Whenever I think of a quick getaway from Cayman, my first thought is always of South Florida. It’s close, familiar and easy to navigate. Such trips inevitably focus on eating in different restaurants and beating the well-trodden path to malls and department stores, attempting to squeeze my swollen frame into the latest fashions.
In July, however, I veered off-course. I blame it on the 71st Tony Awards, which aired on June 11. Watching the performances from new and revived shows reminded me of my love of the theater – particularly musicals – and suddenly I was compelled to plan a sojourn in the Big Apple, drawn by the lights of Broadway.
My initial itinerary included only my mother (Anita) and me. In the days that followed, it quickly swelled to encompass my brother Dominic, sister Gabrielle and best friend Lynne Firth.
In a city where I would never venture to rent a car (because $19 per hour should never be considered an amazing deal for parking), choosing a hotel was easy. I booked rooms at the Marriott Marquis Times Square, a stone’s throw from all the main theaters.
What to see
Next came the schedule of shows. I was determined to see as many as possible in the days we had there, and chose a mix of long-running productions and exciting first-runs. It was easy to get tickets to “Phantom of the Opera” and “Book of Mormon” through their respective official websites. Scalpers had long turned their attention toward the new and shiny shows in the city.
“Come From Away,” a bit of a Tony darling, yet still flying slightly under the radar, also had tickets available directly through its site. Luckily, I had an inside track, bona fide New York hookup for this show: Orchestra Center, third row, face-value seats.
“Come From Away” was one of the musicals in which we were most interested. It is based on the true story of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, taking in thousands of stranded airline passengers, grounded on Sept. 11, 2001, better known as 9/11.
As stated on mentalfloss.com: “The tiny town only boasted 10,000 residents, but what it lacked in population size, it more than made up for in airport capacity. Gander International Airport had previously served as a refueling stop for transatlantic flights and had served as a staging point for U-boat hunting flights during World War II. Gander ended up receiving 38 flights in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, second only to Halifax’s 47 diverted flights.”
The inarguably hottest ticket in town was “Hello, Dolly!” starring The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler in the lead role. Not too shabby himself was David Hyde Pierce of “Frasier” fame in the part of Horace Vandergelder. In fact, it was Pierce who had stepped into the void to perform at the Tonys when Midler demurred at the 11th hour.
My family’s love of the classic musical, coupled with our admiration for the principal actors, meant that this was the show for which I would sell a kidney. Getting five seats together was going to be a challenge, and the idea of garnering superior positioning in the theater through the show’s main website was laughable. In Rosetta Stone Basic New York Lingo 101: fuhgeddaboudit. This was the one that would require patience, research and a soupçon of business savvy.
I sat down at the home computer, cracked my knuckles, flexed my fingers and prepared to do battle. I immersed myself in the level of research usually reserved for finals at university or finding a good plastic surgeon. I checked all the major scalper sites, compared seat locations, read recommendations from those who had gone before me, and between my budget and seat availability, chose the Mezzanine Center section, row D. Of course, just when I thought I had found a way to really play the system and win, I got to the final web page with the total, only to see a heart-stopping “convenience” fee added into the equation. At this stage, after at least an hour of work and the floater in my left eye threatening to blind me, I officially gave up and paid for the tickets. Budget schmudget.
We wanted to fly direct to New York, so it was between Cayman Airways and Jet Blue. I weighed the pros and cons of both, and went with the national carrier. The two checked suitcases included in the price was one of the deciding factors and the possibility of check-in counter upgrades was the other. The 8:30 a.m. departure time for the return journey from John F. Kennedy Airport genuinely filled me with dread, as I could do the math when it came to figuring out what time the alarm would have to go off that morning. Ah well, we’d worry about that when we came to it.
Sure enough, there were upgrades available from Grand Cayman to New York and I nabbed them. This meant the Sir Turtle Lounge followed by a wide seat to accommodate my all-age spread. The just under four-hour flight was without incident, and thanks to the new ESTA and Global Entry machines at JFK, we were through border control in record time.
Our booked car and driver whisked us away from the airport, and after about half an hour we saw that unforgettable Manhattan skyline as we made our way over a bridge.
It was only as we approached the hotel that I noticed the “93 degrees” on the dash of our Chevy Suburban. What the hell? Was that in Kelvin? Apparently we had landed in the middle of a heat wave strong enough to warrant TV news coverage.
Once we had checked into the hotel, my brother and I decided to go exploring. About 30 minutes in Times Square in those temperatures was about all we could handle. Even on a Wednesday night, the square footage was packed with an interesting slice of humanity. There was a loud, unkempt person preaching about the end of the world near someone offering free hugs while a bunch of characters posed in woolly costumes, looking for tips. The air was heavy and hot and we were both hungry, but the food stations were nearing the end of their night’s run and one vendor after the next announced in unsympathetic tones that they were all out of whatever we were considering.
We finally gave up on those in the center of Times Square and approached a mobile cart near the hotel. Five minutes and $22 later we were in possession of two hot dogs slathered in something very runny, and drinks. I had Tums and Zantac in the room, it was time to throw caution to the winds.
We had all fallen asleep quite easily the night before, the blackout curtains blocking the startlingly bright “Kinky Boots” digital advertisement across the street from our rooms. Thursday brought the first show of the trip – “Phantom of the Opera.” I had seen it about eight times, but not in New York, and Dominic had never seen it. Our seats were front mezzanine, offering a terrific view of the stage. Knowing the show as I did, I knew this was where you wanted to sit.
My online research had warned about the size of the chairs, so I was a little concerned about my Kardashian-sized rump adjusting to a restrictive square. As it turned out, the width was no problem at all. It was all about the knees. We were pretty good with the space we had, but I wondered where an NBA team would sit if they decided to visit the Majestic Theatre. “Anywhere they want,” I supposed, as the old answer goes.
The production was all I remembered with the amazing stage sets and incredible music. The only thing that slightly disappointed was the Phantom’s voice. Although he clearly had a wonderful singing voice, his sustain was lacking on some of the really important, iconic notes.
I thought about jumping up and holding my hand aloft a la Bugs Bunny as Leopold in “Long-Haired Hare,” but thought better of it at the last moment.
That night, my brother, mother and I went to Capital Grille for dinner in the Time-Life Building. I cannot recommend this place enough – mouth watering seafood and steaks coupled with impeccable service. We rolled out of there a couple of hours later, very hearty and happy.
My sister Gabrielle and Lynne arrived in the city on the Friday, flying in from Toronto. Immediately we worked out our time line for the day. Mum, Gabrielle and I decided to take a hop-on/hop-off bus tour (although we had no intention of hopping off), while Dominic and Lynne went out shopping. It was still blisteringly hot in New York, but the weatherman assured us that the heat wave would be gone by Sunday … the day we were leaving.
There were a number of bus routes to choose from. We decided to go north, which took us along both sides of Central Park and into Harlem, where we passed the legendary Apollo Theater. Sitting on the open-deck upper floor of the bus gave us no protection from the sun, thus every red light was most unwelcome. In the end, Gabrielle and I opened our umbrellas whenever the driver hit the brakes and my mother pulled her cardigan over her head so she looked like a Jawa.
I have taken one of these tours in Manhattan on a previous visit and it really is a great way to see the city without exerting yourself. Just watch for the low-hanging branches near the park and along some of the streets.
At 7:30 p.m., we all walked to the Schoenfeld Theatre to watch the new show “Come From Away.” We really didn’t know what to expect, including the bonker prices at the bar, which made The Ritz-Carlton look like Costco.
The seats were comfortable width-wise, and we had a bit of knee clearance, so thumbs up for this theater.
When the curtain finally closed, we wiped the tears from our eyes, elated and moved by this incredible production. The humor, mixed with the poignant true story of the days that followed 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland, made for a fantastic show. Anyone with Irish roots will love the music. Honestly, I cannot go on enough about “Come From Away.”
Don’t miss it when you’re in town!
This was going to be a big day. Two shows before 11 p.m.
Lynne, Mum and I did some shopping in the morning, hitting Century 21 opposite the Juilliard School, while Gabrielle and Dominic went all cultural, spending the morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It did not take long for me to realize that Century 21 (the shop, not the real estate agency) was probably not going to have much in my size or budget. Exotic materials manipulated into a host of extra-small garments hung from racks on multiple floors. Ah well, at least I would be saving money here.
At 2 p.m., everyone but my mother met up at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on 49th Street to see “Book of Mormon.” She decided to bow out so she could be well rested for the 8 p.m. performance of “Hello, Dolly!”
We had a good view of the stage, although we were a little farther back in the mezzanine than I would have liked. The location, however, was not my main concern. This time we really were squished in our row. With our knees firmly planted against the seats in front, I was convinced that hobbits had ruled Manhattan when this theater was built.
Maybe it was the balmy temperature of the room, or being slowly knee-capped in my Houdini-like space, but I found myself drifting off a bit in this show. In the intermission, the audience rose as one, shaking their legs and generally trying to return feeling to their lower extremities.
“Book of Mormon” was a very good production, and there were some terrific numbers in it, but was it my favorite? No, it wasn’t. I know it has won squillions of Tony Awards and everyone I know who has seen it has raved about it … I guess I just wasn’t blown away. In my defense, the rest of my party felt the same way. An enjoyable show, but not one I would race to see again. So there.
We hurried back to the hotel afterward to start packing and prepare for Bette Midler. Once the luggage was done and outfits and makeup applied, we decided to have a pre-show beverage in The View lounge. The View sits atop the Marriott Marquis and has a unique feature: It slowly revolves through 360 degrees, allowing guests to see different sections of the Manhattan skyline over an hour.
It was well worth the stop. The Jamaican Sidecar cocktail, made with Appleton Estate, Cointreau, fresh sweetened lime juice and pineapple juice in a sugar-rimmed glass, was so good I bought the ingredients when I returned home and tried to make it myself. Still working on tweaking the measurements – I’m getting close.
The Schubert Theatre, home to “Hello, Dolly!” was hopping distance from the hotel. As we lined up, I happened to spot actress Kathy Najimy waiting to go in. What with me and her, the audience would be bursting with celebrities, ahem.
Any fears I had about the seats I had chosen in the mezzanine were quieted when we arrived at our destination. We could see the stage in its entirety, laid out beautifully before us. This was going to be great!
What followed was possibly the best show I have ever seen. The combination of music, dancing, colorful costumes, superb performances, nostalgia, set pieces and the incomparable Bette Midler had everyone on their feet at least once, with random bursts of applause throughout the two-plus hours it took for us to fall even more in love with Midler. The hairs stood up on my arms and I found my eyes moistening as the familiar songs came marching triumphantly up to our seats and to the rafters above. I cannot count the number of times we five turned to look at each other, marveling at what we were seeing and hearing. Oh yes, and our knees were free and easy to swing to the rhythm. It was the perfect night.
Like a gift from the gods, Cayman Airways emailed me late Saturday night to inform us that our flight was going to be leaving two hours later in the morning. The much more respectable departure time of 10:30 a.m. filled me with joy.
Just when I thought life could not get any better, I discovered that there were enough upgrades available for all of us at the check-in counter. We were traveling home in style! Terminal 1 at JFK, in which Cayman Airways operates, is blessedly small and is also home to a McDonald’s. We ate the breakfast of kings, and then slowly made our way to our gate (with a stop at duty-free, of course).
Long after the trip was done and we were back into our daily routines, memories of the shows, their music and magic lingered with us. It certainly opened my eyes to what I had been missing all these years. Suffice it to say that we’ll be doing it again sometime, and hopefully before the Tonys air in 2018.
If you love shows and the theater, I urge you to go – you will not regret it; and when you do, please give my regards to Broadway.