So our evening began at the NYC location of Ben's Kosher Deli. That is, after I fought my way up from Penn Station, a salmon swimming up stream against the tides of commuters headed for the station.
As I've said before (see my review of Ben's Carle Place, Long Island location) I think I am genetically programmed to love Ben's. The NYC location, on West 38tth, in the heart of the old garment district, has an "old New York" feel and a menu my grandmother would recognize. Most Jewish delis these days use kosher meat but are not otherwise "kosher", so you can get a little sour cream with your potato latkes, and you might even see a strip of (horrors!) bacon peering out of your overstuffed sandwich. . This place, however, is strictly kosher, under rabbinic supervision, so there's no mixing of meat and dairy, and they don't use the fake, tofu-dairy products you might see elsewhere.
As always, your meal begins with cole slaw and a bucket of pickles -- sour and half-sour. Drew ordered the deli double -- two sandwiches, on twin junior rolls. He likes it with a side of Russian dressing. You can pick any two deli meats for your sandwiches, but he always chooses tongue. Not my thing, frankly, but he likes it. I had my staple, pastrami on rye. They use Gold's mustard here -- Gold's is renowned for its horseradish. the sandwixhes are overstuffed, of course. We didn't order any side dishes last night, though I love their kasha varnishkes and Drew likes their knishes. I don't think I've ever tried one of their desserts. The guy at the next table -- dining alone -- ordered two appetizers and a hot entree. that's a bit of overkill, but really, if you don't walk out of there as overstuffed as one of their sandwiches, you're doing something wrong.
Then it was time to walk to the theater. This time of year, Times Square is especially hopping -- it's tourist season and it's warm and pleasant outside, and it's tourist season. And did I mention that it's tourist season? Good time for people watching. I saw a woman in pink cowboy boots -- the boots were adorned with an image of a skull and crossbones. I saw a man in a double-breasted aqua jacket, with a paisley ascot around his neck. Didn't see the Naked Cowboy, but saw a guy in a Speedo carrying a boom box. The usual street musicians and gospel preachers and guys trying to sell you tickets for a comedy club. The street vendors selling knock off purses and cheap t-shirts. And that school group in their green t-shirts. And the tourists posing for pictures with the NYC cops and their horses. Did I mention it's tourist season?
Our destination was The Music Box Theater, the house that Irving Berlin built. Really. Berlin and his business partners built the theater to showcase Berlin's music in the 1920's. It is currently the home of the reviival of Pippin.
I am going to discuss things about this show that may be spoilers, so stop reading now if you don't want to know.
I never saw the original prodution of Pippin, the one back in the 70's starring Ben Vereen. You'd see the TV commercials for the show, of course. And "Corner Of The Sky" became a staple for every junior high and high school chorus -- yes, I sang that song in chorus.
The production we saw last night was fantastic. The set is done to emulate the inside of a circus tent. It's a play-within-a-play, a group of players have set up a tent to present to us the story of Pippin, son of King Charlemagne. The fourth wall is broken, the players speak directly to the audience. The Stephen Schwartz score is very 70's pop music, but still sounds good. The original choreography was done by Bob Fossee, and his style is present in this production -- jazz hands, snakey arms, hip rolls, lots of attitude. But in addition, there are circus performers doing acrobatics and magic tricks.
Patina Miller is now the Lead Player, she's in the role that Ben Vereen created. She's marvelous. And it was good to see Terrence Mann, who I first saw in Cats, as Charles. Matthew James Thomas is a sufficiently "lost" Pippin, searching for his extraordinary life. But the cast member who steals the show is Andrea Martin, as Pippin's grandmother Berthe. She gets the audience to sing along with her by following the bouncing ball. Then she climbs up onto the trapeze and performs incredible stunts. She got a standing ovation. Well deserved, too.
I really liked the way the pigs and chickens on Catherine' farm were portrayed by circus performers. Very funny bit.
The ending....well, the ending of this show is....different. Drew said it was "ambivalent". I said it knew exactly what it wanted to be, but was anticlimatic and a let down. Throughout the show the Lead Player keeps building up the "finale", the moment the audience is waiting for. It never comes. Instead, the stage is stripped bare, the orchestra stops playing, the players leave, and Pippin and Catherine are left alone to sing a soft, a capella love song....
And then (and this is different from the original production) Theo starts singing an a capella version of "Corner of the Sky", and the Players briefly return and hoist him onto a trapeze...
I will make one mention of our seats. We were in the orchestra, on the aisle, in the second row. We could practically reach out and touch the actors. However, there's so much happening on the stage at any given moment, that the best seats to take in all in are really the 5th or 6th row.
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