Four things to do in New York

On a recent winter trip to New York I visited four tourist attractions that were super interesting for different reasons.

Inside the New York Public Library

One: The New York Public Library. Why should you visit? Because of the literary, historical, architectural and movie-like atmosphere. The NPL simply reeks of scenes from the film The Day After Tomorrow. As I walked up the steps, nosed about in quiet corridors and soaked up my surroundings in the Rose Main Reading Room, scenes from this – one of my favourite films – flooded my mind. (Although, according to the NPL website, all the scenes were virtually – not actually – created). Apart from admiring the many books and special collections I also enjoyed a free guided tour and information movie about the history, purpose and layout of the library. Interesting note: Most of the people sitting quietly at wooden desks with soft glowing lamps next to them, surrounded by books and more books, were staring at computer screens not book pages.

Two: Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Why should you visit? Because you get entertainment and food rolled into one.

Me at Ellen’s Stardust Diner with a singing waitron behind

Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a kind of training ground for performers trying to make it to Broadway (it’s situated on Broadway itself). And the performers all work as waitrons at the diner. So, while serving you your burger or mac n cheese, the waitrons will break into song, strut around on a platform behind your seat, or drape themselves over you while singing He had it coming from the musical Chicago. And you don’t have to book.

Three: The New York Historical Society. Why should you visit? Because of the interesting way the history of New York is portrayed. Probably aimed largely at children, the layout of the exhibits does your thinking for you. Which is nice if you’ve just flown 17 hours to get there and don’t know much of the history of this amazing city. But it still gets you questioning and pondering. In the Vietnam exhibition, for instance, my husband spent ages chatting to an old guy who had actually fought in Vietnam and was sad about what was NOT included in the display.

Four: See Come From Away on Broadway. Why should you go? Because of the character-driven, funny, warm and gripping story of how thousands of people were diverted to the small Canadian town of Gander during 9/11. It was brilliant. And now I want to visit Gander.

Times Square, on our way to Broadway

 

A Handful of Fun

Weekend weather forecast looking grim? Don’t let that stop you going out. Destination: iZulu Theatre, Sibaya Casino, just a few kilometres north of Umhlanga Rocks. Reason: to see the show A Handful of Keys. Stars: Roelof Colyn and James Smith. Why: Because it’s HUGE fun.

The set on the stage in the fairly grand iZulu theatre is simple: two grand pianos. Combined with two extremely talented musicians and

James Smith & Roelof Coelyn

direction by Ian von Memerty, this is all you need. Roelof and James play all the songs in this two-hour show, bar one piece, sans sheet music. The songs showcase different eras, well-known male and female pianists, South African compositions and a splendid Broadway musical medley. The latter comprises 148 songs and is played in just 12 minutes. I recognised many of the songs and sang (under my breath) and tapped my feet to the beat.

But even if the music and historical artists don’t ring a bell the humour and narration by Colyn and Smith will keep you entertained. They mock everyone they play and sing – from Elton John to Liberace, Barry Manilow to Richard Clayderman, Barbara Streisand (complete with a squint) to Stevie Wonder. They don’t spare themselves either, joking about Colyn’s age, and Smith’s wild hair and huge mouth. Costume changes, physical antics, word changes, piano swapping, completely goofy facial expressions and word play make the show so entertaining I absolutely loved it. It draws in the non-musical and at the same time highlights the superb musical prowess of these showmen.

Go on – treat yourself (a line from the show) and book to see A Handful of Keys. Tickets are available from Computicket, www.computicket.co.za, 0861 915 8000.

Show schedule: Friday 10 November 8pm
Saturday 11 November 3pm and 8pm
Sunday 12 November 3pm
Tuesday 14 to Friday 17 November 8pm
Saturday 18 November 3pm and 8pm
Sunday 19 November 3pm.

Winter in New York: Five Travel Tips

Anu Garg, who writes the online A.Word.A.Day,  explains that the word “travel” is ultimately the same word as “travail”. “Imagine the era,” says Garg, “when travel time was measured in months; there were no in-boat movies during the trip, and no Holiday Inns waiting at the destination. That’s if you reach the destination at all.” Travel could be torture, appropriate since the word travel/travail derives from the Latin “trepaliare” which means: “to torture”! (To subscribe to Word.A.Day go to http://wordsmith.org/awad/subscribe.html.)

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An unusually lone umbrella on the wet streets of New York. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Fortunately I travelled to New York recently by aeroplane – not by boat – and did enjoy in-flight movies (Our Brand is Crisis on the way there and The Martian on the way back). I did reach my destination and hotel and while there got to enjoy two excellent Broadway plays: Noises Off and School of Rock the Musical. Perhaps the only “travails” I endured were the cold, rainy and windy conditions, or rather the umbrellas used to ward off those conditions. There were so many brollies bouncing along the wet and windy streets that week, many of which stubbornly refused to stay the right way up in the gusty setting. I worked out that I had to use my borrowed brolly for self-protection. Not against the weather; against the other jostling umbrellas! And the only way it effectively kept the rain off my face was to jam it right down onto my head. Not much sightseeing on this trip; the most I saw was a pair of heels sloshing along on the pavement ahead of me.

Which is why theatre shows were such a good escape. Tip number one: go to the theatre in New York when the weather is bad.

We happened to see Noises Off on a Tuesday evening, the night on which pre-show talks are held at many theatres. We learnt about the playwright Michael Frayn and how his difficult upbringing lent itself to his writing this British farce. We heard about the serious aspects to farce, and how challenging the actors found this particular play. Tip number two: go to the theatre in New York on a Tuesday so you can attend the pre-show talk.

The serious elements notwithstanding Noises Off was very funny. And very clever. Briefly, Noises Offthe story revolves around a group of actors practising for a play. In the first act the director interrupts proceedings during rehearsal. In the second we see the actors behind stage enduring increasingly hostile relationships with one another. The third act features the actors front of stage again but in sadly deteriorated conditions that have resulted in complete chaos. It was brilliant. Tip number three: see Noises Off on Broadway!

The next day we set off early for Broadway and joined a small queue outside the Winter Garden theatre. Along with other shivering people we cleverly bought tickets directly from the box office on the day; we did not pre-book tickets online. This saved a huge amount of money. For instance, orchestra seating tickets for this show can cost as much as $197 each, whereas tickets for the same seats purchased directly from the box office cost $145 each. Tip number four: purchase Broadway theatre tickets directly from the box office.

School of RockSchool of Rock the Musical was a gloriously fun, energetic production featuring enormously talented, vibrant young children and music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Pre-teen youngsters played bass guitars and drums and sang with the maturity of adults. We had a ball. Tip number five: see School of Rock the Musical on Broadway!

As already mentioned my outgoing in-flight movie of choice was the serious, anxiety riddled, political story Our Brand is Crisis starring Sandra Bullock. But my return-flight choice, The Martian, was a pretty lighthearted take on the travails of an astronaut who travelled to Mars and got left behind on that dusty planet. Watching Matt Damon growing potatoes in an inhospitable climate was an enjoyable end to my New York “travails”.

Birdman is an experience for the audience in the real and fake world

Oscar Buzz – Birdman

A review by Brenda Daniels

In line with Cinema Nouveau’s build-up to the Oscars on 22 February, A Feast of Tales is reviewing six Oscar-nominated films. So far we have featured The Imitation Game and Boyhood. In this post we review Birdman. (Some of the films release in South Africa only after the Oscars so coverage for those will be in retrospect.)

Birdman. Wow. What an experience this film is. The storyline centres around Riggan Thomson (a very aged Michael Keaton) and his staging of a Broadway play. In his younger years Riggan was famous for his role as film action hero Birdman.

In this theatre debut Riggan tries to gain credibility instead for his directing/acting part in a serious play. In doing so he struggles with his former self, with personal relationships, and with his search for significance.

But more than a simple plot Birdman is an experience for the audience. It is almost exclusively filmed inside the theatre building.

Apart from one scene in which Riggan is trapped outside the theatre wearing only his underwear. He is forced to walk through crowds of people and make his entry on cue from the front of the theatre. This, and other elements of the film, is symbolic, and highlights the film’s constant interaction between what is real and what is not.

As Riggan struggles with the voices inside his head and walks the corridors of the building from one crisis to the next, viewers are bombarded with the sound of discordant drums. As the film builds to a climax the drumming is interspersed with harmonious classical music as the character finally begins to resolve his inner conflicts.

The other characters serve to confront weaknesses in Riggan. These include his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) whose doodling on toilet paper raises the issue of humanity’s insignificance; the brilliant but unlikeable actor Mike (Edward Norton) who succeeds only in the world of make-believe; and Lesley (Naomi Watts) whose views of Broadway have not yet been tainted by cynicism.

Birdman is an intense, clever and intricately wrought story that sucks the viewer in. It forced me to concentrate in order to grasp its meaning. When I left the cinema complex I felt the tension dissipating as I stepped from the fake world of the theatre into the real world. Or was it the other way round?

Birdman is on screen at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa, it has been nominated for 9 Oscars. The Oscar Award Ceremony takes place on 22 February 2015.

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