Our last words on Broadway. Promise.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Did we mention that we had been to Broadway? Can’t recall. Anyway, we have. And here are a few thoughts on things we cared for and didn’t care for.

Ticket prices (bad)

Theatre-going is expensive on Broadway. Young Frankenstein is charging $450 for “premium seating”. That’s exceptional, but ticket prices are high even with the current exchange rate. Then of course there are handling fees, service charges, restoration fees and what have you on top. Thankfully there is always the TKTS booths which (like the London ones) do “up to” half price tickets for most shows (including Radio City) and BroadwayBox.com is great for cut price ticket offers.

The Whingers took the opportunity of telling their new mate and “Broadway royalty” producer Tom Viertel in no uncertain terms that “premium seating” should under no circumstances be introduced to the West End. He assured the Whingers that it wouldn’t. Let’s hope not.

Broadway Cares (good and bad)

But if you go at the wrong time of year (now) it works out even more expensive thanks to the marvellous Broadway Cares in which you are asked to put your hands in your pockets on leaving every show. It’s in a good cause, of course, but if you go to eight shows in six days as the Whingers did, this can make quite a dent in your pocket book that could otherwise have been spent at Century 21. Thank heavens that Young Frankenstein wasn’t participating.

Some of the shows just ask you to put your money in a bucket but others are more imaginative (posters and programmes signed by the cast) and the Whingers were only too happy to benefit Broadway Cares by having their photograph taken with Xanadu leading lady Kerry Butler. There was a little confusion over the fact that the Whingers thought Kerry was putting the $20 in to have her photograph taken with the Whingers but it turned out the be the other way round.

Being English no longer gives you royalty status (bad)

It used to be the case that, in New York, being English gave you instant celebrity and status and people would ask if you knew the Queen of England. Nowadays they are much more blasé (or possibly ignorant) about it. Doors no longer open for you and – strangely – every conversation seemed to have “Are you Australian?” in it somewhere.

What’s more, they don’t even seem to understand English. Even Andrew’s cut-crystal, Julie Andrews diction failed to get his messages across. Requests for “white coffee” and “tomato salad” brought looks of total confusion to the faces of waiters everywhere. Frankly, the Whingers had less trouble making themselves understood in Peru.

Are the Whingers in fact Australian? It’s an unlikely concept, but they had this thrown at them so many times they’re beginning to think they’ve been watching too much Kath and Kim. Even the wonderful star of the equally wonderful Xanadu (Got that, Baz?) seemed to think so when she insisted on being photographed with the Whingers.

Lisa (good)

Lisa (right) is a wonderful Radio City security guard who was fabulously friendly and helpful to the Whingers and absolutely insisted on having her picture taken with Phil.

Given that she has to stand outside in all weathers directing the chaotic thousands into and out of the 6,000 seat theatre several times a day, the Whingers demand she be given a promotion or made President of the United States of America or something. Cut out all this nomination crap and give the woman the job for goodness sake. She’d be brilliant.

Tipping (bad)

There was a bit of an unfortunate episode in the Benash delicatessen – a diner around the corner from the Whingers’ hotel – when the waitress brought them their bill in which not only were the words “Does not include service. We recommend 80%-20%” circled but the 80%-20% was double-underlined.

This, of course, was a red rag to two bulls which under normal circumstances would have resulted in no tip at all – there wasn’t even a hand-written “Thank you!” and smiley face on it. But the Whingers were feeling uncharacteristically generous and left a 10% tip.

So imagine their surprise to be challenged at the door for not leaving enough money. The waitress was quite insistent that the Whingers hadn’t paid their bill in full and wouldn’t listen to their retorts of “But that’s discretionary, isn’t it?”. Eventually the waitress was pulled away by another member of staff but it was all rather unnecessary and the diner did not enjoy the Whingers’ patronage a second time.

Delis (good)

Delis are brilliant. Why can’t we have them in London? A huge variety of terrific food, fresh orange juice and cheap too.

The Whingers frequented several over the course of their visit, but for some mysterious reason were often drawn to the Stage Star Deli on West 55th Street. It didn’t quite live up to its name in terms of patronage, but the low prices almost compensated for the absence of stars.

Star spotting (good)

Not that the Whingers did very much of this, but a woman on the same plane said she saw Dustin Hoffman. The best the Whingers could come up with was Sinead Cusack who was scurrying down Broadway presumably searching for things to occupy her time as the newly opened transfer of Tom Stoppard’s Rock n’ Roll (in which she stars) is strike-bound. Or was she stalking Phil again?

Iced water (good)

Eat in a restaurant and they bring you iced tap water without you having to ask. And they keep filling up your glass. Wonderful.

TV news (bad)

Did anything newsworthy happen outside the USA the week we were there? Apparently not.

TV commercials advertising medicines (good)

It would seem that all adverts for drugs are obliged to have a voiceover listing all the possible side effects of the drug. Hysterical. The Whingers were rolling around hooting with laughter every time one came on.

Broadway audiences (bad)

Warnings about pagers and mobiles are de riguer on Broadway (and – incidentally – brilliantly done in Spelling Bee), but what about an announcement telling the audience to shut the hell up? They are much worse than West End audiences.

And latecomers. Is it too much to expect an audience to turn up before the time that is printed on their ticket? Young Frankenstein was bad enough but the first 30 minutes of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show was interrupted by dozens of offenders who – not content with having arrived late – don’t even attempt to be quiet, carrying on their conversations as though they are still out on the street. The Whingers firmly believe that’s where they should stay.

Audience participation (good)

There are two chances to appear on a Broadway stage at the moment – on-stage seating at Xanadu and actual parts in Spelling Bee. The Whingers blew it on both occasions which is just as well as it would be embarrassing when they were nominated for Tony awards as they are very shy, private people and totally shun all publicity.

Subway (good and bad)

Good because it’s so cheap. Imagine that – a reliable public mass transit system affordable by the masses. $2 (£1) for any journey, no matter how far. Think about it, Ken.

Bad because it’s impenetrable. Calling lines things like “A” and “2” is not helpful. Express trains are a good idea in principle but risky in practice. And it’s often impossible to tell from the train which station you are at. But on the whole, subway = good.

Playbills and programmes (good)

Playbills are free and every audience member gets one and they contain all the essential info you need (cast biogs etc).

Even the souvenir brochure for Young Frankenstein cost just $10 – not much more than a bog-standard Theatre Royal Haymarket programme and it had a hell of a lot more in it.

Secret Broadway (good if it’s not a secret to you)

There’s a bar (which we can’t name because we’re mean like that) where you can “hang out” with our mate Mel Brooks et al. It’s so exclusive even the woman (who claimed to work there) sitting on the steps outside (ooops a clue!) didn’t know where it was, directing the Whingers to another (incorrect) entrance or perhaps just a cunning ploy to keep the Whingers out?

Streets (good and bad)

The grid system is very good for giving you an idea of how far apart things are, and 10 avenues you can cope with, but with so many streets, they’re just not memorable. “It is definitely on forty-something” was fast becoming a new West End Whinger catch-phrase as they wandered aimlessly around trying to track down a particular restaurant or shop.

The Russian Tea Room (good)

The Whingers can’t recommend the renovated Russian Tea Room highly enough. It was founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927.

They popped in for an “Express Lunch” on their last day and were utterly thrilled to be seated across from two archetypal Ladies Who Lunch.

In the next booth along were a group of Broadway producers who sat down at 12.30 and explained to the waitress that they were in a hurry because “We have to be at Sardi’s by two.” This was a fascinating insight into what’s involved in being a Broadway producer and the Whingers feel quite confident that they would be able to step up to the mark. Now that they are so well-connected, it can only be a matter of time.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia:

6 Responses to “Our last words on Broadway. Promise.”

  1. It’s worth pointing out that while standard ticket prices are higher in NYC, the (albeit far more limited) day seats are significantly cheaper than in the West End – $25 vs. £20-£27.50 depending on if you’re at a play or musical and if Cameron Mackintosh needs that extra £2.50 that the Ambassadors and RUG don’t. I’d be reviewing a lot more proper WE than fringe stuff if it was more in line with the NYC prices.

  2. So sad I didn’t get to see you, Whingers. Fortunately for me, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

    What a superb post. While it would take me far too long to comment on everything, let me just ask whether you saw the one advert for some new drug that has a side effect that includes gambling. It’s true, apparently.

    Hope you had a great journey home. America is buzzing and will never again be quite the same.

  3. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Great trip thanks Steve.
    Sorry we didn’t get to meet you this time…but didn’t we time it well?
    Meeting Mel Brooks and Roger Bart did provide some compensation for not hooking up with you, but it wasn’t quite the same though…

    That drug sounds fantastic! Wish we’d seen that ad..thanks for the tip.

  4. joe Says:

    Oh, farewell, Whingers. I suppose we have to let you get back. British theatre has been getting away with murder in your absence. Do come again SOON. You have brightened up our dull November and got the most out of New York theatre in spite of this damnable strike.

    another side effect of that drug is compulsive shopping. Century 21 should be handing them out like Smarties.

  5. Awww, thanks Joe. You’re too kind. You’re right about the London theatre getting away with murder in our absence.


  6. Hannah Says:

    Well done on enjoying your trip despite not being able to watch half the things you wanted to.

    Unfortunately, whilst you were away you did miss our spectacular university production of Sweet Charity that not only had plenty to whinge about, but also had onstage eating and THREE wigs. Bet you’re dead disappointed.

    Can’t wait to see what you think of “Desperately Seeking…” It’s a whingers dream!


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