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Showing posts from June, 2009

New York's Theater District: The Legacy of the Golden Age, A Walk and a Map

Even without a ticket to a Broadway play, a walk around New York's theater district can reveal the story of the American theater. In this relatively small piece of real estate, landmark plays and musicals unfolded on the stage and enriched individual lives. Here, decade after decade, actors, playwrights, producers, directors, stage managers, and the millions of theater fans who love them have assembled at this brightly-lit location for shows such as A Streetcar Named Desire (Ethel Barrymore Theatre), West Side Story (originally at the Winter Garden), Oklahoma! (St. James Theatre), Waiting for Godot (John Golden Theatre), A Chorus Line (Shubert Theatre), Born Yesterday (Lyceum Theatre), Death of a Salesman (Morosco Theatre, destroyed 1982), and thousands more. Stretching north on Broadway from Times Square and concentrated between 8th Avenue and Broadway, the Theatre District and its historic venues constitute a living museum of drama and the stage. "Again at eight o&

The Marx Brothers on Broadway, & Notes on New York Theatres in the 1920s

This post is the fourth in a series about the Marx Brothers in New York. After playing the Palace Theatre , the pinnacle of the big time, the Marx Brothers drifted about on the lower rungs of the vaudeville circuit following a series of contractual disputes with the powerful moguls, E.F. Albee, and then the Shuberts . Fortune changed with their major Broadway debut on May 19, 1924, a stage review titled I'll Say She Is . Compiled mostly of recycled routines and music numbers, the play nevertheless showed off the talents of each brother. I'll Say She Is played at the Casino Theatre, an extravagant theatre located near the intersection of Broadway and W. 39 th St. Built in 1882 and designed by Francis H. Kimball and Thomas Wisedall , the theater boasted a facade showing off an eclectic mixture of Islamic and Gothic details. The circular corner tower was particularly eccentric. In their survey New York 1900: Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism 1890-1915, Robert A.M. Ste

Moveable Feasts in the City: New York Food Trucks and Carts

My lunch yesterday consisted of one pollo asada taco, small but tasty, and for dessert, a mini-wafelini. The taco consisted of chopped grilled chicken with a dash of pico de gallo and a creamy avocado sauce served on a couple of soft corn tortillas. The mini- wafelini was essentially a little piece of waffle on a stick tucked between slices of banana and strawberries. Both were delicious, and each came from a different food cart or truck parked on separate streets south of Houston Street. The latest craze in gourmet street food may be found in other cities throughout the country, but the phenomenon has garnered lots of attention of late in New York. While eating at food carts is nothing new in the big city, the availability of gourmet quality food and adorable desserts has added an extra amount of fun to New York street life. In the past, I've frequently bought coffee off the Mud Truck, a movable coffee bar with a particularly nice brew, and near to home, I often pick up a cup of

The Marx Brothers in New York: Interlude - On Groucho Walking

This special new series about the Marx Brothers in New York continues this week, following the brothers into a career in Broadway and into the movies, but first I would like to take a little time to discuss Groucho's peculiar way of walking. Sometimes described as a "lope" or "stoop," Groucho's silly and often lecherous walk became just as an important part of his persona as his glasses, eyebrows, cigar and greasepaint moustache. He didn't walk this walk all the time, but as you recall from the films, Groucho would often bend his knees and lean forward as he proceeded from point A to point B. To imitate Groucho properly at a costume party, it's important to get this part down. • Groucho explained that it was simply a bit of inspired improvisation. From the book Hello, I Must Be Going by Charlotte Chandler, he says, "I was just kidding around one day, and I started to walk funny. The audience liked it, so I kept it in."(pps. 153-154) Chand

The Long Road to The Big Time: The Marx Brothers Play The Palace

This is the second in a series about the Marx Brothers in New York. See the first post A Walk in the East 90s: At Home with the Marx Brothers and "the Brownstone People." Before their debut on Broadway and success in the movies and television, the Marx Brothers spent years on the road in the vaudeville circuit. Run by powerful impresarios such as B. F. Keith, E. F. Albee, the Shuberts and later Martin Beck of the Orpheum, the circuits ran their diverse groups of acts through towns big and small across the country. "Small time" acts played several times a day in converted theatres and for little money while "medium time" acts played for more money and in more established venues. The pinnacle of success was to play in large theaters in the big cities and for big money contracts. Theater managers watched the audiences respond to the acts, and if the performers proved popular and met success at the box office, they would promote the entertainers to better th

A Walk in the East 90s: At Home with the Marx Brothers and "The Brownstone People"

This is the first of a series of posts about the Marx Brothers in New York. At the turn of the twentieth century, after moving several times, the Marx family finally settled into the fourth floor of a tenement at 179 E. 93rd St. One of the brothers, Adolph, later described the area as "a small Jewish neighborhood squeezed in between the Irish to the north and Germans to the south in Yorkville." Ten family members lived in a handful of rooms, dependent on the meager earnings and cooking of their father, Frenchie, a native of Alsace-Lorraine and an incompetent tailor. The family spoke a dialect of low-country German, and Frenchie often found new customers based on his understanding of "Plattdeutsch." Minnie, the mother, believed that the best way to climb out of poverty was to put her younger brother and her five sons on a theatrical stage. In a role reversal, the father stayed home to do the domestic chores. While his brothers Leonard (Chico), Julius (Groucho),

Walking the Rails Above Death Avenue: High Noon for the High Line

In the genre of the western, the advent of the railroad marked the transition of a community from a wild natural order to a state of organized civilization. When steam engines replaced horses and the stagecoach, other things followed - lawyers and sheriffs replaced anarchy, and schoolmarms took the place of saloon girls. More railroads began to link region to region, culminating at places like Promontory Point in Utah, in moves that signified national aspirations to empire. Soon, trains engendered their own myths and legends. Bandits held up trains, villains strapped girls to the track, and in the 1930s vagabonds and hobos jumped the cars to vague destinations. So deep is the romance of the rails that kids like me, growing up on stories like Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children , fantasized a life on the tracks and looked for adventure in the right of ways on many a train track. During the 1840s, the city of New York mistakenly allowed the building of train tracks along

Aernout Mik at MoMA: Something is Happening Here, But I Don't Know What It Is

Last weekend, when I stood for two hours with a crowd behind barricades watching the Secret Service and police accompany the First Couple's motorcade to the restaurant on Washington Place for date night , I thought about the video installations I had seen earlier in the week at MoMA by Aernout Mik . Like the Dutch artist's works that recreate and loop recognizable but ill-defined moments of a mediated police state, the action that I saw before me seemed equally generic. A helicopter flies overhead. Secret service personnel in suits, some with sunglasses, scan the crowd. The police stop a guy on a bicycle. Another lets a few residents and diners through the barricades. Car doors open and shut. If anyone has spent some of their lives watching breaking news on television, the unfolding crisis often contains within its boundaries long passages of lull and boredom. The events on Washington Place could have been the spectacle of any leader of a powerful state arriving at a previous

The Early Bird Gets the Picture of the Duck in the Fountain

From Summer 2009 Morning larks in the city enjoy a rare peace and quiet that night owls frequently miss. Early Saturday morning, while out with the dogs in Washington Square Park, the big dog became obsessed with something in the fountain. So, 'twas a duck. Make that two ducks, a Mr. and Mrs. Duck, although the male duck flew away for awhile, like guys will do in the Village, leaving Mrs. Duck to circle the fountain and occasionally quack. As more Villagers arrived in the park, the pair took flight, perhaps for the more open waters of Central Park. Night owl shutterbugs missed this photogenic moment - a picture of a duck in watery reflection within the arch, a hint of the city's most famous skyscraper beside her, the silhouette of a swan. Image by Walking Off the Big Apple. More in a set on Flickr WOTBA . Related news item: "Darker outlook for night owls, study finds" ( msnbc .com)

Towards a New Amsterdam: Celebrations of Henry Hudson's Voyages to the New World for the Dutch East India Company

(Ed. note: Consult the post from September 10, 2009 for additional listings.) In 1609 Londoner Henry Hudson, hired by the Dutch East India Company to find an easy passage to China, sailed his ship, the Halve Maen, into New York Harbor and then up what is now known as the Hudson River. With no China in sight, he had to turn back. Hudson's 3rd voyage allowed the Dutch to claim the region and to establish fur trading. The rest is history. "Sept. 12, 1609. Very fair and hot. In the afternoon at two o'clock we weighed, the wind being variable, between the north and the north-west; so we turned into the river two leagues and anchored. This morning at our first rode in the river, there came eight and twenty canoes full of men, women and children to betray us; but we saw their intent, and suffered none of them to come aboard us. At twelve o'clock they departed. They brought with them oysters and beans, whereof we bought some. They have great tobacco pipes of yellow copper, a

Jazz & Culinary Notes: Pianists, Guitarists, Saxophones and Cupcakes, All Close to Home

Some of you may have noted infrequent postings of late, but my excuse was that I was attempting to take a vacation. I didn't plan an ordinary holiday - the kind that requires packing a suitcase and going somewhere, but I did feel a need to be less busy for awhile. The plan failed. One of my dogs got sick, and my spouse was in Argentina. The little guy is better now, and the spouse is home, but the sweet aging terrier and the vet had me scurrying around the neighborhood most of the last two weeks for special foods and supplies. I coped with this unpredicted development by spending some time with friends, watching the American Ballet Theatre Gala , seeing the Aernout Mik exhibit at MoMA, visiting the Jazz & Sketch night uptown , waiting for the First Couple to come out of Blue Hill , lounging in Times Square , shopping for summer clothes (mostly at UNIQLO), taking pictures of sad bicycles , and getting my hair done (Sam Brocato, formerly Oscar Bond, on Wooster). The rest of the

A Special Date Night in the Village: The First Couple Dines at Blue Hill

Those of us who gathered along Washington Square West at the intersection of Washington Place early Friday evening made our own fun as we stood patiently waiting for a glimpse of the special guests. After hearing a little earlier the helicopters fly over and then the sound of police sirens, I had a hunch that President Obama and the First Lady were somewhere in the neighborhood. I walked over to the park, and sure enough, a crowd was gathering at the aforementioned intersection. It was quickly determined that the First Couple had chosen Blue Hill, an elegant but unpretentious restaurant that emphasizes fresh seasonal food, for dinner before heading to see a Broadway play. For two hours, while the couple dined inside, we watched the slow and deliberate motions of the New York police officers and Secret Service personnel as they worked to keep us in line. Much attention was directed toward the heavily-armed men and the suited men from the Secret Service. All wore ear pieces, maintained