It’s long been a dream of mine to visit New York. Not just because it’s one of those great cities you feel you have to see in real life (as opposed to just in the movies) but also because it’s a performer’s paradise. At any given time there are over 40 musicals and plays showing in the theatre district alone so it’s practically mandatory to see a show in New York. I couldn’t wait to get my toosh into a seat on Broadway, or more accurately, 42nd street, where most of the bigger shows play.
In fact I was so keen that I booked our group seats for Newsies on the day we landed. Of course I told them a high-energy performance was the perfect way to stay awake and overcome the jet lag we would all struggle with after a 16 hour flight through 7 times zones. If you are going to catch a Broadway show I suggest you print your tickets out before-hand, make sure you know where the theatre is and get there at least 30 minutes early. We arrived on the dot and discovered a massive queue that circumnavigated the entire block, and this was a queue for people who had already purchased tickets. Thankfully we managed to finagle our way in right at the front by holding up our printed tickets for all to see and putting on our “We’re very confused South Africans” faces, but don’t take my word for it that this will always work.
Newsies is the story of the newsboy strike of 1899 and has been adapted for stage from the 1992 Disney movie of the same name. After asking friends for advice, reading reviews and scouring different discounted ticket sites I finally settled on Newsies for two reasons. First, it won two Tony Awards in 2012 for best score and best choreography and second, it’s virtually an all-male cast. Now I have no problem watching a mixed cast, especially as a female performer myself. However, being involved in my own choreographic pursuits back home I was really interested to see how choreographer Christopher Gattelli achieved the difficult task of telling a story of social change through original dance while ensuring the male ensemble looked sufficiently manly. I was not disappointed. The athletic choreography was distinctly ballet inspired with elements of modern dance and jazz. While I didn’t see anything completely unique in terms of the dancing I did love the great use of space and props. The dancers storm the tenement-style set with the same hard-sell tactics they use to sell their papes (newspapers) and each number reads like a blazing, scathing headline. The obvious highlight was the sequence of synchronised dancing on real newspapers. That must have taken hours of rehearsals. All-in-all money well spent.
New York’s Broadway scene draws thousands of people everyday so you might wonder how the theatres handle interval toilet breaks. Well I’ll tell you how. With army precision and drill-sergeant theatre ushers. First you join a queue that snakes from the bathrooms down two flights of stairs and ends in the stalls (of course the men’s bathroom queue has like five guys). Then you shuffle along in little geisha-like steps, all the while being herded by the ushers to stay close to the railings and keep the stairs clear. The pace of the shuffle is deceiving because within five minutes you are at the bathroom entrance where another usher sergeant takes over and hawk-eyes movement of bathroom doors. The minute one opens another person is hurried into the cubicle to do their business and so it continues until it’s your turn. By that time you are so afraid of the usher sergeant that you practically sprint into the cubicle, avoiding all eye contact, complete your business in record time and sprint out again after washing your hands – on a side note the Nedelander theatre has a lovely variety of hand creams but I didn’t have the time to try any out.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any other musicals although we did checkout Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, which delivers exactly what the name promises – Christmas spectacle. A massive 6000-seater auditorium, huge screen, 3D glasses and thousands of eager children await you so best bring your Christmas cheer.
The spectacular is really just light-hearted entertainment for kids. The loose story line is played out by a few key actor-singer-dancers with the famous Rockettes making regular appearances to wow the crowd with their precision and uniformity. The show highlights Christmas in New York, is great for getting you into the Christmas spirit and makes you feel incredibly lucky to be in the city for the holidays but in all honesty I would rather have spent the money on another musical or play. I guess there’s always next time…