Last updated on November 13th, 2021
Featured image: Diana on the balcony of the newly renovated Neil Simon Theater where she once performed
How to survive the dizzying pace of the city that never sleeps
By Diana Eden, Contributing Writer, JourneyWoman
Traveling to New York is like going to a rock concert. Times Square is as exhilarating and adrenalin-producing as one of the Rolling Stones concerts of my youth. The constant noise of honking cabs and fire engine sirens, the brilliant colors of giant video screens all competing for my attention, and the twinkling lights result in sensory overload. This is why I have to take my whirlwind New York trip in small bites, with oases of quiet in-between the highlights!
Two months ago, I decided to go to New York to support Broadway is Back. I planned to see a few shows and take a few walks down memory lane. Two days travel, two days there.
Why just two days? Mainly because it had to fit into my current teaching schedule at the university and because New York is both expensive and exhausting. No longer the 22-year-old I was when I lived in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment and danced at night on the Broadway stages, I know I need to ration my energy.
My top three tips for not only surviving but thriving on a trip to New York in your 80s:
1. Start with a non-stop flight
I book a nonstop flight from Las Vegas (my home) into Newark, a less insanely busy airport than JFK. As always, I pack very light – one small drag-along bag and my newly purchased backpack. Even with New York sophistication and dressing up for the theatre, I can manage with these two pieces if I stick primarily to black and white and only take one pair of extra shoes.
2. Be strategic with your itinerary
I buy tickets to three shows. Then I pick my extra activities. On the must-list is an exhibition of costumes on 42nd street and a meal at my old haunt, famed theatre restaurant Joe Allen’s, first opened in 1963 and still is going strong 47 years later.
Costumes for the show The Lion King at the Showstoppers Costume Exhibit
And more extras? My octo-wisdom tells me not to schedule too much. But so much to choose from! A visit to the Met? Shopping on Fifth Avenue? A walk past my old apartment on West 64th St and on through Central Park? A trip downtown to the 9/11 memorial and museum? After all, I still have one morning free.
3. Stay central
I book a hotel right on Times Square, the Marriott Marquis, which has the advantage of being a few short blocks to all the theatres and restaurants. Proximity a plus; I can walk everywhere. No hailing cabs, something I haven’t done in years. And close enough for me to duck back to the hotel for naps.
The colours and mammoth billboards of Times Square
I can’t say enough about naps. I have learned to retreat frequently to my quiet space – in this case, my room on the 21st floor. I lay on my big, white-sheeted hotel bed, silent and grateful, and have a power snooze of 30 to 60 minutes.
My ambitious but flexible itinerary
Day 1: Arts, culture, and theatre
Meeting up with my dear friend and colleague, New York producer Ethan Walker, we head to 42nd street and the Showstoppers Costume Exhibit. It proves to be one of the best I’ve ever seen! During the Time of COVID, the costume houses that create the incredible clothes that we see on performers on the Broadway stages were suddenly shuttered, with no way to pay enormous NY rents or skilled artisans. Banding together, they formed the Costume Industry Coalition Recovery Fund, and this exhibit is one of the beautiful products that has emerged to raise money for their industry. But it also gives many people access to costumes up close with the stories behind them. Artisans demonstrate beadwork, embroidery, some of their many skills, and people who typically see costumes from many feet back in the theatre can now examine stitches up close.
Three costumes from Hamilton on display at the Showstoppers Costume Exhibit on 42nd Street
I, too, am dazzled. Though a costume designer myself, I still can get goosebumps from seeing the extraordinary skill and originality that these world-class costumes present. I feel immensely proud to be part of the costume industry.
Walking back, Ethan and I stop by one of the theatres where I had performed in 1963, now the Neil Simon Theater. A new show is loading in, but the house manager, Judy Brown, is interested enough in my history to give us a private tour. The theatre interior had been thoroughly renovated, the giant chandelier lowered and cleaned to sparkling perfection. She clearly is proud of her theatre with its new carpet, paint, and decor. What a joy it is to stand in the balcony, looking at the exact spot on-stage where I had once danced. I am also immensely proud to be part of the Broadway community.
Naptime, one hour.
Dinner is at Joe Allen’s restaurant, beloved of all theatregoers for nearly 60 years. I happened to be one of its early customers when it opened in its current location on West 46th St in 1963. It looks just the same as I remember it with its brick arches and show posters on the walls. Restaurants in the theatre district have suffered greatly, too, during the 18-month COVID closures and are just now re-opening. Every restaurant, bar, and theatre require proof of vaccination before entry is allowed. No exceptions.
Then to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater for the musical Come From Away. The lights dim, and the audience bursts into spirited applause before a note is sung as if to say: “We are so happy to be back!” It is a tale of the people of the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, (population 10,000) when the US closed all airspace after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Thirty-eight planes coming from overseas were ordered to land there. Many of the characters are based on real people or their composites, with 12 actors playing multiple roles of the locals who came out to feed, welcome, and comfort the nearly 7,000 terrified passengers.
The show is moving beyond words. The story is real, the music haunting, and the laughs warm and genuine, in-between the moments when tears flow. It’s a treat for the heart.
Day 2: Memorials, museums & Manhattan highlights
For Day 2, I have chosen a morning visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at the south end of Manhattan. There I find the two memorial pools that are in the footprints of the Twin Towers. All I hear is the soft sound of water running down the four walls and disappearing into the blackness at the center. Voices are hushed or silenced. It is a somber and reflective place, and the only colors that stay in my mind are grey, black, and the white of a rose left in tribute to somebody’s loved one.
A single white rose commemorates the victims of 9:11 / Photo by Lars Mulder on Pexels
In the cab coming back, we travel up West Street where once fire engines raced down to the towers. Now we witness local New Yorkers walking their dogs and jogging or bicycling along the path adjacent to the river. The sun shines brightly, and life feels normal and good.
Back at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on 47th, we attend the matinee of Waitress, written by and starring Sara Bareilles. With beautifully designed sets and costumes to reflect the everyday people whose story it tells, this production is really a treat for the ears. The music is both haunting and joyous, and Sara’s voice is perfection. You leave the theatre feeling good about life, about people, about the ability to go to the theatre and feel joy and hope.
Nap and then dinner at my new favourite eatery, Trattoria Trecolori, tucked in the heart of the theatre district on 47th street. Casually chic, family-owned, and with a friendly bartender, I had a brilliant pasta primavera and a sinful dessert.
My weekend ends with a big bang – the exuberant musical concert SIX, about the six wives of Henry the 8th, sung with rock-and-roll intensity, and with The Queens dressed in glittery punk versions of Tudor splendor, this show is loud and proud, naughty and in your face fabulous! At the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
Four days, three shows, one museum, one exhibition, one unexpected private tour, two dinners, and a few celebratory drinks might seem ambitious, but when spaced out with appropriate rest periods, totally doable. Next year I will be another year into my 8th decade, but I think I am going to do it again!
(Last and very important tip: Forgive yourself if it takes more than one day to recover when you get home. Naps are key!)
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