info 05.12.06

And Then They Wrote

Some of our favorite contributions to MUG from outside writers and from readers:

For our article on Timeless Design, Akiko Busch, author of The Uncommon Life of Common Objects wrote this:

I have always thought of design as the graceful intersection of unlikely ingredients. What, then, might be more perfect and more timeless design than a room that accommodates a Great Blue Whale and a dance floor. These are, of course, the improbable furnishings that cohabit the lower level of the American Museum of Natural History. The 94-foot fiberglass whale hovers with absolute grace overhead. And on a section of the floor below is a parquet dance floor. The space is a marvel — at once illogical, incongruous, romantic, sexy, epic, grandiose, and grand. What is more timeless than the human love of dance or than our fascination with secrets of the deep? Here is a room that accommodates them both, a space in which frivolity cohabits with the mysteries of the deep sea as though they were natural accomplices. This is the basement of my dreams, and it is a room to dance in if there ever was one.

After we reported on the closing of Mocca Restaurant, a reader emailed us this, which we published on November 23, 2004:

Sad news about Mocca Restaurant closing. Thus ends a personal era for me: Mocca was one of my first real NYC haunts and certainly played a part in my realizing I'd actually become a NY'er after 10 years living nearby. Those were the days — everyone who came to visit had to eat there with us. Granny lived a couple of blocks away so we'd meet frequently at Mocca for convenience and atmosphere reminding her of her Polish upbringing. I'll always see Mocca there on 2nd Avenue no matter what upscale, trendy joint appears in their place, just as I still see so many old favorites in the neighborhood, though some are long gone. I guess part of being a New Yorker is the hidden past we carry with us.

We asked some of our favorite NYC bloggers to come up with a list of 10 Great Things about the city. The Morning News writer Andrew Womack chose Rocks in Your Head as one of his ten. The store has just closed in Soho, but is planning to reopen in Williamsburg.

Rocks in Your Head is one of the best record stores I've ever been to, because the guy who works there epitomizes great record-store shopkeeps. He'll play anything you want to hear, and he knows everything that's going on in music that I want to know about. That said, I'm somewhat of an age-ist when it comes to record-store people: Anyone over a certain age who works at a record shop is way, way past the point of doing it just so they can sneak merchandise out the back door; they're doing it out of pure love. And that's just the kind of shopping experience you can forget about at the Virgin Mega Store — but exactly what you get at Rocks in Your Head.

We've always loved The Bon Vivant, a short essay by Adam Gopnik about the old-timer coffee shop by that name, which he gave to us once in a fit of unhinged generosity. Here's a selection from it:

This is where the uncanny brightness of the decor inside the Bon Vivant has a wonderful effect. The theory, I'm sure, was that the bright colors would brighten things up inside, without anyone stopping to think that what it would really do is darken things up outside — make Broadway look even dingier and more shadowy than it did before, like a woodcut from an Expressionist novel-in-pictures, long shadows trailing the angst-ridden hero home.

But this is a blessing, too: Now, when you're inside the Bon Vivant on an average winter Saturday, around three o'clock, eating your Yankee bean soup with white toast and a soda, it always looks as if it is about to snow. The dark sky, the dim light, the gray pallor that hangs over everything — you think…snowstorm coming, six inches on the way…all that white tomorrow morning. Then you step outside and, your eyes no longer tuned to the dazzle of all those bright leatherette booths, you become accustomed again to the New York palette running its usual spectrum from Pigeon Feather Purple-Gray to Olde Chewing Gum Off-White, and you realize, no, no snow.

But for a little while you thought that by the time you got home, the city would be beautiful, which is no small gift for the price of soup.

Another from the two-part 10 Great Things article. Gothamist's Jen Chung chose this as one of her ten:

Asian Daughters with Jewish Mothers in Park Slope…
Perhaps because I'm Asian myself, seeing these kids makes me happy that there are people to love them. Plus I'm imagining them trying to juggle a schedule of Chinese AND Hebrew schools in the afternoons and on the weekends, the new hybrid generation of Chinese-Jewish overachievers or calling on the need for a Hebrew Chinese or Chinese Hebrew school.

Following an article Fading Into History, we got this from Douglas Durst, of the Durst real estate family:

I thought you might be interested in my father's comment on hats. It was made on a TV show about the decline of Times Square and one of the panelists owned a hat store in Times Square. Seymour was asked his opinion. His quote was "in the 1940s women stopped wearing hats, in the 50s men stopped wearing hats, and in the 1960s people stopped using their heads altogether."

We've written more than once on Duane Reade, a drugstore chain that we liked, once upon a time, because it was essentially a mom-and-pop with great prices. As it expanded, though, the quality of service declined, making its service among the worst in the city. We ran this from a reader on July 28, 2005:

I arrive this morning at 9:10 at the DR around the corner from me on 7th Ave. to pick up a prescription. The night gate is still closed around the pharmacy. I check the sign: Pharmacy opens 8:30. A sullen man is moseying around behind the counters.

Me: I need to pick up a prescription.
Sullen Guy: The pharmacy opens at 8:30.
Me: I know it opens at 8:30. It's now ten after 9.
Sullen Guy: We open at 8:30.
Me: If you open at 8:30, why are you all locked up?
Sullen Guy: The pharmacists didn't show up today. We open at 8:30.

You'll notice the 's' at the end of 'pharmacist', which only adds insult to injury.

By George Spelvin

TUESDAY'S BIG WINNER: The Tony nominations come out next Tuesday and the big winner is going to be…The New York Times, local TV stations and theatrical ad agencies, which make most of their money from commissions on media buys. Since no single musical is expected to sweep the Awards, the newer musicals (particularly The Drowsy Chaperone and The Wedding Singer) are spending big on newspaper and TV ads to stay competitive with Jersey Boys and The Color Purple, which both opened in the fall and have huge advance sales. Right now, Jersey is the clear favorite for Best Musical, but Drowsy could try an Avenue Q-type 'underdog' campaign. However, no amount of advertising can save the savagely-received Lestat or Hot Feet, which are both expected to close soon. As Yogi Berra said, "If the people don't want to come, nobody can stop them."

IT'S NOT A COMEBACK, IT'S A RETURN: Some of this season's best-reviewed shows were limited runs at non-profit off-Broadway theaters. All have closed, but that doesn't mean they're gone for good. Three shows are trying for another shot at success. The 'meta-musical' [title of show] returns to the Vineyard in an 8-week commercial tryout. Its lead producer, Kevin McCollum, is part of the group that moved Avenue Q out of the Vineyard to Tony-winning success at the Golden. If [title of show] does ultimately make it to Broadway, it will be joining for-profit transfers of The Little Dog Laughed from Second Stage and Grey Gardens from Playwrights Horizons.

I wonder whether a return engagement of the Roundabout's Pajama Game will happen without Harry Connick and Kelli O'Hara, but the 2006-07 Broadway season is already confirmed to include a number of other revivals that raise their own questions: Is it too soon for Les Misérables to be coming back, having just closed here 3 years ago? Will A Chorus Line — done exactly as it was originally written and staged in 1975 — feel too dated? Is there room on Broadway for two Sondheim shows (Sweeney Todd and the upcoming Company) that use the same actors-as-orchestra conceit? And will African-American performers protest Des McAnuff's "re-imagining" of The Wiz, since he will be using so many white actors in what has traditionally been an all-black show?

PHANTOM PROFITS: The Phantom of the Opera became the longest-running show in Broadway history back in January, but the show's original investors did not celebrate in this milestone. Why? Although a show's initial backers typically share the revenue from all subsequent productions, these folks were only offered a cut of the profits from the West End version. They have gotten nothing from the Broadway Phantom, the many tours, the movie or the various cast recordings. And the London Phantom has been only breaking even at Her Majesty's Theatre, so they haven't gotten any return on their investment for years. However, I'm guessing they are just as glad not to be involved with the upcoming Las Vegas Phantom. This production (budgeted at an astounding $35 million) is facing expensive technical delays, because completion of the show's venue is taking much longer than expected.

ON THE RECORD: A number of Broadway performers have recently released notable CDs that go beyond show tunes into other musical genres. You can listen to audio clips on their personal websites:
· Kevin Cahoon (the Boy George-lookalike in The Wedding Singer) and his band Ghetto Cowboy have made an album of neo-punk songs called "Doll."
· Olivia d'Abo (a Pigeon Sister in The Odd Couple) has released "Turku," which she calls "sort of Brit rock meets folk meet techno."
· Euan Morton (star of Taboo and the upcoming Bay Street Theater revival of Tommy) has recorded "NewClear," filled with new and familiar pop songs.
· Julia Murney (Elphaba in the Wicked tour) has included an eclectic mix of songs on "I'm Not Waiting," produced by her Wild Party composer Andrew Lippa.
· Jonathan Rayson (Little Shop of Horrors, Frog and Toad and the upcoming Paper Mill Hello, Dolly) gives fresh life to 1970s soft rock on his eponymous debut CD.

JUST ASKING: At the August Wilson Theatre, where Jersey Boys is playing, 96 seats in the last five rows have been determined to be "partial view" (that is, you can't see all the action on the second level of the set's scaffolding) and these tickets have been marked down to $76.25 at the four midweek performances. On the weekends, however, those same seats command the full price of $111.25. Does the view from the back of the house magically become unobstructed on Fridays through Sundays?


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