22 October 2014

If you’re into theater, there’s no place like Broadway. The shows are the biggest and (sometimes) the best plays and musicals, while the theaters are small enough to let you experience them in an up-close and personal manner.

The biggest drawback is that the tickets can be expensive. The second-biggest drawback is that you have to be in New York to see them, and staying in New York is equally pricey. Still, theater geeks like me can’t resist the call of Broadway, so we find ways to adapt and economize. That’s what I did last weekend, when a family celebration left me with two days to spend in the Big Apple.

My first adaptation is one I learned years ago: If you want to spend your days in New York, you’re better off spending your nights in New Jersey. The Meadowlands area of Chris Christie’s stomping grounds boasts hotels that are very reasonable as long as the Super Bowl isn’t in town. Best of all, your room comes with a free parking space, which is something you’ll never find in Manhattan.

Just be sure your chosen hotel is near a New Jersey Transit bus stop, because taking a car into New York is an expensive hassle. The most convenient hotels, like the one we chose in East Rutherford, allow you to step onto a bus right out front and, 20 or 25 minutes later, step off at the Port Authority terminal, which is on the edge of NYC’s theater district. The round-trip fare: $8.50, or $3.80 for kids and seniors. Cautions: Follow your desk clerk’s advice about which bus to catch. And don’t make the trip during Friday rush hour. As we learned the hard way, this can expand the trip to an hour or more.

My second economizing adaptation is one I tried for the first time last weekend. In order to keep ticket prices low for myself and others in our group, I reserved seats near the front but on the extreme left or right side of the house. In one case, we paid nearly $100 less than the person sitting just one seat closer to the center.

When I ordered these “partial view” seats, I was promised that we would miss no more than five minutes of the central action. But you may miss more or less than that depending on the show and the sight lines from your specific seat.

Here’s how my weekend viewing went:

▪ Friday night, Once, Jacobs Theatre

I sat at the end of the fourth row on the left side, and my view was obstructed during a key scene between the lovelorn protagonists, Irish musician “Guy” (Paul Alexander Nolan) and Czech immigrant “Girl” (Jessie Fisher, standing in for Joanna Christie). Moreover, I learned only afterward that subtitles had been projected at various times—for example, to show when Girl and her friends were supposedly speaking in their native language.

General impressions: Though the innovatively staged musical won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2012, it lacks the subtle charm of the original 2006 film. The Irish-flavored music is still gorgeous, but the characters and dialogue are broader. Nolan’s unemotional portrayal of the heartbroken Guy is another disappointment, though stand-in Fisher was sweetly and perkily lovable as Girl at Friday’s performance.

Advice: You may enjoy it if you like Irish music and/or semi-sappy love stories. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth a trip to New York, especially since you can catch a touring production that’s coming to Columbus in April of next year.

▪ Saturday night, Matilda: The Musical, Shubert Theatre

I sat one seat in from the right end of the fifth row for this one, while my date sat on the very end. Neither of us had much trouble seeing the fast-moving action, which sometimes spilled over into the auditorium.

General impressions: This is the most entertaining Broadway musical I’ve seen since Memphis, and that’s saying a lot. Though it’s based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book about a brilliant but put-upon schoolgirl, its heart, humor and energy make it appealing for adults, too. In fact, it may be too dark and scary for younger children.

The uniformly fine adult cast is led by Lesli Margherita and Matt Harrington as the title character’s neglectful parents, Jill Paice as her kind-hearted teacher and a cross-dressing Chris Hoch as the hilariously evil Miss Trunchbull. As Matilda, Paige Brady (one of four girls who alternate in the role) was flawless on Saturday, as were all of the young actors who played her classmates.Advice: See it.

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