Saturday, May 16, 2009

An Ode to New York City

Lately I've been having dreams of New York City, reliving the thrill of being in the city of my dreams. My second musical is a ode, of sorts, to the New York I know, the New York of the tourist, the New York depicted below.

I was too excited and couldn’t sleep. Honestly, it was a double-whammy. In the summer of 2006, not only had I planned a trip to New York in a matter of two days, but I was going there to interview for a big job.

Those commercials from the early 80s, the “I Love New York” ads couldn’t say it any better. I love New York. My first trip was in the summer of 2000. I originally had a couple friends who had talked about joining me, but when they fell through, I was determined to do it—my first real vacation ever and the farthest I’d ever been from home—and I never once regretted going it alone.

I did a lot of great things that trip—saw the Statue of Liberty, rode the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, traipsed through the Bronx Zoo, saw a half-decayed rat carcass by the side of the road in the Bronx, sat next to a drunken man on the subway drinking liquor from a bag. It was all so exciting.

The most exciting of all, though, were the shows. Riding in the Super Shuttle from La Guardia, I drove past all those glorious marquees—Annie Get Your Gun; Jesus Christ Superstar; Miss Saigon; Kiss Me, Kate; Aida . . . At home, when we get the big touring shows, the show’s title is simply spelled out on the marquee in standard letters. How I loved seeing the pictures of the stars plastered all over the theatre doors, big billboards in Times Square, the mark of live theatre everywhere.

The shows I saw that trip: Jekyll and Hyde; Kiss Me, Kate; Aida; Miss Saigon; and The Music Man. I stage-doored for my first time, thrilled to meet Barrie Ingham, Marin Mazzie, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Heather Headley, Rebeca Luker, and a ton of other performers, all of whom where mega-stars in my mind (and still are).

My second trip followed in June 2001. I had planned to head to New York again later that summer—by myself, though never lonely—but when word came that Jane Eyre was finally closing for real, I knew I had to take my chance to see it when I could. In about three days, I planned my trip to New York. My last day of school was Friday; I got my grades done, arrived home late that night to pack, and was flying out on an early morning plane. The shows that trip: Bells are Ringing, Jane Eyre, The Phantom of the Opera, 42nd Street, Follies, and The Music Man (in which I somehow managed to get the exact same seat as before—second row, center orchestra, far right seat).

In 2006, though, things were even more exciting. I hadn’t been to New York in five long, long years. In my attempts to find a new career and/or to free myself up for writing the next great American musical, I had quit two teaching jobs and taken one that was only for one year, not exactly the career path that allows for great vacations.

But this time, it was all coming together. The word came from a nanny agency that they had an interview for me, so in two days, I planned the whole trip. Trying to sleep the night before my trip was a gargantuan task in itself. The very next day, I would be flying into New York City, the best place in the world, and not only would I be in New York and get to see shows, I would be interviewing for the job that would change my life and get me closer to really cool places like the Theatre District, the BMI Workshop, and NYU. I probably slept for almost two hours that night.

I arrived in New York as tired as I was excited, but in taking the Super Shuttle through the city, those marquees and billboards were like caffeine concentrate. Who needs sleep in New York City?

Just getting out and walking those streets, being within the aroma of Broadway . . . What else could I possibly want more? Certainly not sleep!

First show that night—with my discount code in hand—The Wedding Singer. I almost cried during “It’s Your Wedding Day.” It was so beautiful—the choreography, the song, the actors, the energy, the location. As I applauded fiercely, I told myself I couldn’t do that, be away for so long. Now a little older, I chickened out on stage-dooring, but like a powerful electro-magnet, I couldn’t entirely stay away from the Al Hirschfeld stage door, watching quietly as Stephen Lynch, Tina Maddigan, Amy Spanger, Kevin Cahoon, and others exited, visiting with fans. I did work up the nerve to speak to Amy Spanger as she stood quietly outside the barricade, to tell her how amazing I thought she was, how I had missed her in Kiss Me, Kate but had heard her a billion times on the recording and how talented I thought she was because here she was doing another amazing job playing an entirely different character. It was with great reluctance that I left the stage door, leaving all the fun for the kids with their cameras.

I don’t remember what I did after the show. I probably stopped at a deli and picked up some fresh fruit or maybe at a bakery for something chocolate and gooey, then walked around a little . . . The Virgin Megastore was probably a stop. When I returned to my hotel room, now quite late, I could hardly fall asleep. I had an interview with the agency in the morning, but I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes on the city. I just lied in bed, thinking over and over, “I can’t believe I’m in New York. I can’t believe I’m in New York!”

The next morning I awoke to my alarm bright and early for my interview with the nanny agency. I’m one of those guys who really needs his 8 ½ hours of sleep, minimum (though I rarely get it), but I half-cheerily stumbled my way into the bathroom, gazing at my face in the mirror.

My eyes were bloodshot like Bobby Brown on a Wednesday. Except I wasn’t doing crack. I was going to be interviewing for a job working with children. Bloodshot eyes from severe sleep deprivation . . . And this from a guy who’s never even had a drink of alcohol.

Quickly I dialed my sister. “Kris, my eyes. I’ve hardly slept the past two days, and they’re completely bloodshot. I have that interview and—!”

“Here’s what you do.” How calm she is in times of panic. “Go to the drugstore. There’s a product called Clear Eyes in the pharmacy section, probably next to the contact solution . . .”

Well, thank God not everyone in my family has never had a drink of alcohol.

So the agency liked me, liked my “impressive resume,” sent me on the interview, I did well, and was far on the road to getting the job. But I don’t know . . . There was just something about the job . . . I mean, as great as nannying Rosemary’s babies for eighty hours a week sounded, it seemed like the educated former teacher getting offered the first job he tried out for could maybe get something a little less all-consuming, less unpleasant. Sure, with my sole Mondays off I could see The Phantom of the Opera four times a month, maybe five when the calendar fell right . . .

Alas, I didn’t take the job.

Alas, I got another high-profile interview.

Alas, they didn’t hire me because of my lack of in-home experience. So much for the “impressive resume.”

The shows I saw that trip: The Wedding Singer, Tarzan, The Drowsy Chaperone, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hairspray, and The Color Purple.

My 2006 trip was also marked by sightseeing. Sightseeing for me, in addition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was primarily walking around Manhattan. Will I ever get enough of it, walking downtown, midtown, uptown, across the town, through Central Park, into the theatre gift shops, through music stores and book stores, into pizza places, past Sutton Foster? Oh, and how great are those buildings, those beautiful old buildings that remind you of all those classic movies with Maureen O’Hara or Claudette Colbert in those cool 40s hairstyles, slapping the faces of their leading men or throwing witty quips their way.

Not that all my New York memories are as classy. Let’s jump back to my first night in New York City, July 31, 2000. It’s Monday, and I’m having fun experiencing the city for the first time after having arrived around suppertime, getting the hang of how the streets are connected in relation to the Gershwin, my hotel. As I’m walking past the streets numbered in the 60s, I’m finally taking notice that the sky is getting kinda dark. It’s getting dark. It’s getting dark in New York City, and I’m God only knows how far from my hotel, not entirely sure how to get back, and I’m probably going to get mugged or killed or worse because this is New York City and isn’t that the sort of thing that happens late in New York City to gullible Midwesterners even if they do look intimidating themselves. Let’s see now, I’m thinking, my hotel is off Fifth, and I’m on 67th, that’s like a million blocks, but I have to go back the way I got here, which means crossing to Times Square like I did before so I can follow the billboards I used as a marker.

So, I’m walking fast back to my hotel, keeping business-like, trying to blend in with all the other to-be mugging victims around me. I don’t stop for souvenirs. I don’t stop for pizza. I’m just marching back as fast as my size 14s will get me there. As I’m walking, though, I see stillness among the moving bodies. I glance over. Oh look, there’s a nice woman leaning against the pay phones. She’s smiling at me. Yeah, okay, I’m in New York and everything but, you know, does it mean I have to totally act like a New Yorker, and maybe she’ll even think I’m a big racist goon if I don’t respond and . . . And I smiled back, stiffly, but still a smile.

Her smile grew. “Hey Honey,” she said with a sparkle and a New Yawk accent, “got a quate’?”

I don’t think I ever walked so long a distance in such a short time. A few more experiences like that, and I would have qualified for the speed-walking Olympic team.

Where else could you run from a streetwalker and see a Broadway show all in the same day? Where else can you walk past Chuck Wagner while he’s in the city for Kiss Me, Kate tour rehearsals? Where else can you walk past a guy proclaiming, “I’m not afraid to admit it. She gave me crabs.” Where else can you see Christopher Sieber at a Ranch 1? Where else can a theatre person go and not feel out-of-place? Where else do you get energy just by stepping onto a street and seeing masses of people?

I love New York, the city of dreams.

the Broadway Mouth
January 12, 2008

On my second trip to NYC, I was still waiting at the stage door. Here's Marc Kudish, uber-talented actor from Bells are Ringing, and my shoulder. I really loved that show.

August: New York 2000--Only in New York can you see Rent, Saturday Night Fever, and Beauty and the Beast all on the same cow.

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