Sunday, December 23, 2012

New York Botanical Garden's Whimsical "Holiday Train Show" Runs Full Speed Ahead Through Iconic NYC Landmarks.

Holiday Train Whirls Past New York's "City Hall"
Add some whimsical imagination to your holiday season this year at the New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show. Creator Paul Busse pairs garden or "g-scale" model trains (the largest model trains ever manufactured), steam engines and street cars together with his world renown building replicas made entirely from tree bark, berries, pine cones and other plant parts.  Busse first showcased his innovative, nature-inspired designs at the NYBG's inaugural Holiday Train Show in 1992, and his structures have been delighting visitors of all ages ever since.  In fact, so much detail is included in his model structures, down to the last window and gargoyle, that the buildings themselves nearly become the real highlight of this show.

New York Public Library
Your visit to the Holiday Train Show begins at the entrance to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, where you must have a timed ticket for entry. A larger-than-life conductor greets guests as they enter the exhibit and begin the journey through over 100 of New York City's most recognizable buildings such as the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the original, iconic Penn Station (circa 1910-1969). Famed local bridges built from bark tower overhead, as model trains cross back and forth. There's even a model of the Conservatory itself!


Learn how Busse designs his structures in "The Artist's Studio"
Following the path Busse creates, you'll find yourself transported even beyond the city, as his structures branch out throughout the exhibit to replicas of buildings in outer boroughs and towns, such as the Wave Hill house in Riverdale, Bronx, or Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. Take a detour off the main exhibit to visit "The Artist's Studio," where you can see how Busse builds his models, as well as view some of his models of international iconic structures.


A model train peeks its way out of a bridge built from bark
If you travel to the Train Show during peak times (midday on weekends, holiday week), be prepared to wait in line at the beginning of the exhibit, where you can pause to capture pictures of the "Statue of Liberty" and "Ellis Island." Keep that camera handy;  you won't want to put it down once you enter the main exhibit.  As the foot traffic clears up, you can really begin to enjoy the imaginative designs all around you. Christmas music sings over speakers and the scent of a tropical rain forest fills the air.




Train tracks wind around "St. Patrick's Cathedral"
For the first time this year, the Train Show even features some trains themselves that have been made exclusively from botanical parts. Back to the buildings, notice that any "stone" you may see is actually made from sand, glue and tile grout.

A total of a quarter mile of train tracks wind in, around and above these prominent buildings, bridges and other landmark replicas, and one can't help but feel a sense of fanciful amusement. As Busse notes, "[g]ardens are normally seen as still lifes, but the trains add a sense of time and motion."

Learn more about the creation of the Holiday Train Show at a documentary film about the show that plays during the early afternoon on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the Garden's Ross Hall. This and other special programs, such as a children's "Little Engine That Could" puppet show or "Thomas and Friends" performances complete the Train Show experience for the whole family.

Make sure to bring the kids to see "Gingerbread Adventures"
Your day at the Botanical Garden's doesn't have to end (or start) at the Holiday Train Show and surrounding programs. Walk around the grounds to see monumental steel, bronze and aluminum feminine sculptures by Spanish artist, Manolo Valdez. Children will enjoy the interactive activities at "Gingerbread Adventures," where they can grind fresh spices, decorate a gingersnap cookie and view professionally-baked gingerbread houses. Warm apple cider is available at the Garden Cafe, and merrily decorated pine trees delight outside the Visitor's Center and Garden Shop.


An All-Garden Pass to the Botanical Garden's, which includes admission to the Holiday Train Show, starts at $20 for adults, and $10 for children ages 2-12, and 30% off may be available for select weekday tickets using code 9036 online.

The Holiday Train Show is closed on Christmas Day, but has extended hours through the rest of this holiday week. Don't delay because these trains leave the station (until next year...) on January 13th.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Cougar The Musical" Follows Women "Of a Certain Age" On a Journey of Self-Discovery.


Looking for the latest theatrical tale of romantic rendezvous? Take your mom, take your sister, or better yet, take yourself, over to St. Luke's Theater, to follow three women "of a certain age" on a journey of self-discovery in "Cougar The Musical," though you don't have to be over 40 to enjoy the fun and original story and songs by playwright and composer, Donna Moore.

First, meet Mary-Marie (played by Babs Winn), the vibrant and comical owner of the new "cougar" bar in town, "Elder Grill and Boys Lounge".  Mary-Marie may be over-the-hill, but her age doesn't stop her over-active libido from seeking out any young man who will have her. Next up, Lily (played by Mary Mossberg), a recent divorcee whose voice and stage presence dazzle as beautifully as her slim, sexy figure, stumbles upon Mary-Marie's bar in her naivete, and is first introduced to the idea of being a "cougar"(an older woman who dates younger men). Finally, enter Clarity Jackson (played by Brenda Braxton), a savvy, self-reliant woman who has all but given up on finding a real man, and is writing a thesis paper on how the term "cougar" has developed as a derogatory term for women. Jackson wonders why a man who dates a younger woman can just be called a man, while a woman who dates a younger man must be pigeonholed as a "cougar," and she sets out to prove her theory of cougars as women who are less than empowered, and certainly not women to be taken seriously.

The show is peppered with witty one-liners and clever banter among the three women themselves as well as versatile actor, Danny Bernardy, who single-handedly plays every male character in the show, and even one female character, all with charm and charisma (not to mention some darling dimples!). As the storylines play out, each woman discovers her own personal strength and independence, and each finds her own story resolved in an unexpected way.

There is no intermission during the show, but the 90-minute performance seems to fly by as quickly as Mary-Marie's latest fling. With so many parody shows on the scene, it is refreshing to see a fairly new off-Broadway musical comedy (previews began in August) that isn't just recycling someone else's music (with one slight exception, a song to the tune of "Hush Little Baby"), but rather pairs judicious lyrics with creative, classy choreography.

Get yourself excited with some preview videos, and then purchase tickets to "Cougar The Musical" while they're still available (today's matinee show was sold out!). Tickets for performances through December 30 may also be available at a discount through at broadwaybox.com.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fuerza Bruta Closing Date Looms

What do a running man, some aerial acrobats swimming overhead, and lots of confetti have to do with each other? I'm still trying to figure that out, but it certainly makes for a good time in the mystifying, mesmerizing, explosive show, Fuerza Bruta.

The show opens with a running man...
During the approximately 70-minute Fuerza Bruta performance, lights, sounds and colors collide all around you, and especially above you, as the show's catch phrase is "Look Up".  Actors move through physical space in unimaginable ways, perform exciting stunts, and garner audience participation in provocative scenes of dance, mayhem, comedy, music and physics. What began as an experimental show in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has become a sensation in New York City.

However, sadly, this visually stunning show, that has kept New York City audiences on their toes (literally, you must remain standing the entire time!) for over five years will soon be coming to a close. The curtain falls for the last time for Fuerza Bruta on January 6 (well, actually, there is no curtain -- everyone just gathers in a dark room...), but tickets are still available for upcoming shows, including additional performance dates added for the holidays. Discount tickets can also be purchased at broadwaybox.com.

Look Up!
Because you will be moving around the theater, and there is no way to guess where you could end up, it is best to leave any bags and all personal items with the coat check prior to entering the theater.  Fuerza Bruta performances take place at the Daryl Roth Theatre, at 101 E. 15th Street (just off of Union Square East), and a downstairs lounge hosts a happy hour after every performance.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sandy -- If You Want to Help But Aren't Sure How...

Most of Manhattan is now powered up once again, but our region is still suffering.  Following is a word-of-mouth compilation of ways YOU can HELP victims of Sandy recover, from my friends and family, to yours. This is not nearly a comprehensive list, but it is one I have collected from the ideas and suggestions of many friends, upon my request for them to tell me where relief is most needed.  Some of these many not be tax-deductible, so if that is important, please inquire first.

Please feel free to add more ideas to the comments section.

Of course, as in any major disaster worldwide, the Red Cross is out in force.  You can donate to Sandy relief on their website, give blood, or text "redcross" to 90999 to donate $10.

Long Beach, New York
Long Beach, the "City By the Sea," is the small barrier island where I was raised, and which currently is operating with no power, water, or working sewage.  Schools are closed and many residents are indefinitely homeless and the town is essentially uninhabitable.  The iconic boardwalk built, partially by elephants, was ripped apart, and entire sections floated into the middle of town.

Donate directly to the City of Long Beach by sending monetary donations to City of Long Beach Relief, 1 West Chester Street, Long Beach, New York, 11561, or online at longbeachny.gov. The city is also accepting food and water donations at East School, at 456 Neptune Blvd, West School, at 91 Maryland Avenue, and Waldbaum's Plaza, at 85 E. Park Ave., and donations of other items including blankets, diapers, wipes, children's shoes, paper towels, toilet paper, batteries, socks, hats, glvoes and shopping bags can be brought to the local Ice Arena, at 150 W. Bay Drive.

Follow Long Beach, NY Hurricane Information's facebook page (not sponsored by the city, but providing a wealth of information, by residents and for residents and their friends and loved ones) for frequent updates on how residents are recovering and ways you can help.  The promoters of that page have been operating a supplies drop-off site daily at a Freeport store, Floor Mart, located at 157 E. Sunrise Hwy, and are also accepting shipped packages there to attention of Chris Musto.  See the facebook page for more information on donation hours (for Monday, 11/5, it will be 11am-2pm).  Major needs include baby formula and food, pet food, blankets and towels, air freshener, brooms, first-aid kits, cotton balls, mouthwash, candles, floss, body spray, AAA batteries, gluten-free products, and plastic storage bins. Also helpful are industrial strength black garbage bags, heavy duty rubber gloves, non-perishable and packaged food and drinks, flashlights, batteries, generators, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, toiletries, paper goods, gas and gas cans, manual can openers, disposable cameras, markers and poster board, sanitary wipes, cleaning supplies, water, soap, tarps, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, bleach, laundry detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste, paper towels.

A former Long Beach Resident, Dennis Carmody, now residing in North Carolina, has found a way to help even from miles away, by starting an online donation site for Hurricane Sandy relief.  Dennis seeks to raise $5000 for the battered city, and all proceeds will go to the efforts of the Red Cross of Greater New York.

You can purchase beautiful photos of Long Beach at its prime and also know that 100% of the proceeds from those photos will go towards Sandy relief at Super Cleary Photo's website.

Breezy Point, Rockaway, Queens and Coney Island and Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, New York
The Rockaways also lost an iconic boardwalk; only the foundations remain. 110 homes burned down in an out of control fire during the storm, in Breezy Point, and other homes and businesses in the Rockaway Peninsula, Coney Island and Gerritsen Beach shore areas have been destroyed and devastated.  Families have lost everything.

I.S. 281, located at 8787 24th Ave., in Brooklyn, is accepting physical donations for Rockaway and Coney Island.

Park Avenue Tavern, at 39th and Park, in Manhattan, is accepting physical donations of specific items for the Rockaways: flashlights, batteries, masks, contractor bags, work gloves, men's and women's wellies and work boats, cleaning supplies (mops, buckets, brooms, etc.). Please clearly mark/label items. They are also in need of first aid supplies such as baby cough medicine, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Ace bandages, Advil and Tylenol, clearly labeled, and sorted separately from any of the other supplies.  Clothing is NOT needed at this location at this time. If you cannot physically get to the Tavern, you may ship items to St. Francis DeSales, 129-16 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Belle Harbor, New York, 11694. In Good Company Hospitality, the parent company of Park Avenue Tavern, has also established a Rockaways relief fund online, and monetary donations are accepted here.

Resurrection Church at 2331 Gerritsen Ave, Brooklyn, is accepting physical donations for Gerritsen Beach.

St. Bernadette's Church at 8201 13th Ave, Brooklyn, is also accepting physical donations for the Rockaways.

New York Aquarium 
Coney Island was indeed hit hard, and the beloved NY Aquarium is in desperate need of support for the marine life whose habitats are now threatened. The aquarium remains closed indefinitely due to severe storm damage, including massive flooding.  Read about the animals in need and the wonderful volunteers trying to help them here, and make a donation here.

Belmar, New Jersey
Many of New York's neighbors are also still suffering from Sandy's aftermath, such as the shore town of Belmar, New Jersey, recently ranked as the number one beach in Monmouth County. As cleanup efforts continue, and water and rubble are removed from the streets, schools will not be able to open for at least another week.  The Borough of Belmar is accepting monetary donations at belmar.com, and has established a Hurricane Relief Distribution Center that is accepting physical donations at the Belmar Arts Council Building, at 608 River Road, on the corner of Seventh Ave.

Jersey City, New Jersey
Just across the river from NYC, Jersey City residents are still in dire need of assistance, and one local, sustainable food shop, Bread and Spoon, is donating food to those in need.  To help them with their efforts, contact the owners via their website, or via email at breadandspoon@gmail.com.


All Encompassing: Staten Island and other NYC areas, Long Island, and Jersey Shore
Arguably the most devastated NYC borough, Staten Island is desperate for relief as it tries to rebuild entire neighborhoods that were destroyed by the storm.  The Tunnel to Towers Foundation, originally set up to honor a fallen firefighter after 9/11, is accepting Sandy relief donations, and you can specify exactly what region you want your funds to be used towards - Staten Island, NYC residents, New Jersey Shore residents, or Long Island residents, or you can choose "general relief".  Donate to Tunnel to Towers here.


If you still feel you want to/can do more, read this article from Boston's NPR News station, 90.9, WBUR, for more ideas on how and where to help.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Limited Subway Service Returns in Wake of Sandy

The MTA is slowly but surely getting back up after the devastation of Sandy.  Buses began operating last night at 5pm and subways will begin running limited service in Manhattan and Bronx from 42nd Street and north, as well as shuttle buses from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Brooklyn service is more limited. Please see schedule update below:

SUBWAYS:
1 trains will operate local between 242nd Street (Bronx) and Times Square-42nd Street.
2 trains will operate between 241st Street (Bronx) and Times Square-42nd Street, with express service between 96th Street and Times Square.
3 trains are suspended.
4 trains will operate in two sections making all local stops:
· Between Woodlawn (Bronx) and Grand Central-42nd Street
· Between Borough Hall and New Lots Avenue
5 trains will operate express in Brooklyn between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and Flatbush Avenue.
6 trains will operate local between Pelham Bay Park and Grand Central-42nd Street.
7 trains are suspended.
42nd Street Shuttle S trains will operate between Times Square and Grand Central.
A trains will operate in two sections making all local stops:
· Between 168th Street (Manhattan) and 34th Street-Penn Station
· Between Jay Street/MetroTech and Lefferts Blvd.
B and C service is suspended.
D trains operate in two sections:
· Between 205th Street (Bronx) and 34th Street-Herald Square making all local stops
· In Brooklyn, between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and Bay Parkway making express stops between Pacific Street and 36th Street
E trains are suspended.
F trains operate in two sections making all local stops:
· Between 179th Street (Queens) and 34th Street-Herald Square
· In Brooklyn, between Jay Street-MetroTech and Avenue X
G trains are suspended.
J trains operate between Jamaica Center and Hewes Street making all local stops.
L trains operate between Broadway Junction and rockaway Parkway making all local stops.
M trains operate between Myrtle Avenue-Broadway and Metropolitan Avenue.
N trains operate between Ditmars Blvd. (Queens) and 34th Street-Herald Square making all local stops.
Q trains are suspended.
R trains operate in Brooklyn between Jay Street-MetroTech and 95th Street making all local stops.
Both the Franklin Avenue and Rockaway Park S shuttles are suspended.

SHUTTLE BUSES:
All shuttle buses will operate north on 3rd Avenue and south on Lexington Avenue.
1. Between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Manhattan Bridge
2. Between Jay Street-MetroTech and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Manhattan Bridge
3. Between Hewes Street and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Williamsburg Bridge

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where to Find Halloween Costumes and Accessories in NYC


Halloween Party-Goers Ike Sainoi and Richard Park
Want You  to Ask "Where's Waldo?"

Halloween is just around the corner.  Do you have a costume yet?  

Whether you're looking to participate in the 39th Annual Village Halloween Parade on October 31, you've RSVPed to some extravagant masquerade party this weekend, or you just can't wait to take your little ones trick-or-treating, you're nobody if you can't pretend to be somebody else at least one day a year.

Don't fear! There is almost definitely a shop near you where you can fulfill all of your Halloween dreams: 

Halloween Adventure
Although called “Halloween Adventure,” one of the best costume shops in all of New York City, is actually open all year round, and located right near Union Square, at 104 4th Ave. Have a vampire convention to attend in Boston in February? This is the place to go for all of your costume accessories. Of course, it wouldn’t be a “Halloween Adventure” if the store didn’t also offer just about everything and more that you need to build the biggest, baddest Halloween costume out there (or just purchase one already made). Claiming to be the largest costume store on the East Coast, and especially catering to Hollywood aficionados, Halloween Adventure has costumes and accessories ranging from obscure yet professional-looking monster masks to full out Stormtroopers, Tron and other famous characters.

Ricky’s NYC

If you're looking to add some real pizzazz to your Halloween costume, and you’re willing to spare no expense, Ricky’s Costume Superstore is the perfect place to purchase your getup. With more than 20 locations in Manhattan, 2 in Brooklyn, 1 one Queens, and 1 in Hoboken, in addition to 12 "pop up" stores just for Halloween, you're bound to be within walking distance or a short train ride to a Ricky's. Once there, you can browse colorful wigs galore, glittery upscale beauty products, the sexiest adult costumes you’ve ever seen, as well as a large collection of children and pet costumes. Ricky’s provides one of the most sophisticated shopping experiences for anyone (or any dog or cat) who needs to look absolutely fabulous on Halloween.

Spirit Halloween Superstores

Scaring into New York City only seasonally, and closing its doors precisely on October 31, Spirit Halloween Superstores knows the real meaning of supply and demand.  With Halloween rapidly approaching, bleary eyed work-a-day consumers demand the best products and prices, and Spirit’s selection and value are anything but transparent.  Spirit stands out because it is all Halloween, all the time! And to really set themselves apart from their competitors, Spirit offers changing rooms where certain costumes to be tried on, because nobody wants a costume that looks great in the bag but horrible on your person.  Spirit is also a great option for Halloween decorations, to create a really spooky home, such as motion-activated ghoul machines. Find a Spirit Halloween Superstore near you. There's branches in all five boroughs, nearby New Jersey and Long Island.

Party City

Party City is literally a warehouse for party supplies, and Halloween is certainly a reason to party.  Anyone who has seen their old “Thriller” costume commercials, knows that the costume experience at Party City is an exciting one, and the prices are surprisingly less than chilling.  Party City has daily deals available online, and being a large, national retailer, the store is able to offer great deals in-store as well.  Rest assured that anything you may need for Halloween can be found here -- full costumes for all ages, personalities and body types, fun makeup, paper goods to throw your very own Halloween bash, and assorted candy to keep on stock for trick-or-treaters that may come your way. Check out Party City's expanded hours for Halloween at its two Manhattan locations on W. 14th and W. 34th Streets.

T.J. Maxx

Known for fabulous styles at deep discounts, true “Maxxinistas” know that T.J. Maxx isn’t just for hunting down inexpensive household goods or snagging designer fashions at rockbottom prices, but it is also a great place to start your children’s Halloween costume search.  T.J. Maxx is known for selling clothing that looks expensive but is actually quite reasonably priced, and the same holds true for their assorted kids’ costumes.  From ladybugs to regal princesses, T.J. Maxx will outfit your little one in quality costume attire, and probably for under $30. Locate a T.J. Maxx near you.

Finally, don’t overlook the seasonal aisles of your local pharmacy. Both CVS and Duane Reade have small seasonal sections in each store. The selections are far less than the larger costume stores, but if you just need a generic pirate costume, “Scream” mask or black cape, you may want to check out the lower prices here before hitting up the bigger stores.


**A similar version of this post was originally submitted to newyork.nearsay.com, but never published.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sarita's Macaroni and Cheese (aka "S'MAC") Comes to Murray Hill!

Warm, gooey, cheesy comfort food. That's what Sarita's Macaroni and Cheese, more commonly known as "S'MAC," has been serving up since 2006 at its popular East Village location. Now there's even more to love from S'MAC owners, "husband and wife team," Sarita and Caesar Ekya, as S'MAC cut the proverbial ribbon on a second indoor location, just a few weeks ago, in Murray Hill (S'MAC also operates a small outdoor kiosk at First Park).

S'MAC's New Space in Murray Hill 
S'MAC offers more than ten varieties on traditional macaroni and cheese, in four varying sizes -- from just a "Nosh" (which is actually more than enough for one person to have an entire meal), to "Partay!" size plates of mac. Don't bother with the "All-American," as it will never be the same mac your mom made when you were little. Instead, branch out and explore the other dishes, each featuring a different cheese, meat or spice that will create wonderful food memories in your mouth.

Parissiene with Breadcrumbs

Just one bite of the "Parissiene," made with creamy brie, roasted figs and shitake mushrooms, and fresh rosemary, will have any cheese-lover sold on S'MAC. Those watching calories who still want to indulge should try the "Garden Lite," made with light cheddar and parmesan cheeses, and mixed with scrumptious veggies, like cauliflower and broccoli, and with a hint of roasted garlic. If none of the selections strike your fancy (which is unlikely), try the S'MAC Sampler, or just create your own mac and cheese sensation, using your choice of cheeses and "mix-ins". Don't forget to ask for free breadcrumbs!

Want to buy now but eat later? Ask for your mac to be prepared "Take & Bake" style. These S'MAC dishes can last 3-4 days in your refrigerator, or longer in your freezer, to be baked at your own convenience.



Have a gluten allergy?  You don't have to pass up the food adventures at S'MAC, as all dishes can be made with gluten-free pasta (for an additional cost). S'MAC also has options for vegans and those with lactose intolerance.

Need another reason to support S'MAC? When you support S'MAC, they support others in the community.

Visit all of S'MAC's current locations:

East Village - 345 E. 12th St., between 1st and 2nd Aves.

Murray Hill - 157 E. 33rd St., between Lexington and 3rd Aves.

Kiosk - 3 1st Ave., First Park, at the corner of 1st and Houston

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

TheSkilift.org Lets the Car-less Find Rideshares to the Slopes!

Last year, I posted all about skiing and snowboarding day trips from New York City without a car.  The bus  trips mentioned are an easy and convenient way to enjoy the slopes, but now another option has come into the mix: TheSkiLift.org is a rideshare and social networking site for the snowbound, connecting those with cars with those who need a proverbial "lift."

Whether you have a car and want some company or a little cash while driving to the slopes, or you are looking to ski/board and hope to save a little money on transportation, be able to go on your own schedule, and maybe make a friend in the process, TheSkiLift.org is a great tool.  The site connects would-be ridesharers not just locally, but around the world.   Hopefully there will actually be some snow this year in upstate New York, New England and surrounding areas, so we can enjoy the great snow sports they have to offer.

Find TheSkiLift on facebook here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bayside High School Comes to NYC With All of Your Favorite "Zack Attack" Members.

Break out your oversized 90s cell phone and bottle of caffeine pills, as the "Zack Attack" has hit the East Village's Kraine Theater.  Alternatively known as either Bayside High School, or the beloved teen hangout, "The Max," depending on the scene, Kraine Theater has welcomed the wacky cast of  the 1989-1993 hit TV sitcom, "Saved By the Bell" to perform a musical about their school, friendships, and love lives.


Okay, actually, it's not the original cast, as they're all now approaching 40, nor is the show even authorized by the creators of the original "Saved By the Bell," but who's checking?  "Bayside! The Unmusical!" brings the audience back to that turbulent, grunge rock era that was the 90s.  Two electric guitarists accompany a spry cast of fresh, young faces to rekindle the love between "Zack" and "Kelly," cure "Jessie Spano" of her crippling over-the-counter pill addiction, help "AC Slater" find his passion, and help "Lisa Turtle" gossip and shop, and shop and gossip, all the while keeping up wise-cracks at the expense of the king of nerds, "Samuel 'Screech' Powers."  The guitarists, who together make up the only "orchestra" of the show, also happen to be the parody's writers and directors, cousins, Bob and Tobly McSmith.  Their rock music numbers are part-original, part parodies in themselves of famous songs such as "You're the One That I Want" from movie-musical, "Grease".

Slater confronts Jessie about her pill bottles
Photo by Curtis Peel
The show opens with an introductory musical number reminding the audience about some of the critical and most memorable storylines that their favorite characters were involved in while the show was popular.  For example, Jessie and Slater sing about how they're the "worst couple at Bayside."  Immediately, a few things are clear -- April Kidwell, who plays Jessie, has amazing comedic timing and is the glue that holds the show together, while her counterpart, Israel Viñas (Slater), is the one to watch for his perfect pitch and Broadway-style singing voice.

"Bayside! The Unmusical!" is quirky, sexually tinged, and full of many throwbacks to the original to catch the audience's attention - dream sequences, Zack freezing time, even buddy bands!  Follow the gang as they try to come up with a way to save The Max, which will be forced to close if they can't raise $500.  Along the way, reconnect with the characters you have come to know and love, whether via first run episodes or during the frequent reruns that still play on network TV to this day.

Will Zack and Kelly stay "friends forever"?
Photo by Curtis Peel
Zack, played by JD Scalzo, narrates the show and makes it clear that it's really all about him.  His character is nothing if not cool and a bit conceited.  Zack's love interest, Kelly, played by Caitlin Claessens, is beautiful as can be, and though her character as a flighty, promiscuous cheerleader is extremely exaggerated, the audience is nevertheless left with a genuine affection for her as she tries to break some important news to her beau.  Meanwhile, with bulging muscles, greased to shine and, well, bulge, Viñas prances around the stage in a classic onesie-style wrestling leotard, proclaiming his mutual love and hate for things like wrestling, and Jessie, while he wonders if the world will ever see him as "more than just a greasy, beefy stud-muffin."  As he ponders this, Slater eventually comes to an important realization that is a team-changer. Whoops, I mean game changer... Jessie, for better or worse, isn't really paying attention to this, as she is both so excited and so, so scared about whether or not she'll ever get into Stanford.  Keep an eye on her character improvisations and embellishments if you really want to crack up.

Shamira Clark, who plays Lisa, surprises the audience when she turns out to not only be black, but not half bad at rapping, and you can't help but notice that in a trendy, fashionable hat, she could be a dead ringer for Lark Voorhies, who played the original Lisa Turtle in the series.  Lisa is constantly pursued by Screech, played by Rachel Witz, who goes in and out of character to reference ways her predecessor, Dustin Diamond, has tried desperately to remain in the media spotlight in the real world (such as by creating and distributing a video of himself engaged in sexual self-gratification).

Of course, the Bayside High team wouldn't be complete if Mr. Belding weren't involved, especially as the kids recognize (and sing about how) they're the "only students at Bayside."  Actor and real-life criminal lawyer, Zachary Peters, nails Belding's signature "hey, hey hey!" and belly laughs.

Overall, for only $15 for a general admission ticket, "Bayside! The Musical!" is a fun way to spend a little over an hour reminiscing and laughing at the jokes that just never get old.  In fact, the show had opened and closed earlier in the year, but it was apparently saved by the bell, and brought back for the current limited engagement, at the end of September.  While the creators hope to keep it going for as long as possible, right now there are only four remaining shows scheduled, so buy your tickets now and get ready to go back to high school.  Go Bayside!

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Website, "Vimbly" Virtually Navigates the City For Busy Activity-Seekers

Vimbly Navigates the City for  Busy Activity-Seekers
New website, "Vimbly," launches today, and seeks to change the way New Yorkers find and book activities. Ever want to try a new class or activity in NYC but feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available? How do you sort through available activities, times, and costs, remaining confident that you'll discover the best deal? According to Vimbly, "71% of people have decided against signing up for an activity due to the hassle of booking." With that in mind, Vimbly takes the hard work out of actually booking the activity, allowing patrons to save time and energy, which they can devote to the actual experience, instead of the chore of finding that experience.

Vimbly hopes to do for activities what sites like Orbitz did for air travel or Open Table for dining out, by streamlining the search and booking process. Surf over to the site and instantly book your desired lesson or activity. If you're just browsing for something to do, perhaps seeking to impress a date, Vimbly's home page highlights featured activities that can be booked instantly, with a calendar matrix showing available class times and dates. For now, all activities offered are on weeknights and evenings, as the site seems geared towards busy professionals.

Whether you want to try a martial art, learn a new cooking technique, or dance like a star, Vimbly is the place to go to discover and book low-cost activities. The site streamlines the process by breaking classes into categories, such as "food adventure," "dance for beginners," and "photography," as well as giving patrons the option to search for an activity by specific keyword, if you already have an activity idea in mind, or by location (with the help of an expandable google maps icon), date, time and/or price, if you're browsing for a new hobby.

Suppose you want to browse free intro and trial classes. On the top left corner of the site, you can change the price search option to "$0," and find a class to meet your mood. Learn the basics of bartending in a free mixology trial class, whirl a date across the dance floor during an introductory salsa and swing class, or discipline your mind and body in intro Tae Kwon Do, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and more. More unique activity, date and hobby ideas can be found under the category "Make Me Interesting," where you can book intro to pole dancing classes, improv comedy, chess or guitar lessons, or make a reservation to visit a local exhibit such as Dialog in the Dark.

Vimbly Virtual Ticket With Booking Information
The name "Vimbly" is part acronym, part word-mash up, and stands for "very nimbly." This could be a reference to the many nimble activities offered, or a shout-out to the site's own agility, and the ease and speed with which activities can be reserved. Just click on your desired date/time, fill in your name and email address, and number of guests (including yourself), and you will instantly see a virtual ticket with all of your booking information. Don't worry about printing this, as Vimbly is fairly paperless. You will instantly receive an e-mail confirmation that you should keep handy on your smartphone, if you have one, or via printout if you don't, but Vimbly works closely with each and every vendor so that you can just walk in and say, "Hi, my name is Heather, I booked the 5pm Popping and Locking class on Vimbly," and immediately be recognized and welcomed.

The staff of Vimbly don't just pick vendors willy nilly, but often actually try out the classes they offer to book for you. Vimbly is continuing to expand and is frequently adding new vendors and categories. Vimbly also keeps a blog of fun ideas and articles to broaden your activity-search experience. Consider reading "Why Dinner is a Terrible Date Idea," and learn why you may want to book an alternative activity with your would-be partner (on Vimbly, of course...), or read about the benefits of a martial arts workout, in "Martial Arts: 30% More Calories, 100% More Fun Than Traditional Workouts."

Customer service is key at Vimbly. There are absolutely no booking fees, and most activities do not even require pre-payment, but instead allow payment on arrival. (See Vimbly's FAQs for more payment explanations). Rest assured that should you run into any unlikely problems with your booking, the "Vimbly Handshake" acts as a virtual guarantee that your issue will be resolved quickly and efficiently. Just e-mail help@vimbly.com, and Vimbly staff will respond to you within six hours. If you were truly unsatisfied with a vendor, Vimbly may even refund the cost of your activity, regardless of whether or not you pre-paid through Vimbly's site.

Vimbly is just starting out, but the site ran some recent beta tests, and WGINY was very impressed with how easy and fun it was to book an interesting class. With Vimbly, users bypass all the time-consuming google-searching, sifting through link after link after link, manually comparing vendors and class schedules, and other draining work. Vimbly has already taken all of this information from around the web and gathered it for you, presenting it in a manner that makes it easily searchable and instantly bookable. Read more about "bookability" and how Vimbly is working to fix a broken system here, and then go discover your activity. Your new Krav Maga instructor is waiting for you.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pole Dance Athletes Look for Credibility at the USPDF Championships

Amateur USPDF Competitor Tracee Kafer
Yesterday afternoon and evening, 20 women competed in the fourth annual US Pole Dancing Federation Championships, Amateur and Pro Divisions, held in NYC at Symphony Space. Don't you dare confuse these women with strippers or exotic dancers (despite the sparkly, revealing outfits, and high heels). They may be beauty bombshells, but they are seasoned athletes, gymnasts, dancers, and performers, and they are full of creative talent. Pole dancing is a sport that has only recently begun to gain popularity, both internationally and within the US, while also taking the city by storm as the latest fitness craze. Currently, there is even a controversial discussion going on about whether or not pole dancing should be accepted as an official Olympic sport.

The USPDF Championship event offered just one more place where these athletes can demonstrate the art they have worked hard to master, and gain some credibility for themselves in the process. Challenging moves, tricks and combinations on the pole require flexibility, stamina and endurance, not to mention some kick-ass arm strength. Just like in yoga, every move has a name -- such as the "Peter Pan Spin" or the "Firefly Spin." Enter "pole dancing" into the search box on You Tube to find these and other examples. Experienced pole dancers, such as USPDF judge and guest performer, Jenyne Butterfly, admittedly have You Tube to thank, in part, for the recent rise in popularity and acceptance of their sport. Butterfly, a pioneer in pole dancing for sport, won the first USPDF Championship, in 2009, and has performed as an aerialist, dancer and actress in the recent movie musical adaptation of "Rock of Ages," as well as on tour with Cirque du Soleil.

Both divisions of the 2012 USPDF Championships featured a compulsory round and an "optional" round. During compulsory rounds, athletes had 90 seconds to perform a routine incorporating both pole and floor work, and were judged based on factors such as flexibility and extension, difficulty of routine, and overall performance. During the optional rounds, judges placed more emphasis on difficulty, and looked for performers to really let their personal style shine with their respective choreography. Many of the women performed the optional rounds barefoot, forgoing customary stilettos.

During the Amateur Division, serious spinning gave way to graceful movements that played out like a ballet. Sarah Jade, owner and lead instructor of Buttercup Pole Dance Fitness Studio in Tampa, Florida, owned the pole with original, challenging moves that kept the audience completely fixated on her, and she won overall second place in the competition. The overall first place winner, who also won the Amateur optional round, was Sergia Louise Anderson. Anderson, an NYU-trained actress when she's not pole dancing, and currently a principal cast member on The Girl Next Door, was captivating and fluid on the pole. She certainly earned her titles, which will be her ticket to the Pro Division next year, should she choose to compete again (performers must place in the Amateur Division before they can enter the competition as a "Pro").

Surprisingly, no Amateur awards went to Los Angeles pole instructor, Jennifer Kim, whose creative routines were sexy, thrilling, and breathtaking. During the compulsory round, Kim emerged in red stilettos, and spun around to a French version of "These Boots are Made for Walking," demonstrating highly difficult combinations that demanded attention.

WGINY was unable to attend the Pro Division competitions, so you'll have to follow USPDF for updates on the final winners of the Championship this year. Keep an eye on these athletes as pole dancers continue to rise up in revolution (pun intended) as aerial performers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Feed Your Sweet Tooth at Swedish Sensation, Sockerbit.


If you crave candy, and you haven't stopped by Sockerbit yet, then you are missing out. With a tagline like "Sweet and Swedish," how you can resist stopping in this West Village candy shop, the only one of its kind in the city? Every single sweet piece at Sockerbit is imported directly from Sweden, and there are no additives of any kind allowed. This is just about as natural as candy can be, and yet, it is quite addictive!

"Sockrade hjärtan" (aka sugar-coated raspberry hearts) may melt your heart, while "icemint toppar"  (sugary mint jellies) remain cooly refreshing. Mix and match these and other candy combinations ranging from sour to sweet, chocolate to marshmallow (or chocolate and marshmallow), hard candies, and licorice, and all for only $3.25 per 1/4 pound.

Perhaps the greatest find at Sockerbit, and one of my all-time favorite sweets, is the "chokladnallar." Described as vanilla marshmallows dipped in milk chocolate, but more recognizable as chocolate-covered gummy bears, this hard-to-find delicacy blends the perfect proportion of chewy and chocolate, and just one small teddy bear morsel sends sweet chills down my spine.

Sockerbit, located at 89 Christopher Street (just East of Bleecker St), and open until 8pm on weekdays, and 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays, is a must-visit for any West Village outing. Don't have time to get to the store? Order online here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Richard Sandoval's FOUR at YOTEL Redefines Boozy Brunch.


The Terrace at FOUR
For over a year now, chic hotel, YOTEL, has been redefining boozy brunch at its restaurant, FOUR, a brainchild of celebrity chef, Richard Sandoval. On Saturdays and Sundays, between 11am and 3pm, FOUR draws a vibrant crowd for its $40, all you can eat, all you can drink, brunch. A live DJ pumps out hip tunes on the large rooftop terrace, where young professionals, hipsters and fashionistas gather to enjoy good food, good company, and great views of NYC.

Unlike your run of the mill weekend brunch, where some pancake or waffle dish might be the main event, Sandoval's FOUR expands the notion of brunch into an all day affair (even though groups are technically only allowed to place their unlimited food and drink orders for two hours). With a menu that includes sliders, salads, sushi, meatballs, fried rice, general tso's chicken, and even Mexican chilaquiles, served with nachos, in addition to four different types of scrambled eggs, pineapple french toast, and three different bacon-infused dishes, Sandoval draws on Latin, Pan-Asian, and American flavors to create dishes that can be enjoyed throughout the morning or afternoon. All groups dining during brunch hours must participate in the $40 deal, but the "free-flowing cocktails" and unlimited small plates are sure to fill happy customers' bellies, and chances are you won't want to eat another meal all day.

Choose from unlimited bloody marys, mimosas, or sangria. Mix and match cocktails during your meal, or, if you have a large group, ask the waiter to leave a pitcher or two. Unsurprisingly, it's easy to over order at FOUR, so parties are asked not to request more than one dish per person at a time, though all plates are served to share, and it's impossible to leave hungry. Make sure to also keep your waiter on his or her toes when ordering small plates, as service can get slow during the busy brunch hours. WGINY recommends starting light with some eggs and salad plates, before moving onto the meatier hot plates. Skip the bland, underdone cod sliders, but don't miss the herbed house-ground meatballs or the addictive bacon rosemary french fries.

YOTEL is located just two blocks from Times Square, at 570 Tenth Avenue, off of W. 42nd Street. Reservations can't be made for terrace dining, but you're still better off having one than not.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Go "Into the Woods" at Central Park.


It’s almost the last midnight for The Public Theater’s free presentation of Stephen Sondeim’s classic fairytale-gone-bad musical, “Into the Woods,” currently playing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  Although the Delacorte Theater has played host to free Shakespeare performances every summer, during the annual “Shakespeare in the Park” series, this is the first year that the theatre has also hosted a free Sondheim show.

Despite being completely free (although it is possible to score tickets by making a large arts donation…), Shakespeare (and now Sondheim) in the Park is annually one of the most difficult shows to get tickets too.  Would-be patrons generally must either be on line by 6am on a performance day, and wait until the box office opens at 1pm, with the hope of getting tickets for that evening’s 8pm performance, or take their chance at virtual ticketing, an online lottery that rarely seems to pay out. There are also a few other way to get tickets, but at the risk of giving away a long guarded secret, I am loathe to post that information publicly here.  Feel free to e-mail WGINY if you want more info, but act quickly as the show closes Labor Day weekend, with the last show on September 1. 

I first heard of Sondheim’s musical, “Into the Woods,” when I was a teenager, taking an acting class at my high school, and I immediately fell in love with the story, and especially with Bernadette Peters, in one of her most recognizable and challenging roles, as the “Witch.” I did not think that any actress could rival Peters’ talent, but I must admit that I was captivated by actress Donna Murphy’s portrayal of the Witch in this limited engagement show, and in her malevolent wisdom, she may have rivaled Bernadette's original performance... 

Although slated to begin at 8pm, the show actually started around 8:10pm, giving patrons the opportunity to find their seats, use the restroom, and generally arrive a few minutes late.  There did not appear to be any bad seats in the theater. The set design was simple, utilizing the natural surroundings of the park to build a forest scene that may very well have been the same woods used in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” (which WGINY did not have the opportunity to see, but which was put on by the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater earlier this summer). No pictures were allowed in the theater, but I should add that the designers did a superbly quirky job of juxtaposing the set and costumes together (take notice, for example, how the "Giant" appears, voiced by Glenn Close).

For patrons with hearing impairments, the play's dialogue was presented on two screens on either side of the theater in closed caption.  I appreciated this, and found myself following the captions at times just to be clear on Sondheim’s creative song lyrics.  In fact, being familiar with the show, I found it hard to contain my desire to sing along, but found that the audience was quiet and contemplative throughout the show.

Sondheim’s play is full of comic musings and double entendre, and is as much a fairytale for children as for adults.  My one qualm with this adapation was the young child cast as the narrator.  I am ingrained to expect a Dick Clark type in the narrator’s role, an older gentleman who can double as the “Mysterious Man” character (who, in this rendition, turns out to be played by Chip Zien, who portrayed the “Baker” in the original Sondheim show on Broadway). While I understood the whimsical aspect of casting a child in the narrator role, I felt it was misplaced for this show.

There were also some over-exaggerated sexual undertones throughout the show, such as between Little Red Riding Hood (played by the adorably snarky Sarah Stiles) and her Wolf (portrayed by Ivan Hernandez, who plays the role like a capricious, mischievous "Jack Sparrow"), but overall the show was true to its roots.  Actress Amy Adams breathed a young, sweet life into the play as the Baker's Wife, and her counterpart, played by Denis O'Hare, captured the audience as the tragic protagonist, the Baker. 

Exploring wishes, desires, fantasies, selfishness, selflessness, and other motifs, "Into the Woods" finds itself full of moral dilemmas, conundrums and other parables, leaves the audience with some enigmatic conclusions: "If the end is right, it justifies the beans," and "Sometimes the things you most wish for are not to be touched."  

WGINY Reader Tip: Want to meet the actors? Head to Gate 1 right after the curtain call and many of the actors will come out to greet you, and may even agree to sign autographs and pose for pictures. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Watch the Sun Set Over New York City, From Your "Manhattan Kayak"

The New York City skyline, lit up against the backdrop of a night sky, is a familiar, iconic scene, but you've never seen it like this... Normally, I would insert the obligatory picture here, but I didn't have my waterproof camera that day (okay, actually, I don't own a waterproof camera). By "that day," I am referring to a recent dusky evening, on which I had the adventurous pleasure of embarking on a "New York After Dark Tour" with Manhattan Kayak Company.

Joining a tour of approximately 12 people, we were each given a life vest and a paddle, received some brief paddling instructions on the dock, and then boarded our sit-upon kayaks one by one. Then two experienced guides accompanied our group as we paddled up and down the Hudson River for a little over an hour. Each kayak was equipped with a small back lamp, which the guides turned on as the sun turned down.

Pausing to take in my surreal surroundings, I was mesmerized by the sky, as remaining blue patches began to swirl above my head, mixing with marigold, mauve, rose and red-orange, like a painter's palate. Words cannot capture the magnificent image of the setting sun descending behind the skyscrapers, as we literally watched a New York night begin to come alive and vibrant. The natural light of the day faded out and the glimmer of the city shone bright with electrical buzz, and all the while I sat in the middle of it all.

Splashing around in my kayak, sitting on a body of water separating two states, my favorite view was, perhaps surprisingly, the southwest exposure of the sky over Jersey City. The further south one looked, the more open the water became, and toward the west, of course, was where the last remaining colors of the sun could be glimpsed the longest. Although we did paddle somewhat "after dark," the tour might more aptly be named something like "Sunset Over New York Tour."

I purchased my tour via bloomspot for under $40, and I have also seen Manhattan Kayak offer a similar voucher on zozi. At that price, the tour is well worth it. The normal price tag is $80 per person, which begins to feel a bit overpriced considering the length of the trip.

Manhattan Kayak does offer a 90 minute Full Moon Tour, when appropriate, for only $65, and a daily 45 minute "Fun in the Sun Tour" for $40, which runs twice on weekdays, and four times a day on weekends. Check out their calendar for these and other trips, and make sure to read the descriptions to choose the appropriate trip for your skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced).

WGINY Reader Tip: If you've never kayaked before, try getting your feet wet first, for free, by stopping by an introductory kayak class with the The New York City Downtown Boathouse (not affiliated with Manhattan Kayak), offered on Wednesday evenings at Pier 96, or taking out one of the Boathouse's free kayaks for a quick (only 20 minutes allowed) early evening or weekend paddle.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sarge's Deli: A Kosher-Style Staple That Rivals Trendier Counterparts.


Photo by Meredith V.
Photo by Meredith V.
When I was growing up, whenever anything was ailing me, my mother would serve me matzo ball soup from the local kosher-style deli.  "Jewish penicillin" we called it.  My mouth still waters whenever I recall those comforting soup bowls.  In fact, anytime I see mazto ball soup on a restaurant menu, my endorphins immediately enter hyperdrive.  So when I decided to try a local Murray Hill staple, Sarge's Delicatessen and Restaurant (for the first time, although it has been a neighborhood favorite since 1964), I was delighted to see matzo ball soup on the menu.
Photo by WGINY
Upon first walking into Sarge's, pass by the large butcher-shop style counter in the front, and head towards the dining area in the back, where you will find a pleasing arrangement of free starters waiting for you at your table.  While most delis give just cole slaw, pickles and rye bread, Sarge's steps it up a "nosh," and includes a complimentary side of freshly made chopped liver.  My dining companion and I devoured the liver, which was uniquely mixed with chopped hard-boiled egg and a hint of blended spices.  

Next up was the matzo ball soup, that warm broth from my youth which is hard to replicate, but Sarge's did a fine job.  I must admit I was initially disappointed by the nakedness of the soup-- no noodles, vegetables or poultry-- but I still savored every drop and enjoyed the perfectly packed matzo ball.  Moving on to the main courses, Sarge's truly serves up some monster sandwiches!  (True story: there is even a sandwich on the menu called "The Monster"!).  One sandwich is definitely enough for two people to share, and if you decide to dine alone, you may want to opt for the more economical "soup and 1/2 sandwich" option, self-explanatory.  We had the opportunity to try both turkey and corned beef, and I would highly recommend either, or any of the combination sandwiches offered.  

Don't be fooled by the no-frills diner atmosphere of Sarge's, the fact that the tables around you may be full of local senior citizens rather than hip tourists, or the lack of celebrity photos on the wall... this is a solid dining establishment that can certainly rival the likes of the trendier Katz's and Carnegie Deli, and with much more reasonable prices.  

Sarge's Delicatessen and Restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is located at 548 3rd Avenue, between E. 36th and E. 37th Streets. Sarge's also delivers throughout Manhattan, and offers a catering menu for large parties.



Friday, August 3, 2012

Curious about NASA's Mars Rover, "Curiosity"?

This Sunday night (or, very early Monday morning for East Coasters) will mark the long-awaiting landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, "Curiosity" on the surface of this mysterious Red Planet. "Curiosity" is expected to touch down at exactly 1:31 a.m., EDT, August 6, for a two year expedition to explore the Martian surface and look for signs of life (past or present), beginning with the Gale Crater, believed to once have been a water-filled lake, and serving as the "landing pad" for this historic mission.  As the most advanced Rover ever to land on Mars, curiosity is abound for what "Curiosity" might find and photograph for us mere Earthlings.

Apparently, Times Square will play host to the largest viewing event on the East Coast, as New Yorkers and tourists will converge and watch the landing live on the same big screens that New Year's Eve revelers follow when they come annually to countdown the famous ball drop.  Viewers at Times Square will be privy to live feed directly from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Flyer courtesy of DXagency

If you can't make it to Times Square, you can still watch the feed live from your own computer, via NASA's own website, or through Toshiba Innovation.  You can also listen to live coverage via NASA's first online space (radio) station, Third Rock Radio (which may be my new favorite radio station).  This will be NASA's first national "social media" event, virtually bringing together seven participating NASA field centers around the country.

If you want a more intimate viewing experience, fly on over to a landing parties at East Village bar, Professor Thom's, or New Jersey's William Patterson University (the latter accessible only by car).

Still feeling curious? Check out space.com's article about why we continue to return to the Red Planet, and view some of the Hubble Space Telescope's most majestic pictures of Mars at weather.com.

Follow WGINY on facebook for an exclusive opportunity to read some "fan fiction" about the rover's landing. 

Thanks to DXagency and Toshiba Innovation for providing information on the rover's mission, the Times Square viewing event, and NASA's live feeds. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Catch Musical Parody "Triassic Parq" at the SoHo Playhouse Before It Becomes Extinct!


It's a play 65 million years in the making.  If you're thinking about "Dino DNA," you're following the right tracks, but this story wasn't authorized by Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg, as the show's narrator, Morgan Freeman, explains. Rather, "Triassic Parq" is a rapturous hour-and-a-half of creative, low-budget musical parody theater, and it's only showing (for now), through August 5, at the SoHo Playhouse.  Read on to find out why you should try to catch these dinosaurs in action lest they disappear forever (again).

Audience members enter a small, 200-seat theater adorned with jungle vines and "electric" fencing (to keep the dinosaurs at bay, of course), as the soothing sounds of roaring dinos, chirping birds and other natural melodies fill the air.  The story begins with a bang, literally, and a crucial climactic scene is revealed with the opening number, "Velociraptor in a Cage (Velociraptor Full of Rage)."  The audience is left wondering what it all means, as the story backs up, and we learn that the "Q" in "Triassic Parq" stands for "question" (and, undoubtedly, and not even very subtly, queer and/or questioning).  "Triassic Parq" indeed examines some tough questions, such as whether faith and science can co-exist, and whether scorned lovers can overcome the "true weapon of mass destruction...emotion."

Imagine a man-made fairy tale park, on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, where visitors can view real, live dinosaurs such as velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rex.  The island's electric fences are the only thing separating the vicious beasts from the public, who are driven by in SUVs on dinosaur tours of the park.  Behind those fences, dinosaur pastor, Velociraptor of Faith (played by Wade McCollum), ensures that his dinosaur clan honors their creator, "Lab," and does not step too far out of line by asking too many questions about their origin.  Velociraptor of Faith makes it clear that his leadership, and the clan's faith in "Lab," should not be challenged.

Unbeknownst to the dinosaurs living on the island, the human scientists of "Lab" were careful as could be when they cloned the dinosaurs from DNA extracted from ancient mosquitoes, mixed with a just a small amount of modern frog DNA to complete the scientific process.  In order to control the population, only female dinosaurs were created.  However, as Morgan Freeman explains, "life finds a way."

Thus, hilarity, disharmony and chaos ensue when a female T-Rex suddenly discovers that she has grown an extra appendage, of sorts, and her mind, emotions and desires begin to change along with her (his? its?) body.  When Velociraptor of Innocence (played perfectly coyly by Alex Wyse) begins to ask too many questions, she is forced into the forest, on a soul-searching journey to find Velociraptor of Faith's sister, Velociraptor of Science, who had been banished from the clan, ostensibly for her beliefs and her unwillingness to blindly accept the will of "Lab."  Velociraptor of Science (played by Lindsay Nicole Chambers) roars onto the stage  with a ferocious charisma as she sings about the meaning of the word "Science."

The cast of only eight actors does a wonderful job of transporting the audience to a "Triassic Parq" full of singing and dancing dinosaurs (not to mention, a rambunctious, yet quiet "Mime-a-saurus," played by Brandon Epinoza).  The catchy and clever rock/hip-hopera music, and the flashy, fresh choreography (developed by choreographer, Kyle Mullins) bring this show full circle.  Accompanied by a live "Pianosaurus" (Zak Sandler, who also serves as the show's musical director), and percussionist (Jeremy Yaddaw), one can't help but fall for "Triassic Parq."  It's the kind of show that makes you wish you had been witty enough to write it, and one that you want to immediately see again as soon as it ends.  Three days after seeing this show, I still find myself singing to myself, "It's a Beautiful Day to be a Woman."

For an added treat, if you don't mind being poked, prodded, sat on or even laid upon, purchase an on-stage ticket and become part of the live action of "Triassic Parq."  Leave the little ones at home, as this sexy show is definitely R-rated.

You can purchase tickets to "Triassic Parq" on the show's website here, or try discount ticket site, broadwaybox (on-stage tickets are not available discounted).  Also on the show's official site, you can read more about the show's co-authors, Marshall Pailet (also composer and director), Bruce Norbitz, and Stephen Wargo, among other creative team members, as well as production members, and the full cast of characters.  Oddly enough, WGINY discovered this show via a targeted facebook ad, which brought me to the show's facebook page, which everyone should "like" if only for the daily dose of amazing dino humor.

"Triassic Parq" was the 2010 recipient of the New York International Fringe Festival award for Best Musical.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Free Recital Series!

The Metropolitan Opera Takes the Stage at Central Park's Summerstage
If you enjoy opera and open air, you may be interested in the Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series, taking place in NYC parks through August 9.  These FREE shows are the perfect way to introduce this timeless art to your "opera-curious" friends who aren't yet ready to (or just can't afford to) shell out the big bucks for the Met's classic full-length performances.  Even if you've been an opera lover for years, the series is a great way to kick back, picnic, and enjoy music samples from your favorite shows, as well as some you probably don't know.  Currently, three evenings remain in this six night series, which began on July 25 at Central Park's Summerstage, and continues on August 2 in Clove Lakes Park (Staten Island), August 7 in Jackie Robinson Park (Upper Manhattan), and August 9 in Socrates Sculpture Park (Long Island City/Queens).

WGINY caught the Central Park performance, a beautiful, romantic theatrical display, hosted by Danielle de Niese, who was also the evening's featured soprano.  I was immediately dazzled and amazed by the professionalism of the "rising" stars singing the likes of Puccini, Verdi, and Rossini, for free, on the stage before me.  De Niese, as the only female singer, had the luxury of a few fancy costume changes, from one black-tie gown to another, while the men (tenor, Dimitri Pittas, and bass-baritone, John Del Carlo) donned tuxes and dark suits.  Although this was in theory a concert, with a set list of approximately 17 individual and duet songs from more than 10 different multilingual operas, accompanied by pianist, Dan Saunders, the performers kept true to the character(s) they represented with each number.

The most enchanting moment was when, after a brief intermission, all three singers performed, and acted out, four selections from Donizetti's opera (Italian), "L'Elisir d'Amore," which de Niese explained translates to "Elixir of Love," and is a show that modern patrons would likely refer to as a romantic comedy.  The Shakespearean-style tale of love, magic potions, and the confusion they bestow, is intended to be lighthearted, and yet, I was utterly captivated by the story behind the music.

The show began at 8pm, just as dusk was settling in, but, due to park rules, was required to end by 10pm.  The time went quickly for the audience and performers alike, as De Niese realized as the night went on that there would not be enough time for the entire set to be followed as noted in the program given out at the start of the recital.  We were then treated to some "spontaneous" encore songs before the proverbial curtain closed (it's a park; there were no curtains...) and the lights in the house came on (okay, the lampposts surrounding the Summerstage area).  The event was so packed and popular that many were turned away from the actual Summerstage area (where the food trucks and wine are!) and had to spread out among the surrounding green to listen to the show, and perhaps hope to get a glimpse through the fence.

The performers and operatic selections on the remaining nights differ from what was presented in Central Park, but if the latter shows pack even a portion of the talent and wonder I was exposed to at that first recital, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  Prepare for Rossini's "Il Bariere di Siviglia," Gounoud's "Faust," Mozart's "Don Giovanni," and even some surprises from more "modern" theater, such as Rogers & Hammerstein's "Carousel."  Featured performers will be soprano, Deanna Breiwick, tenor, Alexander Lewis, and baritone, Edward Parks, accompanied by pianist, Vlad Iftinca.  All shows begin at 7pm and are rain or shine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Booze Carriage Brings the Booze to You!

There's a new delivery guy in town... You can find him online, and he'll be at your door in 30-60 minutes.  He won't bring you Chinese food, or even pizza, but what he's got is something even more prized -- booze!

Booze Carriage is a new website for 21 and over Manhattanites living from 96th Street to Battery Park area on the east side, or 91st Street to Battery Park area on the west side (so, essentially, pretty much anyone living anywhere downtown, midtown, and much of uptown), looking for a quick way to access beer and spirits online.

The best part of Booze Carriage is that, unlike many other merchants that deliver alcohol (e.g. wine.com), the website works with local vendors to get your booze to you fast.  Forget worrying about whether you should order "express" or "overnight"... this booze travels to you instantly, promising to arrive at your door within 30-60 minutes of your order time.  Booze Carriage is premised on the idea that New Yorkers don't really like to wait... for anything. (Though, if you do need your order delivered at a specific time/date in the future, Booze Carriage can accommodate special delivery requests).

I had the opportunity to try out Booze Carriage recently.  What is most appealing is that the prices for beer, wine and liquor, are the same as you would find in any local bodega, and there is no delivery fee (although there is a $20 order minimum).  Just like actual NYC stores, however, beer and wine/liquor must be purchased separately, likely due to antiquated local laws that do not allow the same establishment to sell both beer and liquor.

Nevertheless, the site is very streamlined and easy to us, and delivery is available around the clock-- anytime day or night.  Before you can access the site, you must enter your full birthdate, proving that you are of legal drinking age.  You may then choose whether you want to enter the beer shop or the liquor store, and you can begin browsing the highly varied selections.  For beer, choose from domestic or imported bottles and cans, ales, ambers, ciders, lagers and more, from 4-packs through 24-packs (depending on the brand), as well as craft premium and super premium bottle selections from 12 through 32 ounces.  If wine or liquor are your pleasure, Booze Carriage also offers a wide variety of gins, vodkas, rums, and any other "hard" liquor you may desire, as well as a full variety of white, red, rose or sparkling wines and champagne.  The site will soon be offering sake and even kosher wines as well, among other specialty drinks.  If you're having a party, make sure to throw in some ice, which you can also find at both of Booze Carriage's sites.  I order a few cases of beer recently, and they arrived fast and fresh, and ice cold! (Okay, well, it took slightly longer than an hour, but it was also during a torrential rainstorm...).

In addition, although not advertised, Booze Carriage can deliver kegs on request.  Having thrown a house-party or two in my time in NYC, I know how important a service like this can be.  In general, Booze Carriage eliminates the need for multiple trips to the liquor/beer store, taking along five of your friends just to carry everything, and/or the need to rent a car for larger purchases.  This carriage does all that work for you!

Final analysis: if you just want a few beers for yourself and a friend, you may be better off running to the corner shop.  However, if you're seeking a larger order, perhaps hosting a party, or having more than a couple of friends stop by, heading out on a long weekend trip, or any other excursion that may call for $20+ worth of booze, Booze Carriage is a convenient, reliable option.  You can even order on your mobile phone, a great option if you're on your way home and want your booze to greet you.

*Booze Carriage logo used with permission