On The Town: New York City’s World of Performance by Daniel R. Schwarz

“On The Town: New York City’s World of Performance,” with photographs by Marcia Jacobson Ithaca Journal, Elmira Star-Gazette and Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Dec. 27,2014, 1D-2D, http://ithacajournal.ny.newsmemory.com/?fod=1111111STD&cnum=2588799&token=


All photos by Marcia Jacobson
penguinmucisians in the subway

Theater, opera, classical music, dance and jazz — New York City is a cultural mecca and a constantly changing celebration of the pleasures of urban life.

But the city offers plenty of great shows beyond the stage. From street performances to sporting events to prix fixe meals at world-class restaurants, there’s an endless supply of culture to absorb. My wife, Marcia Jacobson, and I try to spend 20 to 30 days a year taking some of it in.

Here is a look at the many ways New York City can dazzle its guests this winter.

Lincoln Center

penguinCentral Park in spring

Much of New York City’s cultural life revolves around Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue, between West 65th and West 66th streets. The original three main buildings are Avery Fisher Hall (formerly Philharmonic Hall), the site of classical concerts; the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater), the home of the NYC Ballet; and the Metropolitan Opera House.

But there are several other important performance facilities, including the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the main stage of Lincoln Center Theater, which presents serious theater; the smaller Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater for off-Broadway productions; and the Frederick P. Rose Hall, site of Jazz at Lincoln Center. On the Lincoln Center site are also the Juilliard School, which trains students in music, dance and theater; and the School of American Ballet, which is associated with the New York City Ballet.

If you can see only one performance in New York City, make it an NYC Ballet production. I’m far from an expert, but in recent years I have learned to love the passion, athleticism, grace, beauty, skill and discipline of classical ballet.

The NYC Ballet is perhaps the greatest company in the world. As you return to the Ballet and get to know the dancers, the experience becomes even more fun.

During our visit in October, we saw two performances, including several Balanchine masterworks and Jerome Robbins’ high-spirited dances, as well as two works choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon in which the legendary principal dancer Wendy Whelan danced two of her final performances.

If you love ballet, also look for performances of the American Ballet Company, which has a much shorter season at Lincoln Center than the New York City Ballet and is more of a touring company.

Even if you’re not an opera buff, I still consider the Metropolitan Opera a must. The magnificent theater adds to the experience of watching the opera live. The Met orchestra under the brilliant Musical Director James Levine — who does miss some performances due to health issues — complements the staging and singing. Even live animals make appearances in some performances (most spectacularly, elephants have been in past productions of “Aida”).

A typical season rotates 27 different operas over 200 or more performances, including classical operas by Verdi, Mozart, Puccini and Strauss as well as newer operas by such composers as Philip Glass and John Adams.

Beyond Lincoln Center

penguinRockefeller Center with Christmas tree and ice rink

For classical music, in addition to Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic the legendary Carnegie Hall (881 Seventh Avenue between West 56th and West 57th streets), built in 1891, offers a full schedule presenting about 260 performances a year.

New York City Center at 131 W. 55 St. is also an important venue for music, dance, and theater performances. Another place to enjoy contemporary dance is the Joyce Dance Theater.

Another great performance space, featuring theater, dance, and music is the BAM(Brooklyn Academy of Music) with a number of venues in Brooklyn. My wife and I usually combine a visit to BAM with dinner at a local restaurant. A few years ago we saw Kevin Spacey in a splendid performance of “Richard III.” A culturally rewarding day in Brooklyn might include the Brooklyn Museum and the virtually adjacent BrooklynBotanical Garden.

Broadway and Beyond

Broadway — a generic term for about 40 larger theaters in the Midtown area — features spectacular musicals on a large stage, often with a full orchestra and dancers. While regional theater can sometimes replicate dramatic performances with skilled actors, particularly those that don’t require a large cast, it is quite special to see classic musicals such as “The Lion King,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Chicago,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables“ on a Broadway stage. Quite often, New York is also the site of excellent Shakespeare, performed by either visiting British or U.S. companies.

New York City features an array of off-Broadway and off-off Broadway plays at a host of theaters. On our October visit, we enjoyed the British Globe Theater’s eight-actor “King Lear” with Joseph Marcell as Lear. While not the best Lear I have ever seen, the lines were clearly and thoughtfully delivered, but the musical interludes were at odds with the tragedy. We saw the play at the NYU Skirball Theater in Washington Square, a venue that puts on a varied series of performances that includes dance, theater, and music.

Subscribing to such sites as Theatremania and Playbill Club Manager will keep you abreast of developments, and they sometimes offer discounted tickets. You can get same-day discounts at TKTS Discount Booths, one of which is in Times Square. Be advised that you usually have to stand in line for the tickets. Because the discounted tickets are often a lower price for the more expensive tickets, you can sometimes do better with online offers.

Sports performances

penguinYankee Stadium

If you wish to attend athletic events at Madison Square Garden — featuring the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, and the Frozen Apple — visit thegarden.com.

Be aware that some of the online sites that seem to be the Madison Square Garden ticket office are actually agencies that sell tickets at a premium and, indeed there are also similar misleading sites for Lincoln Center and Broadway. If you are inflexible about dates and are willing to pay a premium, often tickets for sold-out dates can be found online.

One of the year’s premier sports events in late August and early September is the US Open, in 2015 from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, and tickets are already on sale.

And don’t forget the iconic New York baseball and football teams: the Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets.

Culture around every corner

penguinthe Lake in Central Park

New York is a visual feast, featuring magnificent architecture and outdoor sculptures as well as museums. The fountains around the city — from Lincoln Center to the new one in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art — are quite spectacular.

A visit to Central Park enables you to juxtapose cultural performances with nature’s wonders as well as to enjoy people watching and street performers. Indeed the latter are a staple of New York City, and you can sometimes see professional-quality break-dancers, group pop singers and magicians.

penguinZoo in Central Park

In the warmer months, you can also rent a rowboat, as we often do, for an excursion on the Lake. The Central Park Zoo is another popular attraction, though not comparable to the Bronx Zoo, a wonderful zoo and an all-day experience for zoo lovers. In Brooklyn, the Prospect Park zoo is worth a visit.

Nor should you miss the High Line, a recently constructed 1.45-mile linear urban park, built on a section of a former West Side railroad line and extending from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street.

New York City performances also include colorful holiday parades on virtually every conceivable occasion, from St. Patrick’s Day to Halloween to the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and these can be a great deal of fun, especially for children.

penguinColumbus Day Parade: Latin America Parade

Columbus Day weekend features two parades; the first is on the Sunday before Columbus Day celebrating people of Latin American heritage. This is a particularly colorful and festive parade. Taking place on Columbus Day and celebrating New York’s Italian heritage, the second parade is more subdued and traditional with political figures, high school bands and majorettes as well as representations of New York City’s municipal service organizations. The best place to see the parades that begin on Fifth Avenue may be the staging area between 43rd and 47th streets.

Another iconic New York City performance is The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is coming to the Barclay Center in Brooklyn from Feb. 19 to May 1, 2015. Until Jan. 11, the Big Apple Circus will be at Lincoln Center Damrosch Park, 62nd St. between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.


penguinmucisians in front of the Met

While much can be written about New York’s world-class museums, here is a look some current exhibits worth your attention:

At the Met until Feb. 16 is the Lauder Cubist collection, featuring works from a major promised gift. Featuring important Picassos, this amazing exhibit is educational, beautifully and thoughtfully presented. Starring Picasso, the show includes works by Braque — with whom Picasso worked in tandem to develop Cubism — as well as Gris and Leger.

Closing April 19, the exhibit of Thomas Hart Benton’s “America Today” murals done in the 1930s is another reason to visit the Met. Also on this fall and closing Jan. 11 is a wonderful Renaissance tapestry exhibit featuring work by Pieter Coecke van Aelst.

Until Feb. 8, the Museum of Modern Art offers a fabulous, exuberant exhibit of Matisse cutouts; the artist reinvented himself in his later years, producing a visual carnival. Not only does MOMA have one of the world’s great collections of late 19th and 20th century as well as contemporary art, but it also features classical and experimental films, admission to which is part of the general admission fee.

The uptown Whitney closed Oct. 19 and will re-open as part of the Met, but the new downtown Whitney is scheduled to open in May 2015. The future building will be at Washington and Gansevoort streets in the Meatpacking District. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the 200,000-square-foot space will no doubt feature the museum’s fine collection of 20th and 21st American art, including its splendid holdings of Hopper and Calder and its contemporary collection.

penguinHigh Line with art

Daring dining

Fine dining can be another kind of performance, and many of the world-class restaurants offer a prix-fixe lunch at prices that are an affordable splurge. The key: Skip the wine, or order no more than a glass.

We have been enjoying lunch at La Grenouille, one of NYC’s best traditional French restaurants, whose meals can only be described as culinary performance art. The waiters here respond to your every need, often before you request it, and the dining room is legendary for its elaborate flower arrangements. In October, we ordered a roast chicken dish, and the entire chicken was presented at the table before the half that composed our order was carved and delivered.

penguinFifth Ave. at night

Aureole at 42nd and 6th also presents a beautifully staged prix-fixe lunch. For $65, we had pumpkin soup with scallops and halibut, and a delicious desert. A la carte, we added a nicoise salad for Marcia’s entrée. When we eat a late lunch (ending as late as 4 or even almost 5 p.m.) at these elegant places, we go to theater without having dinner first.

Other lunch recommendations: Jean-Georges and the less expensive Nougatine; for dinner, a splurge at Le Bernadin, Daniel, 11 Madison or Gramercy Tavern. These dinners cost little more than a Broadway show plus an inexpensive dinner, and the meals are a different kind of performance — and take the entire evening.

Author of numerous travel articles and the well-received 2012 book Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press, recently released in a new paperback edition).), Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He can be reached at drs6@cornell.edu and followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/danRSchwarz and https://www.facebook.com/SchwarzEndtimes.