Top Ten: Theater

One of the reasons I always knew I’d end up in NYC is because I love theater. I was a drama club geek since grade school. I do get the performing bug every once and a while, but unfortunately for me, community theater tryouts aren’t easy to come by in a city where even the amateurs are professionals. I am very spoiled as an audience member though. I’ve seen so many incredible shows in New York.

Recently I was organizing my Playbills and programs and reminiscing about all the shows I’ve seen in the past decade or so. It was hard to narrow it down to 10 but, here are some of the show’s I’ve seen since moving to New York that have stuck with me all these years.

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1. Beckett Shorts

When: 2008

Where: New York Theater Workshop

Why: My sister and I went to see this my first winter in NYC. I had studied Beckett a bit in college, mostly his more well-known shows like Waiting for Godot and Endgame. This was a performance of four shorter works by Beckett, two of them without any dialogue. The unsettling score was by Philip Glass, but what made this show unforgettable was Mikhail Baryshnikov. The four roles he played demanded such extremes in physicality from complete stillness to frantic flight. What he can express through his face and body transcends language.

2. Company

When: 2011

Where: New York Philharmonic

Why: This is one of my soundtracks and a show I’ve always identified with. In my 20’s I related to the character Amy who was terrified of getting married. In my 30’s I connected to the protagonist Bobby the token single in his circle of friends who at times wants to be in a relationship but always finds himself afraid of fully committing to someone else. I’m sure in ten years I’ll connect to Joanne. The cast was incredible lead by Neil Patrick Harris. This was supposed to be a blocked concert but everyone was off book. This is a rare case where if you weren’t able to see one of the four live productions the one weekend it was performed you can stream or watch it on DVD.

Spring Awakening 

When: 2007

Where: Eugene O’Neil Theatre

Why: Even if I love a show I rarely see something more than once since Broadway tickets aren’t cheap. I did see this one twice though because it was so powerful. It was adapted from a 19th-century German play and featured a rock score by my junior high crush Ducan Sheik. The angst and discovery of self-identity and sexuality that everyone goes through in adolescence were explored by an incredible cast of young actors who would go on to achieve fame in theater, film, and television including Jonathan Groff (Mindhunter), Lea Michele (Glee), and John Gallager Jr. (American Idiot).

South Pacific

When: 2010

Where: Lincoln Center Theater at The Vivian Beaumont

Why: Rogers and Hammerstein were my gateway drug to musical theater. I’ve had the opportunity to see a number of their shows on stage, but this production was my favorite. It also introduced me to Opera singer Paulo Szot who I’ve seen now in Carmen at the Met and performing his cabaret act.

Time Stands Still

When: 2010

Where: Manhattan Theater Club

Why: This was a drama about a couple dealing with the aftermath of covering the Iraq War. James played by Brain D’arcy James is dealing with repressed PTSD and Sarah played by Laura Linney is dealing with a physical injury sustained by a roadside bomb but also questioning her professional and personal life as she adjusts to moving back into her old life. Subtle acting is the hardest to pull of and Laura Linney is simply brilliant.

Merrily We Roll Along

When: 2012

Where: New York City Center

Why: Another Sondheim, but unlike Company, Merrily We Roll Along wasn’t a hit when it premiered. City Center’s Encores is a fun series where every year they revive former Broadway shows some hits and some flops for two weekends only. I’ve seen a number of great productions there including Damn Yankees with Sean Hayes, Band Wagon with Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Bells Are Ringing with Kelli O’Hara. This was my favorite City Center show though and featured Lin Manuel Miranda as Charley.

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When: 2008

Where: Lyceum Theatre

Why: This was a show made for musical theater fans. Writers and stars Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell entered the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004 which this show about writing a musical to submit to the competition. It eventually went Off-Broadway to the Vineyard Theater in 2006 and then to the Great White Way two years later. The show expanded on their journey during each incarnation. Co-stars Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell were hilarious. This was one of the most fun shows I had ever seen.

The Heidi Chronicles

When: 2014

Where: Music Box Theatre

Why: This was a revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s play about a young woman whose journey happens to coincide with the second and third wave feminist movements. Elizabeth Moss played the titular character and although the play originally debuted in 1988, the monologue Heidi delivers towards the end of the show is still timely.

Sojourners 

When: 2015

Where: Playwrights Realm at The Duke

Why: Playwrights Realm is an Off-Broadway theater that produces two shows from up and coming playwrights every year. I’ve seen some fantastic shows there over the years including The Wolves, The Rape of The Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias, and The Moors. This play by Mfoniso Udofia though really stuck with me. It’s about a young Nigerian couple who have immigrated to Houston, TX in the 1970s. The author is writing this as a series of plays about the various characters in this play and their children. I had the opportunity to see one of her other plays in this series this year, Her Portmontau at New York Theatre Workshop.

Lucky Guy

When: 2013

Where: Broadhurst Theatre

Why: This show received mediocre reviews, but I don’t really let critics’ opinions impact my own. I really enjoyed this show which Nora Ephron had written shortly before she passes away. It was the story of journalist Mike McAlary and the ups and downs of his career before his death. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I really enjoyed that this was a story about an average working class person who faced the various high notes and low points that we all do. It featured a great ensemble cast which included Tom Hanks, Courtney B. Vance, and Maura Tierney.

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Aura Photography

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So you can do just about anything in NYC. One thing that several of my friends already have done has had their aura photographed. I was curious so I asked another friend if she was interested in going to try it. We went to a store in Manhattan’s Chinatown called Magic Jewelry to try it.

You place your hands on sensors while you get your photograph taken. It’s like getting a Polaroid except splotches of color appear on across your photo. In groups of six, the reader will lay out the photos and go through what they mean. She explained that aura colors relate to chakra colors which I am a bit familiar with.

In my photo, there is mostly blue and purple which has to do with the throat and third eye chakras. She said that since my face is blue I have a job where I have to communicate with lots of different people and that the purple and pink hues around me meant that I was an intuitive person who cares about people. She guesses that I did some sort of work where I was serving or helping people but not in a physical way. Which she explained as “you’re not a doctor or anything medical but you do something to help people with businesses.” That is what I do.

The reader said if a color shows up on the left which is the left side of the photo so the color would appear by your right shoulder it signifies something in the past. If something shows up on the right side of the photo by your left shoulder it is something that will happen in the future. I had a bit of green on the past side of my photo. She said I went through a change about six months ago that I have mixed feelings about. Which assuming I believe in aura photography I would take that to mean the removal of my lap band which is something I’m still processing and in my mind, I haven’t decided if the pros or the cons win on this one.

She also said that the lack of color at the top of the photo means that I’m struggling with what it is I want to do next. She explained, “You have a lot of interests and thoughts. The best thing you could do is write out everything you think you want and prioritize what it is that you really want.” She then asked if I had trouble sleeping and that if when I do fall asleep if I had crazy vivid dreams. Those are both true. She said it’s because I think too much and I need to learn how to just make up my mind and let everything else I don’t need to focus on, go.

I’m not a subscriber to any one particular ideology and I really am only a denier if I perceive something to be hateful or harmful, this wasn’t at all. Honestly, is making a list and spending some time thinking about what kind of future I’d like to build a bad idea? Is that a bad idea for anyone? Okay, I’m game to try it.

If you’re curious about the specifics of what aura photography is this New York Times article gives a great and objective overview.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Favorite Local Shops

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Last week I mentioned that I wanted to focus on kindness in some of these upcoming posts. One easy way to show a little kindness is to shop locally. When you purchase from a mom and pop store you’re keeping money in your community and you’re helping support a small business. I live in NYC so, on the restaurant front, this is easy to do. When it comes to shopping though we have the same chain stores that you’d find at most suburban malls. There’s nothing wrong with shopping at these stores, but I love supporting local businesses when I can. Here are a few of my favorites that are worth checking out next time you’re in the Big Apple.

Book Culture: (Morningside Heights & Upper West Side) I have a list of local bookstores I love, but this one is in walking distance of my apartment so I probably frequent it the most. They have readings and in-store events to appeal to every reader. They also have a great selection of gifts and items for the home. They have an online store too.

Dusty Buttons: (East Village) Most of my friends who live or have visited NYC have some story of me dragging them to go consignment shopping. Dusty Buttons is by far my favorite. They carry vintage and vintage style clothing and have items that are flattering for every figure. Their site looks like they’ll be offering online shopping in the future.

Fishs Eddy: (Union Square) This dish store is a great place to find quirky kitchen items that make fantastic hostess gifts. Aside from their own patterns which are fun they also sell vintage dining sets from old restaurants. If you don’t live in NYC they have shopping available on their website.

Habit: (Carol Gardens & Park Slope) I love this Brooklyn boutique. The prices are reasonable and the clothing is great. One of my favorite purchases is a fall dress with a golden rod floral print.

Hungarian Pastry Shop: (Morningside Heights) The hardest thing about visiting this New York staple will be deciding what to order. Everything from the strudel to the cream horns is to die for. It’s a great place to pick up an amazing dessert if you don’t have time to make one for dinner party.

Myzel Chocolates: (Midtown) These are the best chocolates in the city, but I also love the story of the family who started this store over 25 years ago. They still run it to this day and the recipes are ones they brought over from Eastern Europe. It’s a great place to buy candies for the holidays as gifts but it’s also a great place to duck into to get a little treat for yourself. I’m a huge fan of the fruits such as apricot, orange, pear, and even fresh ginger dipped in milk or dark chocolate.

Pink Penguin: (Greenwich Village) I am obsessed with this clothing and accessories boutique. I can’t go to Washington Square without visiting this store. Some of my favorite clothing items are from here including this amazing red opera coat. You can shop online too.

Serengeti Teas and Spices: (Harlem) I love going to this little cafe to enjoy some tea and read. This is also a great place to buy loose tea. They make it easy to put together a gift box if you’re looking to give a unique present. This is another store that also has an online shop.

Whisk: (Chelsea & Williamsburg) If you like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table you’ll love this store. In addition to cooking and bakeware products, they also sell food and beverage items from local companies. Yes, you can shop online.

Zabar’s: (Upper West Side) This is so much more than a grocery store. They have an amazing kitchenware section too. If you ever need to order pre-made food for a party or send a gift basket this is also an excellent place. They do have online ordering.

 

 

Wanderlust Wednesday: Best Pizza in NYC

 

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Sal & Carmine’s 

 

There are some foods that New York is known for: bagels, hot dogs, and of course pizza. My college years in the Midwest most adventures in pizza were ordering the campus specials from chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s…not that there’s anything wrong with that. But New York opened me up to a world full of pizza that I never knew existed.  Most tourists are familiar with famous haunts like Grimaldi’s and John’s, but here are some other worthy slices to try.  

Best Traditional Slice-Sal and Carmine’s: It’s hard to walk a block in NYC without finding a place to grab a basic slice. Most, to be honest, are mediocre, but Sal and Carmine’s  is the perfect place to walk in for a standard slice or pie and leave completely satisfied. I think the secret to this little hole in the wall is their focus on simplicity.  They don’t crowd their menu with other dishes and sides. They only serve pizza and it is dished up with fresh ingredients and baked to perfection.  

Best Sicilian Slice-Spumoni Gardens: Traveling out to Graveshead, Brooklyn might not be on everyone’s to-do list, but it is worth making a special lunch trek to Spumoni Gardens.  This is the perfect summer jaunt thanks to their ample outdoor seating.  They have a comprehensive Italian menu and you can certainly gorge on pasta and entrees, but the standout dish is the Sicilian slice. Seeing as they’ve been serving up slices since 1939 and have had a loyal following all these decades, they must be doing something right.  

Best Gourmet Toppings-Artichoke: This local chain has locations throughout the Village and Chelsea and even LaGuardia Airport. What sets Artichoke apart from other pizzerias is their premium toppings. Their house specialty is their namesake pizza with artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, and two cheeses.  I’m also a fan of the Crab Pizza with crab sauce, cheese, and surimi stuffing.

Best Pizza at an Upscale Restaurant-Cafe Fiorello: This Upper West Side restaurant is one of my favorite’s in the city. Fiorello’s has an incredible antipasto bar, deadly desserts, the best bartenders in the city, and amazing pizza. Their pies are served ultra thin and crispy. They are perfect for sharing over a bottle of red wine or cocktails. The menu changes every so often but there is always a great selection of both meat and vegetarian pies. You can’t go wrong with the classic Margherita pizza. 

Best Pizza that is Worth the Long Wait-Di Fara’s: I mentioned Grimaldi’s and John’s which both serve up amazing pies and are notorious for their wait times. In my opinion the true worth the wait pizza is at Di Fara‘s in Midwood, Brooklyn. They’ve been a neighborhood fixture for over 50 years and while five dollars for a single slice may seem steep in a city famous for one buck slices, trust me it is worth every penny. They don’t take reservations so brace yourself for a potential wait. In my personal experience I’ve waited up to 45 minutes for a single slice. I do have friends that have endured a two hour queue, but swore it was worth it.  I’ll let you be the judge. 

Wanderlust Wednesday: Zen in the City

*This is another post from the archives that I’ve revived and updated.

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Wave Hill

I love the hustle of living in the city that never sleeps, but even social butterflies with frequent flyer miles need a break from the din now and then. Here are a few of my favorite places for a quick breather in the city:

The Earth Room:  This is one of those only in New York type of places. Among the expensive shops in SoHo there is a loft apartment featuring this art instillation by Walter De Maria. It essentially is a room with a giant box of soil, but I love popping in there when I’m in the hood. Something about the smell of the earth and the quiet of the room makes for a great five minute breather when you need it.  

The Lotus Garden: I live on the Upper West Side and one of the advantages is being nestled between two amazing parks, Central and Riverside. However when I really want some solitude outside I head up to the Lotus Garden. This roof top oasis is community run. It’s open to the public on Sunday afternoons, but for a mere $20 you can purchase a two year subscription to the garden that comes with your own key. The flowers, trees, and goldfish in the pond make for great silent company when you need to tune the world out.  

Paley Park: Midtown East is known for corporate offices and crowds shopping along Fifth and Madison Avenues. It’s not a neighborhood known for peace and quiet. Yet you’ll find just that with this little sliver of a park complete with a waterfall.

Radiance Tea House: It isn’t just the tea that keeps me coming back. This hidden gem of a restaurant and tea house is ironically in the heart of busy Midtown. It is a quiet place to grab a light meal with friends, but it is also the perfect place to take a book and enjoy a pot of tea in silence.

Wave Hill: I recently went to this conservatory in the Bronx for the first time. You’ll really forget that you’re in NYC if you go here. The property isn’t overwhelmingly large, but the trails, gardens, and views over the Hudson will keep you occupied and tranquil all afternoon.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Favorite NYC Mixology Bars

 

While I do enjoy microbrews and good wine my first love when it comes to drinks is the cocktail. I love old standards like sidecars, brandy alexanders, and gimlets, but the great thing about living in NYC is the access to mixology bars and speakeasies. They are great venues to try more unusual spirit combinations. Here are a few of my favorites:
67 Orange Street: Aside from loving that this Harlem speakeasy is in walking distance of my apartment I love the ambiance of this bar. Cloaked in deep red curtains this bar ushers you back to Harlem’s heyday in the jazz era. The cocktail lists are arranged by spirits. My personal favorites are Color Purple (gin, lavender bitters, blackberries, creme de violette, st germaine, lemon, and simple syrup), Smoking Geisha (mezcal, bitters, lime juice, raspberry, peach, sage, and agave), and April Flowers (benedictine, scarlet ibis, lemon, agave, and sparkling wine). The food menu is small, but you’ll love the updated twists on soul food such as red velvet chicken and waffles and lobster mac and cheese.

Bathtub Gin: If you want to experienced the romanticized version of a speak easy then head to this Chelsea bar hidden behind an operating coffee shop. Certain evenings they have live jazz and there is burlesque brunch on the weekends. Even if you go on a night sans entertainment the cocktails won’t disappoint you. You’ll feel like a Bond Girl with their Vesper Martini. I also enjoy their Jazz Saz which is an update on the classic sazerac.

Gallow Green: This is one of the few venues that combines mixology with the outdoors. This rooftop bar in Chelsea is a great place to cool down on a hot summer night. The house cocktail, The Sleep No More is mezcal, shrub, and ginger beer.

Little Branch: This Village speakeasy is so secretive that they don’t have a website. Don’t let that fool you though, this bar is usually bustling by late night. One of the best bar tender’s choice experiences I had was when the bar tender asked me what my spirit animal was instead of my spirit of choice.

Orient Express: I recently introduced a friend to this West Village bar, and that visit is what inspired this post. I love this little tucked away gem. The cocktails are amazing and you can also enjoy several absinthe drips if that’s more your style. The menu has plenty of small bites that are perfect for sharing.