In The Presence of an Icon (Or, “That Night I Waited Five Hours for Tickets to See Bette Midler on Broadway”)

At 4am Saturday, my alarm rang. By 4:45, I (along with my boyfriend, a saint) was sitting in Shubert Alley with the seven others already in line. Our mission? Secure standing room tickets to see Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! that night.

At 10am, the box office opened. We each walked away with two SRO tickets.

At 8pm, the overture began. At 8:10 or so, Bette Midler appeared onstage, and one of the greatest nights of theater I’ve ever experienced took off.

Some background on why this was such an early wakeup call:

Months ago, I came to terms with the fact that I was only going to see Hello, Dolly! by a great stroke of luck or by suddenly coming into wealth. Once the Tony nominations were announced Tuesday and the show racked up ten nods, my determination to see the show was renewed and I took luck into my own hands. I researched the cheap ticket situation (no rush or lottery, but $47 for SRO). Going off the advice of a kind stranger on Twitter (whose tweets appeared when I searched “hello dolly standing room”), I decided to wake up (very) early Saturday, head down to the box office, and see what I could do.

A brief aside to sing the praises of my boyfriend: Not only did he wake up at 4am and sit with me for every minute of our 5-hour wait for the box office to open – he also brought camping chairs so we each had a real seat. But that’s not all. Since each person can purchase up to two SRO tickets, he snagged a pair, but instead of going to the show himself, he bequeathed them to my theater-obsessed coworkers (my roommate took the fourth ticket). Yes, I know, he’s the best person ever.

Seven people were already in line when we arrived, but given what my Twitter friend had told me (he assumed 15-18 SRO per show), and knowing they would be selling for both matinee and evening, I felt good about our chances. Five hours later, we emerged victorious.

Ok, now for Bette.

I honestly had no idea what I was in for. I mean, I kind of did, because it’s an icon in an iconic musical role. But what I didn’t understand until reading the Playbill is that she really hasn’t been on Broadway much (before 2013, it had been 40 years), and that this is her first huge, headlining musical on Broadway ever.

The first time she appears onstage, she’s disguised; she and two other actresses ride out on a carriage, their faces buried in newspapers. One by one, they drop the papers into their laps, and when you see that third face is Bette Midler’s, some crazy musical theater reflex is activated and you start clapping without even realizing it.

The clapping never really stops. Actually, it even goes beyond clapping; in some cases, it was full-on arm-waving, as if the person expected her to notice, stop and point, and proclaim, “Yes, I love you, too.” She may as well have done just that; the electricity in that audience never waned. David Rooney’s review in The Hollywood Reporter puts it perfectly: “Midler soaks [the enthusiasm] up like a heat-seeking beacon and then beams it right back out into the house.”

If simply being in Bette Midler’s presence was the best part, I still would have walked away happy. But more than that, she was also fantastic in the role. I loved hearing her sing, watching her dance and ham it up for the audience.

Every other element of the production was fantastic, too. It reminded me why I love classic musicals. As I’ve become a more knowledgeable theatergoer, I’ve discovered the joy of those that are more outside the box, too – Dear Evan Hansen, or, yes, even Hamilton – but seeing Hello, Dolly!, with its stage awash in colorful costumes, its songs catchy and classic, the whole thing borderline cheesy, I was reminded why I love standard musicals. I didn’t grow up with much attachment to Hello, Dolly! in particular, but it reminded me of the shows that first drew me to a love of musical theater.

I will admit to being bummed when we learned David Hyde Pierce’s understudy would be on that night as Horace Vandergelder. Next to Bette, he was a big reason I wanted to see the show (because, Niles Crane, hello). But Michael McCormick, who performed that night, didn’t seem to miss a beat, and played Vandergelder as the character I knew him to be; he had a gruffness that I almost couldn’t imagine in David Hyde Pierce.

The man standing next to me during the show had also seen the show a few nights earlier, with Pierce. He said he was also terrific, but McCormick wasn’t leaving anything to be desired. (And for the record, this man I spoke with was visiting NYC, had purchased his earlier tickets well in advance, but loved the show so much that he decided to tough it out in the standing room line for another chance.)

Gavin Creel, who played Vandergelder’s employee, Cornelius Hackl, was the great discovery for me. He’s been in tons of shows, but I’d never seen him before, and I absolutely loved him. It was when he started singing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” that I realized there was much more to this show than just Bette Midler.

And yet, there still was Bette Midler. At the risk of sounding incredibly corny, I’m kind of excited to thumb through my old Playbills someday and think about how lucky I was to collide with this show, with that star.

Then I’ll remember I only secured the tickets because I spent five hours in the middle of the night waiting in line. So I wasn’t just lucky; I had to work for I, too. I hesitate to say I’d do it again, because Saturday night was such a purely lovely theater experience (and because no one should lose that much sleep on a weekend). But I’m so glad I did it once.

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“Brooklyn” and Reinvention

In keeping with my previously stated goal of keeping better track of all that inspires me in 2016, I’m sitting here to meditate on a beautiful piece of writing I encountered today: “Bronx, Brooklyn, Broadway: Saoirse Ronan’s New York,” by Colm Tóibín, who also authored Brooklyn, the novel upon which the Ronan-starring film is based. The piece is the cover story for the current issue of New York magazine, its annual spring fashion issue. I love Saoirse Ronan, but it wasn’t her as the subject that made me love this; it was Tóibín’s turns of phrase, his perfect articulation of what it’s like to reinvent yourself, and his understanding of why you’d want to in the first place.

One of my favorite elements of the movie Brooklyn, which I saw a couple weekends ago, was that it understood homesickness in a very real way. I have not moved between countries, but I moved from Oregon to New York at a key transitional point in life – right after I graduated from college and entered the quote-unquote real world – and I identified so strongly with Ronan’s character, Eilis, as she left Ireland for Brooklyn and began a new life. I have cried like Eilis cried in the movie, felt the same hopelessness and wondered why I ever did this. But I’ve also made friends, started a career and built a life in this new place, and felt with unshakeable certainty that this is where I am meant to exist right now.

In the article, Tóibín describes Ronan (in comparison with her Brooklyn character) “as someone familiar with rural Ireland who was also intensely glamorous and ready to be transformed.” That phrase “ready to be transformed” leapt out at me. My transformation has been less a physical transformation than one of attitude, one of thought. I have changed since moving to New York in ways I did not expect, but the more I thought about Tóibín’s words, the more they rang true. The expectation of some kind of transformation was inherent in my longstanding desire to move to New York.

The strangest parts of being home are those subtle moments when I realize how much I’ve changed. I’ll notice moments when I say something, or react to a comment, or take an action that makes so much perfect sense to me now, that I only realize later how out-of-character that would have been for the pre-New York me.

I left the theater after Brooklyn concentrated on one shot: Eilis, briefly back in Ireland following a family tragedy, running errands around her sleepy town in a bright dress and sunglasses. It embodied the transformation she’d undergone in Brooklyn; not just that she now wore sunglasses, but that it was only natural for her to wear them in public, even in rural Ireland.

saoirse ronan brooklyn sunglasses

I’ve thought about that shot for days. In the context of the film, it says more about homesickness and reinvention than I ever could with words, and I grinned when I got to the end of Tóibín’s New York magazine story and saw he referenced it:

Sometimes she tries to fit in, to pretend that she has not changed at all and that being away is no big deal; other times she flaunts her new self. There is one moment when she walks through the small Irish town wearing sunglasses and a brightly colored dress when she seems like a returned Yank…ready to gather the poor natives around her to show them the style she has acquired.

I’m still working on the literal style part of my transformation (I do think I dress better than I did in college, though when I made this observation to some friends I visited at home over Christmas, I realized I was wearing a plaid Gap button-down technically made for men) but in the broader sense, this is exactly what I experience any time I’m home, or when I’m in New York and stop to think about how I am different because of this city.

The Tóibín piece can be enjoyed apart from deep reflection on self-reinvention, though. His turns of phrase alone are a joy to read. A few of my favorite parts:

On observing people like a childhood neighbor in Ireland, who emigrated to America but would come back to visit: “They had white teeth and good suntans. They thought life was short.”

On the specific childhood neighbor, compared with her sister who moved from Ireland to England: “The American sister, on the other hand, was all glitter and fascinating talk.”

On the realization Irish immigrants to America had when fully understanding their freedom in the new country – no family members to bump into on the street, etc.: “You could invent yourself here, even if the term self-invention was not yet understood by you.”

On Saoirse Ronan in this moment: “She has come home to a place that is neither Brooklyn nor Ireland but rather a place that she herself has imagined and embodies.”

And more on Saoirse: “She invites envy, she lives in light, she loves glamour, but she also moves easily into the shadows.”

Read the whole thing yourself, and enjoy. And see Brooklyn while you’re at it.

Friday Night at “The King and I”

A couple months after I first moved to New York City, I saw “Nice Work if You Can Get It” on Broadway. I was by myself, still didn’t really know anyone in the city, and thought a musical starring Matthew Broderick sounded like a good way to kill a Sunday afternoon.

I went to the box office maybe an hour before the show to see if I could buy a rush ticket. They warned me Kelli O’Hara, the star, would have her understudy perform that afternoon. If I remember right, someone else in line for tickets actually left when they heard this news. But I was dumb and didn’t know the difference so I took my ticket gladly, figuring I wouldn’t know the difference.

The show was enjoyable. I wasn’t blown away, but it did end up bing a nice way to spend a few hours. I don’t remember who the understudy was, but as I’ve started paying a little more attention to theater over the past few years, all I can think of when I hear Kelli O’Hara’s name is how I missed my chance to see her that September afternoon in 2012.

All this is a long way of explaining how last night, seeing “The King and I” at Lincoln Center Theater, I finally had my first taste of Kelli O’Hara onstage. And it was unlike anything I’d seen before.

Even though I may pay a little more attention to theater than I did a few years ago, I didn’t hear about this “King and I” revival until a few months ago, when a couple friends at work (true theater buffs) told me how excited they were. I decided I wanted to go, in no small part because I really did want to see Kelli O’Hara onstage. But the whole idea of a classic musical getting an elaborate Broadway treatment – at Lincoln Center, no less, which I can say with conviction is my favorite place in New York City – was compelling.

I can’t write eloquently about theater, so I’ll spare trying to explain all the particulars of what I enjoyed. Putting words to everything would ruin it, anyway. I, notorious non-cryer, started tearing up as Kelli O’Hara and the kids sang “Getting to Know You.” During “Shall We Dance,” as Anna and the King (played by Ken Watanabe) were gliding around the huge Vivan Beaumont stage, there was a distinct moment in which I thought, I’ve never seen anything like this with my own eyes, happening right in front of me, before. Where did these feelings come from? I do not know. Go see this show and feel it for yourself.

Read Ben Brantley’s review in the New York Times if you want a critic’s opinion. It will only make you more eager to see the show. I loved what he said when stating that Kelli O’Hara plays Anna: “You lucky theatergoers.” We are lucky, indeed.

Moving in New York is the Worst and the Best

Moving in New York draws it all out of you. It drains your bank account. It tires your muscles. It confronts you with old memories and fills you with doubt. It forces you in to a new routine.

I moved this past weekend and I am exhausted. First, there was packing and wrapping things up at my old place. Now, I feel like I’ve been unpacking for days but haven’t made any progress. I’m ready for it to be over. I’m ready to feel settled.

But while moving in New York draws it all out of you, the effects of this move are already starting to refuel me. Even the moving process itself was refreshing – well, maybe not refreshing, but encouraging. My dad flew in to help me move, which relieved some of the stress of hiring movers (knowing I could leave some items out of boxes, make an extra trip to the old place if need be, etc.), and gave me the chance to spend a whole weekend with him. I knew one of my roommates would be moving at the same time, and one of our friends was helping her, so I figured the four of us would tag-team.

We did, but we had even more help from some friends who all work at our church. They get Fridays off and chose to spend part of it lugging our boxes and chairs and suitcases and side tables. That was incredible to me. I feel like, in church circles, it’s easy to talk about doing good things for other people or lightening the load for your friends. To be in a community where people walk that talk…that’s why I love Redeemer.

I’m trying to look on the bright side of unpacking. It’s a chance to purge even more stuff than I did when I packed it the first time. It’s an excuse to watch my favorite old movies (because it’s too hard to multitask and concentrate on following a new movie while you unpack) and peruse Pinterest for decor ideas (I’m looking for a great print to hang on my empty wall…currently leaning to something that involves Bill Murray and/or The Royal Tenenbaums).

Another bright side of moving was having my dad in town. I hadn’t seen him since March, so it was great to catch up, introduce him to my friends and show him my side of the city. We also took one history nerd adventure, to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which was really awesome. I always thought it sounded interesting – tons of famous and famous-in-New-York people are buried there – but never went since it was too far away or too confusing to navigate or whatever. It’s a doable trip by subway, and my dad bought a cheap app that told stories about notable people and graves. Sounds morbid, but it was super interesting, and added an element we wouldn’t have had if we’d wandered mindlessly.

So for now I may be sitting amidst a maze of half-opened boxes and my brain might be a little fried from the adjustment, but the process of getting here was worth all the exhaustion. Until everything finds its place, I will savor life on the Upper West Side, a killer view of Central Park and the east side from my bedroom window, and a breezy commute to work on the 2/3 express trains. Here’s to seeing life in New York from a different angle.

“Milk Hyper.” (Or, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”)

Since Hurricane Sandy hit a week ago, I’ve been collecting and piecing together thoughts about the storm, and want to post them, if only selfishly so I can process all this week has held for people in this region. I am lucky to live in a neighborhood that suffered minimal damage (mostly just a few downed trees – we never lost power or anything), but seeing how many New Yorkers’ lives have been turned upside down, and how their leaders and neighbors have responded to them, has dramatically changed my perspective on community, local government and the city of New York.

But first…family.

Sandy almost canceled their trip, but my dad and little sister Beth had been planning to visit New York City and West Point for a couple months. After a last-minute hotel change and frantic rental car rerouting, they arrived in New York City on Friday morning. The plan had been for them to rent a car and drive from Newark airport to my apartment in Queens, but Sandy was still making a mess of New York traffic and we realized trip would take them hours out of their way. Since we needed to head north toward our hotel in Poughkeepsie anyway, I took Metro-North and met them at a station in White Plains.

My dad visited in July, but I hadn’t seen my little sister since leaving for New York in June. My first reaction after seeing her was disbelief at how TALL she was. Beth’s always been a big kid (I’m of average height now, but was short for my age as a kid), but now she seemed practically as tall as I am. Four months can change so much about a person. Obviously, she was the same kid, but she was just. so. tall.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of a weekend filled mostly with your typical family hangout activities, but we had a wonderful time together.

 

 

Highlights:

Kids say the darndest things. Last night, my dad and I were having some college football-centric conversation that included mention of Mel Kiper. “Milk Hyper?!” Beth exlaimed. “His first name is ‘Milk’?!”

Autumn in New York. Between drives up and down the Hudson Valley and a walk through Central Park, we were treated to the beauty of fall in New York. Colors everywhere. I’ve never experienced winter here, but I know those colors will soon leave us for bitter cold so I’m appreciating them while I can.

Driving. For the first time in over four months, I operated a motor vehicle. And it felt good. I love driving, and between my parents selling my beloved ’94 Corolla this summer and living in an area where owning a car is completely unnecessary for me at the moment, I was feeling a little deprived of time behind the wheel. I drove less than a mile from our hotel to the nearest Starbucks (could I sound like more of a child from the ‘burbs?), but it was glorious.

Can’t ask for much more from a weekend than allowing you to see two of your favorite people. Dad and Beth, thanks for toughing it out through less-than-ideal conditions. Miss you already.

A Night in the Center of the Universe

It’s 2 a.m. on Saturday morning (in New York, anyway; the time zone thing messes me up occasionally. I realized a few weeks ago that, had I been born at the exact same moment on the east coast as I was on the west coast, I would have a different birthday. Blew my mind for a moment.), and I should be sleeping. But, since I’m suddenly feeling inspired, I decided to write about my Friday night in Times Square.

Locals generally turn up their noses at Times Square, it seems, because it’s crammed with tourists, smells kind of bad, and is very commercial. No one has actually given me those three exact reasons, except for the tourists part, but I’m guessing they all play a role.

And, since I’m trying to be as local as possible, I felt a little guilty for spending Friday night either in Times Square or at the nearby St. James Theatre, where a friend and I saw the Broadway production of “American Idiot.” The show “follows the exhilarating journey of a new generation of young Americans as they struggle to find meaning in a post-9/11 world, borne along by Green Day’s electrifying score,” per Broadway.com. That’s an accurate description.

My friend Emily (right) and I at the St. James Theater to see "American Idiot."

If you’re into soul-searching, rock music and skinny jeans, you would love American Idiot. And even if you’re not, you’d enjoy it simply because the sets are spectacular, the performers have great singing voices (there are few spoken lines in the show) and because there is a thought-provoking storyline woven through all of the songs.

While spending an hour and a half in the presence of outrageously loud and upbeat music was pretty electrifying, there is nothing quite like being right in Times Square. You truly feel like you are at the center of the universe and that you have your finger on the pulse of everything that makes the world go ‘round: bright lights, sounds, smells, a smattering of people from all over the globe – and of course, huge billboards and American Eagle.

The intersection of everything in the world.

I worry sometimes that living here for an extended period of time is causing the city to lose some of its luster in my eyes – when you see the Empire State Building nearly every day, it’s not quite as exciting as it is when you see it for the first time. But, spending an evening in Times Square reminded me that the bright lights and electrifying feeling of the city could never be entirely eliminated. It is New York, after all.

And all sappiness about the meaning of Times Square aside, you can take your picture with NYPD officers there. That in and of itself is enough to make Times Square cool.

NYC: The First Two Days

A week ago, I was cramming for finals. Now, I’m staring out at a bunch of tall buildings in New York.

The last few days have been crazy to say the least. On Friday morning, I officially finished my sophomore year of college. That was enough to make it a pretty cool day, but later that night my dad and I hopped on a redeye from PDX to JFK and arrived in New York City on Sunday morning.

Armed with coffee (thank you, Dunkin’ Donuts), we hopped in a cab and rode into the city. The New York skyline is breathtaking and I couldn’t wait to see it. Even thought I’ve seen it before, this was the best time; everything looked so HUGE. Well, obviously, it is huge, but you get the idea.

I took this picture from the back of our cab. The Empire State Building is in the distance.

As I stared at it, it began to sink in that I was actually going to be living there for ten weeks. Of course, I’ve known this since April, so you’d think it would have sunk in earlier, but seeing the city for the first time really made it seem real.

After some stealth backing-up-in-the-middle-of-the-street maneuvers by our cab driver, we arrived at the dorm where I’ll be staying this summer. We did a bit of unpacking and then headed out to test-run my walk to work and grab a few things at Bed, Bath and Beyond. To get a sense of a trip to BB&B in a big city, just imagine my father and I trekking up several blocks with massive plastic bags in our arms, hangers and small ironing boards poking out at all angles.

The view from my dorm room, on the 21st floor of the building.

We also had a delicious deli sandwiches for lunch from a small deli/grocery in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. Those sandwiches totally validated Liz Lemon’s worldview: “All of humankind has one thing in common: the sandwich. I believe that all anybody really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich.”

And yes, it’s dorky, but I made my dad pose with the AWESOME cart escalator at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Because it has three floors and you can’t take a cart with you up the escalator, they had a little contraption that took your cart up on its own. These are probably commonplace for New Yorkers, but I was amazed.

My dad, on the human escalator, poses with our cart on the cart escalator.

That evening, we saw West Side Story at the Palace Theater on Broadway, which was fantastic. We also walked around the Rockefeller Plaza. And even though it’s not a great picture, this is me in front of the entrance to 30 Rock (aka, where Liz Lemon walks into work every morning).

This picture is a bit washed out, but this is where Liz Lemon goes to work! This is where Kenneth held his page strike! This is where the opening shots of 30 Rock are filmed!

Still with me? Thank you. I’m getting pretty excited.

This morning I began my internship at Rodale, Inc., a publishing firm that publishes health and wellness titles like Prevention, Men’s/Women’s Health and Runner’s World. I’m one of their corporate communications interns this summer, which will allow me to use and expand my public relations skills.

The very front of the Rodale office on 3rd Avenue. I'm on the 9th floor.

I was nervous about starting because I haven’t had much real-world PR experience and the work I’ve done is more agency based (if you don’t know anything about public relations, it’s alright. I appreciate that you’re still reading, 528 words in.) This summer, I’ll be working with the PR teams for three magazine titles: Bicycling, Runner’s World and Organic Gardening.

With the Tour de France starting soon, Bicycling will have a lot on their plates. I don’t know what I’m going to do every single day this summer, but so far I’ve been working on learning how to use Cision, a public relations tracking/monitoring software, getting acquainted with what topics those three titles typically cover and learning how they typically pitch media and organize their work.

The public relations staff worked with at Rodale has been supportive and helpful! It’s been a great environment and I’m excited for the coming days. One thing I discovered is that I won’t really be around the other interns. There are interns working in many different departments, so we’re spread out throughout the building. Another corporate communications intern will be starting next Monday, so I’m looking forward to having another PR person with me!

I was excited to find out that I get my very own cubicle, complete with my own work e-mail and phone extension. I have thumbtacks, Post-It notes and filing cabinets. So far today, I walked past my own cube roughly five or six times, twice got lost trying to find the bathroom twice and came home with 13 magazines to peruse and learn more about.

I'm hoping to get a wider shot (wow, this is like the fifth picture where I apologize for my amateur photography skills), but this is my cubicle at Rodale!

Okay, I know that was long. Thank you for reading to the end. (Mom, I know that probably just means you.) I promise the rest of my posts won’t be so wordy…but hey, you probably only spend summer in New York once.

Thanks again for reading and feel free to leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.