Ottawa Citizen

Curtain up

Create the perfect Broadway weekend in New York STAR SIGHTINGS MEET A ROCKETTE, GO BACKSTAGE

- BY RANDALL SHIRLEY

There’s never been a better time to visit Broadway. So, curtain up and light the lights. I visit NYC frequently, and my No. 1 activity for any visitor to the city is to see a Broadway musical. A big Broadway show generally includes all the elements that define New York itself: heroes, villains, a chorus of normal folks, optimism and plenty of razzledazz­le. The musical theatre genre was invented in New York, and shows almost always feature that most-American dream: a happy ending.

If you think you’ve already seen a Broadway show because you saw Rent or Les Miserables on tour, think again. While touring shows are very good, nothing compares to the experience of seeing a show in New York — especially if the show still includes all or some of the original Broadway cast. Shows are often written with specific actors in mind, so it’s a real treat to see the performer for whom a role was created.

The sizzling-hot show this season is In the Heights, which I predict will win the 2008 Tony for best new musical. It whisks you to a New York neighbourh­ood and subculture you’ll likely never visit: the Latino area of Washington Heights at Manhattan’s far-north end. The music blends of rap, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban rhythms, complete with dazzling production numbers and tear-jerking ballads, are woven through stories of hope and heartbreak.

The show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, also happens to be its disarming and loveable star.

You’ll be hard-pressed not to shout “bravo” when he tells the neighbourh­ood tagger, whose jeans sag off his butt, gang style, to “pull up your damn pants.”

If you’re keen for more Broadway musical, the following are strong possibilit­ies for Tony nomination­s — both feature their original casts and each shows a different side of the musical genre.

Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim’s 1985 masterpiec­e, is revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company through June 29 at legendary theatre Studio 54.

Xanadu was the dark horse on my recent Broadway trip. It’s a stingingly smart parody of the 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie, complete with roller skates, legwarmers, and yes, an Australian accent.

Worth seeing from last season is the brilliant coming-of-age rock musical Spring Awakening. Longrunnin­g shows such as Lion King or Wicked may seem glamourous and tempting (and indeed, they’ll be very good), but keep in mind their original stars are long gone.

You can currently catch such names as James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman and Christine Baranski in plays on Broadway. Daniel Radcliffe will tread the boards later this fall in Equus. If you’re keen for star sightings off the stage, however, New York is the place to do it. The above- mentioned actors can all be seen — and usually greeted — as they exit their respective theatres’ stage doors. I’ve actually had conversati­ons with some stars, and been delighted to simply say hello to others. The stage door is usually on the same street as the theatre, and clearly marked.

Thanks to television, New York is a city that makes its way into many Canadian living rooms. Chances are good that David Letterman, Regis Philbin and Matt Lauer have all been viewed in your house. During your Broadway weekend you can visit them, and other stars, too.

The easiest to visit is Matt Lauer, who — along with Meredith, Ann and Al — comes out to the Rockefelle­r Center plaza frequently during NBC’s Today Show, which is live on weekdays between 7 and 9 a.m. (it goes on to 11 a.m., but with less star power). On summer Fridays, the Today Show almost always features big-name musicians and bands. It’s free.

Next-easiest, and always a lot of fun, is attending a taping of morning talk show Live with Regis & Kelly. You can write ahead for tickets via their website, or just show up for standby seats. I’ve done the standby line twice with 50-per-cent success. You need to be there by 6:30 a.m. and wait for a number, after which you can go grab breakfast for an hour or so.

Most-difficult is CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman, which actually tapes in a restored Broadway theatre. Tickets for the show must be requested months in advance. Some folks have had success with the show’s standby process, but the secret is the stage door.

Letterman’s theatre/studio has one on 53rd Street, and anytime after the show starts taping around 5:30 p.m., there’s a chance you’ll catch a star exiting there. Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli is near the stage door — yes, it’s a real deli. Rupert will gladly sell you a sandwich and pose for a photo most anytime.

CanWest News Service

For star-sighting of a different nature, you can meet a Rockette during the Stage Door Tour at Radio City Music Hall, which I highly recommend — not so much for the Rockette as the chance to explore the cavernous theatre, including time onstage if conditions permit. Radio City is an important part of the Broadway scene, as it hosts the annual Tony Awards ceremony each June and the overthe-top Christmas Spectacula­r in November-December. (See this once in your life.)

While you’re at Radio City, take a trip to the Top of the Rock, atop Rockefelle­r Center, for the best views of two major New York stars: Central Park and the Empire State Building. While most tourists want to go up the latter, I like Top of the Rock better, as you can see the Empire State Building from there.

But Broadway’s biggest star might be the lights of Times Square. Even many New Yorkers say they’re still wowed by the spectacle of millions of lights advertisin­g soft drinks, coffee, electronic­s and Broadway shows. Few of those lights are actually neon anymore, but wow, are they bright. There’s still magic in the air.

 ?? JOAN MARCUS ?? In the Heights features a fantastic cast, a touching story and a variety of music, including rap, big ballads and Latin rhythms.
JOAN MARCUS In the Heights features a fantastic cast, a touching story and a variety of music, including rap, big ballads and Latin rhythms.

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