Midtown’s all a stage
Performers compete with everydayNew Yorkers in entertaining bus passengers on NANCYTREJOS reports.
Only in New York would a man undressing in the middle of midtown Manhattan not cause a stir. As the guy on the sidewalk rips off his trousers to reveal ‘‘I [heart] New York’’ boxers, two women walking right past him never interrupt their conversation. No-one seems to care when he takes off his wig, either.
I watch this scene unfold from a bus. But not just an ordinary New York bus. This bus is outfitted with 3000 LED lights and three rows of stadium seats. This is Experience: The Ride, a new theatre production in which all of midtown Manhattan is the stage.
I didn’t know what to expect as I boarded the bus at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the 7-kilometre, 75-minute ride. I settle into a front-row seat, facing the side of the bus that’s transparent from floor to ceiling. Was this going to be a city tour? An improv show? Street theatre? A silly way to spend an afternoon? The answer: all of the above.
More than a dozen performers are stationed at various points along our route to sing, dance, juggle or simply act goofy for our pleasure. I’d booked a 2pm show on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the streets are packed with shoppers and tourists. That’s how you want to experience The Ride, because the actions of everyday New Yorkers are just as funny as those of the performers.
Our tour guides are Jackie and Scott, graduates of New York University and Columbia University, respectively. (Turns out they’re actors, but for a while there, Scott has me completely convinced that he had earned a degree in urban planning from Columbia.)
Our bus, ‘‘The Ride’’, is also a character. ‘‘His’’ voice booms over a loudspeaker. He occasionally scans people and objects and, in his deep voice, imparts all sorts of random facts about them. (‘‘Subject: New Yorker. Cost of purse: US$2500. Cash in purse: US$7.52.’’)
With the Times Square jumbotron (big-screen TV) behind him, an actor wearing sparkly oversize glasses leads us in a New Year’s countdown. ‘‘Ma’am, can’t I get a New Year’s Eve kiss?’’ he asks a young woman when we get to 1. She declines, but other passers-by are more willing to go along with the show.
On one street, three police officers break into a dance and wave at us. In front of the Charmin Restrooms on Broadway, a woman wearing a plastic toilet seat costume around her waist starts dancing with a man in a puffy purple jacket as he sings a rap song.
Outside the Bank of America building, a man wearing silver pants and a silver hat joins Santa Claus in a tap dance.
Who’s a performer and who’s a spectator? It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Between scenes, Scott and Jackie throw out random New York facts. Do you know, for instance, that Santa Claus has ended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year except for 1933, when he led the parade?
Or that construction workers built the Chrysler Building four floors per week?
Scott and Jackie also test our knowledge with the occasional ‘‘Quiz Show’’ break. The cost of renovating the ceiling of Grand Central Station was US$75 million, ‘‘The Ride’’ tells us.
‘‘What was covering the ceiling?’’ Scott asks. The answer: cigarette smoke grime.
But most of the fun is out on the streets.
At Military Island, at Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Times Square, a man dressed as a sailor from World War II bends over a woman in a nurse’s uniform and kisses her, recreating the famous 1945 Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph. In front of Carnegie Hall, a woman in a green coat starts belting out White Christmas.
My favourite scene is at Columbus Circle, where a ballerina in a pink tutu and her partner dance to music from The Nutcracker. A group of teenagers break into a synchronised hip-hop dance that somehow blends with the ballet. It’s like a scene from Fame.
By the end of our ride, we, too, have become performers, as Scott and Jackie lead us in a rendition of New York, New York. The words flash on the bus’s more than 40 video screens. The people in the street can hear us. They laugh and stare and sing along.
Before we get off the bus, Scott reminds us of the Alistair Cooke quote that New York is ‘‘the biggest collection of villages in the world’’.
Having had my fill of midtown, I hop on the train to Pier 25, the newest section of the Hudson River Park, in Tribeca. I walk past a children’s playground, a miniature golf course set to open in the spring and a volleyball court with three nets.
It’s a cold evening, but a mother is out watching her two young sons kick around a soccer ball on the artificial turf lawn. Joggers loop around the pier.
At the end of the pier are lawn chairs and telescopes to magnify the splendid view.
In front of me is New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty. Behind me is Lower Manhattan.
Two teenagers are braving the cold and taking photos. ‘‘It’s beautiful,’’ says one as he stares across the river.
In New York, it’s as though all the world’s a stage.
Flashback: Famous World War II photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse is recreated in ‘‘Experience: The Ride’’.
Author’s favourite: Visitors on a new bus tour might spot dancers performing in Columbus Circle.