Category Archives: New York Theater

Ten More Reasons I Love New York City

This is the third list I’ve made of Reasons I Love New York. The other two are here and here. It is said that New York is a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there. Actually, the opposite, it seems to me, is true. Hard to visit—there’s just so much to do and see in a short time— great to live here (same reason).

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Way to Go!

I said the next time I made a list, Uber would be at the top. I love Uber because it has made my life easier. It’s that simple. It’s not the only summon-a-ride service available in the City, but so far the only one I’ve tried.

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Lovely neighborhood gardens

Located on vacant lots throughout the City are a number of neighborhood gardens. This is West Side Community Garden, just two blocks  from my building. Right now it is abloom with gorgeous tulips.

 

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Thomas Hart Benton at the Met

Benton is my favorite American artist. Like me, he lived much of his life in Kansas City. The ten-panel mural “America Today” depicts a panorama of American life in the 20s. I never fail to visit this work when I’m at the Met. It is installed in a space that recreates the board room where it originally hung.

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Park Avenue Armory’s restored Veterans Room

Magnificent restoration of historic sites happens in New York, where there is access to plenty of money to carry it out. The most recent is this restoration in the Park Avenue Armory.

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Horses in Central Park

Okay; it’s controversial. Animal activists think these horses’ lives are too hard. But I don’t buy it. Their work in the Park is not hard. Walking to and from work through city traffic is somewhat hard, but it’s not far. Lots of us do it every day.

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Riverside Drive

A runner’s dream. The last westerly street on this narrow island so there are no intersections. You can run (or walk) for almost 20 blocks til you get to the highway access roads, and you never have to pause for a traffic light. After running down hill for a bit, you circle back through

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Riverside Park with Hudson River in the background

If you need a long view of water, Riverside Park is the place to go. More or less a straight line, it parallels the river. Beautifully planted, the park attracts moms and nannies with babies in strollers, bicyclists, runners, dog walkers, and me.

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The New Amsterdam Theater

The Broadway theater is one of the best things about New York City. Nothing can compare to that delicious moment when the house lights dim and the overture begins. The old Broadway theaters, too, have been the beneficiaries of renovation. Most of them were built in the early-mid 20th century when more was more—and I love it.

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Dogs and dog walkers in Riverside Park.

Big dogs, little dogs, cute dogs, ugly dogs—they are all vastly entertaining—and so patient. I’d like to have one, but the walkers are expensive, and I don’t relish the idea of taking Fido down eleven stories and outside on a cold winter morning.

Miracle on Fourth

Finally, The Merchant’s House in a repeat performance. It’s always on the list because it is so important to me, particularly this year—my second book about the house has just been released.

 

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The Immigrant, An American Musical, Tells the Story of How One Family Became Americans

Rita       and Sarah Knapp performing in The Immigrant, Seven Angels Theater, Waterbury Connecticutt

Rita Markova and Sarah Knapp performing in The Immigrant, Seven Angels Theater, Waterbury Connecticutt

Last weekend found us on the train to see a musical, The Immigrant, at the Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut. Based on a play by Mark Harelik, it is the story of his grandfather, a Russian Jew who fled the pogroms of Czarist Russia in 1909, immigrated through Galveston, and made his way to Hamilton, Texas, where he was befriended by a Baptist banker and his wife.

In 2000, Harelik asked Steven and Sarah to transform his play into a musical. Steven wrote the music and Sarah wrote the lyrics. Since then it  has been performed off Broadway in New York and in regional theaters throughout the United States.  This particular production was special for us because Sarah plays the banker’s wife, and Steven is the musical director, conducting and playing the piano.  Reviews have been fantastic and no wonder; it is a  beautiful piece and a superb production. Am I proud mom? Yes.

Looking through the program as I  waited for the performance to begin, I read the following program note by Harelik:

This is the story of my grandparents, young Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms of eastern Europe in 1909.

Having come to America’s southern shores on the wave of the Galveston Plan, my grandparents Harelik (originally pronounced Gorehlik) settled in a small town in central Texas where full religious observance was difficult. Through the years, they raised three sons and entered the American community. All outward sins of the shtetl life they left behind were gone.

For the family, however, the experiences of my grandparents’ past lives were daily stories that were passed around the dinner table. And for me, the hero of this quotidian legend was my grandfather Haskell. I could almost picture him—the young Jew forced to carry his life in his pocket—his religion, his aspirations, his search for safety and stability, and (strangely, the most vivid image of all) me. I could picture myself in his pocket. He was bringing my life to this space—this great open space, this unimaginable future that I live in now.

The day I sat down to write this story, I had been on the phone with my dad. He’d taken my elderly grandfather Haskell on their weekly drive around town, which took all of 20 minutes maybe. They drove by the clothing store founded in 1911 on the town square. “There’s your store, Pop.” “My what?” “Your store—Look, see that sign up there? Haskell Harelik—it’s your name.” “My name?”

He had forgotten his name. He had forgotten his journey, his life, his story. Now I reach into my own pocket, and there he is—my great American hero, who traveled so far to live a simple life, raise a family, plant the seeds of my future. We bear these seeds from the faded pockets of our fathers and mothers. We are them, in an unseeable, ungraspable way. And by our single, potent glance back, their invisible lives are made worthy and meaningful and immortal. And in the end, when even memory is gone, that which remains lives only in the telling. I must tell you this story, for it’s all that remains of a good man’s life, and all that’s immortal in me.

I got to thinking that except for the very few of us who are of pure native American descent, there are immigrant stories in all of our lives. But I suspect not many of us know those stories. Young people are not always interested in the distant past and by the time they are, it is too late to ask anyone who might know.  Neither of my grandmothers nor the grandfather I knew told me anything at all about their childhoods, much less about their parents or grandparents or how they came to be Americans.

Even genealogical research usually reveals only factual fragments. Except for the recent arrivals or the lucky ones with a long line of talkative grandparents or a stash of letters or diaries, the stories remain  untold. That’s another reason The Immigrant  is so special.

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Annie’s Back on Broadway! She’s Come a Long Way from Her Indiana Home.


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Mary Alice Smith, c. 1863

Here’s how the iconic character of pop culture, now the subject of the Broadway revival of “Annie” started out.

The original Orphan Annie wasn’t exactly an orphan, and actually her name wasn’t even Annie. She was a little girl named Mary Alice Smith, whose mother had died shortly after her birth, and who was sent by her father to live with his mother. When the grandmother became too ill to care for her, she was sent to live with her uncle, John Rittenhouse. This arrangement, however, was not satisfactory as the uncle had a large family, little money, and could ill afford another mouth to feed. So, in November of 1861, the first year of the Civil War when Mary Alice was barely eleven years old, she went to live with the Reuben Riley family. It’s not clear what the relationship between the Riley family and the Rittenhouses was, but a bargain was struck: John Rittenhouse was relieved of the responsibility of Mary Alice, and Mary Alice would help Mrs. Riley with the chores and the care of the Riley children. One of those children was James Whitcomb Riley, who would become one of the most beloved American poets of the 19th century.

James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley

Mary Alice stayed with the Riley family for only about a year before she was bounced about once again, but she left an indelible impression on the poet. Riley remembered Mary Alice as an elfish child, a little enchantress who gathered the children around her and told them scary stories. Such stories are part of the treasure of children’s folklore, passed on to children by children for nobody knows since when. Children love to be scared to death when they know they are really safe. Scary stories serve to help children handle fear by experiencing it in a protected environment. You probably remember such stories from your own childhood. Remember the one about the baby sitter and the killer on the telephone extension? No? How about the couple parked in lovers’ lane who heard on the car radio that a maniac had escaped from the asylum? How about the baby sitter on drugs who baked the baby instead of the turkey? Well, you get the idea. It was this genre of tale that Mary Alice told the Riley children around the fireside after her chores were done.

In 1885, Riley wrote what is perhaps his most well remembered poem. He called it “The Elf Child.” It was so popular it went through two editions. When the third edition was in preparation he decided to retitle the poem “Little Orphant Allie,” but the typographer, misreading Riley’s handwriting and possibly unfamiliar with the nickname “Allie,” set it as ‘Little Orfant Annie.”

This was a time when people of all walks of life read poetry with pleasure, and children of all ages memorized and recited poems in speech contests and festivals. “Little Orfant Annie” was one of the most popular. Like much of Riley’s poetry, it was written in Hoosier dialect.

For most people today, a little of Riley’s poetry goes a long way. But here are the first two verses of “Little Orfant Annie.”

Little Orphant Annie
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An ‘shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an ‘earn her board-an-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-listin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll gits you
Ef you
Don’
Watch
Out!

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers—
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’cubby hole, an’press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’roundabout;—
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
Ef you
Don’
Watch
Out!

Bpyhpod home of James Whitcomb Riley

Boyhood home of James Whitcomb Riley

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, you can visit James Whitcomb Riley’s boyhood home in Greenfield, Indiana. There you’ll see Mary Alice’s little attic room, the clothespress referred to in the poem and the fireside where the little orphan girl told her tales to the wide-eyed Riley children.

 

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The Heiress Comes (Back) to Broadway!

The Heiress, starring Jessica Chastain in the title role, is now in previews at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway. It will run for a limited engagement of 18 weeks.

Washington Square by Henry James tells the story of a young woman, her domineering physician father, and the man she loves.

Based on Henry James’ novel Washington Square, it is such a powerful story that audiences can’t get enough of it. The novel is one of James’ most popular and certainly one of his most readable books. In 1947 Ruth and Augustus Goetz wrote a play based on the book called The Heiress, which opened that year on Broadway and ran for a year. A movie, starring Olivia de Havilland, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the pathetically shy Catherine Sloper, came out in 1949. In 1995 the play returned to Broadway with Cherry Jones turning in Continue reading

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Filed under Books, Historic House Museums, Merchant's House, Movies and Videos, New York Theater

Give Me A Little Black Box Theater Any Day

You’ve got to love the folks at the Signature Theater for making it possible to experience legitimate theater for just $25. The problem with the experience is the space! They have a new home designed by Frank Gehry and on Sunday afternoon, we saw it. In my opinion it is cold, sterile and absolutely charmless. There are actually three theaters, but the literal centerpiece—the thing that dominates the space— is what they erroneously call “the cafe,” an example of the curious bastardization of the language that I’ve noticed as we move forward in this century, something like devaluing the word “friend,” which used to denote someone sort of special, and was always a noun. There’s nothing intimate or charming about the Signature food pit. “High school cafeteria” would be more accurate. But I digress.

I don’t expect an off-Broadway venue to be lavish. But surely we can do better than this. The whole thing with its plywood walls and brutal lobby decoration struck me as something you might find inside any mall in America Give me a little black box theater any day.

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The Theaters of the Great White Way Still Cast A Magic Spell

The New Amsterdam Theater

Of course, the ultimate New York theater experience happens in the theaters of the Great White Way that were built during the first quarter of the 20th century and have been restored to their former grandeur. The greatest actors of

The beautiful, beautiful Belasco

the legitimate theater played these houses and it was here that the golden age of the musical theater transpired. The Belasco, the Shubert, the Palace, the Winter Garden, the Al Hirshfeld, the Nederlander, the Music Box. . . the very names connote the magic. These were the days when more was more, and the theater space was considered very much a part of the magic. They shimmer with gilding and tinted glass. Painted panels and plaster frescoes adorn the walls and the heavy proscenium curtain conceals another world, which remains secret as people take their seats.

The Shubert, where I saw Chorus Line and fell in love with musical theater.

At the top of my list of favorite things is the musical theater. I like to be on hand as soon as the House opens so I can soak up the surroundings as I watch the theater fill up. And then, finally, there is that utterly delicious moment when the house lights dim, and the overture begins.

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