Wednesday, June 27, 2018

New York City Tips For Tourists

You’re coming to NYC? Here are some of the general suggestions I share with friends and friend of friends headed to the city for some fun. Private tours available on request. People write entire books on this stuff but these suggestions come up again and again so I thought I'd write them down.

NEW YORK CITY TIPS FOR TOURISTS AND THOSE WHO DON'T WANT TO LOOK LIKE ONE

WHEN SHOULD YOU VISIT? -- During the week. Anything and everything is busier and more difficult on weekends. So any time of the year, if you are lucky enough to swing it, spend as many week days in the city as possible. You can still do stuff on the weekends, but I save those for events you need a ticket, like the theater. If it’s tourist sites and museums and the like, weekdays are much easier. And don’t drive in the city. Driving is easy but having a car is a pain and will add mightily to your stress.

WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR? -- Comfortable shoes. Seriously. You’ll be walking a lot.

HOW SHOULD YOU GET AROUND? -- Public transportation. Or cabs and Uber if you must or its raining. If you’re in the city, a weekly MetroCard gets you access to buses and subways everywhere. Definitely the way to go and it’s FASTER than cabs in a lot/most situations.

IS IT SAFE? Yes. New York City is the safest major city in the US. Crime has fallen over the world in developed nations to 50 year lows, so NYC is not alone. But it’s safe even by those standards. You’d have to struggle to find an unsafe area in Manhattan and I could tell you bout Brooklyn but I can’t afford to live there. I assume it’s safe too. :) One tip: never hang your purse or bag on the back of your chair in a cafe or restaurant or bar or anywhere. Keep your stuff in FRONT of you and visible. Between your legs (not pushed back towards the aisle) or on the table. Don’t put your cell phone down anywhere and just step back to the counter to get some extra sugar. A cell phone is very easy to snag and go. This is true everywhere in the world, though, not NYC in particular. But again, never hang your bag/purse/messenger bag on the seat so it’s behind you.

THE STATUE OF LIBERTY -- visiting the Statue can be an all-day affair. Never go on weekends. You can book tickets in advance if you want to lock yourself in and are really determined to go. But since going up the statue is another long wait of hours once you reach the island and half the time it is closed for one reason or another anyway, I don’t recommend going. (If you want Ellis Island, you can go directly there. It’s nice for the historic feel of the place though the actual exhibits on display are pretty thin stuff.) Instead…

THE STATEN ISLAND FERRY -- this is a FREE ferry leaving from the bottom tip of Manhattan. During the day it leaves every 15 minutes. Late at night it leaves every half hour and then every hour in the wee hours of the morning before dawn. Want an up-close look at the Statue of Liberty without all the bother? This is the way to go. You head down to the bottom of Manhattan, clamber into the big room bustling with people and jump on the ferry. Here’s another tip: work your way to the front of the crowd of people waiting. Jump as soon as the doors open and head immediately to the right/starboard side of the boat. Head right away to the outside area and move towards the front of the ship and stand right at the rail. Don’t sit down on the tempting benches because other people will show up, stand at the rail and block your view. Stay at the rail for the entire short journey to Staten Island and you’ll get a great, camera-worthy look at the Statue. You can get off at Staten Island (the only stop) and make an immediate u-turn and get on the next ferry headed back to Manhattan. Not much to see on Staten Island unless there’s a minor league baseball game and that’s your thing. On the way back? Head to the absolute front of the ship as if you’re impatient to get off. Stand on the side so you can hold onto something. (When it stops, you’ll get a jolt and the tourists fall over and look silly and the locals sneer.) You’ll have a terrific view of the Manhattan skyline from the water as the boat slides into its slip. So for a free ride, you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty, a glimpse of Staten Island and a great view of the Manhattan skyline from the water. You can skip the laborious all-day journey to the Statue and a Circle Line boat tour of the city for a journey that’s quick (less than 90 minutes) and free.

(On the 1 train you want the South Ferry stop, the last one in Manhattan headed downtown; check which stops on which lines you want since not all are terribly close to the ferry. And a special note: you want to be in the front of the train on the 1 line, the first five cars, when getting off at South Ferry because it’s an old station. They’ll make an announcement about a hundred times as you get close, so no worries.)

THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING -- Go at night! During the day, you’ll often find long lines. Then when you get to the observation deck...you’ll find crowds of people. But the Empire State Building is open until 2 am. (Hey, it’s the city that never sleeps.) The last elevator going up is at 1:15 am, seven days a week.) So wait for a night when you’ve got a little energy and after dinner or a show when the weather is nice and you’re up for a quick jaunt, head to the Empire State Building. You’ll find ZERO lines, go right up to the observation deck and there you’ll find people, but not the massive, stuffed crowds you would during a sunny day. You get a gorgeous glimpse of the city at night, it’s romantic and fun and best of all it’s quick and easy.

THE 9/11 MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM -- The 9/11 Memorial is free and open to the public. You don’t need a ticket or have to arrange a timed entry. It’s open all day from 7:30 am to 9 at night. As with anything and everything in NYC, weekdays are better than weekends. There’s also a museum -- you need a ticket and must choose a date and time in advance. I’ve never gone so can’t speak to it. The 9/11 Memorial is well worth a visit -- it’s just a terrific work of art and elegantly simple and moving, much like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. I honestly had no interest in going whatsoever to either one, but found it quite moving and aesthetically pleasing and am glad I went.




BROADWAY

If you go in the summer, you can get lucky. Lots of shows have cheaper tickets and better seats. Or you can at least GET a ticket. The absolute hottest shows are always expensive and difficult. (Unlike London, where the West End is always cheaper and more convenient and easier to access, even for red-hot shows.) So if you’re a theater buff, plan in advance and buy your tickets to that one show you want way in advance. If you’re on a budget or just want to wing it, enjoy a morning wandering the theater district and hitting some box offices and the TDF booth in Times Square. Hint: sometimes great seats are available for that night’s show or the NEXT day. Checking in on Thursday for Friday and the weekend is not fruitless. Checking in Monday for Tuesday and so on. You get the idea. But no, I can’t get you tickets to [fill in name of the hottest show everyone wants a ticket to]. Off Broadway has great stuff too. In general, I’d rather see a new show with the original cast than a long-running show with their second or third or fifteenth cast, but everyone is different and every show is different so have fun and do what works for you.

Enter lotteries. Why not? You can always turn them down. If you’re in the city during the summer, you can enter the lottery for Shakespeare in the Park. That’s an awesome event in and of itself and a great NYC tradition and a way to enjoy Central Park at night.

What should you wear? Wear what is fun for you. If you spent a lot of money and want to wear a nice suit or dress, go ahead. You’ll look great, even at matinees. But yes, the days of dressing to the nines for a Broadway show are a thing of the past. When you’ve been schlepping around all day, sometimes you don’t have time to get back to your hotel and change. It’s ok. Shorts and flip flops aren’t cool and many people are so dressed down you’d think you were in line to go to a Chuck E. Cheese. So it’s nice to be dressed nicely; but khakis and a dress shirt or even a tucked in polo for a guy will make you stand out and look sharp. Of course, Friday and Saturday night are dressier than week nights, matiness are more casual and family shows more casual still. If you must wear fancy shoes (and in my book, the higher the heel the lower the IQ), but again if you MUST, carry them in your back and replace the sensible walking shoes you've had on at the last minute. Do NOT walk around all day in heels, ever.

Bathrooms -- here’s a good tip. If you have tickets in hand, arrive at least half an hour before show time. If you are picking them up at the box office, arrive 45 minutes before show time. An HOUR before showtime, stop drinking. No water. Nothing. Especially women but men too. Broadway houses are getting a little better. But often you are talking about a very small number of restrooms and a lot of people trying to use them during the 15 minute intermission. Women make up a majority of theater-goers and at a female-centric show like “Wicked” the numbers go even higher. Depending on where you are sitting (people on the aisle can jump up and run; I’ve done it) you can be trapped and take ten minutes just to get to the very long line for the restroom. In short, you do not want to use the rest room during the intermission. Stop drinking at least one hour before showtime. Arrive at the theater early. HEAD TO THE RESTROOM even if you don’t have to go. A lot of shows are two and half hours long. Some are 90 minutes...but have no break. In either case, use the restroom before the show. Enjoy looking around the theater and the sense of occasion. (And don’t sit down right away in your seats for a while. Just stand there because you’re about to be sitting for two plus hours.) Smile when other people start leaping up for the rest room or to grab a drink at the bar or to buy a souvenir. (Don’t bother. Drinks are super expensive and you can buy souvenirs if you want before or after with no rush.) Just stand and stretch and relax and enjoy the break while you people watch.


AMY’S BREAD -- the BEST slices of cake (and sometimes pie) and fresh bread and baked goodies. Before or after a night at the theater or for dessert, try Amy’s Bread. They’re on Ninth Ave between 46 and 47th Street. Check the hours of course for everything I say but they are open seven days a week: till 9 pm Sundays and Mondays, till 10 on Tues and Wed and till 11 Thur-Sat. The perfect end to a night, especially if go see “Waitress” and the constant smell of baking pies has you hungry.

THE MET MUSEUM/FRICK -- The Met Museum is a must-see for many and for good reasons. There are LOTS of museums in NYC and let your interests be your guide. The Folk Art Museum is fun and not overwhelming. (Closed Mondays) The Tenement Museum is great for history buffs. (Make sure you get a walking tour and make sure you ask them or friends who have gone or look online -- some tour guides are a lot better than others.) The Sex Museum, sadly, is no great shakes. MOMA of course is as iconic as the Met. And one could go one.

I’ll stick to the Met. If you’re from outside New York State, you have to pay. This stinks since it was free to everyone until a minute ago. It’s also no big deal since tourists almost always thought they had to pay and did anyway. Nonetheless, its free admission made it different from most every other major museum in the world and I will fight to have that happen again. They’re open seven days a week from 10 am to 5:30 on Sundays-Thursdays and 10 to 9 on Fridays and Saturdays. Some museums have free access on certain evenings but they tend to be jammed year round. Go on a Monday! And don’t spend more than two to three hours. You can spend days looking at everything but after a few hours, it’s definitely a question of diminishing returns. Leave and wish you could stay longer rather than stay and feel your feet dragging.

And here’s a tip: the Frick Museum. It’s located near the Met Museum. (Closed Mondays.) It’s a nice little pocket museum and a great way to start. You can dip in, see some art, it’s usually not crowded the way the Met and most museums are (especially on weekdays) and they’ve got some marvelous Vermeers. You can go to the Frick and in two minutes be standing in front of a Vermeer and soak it in at your leisure. (Like most art, images of them in a book don’t do justice.)

Finally the Met annex called The Cloisters is a great visit way up in Manhattan. You’ll swear you are in another world from Manhattan, get a good glimpse of nature and if you like medieval and religious art, it’s a must.








BOOKSTORES -- THE STRAND/BOOK CULTURE -- You can find some indie bookstores here and there throughout the city. God bless them all. There are theater book stores (Drama Books at 250 West 40th St) and kids books (Books Of Wonderon 18th St and hole in the walls everywhere. But they are fading away, I fear. It’s all about two remaining giants: The Strand at Broadway and 12th St open till 10:30 pm seven days a week. It’s bursting with new books and especially endless aisles of used and rare and out of print books on three giant floors. If you love books and browsing, a quick stop inside can last hours. Very similar but less well known is Book Culture at 112th St between Broadway and Amsterdam and near Columbia. It’s an unofficial student bookstore so you’ll find lots of course books piled here and there. But like the Strand it also has a huge collection of used, rare and out of print books in every conceivable category.



CENTRAL PARK -- It’s great. Go! Strawberry Fields by the Dakota is a must-see. Otherwise, wander to your heart’s intent. One great thing to do when you’re heading to the Met museum from the West Side or vice versa is to explore the park simply by going across it. There are buses at certain streets to jump across the park but no easy subway lines. So at some point, if you wanna be there instead of here, just walk across the park and enjoy.



Food. Music. Neighborhoods. Walking tours. Other boroughs. Movies. A thousand things come to mind and if you tell me what interests you that will spark some ideas. But the above are the tips I provide time and time again to friends and friends of friends headed to NYC for the first time. When I moved, I was staying on 103rd Street and Broadway. I started walking down Broadway one day and went all the way to the bottom of the island. The next day? Fifth Avenue. The next day? Ninth Avenue and so on and on, just to see the changing neighborhoods. It’s as fun and engaging as anything you could plan out reading Fodors. Don’t schedule yourself to death! Take the time to just wander and relax and feel like a New Yorker. Curse if the mood strikes you. We won’t mind.






Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I've Seen/Read/Heard So Far In 2018

Updated August 1, 2018

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2


BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
(Increasingly, I am sampling books, reading 10%, 20% even 40 or 50% before deciding to move on. The books below are only the ones I've read completely. That also explains what looks like generous grading -- more and more, if I sense a book is not going to be among my favorites, I stop reading. Too many books; too little time!)


1. Pietr The Latvian by Georges Simenon (1931) (Maigret #1) ** 1/2
2. Enter Talking by Joan Rivers with Richard Meryman (1986) *** 1/2
3. The Common Good by Robert Reich **
4. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (1961) ***
5. The Carter Of La Providence by Georges Simenon (1931) (Maigret #2) ***/
6. The Triumph of Christianity by Bart Ehrman ** 1/2
7. The Late Monsieur Gallet by Georges Simenon (1931) (Maigret #3) ***
8. A Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin (1968) *** 1/2
9. Coffin, Scarcely Used by Colin Watson (1958) ***
10. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren w Caryle Adler **
11. The Throne Of Caesar by Steven Saylor ** 1/2
12. A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey ***
13. Bump In The Night: A Flaxborough Mystery by Colin Watson ***
14. The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss *** 1/2
15. Space Odyssey by Michael Benson ** 1/2
16. Circe by Madeline Miller *** 1/2
17. Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Bway Revolution by Scott S. Purdum ***
18. Rocket Men by Robert Kurson ** 1/2
19. Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund ** 1/2
20. Bob by Wendy Mass and illo by Rebecca Stead ** 1/2
21. Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? by Robert Kuttner ***
22. The Emissary by Yoko Tawada ***
23. Beneath A Ruthless Sun by Gilbert King *** 1/2
24. Endling The Last by Katherine Applegate *** 1/2
25. Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston ***
26. The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis **
27. Imperial Twilight by Stephen R. Platt *** 1/2
28. The Mandela Plot by Kenneth Bonert ***
29. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill **
30. Calypso by David Sedaris *** 1/2
31. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson *** (but *** 1/2 in terms of influence)
32. Lincoln's Last Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher ** 1/2
33. Small Country by Gaël Faye *** 1/2
34. The Street Where I Live by Alan Jay Lerner *** 1/2
35. Island Of The Mad by Laurie R. King ** 1/2
36. The Button War by Avi ** 1/2
37. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje *** 1/2
38. Conan Doyle For The Defense by Margalit Fox ***
39. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik *** 1/2
40. I'm A Free State by V.S. Naipul *** 1/2
41. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively ****
42. Skippy: Daily Comics 1925-1927 by Percy Crosby *** 1/2
43. Fly Girls by Keith O'Brien *** 1/2
44. Farmer In The Sky by Robert Heinlein (1950) * 1/2
45. Citizen Of The Galaxy by Robert Heinlein (1957) ** 1/2
46. The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks *** 1/2
47. Skippy: Daily Comics 1928-1930 by Percy Crosby ***
48. Skippy: Daily Comics 1931-1933 by Percy Crosby ***
49. The Spy Of Venice by Benet Brandreth ** 1/2
50. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959) ** 1/2








CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS (A strong emphasis on the ones I like, so don't think I love everything I listen to -- I just don't bother really listening to the ones I don't )

1. The Alan Parsons Project -- Eye In The Sky (1982) **
2. Dinah Washington -- The Fats Waller Songbook aka Sings Fats Waller (1957) *** 1/2
3. Nina Simone -- Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles ***/
4. The James Hunter Six -- Whatever It Takes ***/
5. Lee Wiley -- West Of The Moon (1956) ** 1/2
6. Petula Clark -- Living For Today ** ("While You See A Chance" cover nice)
7. Kendrick Lamar et al -- Black Panther soundtrack ***/
8. They Might Be Giants -- I Like Fun ** 1/2
9. Fall Out Boy -- Mania ***/
10. Anderson East -- Encore **
11. Jimmy Buffett -- Buried Treasure Vol. 1 **
12. Josh Ritter -- Gathering ***
13. Gaz Coombes -- Matador (2015) ** 1/2
14. Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello -- Flowers In The Dirt demos (1985) *** 1/2
15. Boz Scaggs -- Some Change (1994) *** 1/2
16. Various Artists -- Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack
17. Jo Stafford -- Autumn In New York (1950) **
18. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams (2015) *** 1/2
19. Tracey Thorn -- Record ***/
20. Joan Baez -- Whistle Down The Wind ***
21. Thelonius Monk -- The Complete Prestige 10 Inch LP Collection ****
22. Thelonius Monk -- Thelonius Monk Trio (1954) ****
23. Thelonius Monk -- Monk (1954) *** 1/2
24. Thelonius Monk -- And Sonny Rollins (1954) *** 1/2
25. Curtis Roush -- Cosmic Campfire Music ** 1/2
26. Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson -- Landfall ** 1/2 (not enough Laurie)
27. Steve Winwood -- Greatest Hits Live ** 1/2
28. Philip Phillips -- Collateral **
29. Carmen McRae -- Book Of Ballads (1958) ****
30. The Eagles -- Hotel California (1976) ** 1/2
31. Carmen McRae -- By Special Request (1955) ***
32. Brian Fallon -- Sleepwalkers **
33. Paul McCartney and Youth as The Fireman -- Electric Arguments (2008) ***
34. Mabel Mercer -- Merely Marvelous (1960) ***
35. MGMT -- Little Dark Age **
36. The Moody Blues -- Days of Future Passed (1967) **
37. John Oates -- Arkansas ***
38. John Moreland -- In The Throes (2013) ***
39. Jo Stafford -- Starring Jo Stafford (1953) **
40. Glenn Gould -- Bach: The Goldberg Variations (1981) ****
41. Franz Ferdinand -- Ascending **
42. Merle Haggard -- Mama Tried (1968) ***/
43. The Clash -- The Clash (1977) *** 1/2
44. Simple Minds -- Walk Between Worlds ** 1/2
45. Andy Gibb -- Greatest Hits (1980) **
46. Kacey Musgraves -- Golden Hour ** 1/2
47. Jimi Hendrix -- Both Sides Of The Sky **
48. Tim Christensen -- Honeyburst (2003) *** 1/2
49. The Four Lads -- The Singles Collection 1952-1962 * 1/2
50. Cecile McLorin Salvant -- WomanChild (2013) *** 1/2
51. Meshell Ndegeocello -- Ventriloquism ***
52. Don McLean -- Botanical Gardens * 1/2
53. Ashley McBryde -- Girl Goin' Nowhere ***
54. Paul McCartney -- Memory Almost Full (2007) ***
55. The Fratellis -- In Your Own Sweet Time ***
56. Elizabeth Mitchell -- The Sounding Joy (2013) * 1/2
57. Kurt Elling -- The Questions **
58. Jack White -- Boarding House Reach **
59. Toto -- Greatest Hits: 40 Trips Around The Sun * 1/2
60. Brandi Carlisle -- By The Way, I Forgive You *** 1/2
61. Sonny Rollins -- Way Out West (1957) ***/
62. Habibi -- Cardamom Garden * 1/2
63. Ben Harper and Charles Musselwhite -- No Mercy In This Land **
64. Born Ruffians -- Uncle, Duke and the Chief **
65. Bettye LaVette -- Things Have Changed ***
66. The Meters -- Rejuvenation (1974) *** 1/2
67. Patrick Wolf -- Lupercalia (2011) ***
68. Rick Springfield -- The Snake King ***/ (heretic!!)
69. Rhye -- Blood **
70. Vivian Leva -- Time is Everything **
71. Calum Scott -- Only Human **
72. Scotty McCreery -- Seasons Change ** 1/2
73. The Clash -- Give 'em Enough Rope (1978) *** 1/2
74. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong -- Cheek To Cheek: Complete Duet Recordings *** 1/2
75. Vance Joy -- Nation Of Two **
76. Tom Williams -- All Change **
77. Tom Rogerson -- Finding Shore **
78. Tal National -- Tantabara ** 1/2
79. The Clash -- Combat Rock (1982) ***
80. Donna Summer -- Bad Girls (1979) ** 1/2
81. Donna Summer -- The Wanderer (1980) * 1/2
82. Janelle Monáe -- Dirty Computer *** 1/2
83. Mandy Patinkin -- Diary, January 27, 2018 ***
84. John  Prine -- The Tree Of Forgiveness ***
85. Frank Turner -- Be More Kind ** (but "The Lifeboat" lovely)
86. Joshua Hedley -- Mr. Jukebox ***/
87. Sting and Shaggy -- 44/876 **
88. Mary Chapin Carpenter -- Sometimes Just The Sky **
89. Sonny and Cher -- The Beat Goes On: The Best Of Sonny and Cher ** 1/2
90. The Magic Numbers -- Outsiders ** 1/2
91. Charlie Puth -- VoiceNotes ***
92. Jason Aldean -- Rearview Town ***/
93. Josh Rouse -- Love In The Modern Age *** 1/2
94. Beach House -- 7 ***
95. Nellie McKay -- Silver Orchid *** 1/2 /
96. Courtney Barnett -- Tell Me How You Really Feel *** /
97. Old Crow Medicine Show -- Volunteer ** 1/2
98. Maddie Poppe -- Songs From The Basement **
99. Jennifer Warnes -- Another Time, Another Place **
100. Shawn Mendez -- Shawn Mendez ** (but "In My Blood" v good)
101. Kanye West -- Ye ** 1/2
102. Leon Bridges -- Good Thing ***
103. Arctic Monkeys -- Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino *** 1/2
104. Willie Nelson -- Last Man Standing **
105. The Temptations -- Psychedelic Shack (1970) *** 1/2 \
106. The Temptations -- Meet The Temptations (1964) ** 1/2
107. The Temptations -- Sing Smokey Robinson (1965) ***
108. Kelly Willis -- Back Bein' Blue ** 1/2
109. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore -- Downey To Lubbock **
110. The Temptations -- The Temptin' Temptations (1965) ***
111. The Pointer Sisters -- Our Hits ** 1/2
112. Dierks Bentley -- The Mountain **
113. Lynyrd Skynyrd -- Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd (1973) ***
114. The Meters -- Fire On The Bayou (1976) ***
115. Neko Case -- Hell-On ***
116. Betty Buckley -- Hope *** (title track great)
117. Brad Mehldau -- Seymour Reads The Constitution ** 1/2
118. Benjamin Jaffe -- Oh, Wild Ocean of Love ***/
119. Ry Cooder -- The Prodigal Son *
120. Ruen Brothers -- All My Shades of Blue **
121. J Balvin -- Vibras ***
122. Birch Pereira -- Western Soul ***/
123. The Temptations -- With A Lot O' Soul (1967) *** 1/2
124. Panic! At The Disco -- Pray For The Wicked ***/
125. Parquet Courts -- Wide Awake! **
126. American Aquarium -- Things Change **
127. Kasey Chambers -- Campfire ***/
128. Kamasi Washington -- Heaven and Earth *** 1/2
129. The Temptations -- In A Mellow Mood (1967) *
130. Frank Sinatra -- Standing Room Only ** 1/2
131. Jerry Reed -- The Unbelievable Guitar And Voice Of Jerry Reed (1967) ***
132. Elvis Presley -- The Searcher (documentary soundtrack) ** 1/2
133. Nas -- Nasir *** 1/2
134. Lynyrd Skynyrd -- Second Helping (1974) ***
135. Tom Rush -- Voices ***/
136. Rufus Wainwright -- Northern Stars ** 1/2
137. Various Artists -- Universal Love: Wedding Songs Reimagined **
138. Sugarland -- Bigger **
139. The Temptations -- Wish It Would Rain (1968) ** 1/2
140. Paul Simon -- Graceland: The Remixes *
141. Van Morrison -- You're Driving Me Crazy w Joey DeFrancesco ** 1/2
142. The Temptations -- Diana Ross and the Supremes Meet The Temptations (1968) * 1/2
143. The Temptations -- Cloud Nine (1969) *** (side one ****; side two ** 1/2)
144. 5 Seconds Of Summer -- Youngblood **
145. John Coltrane -- Both Directions At Once (1963) *** 1/2
146. The Last Poets -- Understand What Black Is **
147. The Temptations -- Puzzle People (1969) ** 1/2
148. Booker T and the MGs -- UpTight (1969) ** 1/2
149. Joan Armatrading -- Not Too Far Away **
150. Françoise Hardy -- Personne d'autre **
151. Arthur Buck -- Arthur Buck **
152. Kadhja Bonet -- Childqueen **
153. Ray Davies -- Our Country -- Americana Act Two **
154. Various Artists -- Baby Driver Volume 2: The Score For A Score **
155. Death Grips -- Year Of The Snitch ** (could be the soundtrack to The First Purge)
156. Don Flemons -- Black Cowboys ** 1/2
157. Corey Harris and Henry Butler -- Vu-Du Menz (2000) *** 1/2
158. Buddy Guy -- The Blues Is Alive And Well *** 1/2
159. The Temptations -- The Temptations' Christmas Card (1970) ** 1/2 but "Silent Night"
160. Gaël Faye -- Rythemes et Botanique (2017) ** 1/2
161. Gaz Coombes -- World's Strongest Man ** 1/2
162. The Temptations -- Sky's The Limit (1971) ***/
163. The Temptations -- Solid Rock (1972) ***
164. Chastity Brown -- Silhouette Of Sirens ** 1/2
165. Ike Reilly -- Crooked Love ** 1/2
166. The Rails -- Other People * 1/2
167. Ben Rector -- Magic **
168. Mike and the Moonpies -- Steak Night at the Prairie Rose **
169. The Milk Carton Kids -- All The Things That I Did And All The Things That I Didn't Do *1/2
170. The Poppy Family - A Good Thing Lost: 1968 - 1973 ** (but nice voice)
171. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever -- Hope Downs ** 1/2
172. Ron Sexsmith -- Carousel One (2015) ***/
173. Cowboy Junkies -- All That Reckoning ** 1/2
174. Van Morrison -- His Band and the Street Choir (1970) ** 1/2\
175. Scott Matthews -- The Great Untold ***/
176. Martin Courtney -- Many Moons **
177. Mary Gauthier -- Rifles and Rosemary Beads *** (esp "Bullet Holes In The Sky")
178. Matt Costa -- Santa Rosa Fangs **
179. Ray LaMontagne -- Part Of The Light **
180. Lori McKenna -- The Tree **
181. Otis Redding -- Dock Of The Bay Sessions (1968/2018) ***\
182. Ruel -- Ready ** 1/2
183. Rev. Shawn Amos -- Breaks It Down (2017) **
184. Corey Harris -- Daily Bread (2005) (weak prod; liked "The Peach")
185. The Free Design -- Kites Are Fun (1967) ** 1/2
186. Ashley Monroe -- Sparrow **
187. Billy Price -- Reckoning **
188. Beth Nielsen Chapman -- Hearts Of Glass **
189. Birds Of Chicago -- Love In Wartime * 1/2
190. Birdtalker -- One **
191. The Bookshop Band -- Accidents and Pretty Girls (2017) **
192. Bombino -- Deran ***
193. Bobby Sanabria -- West Side Story Reimagined ** 1/2
194. Brent Cobb -- Providence Canyon **
195. Clay Parker and Jodi James -- The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound **
196. Ron Sexsmith -- The Last Rider (2017) *** 1/2
197. Boz Scaggs -- Out Of The Blues *** 1/2
198. The Free Design -- You Could Be Born Again (1968) * 1/2
199. Bettye Lavette -- Things Have Changed ***
200. Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams -- Vanished Gardens **
201. Cale Tyson -- Careless Soul ** 1/2
202. Nathaniel Rateliff -- Tearing At The Seams ** 1/2
203. Punch Brothers -- All Ashore **
204. The Jayhawks -- Back Roads and Abandoned Motels ** 1/2
205. Matthew Sweet -- Tomorrow's Daughter ***/
206. Rodney Crowell - Acoustic Classics ** 1/2
207.





MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES TV MOVIES 

(Not TV movies, of course, but movies and TV -- and TV movies if it comes to that. Mostly I only list TV shows when I've tackled an entire season at once or reappraising an entire series after it's over This doesn't really capture my ongoing watching of current TV.)

1. Downsizing ** 1/2
2. Of Mice And Men (1939) ** 1/2
3. I, Tonya ***
4. Paddington 2 ** 1/2
5. The Post **
6. Black Panther **
7. The Greatest Showman **
8. The Founder *** 1/2
9. Obit ***
10. Good Time *** 1/2
11. Machines ** 1/2
12. Dunkirk ****
13. Una Mujer Fantastica *** 1/2
14. Foxtrot *** 1/2
15. Dawson City: Frozen Time ***
16. Bad Lucky Goat ***
17. Loveless *** 1/2
18. God's Own Country *** 1/2
19. The B-Side ***
20. Love, Simon ** 1/2
21. Logan ***
22. Patti Cake$ ** 1/2
23. The Lost City Of Z *** 1/2
24. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story ***
25. Only The Brave ***
26. A Quiet Passion ***
27. The Breadwinner ***/
28. Happy Death Day ***
29. Land Of Mine *** 1/2
30. Columbus *** /
31. Frantz ** 1/2
32. Get Out ***
33. Brigsby Bear **
34. Risk (Laura Poitras documentary) ***/
35. A Quiet Place ** 1/2
36. Ready Player One *
37. Lean On Pete ** 1/2
38. The Endless **
39. Blockers (esp Ike Barinholtz and Miles Robbins) ***
40. Annihilation **
41. Captain America: Civil War **
42. Le Corbeau (1943) ** 1/2
43. Isle Of Dogs *** 1/2 (prod, score, voice, screenplay)
44. Miracles For Sale (1939) *
45. Deadpool 2 **
46. Solo: A Star Wars Story **
47. At The Circus (1939) *
48. Summer 1993 *** 1/2 (direction, lead perf)
49. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939) * 1/2
50. Yes, My Darling Daughter (1939) * 1/2
51. The Guardians ** 1/2
52. 7th Heaven (1927) w Janet Gaynor (w Noam at Moma)
53. Klute *** 1/2 (at Metrograph w Noam)
54. Who We Are Now *** 1/2 (plus lead perf)
55. Les Parents Terrible (1948) *** (at Quad w Noam) (Jean Marais miscast but excitingly shot)
56. Cuatro Corazones (1939) (at Moma w Noam) ** 1/2
57. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (Mr Rogers documentary) ***
58. Killing Eve Season One *** 1/2
59. The Incredibles 2 ***
60. Halelujah (1929 all-black film about man turned preacher but always tempted by harlot) ** 1/2
61. The Royal Rodeo (1939 short) no stars
62. Whitney ** 1/2
63. Sgt. Madden (1939) ** 1/2
64. American Animals *** 1/2 (screenplay)
65. Lady Of The Tropics (1939) *
66. Sorry To Bother You ** 1/2
67. Teen Titans! Go To The Movies ** 1/2
68.  5th Avenue Girl (1939) ** 1/2
69. Mission: Impossible -- Fallout **1/2
70.










THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS THEATER CONCERTS
(The names after the shows are the people who joined me at the performance.)

1. At Home At The Zoo: Homelife and The Zoo Story (at Signature w Luis) ***/
2. Escape To Margaritaville (w Franny) **
3. Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966  (w TJ) ***
4. Lobby Hero (w Michael Cera) (w Noam) ***
5. Frozen (w Luis) **
6. Rocktopia (w Luis) *
7. Angels in America (w Garrett)** 1/2
8. Mean Girls (w Cohen) ** 1/2
9. The Sting (w Harry Connick Jr.) (w Noam) **
10. Mlima's Tale (w Noam) ** 1/2
11. Children Of A Lesser God (w Joshua Jackson) (w Noam) ** 1/2
12. 
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance (w Vincent) ** 1/2
13. The Metromaniacs (w Noam) ***
14. Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (w Cohen) *
15. The Seafarer (w Zoe) **
16. Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) (w Noam) * 1/2
17. Saint Joan (w Noam) **
18. Travesties (w Tom Hollander and Seth Numrich) (alone) *** 1/2
19. My Fair Lady (w Lauren Ambrose) (w Noam) *** 
20. Summer and Smoke (w Marin Ireland at CSC) (w Noam) ** 1/2 
21. Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 (w Luis) ** 1/2
22. August Wilson Monologue Competition at the August Wilson Theatre (w Noam) ** 1/2
23. Paradise Blues (Dominique Moriceau play at Signature) (w Dave Cohen, Zoe, Noam) ** 1/2
24.  Our Lady Of 121st Street (revival at Signature) (w Dave, Zoe, Noam) ** 1/2
25. Dance Nation (at Playwrights Horizons) (w Joanne) ** 1/2
26. 


KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2

Updated August 1, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

THEATER: BROADWAY BY THE YEAR -- 1956 AND 1975

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1956 AND 1975 ** 1/2 out of ****
TOWN HALL

The winter-spring series "Broadway By The Year" has been going on for almost twenty years. But somehow it still feels like the best-kept secret in theater. Sure it has full houses and subscribers who've held onto their seats for years and greet each other by name. Yes, creator Scott Siegel has spun this franchise into an ever-growing number of showcases for Broadway and cabaret stars and rising talent both at Town Hall and 54 Below and beyond. Nonetheless, go to BBTY and you'll feel like you've slipped backstage or finally received your theater-insider badge.

This season, Siegel is focusing on one year for each act of the night. On Monday, it was 1956 and 1975, two primo years for musical theater being the last gasp of a golden age and the start of a new flowering. I'm about to tell you what you missed but don't despair: the next Broadway By The Year takes place on June 18 and covers 1988 and the head-spinningly recent season of 2017.

For 1956, the show drew upon Bells Are Ringing, Candide, Mr. Wonderful (the Sammy Davis Jr. showcase), The Most Happy Fella and the peerless My Fair Lady. And 1975? That season offered shows celebrating Tom Chapin (!), Bessie Smith and Rodgers and Hart. Happily it also included the surprisingly successful Shenandoah (I did NOT know that ran more than 1000 performances), The Wiz and two genuine landmarks: Kander & Ebb's Chicago and A Chorus Line.

You come to BBTY to hear covers of classic songs you know well and some rarer songs you're not familiar with, all of them performed by big stars and rising talent. It's a rare night when you don't walk away wanting to hear a "new" song again and write down the name of a performer to keep your eye on. Tonight was no exception, but it was especially good at pointing out new artists ready for their close-up.

It wasn't always as kind to veterans. Lance Roberts is on Broadway right now in the acclaimed revival of My Fair Lady. While he got by on "Too Close For Comfort," Roberts was at sea on the infectious "Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle Of Beer)." It was perhaps the wrong song for the wrong crowd on the wrong evening and when he gamely pointed the mike at the audience for them to sing ("Gimme a pigfoot!") they had blank looks and no idea what to say. He deserved props for selling it anyway as a grand old time. So did Cheryl Freeman on "Home" from The Wiz. That's a song that should bring down the house (any house) but it was an off night for Freeman. However, she delivered a master class in staying in character after the song was over, looking genuinely moved by the tune and the moment even as you knew she was thinking, "Damn! That didn't happen." And Luke Grooms killed it Off Broadway recently in the revival of Jerry Springer: The Opera. But other than singing sans microphone (a BBTY tradition for at least one song), Grooms brought little to "My Heart Is So Full Of You." And "Johnny One Note" was more of a vocal workout than a treat.

Now onto the good news. Douglas Ladnier is a cabaret star and Broadway veteran (from Jeckyl and Hyde among others). His best moment was early on with "Just In Time." But while no one should be asked to sing "Cat's In The Cradle," that slice of bathos simply cannot be sung with too much intensity and was perfect for him. The audience loved it, even as I wondered how Tom Chapin got on Broadway with his own show in the first place. (Ladnier has a new album out now called Heart And Soul showing him equally unafraid of other Seventies hits like "Sometimes When We Touch" and "You Are So Beautiful" alongside classic theater tunes.)

Ladnier had three numbers on the show, which is one of the best parts of BBTY. If someone doesn't wow you right away, chances are you'll get to revise your opinion before the night is over. That was certainly the case for Maxine Linehan, who had the unenviable task of tackling "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady. After a too-serious "It's All Right With Me" I appreciated Linehan's voice but wasn't sure about her interpretations. That changed mightily when she tackled a song from the little known hit Shenandoah. Linehan was singing "The Only Home I Know," a wistful ballad performed by a soldier heading back to his small town after the horrors of the Civil War. A spare, lovely arrangement courtesy of musical director and pianist Ross Patterson allowed Linehan to sit on a stool and deliver the song with unadorned sweetness. You immediately wanted to hear more from Shenandoah and Linehan, a sure sign of success.

And the success of Siegel's showcase Broadway's Rising Stars is how much of the talent that makes it to that annual event keeps popping up all over the theater landscape. Every year Siegel selects the cream of the crop from arts schools all over the country and puts them in Broadway's Rising Stars. This year's show takes place on Monday July 16 at Town Hall. If you'd gone in the past, you would have been among the first to see Joshua Israel and Oakley Boycott. (Note: that's her real name and any suggestion otherwise may lead to legal proceedings.)

Every Broadway By The Year includes some dancing and Israel was on tap Monday. He started off act two in jaunty style with "I Can Do That" from A Chorus Line. "All I Care About" from Chicago was more of the same and they both would have shone better in separate acts. (Is it Siegel's fault they both came out in 1975?) Israel dances with a chip on his shoulder -- that cocky Gene Kelly attitude of yeah, I'm dancing here, you gotta  problem with that? Maybe I'm just a Fred Astaire guy myself, but Israel should balance his attitude with a little more joy or less self-awareness or something.

Three time Tony nominee Carolee Carmello had the right sort of attitude: the pleasure of a star who knows what they're doing and loves it. With shows like Falsettos, Urinetown and Parade on her résumé, it's a well-earned confidence. Carmello first appeared in Act One, delivering the comic gem "I'm Going Back" from Bells Are Ringing with aplomb. It was almost a one-two punch since she returned early in Act Two with "Nothing" from A Chorus Line, underlining that song's irony with bittersweet ease. And she ended the night with the Chorus Line chestnut "What I Did For Love," joined by the entire cast. Simply making it sound fresh is a hard task but she pulled it off. The recent musical Tuck Everlasting wasn't nearly a good enough showcase for Carmello and this night reminded you she's a singular talent that deserves a better one, soon.

And that leaves two newcomers that wowed. Carmello sang a key number from Bells Are Ringing and killed it. That makes it all the more impressive that I kept wondering what Oakley Boycott would have done with the song. Why? Because she'd been onstage just a few minutes earlier delivering a knockout performance of another comic gem from Bells Are Ringing, "Is It A Crime?" Boycott is a statuesque beauty, sporting red hair (at least tonight). (She's also an alumnus of Broadway's Rising Stars, just like Israel.) But two seconds after she began you knew you were in Carol Burnett territory: a terrific voice and talent that is unashamedly ready to make a fool of herself for a laugh or a song that calls for it. That was certainly the case with "Is It A Crime?", with Boycott bringing alive her message center operator with ease, elbows akimbo as she kvetched with the audience, did splits, tottered this way and that and generally had a blast. You immediately want to see a full-blown revival of that show with Boycott as the lead. I spent the rest of the night (especially the second act) waiting for her to return on another number but this was her big moment. She made the most of it.

I felt the same about Kyle Selig. Can you "discover" someone you've already seen perform on Broadway? Yes,  you can! I saw Selig in the new musical Mean Girls. He plays the minor role of boyfriend-to-be to the heroine (hey, it's her show) and I was smart enough to say Selig made "something out of the nothing role of boyfriend-to-be Aaron." Now I see he's been bouncing around, doing out of town tryouts of the potential Broadway musical October Sky among other projects. All I know is that he may be on Broadway in a Tony-nominated musical, but he got a much better showcase in two songs on Broadway By The Year. Up first was the show opener "On The Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady. His take on it is far superior to the one in the current Broadway show. Too often, that song is delivered at full blast, an almost over-the-top bit of bombast. Without changing the song too much, Selig gave it a gentler, more vulnerable and thus more touching rendition. I enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed hearing the little old lady lean over to her husband when Selig walked out onstage. "Cute!" she whispered appreciatively. Yes, he's a handsome devil but good looks are a dime a dozen in the entertainment world. Selig has talent and he proved it. Selig followed up his first song with the wistful tune "It Must Be So" from Candide. He was, if anything, even better on one of the best songs from that terrific score. The combination of its relative unfamiliarity and a quiet nature left the audience hushed rather than bursting out with the applause it deserved. Not to fear; it won't be the last time he's onstage doing great work.

So terrific work from Selig and Boycott, a memorable song from Linehan, the pro work of Carmello and you've got more than enough to stamp it another successful evening. And with Siegel, you don't need to wait long: his next production is 54 Sings Broadway's Greatest Hits at Feinstein's 54 Below this Friday, May 25.



THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next?Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter! Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.
Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 07, 2018

THEATER: "MY FAIR LADY" SAYS #METOO!

MY FAIR LADY ** 1/2 out of ****
LINCOLN CENTER THEATER

Is My Fair Lady sexist? To anyone with sense, of course it isn't. The show is based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and in both cases the issue at hand is class, not gender. If anything, one might argue My Fair Lady is snobbish. You'd still be wrong but at least you'd be fighting the right battle.

Alan Jay Lerner's terrific book and lyrics pair with the sublime music of Frederick Loewe to tell a story so ingrained in our culture you know it even if you've never seen the show. The latest presentation of it has just opened at Lincoln Center, scored ten Tony nominations and is a shoe-in to win Best Revival Of A Musical.

In it, Henry Higgins is a distinguished phoneticist eavesdropping on the talk of lower class workers at Covent Garden. When a fellow enthusiast for languages greets him, Higgins boasts that in six months he could take even the most untutored peasant and pass her off as a lady. And then Higgins does it. Brilliant man that he is, Higgins relentlessly tutors a flower girl named Eliza, sculpting her into a woman of impeccable diction. She debuts at the Ascot Racecourse (with mixed success) and then attends a fancy ball where Eliza is a triumph. Just as Pygmalion fell in love with one of his own sculptures and brought it to life, Higgins falls for the newly confident Eliza. After the usual roadblocks, they fall happily into each other's arms. The end.

Well, not quite.

If you pay attention, the story of My Fair Lady is much richer and more complicated than that skewed description. And one of the gifts of director Bartlett Sher is to pay attention. He's delivered a string of successful revivals of classic shows, not by re-contextualizing them or imposing some radical concept but simply by listening to the dialogue being spoken, the lyrics being sung, the tale being unfolded. Pay attention and a classic will reward you with fresh insight and humor and drama.

Here Sher focuses like a laser on Eliza and it pays dividends. At Covent Garden our eye is always drawn to Eliza (Lauren Ambrose) even when she is lost in the crowd. We see Higgins and his new friend Col. Pickering (Alan Corduner) start to walk away, turning their backs on the unfortunate creature they were dissecting just a moment ago. It is Eliza who interrupts their departure to parse out exactly what Higgins was saying: with some lessons in diction, she could present herself as respectable and move up in the world. Her way of speaking has doomed Eliza to a life of menial servitude, but her way of speaking can be changed.

The next day, Eliza shows up at the home of Henry Higgins and asks to pay for lessons. She has agency, as someone criticizing the show's gender politics might have to admit. It's not the wealthy Higgins and his boast that put the plot into motion. It's not a genial taunt by Pickering. It's the bold gamble of a flower girl who offers up her worldly wealth to pay for tutoring on how to speak proper.

Now that you're paying attention, you realize even Higgins admits Eliza has a real gift for the task at hand. Once she's had a breakthrough, Eliza soaks up knowledge and works as hard as anyone. Indeed, when she reprises the song "I Could Have Danced All Night" after everyone has gone to bed, it's while grabbing some more books so she can study in bed; Eliza is besotted with learning more than the passing approval of her tutor. It's Eliza who charms and amuses the posh set at Ascot with her frank talk, not just the faux pas we all remember during a race but by calling out a young man she imagines laughing at her. Even under stress, Eliza won't be mocked.

It's Eliza who triumphs at a ball, proving such a perfection of precise English that a rival to Higgins concludes it's too perfect: she must be a foreign born aristocrat! It's Eliza who leaves Higgins of her own accord. And it is Higgins who comes running after her, begging Eliza to accept him as he is, flaws and all. If Eliza comes back at the end, it's clearly her choice to do so.

[In a rare missed opportunity, Sher could have underlined Eliza's independence even more. At the ball, she is the talk of the evening. But a suspicious rival phoneticist --  Professor Zoltan Karpathy -- is circling, waiting for his chance to linguistically pin her down. It's an acid test Eliza shouldn't have to face. Both Col. Pickering and Higgins' mother tell him to avoid the man at all cost. Why risk it? But Higgins and Eliza are dancing, the rival asks to cut in, Higgins hesitates...and then hands Eliza over for the moment of truth. Yet how much better if he hesitated...and Eliza stepped forward of her own accord, ready to meet this final challenge when Higgins had doubt.]


Photo ©2018 by Joan Marcus

So if Eliza as written is her own, steadfast self, why would anyone think My Fair Lady is sexist? The answer surely lies with Henry Higgins, who can be smug, condescending and silly. It's probably more accurate to say Higgins is a self-satisfied misanthrope, but let's assume he is sexist. Clearly depicting a sexist man doesn't mean the show itself is sexist, any more than South Pacific is racist simply because it holds up a mirror to such ugliness.

Does anyone take his battle-of-the-sexes number "I'm An Ordinary Man" seriously? Higgins offers up a string of stereotypes about women, albeit after acknowledging that when two people begin to care for each other she may become tiresome but he becomes jealous and tyrannical. So romance makes both sexes rather irritating. Higgins presents himself in such exaggerated terms (he's got "the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein,"  etc.) that you can play it as gently self-mocking or foolishly boastful but you can't play it seriously. If anything, the joke is on him.

Besides, Higgins is delivering a classic opening gambit for a romantic comedy. He's the character who insists at the top of the show that they will never, ever fall in love. The audience smiles because of course they know -- sure as the sun will rise in the morning -- that this character will fall head over heels in love by the end of the show, if not the end of act one.

Higgins says with some fairness that he's not rude to Eliza in particular -- he's rude to everyone! That's not quite true: he is indeed rude to many people but Higgins is polite to his mother and Pickering, at least. A confirmed bachelor, stuck in his ways, Higgins can be insufferable. So one of the cleverest ideas of Sher was to cast Harry Hadden-Paton in the role. Higgins is usually played by an actor quite a bit older than the one playing Eliza. (Julie Andrews was 20 and Rex Harrison was 48 years old on opening night in 1956. ) With a much older Higgins, his ideas about women can seem...encrusted. He and Pickering become an old boy's club, congratulating each other and ignoring her after the success of the ball.

Here Hadden-Paton is actually three years younger than Ambrose, though he "reads" a little older on stage. Turning Higgins into a younger man than usual and making them contemporaries changes the dynamics considerably. Now his pronouncements seem foolish and silly, more akin to a boy who puts up a "no girlz allowed" sign on his tree fort than a misogynist manifesto. Pickering becomes less of an ally and more of a guilty conscience. And the blooming romance between Higgins and Eliza feels more natural rather than paternal. An elderly Higgins might just want an unpaid servant. A younger Higgins offers the possibility of change and growth and genuine love.

But does he deserve her? In one of the trickiest songs in the canon, Higgins has pleaded his case to Eliza and heads home in frustration, singing "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." Even when his happiness is at stake, Higgins struggles to admit -- even to himself -- that he loves her. Ironically, he can't speak the words.

SPOILER ALERT -- THE SHOW'S CLOSING SCENE IS DETAILED

In the show's boldest stroke, Eliza does indeed return to Higgins, finding him alone in his library, listening to the voice of Eliza he recorded on the day of her very first lesson. He's a man hopelessly in love, but perhaps hopeless at love, as well. She stands face to face with him, offering an intimacy they've never attempted before. Higgins, in a daze, mutters "Where the devil are my slippers?" just to have something to say. She strokes him fondly on the cheek...and then strides boldly off the stage up into the audience and out into the world opening up for her. Higgins looks on, pride and tears crossing his face in equal measure.

This isn't a terribly radical choice. It's the original ending of the play Pygmalion. It was the original ending of the script for the 1938 Oscar winning film that Shaw wrote. (He didn't know the filmmakers shot it with the two leads clinching romantically until seeing the premiere.) And it's been the ending of My Fair Lady since day one. Shaw fought any musical adaptation and almost certainly would have not allowed one that changed his ending. So the theater world simply waited Shaw out. He died in 1950. My Fair Lady opened on Broadway less than six years later.

This "new" old ending is an admirable, exciting, defensible choice. I just don't think it works. Lerner and Loewe didn't write a show about two people falling in love and then falling apart. Every scene, every song brings them closer and closer together, with Eliza's newfound confidence prodding Higgins to break out of his shell and admit he's a man with feelings and needs. Maybe I'm too used to the contours of this story. After all, it was the very first professional theater I ever saw, starring Rex Harrison no less as he toured the country back in the very early 1980s. But if Eliza is going to leave at the end, I think earlier scenes should play darker, with more emotion and more at risk. And the staging doesn't help. Since we've seen Eliza step off the stage and into the "real" world (if not the actual auditorium) at several points in the show, her final breaking of the fourth wall doesn't have the same impact it might if it was taking place for the very first time.

END OF SPOILER

However it ends, it turns out that My Fair Lady really is a problem play of sorts. Not the problem of sexism, but the problem of being embalmed as a "classic." This is only the third revival on Broadway in more than 60 years. One in 1976 lasted less than a year and one in 1993 lasted less than six months. (I'm ignoring Harrison popping in for a few weeks with bus and truck version in 1981 I saw in Florida as a child.) That's shocking for a show of such immense popularity, boasting such great roles and offering a score that ranks among the most hummable and well-known in history. Who better than Sher to tackle it? He brushed aside the issue of gender with good casting and a faith in the text. Unfortunately, he hasn't performed his usual magic of burnishing a too-familiar show into something fresh and new, work he did so well on musicals like South Pacific and the more problematic The King And I.

Apparently, the wax museum quality of director George Cukor's hugely successful but deadly dull film version has suffocated the show but good. It preserved (in amber) iconic performances by Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway as Eliza's dad, not to mention the dazzling black and white brilliance of the Ascot Racetrack scene. But, oh, how it drags with all the self-importance of a prestige picture. Sadly, those faults are on display here. My Fair Lady should be thrilling, its scenes bursting with brisk excitement and humor, one great song tumbling after another. In most musicals, you wait for the songs to begin. In My Fair Lady, the dialogue is so good you're completely absorbed until a song pops in and you'd almost be annoyed if the songs weren't so good they lifted you up into heaven. Not here. This edition moves with the stately progress of an ocean liner, scene dutifully following scene like island stops on a cruise. Here on your left is "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and coming up on your right? "With A Little Bit Of Luck!"

Photo ©2018 by Joan Marcus

One reason for this is the scenic design by Michael Yeargan. The Vivian Beaumont is a jewel of a space and has a deep backstage that only the Metropolitan Opera can match, I believe. Yeargan makes full use of this when creating a photo-realistic home for Higgins that includes a front entrance, bathroom, stairways and a two-level library I not only applauded this particular set, I wondered if it was available for rent. In a moment veteran theatergoers probably appreciated more than most, one scene transition began with the library set poised way, way, way at the back of theater and slowly gliding into view. The luxurious scope of the moment took your breath away. The problem is that it was always gliding slowly in and out. Every scene change became such a parade that Sher fills the dead air with people moving lampposts this way and that just to entertain the eye. Worse, a gap on the left and right of the stage was needed to allow all these moving parts to twirl around one another. That meant giant black strips of material would glide down from the rafters to fill in the gap on either side. All well and good, but this happened so frequently it became distracting, with the black strips yo-yoing up and down all night long in their own merry dance.

Contrast that and the solid-looking Covent Garden with the more "suggestive" (or bare bone) sets, like the cardboard pop-up of a bar that Eliza's dad is forever strolling into for a pint. "With A Little Bit Of Luck" in particular seemed to take place on a notably sparse stage, all the more so when that lavish study hove into view a scene later. And that seemed to contrast even more starkly with the elegant simplicity of the set for Ascot, which suggested everything it needed with only an unfolding canopy. Here costumer Catherine Zuber managed the neat trick of nodding strongly to Cecil Beaton while leaving her own stamp on the moment. True, not every location can be equally lavish but the scenic design lacked a uniform point of view.

Even the home itself felt fussy and overly-detailed. One brief gag takes place when Eliza is dragged by a clutch of maids into a tiled bathroom for a long overdue shower. It's a modest joke but we're stuck with that tiled space for the rest of the show, which is soon revamped into a room with some sort of medical equipment. (I think.) In any case, the home of Higgins is forever spinning like a top -- often quite unnecessarily -- and every time it spins we see that tiled room, even though it is never used again and I became increasingly annoyed at having to look at it. Couldn't the wall collapse and the room "disappear" or not be used in the first place?

You begin to feel this My Fair Lady is a dutiful recreation of moments from the past rather than a living, breathing story taking place today. It's more diorama than drama. That extends to some of the performances. Norbert Leo Butz sounded like slam-dunk casting for the role of Eliza's philosophizing father. But he brings nothing distinctive to the role, seeming to show up and assume the memory of Holloway and those two great numbers do the rest. "Get Me To The Church On Time" can't help but land -- it's the show's most elaborate number by far, but it's expert rather than thrilling. "With A Little Bit of Luck" in particular felt rote, as if Butz were a year into the run rather than a week.

And why can't anyone rethink Freddy? Every production I've ever seen offers up a silly fop of a Freddy (Jordan Donica) who belts out "On the Street Where You Liiiiiiiiiiive" in a tiresome, old-fashioned style. Donica is certainly a handsome man but he's asked to be a nonentity like every Freddy before him. If only this Freddy were sexy and appealing. Imagine if Eliza was actually charmed by him, at least on a physical level. Imagine if he sang that standard with a lighter, defter touch (Harry Connick Jr. does a nice, sure-footed version) rather than declaiming it to the rafters. Higgins might worry about an actual rival instead of being able to dismiss Freddy as casually as we do. No such luck.

One can't do terribly much with the other roles, though as Pickering Allan Corduner sketches out a man that might be more of a foil to Higgins than we're used to seeing. Manu Narayan is suitably silly as Professor Karpathy. And if anyone deserves to glide gracefully on and off stage it is certainly Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Higgins. She gives her scenes the warmth and bite they need.

That leaves our two leads. Harry Hadden-Paton is a solid, if not revolutionary Higgins. His age does most of the work for him in terms of rethinking the part, though he is certainly jolted by more emotion than found in the reserved Rex Harrison. And he nails "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face," a piece that is far trickier than I ever realized. Hadden-Paton might be more prickly, more frustrating, more anything really. But Sher guides him to a grace note that underlines the better angels of Higgins and why Eliza flourishes. Yes he berates her -- as he does others -- but who could take "you squashed cabbage leaf" to heart? Then on the night of her breakthrough, when the rain in Spain finally falls mainly on the plain, it's not the bullying that helps Eliza. The key to her trying just one more time is the way he brings her a cup of tea and speaks a few kind words, treating her with respect and showing faith that she can accomplish this task. And suddenly she does it!

That moment of intimacy speaks volumes, along with the way Lauren Ambrose soaks it up like a flower thirsty for rain. If there is a flaw in this perfect musical, it might be the lack of one more scene between them where he appreciates her more as an equal than a flourishing student. We are told after the fact that Higgins has come to depend on Eliza, but he makes it sound more like she's a useful employee rather than his true love. All night long we see Eliza come into her own; yet for Higgins, his emotional attachment to her is more implied, perhaps to a fault.

We never doubt the change in Eliza, thanks to Lauren Ambrose in her musical theater debut. For years we've been hearing that this excellent dramatic actress was poised to do a big musical. First they announced Funny Girl. Lauren Ambrose in the role that made Barbra Streisand a star forever? Really?? And then it fell through. Then it was Lauren Ambrose in My Fair Lady, the role that made Julie Andrews a star forever. Really?? For those of us who never heard her sing a note, all we could assume was that the woman sure as hell must be able to sing. And indeed she can. It's a lovely clear voice, if not a big brassy one. It's a lucky thing she started with this show rather than Funny Girl. Ambrose can sing nicely and act the hell out of a lyric, but she's not going to belt it to the back of the house a la Tyne Daly or Ethel Merman. My Fair Lady needs subtlety but Funny Girl? Not so much.

In a way, her vocal talent and neophyte status suit the part nicely. When Ambrose sails into a beautiful register, winning us over and expressing the yearning or anger or joy of the moment, you're rooting for her the same way you're rooting for Eliza. Performer and character coincide in a way they rarely do. In the future, she seems best suited for more thoughtful musicals a la Sondheim where her acting skills will be put to the best use. Unlike Audrey Hepburn in the film version, she wisely downplays the broad comedy of the early section (another reason Funny Girl wouldn't have been the best choice).

Some comic bits don't land, like the scene where Higgins and Pickering share a pastry and she can only stare at it wistfully. This might have as much to do with Sher as Ambrose. What she nails is the hunger and self-worth of Eliza, which is there all along from the flower stalls of Covent Garden to the gilded ballrooms of the upper crust. At the ball, Hepburn was all grace and perfection; you never saw her sweat. Ambrose neatly lets the audience into the terror of the moment so we can keep cheering her own. I can imagine her confidence and performance growing throughout the run; this is almost certainly a show you'll want to catch again before she leaves if you possibly can.

That would be a luxury, whereas with previous Sher productions (The Light In The Piazza, South Pacific, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Oslo and more) revisiting a show of his felt essential. It's a first class production, delivered with professionalism and skill and will surely be the most successful revival since the original blockbuster run. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "The Rain In Spain" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" are all masterpieces and they're all here. You'll nod your head and think, yes, that's pretty much how they're done. Christopher Gattelli offers fine choreography and Ted Sperling conducts a lush 29 piece orchestra, an orchestra so big I may have lost count. Craft is evident in every detail but you never quite feel the ecstasy a great musical like My Fair Lady should generate or even a moment of surprise until right at the end. The pavement stays right beneath your feet from start to finish.

Perhaps my expectations were too high? But if Higgins can demand the best from everyone around him and Eliza can expect the best from herself, surely we can expect the best from this cast and creative team. They've blown away the suggestions of sexism. Perhaps it will take another production to blow away the dust.

NOTE: Lincoln Center produces The Lincoln Center Theater Review, a lovely magazine filled with articles about their current production. The current one is devoted to My Fair Lady and while the collector's program is always a treat, they've really outdone themselves this time. It includes interviews, essays on the history of the show, poems inspired by the Greek myth that gave Pygmalion its name, odes to the show by other musical theater talent, a New Yorker cartoon and more. It's all handsomely packaged with a gorgeous cover and a back page devoted to album art from the countless cast albums and recordings based on the show. if you're lucky enough to be in New York City, slip into the lobby at Lincoln Center, leave the modest suggested tip and snap up a copy fast.


THEATER OF 2018

Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2