Saturday, February 20, 2010

birdie afternoon

Saturday, January 9th began much like the day before at the Park Central Hotel in New York City.  Steve got up before me, showered, and got us coffee from the Starbucks next door.  I drank it while I got ready, and we left the hotel around 10am.  The difference on this day, however, was that we had a matinee to get to after lunch.

Because we hadn't made it to the Time Warner Center on Thursday evening, Steve and I decided that we would go look around and find lunch there on Saturday.  My initial plans for lunch that day had included Lombardi's for pizza and perhaps Rice to Riches for rice pudding in Little Italy.  But since we had just eaten pizza at Grimaldi's the day before, it made more sense to check the Time Warner Center off my list.  It also kept us closer to the hotel and Midtown, which was better for our schedule.

The Time Warner Center is essentially a mall with several upscale stores and restaurants, situated at Columbus Circle.  We were less interested in most of the stores there, but we did stop at the Mxyplyzyk kiosk there to look at the whimsical housewares that they had.  Since we didn't make it to Greenwich Village—where the main store is located—on this trip, the little one at the Time Warner Center had to suffice.

The main draw at the Time Warner was sadly not open while we were in town.  Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York restaurant, was closed from January 1-11, the entire duration of our vacation.  If it had been open, we probably would have tried for reservations or taken advantage of their new (as of last March) salon/lounge a la carte menu for walk-ins. We were a little disappointed that we couldn't eat at Per Se while we were in NY, but the food is similar to The French Laundry, where we have eaten before.  We settled for finding Per Se and looking longingly at its signature blue doors.

We were also out of luck when it came to the Bouchon Bakery.  Their sitting area was completely deserted, and the store front with the main counter was also closed.  It looked like they were repainting and otherwise improving.  Sad, but Yountville isn't too far from home when we want to visit a Bouchon Bakery.

bouchon bakery

For lunch, Steve and I decided to go somewhere that was actually open.  We perused the menus at a few of the restaurants at the Time Warner Center and chose Porter House New York.  It had steaks for Steve and things with cheese for me.  Steve opted for the bistro-style hanger steak with 4-peppercorn sauce (and fries).

I, as always, went straight for the goat cheese on the menu.  My ideal lunch these days, especially when traveling, is something light.  A sandwich or salad is ideal, and if it has goat cheese, I usually can't resist.  Here, it was a salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, butter lettuce, and a shallot vinaigrette.  It was lovely and fresh.

I also had to get a side order of their Four Cheese & Mac.  Steve started making the mac & cheese from the Bouchon Cookbook recently, and I was in the mood for something similar.  Porter House's version was indeed similar to Bouchon's, but the flavor was a little different because they used more varieties of cheese.
After lunch, we hightailed it down to Henry Miller's Theatre, just off Times Square, for the main event of the afternoon.  It was also the reason for our visit to NY: see my former student, Riley, in the ensemble of Bye Bye Birdie.

When we got to the theatre, we joined the others from our group.  There were several kids from YTC and their parents (not the people in the picture above), all there to see Riley.  We actually managed not to run into any of them before or after this, even though most were staying at the same hotel as we were. 
Once Erica and Danielle arrived, they handed out the tickets, and we went in.
The theatre itself is new and pretty spacious.  I was there in 2003 when I saw Urinetown, and it was completely different then.
The show began with the typical overture.  There were some projections and graphics to set up the Conrad Birdie storyline, and then we were in the Almaelou office with John Stamos as Albert and Gina Gershon as Rose.  John Stamos was charming as ever, but I wasn't a fan of Gina Gershon.  Her acting was fine, but her singing was not so good—too much scooping.  She also had trouble with the low chromatic part in "English Teacher," not actually hitting the right notes.
Bill Irwin played the father, Harry MacAfee.  His performance was entertaining, but it was so over the top that it felt like he was in a different show than the others.
I agreed with one review that I read: the teenagers were really the best part of the show.  Since I knew the show well already, I found myself mostly watching Riley when he was on stage.  He was great—always in character.  My favorite moment was at the beginning of "Honestly Sincere," while everyone was trying to keep themselves from dancing.  It looked like he was eating part of his "sister's" skirt for a moment.
In this production, they made several little changes to the show.  One of the more noticeable ones right away was how the song "How Lovely to Be a Woman" was staged.  Instead of Kim changing her clothes during the song, which is the usual staging, it was Kim packing away her Conrad Birdie paraphernalia, occasionally singing to it before putting it in the box.  It didn't have the same humor as the typical ending of Kim in baggy clothes and a baseball hat, singing about being a woman, but I thought it worked well.
There were also a lot of pop culture references that were changed in the script.  They were still period, but some of the more obscure 1960s references were changed to ones that modern audiences were more likely to get.  For instance, the important reporter that Albert unknowingly told off on the phone became Walter Cronkite of CBS News, rather than Henry Luce of Time magazine.
One of the bigger changes in the show was the omission of the Shriner's Ballet.  It's a big dance number in the second half, in which Rosie terrorizes a meeting of the Shriners in Sweet Apple.  It doesn't really further the story at all, but it's a lot fun.  (A lot of musicals from that era have a nice long dance number in the second act.)  I was a little disappointed that they cut it, because I wanted to see what they'd do with it, but I understood why they did.  They cut it pretty seamlessly by having Rose encounter Hugo in the bar after "Talk to Me," instead of outside after "Shriner's."
Also helping the momentum of the second act, "A Lot of Livin'" was cut up a little.  They did most of it where it would normally occur, then they wove in some of the parent stuff, and cut back for some more fragments of the song.  It worked pretty well, especially since they didn't have "Shriner's" to help build the excitement.
I also have to mention how much I loved the set for the MacAfee house.  I liked the sets in general, but this was my favorite.  It used bright colors, in the '60s Mod style—super cute.  I found this article with pictures of some of the other sets, but sadly not the one for the house.  On the plus side, if you look at the last picture on the page, from "Telephone Hour," you can see Riley.  He's the one on the far right in lavender.
Overall, it was a good show, but it probably could have been better.  I was mostly just happy that Riley was fabulous in it.
Afterward, we stayed in the theatre for a talk-back with some of the teenage cast members.  They answered some questions about their experiences and the auditioning process.  (At one point, Riley asked his "mommy" if he was remembering right.)  Post-discussion, we greeted Riley and ended up traipsing backstage, through the train car set piece, to take a group picture onstage.  I set up my camera and had Steve snap a few shots with it.

We moved outside after that, taking another group picture in front of the theatre.  I also got a shot of Riley alone.  Not the best lighting, but it was getting dark by then.

Steve and I didn't stick around much longer after that.  We said goodbye and headed back towards Times Square.  I took a few more pictures on our way through, and then we returned to the hotel to get ready for another fancy dinner.

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