Dateline: New York, New York –
After a week in the city and averaging about six miles a day per by pedometer, my feet hurt. I’ve been doing a little ‘feets don’t fail me now prayer’ as I have roughly another week to go. I have lotioned them up and I am keeping my feet up until tomorrow morning sometime after nine. Hopefully that will do the trick.
Ellise Mayor and I set out this morning, after a large breakfast at Big Daddy’s Diner, which you have to do when you’re going to be on your feet all day, making our first stop midtown where I finally met the famous Colin T. McLetchie whom I had heard about for years, but had never actually had a chance to meet before. This, of course, led to second breakfast. From there, we headed downtown as neither of us had seen the 9/11 memorial since its completion, and since it was lovely day, we went on down to the battery to admire the view, wave at the Statue of Liberty, wave at the crowds of hot and sweating tourists waiting on boats to Liberty and Ellis Islands, and wave at the Staten Island Ferry.
From there, uptown for a Zabar’s run. (Ellise used to live on the West Side and no visit is complete without Zabar’s) and then back to Gramercy to nosh on our purchases and put our feet up for a bit before heading out for some theater. It’s Monday night, so most shows are dark but we were reminded by Colin about Sleep No More which has a Monday night performance so we headed over to ‘The McKittrick Hotel’ over on the west side near the Highline to check it out.
Sleep No More is an immersive theater experience unlike anything else I have experienced. A block of old warehouses has been transformed into a late 30s hotel and then some. The show, a loose adaptation of Macbeth, is performed in mime over all five floors. We got there early so we had cocktails at the roof garden bar (expensive, but good). We could have done without being stuck in the malfunctioning elevator to the top floor. Still not sure if that was a true malfunction or scripted for atmosphere. Then it was showtime.
As an audience member, you enter and are given a white mask that looks a bit like a plague era doctor’s mask complete with beaky nose. As you wander the many rooms and halls in any order you choose, the mask stays on, reducing the audience to faceless shadows in the dim light. Only the characters of the play are unmasked so it’s easy to spot them and follow them as they interact in the various settings, mainly in interpretive dance pas de deux. Ellise and I were able to identify Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and figure out her conniving and convincing of her weak willed husband. We also correctly identified Macduff and Lady Macduff as well. But we weren’t quite so sure what was going on with the sapphic nurses in the insane asylum on the 5th floor, the transsexual chamber maid, or the bald chick on the billiard table in the speakeasy. I don’t remember any of them from my Shakespeare classes.
Having been once, I would do it again with more of an agenda to try and follow certain characters and less heading where whims take me. Perhaps again on a future visit if I am here over a Monday evening. I do recommend it. It’s far less pricey than your typical Broadway ticket and it’s like nothing else you’ve ever been to.
Unique Broadway experiences being on my mind brings me to tonight’s story. It’s not a long one and involves me and Steve. On one of our visits to New York, 20 some years ago, we finished up our business and decided to go to a show at the last minute. Two new musicals were both starting previews that night, across the street from each other. Titanic and Steel Pier. We decided we wanted to go to Titanic but when we got to the box office, we found that they had had to cancel the first preview as the set was malfunctioning and the Titanic was not sinking on cue. We therefore hotfooted it across the street and got tickets to the first preview to Steel Pier, not knowing anything about it other than it was a Kander and Ebb show. The first thing I saw was Fred Ebb furiously pacing back and forth across the back of the theater with his note pad and looking like he was going to throw up. All was obviously not well. The show started and we were transported to 1930s Atlantic City and the world of dance marathons. It was a mixed bag as a theater piece. Some good numbers, some not. Karen Ziemba and Daniel McDonald playing the romantic leads had all the pizzazz of mashed potatoes. The supporting cast was much better. Gregory Harrison as a Machiavellian MC and Debra Monk as a blowsy contestant with a past were both better than their material. Both of us, however, were bowled over by a tiny little kewpie doll with a huge voice playing an innocent, but scheming, young contestant and kept rifling the playbill to see who it was. She was who we talked about all the way back to the hotel. We had just seen the first performance Kristin Chenoweth ever gave for a paying Broadway audience. I’ve seen her several times since in various shows, but nothing has ever matched seeing her as an unknown who mesmerized a New York audience for the very first time.