Audience appeal in the Big Apple

From pageants and parades to plays and musical productions, New York lives up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps.

November 27, 2010 21:41
THE RADIO CITY Christmas Spectacular, which made i

Rockettes 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

When I was growing up in Montreal, my family often went to New York to visit our relatives there. One of my most vivid memories is going to Radio City and seeing the inimitable Rockettes. I remember the vastness of the Art Deco music hall, the plush red seats and the impeccable symmetry of the showgirls’ synchronized dancing and high-stepping kicks.

On a recent visit to New York City, I was very gratified to see that the Rockettes and Radio City are alive and well and still on the Big Apple’s entertainment roster.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which made its debut in 1932, is a classic contingent of holiday fare that runs until December 30. Replete with the familiar live orchestra, live animals, 3-D segments and a lot of singing and dancing, the show has kept in step with the times and includes CGI graphics and LCD screens. And the Rockettes still perform the impressive “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” With the precision troupe dressed as toy soldiers, the piece ends with the dancers slowly falling over, one by one, like a row of domino dolls toppling in slow motion.

And speaking of parades of soldiers, I arrived in New York on Veteran’s Day (November 11), just in time to witness the annual Veteran’s Day Parade, which took place in Manhattan and held up traffic for hours. The largest parade in the US to date, some 600,000 spectators lined the streets to watch thousands of participants march along Fifth Avenue to pay tribute to the country’s millions of military heroes then and now.

My uncle Barney Present is a decorated war veteran. Now 85, he didn’t march in the parade but was happy to watch the procession on TV. Wounded by German gunfire in 1945 in Belgium during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, he received the Purple Heart for being wounded in action and the Bronze Star for bravery.

“Seeing the parade brings back memories,” he said, recalling the grueling events that had earned him his medals.

MEMORIES OF a different ilk were recorded in an article that appeared in the New York Post. Fyvush Finkel, 88, who recently completed a show with the National Yiddish Theater entitled Fyvush Finkel Live, waxed nostalgic about the old Yiddish theater district, which extended along the Lower East Side’s Second Avenue. Comprised of more than 20 Yiddish theaters and several Jewish restaurants, the area thrived from 1910 to the 1930s. For example, The National Theater was taken over by Boris Thomashevsky, who constructed a large clock on the building so that no matter where people stood on Second Avenue, they’d know what time it was. That building is now a condominium. The Yiddish Art Theater, which still functions as a theater, was built for consummate actor Maurice Schwartz, who served as producer and director and played the role of Tevye long before Fiddler on the Roof became a Broadway classic, Finkel recounted. And the still active Second Avenue Theater was the training ground for such beloved performers as Menashe Skulnik and Molly Picon, Finkel reminisced.

In a more current mode, Broadway is awash with a wide range of musicals, comedies and dramas. Some are adaptations or revivals, while others are new original works.

Some of the familiar titles on the Great White Way include The Addams Family, a musical with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth; Brief Encounter, a musical with Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock; La Cage aux Folles with Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge; Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones; A Little Night Music with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch; Mrs. Warren’s Profession with Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins; Promises, Promises with Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes; and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a musical with Patti LuPone and Sherie Rene Scott.

New to Broadway, a number of musical offerings have received critical acclaim.

American Idiot, adapted from the album by Green Day, is a rousing rock opera in which the dynamic cast grapple with the problems of post-adolescent angst.

Shifting to another part of the globe, Fela!, produced by Bill T. Jones, is the biography of Nigerian music revolutionary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Rendered to the pulsating rhythms of Afrobeat, the stirring combination of concert, dance and musical theater stars Sahr Ngujah and Kevin Mambo.

Names somewhat more familiar are featured in Million Dollar Quartet, which revisits the night of Decemner 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins got together for an impromptu jam session at the Sun Recording Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.

And speaking of a fabulous foursome, Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway features a look-alike cover band knocking off many of the Fab Four’s greatest hits.

On the dramatic scene, Time Stands Still by David Margulies tells the riveting story of two journalists, played by Laura Linney and Brian D’Arcy James, reeling from the rigors of covering the war in Iraq.

In another vein, The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall, based on a true story, explores the passion and meaning of art through a group of five artistically adventurous miners in northern England.

And for sports fans, in Eric Simson’s play Lombardi, Dan Luria tackles the role of legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi.

On the comedy circuit, stand-up comic Colin Quinn takes to the stage in his oneman show Long Story Short, directed by Jerry Seinfeld. Subtitled “History of the World in 75 Minutes,” the play casts a wry eye on the foibles of mankind over the past couple of millennia.

Beyond wry is the bombastic satire La Bete by David Hirson. Starring Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley, the play, written in iambic pentameter, revolves around the ruination of theater in the time of Moliere.

And scene.

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