Category Archives: New York

Happy birthday George, Martha and James.

October 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of 3 very popular and famous characters – two on stage and one on screen.

George and Martha one of theatres most contentious married couples exploded on stage October 13, 1962 in Edward Albee’s masterpiece Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.  A week  earlier on October 5th the film premiere of Dr No and adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel introduced us to super spy James Bond.

A half a century later they are still going strong with the release of the latest Bond film Skyfall (number 23 in the franchise), and the opening of a new production of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf on Broadway.

Sean Connery played James Bond first back then and he is arguably the best. Recently the mantle was taken over by actor Daniel Craig and some would say he may be ever better, he returns in Skyfall and the film itself has received very positive reviews from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. It has a serious director at the helm in Sam Mendes and with cinematography by the great Roger Deakins and production design by Dennis Gassner it is sure to be the best looking Bond film ever. Also quite exciting is that the latest Bond villian is played by Javier Bardem sure to be a highlight amongst many. It opens in Australia in early November.

The latest Broadway incarnation of Albee’s classic play comes by way of an acclaimed production by Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Playing the dysfunctional couple this time are actor/playwright Tracey Letts as George and Amy Morton as Martha. Morton played a leading role in Lett’s Tony winning hit play August: Osage County a few seasons back. It opened at the Booth theatre on October 13 exactly 50 years after the first premiere. Of course there was cinemas famous George and Martha played to perfection by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a 1966 film adaptation directed by Mike Nichols, who can ever forget them! Legendary acting teacher Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill originated the roles.

From L-R Hagen & Hill, Taylor & Burton, Morton & Letts

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In praise of April.

NEW YORK STORIES – Food

April Broomfield is a name very familiar to New Yorkers who wish to dine on good honest cooking made from the heart and from a true love of great food. A native of Birmingham, England and having worked at The River Cafe in London, she is the executive chef and co-owner (with Ken Friedman) of The Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village, The Breslin and The John Dory Oyster Bar – both at the Ace Hotel in Midtown. I was lucky enough to dine at 2 of her establishments. I also purchased her new cookbook which is a good read and well worth buying.

THE SPOTTED PIG

Located at 314 W. 11th Street @ Greenwich St in Greenwich Village this beautifully decorated gem of a restaurant serves up seasonal British & Italian cuisine using local ingredients whenever possible. It is quite difficult to get into so I chose to get there for a lunchtime treat, there was a line starting up at 11.45  for a 12 noon opening. Whilst sitting on my own I soon engaged in conversation with a lovely couple from Florida at the table next to me, they were there for the same reason – to sample some delicious food from this reputable eatery. The exterior is adorned with herbs and plants which seems to be a signature of April’s establishments whilst the interior is full of paraphernalia related to the pig and various produce that is edging on kitsch but part of the charm of the relaxed space.

I ordered myself a Frozen Moscow Mule cocktail which was a refreshing vodka ginger beer and lime concoction perfect for a warm day. As an appetiser I chose a Devilled Egg a favourite of mine and to have it in a fine establishment was fun. Sitting in a puddle of extra virgin olive oil and scattered with snipped chives, it was delicious and creamy and simple, I scoffed them down as if I was attending a 70’s cocktail party.

Next up was the famed Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese served with an alarmingly large nest of shoestring fries. A fine meat patty cooked rare with a strong cheese to compliment sitting on a light brioche bun alongside a mess of fries flavoured with garlic and rosemary, it was absolutely fantastic and worthy of its reputation. I know my choices were not very adventurous but I wanted to sample and now I know I will return for more. If she can get devilled eggs and hamburger right I know I will enjoy anything served up. After deciding not to order dessert because I was full to pussy’s bow my dear Floridian neighbours offered me a spoonful of their treats and I must say the Flourless Chocolate Cake was a winner, rich and moist and divine, the Creme Brûlée (ordered as a litmus test) was delightful creamy perfection. So off I went into the day to explore the village determined to try out The Breslin next……

THE BRESLIN BAR & DINING ROOM

The Breslin, is situated as part of the Ace boutique hotel at 29th and Broadway. It features a hearty, meat-centric menu that emphasizes artisanal products, small local growers and farmers, and seasonality. It is known for “nose-to-tail” cuisine methodologies and offers handmade terrines, sausages and charcuterie. I entered through another forest of plants adorning the pavement noting the sign above with cute graphic symbols, into what felt like a beer tavern of which a bevy of brews featured on the menu.

I opted for another cocktail of course, known as an “High Violet” – featuring Vodka, agai liqueur, tarragon, lemon juice and soda – yum! yum!

To eat I chose another old time favourite a Scotch Egg, a delicious perfectly cooked soft boiled egg wrapped in juicy pink mince and cooked to a crunchy goodness, it was flavoursome and looked gorgeous when sliced open. Served at the same time was a tasty Seafood Sausage with Beurre Blanc and Chives, another classic, light as a feather and subtly fishy. I have come to realise that Miss Bloomfield creates food I truly love, using fresh tasty ingredients to spruce up old time fare – perfection.

So as you can tell now I am a big fan of April Bloomfield and her food philosophy. I can’t wait to go back to her restaurants and try more from the menu. At least now I have her cookbook as a reminder and as soon as I arrived home I cooked up a delicious lamb shoulder braise (see below) and look forward to cooking more tasty meals from her oeuvre.

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Thursday in the park with Babs.

NEW YORK STORIES

I stood in line to get tickets for a performance of “As You Like It” at the famed Shakespeare In The Park – Delacorte Theatre. It was an amazing evening of theatre and it almost made it to the trifecta but I didn’t like the amplified sound (I guess necessary for an outdoor production?). Sitting amongst the trees on a balmy night as the sun goes down watching Shakespeare’s words performed by a first rate cast (Lily Rabe was outstanding as Rosalind) was a highlight for me. After I scored the coveted free tickets I took a stroll through Central Park  and snapped some pics of park life. What a wonderful hive of activity, a magnificent park easily one of the best in the world.

Enjoy.

The queue for tickets

Supplies whilst I wait including Crack Pie

The coveted ticket

Outside the Delacorte theatre wherefore art thou?

Backstage

Basking in the sun

Off to work we go

The beautiful Bethesda fountain

The Broadway baseball league

Hitching a ride – tourist style

A game of chess daddy?

Time for a nap

Walking the dogs a plenty

row, row, row your boat

Paper in the park

am I on the set of Hair the movie?

On your hands girls

John Lee Beatty’s wonderfully setting for “As You Like It” where one didn’t know where the park ended and the set began.

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Winning the trifecta

NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows

There are 3 elements that need to be perfect for me to make a show shine above the rest, the play (content), the performances, and the production. It is very rare when all 3 hit the mark. Out of the 21 productions I saw in NYC only 5 made it to the winner’s circle. 3 plays and 2 musicals.

Here I will highlight the plays.

All three of them were from an off-Broadway stage, I’m not saying that the ones caught on Broadway weren’t any good, they certainly were, but they seemed to be held up by star performances with the play or production lacking.

3000 Miles by Amy Herzog.

This wonderful production has star performances by Mary Louise Wilson and Gabriel Ebert as a 91 yr old grandmother and 21 yr old grandson who seeks refuge at her apartment in the West Village of New York City after losing his best friend on a cross-country bicycle tour. Amy Herzog’s delicate and humorous play explores how these two unlikely outsiders cope with living  in today’s world.  One would think that the cross generational aspect of the play may bring up fireworks but Herzog doesn’t succumb to cliche instead drawing two fine and unorthodox characters and giving the actors involved roles to shine in. They are ably supported by the 2 women in the boy’s life, his ex-girlfriend (Zoe Winters) and a one night stand (Greta Lee). The  superb direction by Daniel Aukin never misses and his creative collaborators – costumes (Kay Voyce), lighting (Jaffy Weideman) and set design (Laura Helpern) are first class. Presented by the Lincoln Centre Theatre on the Mitzi E. Newhouse stage they certainly won the trifecta with this one, it has extended many times and won a joint Obie award for the leading actors as well as for best new American play – well deserved.

Gabriel Ebert & Mary Louise Wilson in their award winning roles

Lonely I’m Not by Paul Weitz

This play was recommended to me by a New Yorker. It was not on my radar but she assured me it was a very good play given a top notch production. The reviews were good and the theatre just around the corner from my apartment. I was given a discount code and at the last minute decided to venture along – 30 minutes and $30 later (a bargain) I was sitting in an excellent seat at the Second Stages theatre. To my delight in walked director Mike Nichols and his beautiful wife Diane Sawyer and they plonked themselves down 2 rows in front of me – distracting at first (did Mike laugh? what did he think of it?) but soon this excellent play grabbed my attention and I was delighted to see a top notch show.

Featuring the stage debut of TV & film actor Topher Grace (That 70’s Show) the play was written by Paul Weitz best known as a film screenwriter (Amercian Pie, About A Boy). A contemporary dysfunctional love story – a riff on the Hollywood rom com. The boy, Porter, was a Wall Street broker who suffered a meltdown and four years later is holed up in his LA apartment. Set up by a friend he goes on a blind date (literally) where he meets the girl, Heather who is blind and a workaholic determined not to let her disability get in the way. So they meet, they date, they fall in love, they fight…  The story might have an element of cliché but the finely drawn characters and excellent acting by the whole cast had me enthralled, laughing, crying and on the edge of my seat. Topher Grace (a real surprise) and Olivia Thirlby as his blind girlfriend create totally believable characters and the deft direction by Trip Cullman once again aided by fine collaborators of which particular mention should go to set designer Mark Wendland and projection designer Aaron Rhyne – the production used words, projections and holograms to great effect giving it a contemporary cinematic feel. I left the theatre happy that all 3 criteria had been met and also wondering whether Mike Nichol’s liked it as much as I did and would he direct the film version? here’s hoping 🙂

Olivia Thirlby & Topher Grace perform a rocky romance

A clever set uses words to help tell the story

Cock by Mike Bartlett

An acclaimed English import as far as play and production go but with an American cast. One could imagine that recasting could ruin the trifecta but it sure hasn’t. With a provocative title that is unable to be printed in some New York press it is also known as “The Cock Fighting play”!!

English playwright Mike Bartlett bounced onto the West End scene when this production originated at the famed Royal Court theatre. It is performed on a purpose built setting in which the audience sit on plywood benches with very thin cushions, the show is performed in the round and the meticulous direction by James McDonald choreographs the action as if you were indeed watching a cock fight play out. What are they fighting for? The love and affection of John (Cory Michael Smith) who decides one day that he does not want to live with his  boyfriend, known as M (Jason Butler Harner), anymore. He meets a co-worker known as W (Amanda Quaid) and they start up a heterosexual relationship which leads to all sorts of conflicts and confusion. M insists on dinner party showdown  in which his father F (Cotter Smith) is in attendance for support.A decision needs to be made and the tension till that final moment is breathtaking. Using no props or settings whatsoever the extremely talented cast perform their roles to perfection in a production of a very profound, funny and moving play. The audience are all in close proximity (check out the setting below) and although at times it can be startling you soon become engrossed in the drama unfolding in front of you. Theatre doesn’t get much better than this. “Cock” is playing an open ended run at the Duke Theatre on 42nd street, go see it if you are in town.

Fighting for love in the ring of life – The fine cast of Cock

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On the street where you live.

NEW YORK STORIES – Art

Chancing upon some street art, clever, simple, a smile on my face.

Knitting in the EastVillage

Finger fun along the Highline

A treehouse grows in Chelsea

Dust gathers outside the Museum Of Art & Design (MAD)

Clever with a cable tie

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Stinker Superstar, shrill Eva.

NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows Pt 2

1. Jesus Christ Superstar at the Neil Simon Theatre.

2. Evita at the Marquis Theatre.

I have decided to pair these two productions together for two reasons. Both are from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice team. and both are lacklustre second rate productions of ok musicals, well at least I used to think that they were ok. Perhaps I was wrong?

Jesus Christ Superstar came from an acclaimed sell out Canadian production and all I can say is that up there in Stratford Ontario they must not get out much. Of course this is not entirely true as it originated at the renowned Stratford Shakespeare theatre festival. I saw it on my first day at a matinee, and  I refuse to blame the jet lag for my lack of enthusiasm. I was wide awake in disbelief at how poor it was. It reminded me of musical moments on “Glee”, I am a fan of Glee but it is suited to the small screen and not a Broadway stage. Cheap sets, cheesy staging and two lead performances that were completely miscast or misconceived. Chilina Kennedy who plays Mary Magdalene couldn’t hit the notes and most of the time sounded out of tune, her acting was as mechanical as the set. I saw the understudy in the role of Jesus (Nick Cartell), his role was performed so boringly passive it made me aggressive!!! The only saving grace was Tony nominated Josh Young in the role of Judas, he is a fine actor and belted out his numbers with real conviction (it’s a great theatre role), unfortunately his costumes were very oddly fitting and cheap, along with the rest of the cast – the thrift shop suit Jesus wears in the final scenes looked like reject duds from a 70’s blaxploitation film, oversized on a small white man. The score was supposedly so loud they announced you did not have to switch off your cell phones as nobody would hear it. Well it wasn’t that loud and I found the orchestrations very dull and uninspired. A cheap production transported to the great white way, ripping off the tourists who most probably deserved it since they gave it their obligatory standing ovation. I sat put in my seat defiant!!  This Superstar was a stinker. Being my first production on this trip I was taken aback and feared for the worst. This week the producers have announced that if sales don’t pick up they will close the show on July 1st marking the production as a big flop as it should be. Perhaps there is a god after all?

Josh Young shines as Judas

Evita is another second hand production that originated in London quite a few years back. Acclaimed director Michael Grandage is responsible for the first ever revival of the hit musical from the late 70’s about the life of the infamous wife of an Argentine dictator. Originally it had star performances from Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin in the roles of Eva Peron and Che Guevara. This time we have dull performances from Elena Roger (recreating her London success) and pop star Ricky Martin who hardly registers at all in his role. This production has abandoned the high theatrics of the original clever Hal Prince staging and opted for a more realistic approach that unfortunately lays bare the tedium of the by the numbers biography elements of the show. Eva is bored in small town, Eva meets high powered politician and beds him, Eva wants power, Eva gets sick, Eva dies. It’s a bit like watching a Hallmark TV movie. Scary that I have compared both shows to television! Now back to the leading actress Elena Roger, she’s a pint sized dynamo in the first few scenes and well suited to the choreography (Rob Ashford doing a great job) they fling her up in the air countless times perhaps because they can. But she lacks the vocal chops that the role demands sounding so shrill it hurt my ears. The gimmick is that she is from Argentina therefore authentic, well unfortunately I didn’t understand very much of what she was singing, thankfully I knew the score. A lady sitting next to me was new to the whole show and was very confused and unimpressed. A saving grace was the standout performance by Michael Cerveris as Eva’s hubby the dictator Juan Peron. He gave the role soul and compassion and has a superb singing voice, very grateful that I got to see this fine performer live on stage. As for the rest of it well lets just say that I’m not crying for Argentina, I’m crying for Broadway mediocrity.

Michael Cerveris in his Tony nominated role as Juan Peron in Evita.

It is interesting that both productions have a standout supporting performer and that both leading ladies have vocal problems. Mr Lloyd Webber and Mr Rice sure have cashed in this year with lazy revivals of old hits. What I am fearing next is that Sir Andrew has a reconceived production of “Cats” waiting in the wings – this time performed on roller-skates with authentic cat fur costumes.

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Let’s go on with the shows…….

NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows Pt 1.

I was in New York for a total of 29 days and 28 nights. I managed to catch 21 productions in total. Some shows were brilliant, others downright stinkers. I was there whilst the Tony awards were being presented – live. Fun that I had seen a few of the productions that were nominated and honoured. I’ll give my opinion of them all in coming posts but let me  just say that Lloyd Webber & Rice musicals need good productions and that playwright Kenneth Lonergan should not write & direct he also needs a good script editor…………

The Tony awards red carpet

Stinker # 1

Don’t cry for me Ricky Martin.

Lonergan should begin again.

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