Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New York City

I have a lot of events to post about- and I keep putting them off, so I am going to step back a few weeks and try to recap my trip to New York.

I started a new job in a month ago, and the training for the company was in New York City. I then stayed there for a week to work a bit with the team out there and get to know them before returning to Iowa.

Although I will probably travel there a few more times for business, I made sure to take advantage of my week in New York.
First, the company put me up in a hotel near the office. This was a huge plus for me, as I was very worried about finding my way to work each day (I get lost really easily- even on a grid).
The Empire Hotel was a lovely hotel, though I’m not sure I’d ever stay there if I wasn’t alone: the room I was in was TINY.  Basically it had just enough room for a queen sized bed, and that was it.  There was also a flat TV on the wall, a skinny desk (though it’s surface was covered with stuff) with a desk chair and a storage ottoman flat against the wall when you came into the room.  The bathroom had a lovely rainfall showerhead, but the glass-half door only covered the front half of the shower, so the bathroom would flood a bit after every shower.  The bathroom was so tiny the trash can was inside the sink cabinet, I’d never seen that before!  But while it was small, it was functional. And I had a beautiful view of an air conditioning shaft…
The funny thing for me about the hotel was that pretty much anything that wasn’t bolted down was for sale. Bathrobe, hair-dryer, umbrella, shoe bag (never figured out what that was…) all had prices.  It also had one of the most expensive mini-bar’s I had seen, and while this didn’t effect me since I don’t drink it, this was the first time I’ve ever seen coffee in a hotel room not included. If you used the Keurig, it was $3 a k-cup.
When I checked in, they gave me a free wifi code, which I greatly appreciated. It would have been a very long week without wifi! I really didn’t spend much time in the hotel though. I had originally thought it was going to be a week of a lot of HGTV (since I don’t have cable at home)- but I only watched for a little bit.  Mostly, I spent my time at work, and then out at night.

I went to three shows while in New York City: If/Then, It’s Only a Play, and Kinky Boots.  I’ve seen a lot of traveling shows, but this was my first time to see a show on Broadway.  Let’s start with the first one:
For If/Then I had purchased tickets ahead of time, and used a discount code from theatremania to save about $70. I sat in the middle orchestra, slightly to the side.  I actually selected this seat on purpose because I had heard that at this point the theatre starts using raised seating, and that sitting here would actually give you a better view than rows in front.  Since those seats were just on the typical old style theatre slant, I have to agree- I would have had a head in my way.  Instead, I had a clear view.

Tickets printed off the internet just don't have the same scrapbook quality...
View from my seat

I selected to see If/Then because of Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp. Unfortunately, Anthony was out but his understudy did an excellent job.  The rest of the cast was also superb, but Idina really steals the show.  This is a story of “What Ifs” and follows the main character Elizabeth down two paths her life might have taken depending on what very simple, seemingly unimportant choice she makes one day. Helpfully, we follow Beth and Liz through the story- so it is always easy to determine which character you are watching. (Liz also usually wears glasses, though they were missing in a few scenes.) I’ve read reviews that the show is confusing, but I didn’t find it to be at all.  What the show was is moving. I don’t think I’ve ever cried during live theatre before, but the second act had me bawling. There was one song where I could tell a lot of people in the theatre had started crying, but everytime the show flashed to that particular character, the tears would start flowing again. The story just really hit me hard.  I had ordered the sound track ahead of time to learn the songs (I find that helps follow the story)- and hearing them performed live was fabulous. Quite honestly, the penultimate song (sung by Idina) is almost worth the price of the ticket alone. I highly recommend the soundtrack, especially “Always Starting Over”.  I also really liked “Here I Go” and “No More Wasted Time”. The staging was simple but interesting. They used a false ceiling of mirrors that projected light patterns from the ground very effectively. Sets were simple and moved during songs by ensemble members. When the ceiling was rotated the mirrors disappeared and hanging catwalks appeared instead, which provided the settings for multiple locations.  I HIGHLY recommend this one. I would love to go see it again. Even if it is just a traveling company and not the broadway cast I’d likely go again.


The second show I went to see was not a musical. “It’s Only a Play” is a limited run play (that was still in previews when I saw it) with an all star cast.  Nathan Lane (steals the show!), Matthew Broderick, Megan Muhlalley, Rupert Grint, and Stockard Channing were the names that convinced me I had to have a ticket.  On a limited budget, I got a $72 ticket in the very last row offered (though not the last row of the theatre, as I noticed there was a second balcony they didn’t have open).  Sadly, Stockard Channing was out the night I saw it.  I posted a review on trip advisor, so I’ll just copy it here: 

How could you resist this cast?

I saw "it's only a play" in previews last night. My ticket was $72 before fees, and I'm glad I didn't pay more.
For those unfamiliar with the story- it is opening night of a new broadway play and takes place at the after party while waiting for the review. We don't see the party, just the upstairs room, where the playwright, the director, the producer, a friend, the lead actress, and a coat check boy come in and out. The play has a lot of references to current theater and television and the current state of broadway. (Ironically, a lot of mentions about how nothing new is out there; just lots of revivals and Disney movies to the stage, when this is a rewrite of an older book that didn't make it to broadway before.)
There were lots of laughs, lots, but it certainly wasn't the greatest play I've seen (I didn't think it was that much better than some very well done high school productions. I could actually see specific kids from when I was in high school doing the roles very well, just tickets would cost a lot less...)
It is very current, so probably a lot would be lost on anyone who doesn't know the big names associated with NY theatre and Hollywood right now (including non actors). There were also a few New York specific references that I actually didn't understand. Nathan Lane's character even name drops Nathan Lane...
Nathan Lane, F. Murray Abraham, and Rupert Grint were phenomenal. I went to see this because of the big names, and they did not disappoint. I was also so impressed by Micah Stock (what a cast to be in your broadway debut with).
Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally need to project their voices. I could make out what they were saying 99% of the time, but up in the cheap seats there was a lot of intermission talk by older theatre goers that they couldn't hear them. I didn't enjoy their performances quite as much. It is difficult here to tell if it was the actor, or the direction the character took. Megan Mullally spoke with a very "upper crust" voice, and I wonder if that was part of why it was difficult for her to speak clearly. She was very convincing in the role. Matthew Broderick was also quite, and played very small. But his character was a playwright with perhaps a bit of low self esteem. It's not a character that is "big", so I feel maybe I am reviewing the characters and (other than being to quiet) the actors actually did their job.
Stockard Channing was out. Her understudy, Isabel Keating, did very well with the role- and it was a major one- but I felt was too young for the part. (Has been actress crawling back to broadway). Perhaps the feel of the show would have been different if Stockard Channing had been there.

View from the cheap seats

The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre was beautiful. I was in the last row of the first mezzanine (perhaps there is another? Stairs were roped off.) In the second right most seat and could see perfectly. (aka- can't get much worse than this) Plus, I was first to the bathroom. There are a number of steep stairs to the mezzanine though. People were huffing and puffing getting up there. The whining as everyone got to the top of the steps was pretty funny to listen to. Note- the men's bathroom is apparently in the basement (men got to the top and were told two flights down!) Women have a restroom on the main floor and mezzanine.
I'm sure the show will get rave reviews and I'd recommend it if you really like plays and are curious about the cast (I think for most people, being able to see this cast is the reason to go- it was for me), but for me, it isn't a must see. It was a decent night out, and there were MANY laughs, I'm glad I went, but I don't think it will stick with me as a defining night of theatre.

The last show I went to see was Kinky Boots. 
Though the boots worn on stage were incredible, none looked like those.
This was kind of a spur of the moment decision. I had been so moved by If/Then and was thinking that I really don’t get the chance to see great musicals very often, so even though I was a bit over budget, I should take advantage of this opportunity to its fullest.  Originally I found that Matilda had tickets for about $30 in the very last row of its theatre. Matilda had great reviews.  But then I realized that from the time I got off work, if I high-tailed it to the theatre, I could get to the theatre in time to enter the lottery for tickets to Kinky Boots (tickets for $40)- I had heard so many great things about the show. So I got off work and walked as fast as I could and got there in time to get my name in. I figured if I didn’t get called I’d walk over to the Matilda theatre and buy those last row tickets; but no worries- I was the second name called!  And then it turned out that everyone who entered the lottery that day was able to get their  tickets! The ticket I was given (you just get the next one up) was for the second row of the right box; when I got to the seat I found that my seat was on the railing, which was very good, because except missing a few entrances it was an excellent view (it is sold as obstructed, which I suppose it was)- however, if I was in seat two or three of that row- I think it would have been much harder to see, because of the way it wings out from the stage.  The show was very good. I didn’t love all the songs (you can very much hear Cindy Lauper’s style in them), but overall the story is excellent.  The costumes on the “Angels” (the drag queens) were fabulous, especially, of course, their boots.  The closing number to each act was a great production number.  But more than just flash, the show actually has a really great message entwined in it.  I didn’t find the sound system in the theatre to be excellent, so some dialogue was difficult to hear, but it was well worth going to- and I’m so glad I decided to see one more show!  Sitting in the box also let me see something I’ve never noticed before. Mounted on the mezzanine were televisions so that the performers could see the conductor!
View from my seat!
I won the lottery!
I've never seen such an incredible bathroom line (it was filled at intermission!)

So that was my trip to New York.  When I got home, I spent a few days working a regular schedule, and then it was off to the Galapagos!