Mid­town’s all a stage

Per­form­ers com­pete with ev­ery­dayNew York­ers in en­ter­tain­ing bus pas­sen­gers on NANCYTREJOS re­ports.

The Press - Escape - - ESCAPE 11 -

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.

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