Predicting What Will be Good On Broadway—Impossible

By

Leonard Zwelling

Friday, November 16 in Manhattan and the snow is just starting to melt as the precipitation is supplanted by icy winds and temps in the thirties. This is not perfect weather to walk in the city, but walk we did. The next great shopping waltz after Fifth Avenue is Madison Avenue A. B.—Above Barney’s on 60th Street. Some the most recognizable names in all of retail have stores on this street and it’s always fun to wander through the aisles getting sticker shock.

A truly great little Italian restaurant on 54th Street is Il Gatopardo (The Leopard) and our one special lunch was there. It did not disappoint although the noise level at 12:45 PM was surely equal to that of La Griglia in Houston on any given Saturday night. What is it with these wood floor, hard-paneled spaces where waiters in white coats hustle around in the din announcing specials and using saptulae to remove crumbs from under the bread plates?

If you do have to leave one part of Manhattan to get to another part or even to Brooklyn or Queens, your preferred method of transit has got to be the aging New York Subway System. It may be old and plagued with delays, but at least it’s indoors and out of traffic. It will still get you from Midtown to the Whitney Museum in less than 30 minutes and that includes the four-block walk from the subway to the modern structure on the banks of the Hudson where we were visiting an Andy Warhol retrospective. He was the master of branding—the brands of others at first then his own. The image was everything to him and he was able to convey the edginess of the 60’s through the images that are now indelibly etched on the American consciousness. Marilyn, Elvis, Marlon and Mao were all there grinning from among the Campbell soup cans and Brillo boxes that made Warhol a household name. Fascinating show even if overwhelming.

Friday evening was the event we came for, a preview performance of Bryan Cranston in a staged version of the great Paddy Cheyefsky’s Network. Yes, that Network. The movie one with Peter Finch, William Holden and Faye Dunaway. Finch and Dunaway both took home Oscars for the film and I am afraid to say that if you know the film, the play will be a big disappointment. From what I remember, the script of the play, staged cleverly with a lot of closed circuit TV and parts of the audience on the stage, reproduces the story of the film where a news anchor in the late 1970’s becomes a media phenomenon by telling the truth on TV.

Cranston is strong in the Peter Finch role of Howard Beale but Tony Goldwyn is no William Holden and the Orphan Black TV star Tatiana Maslany is simply too short, too girlish, too likeable and too plain to be the femme fatale that was Faye Dunaway. I predict the play will not do well with the critics at the NY Times, (it opens December 6), but will probably succeed in the limited run allowed by the call of the TV stars back to the small screen soon. Cranston can act. Many of the bit players were wonderful. Many of them were familiar faces from Law and Order. But when two of the three leads are weak and are compared with the powerful Holden and Dunaway from film memory, the play just doesn’t have the energy or urgency needed to transport the audience to another era. It again challenges the notion of what is a fact and what is truth, but Lifespan of a Fact did this better with a smaller, more disciplined and professional cast.

Our last day in the Big Apple started at the Museum of Modern Art and a Charles White retrospective of his art about African-American life in the United States. But the permanent collection of Starry Night, Christina’s World and The Three Musicians always steals the show. Having been brought up in New York with these paintings it’s a mega-flash back every time I re-encounter them. It is like revisiting old friends who have been waiting for me to come back.

The big surprise of the visit was a last minute matinee of Janet McTeer in Bernhardt/Hamlet. It was last minute because the show’s run was extended by a week—the week we were in New York. This is a play about the time in 1897 when the French actress Sarah Bernhardt decided to take on the classic role of Hamlet in her own theater in Paris. This is a feminist play that asks the question why, if all the parts were played by men in Shakespeare’s time, can’t the Prince of Denmark be played by a woman? The big reveal at the end is actual movies taken of Bernhardt in 1897 in her costume.

As a final punctuation on the weekend, we visited the Iridium jazz club to see my favorite pianist Eliane Elias in concert. Cross that off the bucket list as I have listened to her for almost 30 years and never thought I would ever see her live as she rarely tours the U.S. from her native Brazil. Fantastic! What a virtuoso with a great bassist and drummer behind her.

At the airport in New York, I am typing up the blog. We have to leave three hours to get here as the construction around LaGuardia is a major snarl in an already congested space.

I am still shocked by Manhattan. It is rude, congested and noisy, but what you can see here in a few days cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world. It’s a trade-off. I choose not to live here. I love Houston. Why would I live in New York? But I sure am glad I can visit. Houston, a great place to live, but I would hardly want to visit. New York, a great place to visit, but I couldn’t live here any more.

Two of my four homes—New York and Houston. The others are Washington and Durham, which we just left. Thanks, but I do DC sparingly now. It’s best that way. At least in New York they stick a knife in your front.

Leonard Zwelling