York, New York
CityPass: New York
Vegetarian Dining in New York
York For Families
We love City Pass!
Do you know somebody who's planning to come to New York? Sure you do. Every
week! We love to watch your eyes go boingggg
boingggg when they see
our tall buildings and sense the excellence and intelligence of
America's only truely international, grown-up city. We love to watch
your auras explode when you taste our gorgeous food.
But what New Yorker wants to take a big-eyed, breathless first-time
visitor up the Empire State Building for the 37th time at 8:00 a.m.? No,
no, no, no, no. No more!
So here's what you do: you buy your friend a CityPass. And when you
take your friends for din-dins that evening they can tell you all about
the rubber King Kong pencils they bought up there at the tippy top. No
waiting on line either...with CityPass, your guests just waltz right in.
Well, most of the time, anyway. The Empire State Building's a special
case. It gets crowded up there, and King Kong's got a CityPass too. Your
CityPass will get also you free admission to the Intrepid Sea Air Space
Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Guggenheim Museum & MoMA,
and more! So do it.
for the CityPass website.
|New York Tourist Tip:
Eat in neighbourhood coffee
shops, (in midtown, East side, close to the United Nations, these are on
First and Second Avenues, where breakfast is $3 for two eggs, potatoes
and toast, not $12 or more in the hotel tourist traps. There's a 24 hour
supermarket on the corner. Walk to First Avenue between 53rd and 54th
Street and you'll find all the Sutton Place regulars tucked into the
comforting diner booths at the
all nighter Madison coffee shop, or a few clicks down
at Tal Bagel, where the tofu scallion spread on an Everything Bagel is
actually just as delicious as the cream cheese. And so good for
New York's Secret Hotels
. . .
and the Neighborhoods Are Fabulous
You don't want to stay in a cheap cheap hotel
in New York. Ever. But if you can be clean, safe and private, in an excellent
neighbourhood, why pay more? Three of the best are here, and they're gems.
The Pickwick Arms Hotel
A great clean, recently renovated cheap hotel on the East Side (230 East
51st Street) in a snazzy midtown residential neighbourhood. Walk home,
singing and dancing, from the Broadway shows. The rooms won't win any
design awards, but it's all immaculate, safe, and you've got a TV and a
sink in the room. High rollers can book the rooms with private baths or
showers. Budgeteers can use the sparkling showers just steps down the
hall. More Pickwick info?
The Excelsior Hotel
We have a big soft soft for the old Excelsior Hotel. It's on Central Park,
so there's air there, too. What a concept! Unsurprisingly, Jerry Seinfeld,
Tony Randall, and lots of celebrities, if you care about that sort of
thing, live nearby. The Excelsior is located directly across 81st street,
opoosite the new Planetarium, which looks stunning and awesome on the
outside and is crushing and horrible on the inside (more on that
disappointing debacle later). Just stay in celestial splendour at the
historic Excelsior, where galaxies of wonderful sweet space scientists
wander around in circles, jabbering to themselves, gawping at the
beautiful blue ball glow eerily at night. There's a good coffee shop, and
a subway and bus stops on the corner.
Righteous, and still under 200 clams per night!
More info here
You get more than a room when you stay at the Y. You'll find
recreation, a concierge /tourist desk, swimming pools, and fitness
facilities. And a cheap hotel. In New York City: Yes! Y not?
Wise guys use Ys.
You can stay at the Y in Hong Kong, Delhi, Athens, Bangkok, London and
even New York.
Get a free brochure by writing to:
The Y's Way International
224 East 47th St.
New York, NY 10017 tel 212 308 2899. And lest we
forget, click here
Sixth Street (aka Little India)
If you haven't yet run the gauntlet, you really must
take a walk along Sixth Street from Second Avenue to First Avenue,
Manhattan's “Little India.” Peer into the restaurants, as you are
“invited” by the many restaurant owners to step inside their wildly
The food's pretty much the same — better than
average, at least — in all of them. Some folks favour Ghandi, some
prefer the always reliable Mitali East. And those who don't know any
better get sucked into Banjara, perhaps because it's more expensive, and
many people in this country (including, unfortunately, the
Zagat and New York magazine reviewers) don't know Indian food
very well and can't tell good from the average.
If you want a thoroughly delightful Sixth Street
experience, turn to the right when you reach First Avenue, and walk a
few steps, where now you will see four - count them, four! - Indian
restaurants, two up, two down, all good, and festooned with the wildest
flashing lights of all, some of them, winking, blinking red chilli
peppers in endless rows.
And four men will be standing outside, smiling,
calling, egging you on, egging you in, aggressively waving you into
their doors. You probably haven't felt so sought-after since you took
your shirt off on the balcony on Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. Well,
you're going to have to break three hearts. And the food's lovely
in all these places. But one place has a hidden surprise:
The Royal Bangladesh Indian Restaurant
93 First Avenue (between 5th and 6th Streets)
Ny NY 10003
Surprise, surprise...this one features a cool,
sparkling, lighted, canopied, mysterious, magical secret garden, so
pretty - and funky, too - it will transport you instantly into a
romantic, gentler world. A great place to delight your friends, have a
party, or throw one of those buy-your-own-damn-dinner parties that are
becoming increasingly popular these days. The vegetable main dishes are
$4.95 and $5.95, and you'll be spoilt for choice. Coconut soup is $1.25!
And the food's lovely.
Lunch special, noon to 4 pm will get you a pappadum, soup, samosa,
banana pakora bhujia, eggplant pakora,
a vegetable curry, rice, dhal, and dessert!
Another Must-See, Must-Do
New York Indian Experience:
Curry in a Hurry
119 Lexington Avenue
NY NY 10016
tel 212 683 0900 and 683 0904 and 683 5856 and 683 5944
fax 212 685 6385
This world famous pit stop (since 1976) for taxi
drivers, film stars, Indians families, homesick diplomats and obsessed
nutcases like your reviewers who once in awhile wake up and must have
the full smorgasbord of Indian
dishes for breakfast at 10 o'clock in the morning
is not to be missed. In you come, look at the Big Board above,
and point to all you want. They load it all onto a tray and then you
teeter up the narrow stairs, where, waiting for you is a room full of
tables and another buffet. We're not talking high gourmet dining here,
but the pakoras are stunning and the dishes are the real thing, home
cooking, perhaps, just like Rama used to make.
tip: Get take-away samosas for a picnic on the plane, or to stash in
your mini bar for a jet-lag snack.
Luxury Indian Dining
Northern Indian Cuisine
30 West 52nd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
NY NY 10019
BP on the Web
You can always count on Bombay Palace to serve you a
delicious, superior excellent meal...it almost guarantees excellence in
every dish. If you need to take someone to a special lunch at a moment's
notice, the cooking will never let you down .The rooms are constantly
being renovated and glitzed up and convey a casual sense of occasion.
People feel flattered to be asked to join you here. Bombay Palace is an
international chain. The up side to this is it has extremely high
Nice stop for Fifth Avenue shoppers or midtown execs.
I like to "test" Indian restuarants by ordering difficult,
variable dishes: Mattar Paneer is a case in point. The peas should be
bright green, not army coloured. The paneer should be large, plump,
rectangular, soft and taste of rosewater. Bombay Palace's always passes
the paneer test, where hardly anyone else does. They sell their own
cookbook: a must have.
Unlike Madjhur Jaffery's and other 'earth toned' flavours, the Bombay Palace's approach has a brightness and confidence
and gourmet swagger, a genuine polish that makes you want to eat these
foods every day. We've got three copies, and whenever we go into the
hinterlands, the book goes with us. (Want to buy the book?) Go here.
Pricey a la carte and at night, your
best bet is the
glorious (but limited, compared to Diwan's sumptuous lunchtime spread)
seven days a week lunch buffet. The good old BP has been in business for
ever, and perhaps the only complaints we might have about it are the
ever-changing three selections of vegetarian dishes on the daily buffet.
They don't always think about how it must feel having a choice of three
dishes that are lentils, peas and potatoes, and chick peas: beans, bean,
beans! To be fair, they will offer to bring you another dish, but this
always embarrasses us. We don’t like to make a fuss. Phone before you
go and ask what's on today. If you're lucky it might be mattar or sag
paneer, cauliflower, and black dhal, or kofta, or veg jalfrezi.
If you've got to have an Indian meal right away, you
could do worse. The cooking has a harshness to it, and some dishes are
Two tricks here: 1) Diners are entitled to a free
basket of pappadums, but you have to know to ask for them, or you're out
of luck. 2) At lunch everything on the menu is 50% off the listed price.
This seems a silly practise - why bother going there for dinner? Tips:
Paneer Tikka makes a great starter, The veg kurma tastes good, though
the sauce is thin and runny; the veg jalfrezi is too sharp. Veg kofta is
terrific, and those pappadums are worth fighting for...they're very
nice, washed down with a salt lassi.
Please don't waste your
Pretty room, disappointing and, at times,
lukewarm food, frosty
service. The rich people in the Lincoln Center area will think it's
swell; they're all on diets, anyway.
Unexceptional food and unfriendly
service. Huge bright room,
full of suits.
Above average. Nice room. And then our
two reviewers went home and were violently sick.
in the Crown
zircon not worth going out of your way for.
|| New York Vegetarians are celebrating the
arrival of a new hang-out: Veg City Diner.
It looks like a normal diner. It even almost smells like a normal
diner. But there are no disgusting cards pushing Buffalo burgers in the
booths, and the rooms don't stink of old grease. That's because these
diners serve clean food---vegetarian and also vegan only. You can get
Jell-O that isn't gelatin based. They have fries, pot pies, organic eggs
and tofu club sandwiches. In other words, normal food...without the meat.
Be patient here: the service is wildly erratic: the main dish
came first, followed by the salad. Much later, bread arrived. But give
them a little time. It's worth a trip just to get Scorned Beef Hash for
55 W. 14th St. at Sixth Ave. 212.490.6266
Open seven days a week.6 AM-1AM
|Best American Vegetarian
Food in Town:
Organic Harvest Cafe
Well, it's a hole in the wall. But it's a light, bright, clean,
cheerful , airy little space, a few steps up and opposite the bland,
desultory salad bar fare at Bunchberries. There are only three tables here
Sit down anyway. The food is fresh and bursting with flavour; you can
practically taste the vitamins jumping into you.
If you must eat your vegetables,---and there are always good daily dark
greens somewhere on the big menu---they will steam them or jazz them with
garlic for you. They char-grill your vegeburgers, tofu, seitan, etc. Our
fave is the Big Daddy Seitan Steak Dinner ( $10.50), with mashed potatoes
and gravy and veg. Excellent salad dressings and juices are a sure sign
that the chef takes great care over every detail of the simple but
righteous fare. You can choose from a selection of sides, too, if you
prefer to keep things simple: soba noodles, cornbread, brown rice,
carmelized onions, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, grilled tempeh, grilled
or steamed tofu, garlic bread, etc. Because it's so small, they do a huge
business in deliveries to the nearby Citicorp and Lipstick buildings. Time
Out and Zagat missed this place...again. Which is a shame on them, because
this place has some of the best vegetarian food in town...and none of the
stingy portions, cramped conditions or passive-aggressive New Agey 'tude
of the uncomfortably metallic and draggy Candle Cafe uptown. You can eat
vegan or macrobiotic here too. But we'll take the exquisite, simple
Vegetarian Dumplings with ginger shoyu sauce ($5.95) anytime.
Organic Harvest Cafe
235 East 53rd Street
(between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)
New York, NY 10022
Phone: 212 421 6444 Fax: 212 421 5255
Never Gonna Dance
What do you get when you marry Jerome Kern’s music to a
lighthearted comic confection? A splashy, sassy Broadway hit. Now
playing at the Broadhurst Theater, "Never Gonna Dance" is like
watching an Astaire-Rodgers movie on stage. It’s breezy and funny and
utterly American. The
time is 1936, and the country is in the grips of the Great Depression.
But does that grim news get our hero — Lucky (Noah Racey) or our
heroine — Penny (Nancy Lemenager) down? Heck, no. When the going gets
tough, the tough go dancing. After all, the original point of the MGM
musicals was to lift the spirits of a frightened public. Times were
hard, and we needed a break. Times are still hard; we still need
theatrical escape. Happily, "Never Gonna Dance," with an
utterly charming ensemble, two attractive leads, Robin Wagner’s
sublime deco delight sets, and a glorious score, obliges.
The premise is simple: Lucky, a professional hoofer, wants to
marry a girl back in Punxsutawney, Pa. To do so, he’s got to earn
$25,000. That means heading for the bright lights, big city in search of
fame and fortune. Lucky just happens to meet a dancing instructor,
Penny. And before you can say Major Bowes Dance Contest, our dashing duo
suddenly teams up to win a grand prize of $25,000!
Of course, Lucky falls for Penny, but he can’t express his true
feelings — he made a promise to another. Penny is equally enamoured of
Lucky, but is dating over-the-top singer Ricardo Romero (David Pittu).
What’s a star-crossed couple to do? They just gotta dance. And their
dancing is dazzling. Two scenes are particularly stunning: A Grand
Central number that celebrates the music and rhythms of ordinary life
and a stunning piece atop the newly constructed Vanderventer (read
Rockefeller) Center that’s joyous.
"Never Gonna Dance" is a musical meringue that
marries all the MGM conventions — love conquers all, happy endings
abound, the poor can become rich — into a joyful musical comedy. When
former broker turned bum (Peter Gerety) woos his beloved Mabel (Karen
Ziemba) in the Horn & Hardart automat, we know that anything is
possible. What’s economic despair next to a snappy score? Augmenting
this funfest of aspiration and occasional intrigue (Will Lucky’s real
status be revealed?) is a supporting cast, including Peter Bartlett as a
deliciously fey dance school owner, that sparkles. Besides, Racey and
Lemenager make it all look so easy. They play plucky like nobody’s
business and together, they are magic.
"Never Gonna Dance" is not only an homage to 1930s
black-and-white musicals and the enduring elegance of art deco, but
it’s a reminder, thanks to Jerry Mitchell’s exquisite choreography,
that dance is a joyous art. And that while dreams don’t always come
true in real life, it’s comforting to know they can on stage. —Fern
Nothing But the Truth
Crime and punishment, truth and reconciliation are massive
subjects. They are most accessible as drama when they are personalized.
Throw family secrets and sibling rivalry into the mix, and the pot
reaches its boiling point. It takes a steady hand to balance such
explosive material, and South African playwright John Kani has both the
talent and the vision to carry it off.
Now playing at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, "Nothing But the
Truth" is a searing, intimate drama that personalizes the struggle
of South African
blacks and, at the same time, explores the divisions between them as
they confronted their apartheid past.
The year is 2000. The place is Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The
players — Sipho Makhaya (John Kani), his daughter, Thando (Warona
Seane), and his English niece Mandisa (Esmeralda Bihl). Sipho’s
estranged brother Timbo has died, and Mandisa has brought him back to
his homeland for burial. The funeral serves as a backdrop to the larger
issues that confront the Makhaya family. Indeed, as the country deals
with the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission — the public
hearings set up by President Mandela for victims of the apartheid era),
the Makhayas deal with the truth about Timbo.
Kani says he wrote the play "to bring closure in my heart to
the death of my brother, Xofile Kani." Xxofile, killed by police in
1985, is mirrored by Timbo, who fled into exile because he feared police
reprisals. But Timbo, who appears as a hero to Mandisa, is a flawed,
selfish man in the eyes of Sipho. And therein lies the brilliance of
"Nothing But the Truth." It raises provocative questions about
the nature of existence: Who is a hero? Those who stay and fight or
those who flee? Do we tell the truth about ourselves? Can reconciliation
ever be achieved? Is it right to grant amnesty to killers in the guise
of national healing?
An assistant chief librarian, Sipho is a soft-spoken, highly
responsible man who, at 63, can still recall the pains of childhood. His
was a life of service and care. Timbo encouraged others to strike, but
he relied on Sipho to feed and clothe, house and educate him. Timbo is
the charismatic speaker, Sipho is the ordinary man who fights the good
fight - without applause. Sipho is as critical of resistance leaders who
hijacked his life as he is of the white police who brutalized his
people. Which makes his moment of political reckoning so powerful.
And it comes vis-à-vis his niece, the catalyst for his
awakening. Mandisa is English, modern, opinionated and demanding. Thando
is quiet, accommodating, the good daughter who respects the traditions
of her elders. Yet it is Thando and Sipho who garner our respect. Their
quiet dignity, their love for each other, is touching. We can agree or
disagree with their politics, but we are struck by the depth of their
These three people engage in a fierce battle for truth that is at
once upsetting and liberating. "Nothing But the Truth" is
carefully modulated to build to a stunning crescendo. Kani is a gifted
writer/actor who quietly commands our respect. He’s ably served by his
co-stars. Each hits her stride, although Seane is especially adept at
seizing our attention. Janice Honeyman’s direction is impassioned and
fluid. Here is a drama that engages our hearts and minds, one you’ll
discuss long after you leave the theater. —Fern Siegel
in the Tropics
"I let myself be taken."
So says Marela, a Cuban cigar factory worker whose heart is as big as the island’s sky. She’s not
talking about sexual transport, although she longs for romantic release.
Hers is the salvation of literature — and such is the transcendence of
art, that the mind-numbing task of rolling tobacco is forgotten: The
story is all.
As "Anna in the Tropics," a gentle, compelling drama
now playing at the Royal Theatre makes clear, novels can ennoble us.
They reach into our souls and allow us to dream; for factory workers,
many of whom are illiterate, the chance to participate in a world beyond
their own is intoxicating. It’s
1929 Tampa, and Marela (an amazing Vanessa Aspillaga), her sister,
Conchita (Daphne Rubin-Vega), and mother, Ofelia (Priscilla Lopez), have
sent for a Cuban lecturer, Juan Julian (Jimmy Smits). His job is to read
to the workers, a Cuban tradition that dates back hundreds of years. He,
of course, is handsome and poetic — and his presence will alter
everyone’s life. Thus, his choice of novel is telling: "Anna
Indeed, Anna is the unofficial lead in the play. It is her life,
her marriage, her love affair and her fate that will parallel the
ensemble’s. Whatever role they are cast — lonely wife, sultry lover,
wayward husband — the story of Anna and the fate of Marela, Conchita,
Juan and Chechi (David Zayas), a distraught relative, will cross.
This clever device, the brainchild of Pulizer-Prize winning
playwright Nilo Cruz, is the essence of "Anna in the Tropics,"
a paean to momentary pleasures. Cruz paints a portrait of yearning and
desire both pure and messy. The human heart is complicated, and Anna
Karenina’s heirs are no more equipped to conquer its torment that she
was. What they can learn to value is a sunset or the aroma of a handmade
cigar or those golden moments when desire engulfs us.
But desire, "Anna Karenina" warns us, can be costly.
Conchita and her husband (John Ortiz) are troubled; into their marriage
walks Juan Julian. Like Veronsky in "Karenina" he is dashing;
like Anna, she longs for love and passion. Conchita is not alone.
Marela’s yearnings are equally intense, alas, they are comic because
they are so sincere. Love comes in many shades.
What makes the play work is that Cruz engages us in their lives,
their hopes, their tragedies. He’s equally adept at a meditation on
modernity vs. tradition. In fact, the chronicle of eight Cuban-Americans
during one sweltering summer in Florida is cause for celebration. It’s
not often Tolstoy is saluted on Broadway. Nor, in our 24/7 world, do we
make time for elongated pleasures, the sheer delight in reveling in a
tale well told.
Like "A Man of No Importance," in which a Dublin bus
driver is besotted with Oscar Wilde’s plays, "Anna in the
Tropics" uses Tolstoy’s classic to underscore a similar point:
Literature is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It enlarges us. It
transports our imaginations. In essence, it allows us to fully
experience the depth of our own humanity.
"Anna in the Tropics" offers a gifted, emotionally
calibrated ensemble, sets and lighting that enhance the story and
lyrical direction. It is a quiet triumph. —Fern Siegel
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
it's the alcohol-soaked South and the scent of sexuality hangs in the air
— real or suppressed — it’s probably a Tennessee Williams play. The
latest revival to hit Broadway, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," is
dripping with the kind of raw truth and venomous verbal ejaculation that
works in a plantation bedroom — but would send audiences primal
screaming if staged anywhere else.
Now at the Music Box Theatre, "Cat" comes with a big-name
cast, including Ashley Judd as Maggie, Jason Patric as Brick and Ned
Beatty as Big Daddy, and the weight of expectation. This version, says
director Anthony Page, has franker language and additions to the gay
confessional call. In 1955, the gay elements were seen as shocking; today,
Broadway is nonplussed. Still,
the ambivalence of the story — a marriage on the rocks, a bombastic
patriarch who must appoint an heir, the guilt about homosexuality — did
he or didn’t he? — remains potent.
When the play opens, Maggie is screaming about the "no-neck
monsters" her brother-in-law has produced. Brick, her husband, is
indifferent. Since his best friend Skipper died, he prefers the bottle to
the bedroom. He and Maggie no longer sleep together, and the lack of heirs
is a genuine problem. Big Daddy is making out a will and must decide
between his sons — Brick or Gooper (Michael Mastro), the hardworking
attorney who, with his wife Sister Woman (Amy Hohn), hanker after those
prime acres. This is Delta country; land is money and money is power.
Williams is fascinated by both family pathology and its power
plays: Brick and Maggie don’t connect, neither do Big Daddy and Big Mama
(Margo Martindale.) Both women profess love for their husbands; both
husbands are dismissive of their mates. Ironically, only Gooper, known as
Brother Man, and his wife, click. Ironic because they are an odious
couple, however attached they may be.
Indeed, marriage is a tricky business in "Cat." Big Daddy
is frank about his sexual needs and his marital disappointments — that
he shares it with his son only underscores the sorry state of family
affairs. Brick, for his part, misses Skipper dreadfully. He cannot
reconcile his own part in Skipper’s demise: Did he turn away from a man
he loved out of fear? Heartbreaking, indeed. For Brick, Skipper was that
one true thing: a pure love.
Brick waxes rhapsodic about his deceased friend; something he
cannot do for his devoted wife. Maggie, for her part, is sympathetic and,
though it takes Judd some time to find her voice, she is compelling.
Clearly, Williams is sympathetic toward her — and his Big Mama. a
likable sort. Women rarely fare well in Williams’ plays — they are
either too hard or too vulnerable.
In the Williams canon, "Cat" may not be his strongest
suit, but it is noteworthy. Ned Beatty is a magnificent Big Daddy, he
captures his frustration, his pathos and his humanity with ease. Plus, his
scenes with Patric are particularly moving. Patric has a difficult task,
but he acquits himself well. In fact, each family member — Martindale,
Mastro, Hohn — hits just the right note. All seize that drippy Southern
sassiness and make it their own.
"Cat" ends as it begins — on a battlefield. Who emerges
victorious is anyone’s guess. When Maggie complains that she feels like
a cat on a hot tin roof, Brick advises her to jump. One wishes he’d take
his own advice. At heart, "Cat" is a meditation on emotional
paralysis. The inability to change, even when we know the cost. Willams is
an able architect of despair. His refusal to tie up loose ends may emulate
real life, but here it leaves the audience wanting. —Fern Siegel
is wicked cool. It is one of those big, bold Broadway shows that wraps a
provocative theme inside a visual treat. "Wicked," now playing
at the Gershwin Theatre, is a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz."
Inhabited by wizards and talking goats and magical spells, we’re not
in Kansas anymore. Ironically, Kansas is still with us. The conceit of
"Wicked" is that the fantasy world resembles our own - it’s
filled with love and kindness, as well as jealousy, oppression and
deceit. They just have better costumes.
"Wicked" is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West,
better known as the nasty crone who wants to do away with poor Dorothy.
The "Wizard of Oz" makes a stark contrast between good and
evil; "Wicked" is more nuanced. It neatly tackles the nature
vs. nurture argument and discovers that the witch (whose real name is
Elphaba) got a bad rap. "Are they born wicked or do they have
wicked thrust upon them?" the musical asks. In a world where spin
substitutes for truth, and propaganda doubles as principle,
"Wicked" is unabashedly on the side of the victim.
The witch as victim? You bet. Elphaba (Idina Menzel) is a victim
of circumstance. The eldest daughter of the governor of Munchkin Land,
she has the misfortune to be born green. Shunned by parents and her
peers, she relies on her sister, Nessarose (Michelle Federer), and the
kindess of strangers. Sent to a school to learn sorcery, Elphaba
discovers she has real talent (shades of "Harry Potter.")
Madame Morrible (Carole Shelley) takes young Elphaba under her wing,
much to the consternation of Glinda (Kristin Chenoweth), the perky,
popular blonde. Initially snippy, Glinda and Elphaba become friends -
and therein lies the first of several truths: Look beneath the surface.
In fact, one of the charms of "Wicked" is the bonding between
the women — a positive message about female friendship. And they stay
friends, even when a dashing young man (Norbert Leo Butz), "it’s
painlesss to be brainless" he croons, enters the picture.
But all is not happy in the land of Oz. The animals, which walk
and talk, are being persecuted. The Wizard of Oz (Joel Grey), who seems
so benign at first, has a scary agenda. It falls to Elphaba to oppose
him. And we all know what happens to dissidents who challenge the status
quo. Those who defend civil liberties are often painted as lunatics;
those who cheerfully oppress are cast as pillars of society. We
witnessed the wizard’s feet of clay in "The Wizard of Oz."
Here, his machinations and manipulations are pronounced; his smear
tactics worthy of J. Edgar Hoover.
Kudos to Winnie Holzman who wrote the book and Gregory Macguire,
author of the original novel, for mining such depth in a tale that
cannot be told enough. They are aided in their efforts by Eugene Lee’s
inspired, eye-popping sets, a clever blend of Victorian whimsy and
machinery, Susan Hilferty’s costumes, which are endlessly theatrical,
and Kenneth Posner’s exquisite lighting. Their craftsmanship
highlights the considerable talents of the cast: Chenoweth and Menzel
have genuine chemistry, each is exemplary in their roles; together, they
are magic. Butz never puts a foot wrong, Shelley’s vocal delivery
alone is a winner and Grey’s avuncular demeanor believes the evil
within. The one drawback — and it’s a biggie — is the music. The
talented Stephen Schwartz, who gave us "Pippin" and
"Godspell," has fashioned an unmemorable score. There
are a few fun songs, but they don’t gel as a whole. A shame, because
"Wicked" is a worthy production.
If you’ve ever wondered how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly
Lion came to be, "Wicked" is a must. It revisits a classic,
but adds context. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There
is no such thing as a random event. Often, the back story is the main
Retreat From Moscow
The title of the play, "Retreat From Moscow" is
borrowed from history.
Napoleon entered Russia with 400,000 troops; he decamped with 20,000.
Not only was the slaughter massive, but even the wounded were
unceremoniously dumped. Napoleon viewed his men with a take-no-prisoners
mentality. That same harshness sums up the sad state of Alice and
Edward’s marriage. Or rather, it evokes Edward’s sensibility — and
therein lies the horror.
"Retreat From Moscow," now playing at the Booth
Theatre, addresses the dissolution of a 33-year marriage. It ends
without explanation or apology. Edward (John Lithgow), a monument to
passive-aggressive behavior, announces to Alice (the extraordinary
Eileen Atkins) that he is leaving her. She is understandably crushed and
enraged. This is an English couple, so emotions, at least from his point
of view, are pointless.
That jarring scenario serves as a backdrop to explore her
reaction, their son Jamie’s (Ben Chaplin) emotional paralysis and the
psychic violence a destroyed marriage wreaks on a family. What’s most
infuriating is that Edward’s indifference rings true. His monstrous
disregard for his behavior is pitted against Alice’s gigantic sense of
betrayal. After all, she’s been telling him for years that they need
to kick-start their relationship. She is smart, sassy, insightful and,
in his words, always "at him." Which is to say, she wants him
Like Harold Pinter, playwright William Nicholson understands that
language is finite. Rather than connect people, it often fails them.
Alice, an accomplished poetry editor, is supremely articulate — to no
avail - since Edward sees any encroachment on his turf as suspect. His
survival is paramount and, like Napoleon, he is prepared to sacrifice
his wife and son to achieve his own ends. He is a man supremely
out-of-touch with the civilities of marriage; his misogyny is his armor.
So what brought these two together? A fateful meeting. Why did
they stay together? That’s the tricky bit. "Retreat From
Moscow" underscores a more primal worry: No two partners view a
marriage alike. And the failure to bond affects not only the principles,
but their offspring. Jamie, who is enlisted as his mother’s emissary,
is curiously unmoved by her suffering. He cares, but only so much. That
he, too, is unable to form a lasting union is proof positive that family
pathology defines us.
Atkins delivers a tour-de-force performance of great weight and
sympathy. Her rage and anguish is like a latter-day Medea. Lithgow,
fresh from his vitriolic role in "Sweet Smell of Success,"
embarks on a subtler form of torment. He is an actor of remarkable
shading. The odd man out is Chaplin. His lack of response is unnerving;
but it’s hard to discern whether that fault lies with him or Daniel
Sullivan’s direction, which is nicely modulated for most of the
production. Of special note is John Lee Beatty’s set; it’s cold,
distant and evocative of the winter of this couple’s discontent.
"Retreat From Moscow" is, at heart, a middle-aged man’s view
of divorce. And not a very nice man at that. —Fern Siegel
The Violet Hour
If you knew what would happen in the future, would you try to
prevent a tragedy? That’s the question that befalls John Seavering
(Robert Sean Leonard), a Maxwell Perkins-styled publisher.
In "The Violet Hour," now playing at the Biltmore
Theatre, Seavering, an old-money scion, has just enough money to publish
one book. Will it be authored by his black mistress Jessie Brewster
(Robin Miles), the Josephine Baker stand-in? Or will his debut effort be
penned by his best friend Denis, the F. Scott Fitzgerald character
(Scott Foley), who comes with his own Zelda, dubbed Rosamund (Dagmara
Dominczyk), a meat-packing heiress with a manic/depressive streak? Brewster needs the book to validate her life as a black woman
in a segregated world. Denis can’t marry his beloved without a
publishing contract. What’s a pull-in-both-directions publisher to do?
It’s a provocative question and sadly, playwright Richard
Greenberg drops the ball. The ability to affect events is a clever
gimmick, but it’s what you do with it that counts. The play opens in
1919. Seavering and his secretary Ginger (a hilarious Mario Cantone) are
discussing the latest Broadway show. "And we all know what hit
rhythms with," Ginger oozes. His one-liners are punctuated by an
amazing discovery: A mysterious machine is spitting out a book that
details all the events of the 20th century! Which means that Seavering
and Ginger know about World War II and television and, not
coincidentally, what will happen to Brewster and Denis and Rosamund.
Now, as every Fitzgerald fan knows, the union of Scott and Zelda
was a disaster on all fronts. Without the publication of "This Side
of Paradise," they would never have married. Similarly, without a
bona fide book, Brewster’s fate is equally tenuous. Having the power
to decide someone’s fate is an awesome responsibility, which Seavering
abdicates. And that’s a problem — both for Greenburg and his
audience. He tantalizes without follow-through.
Set designer Christopher Barreca has created a skewed stage that
neatly distorts our perspective. And it’s awash in paper. Seavering is
literally buried in the facts of the century. He is surrounded by data
and, much like his fellow Americans nearly 90 years later, he is
overloaded. He is simply unable to process the information age.
Admittedly, there are some lovely monologues and Greenberg’s homage to
Fitzgerald is lyrical. And as an ensemble, the actors acquit themselves
well. The failure of "The Violet Hour" is Greenberg’s.
"Take Me Out," his inspired Tony-award winner last season,
marks him as a gifted writer, but "Violet" is not his finest
hour. —Fern Siegel
The Boy From Oz
"I’m not the boy next store," croons Peter Allen. Not
unless that boy has a passion for Hawaiian shirts, high camp and hot
bods. Then again, it’s all a matter of perspective. Allen, of course,
was the lauded singer/songwriter who married Liza Minnelli, won an Oscar
for "Arthur’s Theme" and was the first man to dance with the
Rockettes in his sold-out Radio City extravaganza. Plus, Frank Sinatra,
Olivia Newton-John and Melissa Manchester parlayed his pop tunes into
you might think, would be enough for any mortal. But Peter Allen, nee
Woolnough, is a talented, relentlessly upbeat guy with insatiable
ambition. He wants to be a star — and his single-minded focus (and a
nifty plug from Judy Garland) — deliver the goods. His rags-to-riches
tale is the stuff of which dreams are made — almost. But in "The
Boy From Oz," now playing at the Imperial Theatre, Allen’s story
is sanitized and the emotional tensions that defined that fateful
journey from Tenterfield, Australia, to New York are noticeably absent.
Which is not to say the "The Boy From Oz" doesn’t have
its moments. It does. Hugh Jackman as Allen is loaded with charm,
charisma and pizzazz. We like him from the moment we meet him — as a
youngster in the Outback. Though his father (Michael Mulheren) is a
brute, his mother (Beth Fowler) is a winner. Sure, she worries about her
son, but she never fails to encourage him — or to accept his life (and
Indeed, young Peter is on the fast track to success in Australia when
he’s done in by indiscretion. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and
a jump into a Hong Kong nightclub and providence, read: Judy Garland
(Isabel Keating). Proving that timing-is-everything, Peter and Judy
click. And while she warns him to "butter his ambition," she
scoops him up and sets him down in glorious Gotham.
"The Boy From Oz" charts Allen’s marriage to Minnelli
(Stephanie J. Bock), his career starts and stops, his triumphs and his
final hubris, an over-the-top slammed musical called "Legs
Diamond." Strangely, Allen, who was capable of great insight and
poignancy in his songs, is emotionally distant. That gaping abyss is
never confronted in "Oz"; instead, there is far too much
exposition. Surface proclamations are substituted for the dramatic
tension necessary to transform his story into irony. The man so anxious
to escape his small town only succeeded in escaping himself. Those who
loved him could never fundamentally connect with him — and when we
learn why — in the show’s last 10 minutes — it’s too little, too
A second quibble is Robin Wagner’s sets; economical to say the
least. He’s clearly saved his budget for the second, spashier act.
Finally, Philip Wm. McKinley’s direction is too overwrought. Allen was
a showman. He might have needed our applause, but I doubt he’d beg for
Still, there are plusses. Peter Allen’s music is as fresh and
moving today as when it was first recorded. Keating and Block are
uncanny as Garland and Minnelli. From vocals to body flourishes, these
two are on target. And Jackman, aside from being handsome and endearing,
is also a wonderful singer and dancer who moves like a lynx. Indeed, the
entire cast is sound. "The Boy From Oz" needs more weight to
lend this musical promise. I’m all for spectacle; but a little
substance wouldn’t hurt. —Fern Siegel
Shop of Horrors
Krelbourn has a secret. Make that two secrets. First, he is in love with
Audrey, a ditzy blonde with a good heart, and second, his botanical
mutation, Audrey II, has a nasty habit: She craves blood. To feed her
— and to sustain the subsequent fame that results from the press
coverage — mild-mannered Seymour makes a Faustian bargain. Today, a
nebbish working at Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop, tomorrow the
playing at the Virginia Theater, "Little Shop of Horrors," a
revived 21-year-old morality play with the stellar Ashman-Menken
pop/rock score, pushes all the right buttons. How far will Seymour
(Hunter Foster) go in search of fortune? Can you ever satisfy a greedy
appetite? Apparently, not. Be it Mr. Mushnik’s (Rob Bartlett) sudden
paternalism, Seymour’s passion for Audrey (Kerry Butler) or Orin
(Douglas Sills), Audrey’s boyfriend’s, sadistic urges, the beast
within must be must be fed. Literally.
the fun of "Little Shop" —from its quirky moments and
memorable musical numbers, including the theme song, "Somewhere
That’s Green" and "Suddenly Seymour" — is its
strangely sympathetic quality. We root for the underdog. Yet sympathy
has its limits. So does humor. Audiences have grown more sensitive to
domestic violence since its debut — and jokes about abuse just
aren’t funny. Moreover, human behavior — not to mention nature’s
incessant whining — is anything but laudable. When not succumbing to
baser instincts, we are punished for our occasional goodness. Indeed,
"feed me!" — Audrey II’s battle cry — eerily echoes the
White House’s ongoing postwar demands. "Little Shop" is a
user-friendly cautionary tale; it is not optimistic and uplifting.
is notable is Scott Pask’s Ashcan School-inspired sets, Jerry Zaks’
zippy direction, a slick Jim Henson Company puppet and a cast that gels.
Foster and Butler, coming from acclaimed runs in "Urinetown"
and "Hairspray" respectively, click, while Sills, of "The
Scarlet Pimpernel," is over-the-top fun. There is even a modern-day
Greek chorus —Chiffon (DeQuina Moore), Crystal (Trisha Jeffrey) and
Ronnette (Carla J. Hargrove) — who keep the joint jumpin’.
question is — does the show’s craving for a Broadway venue make
sense? Sure, the lighting and sound quality have improved in the
ensuring decades, but the intimacy off-Broadway’s Orpheum stage once
evoked, cannot be replicated."Little Shop" has a big message,
but it may best be served on a smaller scale.
by Paul Kolnik
since “Metamorphosis,” theatergoers have been open — and eager —
to experience mythology. Though sans the pool and the powerful
metaphors, “Cupid and Psyche,” now playing at the John Houseman
Studio, offers its share of fun. This round, the gods get a musical,
some nifty lyrics to sing and a chance to remind mere mortals that we
are all swimming in Freud’s pool. This round, neurosis and obsession
are the gods’ battle cry, particularly Venus (Laura Marie Duncan).
She, the goddess of love and beauty and mother to Cupid, is lovely but
that Elyria hasn’t remembered her festival day, she orders her son,
Cupid (Barret Foa), to wreak havoc. Venus commands him to shoot his
arrow into Psyche (Deborah Lew), causing her to fall in love with a
cyclops. Psyche (Deborah Lew), the daughter of Elyria’s king, is
beautiful, and Venus is unnerved by competition. But when Cupid,
accompanied by his faithful pal Mars (Logan Lipton), spies the stunning
royal, he falls in love. And now the fun begins: Venus is a “goddess
who thrives on submission,” while Cupid, mindful that gods are
forbidden to fall for humans, does what any adolescent would do: ignores
Aided by Mars, Cupid whisks
Psyche to his palace. But the tricky bit is she can’t see him. He’s
got to woo her emotionally — so when they connect, it is the ultimate
love story. She loves him for who he is (or who she thinks he is); he is
comforted by the thought that he is loved for himself and not the spoils
of Olympus. Is ignorance bliss? You bet. Of course, it is only a matter
of time before they are found — and the sparks fly.
Staged without intermission,
the musical “Cupid and Psyche” is an entertaining,
upbeat tale of maternal indulgence, youthful romance and the value of
commitment. David Swayze doesn’t have much space, but he makes his set
works. Sean Hartley’s lyrics and Jihwan Kim’s music are lively and
eclectic: Pop/rock and traditional show music underscore the theatrical
journey – Mom lets son grow up, son learns responsibility, Psyche
fights for what she wants and sidekick Mars discovers he needs a life of
his own. While the ensemble works well, Duncan and Lipton are standouts.
Duncan is adroit at musical comedy; Lipton is especially good at
accents, and he seems tailor-made for sitcoms.
“Cupid and Psyche” is a
humorous reminder that we are all prone to jealousy and willfulness.
Sometimes, the best way of coping is a musical.
Nostalgia is hip. And nowhere is retro hipper than Broadway.
First came “The Producers,” an homage to cynicism, then “Urinetown,” a
sendup of Thirties agitprop, now comes “Hairspray,” a funny, tender,
endearing musical that’s period with punch. Can you say Tony?
"Hairspray" should sweep the awards – proving that behind the
beehives and the pop beat is a naïve sincerity that’s downright deep.
“Hairspray” is more than a staged version of John Waters’ cult classic;
it’s a rousing, toe-tapping antidote to our troubled times. A reminder that
sometimes, ethics are black and white.
In “Hairspray,” now playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, that notion is
taken literally. The musical, the handiwork of Marc Shaiman (music) and Scott
Wittman (lyrics), a gifted duo, takes place in 1962 Baltimore. Tracey Turnblad,
an overweight teen, just wants to dance on Corny Collins hit show, promote
racial equality and secure rights for fatties. Oh yeah, she’d like to date
heartthrob Link Larkin (a play-it-to-the-hilt Matthew Morrison) and trump Amber
Von Tussle (a perfect Laura Bell Bundy) her blonde nemesis, too. Tracey’s
agenda seems subversive to the status quo, but her mission is so basic, so
decent, you can’t help but love her. And her friends. And her parents. Tracey,
a divine Marissa Jaret Winokur, should do for offbeat kids what Elvis did for
the twist. And she’s aided by a cast any producer would envy – from Velma
Von Tussle (Linda Hart), resident white supremacist and talented comic actress,
to Seaweed (Corey Reynolds), Tracey’s first black friend, an amazing dancer
and ultra-cool guy.
Of course, integration and racial tolerance, forbidden love and the price
of fame are a heady brew. “Hairspray” wraps its celebratory thesis in a
’60s musical score that hits the right genre notes, aided by standout songs.
Social revolution, coupled with a rock ’n’ roll, rhythm-and-blues chaser,
goes down easy. And that’s the point. The book, by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas
Meehan plays it straight – and gets both the laughs and its message across.
“Hairspray” is good, clean fun without being campy, adorable without being
Butler, Laura Bell Bundy,
with members of the cast photo
That’s why the deft touch counts, starting with David
Rockwell’s superbly evocative set, economical but playful. It’s the true
supporting player to a production that captures a polarized, yet explosive time
in American history. Racism was a fact of life – and the punishment for
challenging authority was severe, for blacks and whites alike. “Hairspray”
isn’t preachy; instead, it relies on the heartfelt Motormouth Maybelle (Mary
Bond Davis), the black version of Corny Collins, to tell it like it is. And
because the pacing is so sharp and Jack O’Brien’s direction so fluid, it
scores with audiences.
“Hairspray” is a feel-good, stand-up-and-cheer musical
that touts a serious theme. Its fashions may be dated, its casual cruelties may
seem arcane, but bigotry and prejudice, of whatever sort, never go out of style.
And neither do ordinary heroes. Like Tracey’s parents, Edna, her agoraphobic
mom, played by Harvey Fierstein with tenderness and with his trademark panache.
Wilber, her jokester dad, Dick Latessa, a quiet marvel, and Penny (Kerry Butler)
dorky best friend and trailblazer and ideal counterpoint to Winokur.
“Hairspray” salutes simplicity and what used to be called good old American
values: hard work, fair play and common sense. Bravo.
Cast Glows in "Chicago."
Some cast members may have changed since review originally appeared.)
Chicago Ambassador Theatre.
- 219 W. 49 St.
got no class. There’s no decency left." If you credit this sentiment as
another of William Bennett’s digs at society, think again. These immortal
words are uttered by a 1920s murderer and her prison warden in the sassy,
brassy, Tony-award winning musical "Chicago," now playing at the
When this deliciously satiric Kander and Ebb musical
opened in the ’70s, it was deemed too dark and cynical for such feel-good
times. A murderer as a star? A slick lawyer playing fast and loose with the
truth? Audiences shuddered. Well, it’s ’90s America now, and in a post-OJ
world, "Chicago" (with a new cast) is brilliantly on target.
The plot concerns one Roxy Hart (Karen Ziemba), who took
her lover’s rejection to heart. Some women would just write the bum off; Roxy
prefers a good old-fashioned shootout. Luckily, her hapless husband can raise
the money for a smarmy, read successful lawyer. While attorney Billy Flynn (Alan
Thicke) is busy concocting an
outrageous scenario to free his client, the women who keeping Roxy company in
Cook County prison, namely one Velma Kelly (played by the divine Ute Lemper) and
matron (Marcia Lewis), shower us with a jazzy, razzle-dazzle of sight, sound and
Staged in a Brechtian manner, complete with hard-chiseled
dancers whose bodies provide all the scenery we need, "Chicago"
explores the unholy alliance between crime and celebrity with sinister glee. The
story is hugely entertaining, the dancing is first rate and the score is
fantastic. Lemper, who plays her role with "Cabaret"-esque precision,
boasts a sultry voice and singular style. Thicke is both slick and seductive as
Flynn, while Ziemba, an accomplished singer and dancer, lacks that aggressive,
in-your-face quality Ann Reinking originally brought to the role.
Still, the ensemble, one of the hardest working on
Broadway, is riveting. Sure, criminals may be the flavor of the month, but who
says we can’t enjoy their antics? "Chicago" reminds us that
deception is as American as apple pie. —Fern Siegel
|New York For Families By Fern
Many visitors to New York assume its an adult
playground. Thats true, but thats also a myopic view of Americas most
interesting city. Manhattan is a wonderland for kids. You can take the family to the usual
sitesthe Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the Empire State Buildingbut for
a truly family vacation, branch out. The choices are infinite, but here are a few to spice
up your itinerary.
No city in the world has better theater than New York. So head straight
for Broadway musical "The Lion King" at the New Amsterdam Theater, 42nd
and Broadway. "The
King" is an artistic triumph, the music, set design and costumes are a feast for the
eyes and ears. Its safe to say youve never seen anything like it.
After the theater, treat your kids to a New York staple: ethnic food. Most
cuisinesfrom Ethiopian to Greekare available, but Chinatown is of special
note. Once you find Mott and Canal Streets, just walk. There are hundreds of restaurants,
shops and an active street life. Chinatown bursts with an energy all its own. Once
youve had lunch or dinner, head across Canal Street to Mulberry Street and Little
Italy. Here, youll find cafes with desserts to die for
Of course, no visit is complete without a visit to a museum. The Childrens Museum
of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd Street, 212/721-1234, has a TV studio, courtesy of
Time-Warner, and a wealth of interactive exhibitions, while the Forbes Magazine Galleries,
62 Fifth Avenue, 206-5549, has a fleet of over 500 toy boats and an army of 12,000 toy
soldiers. Admission is free, and since its in Greenwich Village, you can introduce
your kids to the citys bohemian section. Older kids will appreciate the Anne Frank
Center USA, on Broadway between Houston and Prince Sts. 212/431-7993. If the weather is
clement, head to the South Street Seaport. Board the clipper ship, the Peking, and the
Ambrose, a former light ship, to appreciate what life at sea was like.Fern