New York (1st trip)

New York New York – My Kind of Town ????

Well this seasoned veteran of trips to the West End has just returned from “over the pond”, a trip to New York. This is what happened, what I saw and what I thought. This trip was primarily to see Miss Saigon once more before it closed. Of course the fact that it was showing in America, a country I’ve always wanted to visit, and in New York one of the two main cities I wanted to visit there (The other by the way is Los Angeles) was a major bonus.

Also I’m a big kid who’s never grown up and loves Christmas and the only people who seem to love it more than me are the Yanks. So all in all I couldn’t have planned it better. I left on Sunday the 10th of December and the trip started with a drive of 170 odd miles to Heathrow Airport, I parked the car and got a connecting bus to terminal 3.

The people on the Virgin desk were very helpful to this non-frequent flyer infact I hadn’t flown for over 13 years before this trip. So I checked my bag in and headed for the departure lounge. Now as I said the Virgin staff had been great but the staff I met in the departure lounge couldn’t have cared less. I saw planes due before, at the same time, and after mine, also going to the same place, but not mine. When I asked all I got was ” your too early watch the screens” no mention of the fact that some times the same plane can have two numbers depending on who you booked through, a realisation that I came to after a very worrying 25 minutes. So I popped my aspirin and walked what seemed like half way to New York to get from the departure lounge to the gate where the plane was waiting. Well the flight was great, they showed movies, fed me, gave me drink and the stewardesses were very pretty what more could a single male traveller ask for. :o) The flight over is about 7 hours, much longer than I’d flown before, but the time went quite quickly.

We landed at Newark Airport, and I walked through customs with no problems. Not that there should have been, the only drugs I was carrying was Aspirin. But with the way we’d been told of the customs “one crossing out, one word on the wrong line, and your held up for ages” but they were very helpful and I got my first “have a nice day”. So I realised I was in the land of the Free at last.

We were bussed from Newark Airport into Manhattan under the guidance of our tour rep, who had a group of quite tired but VERY buzzed people to try and impart her knowledge to. The trip took about an hour in Sunday evening traffic. Through a tunnel that I recognised half way through as where DAYLIGHT the Sylvester Stallone Disaster Movie was set, very reassuring for a person that doesn’t like enclosed spaces :o)

The Roosevelt was our base for the next 3 nights and what a base, we checked in and then I ventured out. Because the buzz of being in “The city that never sleeps” over-rode the jet lag.

I found a McDonalds had a meal then went to a great bar called Connely’s, an Irish bar with a very welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff.

I ventured back to my room taking many wrong turns. Now “New York is easy to find your way around” Or so my  very charming local friend told me. Well basically …. NO … At least not for me. I mean the idea is simple enough everything is in “blocks” with street numbers going one way and street names crossing them so you have, and don’t quote me on this, 42nd Street crossing Madison Avenue for example. Not too bad I hear you say but put this in context, each “Street” has an East and West side, the Avenues go on for miles, add to this you have to walk for ages to find out which way the streets are going and it can make for a confusing system if you’re as severely directionally challenged as me. :o)

Monday 11 December 2000 I awoke at 7:30 am, I know this is amazing to those that know me but it’s true, and I thought what the hell, I’ll order room service for Breakfast. Now this will further amaze more people as I never eat breakfast, for that matter I never eat before about 11ish, [a little foible I have ;o)]. So I lay in bed watching American TV. Then showered, ironed some shirts and my Breakfast was delivered. Eggs, sausage, “Breakfast potatoes” not sure what’s in them but they tasted nice, some things that were a cross between crumpets and bread roles again very nice, orange juice and coffee. Oh and got a very strange reply when I suggested they leave out the coffee, I mean I never drink the stuff, but it was as if I’d suggested something not to pleasant about the guys parents. That really is the drink of the States, so I left that but ate all the rest.

Then it was onto the streets. Now I walked and walked and to show you what this place is like and the effect it has on you I managed to walk straight passed Times Square and miss it! and end up by the United Nations Buildings. Well after backtracking I got to my ” Spiritual home ” that little piece of grating known the world over as the heart of New York – TIMES SQUARE.

This place, I don’t care how many times you’ve seen it on the TV or in movies will blow you away. I mean the pace, the size, the LIGHTS!!….. I dread to think what their electricity bill must be like :o) So I filmed around, yes I was a tourist with a camcorder, couldn’t resist it, and then I decided to check out the Internet, no I’m not addicted but I wanted to check on the shows I was planning to see.

So I found the EASY EVERYTHING Internet Café just off 52nd St. (I think) and logged on. Here lies a tale, for $1.08cents I got 5 Hours access!! BT please take note.

I decided on FORBIDDEN BROADWAY for that evening.

This for a mixture of reasons:

1 – I wanted to see the show

2 – Quite a lot of the shows don’t have Monday evening performances, and

3 – I was on a very tight schedule. My trip meant that I arrived Sunday evening 9pm and was flying the return leg of my trip on the

Wednesday evening 9:25pm. And here was where I hit a bit of luck, by logging onto Playbill online as a member, I joined for the hell of it a few months before, I managed to save over $20.00 on the price of the ticket for this show. Wander, film, wander, film – Get the picture :o)

Then back to the Hotel change and venture out for the show, taking my camera again to get shots of the Big Apple at night. Got to ask a stupid question here. Why the “Big Apple”?? Anyone tell me?

I managed to get shots of the Christmas decorations and the massive tree they have, which I learnt they decorate by dropping a net with the lights attached to it, over the top of. Now if you’re even a small fan of the Festive Season this is a place you MUST visit at this time of year it’s truly magical. I got a shot of the ice rink by the tree. No one on it because all I got to see at that particular time was a joy-rider. You know the sort, drives a flashy vehicle WAY TOO BIG for him round and round in circles trying to look cool … Zamboni ! :o)

Then it was to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, as it is in a little room under this eatery that lives a small group of performers that can best be described as Broadway’s sense of humour Police or pomposity balloon busters.

The cast of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY. Now amongst theatre lovers this show is quite well known as it’s been running for some years now, but the Barrymore on Broadway show brought it to a wider audience. Infact when I bought my ticket the guy in the Box Cupboard (Well come on, it was so small there was no way that you could call this corner of the Diner an Office !) He said that he’d like to give Mr. Barrymore an award as the increase in UK patrons after the show has been tremendous.

Anyway to the show… The cast [ all 4 of them ] were when I saw the show – Felicia Finley, Gina Kreiezmar, William Selby and either Danny Gurwin or Tony Nation (I think Tony Nation but as I missed the announcement and the photos in the playbill are similar I’m not too sure) were brilliant. I’ve seen school productions with bigger and more “set” stages but this show doesn’t need those things. There are 4 singers, a pianist and two microphones and that’s it. It’s basically a revue featuring a series of numbers from musicals with the words changed to relate to either the performer or show in question.

Right then time for some examples. – David Hasselhoff is currently playing Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde on Broadway, so you get one of the male singers running onto the stage in best Baywatch slow motion and they then question the validity of placing a TV Star in such a demanding role. The MUSIC MAN is currently enjoying a revival so we have “Trouble in River City” changed to Trouble in Broadway lamenting the lack of original productions at the moment. Individuals don’t escape either with Gina Kreiezmar parodying Julie Andrews after her recent voice problems. Well no you wouldn’t call this show cosy I mean it can be quite scathing at times, but it is always very funny. Then Disney gets the treatment with the apparent downsizing of their production ” First a spoon goes then half the cutlery on Welfare”. Check it out if you can if not then buy the CD’s that are available. I walked back to the Hotel after the show after failing to hail a cab, nice to see London and New York do still have some things in common.

Tuesday 12th December 2000 Well I got up even earlier this day as I’d managed to get a pass to see a TV show being filmed. It was a daytime magazine type show called LIVE WITH REGIS. I arrived at the time on the letter and then stood for an hour before they opened the doors to the studio. Mind you I was glad that I was waiting inside as the wind was clocked at 70mph that day and bitterly cold. Infact, as when I was wandering around I was wearing a long Leather coat and gloves I was amazed to find out I was still cold. I tell you I honestly believe that they have a different type of cold over there. Anyway back to the show…

Well I’d resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t know any of the guests on the show, so I just settled into to enjoy the atmosphere and to watch the technical side of producing a live TV show, of interest to me as for those of you that don’t know me I run my own video production company, part time now.

The show was interesting and I fell lucky with the guests. This day we had Enya (Irish singer) and Marisa Tomey (The Girlfriend in My Cousin Vinney). After the live show finished the Executive Producer Michael Gelman came onto the mic to say that if we wanted to stay we could watch some extra interviews being taped for future broadcast. Well I had nothing else planned till that evening so I stayed and was treated to a very beautiful Italian actress (with absolutely no sense of humour) chatting to our host and then after waiting for another 30 minutes or so during which “Gelman” as Michael Gelman Executive Producer is known on the show, answered questions asked by the audience, ranging from when they were planning on getting a new permanent co-host for Regis to what was the sex of his up-coming child. Then the other interviewee arrived and it was Ben Affleck (Excuse the spelling )

So all in all I was very lucky I knew the guests, the show was fun, and the host Regis very friendly walking into the audience during commercial breaks to answer questions and have his picture taken. Although he did once call for his Gun! As one lady a few rows from me kept agitatedly trying to get his attention, resulting in Regis yelling “Gelman get the gun we’ve got a stalker in” :o). This Gentleman deserves his success. He is the presenter of Millionaire in the States. But this show is his home and he really seems to have fun with it. Even to feeding a lady in the front row samples of the 3 different types of mashed potato the cook of the day was preparing. Even the type she didn’t want to try it had truffles in it and all straight out of the saucepan! This last recipe explained the security the truffles they had on display on the counter cost $1,000 I kid you not!

Back into or onto to be precise Manhattan and I got my second bit of luck of this day. I had a message on my room phone and managed to arrange a meeting with the only person I “knew” in New York, a lovely lady called Vivian. Who advised on the best free way of seeing the Statue of Liberty…from the Staten Island ferry. so I was off again. Taxi to the Ferry terminal and I was on the water. 70 mph winds and icy cold this must be why they say that the Statue of Liberty can take your breath away. You literally couldn’t breathe in the wind on the deck of that ferry, but it made for some spectacular shots. 15mins each way and wait for it FREE! So I went to Staten Island and back (With hind sight I may have thought that she was trying to ensure that we never met as I have never felt such cold and wind).

Then straight to the Empire State Building where I was told the weather was too bad for the viewing balcony to be open so we had to make do with looking from inside, but still a spectacular way to see a remarkable city.

That evening I met with Vivian in Connely’s. Luckily she knew of this bar, as I didn’t know of virtually anywhere else, or at least, not how to get to them. We had a chat where she mocked my appalling lack of direction and we had a great time. Thanks for making this trip all the better through your company. Now we chatted for so long that I was late leaving for MISS SAIGON, I emerged from the Bar to find the streets one step short of gridlock, and taxis all full so it is here I can set the minds of native New Yorkers to rest. The large lumbering figure attempting to run up Broadway wasn’t some new fiend but a Welshman late for his favourite show trying to hurry with severely blistered feet. :o)

I made it 4 minutes after curtain up but as seems the norm the curtain wasn’t up yet. So I saw MISS SAIGON for the 13th time. Now this production was….. Different

I mean Melinda Chua “Kim” was very good the rest of the cast were okay but Luoyong Wang as “The Engineer” was terrible. He seemed completely uninterested in being there, he raced the orchestra to the end of all his numbers, and I would have had trouble understanding him some of the time if it were not for the fact that I knew the score. Even with this it couldn’t spoil an excellent show for me. I saw the changes in the staging due to the smaller stage, although the main difference I was expecting didn’t appear. I mean the helicopter was as spectacular as ever.

Wednesday 13th December 2000 I awoke at 8am showered and headed for the skies. Not the return flight but something I had promised myself, a helicopter trip around Manhattan. I arrived at the location (The explanation of why I’m being general will be explained later) found that although you have to pre-book the time you fly depends more on when you arrive than when you say you wish to fly.

This wasn’t a bad thing as I arrived an hour before I was due to fly, as I didn’t know how much time to leave for the traffic. My number was called (almost literally) and I went to the next room, was issued with a life jacket and shown a 4 minute safety video. – “always wear seat belt, listen to Pilot, this is how your life jacket works” etc.. Then it was to the helicopter, I was in the back but on one side so I would have a good view, almost too good as it turned out. Now to the slight problem, I pulled the seatbelt and it wouldn’t go around me. The technician came to the door tried the belt for a few seconds still now luck, so he motions ” no problem” closes the door and we’re off Up the Hudson round the Statue of Liberty sharp bank to the left my side of the craft and the pilot half turns as he hears a slight vibrating……… reaches back ………and closes the door next to me !!

Well it was a spectacular trip, nearly slightly more eventful than I would have wished, but well worth the money. I’ll do it again, though this time at night to see “the other New York”   

I’d checked on the pick up from the Hotel the night before and was a little disappointed to discover that it was at 5:30pm so I wouldn’t be able to see the intended Matinee.

So I headed for the cyber café again planning to do some souvenir shopping on the way, got some of the stuff I needed. There you go Nikki I didn’t forget see :o) I even got your newspapers though how up to date they’ll be when we meet I’m not too sure ;o). Got to the café, the time I had bought was valid for up to 28 days and you don’t even have to buy anything to eat or drink as you surf so I sent a few e-mails then surfed to the Playbill site and fate kicked in again. I hoped to have seen Jekyll & Hyde that afternoon so I checked out its site, and saw that I’d been mistaken. In the West End all matinees start at 3 but on Broadway some start at 1:30 and others including the one I wanted started at 2pm so as the show was 2.5 hours long I could make it. So I tore like a blur across 3 blocks only stopping twice to ask for directions, not bad by my standards.

Passing on the way the TKTS booths where you can get reduced price tickets. Unfortunately what looked like half the population of south East Asia seemed to be snaking around them, so I decided better to give my finances a bashing than risk missing the show. So I pre ordered my ticket, and fell in lucky again in two ways:

1 – David Hasselhoff wasn’t performing at the matinee. I say this not as a negative to this gentleman as I’ve never seen him perform the role, but as a positive to me as I got to see Robert Evan, who had been with the company on and off since the original cast and who was brilliant.

2- I got row E again with some time to kill I was lucky in being able to spend it with Vivian for a lunch at a Deli, another thing I’d wanted to do. Thanks for the lunch by the way my treat when you’re next in London.

JEKYLL & HYDE well this show was the surprise of the whole trip. It blew me away, no clever transformation effects it was all done with a piece of elastic, Now I’ve got your interest haven’t I :o). Well I’ll go further I could have played the role just as well with no help….other than a singing voice of course… Time to explain, when the character was Dr. Jekyll he was a gent with a ponytail and during the transformation he removed the band holding his hair and shook it so it fell over his face. This may not seem like much but I can assure you that with the performer I saw it was awe inspiring.

The music was excellent, written by Leslie Bricuse (Scrooge, Goldfinger, Willy Wonka…, Goodbye Mr. Chips and many other musical creations) and Frank Wildhorn Especially of note is the wonderful “This is the Moment”, “Someone like you” and “In his Eyes”.

The cast were also a revelation, this show has run for many years on Broadway (Oh and WHY NOT THE WEST END ??!!) but they put everything into the roles. I know I saw some understudies but they were as good as I’ve ever seen anywhere in any show. Especially deserving of a mention was Robert Evan as I’ve said, and, the lady that played “Lucy” I believe Colleen Sexton who as well as having the most wonderful pair of legs I’ve seen for ages. Had a beautiful singing voice and acted as if she’d been performing on the great white way for many years.

This show was the show that made Broadway for me. It was pacy, wonderfully sung and performed, originally produced and staged, just brilliant. A couple of complaints though. PLEASE SWITCH OFF YOUR MOBILE IN THE FRICKIN THEATRE, Especially after it or others have rung 3 times in the first half, and PLEASE Tell school party’s how to act in a Theatre. It’s not a Cinema the actors can hear you if you talk. Oh and the nice blonde lady who was usherette on the right side downstairs as you look at the stage. You were wonderful exactly what I imagined New Yorkers to be like, vivacious, fun, tough but fair.

Back to the Hotel, then to the Airport and the Flight home. It was at this point that I had chance to think over the trip in earnest. As while you’re there you are just running (sometimes literally) from one thing to the next. So what did I think, during the flight back firstly if I’m ever to fly again I need a fire exit or bulk head seat as at my size I can’t physically fit, never mind comfortably in the seating, and my bank balance won’t allow first class travel. This was brought home when the drinks were served as the stewardess trying to lower the little “table top” saying oh it’s broken” then ” Oh no it’s your knees” as the apparatus wouldn’t lower below 45 degrees.

So swollen feet, pain and 5 hours 50 minutes later I was back in the UK, and driving back to Wales.

So other memories that stand out from New York –

Drivers = Horns the two go together as nowhere else I’ve ever been, this is one place my love of driving would be severely tested.

They have showers you need a degree in plumbing to be able to operate, simple enough idea ” lift plunger to switch” but as it takes so long to switch you think nothing is happening and try something else.

The cold nothing can prepare you for that.

The people friendly, helpful except behind the wheel of a car. Broadway it is like the West End although I will say they both have their individual charms.

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