Saturday, January 7, 2023

NYC NYE 2023 (part one)

Mural, American Airlines Theatre Penthouse Lounge

New Year’s is a big deal for us. Not that we have traditionally been extravagant at the turning of the calendar. In fact, we have been quite modest the past few years. Even before the pandemic, we chose to stay home, alone. We only ever need each other, anyway.

Auspicious subway find.
We met on the street the year we rang in the 90s, headed to the same gathering, and have spent every NYE together since, for better and for worse. And last year we decided we would go to New York, where we fell in love and shared so many early relationship memories. Omicron be damned, and it was awesome.

When I missed the American Repertory Theatre production of 1776 in Boston this summer due to health issues, and they announced a Broadway run, I suggested we do it again – spent NYE in NYC. Maybe this is going to be our New Year’s tradition, from here on out. We would both be very happy with that. My wife scored first class seats, and we enjoyed Bloody Marys and held hands at 10,000 feet.

The wife found us a sweet little Airbnb where Washington Heights meets Inwood, and just a short walk to Fort Tryon Park. The place had a really nice reclaimed wood aesthetic. We asked our contact where we could get lunch and she suggested Koko Seafood, a Dominican joint on Nagle.

The ghosts of Steve & Eydie
hath appeared to me —
at Sardi's once ...
The guy dropped two menus but he also suggested we could have whatever they already had prepared, so we said yeah, what do you have back there? She got the stewed chicken, I got the grilled chicken, we each got red beans and rice. We were made very, very happy.

It was such a good meal that, following a much-needed nap (I think I got four hours of sleep the night before) we decided to skip dinner and just get drinks somewhere in Times Square. She asked if I’d ever been to Sardi’s, I said that I had not. We enjoyed cocktails seated next to a festooned caricature of Steve Lawrence, which was only appropriate.

Then onto the American Airlines Theatre for the Roundabout production of 1776. Here’s the thing about 1776, the original score for this show (music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone) is part of my earliest memories. My father enjoyed it a great deal, and why wouldn't he. A lively celebration of the origins of our nation, created in 1969, possibly the worst point in our history. The vinyl was on regular rotation in my house growing up, I still have it somewhere. And the 1972 film was a must-see whenever it came on the TV, usually around Independence Day.

Festive NYC streets.
However, it has not aged well, as it sands down the sins of “our forefathers'' even as it attempts to address them. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda did this in creating Hamilton, entirely omitting the fact that Alexander Hamilton himself was once a slaver.

In subsequent productions of 1776, in community theaters and colleges around the country, people of color and women have been cast as members of a company of historical figures who were all white men. After the success of Hamilton, I wondered how long it would take before someone attempted a diverse professional production. The A.R.T. production (produced on Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre) features an acting company composed entirely of people who identify as women or non-binary.

This has not been without controversy, which was to be expected. I loved the production, I really did. You could say it had been produced for me or someone exactly like me, a privileged, middle-aged, liberal, white person – and one who already enjoys the score. Attending a performance like this would naturally soothe my sensibilities, as it would ideally present an opportunity for those affected by these men's actions, but not present in their decision making, to interpret and hopefully to provide context for the founders limitations.

Sara Porkolob in "1776"
(Photo: Sara Krulwich)
Company member Sara Porkolob, who plays South Carolina Congressman Edward Rutledge, started a firestorm among the theater community last October in which they dared to answer questions about the production with candor and honesty. They did not agree with the suggestion that the production is artistically fulfilling – for them – and even more aggressive comments for saying they only give 75% to this show a night.

Much, much more interesting, however, are their comments about the frustration of being a multidisciplinary performance artist who takes a job as solely a performer in someone else’s work. The fact that, in their opinion, the show still does not go far enough in critiquing the so-called “American experiment. It is a rich and interesting interview with an amazing artist, and I strongly recommend reading the entire thing.

The best excuse for being controversial, however, is when you are also brilliant. The most emotionally disturbing song in the entire show, no matter where you are seeing it, and the only part of the show which comes even close to addressing the massive errors in the American experiment which are still with us today, is the the eleven o’clock number Molasses to Rum, led by Porkolob, for which they say they give 90% and which they entirely walk away with. If what I heard that night was 90% of what they have to offer, I am literally frightened to experience their talent at full bore. I hope that someday I will.

Photo: TRG Reality
My one personal regret was that I did not get to see Elizabeth A. Davis as Jefferson, though the family did last summer. We were in the company of The Merry Wives of Windsor at Great Lakes together in 2005 as she was completing her studies at Case, and she participated in an odd “Mr. Shakespeare” photo shoot in which we first recreate the famous V-J Day photograph and then I apparently drop her (right.)  Maintaining the role in Boston on then Broadway while visibly and increasingly pregnant over the course of the fall, Davis left the production as scheduled around Christmas.

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