By Renee Gordon
Any season is a great time to be in New York City but in summer it takes on a special vibe. There are hundreds of things to see and do and experience as well as numerous theatrical productions.
The majority of the activities are on or near the most recognized thoroughfare in the world, Broadway, on the island of Manhattan. Manhattan, one of five boroughs that make up New York City, is less than 14-miles long and a little over two miles wide at its widest point.
Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European explorer to sail into NY Harbor in 1524. The Lenni Lenape Indians who inhabited the land greeted him. Henry Hudson, working for the Dutch East India Company in 1609, first mapped Manhattan as he explored the river that would come to bear his name. In 1626 Peter Minuit paid 60 Dutch guilders to the natives for the island and Fort Amsterdam was erected to protect colonists and trade. The Dutch maintained the native name “Manahata,” meaning “hilly island.”
Broadway, the spine of the island, was originally the Indian Wickquasgeck Trail that wound its way from the southern tip to the end of the island. During the Dutch colonization it became a road they called “Heere Straat,” and later “Breedeweg,” or Broadway. It led from the gate of the fort and was noticeably wide so that troops could march abreast. At the city wall, Wall Street, the street narrowed and continued north, as it does today.
The theaters of Broadway automatically come to mind when one thinks of New York City. The first playhouse on Broadway opened in lower Manhattan in the 1730s and it was not until 1893 that the first theater opened in what is today’s theater district, from 40th to 56th Streets. Only 4 theaters are actually located on Broadway with the remaining venues on the streets that radiate from it. The first theater to desegregate was the Lafayette, on 132nd Street, in 1912.
Currently on view are several shows that are well worth a view and, discounts are available at www.Playbill.com, www.NYTheater.com and any of three TKTS Discount Booths located throughout the city. www.tdf.org/tkts
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, the $75-million Broadway show has been completely revamped. The score is still by U2’s Bono and The Edge and the plot generally follows the story we know but the choreography and technical effects are thrilling. Along with the Green Goblin there are a number of quirky villains, one reminiscent of Grace Jones, all creatively clad. The best views of the aerial feats are from seats in the front orchestra or the first few rows of the mezzanine. Foxwoods Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street. www.spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com
The Broadhurst Theatre is home to “Baby It’s You!” the story of New Jersey housewife and mother Florence Greenburg. She discovered the Shirelles, guided their career and went on to become a record producer and owner of a record label. This production showcases the music of the 60s including “Tonight’s the Night,” “Walk on By,” and “Louie, Louie.” 235 West 44th St.
Black Angels Over Tuskegee at the Actors Temple Theatre is an outstanding drama that relates the story of six men on their quest to earn their wings as Tuskegee Airmen. The play explores issues of racism, Jim Crow, aspirations and dreams of African American males in the America of the 1940s. This Winner of the 2009 NAACP Award for Best Ensemble is a real treasure. 339 West 47th Street, between 8th & 9th Aves.
Several productions are scheduled to open in the near future and they look promising. The Mountaintop, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, revolves around the eve of King’s assassination in Memphis in 1968. A musical version of the legend of “Bonnie and Clyde” is scheduled to open in December and Blair Underwood makes his Broadway debut as Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire in early 2012. Suzan Lori-Parks penned the script for Unchain My Heart, the musical retelling of the life of Ray Charles and David Henry Hwang wrote the script for the musical Bruce Lee: Journey to the West, both scheduled for 2012.
To help stretch your travel dollars Gray Line New York’s new $24.99 Eat and Play Card provides visitors with discounts to more than 100 premier plays, restaurants, attractions and shops located throughout the city. Discounts range from 10 percent to 30 percent and cards are valid for 30 days after initial use and include up to four people. Information is available at www.NewYorkSightseeing.com/EatandPlay
New York’s newest and most interactive new attraction, “THE RIDE,” is offering 25 percent off discounted summer tours. The custom-designed bus puts visitors in unobstructed view stadium seats, with on-board guides and video monitors and the fun begins as you travel past iconic sites and meet the “real” people of the city. This is a unique experience at a very special price. Use the code RDSUMMER at www.broadwayoffers.com for tickets. www.experiencetheride.com.
Discovery Times Square on 44th Street, between Broadway & 8th Ave., is currently presenting outstanding exhibits designed to provide glimpses into two very different worlds. “Pompeii: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius” takes us back 2,000 years into ancient Italy and “Harry Potter the Exhibition” allows us to walk into the fantasy universe created by J. K. Rowling. www.discoverytsx.com
Pompeii opens with a two minute video that orients you to the history and culture of the 25,000 inhabitants of Pompeii. The city was founded in 7 BC by the Oscans and named for the number five. This international coastal city thrived until August of 79 BC when Mt. Vesuvius erupted sending a burst of pyroclastic (hot gas) and then covering the area with waves of ash and pumice.
The exhibition is divided into two sections with more than 250 artifacts. The first area features items that were recovered when the city was rediscovered including statuary, frescoes, coins, pottery, wine bottles and two magnificent herma, delicately carved columns with sculpted heads. One of the most interesting galleries is for adults only and displays a replica of a room in one of the 40 brothels that existed in Pompeii at the time.
The second part of the exhibition begins with a time-lapse film that allows visitors to live through the eruption hour by hour as the floor vibrates and the wind blows. As the screen goes dark you move into a gallery filled with a mass display of skeletons and the largest collection of body casts ever presented still in the poignant poses in which they were overcome. The final gallery showcases items from their daily lives.
Harry Potter and company are on the final leg of their American journey and they will be on view at Discovery until September 5, 2011. This exhibition is an absolute must for anyone who is a fan of the books or movies. Entry is timed and guests have the option of purchasing an audio tour and having a souvenir photo taken.
To enter the exhibition visitors walk through the train station and are led into the foyer of Hogwarts where a wizard invites newcomers to put on the sorting hat.
The City College of NY has opened the inaugural season of the professional New Harlem Arts Theatre with an After being sorted you gain entrée into the school corridor where the portraits move as you pass. The tour continues with hundreds of authentic movie props and costumes and video screens playing portions of the movies that show when and how the items were used in the films.
Film-like settings have been recreated such as Hagrid’s Hut, the Gryffindor™ common room, the Forbidden Forest and the furnished dorm rooms of Harry and Ron. Fans will recognize such familiar items as Harry’s glasses, the invisibility cloak, Riddle’s diary and Quidditch™ paraphernalia. A highlight of the tour is a walk through the Great Hall complete with floating candles.
Ellington set the directions to Harlem to music and made the A Train famous but if you are in search of an above ground alternative the M4 bus is your best bet. For $2.50 visitors can take the bus on Madison Ave, northward and then return south on Fifth Ave. The ride is spectacular, you pass all the renowned designer shops, the Guggenheim, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the NY Library, and when riding through Harlem you pass iconic statues of Duke Ellington and Frederick Douglass.
The City College of NY has premiered the inaugural season of the professional New Harlem Arts Theatre’s arresting production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie” at Aaron Davis Hall. This is one of the first times the play has been staged since it opened on Broadway in 1964 with Baldwin dedicating the play to the memory of Medgar Evers and his family and the murdered children of Birmingham.
Baldwin’s work is loosely based on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till and allied issues of justice, race, civil rights, gender and class. In the hands of a less deft director and cast this issue-laden play would come off as preachy instead of the masterfully complex concoction that the audience experiences. The play still stands as a clarion call for action against injustice and inequality.
“Blues for Mr. Charlie” closes on the 17th of July to be followed by “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” from July 28th through August 21st. 135th Street and Convent Ave. www.harlemartstheatre.org
The Affinia Manhattan hotel, 371 Seventh Avenue, is offering a “Take a Pass on Gas” special if you book by July 31st and travel by Sept. 5th. If arriving via mass transit you show your ticket at check in and receive a $20 gas card. www,affinia.com/gaspass
I wish you smooth and sizzling travels!
The 45th Smithsonian Folklife Festival opened on June 30th and will continue from July 7-11 on the National Mall. This year’s themes are the Peace Corps and Rhythm and Blues and the featured country is Colombia. Visitors can immerse themselves in the traditions and heritage that make Colombia a unique destination filled with bio and cultural diversity. www.festival.si.edu/2011/schedule_06_30.aspx