Megan Washington said an interesting thing about NYC in an article published by Fairfax yesterday when she called it “the most vampiric city on the planet”. I agree. Native New Yorkans are bred to survive and thrive in that environment, which makes their energy outside NYC seem all the more shrill and hard. It’s gratuitously noisy. Unnecessarily so. Aggressive? Perhaps. I didn’t get that sense. It was more that New York believes its own hype about being noisy and busy and bustling. It’s no more busy than any other large city, and occasionally less so. It’s just a lot noisier than your average city and the aural assault is too much after a while. There’s a thrum to the city that was really evident in the peace of Central Park. It’s a tough town to survive for those people who are emotionally and spiritually depleted. I knew I was going to find it noisy and busy and indeed I did.
What I did not really expect was the New York condescension to the Outlier or Other. Friendly folk: absolutely! Don’t get me wrong. New Yorkans were cheerful, loud people and I liked them a lot. But there is a readily observable sense of superiority of the native New Yorkan that is present in all their transactions with people not from the city. I kept feeling during personal interactions a kind of “oh, hello you nice little naive person from the Antipodes. How sweet of you to come here and oh, by the way, all nations of the earth are represented in our restaurants, we’re known for it”. Huh. Maybe a long time ago. Now, not so much. Also, the quality and variety of the food is desperately overrated. There’s a reason Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame went to Melbourne with his restaurant pop up rather than go to NYC or other big city.
Like all cities, there is a cultural overlay that defines and shapes the relationships of people and groups to place. NYC has held the planetary Number One spot for a hundred years for being the vanguard of intellectual creativity and ideas, from Dorothy Parker to Warhol to Seinfeld (well…). The zeitgeist of this place is huge. But this historical mountain over the course of the 20th century seems to be stifling the vanguard now. While there DH and I went to a bunch of art stuff. MOMA, Guggenheim, The Met, Broadway. Was I missing something? I didn’t get excited by the stuff. I fear NYC is now too afraid to attempt to be truly creative, in the big art houses, at least. They seem content to rest on the laurels of their admittedly impressive cultural heritage.
One such example was Aida (Verdi), at the Met. A terrible, horrible production. Singing was pretty good except the tenor, who was past it. Orchestra lovely, but conducting out of time at times. Found myself conducting from my seat in frustration. Acting by the leads non-existent, particularly the main soprano, whose performance was horrible even while her singing was lovely. The horses in the procession scene were the highlight of the show. The director should have been shot. In slow motion. Much like the production, which had 2 very long intervals of 40 minutes each. OMG. I have never been so bored in my life, and I LIKE opera. And I love Verdi. Some truly terrible reviews, sadly, that rather unfairly targeted the singers when actually it was mostly the ghastly direction at fault. But we booked months ago and I expected so much more from this NYC company. Not this hideous heritage piece playing like something out of the 1950s.
Sure, our Broadway experiences were supposed to be about spirit fingers and jazz hands, and they certainly were. We saw all new productions: Kinky Boots, If/Then, Honeymoon in Vegas, Pippin (ok, this one was old but new again), It’s Only A Play. Some nice work going on but no really exciting fresh ideas. It’s Only A Play could have been written by Noel Coward or Neil Simon! In fact, I’m sure it was in parts. The old conceit about a new play and its players, playwright, director and producer all waiting in the producer’s glamorous bedroom for the opening night reviews from The NY Times (a trumped up nonsense of a broadsheet if ever I’ve read one). Very funny play, but hardly original. But I liked the honesty of live performance. I liked that I could see the faces of the performers (at Honeymoon we were 2 rows from the front in the central orchestra), that one guy’s hands were shaking (he opened Honeymoon in Vegas and it was first night of the previews, for goodness’ sake). I liked that mistakes were made, that the “polish” in shows like Jersey Boys wasn’t always evident in these productions. Gosh, that made it lovely and real. And not that much better than anywhere else, actually. Which made it even better to be a part of. Broadway is NOT inaccessible for our young performers and wanna-be musical theatre peeps. Just highly competitive.
BTW Honeymoon in Vegas is a triumph. Go. Just go. If you want an unabashed, exuberant musical with jazz hands, spirit fingers and dancing show girls, you will not be disappointed. A triumph. The book by originator Andrew Bergman was perfect, the music by Jason Robert Brown was perfect, the Sondheimesque-lyrics by JRB were also perfect. The production was a little patchy, but that’s because it was previews and the tech wasn’t quite finished I think. (I’ve seen worse and we expected worse things to occur!) The performers were fantastic. All really solid – the 2 leads in Rob McClure and Brynn O’Malley were lovely (sidebar, who thinks that Brynn O’Malley in a blond wig is a dead ringer for Taylor Schilling?). Nancy Opel was perfectly cast. David Josefsberg as the Vegas star stole the show and Tony Danza was surprisingly great. There’s even a tap number followed by a soft shoe shuffle duet. Performed by Tony Danza in front of the curtain. 4th wall conventions thrown splendidly away. Dancing Elvis impersonators. Dancing Elvis impersonators SKYDIVING. Quick changes. Oh, it was joyful.
For all my complaints, I don’t think I got to know New York the way I want to. I will be back. But I will be armed with a good Fiji holiday prior, and prepared for the NY assault on the senses. And I will escape from time to time to quieter places, just like so many New Yorkans do for some respite from the noise. It has been said that Americans are noisy people who don’t listen to others. Now I know why.