DAY ONE (April 11, 2010) — I’m in Memphis—circa early 1950s.
Really, I’m in a darkened Broadway theater watching the new musical Memphis that tells the story of what happens in the segregated South when a young white DJ named Huey Calhou falls for “Negro” music and a terrifically talented black singer named Felicia. (www.Memhisthemusical.com) But I feel like I’ve been transported back to the Memphis of 60 years ago, to the black clubs of a South where the races didn’t mix—or even listen to each other’s music—for fear of retaliation. Memphis chronicles how that began to change and the challenges those who wrought those changes faced.
I can see why Mrs. Obama brought her girls and her mom to see this musical. It’s terrific when you can be entertained and teach the kids an important lesson about history at the same time. The performances are first rate as are the sets, costumes and of course the music—a brand new score with music by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan and lyrics by Bryan and Joe diPietro.
It’s a production that can’t help but inspire discussion with the kids about race relations and how far we’ve come in the last sixty years—and how far we need to go. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I talk to.
That evening—after a first rate dinner at Rouge Tomate (www.rougetomatenyc.com) that teens will love because it evokes Gossip Girls (in fact an episode was filmed here) — we headed to a different kind of theatrical experience.
We went to see the new Addams Family (www.addamsfamilythemusical.com) starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams. The new musical, which had been soundly panned by the critics but is drawing sellout crowds, is based on the bizarre family created by cartoonist Charles Addams in the New Yorker magazine.
Every parent of teens can relate to the story—what happens when a daughter grows up and falls in love with a boy who they worry won’t fit in with the family—in this case because he is so normal, from Ohio in fact. Wednesday Addams warns her parents not to embarrass her when his family comes to dinner. How many of us have heard that lament?
Clearly, the audience didn’t care a bit what the critics had to say. Tickets are flying out the door and everyone snapped their fingers and clapped along with the familiar theme music from the memorable TV series. Yes it was campy and silly but it also touched on some universal themes and you couldn’t help but have a good time when the stars were so obviously enjoying themselves right along with the audience, singing and dancing with their family ghosts, struggling to find some common ground with the boyfriend’s family, the Beinekes, and their wacky relatives –Uncle Fester who is in love with the moon—literally, Grandma and Pugsley, who wants to do all he can to interrupt his big sister’s romance so that she will continue to torture him.
We couldn’t help but smile. Every visit to NYC, I think, should include an afternoon or evening on Broadway. Yes, it’s expensive, but it also will be one of the most memorable parts of your visit, I’m convinced. Check out Kids’ Night on Broadway (www.Kidsnightonbroadway.com) for the dates each month when a child—up to 18—can get a free ticket with each adult ticket purchased. You can also stop in at the TKTS Discount Booths (www.TDF.ORG) to see if you can snare discount tickets for a performance that day.
Also in Times Square is the Times Square Alliance Visitors Center (www.timessquareNYC.org) where you can Join the Times Square Alliance every Friday at Noon for “Times Square Exposé” a free, behind-the-scenes walking tour of Times Square, including historic theatre and the best of the neighborhood, buy theater tickets and if you are lucky, find some discount coupons for ongoing productions.
If the sun is out, join the crowd and sit in the area of Times Square that has now been closed off to traffic and take in the scene—locals hurrying to work or home, visitors from around the world. See if you can figure out who is an actor doubling as a waiter or hurrying to the theater.
Maybe you are staying nearby (www.nycgo.com for the latest deals). We opted for the new 155-room Distrikt Hotel (www.Distrikthotel.com) on west 40th Street near 9th Avenue, a half block from the subway. I liked that it was small with a friendly staff, comfortable beds and complimentary WiFi at a price starting at $189—as much as half less what other Times Square hotels charge. I also liked that the hotel is green—the heat and AC in the rooms adjust automatically when you walk in and out.
Your kids will love the iPod docking stations and the collages of neighborhood scenes from NYC’s districts—Chris Rubino took some 10,000 photographs to create these collages. Just one caution: There is considerable construction on the street and you may not be comfortable here with young kids. Teens will love it.
They will also love Rouge Tomate NYC (www.rougetomatenyc.com) where you can feast on hummus, Waldorf Salad, local Amish chicken (it was yummy) or Pasta and imagine you are a Gossip Girl in the sleek environs just off Madison Avenue. (They have a three-course pre-theatre dinner for $45—pretty good for NYC.) The restaurant incidentally, supports local farms, fisheries and producers and works hard to craft dishes that are both delicious and nutritious. The kids won’t even know they’re eating healthy,
I’ll be back—especially for the deserts. Pass the Molten Chocolate Cake please.