A week full of activities from morning to night wasn’t enough adventure in New York City, so on the last morning in Manhattan, Puffles and Honey went on a Disney on Broadway tour.
While Broadway is known widely as the heart of the American theatre industry, it is also a 53km long road in the US state of New York, through the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, before exiting the city. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in New York City, dating to the first New Amsterdam settlement, although most of it did not bear its current name until the late 19th century.
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the area that now comprises the Theater District was owned by a handful of families and contained little more than a few farms. In 1836 Mayor Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence opened 42nd Street and invited Manhattanites to “move up town and enjoy the pure, clean air”.
The first theatre was the Empire Theatre, on the Southeast corner of 40th Street and Broadway. The Olympia was the second theatre to open in the Theater District. It was the first multiplex, with five theaters. The theatre closed down 3 years after, the performances were really bad! Historic sources are unclear as to whether some or all buildings in the complex were demolished and rebuilt in 1935, or the shells gutted and remodeled to build a nightclub/dancehall, the International Casino, and the Criterion movie theatre. In 1988, followed the Criterion Center Stage Right, and in 1991, the space was leased to Roundabout Theatre Company, a prominent non-profit theatre company. In 2000, Toys R Us announced plans to spend approximately $35 million on a flagship store on the site of the old Olympia that featured an 18m in-store Ferris Wheel. The store closed down in January this year.
Lit by gas and poorly ventilated, theaters in 19th century New York were vexed by fire. At the beginning of the 20th century, architects realized that the safer electric light bulb had enormous advertising potential. As early as 1910, Broadway signage dazzled visitors and the street soon became known throughout the world as the Great White Way. In 1927, the journalist Will Irwin vividly captured the district’s look and energy: “Mildly insane by day, the square goes divinely mad by night. For then on every wall, above every cornice, in every nook and cranny, blossom and dance the electric advertising signs… All other American cities imitate them, but none gets this massed effect of tremendous jazz interpreted in light.”
For more than a century, Broadway productions have not only made young, unknown actors household names but also produced stars associated with performances, songs, and dances that have entered mainstream American culture. These individuals, and the costumes and make-up schemes that have enhanced their work, are the source of endless fascination to adoring fans. Beneath the surface of these star turns, however, lie more gritty stories of passion and dedication. Broadway ambition was immortalized by the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in the song “Broadway Baby” from the elegiac musical Follies, which chronicles the New York theater world’s legendary past: ”I’m just a Broadway Baby / Walking off my tired feet / Pounding 42nd Street / To be in a show.”
I Can Get It For You Wholesale opened on March 22, 1962 at the Shubert Theatre. Barbra Streisand played the put-upon secretary Miss Marmelstein. In the second act of the show she rolled onto the stage in an office chair and sang, “Oh, why is it always Miss Marmelstein?” Barbra stopped the show with the song and she hasn’t looked back since.
Designed by architect Henry Beaumont Herts, the theatre was named after Sam S. Shubert, the second oldest of the three brothers of the theatrical producing family. It shares a Venetian Renaissance facade with the adjoining Booth Theatre, which was constructed at the same time, although the two have distinctly different interiors. The two theatres are connected by a private sidewalk, Shubert Alley. Each summer right around Tony time, the Broadway League puts on a free outdoor concert in Shubert Alley to promote various shows running on Broadway, many of them vying for a Tony Award.
Shubert Theatre opened on 21 October 1913 with the George Bernard Shaw play, Caesar and Cleopatra, staged by the Forbes-Robertson Repertory Company.
The theatre’s longest tenant was A Chorus Line, which ran for 6,137 performances from 1975 to 1990 and set the record for longest running show in Broadway history. Later long runs have included Crazy for You, Chicago, Spamalot and Memphis. The theatre has also been a returning venue for the Tony Awards.
During the Golden Age of the theatre district, there were 91 operating theatres, today the theater district sits between the 41st and 53rd Street and between the Sixth and Ninth Avenues, with the highest concentrations of theatres along 45th Street.
Among the theaters most known is the Majestic Theater, considered by many as the home of the musical. It is one of the largest Broadway theatres with 1,645 seats, and traditionally has been used as a venue for major musical theatre productions. The theatre has housed The Phantom of the Opera since it opened on January 26, 1988. With a record-breaking 11,335 performances to date, it is currently the longest-running production in Broadway history.
Nestled in between the giants are numerous small theaters, each vying for one of the 1,500 performances on the strip each year. The musicals or play pieces are divided into three categories: Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway.
Helen Hayes Theatre, initially known as the Little Theatre, is the smallest theatre on Broadway; it gave birth to what became known as the Little Theatre Movement in the early 20th century. The term Broadway theatre refers to a professional theatre with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway. An Off-Broadway theatre is a professional venue in New York City with a seating capacity between 100 and 499. Off-Off-Broadway theatres are usually theatres that have fewer than 100 seats, though the term can be used for any show in the New York City area that employs union actors but is not under an Off-Broadway, Broadway, or League of Resident Theatres contract.
The Minskoff Theatre is currently home to the musical The Lion King, based on the Disney animated film of the same name.
Puffles and Honey went to see The Lion King, of course!
That was an amazing show!
The other Disney show on Broadway is Aladdin. At the risk of stating the obvious, Puffles and Honey saw that too!
In the 1992 movie of the same name, the Genie, whose voice was provided by Robin Williams, steals the show. In the Broadway musical, a similar feat is performed by James Monroe Iglehart, who has wanted to play Genie since hearing Robin Williams in the 1992 movie. In 2014, he won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for playing the Genie in Aladdin.
The musical is shown at the New Amsterdam, a beautiful Art Nouveau theatre, leased by Disney Theatrical Productions. Disney paid for the restoration of the building in the 1990s.
The New Amsterdam Theatre was built in 1903 by the partnership of impresarios A.L. Erlanger and Marcus Klaw and designed in the Art Nouveau style by architects Herts and Tallant. At the time of construction, it was the largest theatre in New York with a seating capacity of 1,702. Along with the Lyceum Theatre, also built in 1903, it is the oldest surviving Broadway venue.
The New Amsterdam opened in November 1903 with a (dreadful) production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For many years, it hosted the Ziegfeld Follies, showcasing such talents as Olive Thomas, Fanny Brice and the Eaton siblings. A racier sister show of the Follies, the Midnight Frolics, played in the New Amsterdam’s roof garden theatre. The Midnight Frolics were such a success, that within a very short period of time, the tickets went up from 5 cents to 5 dollars!
The Great Depression took its toll on the theatre business, and in 1936 the New Amsterdam closed. It reopened on a limited basis in 1937 but soon was converted to a movie theatre. The Nederlander Organization purchased the landmark property in 1982, but it would not be on the road to rehabilitation for another eight years. In 1990, after a court battle, the State and City of New York assumed ownership of the New Amsterdam and many other theatres on 42nd Street. Disney Theatrical Productions signed a 99 year lease for the property in 1993. The theatre, which had recently been used as a filming location for the movie Vanya on 42nd Street, was in shambles; it would take several years and millions of dollars, to restore it to its original usage and grandeur. The roof garden remained closed when it was discovered that it could not be brought up to modern building codes.
The New Amsterdam was officially reopened on April 2, 1997. In November 1997, after the premiere of the film Hercules and a limited engagement of a concert version of King David, Disney’s stage version of The Lion King opened. On June 4, 2006, The Lion King closed in The New Amsterdam Theatre, moving to the Minskoff Theatre ten days later. Mary Poppins began previews at the New Amsterdam Theatre on October 16, 2006 and opened on November 16, 2006, where it continued to run until March 3, 2013. The theatre was renovated to accommodate Disney’s Aladdin, which was mounted in the theatre in 2014.
As part of the tour, Puffles and Honey got to wonder around the theatre and look at the beautiful Art Nouveau decorations…
…before going upstairs to check out some of the props.
The next Disney musical on Broadway will be… Frozen! It will open at the St James Theatre sometime in 2018.
The last thing you’d expect to find on New York City’s Lower East Side is a flourishing cherry orchard. A first port of entry for many of the city’s immigrants, the neighborhood is known for its cramped tenement buildings and less than pleasant living conditions held over from previous eras. But Ming Fay, a Chinese sculptor and artist based in New York, has found a way to incorporate the beauty of the natural world into the Delancey & Essex Street Station through two stunning tile mosaics.
Gracing the Brooklyn-bound side of the F train platform in a mural titled “The Shad Crossing” are two larger-than-life shad, a type of fish endemic to the surrounding rivers which has seen a resurgence in its population in recent years.
“The Delancey Orchard” mural on the Queens-bound platform overflows with lush green trees and cherries so red you want to pick the tiles right off the wall. The cherry orchard depicted is an allusion to the farm land that belonged to James DeLancey, former lieutenant and governor of New York, on which the station now sits. Orchard Street marks the place where his family’s cherry trees once grew.
There are also several smaller cherry mosaics on the walls.
In case you are wondering how we ever found out about this, it was sheer dumb luck! We were on an F line train going back to Manhattan when I looked up and saw the small cherry mosaic on the wall. That prompted a scrambling for my camera, climbing over the girl sitting in the window seat and totally failing to get a photo. On impulse, we got off at the next stop, went back to Delancey Station, took the photos and got back on another train bound for Manhattan. Simple!
Is the name of the cocktail Puffles and Honey chose at The Russian Tea House.
The Russian Tea Room was opened in 1927, by former members of the Russian Imperial Ballet, as a gathering place for Russian expatriates, and became famous as a gathering place for those in the entertainment industry.
Scenes from Sweet Smell of Success, Manhattan, When Harry Met Sally, Big, The Turning Point, Smurfs and New York Stories have been filmed at the restaurant.
In a classic moment from the movie Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman, dressed as a woman, sidles up to his agent, played by a sputtering Sydney Pollack. The scene is set in the crimson-green-and-gold splendor of the Russian Tea Room.
Madonna once worked the coat check here. And Michael Douglas, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Barbara Walters, Woody Allen and Henry Kissinger have been to the restaurant for their tete-a-tetes and trysts.
It was the ultimate power meal, spiced with romance, until it closed in 1995. Then reopened. Then closed again.
In 2006, the Russian Tea Room opened yet again, after a takeover and makeover that cost more than $19 million. For the time being, this third reincarnation has made it. The town house is still filled with decor that mimics early 20th-century Russia, with 28 antique samovars, crimson leather banquettes and vivid green walls.
Little bears had the chicken ravioli and it was good.
And there were two cherry desserts on the menu! The choice was Chocolate Mi-Cuit, a chocolate cake with a molten centre, cherry ice cream and a Grand Marnier cherry sauce.
As singer Judy Collins, a Tea Room regular, described it in an essay after its last closing in 2002, the name Russian Tea Room evokes New York’s celebrity realm – “an anteroom to all the glamour and gifts, sizzle and pulse, art, intelligence and determination of New York”. Puffles and Honey prefer the Grand Salon.
According to the New York Travel Guide, The Big Apple phrase represents New York City as world-famous for its cultural and performing arts entertainment. In the 1930’s, jazz musicians expanded the name of a Harlem nightclub, The Big Apple, to include the whole neighbourhood and the phrase eventually spread throughout the city. The Big Apple phrase resurfaced in the early 1970’s and was successfully utilised to promote tourism by the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.