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