One moment he was flying on cables up to the balcony, the next hanging upside down above the stage. It truly was amazing! At the end it was revealed that in fact eight different men besides the lead actor had performed the stunts, and it was the only way it was possible for the lead to appear to change almost instantly from Peter Parker to his alter-ego. At the height of the greatest action sequence, Spider Man and his nemisis The Green Goblin, were zooming around, duelling above our heads, and streams of webbing rained down on the audience, talk about being caught up in the action! The original score was fabulous, created by Bono. I left the theatre feeling exhilarated and that I'd seen something pretty unique.




I spent what remained of the afternoon store hopping in Times Square, finding some cool stuff in the Disney store for my niece, and browsing the Hard Rock Cafe and Hershey's. The number of souvenir stores in the area has to be seen to be believed. On top of this are the stalls that crowd all along the main sidewalks hawking everything from prints to t-shirts to handbags. It makes me wonder how they can possibly make a profit with the amount of competition. Dozens of sketch artists are plying their trade, and one group of artists were creating amazing landscapes using nothing but spray paint and a few cleverly placed lids and strips of cardboard.




I went back to the Edison and got ready for my final show, having very little idea of what to expect. The seats I had were great, only four rows back from centre stage. "First Date" is billed as a musical comedy that deals with the perils and pitfalls of a blind date. The storyline centres on two opposites, a tightly wound, slightly straight laced Aaron, who's never dated a stranger before, and cool "artsy" Casey, (billed a "relationship assassin" by the sister who's set them up, unlucky in love, and with so many experiences of bad first dates she's organised a friend to call and "bail her out" after a certain amount of time just in case it's a bust.




The story unfolds in an excruciatingly hilarious series of conversations, flashbacks and songs, which reveal all the things the characters are thinking about each other to the audience. The other five cast members, two other couples in the bar where they meet, and the bartender, alternatively play multiple roles. This is done very cleverly and simply by adding a wig, scarf or other simple prop. Such was the talent of the supporting cast that it was easy to believe they could be three different people, an ex girlfriend/boyfriend, their future son, therapist, pushy sister, an irate Jewish grandmother or a "bailout buddy", just in case it all goes pear shaped. The singing was excellent, the script had us laughing out loud, often, and the staging so simple and effective. There was no interval, and the play ran for 90 minutes, with dialogue or singing the whole time. I loved it! The leads were fantastic singers, and played the parts with just the right amount of humour and vulnerability where it was called for, so that even though it seemed unlikely that they could get together, you really wanted them to!




At first when Zachary Levi spoke, I kept picturing Flynn Rider, the character he voiced in Tangled! The cast got the best and longest standing ovation of all the shows I saw, and it was well deserved. Outside of the theatre afterwards, a huge crowd of show goers milled around, and I wondered why they were not dispersing faster, as is usually the case. Then I realized that the stage door was right next to the front of the theatre, and they were waiting for the cast to come out, armed with programs and ready for autographs. I decided to hang around, even though I could see very little with seven rows of people in front of me. Zachary Levi was the last one to emerge, to the loudest cheers and clapping, and I could actually see him over the crowd, hardly surprising as it turns out he's 6 "3! He started signing autographs, and kept going, long after his fellow cast members had left. More than 20 minutes later he was still there, joking around and chatting away with people, and I realized he wasn't going to let anyone go away empty handed, so I kept hanging around. Two girls posed for a photo with him, and he asked them if they had enjoyed the show. They admitted that they hadn't seen it, but just walked up off the street! He was really nice about it, but made sure they knew that wasn't fair when there had been others waiting for ages, and had everybody laughing when he said, "you know, God doesn't like that either!" There were only a few of us left after this, and a really nice girl who was obviously a big fan of his was happy to take a photo with my iPad when it was my turn. Zachary asked me if I'd seen the show, and I assured him that I certainly had, and loved it, and his voice. He seemed pretty happy with that review, and before I knew it, I was posing with a Broadway star! That was a special moment, and so much more fun than standing next to a wax model, that's for sure. What a lovely guy he is, and so talented as well as generous with his time. This is his debut on Broadway, so I was very glad I chose to see it. I've since found out he's in the new Thor movie coming out. I'm pretty confident we'll be seeing a lot more of this guy in the future.




What a great way to end my experiences of Broadway and New York! As is often the way, it's the things you don't plan or have no idea are going to happen that turn out to be the most memorable.




One last stroll around Times Square, taking it all in, buying some cool personalized posters for my niece and nephew, and it was time to head back and pack up my gear. The train I was to catch left Penn Station at 10:25 the following morning.




My time in New York was over, and it had been like returning to see an old friend, one you didn't necessarily want to live with, but had a ball hanging out with! I guess it's better to leave a place wishing you could have stayed longer, than feeling you can't wait to get out of there.



Until next time...farewell to the lights of Broadway

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Comments

Anne MUrrie on

Sounds like you are having so much fun. I think the Beatles show sounded wonderful. Keep enjoying!

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