Adult Guide to Attending Broadway Shows

Based on a ghastly experience last night at the St. James Theater showing of Frozen the Musical, I thought this guide might be useful, especially if it were forwarded far and wide to people who might actually need the information provided.

When buying tickets for a show, be sure you understand the seating, restroom and stairs/elevator situation in the theater you’re going to attend. Many New York theaters were built many years ago when people with physical limitations never attended shows or if they did, their interests were ignored in the design. Most of the older theaters have chosen not to spend the resources to update their facilities; apparently, the law does not require them to do so.

It is, therefore, common to find that tiny restrooms are not anywhere near your seats or indeed on the same level as your seats. This can be disconcerting during what are sometimes short breaks relative to the lines that form even at the men’s facilities. By way of example only, our balcony seats at the St. James involved a 77- step climb from the entry level, and the men’s room up there had two urinals. There are no elevators. The extent of the climb is not covered on the ticketing website, www.frozenthemusical.com but only in the Accessibility section of the website for the theater where no tickets may be purchased and that took some searching to find. https://www.jujamcyn.com/shows/frozen/

Note carefully whether your show has intermissions. Many Broadway shows run two hours or more without an intermission. This can be challenging for … well, you know.

When considering a show to see, think carefully about the likely makeup of the audience. Frozen’s website says it is “intended for ages 8+ and is not recommended for anyone under the age of 4. If you have already purchased a ticket for a child under 4, please contact Disney Theatrical Guest Services.” All well and good, but there were many children under 4 in the audience on Saturday night. However, candor compels me to note that by-and-large the children were better behaved than some of the “adults.” More on that later.

One of the consequences of a show like this is that many children need booster seats to see over the heads of adults in front of them. This was not so much as issue for most of the small kids, but once the “adults” saw what was happening, they too asked for booster cushions. This led to a cascading effect as people in higher rows were confronted with tall adults now even taller and they too asked for cushions. And so on.

Another consequence of such a show is that many audience members have seen the movie, know the story and react viscerally to events. This led to considerable hooting and hollering at various developments in the show. While audience enthusiasm should be encouraged, it can be disconcerting and overshadow what is happening on the stage. It seems more important to these guests to make noise than to hear what is happening next. Be prepared.

Now, for some rules of “adult behavior.” These are based on observed behavior at musicals, shows and even ballet performances at Lincoln Center.

  1. Do not make out with your partner.
  2. Do not lean on your partner, then shift your body far away, then later back, then ….
  3. Do not talk to your partner when the show is underway. Save it for the break or the end.
  4. Absent a genuine physical emergency, do not leave your seat for the restroom or bar while the show is underway. If you do, you should NOT return to the theater until the intermission.
  5. Keep your shoes on and your feet on the floor. Do NOT put your bare feet on the seat.
  6. During intermissions, do not sit in your seat obsessively taking selfies.

Last night, the young woman seated next to my wife did this during the break, taking photo after photo as she adjusted her hair, changed the tilt of her head, made “sexy” shapes of her mouth and so on. It was distracting and obnoxious.

  1. Do NOT get out of your seat until the intermission.

Last night there was an unexpected break in the show, when a prop malfunctioned. An announcement was made but no directive to remain seated. Two stage staff struggled to fix the problem. Numerous “adults” now decided to go to the restroom or to the bar, then returned after the show started, struggling to return to their seats in the dark. The theater personnel should have prevented this, but regardless, act like an adult and have some respect for the other guests and for the performers.

  1. Do NOT treat the theater as if you’re at a baseball game. This is not the venue for rustling plastic wrappers, sharing candy and nuts and slurping drinks.
  2. The seats in many older theaters are quite narrow and there is little room between rows. Either check your coats or keep your coat and other belongings within the area of your seat.
  3. DO NOT KEEP YOUR CELLPHONE ON DURING THE PERFORMANCE. DO NOT SNEAK PHOTOS OR RECORDINGS. DO NOT TEXT, EMAIL OR TALK. JUST DON’T.

 

I Love the Sound of a Symphony in the Morning

I have once again had the opportunity to attend a New York City Ballet orchestra rehearsal of for both Stravinky’s Firebird and Tschaikovsky’s Allegro Brillante starting tonight. It started at 10 am with a volunteer’s explanation of the background of Stravinsky’s composition of the music for Firebird, after which the group of attendees (perhaps 25 in number) was ushered into the seating area as the rehearsal began. The seating area is near the front of the orchestra, the best seats I’m likely to ever have. And the price ($0) was right.

Even more right was the music itself. While we were told that the rehearsal was not a performance but only a practice that would likely be interrupted by the conductor, the reality was that they orchestra initially played the entire music through from beginning to end before the conductor took them through the changes. Our membership thus earned an opportunity to hear what amounted to a full concert. The music, even without the dancers, is simply stunning. Conductor Andrew Litton clearly knows the score in great depth. After running through the entire piece, Litton worked through many sections he wanted to be done differently, covering all of the iconic sections as well as less well-known parts that tie everything together.

One of the most amazing aspects of a professional orchestra is that the conductor can call on it to start anywhere in the lengthy score and they can immediately pick up the music at that place at the proper pace and volume. Their knowledge of the music is total.

After a short break, the orchestra moved into Allegro Brillante, again playing, I believe, the entire piece before going back to clean up a few details that only the conductor heard.

As I sat there, I thought “how lucky I am that on this frigid January morning, I am able to sit in this beautiful classically-styled concert hall and listen to some of the most extraordinary music ever composed being performed by a world-class orchestra.” Every time this happens, I believe I am permanently changed into a slightly better person. It’s analogous, I suppose, to being sick and receiving a super medicine that makes you well again immediately. It may not work forever but while it’s magic is happening, it is sublime.

No Way to Run a Justice System

Note: The following is more substantive than most of the posts on this site, but since it arose to impact my life in The City, I am posting it here, as well as on shiningseausa.com.

Not two years after moving to New York, the justice system turned its attention, randomly, I’m sure, to me by sending me a notice to report for jury duty. At the time, reporting would have conflicted with a business commitment, so I asked for, and received, an automatic deferral. I chose January 16 as my report date. Fate, of course, would inevitably intervene and an important business meeting was unavoidably scheduled for January 17.

That’s the beginning. When I wrote the first draft of this post, it was all minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow in the same excruciating detail as I experienced a wasted day-and-a-half of my life for no discernible purpose. Upon re-reading the draft, I realized it was boring, even to me, so I decided on another approach.

What was wrong with the process whereby I was called upon by the state to assist in the administration of justice for parties who had demanded a trial by jury, as guaranteed by law in appropriate cases? Just about everything. The process seemed like something from another time, a relic of the days when everything was done manually and the administrative process was a slave to established practice no matter how wasteful.

You are ordered to report, then after arrival in the Jury Assembly Room (452) are told that you may be there between one and three days. If you’ve already had a postponement, you can go down to Room 139 and make a pitch for further relief but if called while there you may be forced to return again for another stint. And the implication is that your chances down there are slim at best. So, I decide to take a chance and stay put. Mistake. I collect my Juror Questionnaire and fill it out. I foolishly think this is good because when the lawyers see it, they will immediately disqualify me and I can leave. Trial lawyers generally are extremely averse to having other lawyers on their juries.

I am eventually called with a group of 35 others to follow some lawyers to a courtroom where 10 are selected for voir dire, the questioning by counsel for the parties to determine if each individual can be “fair and impartial.” It is now apparent that the system is not designed for efficiently dealing with the group of prospective jurors. The lawyers are in charge now and they only collect the questionnaires from the first group of 10 prospects. They don’t know I’m here and they don’t care.

It turns out this is a personal injury case involving disputes about medical records, medical treatments, negligence and related issues. There are, we discover the next day, other lawyers in the group and a doctor as well. None will eventually serve on the jury, but it takes a full day and a half to determine that. The lawyers painstakingly, slowly, repetitively query the jury pool in groups of 10 to pick the final six jurors and two alternates. They are in no hurry and spend hours in the hallway reviewing questionnaires and negotiating over whom to select. The first group of 10 produced only 3 jurors. The second group, another 3, then a third group to get the two alternates.

I confess I was not a trial lawyer by experience, although I did litigate administrative and arbitration cases in my active legal career. Nevertheless, it did not take a lot of imagination to grasp that this process was designed for the benefit of the trial lawyers and gave little to no consideration to the jury pool that was stuck there for, potentially, three days just to settle on 8 people out of the pool of 35. And the trial itself, scheduled to start the following Tuesday, is estimated to take five days but “it could be longer if, for example, the judge has to hear motions in other matters.”

By way of example only, once a group is selected from the pool, the lawyers and all of the pool jurors in that group must return to the clerk’s office for processing out. It seems that every step in the process is calculated to consume more time and that no one, except some members of the jury pool, is an any hurry to move the process to conclusion.

On Day One, we arrive at 3:35 pm and it is finally time to question the second group of 10 prospects.

But, wait, we’d been told earlier that the stop time today was 4 pm. The attorneys inform us that since there is only 25 minutes left before the appointed end time, we’ll just knock off early. Report back tomorrow at 9:45. What? 9:45? What the hell kind of workday do these folks follow? Do they not understand that everyone in the jury pool has another life to pursue outside the jury selection process?

I approached the lawyers and explained who I was and that since I was pretty sure they would never select me, how about you just excuse me now? The answer was “no, we can’t control that and, besides, we might run out of prospects and want you on the jury anyway, but you can go try the clerk.” I rush downstairs and approach the clerk’s desk, only to hear her tell someone else, “once you’re in the pool, there is no way out.” So, no way out, even if the lawyers take three full days to finish selection.

I leave the courthouse and return home. I am uncertain whether I really heard that the start time tomorrow is 9:45 rather than the 8:45 the first day. So, I call the number on the yellow card we were instructed to collect that morning. A voice message, at 4:45 pm, says that the number is not part of the answering system and therefore no message can be left. “Goodbye.”

Let me cut to the end now. No point in prolonging the obvious. Suffice to say that I was never selected as a potential juror, never questioned and the lawyers finally chose the six jurors and two alternates. We then had to return to the clerk’s desk for final processing, a final speech by one of the clerks, and then … freedom. I bolt out of the courthouse to catch a cab to a business lunch that is going on without me.

A day and a half of monotonous, repetitious rehashing that could have been accomplished in less than half the time with the judicious use of some documents for prospective jurors to read, perhaps even in advance of coming to the courthouse. Turning over prospects to the control of the litigating lawyers means that the jurors’ interests may be completely disregarded if the lawyers are in no hurry to complete the process.

I well understand the need to assure that citizens do their duty as jurors in order to assure that litigants that want a trial by jury can have one. But I do not understand why the process is under the unsupervised control of the trial lawyers. I do not understand why the process seems to be the same as was used decades before modern technology became available. Much of the factual information painstakingly drawn from the pool members could have been collected in writing beforehand. If the trial lawyers were going to disqualify lawyers, doctors and other people in certain professions or who had experienced injuries similar to the one at issue in the case, all of that could have been ascertained in advance. Doing that would require systematic changes in the way the jury selection process works but it could be done if efficiency were regarded as relevant to the process.

The good news is that the ordeal will not be repeated for me for at least four years. The clerks gave us a piece of paper that we can use to resist being recalled by the state for that period. It even protects against federal court jury calls which may come because “the state and federal systems are not integrated.” No surprise there.

So, fine, I will state for the record now that if called after the four- year period ends, I will not serve again. Lock me up if you want, but at this late stage of my life, I am not going to give the courts any more of my time under a system that provides little or no respect for me as a citizen. They can do better if they try. I, for one, am done.

 

Fotografiska New York

Yesterday we visited Fotografiska New York, a Swedish transplant museum dedicated to photography. The museum is housed in the old Church Missions House that resembles an old-Europe church from the outside, situated at Park Avenue South and 22nd Street. The building dates to 1894, squarely within the Gilded Age. Inside, it’s all modern, with a coffee shop in the lobby and five upper floors, four of which contain the exhibits. If not disposed to climb a lot of stairs, you can take the very modest (maybe six passengers) elevator to Floor Six and then walk down.

On Sunday there were two particularly compelling exhibits. A one-woman show by Ellen von Unwerth entitled “Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women” contained some extraordinary photographs. Be advised, however, that some of these photos are very explicit and not for most young children’s eyes. We were also impressed especially by Tawny Chatmon’s “Inheritance” show, consisting of stunning shots of Black women and children enhanced with elaborate ornamentation added by hand to the photographs. The result are powerful portrayals of people not normally found in museums that tend to feature extensive historical portraits of white people in room after room.

Helene Schmitz’s “Thinking like a Mountain” is a series of large frame shots of natural formations that dramatically illustrate the impact of man’s rapacious reshaping of the natural landscape of even the most resistant zones of pure rock.

Fotografiska is not a large museum – you can see everything in less than an hour. And it’s open early (9 am daily) and stays late, really late, as in 11 pm except for Thursday through Sunday when it’s midnight.

Finally, my one serious beef with the place and this is not unique to Fotografiska. The labels explaining the titles of photographs and some, usually limited, information in small type-face were typically placed at the lower corner so that a person of six-foot height would have to bend way down to read them, often in limited light. This was not only uncomfortable but in many cases I simply could not make out what the labels said. I can’t understand what the thinking was behind the decision to place the labels so low and in dim light or full shadow, particularly in a museum clearly focused on an adult audience. If the positioning is intended to assist visitors in wheelchairs, wonderful, but then why not (1) put some light on the labels and (2) have a second label at roughly eye-level for average walking visitors so that everyone can read them.

That gripe notwithstanding,, Fotografiska New York is well worth a visit.

 

Bronx Zoo Lights

Since we are catching up on holiday photos, I am going to share a large “sample” of shots taken during our visit to the Bronx Zoo for its Zoo Lights exhibit before Christmas past. It was really cold and there were relatively few people there, a fact I would normally celebrate, but during the holidays, making for a somewhat strange experience. That said, we persevered and discovered the mother lode of displays in the back half of the imposingly large zoo.  Here is much of what we saw.

Holiday Lights

Better late than never, I suppose,  the following sample of photos was taken while we were showing a good friend around the city on a cold and not-quite-wet night before Christmas.. The first ten shots are from the holiday fair at Bryant Park and the lion statue at the New York Public Library. The rest are mainly from stores along 5th Avenue, plus, of course, Rockefeller Center where the large tree attracts huge numbers of viewers every night. The sequence of castle-like light displays is from the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue, a spectacular show that also attracts huge crowds.Happy Belated Holidays!

Disappointment and Exultation

It’s always especially disappointing when you build up hopes about something that, in the reality, doesn’t live up to your expectations.

So it was with the revamped musical West Side Story. We snatched up tickets as soon as they became available. I had seen the musical performed several times over the years in Washington and had watched the movie (1961) many times. Those experiences framed what I was hoping to see in the new production, though I recognized that it had been “updated” for a more modern vibe. I avoided reviews for the most part and thus was unaware of what I quickly came to regard as a catastrophically bad decision: the cast appears on stage in front of what amounts to a stage-sized movie screen as a backdrop. In many scenes, including important ensemble dances, a “film” of the performers appears behind them as they perform on the stage, a multi-media event rather than a play that relies on stagecraft to create its context imagery. Using film for background buildings would be fine but showing a solo singer on the street with the camera viewpoint in the background slowly advancing and shadowy figures moving in the rear was just bizarre.

We found this novelty severely distracting. In addition to dance scenes, there were movies playing behind the performers inside apartments and in the drug store that is a main hang-out scene for the gangs. Sometimes only the movie was playing, while at others there was also action visible on the stage with the movie playing behind.

If I had wanted to see the movie again, I could have done so for less than the $109 we paid for last-row orchestra seats.

There were other less dramatic problems, the most prominent for me being that the director (I assume) moved the “Gee, Officer Krupke” piece, a humorous play on the foibles of sociological and legal thinking about juvenile delinquency, into late in the “second day” of the show when bad and ominous things have already happened and are portended. I understand it was that way in the original musical and was moved forward in the movie, to some controversy. See https://bit.ly/35m41o1 Nonetheless, it is a strikingly discordant note late in the show and I cannot accept the reasoning behind putting the song there.

All that said, there are many positives. You know a show is great when, despite knowing precisely how it’s going to end, you are still moved by it. Such is true with West Side Story. The ultimate moral idea – that hate breeds destruction and little else – is as powerful, maybe more so, now than when the show debuted in 1957. It is, as Yogi Berra famously said, déjà vu all over again. Shereen Pimentel, who plays Maria, has a Julliard-educated voice that could shake the rafters loose. Probably the star dancer was Yesenia Ayala who plays Bernardo’s girlfriend. It was hard to take your eyes off of her in the ensemble numbers, especially the highlight of the evening (for me), America.

The dancing overall was extraordinary, despite a lot of talk about changing the more ballet-driven originals by Jerome Robbins to a more modern style. We didn’t notice a real difference. The set pieces were very complex, involving both gangs and a lot of separate parts all well-integrated. If only they hadn’t also played the dancing on the movie screen background.

As a final observation, and this is not so much criticism as recognition of the difficulties of “updating” a classic like this, we had expected more “modern” motifs for the dialogue and, possibly, a more contemporary perspective on gang life. Instead, it’s the old Jets and Sharks going at each other for dominance of the neighborhood and using language like “daddy-o” and “buddy boy.” It’s also true, I suspect, that too much modernity would have made the story too dark and the romance at the heart of the morality play too unreal to capture the imagination.

In the end it’s still a great show and should be seen.