5 Reasons I Love Working in Times Square

  1. Shari Times Sq. ballThere’s No Business Like Show Business. You’ve gotta love a place where the Catholic Church is called “The Actors’ Chapel.” That’s St. Malachy’s on West 49th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue—right across the street from “The Book of Mormon.” But wait—that’s not even the best part. Every Wednesday at 1:45 p.m., just before matinee curtains rise throughout the neighborhood, St. Malachy’s church bells chime Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” (With a reprise at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays). It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

P.S.: Douglas Fairbanks married Joan Crawford at St. Malachy’s. And thousands of fans jammed West 49th Street to pay final tribute to Rudolph Valentino.

P.P.S.: Jews can visit The Actors’ Temple on West 47th Street, “A place where spirituality meets creativity,” according to their Website. Sophie Tucker and the two of the Three Stooges (Moe and Curly; Larry, where were you?) were once members.

2. The Theatuh, Dahling. This one’s obvious. According to The Broadway League, there are currently 40 operating Broadway theatres. That’s a lot to choose from. There are also plenty of terrific off-Broadway options in the area (Signature, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, the New Victory) to name a few. You can save money by visiting the TKTS Booth at 47th/Broadway, where you can purchase tickets to many productions at 20-50% off. You can also take advantage of theatres’ rush, standing room, and lottery policies to save even more money. Join hundreds of theatre lovers at the Book of Mormon or Matilda lotteries where you can put your name in a hat for a chance to buy mega cheap (around $27) front row or partial view seats. Your chances are slim (I once struck out 3 times in one day), but somebody’s got to win. (Learn more about these at Playbill.com).

3. It’s the Crossroads of the World. OK, not everyone would agree, but I challenge anyone to sit at one of the sticky red tables in Duffy Square, surrounded by the flashing neon lights advertising Kinky Boots, Pippin, Phantom, Annie, Wicked, etc., and not feel a thrill. Look Downtown and see the actual tower where the ball drops every New Year’s Eve. Look Uptown and see tourists chilling on the cool new TKTS staircase. Listen and you’ll hear every language of the world. Once, I even saw Santa Claus enjoying some well-deserved R&R near McDonald’s. Who wouldn’t want to be here? And lucky me, I am.

P.S. Duffy Square is named for Father Francis P. Duffy, who served as pastor of Holy Cross Church on West 42nd Street until his death in 1932. A statue of him was erected that year and benevolently guards the North end of the Square, close by the TKTS booth.

Duffy Square

4. You Can Expect the Unexpected. A couple of weeks ago I headed up Broadway after work, enroute to City Center to see The Explorers’ Club. I got only a couple of blocks when I saw a scene that actually made me stop and pay attention—and that’s saying a lot. It was a group of naked people—men, women, old, young, fat, and thin—with intricately painted designs covering their bodies, including their most private parts. I had no idea what was going on. The people weren’t doing anything, just milling around. I later found out that they were the work of an artist, Andy Golub. But it was certainly unexpected, even in this neighborhood, where a man walks around with a cat on his head, a peevish Elmo may shove a small child, a Naked Cowboy poses for pictures, and Lena Dunham is shooting the upcoming season of “Girls.”

Santa Times Square

5. You Can Get It if You Want It. Whatever the season, you can buy what you need on the street—fake Pashminas in winter and fall, fake designer sunglasses in spring and summer. And a $5 alien head pattern scarf makes a fashion statement all year round. Hats, gloves, I Love NY sweatshirts, socks. You can put together an entire outfit, with a fake Coach handbag and $3 jewelry to accessorize. No excuse not to look sharp in this neighborhood!

JUST ONE MORE. I know I titled this post “5 Reasons I Love Working in Times Square,” but it’s hard to choose just 5. I would never forgive myself if I didn’t give a shout out to Engine Company 54 on 8th Avenue/48th Street. I love those guys for honoring their theatrical neighborhood every day. Their fire truck proudly boasts their motto: “Never Missed a Performance.” Truly, for everyone in Times Square, the show must go on.

Truck 54

The Explorers Club

Explorers ClubThe Explorers Club

Date:               July 31, 2013

Theatre:         Manhattan Theatre Club, NY City Center Stage I

Shari on the Aisle Rating: ****

Cast:               Brian Avers, Max Baker, Steven Boyer, Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, David Furr, John McMartin, Lorenzo Pisoni, Jennifer Westfeldt.

Director:         Marc Bruni

Quick Take: The Explorers Club is set in 1879 in the bar/sitting area of a venerable London club dedicated to exploring the world in the name of “science.” Written by Nell Benjamin (Tony and Drama Desk nominated playwright of Legally Blonde), it is an hour and 45 minutes of madcap delight. When you’re not chuckling you will at least have a smile on your face. (If not, sorry–you are a hopeless curmudgeon).

The Details: Lots of people are out to get the members of The Explorers Club: the Queen’s army, the Irish Society, and a violent band of monks. To make matters worse, those cads at the National Geographic Society delight in publicly ridiculing them. And alas, they’re better known for having the “worst bartender in London” than for their scientific prowess. The Club’s president, Harry Percy (David Furr) is as dim-witted as he is dashing. Believing he has discovered the elusive East Pole, he plans to go off in search of the West Pole. One problem: each time he sets off with a group of fellow explorers, he is the sole team member to return alive.

Lucius Fretway (Lorenzo Pisoni), the acting president of the Club until Percy’s return, throws an additional monkey wrench into the situation: he proposes the gentlemen accept a new member—a woman (gasp!) named Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jennifer Westfeldt) who has just discovered a lost civilization. Ms. Spotte-Hume, played with self-assured pluck by Ms. Westfeldt, has just returned to London with a member of that civilization whom she has named Luigi (it’s a long story). Luigi, played by a scene-stealing Carson Elrod, sports blue body paint and an assortment of juju hanging around his neck. Phyllida has an appointment at the Palace to show her find to the Queen, and even though she has taught Luigi to genuflect grandly when he meets the Monarch, well, let’s just say that the royal audience doesn’t go well.

Add to the mix a bible spouting member who believes the Irish to be the Lost Tribe of Israel, a snake fanatic, a hamster lover, and a former Club member out for revenge. And need I mention that Mr. Fretway’s interest in Ms. Spotte-Hume is not merely scientific?

Should You Go? Absolutely. It’s summer. It’s hot. Too hot for sturm und drang. The Explorers Club’s silly escapism fits the bill. The entire cast is top notch, and the spot on, incredibly detailed set by Donyale Werle, crammed with clubby details, is practically worth the price of admission. But hurry, although the show has been extended, it is scheduled to close on August 4. Tickets are available on TDF, if you’re a member.

Trivia: There is a lot of business involving the tossing and catching of drinks in The Explorers Club. Lorenzo Pisoni is particularly adept at the perfect timing required, as he grew up performing in his family’s circus. Pisoni performed a one-man show (also at MTC), Humor Abuse, where he talked about his unique childhood.

Jennifer Westfeldt will be familiar to audiences from the films Kissing Jessica Stein (which she wrote) and Friends with Kids, which marked her directorial debut. She is also known for being Jon Hamm’s significant other.