Demon Barbers & Tigers, Swinging Jazz and A Soprano to Die For
Michele and I recently took a long weekend back East in order attend the 25th Anniversary Gala of the Livingston Theater Company. LTC was the company Michele acted with during her time at Rutgers. She played roles like Guinevere in Camelot and Lilly Vanessi in Kiss Me, Kate, among others. At the anniversary gala a few nights ago, she tore the roof off the venue in a duet performance of, “So in Love,” from Kate. It was a fantastic evening and I’ve always been fond of my wife’s theater friends. They’re a fun bunch, especially Sam Platizky, who is a great writer and filmmaker and frequents my (currently on hiatus) podcast, Lore & Valor.
Given that Rutgers is an hour’s train ride from NYC, we decided to take a couple nights in the city and see some shows and hit up some new restaurants, as well as a couple old favorites and spend a couple hours (too few) in the Met.
On the culinary front, the big winner was Gallagher’s steak house which had the single best filet either of has tasted. For two Texans to admit that takes a Socratic level of intellectual honesty, believe me. For more casual fare, there’s a little place called Carnegie Pizza on 41st that was really excellent. I had the buffalo chicken and the vodka, both were tasty.
I have to confess, the crowd in and around Times Square actually gave me a mild anxiety attack. I’ve never really liked walking among large crowds, but this time my brain was processing every human who came within five feet as a threat, not just the baseline over-awareness that a lot of us vets deal with, but a genuine, shits-about-to-go-down feeling, which was completely irrational.
Michele had the bright idea to cross over to 6th and walk down that street, which is filled with normal folks going about their business rather than street performers, activists, and dozens of other who want you take a flyer, or the CD, etc. etc. and I was able to calm down.
The anxiety and its recession were somewhat emblematic of my relationship with New York. I genuinely enjoy visiting for the museums, the live theater, the food, but as a way of life, New York just about anathema to me. That’s not even a political statement, although culture and politics are inextricably linked, it’s just the way people are stacked on top of each other is so alien that it disquiets me every time I’m there, even as I’m enjoying myself.
Still, it’s important to note that the vast majority of New Yorkers we interacted with were lovely people, and not just the service industry types we were tipping. There was a friendly docent at the Met (whose name I’ve conveniently forgotten) in particular who got us in to see the Monteleone Chariot, a truly unique piece of Etruscan Archaeology that we wouldn’t have had a chance to see without her intervention. On the Jersey Transit we had a wonderful chat with a nice couple who were travelling with their adorable American Bulldog pup named Teddy, and the list goes on. Whatever our current problems, serious as they are, “I think people are people, Cliff, I really do!”
I also got to take a picture with the statue of Father Francis Duffy, chaplain of the famed Fighting 69th during WWI. Father Duffy features prominently in the book I’m working on now with Kacey Ezell and Tom Kratman, the sequel to our alternate history novel, The Romanov Rescue. Guy is in the running for top two or three most badass chaplains in US Army history, definitely look him up. Granted, I had to go fairly early in the morning to avoid the full on circus that Time Square becomes after about 9 AM.
The first night in New York we went to see Sweeney Todd. I confess I was never really a fan of this particular musical, but the cast won me over pretty hardcore. Josh Grobhan (who I did not give a single shit about before this trip) was excellent as the eponymous Demon Barber of Fleet Street, but Annaleigh Ashford was a revelation as Mrs. Lovett. Her combination of physical comedy and line delivery were by turns hysterical and disturbing in all the right ways. The other show we saw was a straight play with extensive use of puppetry adaptation of The Life of Pi.
While I probably enjoyed Sweeney Todd more, Life of Pi was still excellent, and more thought provoking. I may give Life of Pi its own essay if I can find time.
After Life of Pi we attended a Jazz performance at Birdland. The music was excellent, the lead vocalist had a very Sinatra-esque voice that I enjoyed. If you like Jazz even casually I recommend checking it out if you’re in NYC. Caveats—the food at Birdland is not good, and the cocktails are meh at best. They do have a decent bourbon and wine list as well as some good beers. Pick a liquor, wine, or beer and order two or three throughout the evening. Their mixologists are not to be trusted.
We finished off the trip with the Met, wherein the aforementioned docent got us into see the Etruscan wing. There’s always too much Met for the time we have, but the Arms and Armor wing is always fun (although Henry VIII’s most spectacular armor was on loan to Cleavland). I was rather proud of myself for being able to tell a Constable from a Turner without looking at the plates. Michele, the art history major, patted me on the head and told me that our 18 years together were clearly not wasted 😊
All in all a great trip. We’re thinking some point we may have to come back and do a dedicated Met trip with the kids, giving each wing of the museum its own day.
‘til next time, New York, thanks for your inimitable and strange hospitality.