I’ve carried a suit with me around the world so that I could wear it one night, here in New York, to a Broadway show. Turns out I didn’t really need it as no-one over here seems to dress for the theatre, especially when that show is ‘American Idiot’ based on the Green Day album.
So we piled out of here around 6, caught the A train and got off at the Port Authority and I realised we were on the corner of 8th and 42nd Street. Towering buildings festooned with fields of flashing lights and strobing neon advertising so many goddamned shows I couldn’t work out how anyone living in New York could not be working in show business.
Actually, apparently a lot of dancers and musicians live around this part of the city. Rent’s cheaper and it’s on the express line to 42nd street. Rufus tells me the subway is often carrying people in show-labelled sweatpants, tutus or carrying cellos, bassoons or whathaveyou. It’s pretty goddamned in-your-face romantic.
So, 42nd Street. Leads on to Times Square. I was prepared for that moment when you realise "holy crap I’m in (insert city here.)" We walked down 42nd and turned left and there it was: that sea of people, that glittering wedge forking the street. I saw the – I dunno what it is – that wedge-shaped infobooth that speartips the lead-up to that great neon videoscreen fortress that everyone recognises as being Times Square. I saw that info booth, and immediately knew the distinctive shapes and features of the buildings to left and right. They don’t get as much press, but I knew everything about their external construction.
Particularly the roofs.
Then I remembered why: Times Square was a setpiece scene in a game called ‘Prototype’. They did an incredible job of recreating the place for that. I never realised just how bang-on it was. And this is why the US was always low on my list of places to visit: I feel like I’ve been here a hundred times before anyway. It’s the side-effect of their cultural exportation. No surprises. Which is why – again – the cigarette sellers in Paris really stood out for me, and why I’m so excited about the Cleveland to Louisville road trip.
So I may not get a ‘Trafalgar Square’ moment here. But that’s okay. I like NY more than I liked Paris. It’s alive here, and vital and purposeful. Paris is sanguine, and pretty, sure, but that really only lasts so long as a reason to stay. I did get a bit of a thrill when i saw the
Empire State Chrysler building shining silver at the end of the street, like some great art deco generation ship pointing skywards… but not quite. Though it was quite a thing to see those corner eagles, distinctive even at a distance. (EDIT: Go brain.)
So, Times Square: off to the left, past those red steel tables and chairs that caused such a furore, stands a skinny black dude holding a placard up with both hands that reads HUG A BLACK GUY! YOU’LL GET ADDICTED!! He looks bored.
The sea of people, the animated carnival atmosphere, threw me back to – of all things – the Cairns show when I was a kid. Same light, same temperature, same mass of people, same cooking smells, the occasional ping of an authoritarian voice (in this case cops rather than barkers.) Really, not so different. Seriously.
We found the theatre – the St. James – across the road from the theatre that’s home to the longest running show in the New York history: The Phantom of the Opera. Rufus got us the tickets to ‘Idiot’ so I figure I’ll take us to either Phantom or Avenue Q. I’m leaning toward the latter, she toward the former.
We got something to eat from the restaurant next door. Sat down, ordered, and a strung out junkie stumble-forces her way past two potted plants behind me trying to make a break from the street through the restaurant. The doorman/manager grabs her from behind ("Nonono, nonono…") one hand on each of her biceps ("Come with me, come with me…") and she doesn’t look good. Looks like she wants to die. Dead breasted, pot-bellied, muscle all but gone from her arms and legs ("You’re going to step backwards, you’re going to step backwards…"). The guy maneuvres her out onto the sidewalk and toward the front door ("Don’t you touch me, don’t you touch me…") Two cops appear, I think they’d been after her when she tried to cut through the place. It ended with the doorman/manager proclaiming "Next show in fifteen minutes." It got a laugh from a couple of diners, made me wonder how often he’d had to use it.
We paid and headed next door. Up about five turns of a winding concrete staircase. Front row balcony seats. Good score on Rufus’ part. Stage was a lot smaller than my cliched expectations allowed for. Quickly took some shots before the usher came down and told us that was a nono.
I hate musicals. I hate them because I did amateur theatre, and then studied for a Bachelor of Theatre for two years and shared a house with a guy who owned ‘Into The Woods’ on CD and played it ’til the laser killed it. Singing along the whole time with the kind of commitment only someone who truly believes they’re fantastic can. It didn’t help that he never bathed and kept offering to, you know, blow me, if I wanted.
Was that too much?
Musicals are fundamentally ridiculous. They’re like that hysterical bitch on a falling plane that people line up to slap.
That said, this kind-of won me over. Which was surprising, because it’s a). Green Day, b). the band largely responsible for redefining ‘punk’ as something middle-class and commercial, and c). the whole thing was fundamentally ridiculous in the way that only mid-teen Creative Writing class by-the-numbers wankst – wankst set to music by Green Day – can be. This was the whole "come on gang, we can do it" thing, only this time what the gang can do is get pregnant, take drugs and get dismembered in Iraq as their dreams are corrupted by a world they never asked to be born into stop me if you’ve heard this ‘they pooped in my locker’ thing before.
But it won me over. Not immediately, it took a couple of numbers, but it dissolved twenty years of Aaaargh and got me to the carefree land of ‘fuck it.’ The mistake is to think about it. At all. Like right now. Stop it.
The show is, I think, one album strung along a very simple three-line story: three loser friends, digging being losers, realise their life is flushing away, decide to form a band, then one gets his girlfriend pregnant, the other starts on drugs and the other joins the army – in about three minutes or less with hardly any dialogue. It’s all done with blocking and action.
The entire cast had fantastic voices: clear and pure and strong. Used them effortlessly in a way that made me envious. The whole show was intensely physical. Steps are stomps, things are slammed, banisters are slid down, the whole thing. It’s histrionic and self-absorbed but there’s no denying just how damned good the entire ensemble is. Tight, professional, skilled, powerful and talented. So if you get the chance, go see.
We wandered back to the Port Authority, rode back. Heading toward the stairs leading up to St Nicholas Avenue I hear a skinny kid say to his girlfriend "I guess Seymour was right: I am a wolf spirit."