Saturday, May 7, 2011

Metropolis and Broadway

"When does a city turn into a Metropolis? When nobody asks you where you came from, nor where you are going."

There are many kinds of anonymity, but the kind that comes from living in a Big, Very Large, Humongous City is a unique variety. It allows you to blend into the crowd, while still remaining your own person. with your own little idiosyncrasies and crazinesses. It offers you myriad chances to watch those of others.
Earlier, I lived in a town aspiring to cityhood, then  briefly in a City so ancient that she was beset constantly by her past, then in a city that is undecided as to whether she aspires to be a Metropolis. You are still asked where you come from, here, and are defined by your answer, whether you state India or Indiana.
We had paid a weekend visit to New York, staying in one of the hotels within a stone's throw of Newark airport. The sense of transience never strikes one so hard as the endless parade of people who flow through those lobbies. Baseball teams in full uniform, the dust of the field still on their trousers, weary polyester-suited flight crew with cabin luggage in tow, passengers yelling ostentatiously into their cell-phones as they conduct loud conversations with their relatives informing them that yes they have arrived safely, yes they were put on a later flight after missing their connection...
The goal wasn't to visit Newark, which is just a place that one stays in to avoid the hassle of big city hotel charges, miles and miles of dreary potholed roads that belong in some bleak dystopian urban blockbuster set in the 25th century, graceless warehouses and fields that grow rental cars. The goal was a visit to the Big Apple.
We headed out to Times Square one morning, armed with pre-reserved parking printouts. We had purchased tickets to watch one of Broadway's newest shows, a revival of the 60's musical 'How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying'. We knew next to nothing about it, except that this starred Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) in the lead role. It was a pick made by M and S, out of the smorgasbord of musicals populating Broadway. It was, we were all convinced, sure to be good.
The lobby rapidly filled up with people, about 1 hour away from the start of the show. A large lady dressed all in black, with gold beads and a fantastic flurry of feathers on her hat teetered in on 3 inch heels, accompanied by a gentleman in a beige jacket and matching fedora, with a muted ribbon and bow of its own. "My wife can't stand for too long.", he announced, perhaps hoping for an early entry into the main foyer. After a short whispered confabulation, the usher unlocked the door, slipped inside and brought out a small chair for the lady, who gratefully sank into its too-small cushion.
Half hour before the show, and the doors finally opened, letting in a horde of eager viewers, streaming up and down in search of their seats. We found ourselves perched precariously up in the stratospheric seats, which afforded a fairly decent view of the stage,  not so bad as to require opera-glasses to see the performers.
 The orchestra struck up an opening fanfare, and the star of the show rose up onto the stage of a rope and pulley contraption. He was a window-washer reading the book on How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, and proceeded, scene by scene to follow instructions gleaned from it as best as he could.
Lots of charm, colorful 60's era dresses and hair, dozens of dancers and singers on stage. It was quite the spectacle. Add to the fact that Daniel Radcliffe has a pretty decent singing voice, and does all his dance steps with great energy and enthusiasm, a nimble but diminutive contrast to the company boss, played by John Larroquette in his Broadway debut.  The audience, was rapt and applauded every number with much gusto.
Coming off the tail end of a nasty cold, I ended up with two coughing attacks during the performance, glared at by the tween in front, and hastily trotted down the stairs into a vacant ladies' room. "Are you all right?", asked a tall usher. "Nothing, just a cough attack, I will be fine." I missed two songs in the process, but when the entire show is filled with them, it probably didn't make for a huge loss. (And I now know why Hillary Clinton covered her mouth in this Situation Room photo. It wasn't an attack of nerves watching the 'Taking Out OBL' operation, she really was trying to prevent a cough attack.)
We didn't stay for long once the show ended, with a rousing song and dance number named Brotherhood, where J.B.Pierrepont Finch (Radcliffe) exhorts the bigwigs in the company to consider that the employees are its heart and soul, and cleverly winds up at the top of the pyramid, having been made Chairman of the Board. Not bad for a humble window-washer.
The doors opened out directly to the street, where a crowd milled around, hoping for a glimpse of the star of the evening. We hopped away to the nearest pastry shop for coffee and snacks before leaving on our long drive back to Pittsburgh.

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