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Sue Kruse
Sue, Tony and the Great White Way
Hello Darlings...

No, I am not trying to imitate Fab (who would dare do that, after all? She’s like Venice... an original). No kids, the greeting’s a theatre reference. I’m afraid there will be more. Spot them all and you will win...

absolutely nothing

...except the unmitigated pleasure of knowing that you are so well versed in theatre knowledge you can name that play from only a few lines of obscure dialogue or song lyric.

You see, I’ve visited New York a few months ago and for a whole week I did nothing but eat, sleep, and more importantly, go to as many plays as possible. Even now, weeks later, I find I can’t help myself, everything is a theatre reference. I step onto Main Street, hear the music (because you know, the minute I got back, I had to go to Disneyland) and immediately start humming to myself... Oh, there’s nothing half way about the Iowa way of greeting when we greet you which we may not do at all... That’s from one of the plays I saw, the Tony nominated revival of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man starring the also nominated Craig Bierko, whose smile alone would make me want to buy those band instruments.

Well, I have a new adventure to tell you about. It is entitled...

Sue Takes A Bite Out of The Big Apple

What she did, who she saw

(really fine print) and how exactly does this relate to Disney


Let’s all play

The Six Degrees of Disney

We’ll start with...

The Wild Party

Okay...go! Connect that Tony nominated play to Disney.

I do, after all, have to find a way to make this column relevant since I’m not specifically writing about Disneyland this time.

So, here we go kids...

I headed for the Big Apple on a Friday red eye flight with three goals in mind, attend the Tony Awards, go to as many plays as possible and see the Statue of Liberty. I was accompanied by my close friend, Carroll Andrews, who doesn’t much care about sight seeing, adores eating well, sleeping late, and loves theatre even more than I do (which is a considerable amount). 

He had forewarned me, "In New York, if you really want to be elegant, you walk." That was his way of saying we’d stay mostly in the theatre district and wouldn’t take taxis or the subway in order to conserve money for... what else, theatre tickets. With that in mind, I packed my best and most stylish walking shoes, my fanciest dress for the Tony’s, and two or three other necessary haute couture items (all in my favorite color, black, n’est-ce pas) and prepared to take New York by storm.

Our plane touched down at JFK around six am, an ungodly hour for night creatures like Carroll and me. We grabbed our luggage, crawled into a taxi and headed for Manhattan, figuring we could stash our stuff at the hotel till the room was ready and prowl around the city a bit. 

The ride into town was not bad considering the hour of the morning and for me it was kind of exciting to see the rows of Archie Bunker-like houses as the freeway cut through Queens. I could almost hear Edith singing, Boy the way Glenn Miller played, songs that made the hit parade. Gee, our old La Salle ran great. Those were the days. Those were the days indeed, it looked just as I remember seeing on the opening segment of All In The Family. Does that date me? I guess so. For you younger Mouseketeers out there, imagine rows of houses, kind of old looking, all close together with steep pitched roofs and all looking the same, as if cut out by a cookie cutter.

You can start humming Rhapsody in Blue now...
You can start humming Rhapsody in Blue now...

As the taxi neared Manhattan, I got my first real live glimpse of the New York city skyline, and I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it was real. Yes, I was in New York all right. "Look there’s the Empire State Building, and ooh there’s the Chrysler Building in all its art deco glory." It was grand, grand, grand.

Soon the taxi pulled up in front of our hotel, The Algonquin, a gorgeous old place in the heart of the theatre district where Dorothy Parker and her cohorts held their famous Algonquin Round Table meetings in the 1920s and 1930s. The minute I stepped into the lobby I knew I would feel right at home... for two reasons.

The way it looked and...

Promotional photo © Algonquin Hotel
Promotional photo © Algonquin Hotel


The lobby had that old time feel so nicely achieved in Walt Disney World at the Tower of Terror. I love that ride, can’t ride it enough. Ever since the first time I set foot in the Tower of Terror, it has been my wish to stay at a hotel that resembles the lobby (without the dust, of course). Wouldn’t it be the ultimate if there was a Hollywood Tower Hotel on the Walt Disney World property (only with elevators that are a little less, umm, thrilling?) Suddenly, I was in it, all that gorgeous old dark wood, polished to a gleam, aspidistras and feathery palms, cushy over-stuffed chairs to sit in and read for hours and all lit with a soft amber glow that casts a magical spell over the entire room. 

In short, the ambiance of the Algonquin’s lobby was lovely, comforting, and quite wonderful. Best of all, the staff of the Algonquin dress in a vintage looking maroon and gold uniform that is so quintessentially bellhopian (if it doesn’t exist, then I’m inventing that adjective, thank you very much). I completely loved it and then... I spotted Matilda and loved it even more.

Not only do I have a passion for things Disney I also adore cats. Matilda is the Algonquin cat. A big, beautiful, creature, tawny in color, with long fluffy fur and absolutely gorgeous. She owns the place and no one who enters the Algonquin should ever forget that. I imagine she refers to herself as The Fabulous Algonquin Babe. She prowls around the lobby with such savoir faire and je ne sais quoi that you know she’s the one who’s really in charge. When she feels like it, she will adorn the reception desk with her presence, lazily whisking her dust mop of a tail up and down approving or disapproving of every guest to check in.

Antique ambiance plus hotel cat makes Sue a very happy girl. In other words, I felt like I was home. I turned to Carroll (who had made the hotel selection) and said, "I like it (that’s my new philosophy)!"

After stashing our stuff (we were quite delighted to find the room was ready for us--even at such an early hour--another point in the Algonquin’s favor), we wandered around the area a bit. Carroll (a seasoned veteran of New York) guided me around, "There’s Times Square. That’s where they drop the ball on new year’s. There’s TKTS. There’s Aida. There’s Lion King (Hoooowwww’mmm IIIIII gonna get a ticket toooo thhhheee Lion King? African Baloney. But it won a lot of Tony ----- Don’t lecture me on PCness — I’m just quoting -- that’s one of those pesky theatre references, kids). On it went as we walked from theatre to theatre, sight to sight. I saw where MTV broadcasts. I saw where NBC broadcasts their morning show. I saw a huge Chock Full of Nuts can (it’s a heavenly coffee). I saw where you stand in line to get into Letterman.

Immediately, I fell in love with the city. In fact, I thought it was rather intoxicating and started to feel sad that in one week’s time, I’d have to go back to the real world and leave this fabulous place. New York has an energy that all truly great cities have. They are filled with life and attitude that are not completely the same in any other city. 

In some ways, New York reminded me a little of London, the scent of diesel fuel hanging in the air, for instance. That may sound horrid, but to me it’s not, it’s like the city’s perfume. Other things weren’t remotely like any place else I have been. At all hours of the day and night, steam seems to belch forth from the manhole covers. It is as though some great beast resides beneath the city. As he prowls about, he occasionally lifts his head to the manhole covers and breathes his steamy breath into the city above. In a less romantic and more reality-based version, the steam is probably some kind of horrid toxic stuff. Nonetheless, I thought it was beautiful and I am sorry I did not try to capture it on film. I would love a picture of the steamy manhole covers to paste in my scrapbook. At night the streets come alive. They are packed with theatergoers, folks selling "souvenirs" (get some cash for your trash), and all manner of humanity.

After a little sustenance at Dean & Deluca (croissants liberally slathered with strawberry jam and cups of steaming hot Earl Grey tea), we headed for TKTS. TKTS is a magical little place in the middle of an "island" surrounded by city streets smack dab in the middle of Times Square. At one end of this "island" is a statue of George M. Cohen of which birds seem very fond. At the other end, is TKTS. 

At any given hour of the day before curtain times, there will be two long queues stretching from either side of the TKTS booth all the way back to George M. You see, TKTS sells day of performance theatre tickets half price. This is a good thing, especially if you plan on attending multiple performances. The only caveat is that you are at the mercy of what they have to offer and you must have cash or traveler’s checks. If you want to see Lion King or Aida at half price, for instance, forget it, it’s not going to happen. You pick from a list of what’s available.

The tkts booth in Times Square
The tkts booth in Times Square

We got in line at 8:30 am. TKTS opens at 10:00. I thought it would be interminable waiting an hour and a half, but no. It was actually entertaining. First of all, I had Carroll with me. He’s always entertaining. Second, I listened to people around me discussing the plays they had seen, the plays they wanted to see, the places they were going to go, how they took the train into town and where they were going to eat. 

After a while, TKTS people worked the queue handing out flyers for the various shows and giving their opinions regarding what was good and what was bad. I had a discussion with a woman in line by me about the merits, or lack thereof, of Mandy Patinkin. She loved him and only wanted to see The Wild Party if his understudy was not going on that day. I do not love him and would have rejoiced to see the understudy. Later in the week though, after seeing him play Burrs, my opinion of Mandy Patinkin changed somewhat. He was perfect in that part and I cannot imagine any other actor playing Burrs nearly so well.

In no time at all it was close to 10. "What’s going to be your very first Broadway play?" Carroll asked, "You’re a Broadway virgin, you know." From what was offered, we narrowed it down to Dirty Blonde (a play about May West), The Green Bird (Julie Taymor’s latest effort), or Taller Than A Dwarf (with Matthew Broderick and Parker Posey). I kind of wanted to see Taller Than A Dwarf, but when we asked the TKTS guy what he thought about it he said, "It’s got Matthew Broderick."

"So what you’re saying is, it stinks, but there’s something pretty to look at?"

He smiled.

We selected The Green Bird. It was chosen because a) the Julie Taymor connection, b) the TKTS guy said it was amazing, and c) it was closing the next day, not much time to see what Julie had devised after Lion King.

Now, I haven’t seen Lion King. I didn’t even try to in New York. Carroll, whose opinion usually coincides with mine, had seen it when it first opened and didn’t care for it and I have tickets for the Los Angeles run. My reasoning was to see things that might not come to in LA. The TKTS guy said The Green Bird was having trouble capturing an audience because people go expecting it to be Lion King and it is not. It included puppetry and masks just as Lion King does, but it was based on an 18th century Italian fable with a little Commedia Dell’arte thrown in for good measure and was not for the kiddies.

The TKTS guy was a good salesman. He made the show sound astounding. It was not. I thought it was a bit boring and I kept thinking of the words of Queen Gertrude as she speaks to Polonius, "More matter, less art," which applies quite nicely to The Green Bird. There was so much attention paid to masks, puppetry and odd costuming that seemed to have no reason for being, that it totally overpowered and obliterated the story, what little there was of it. I could understand why the play closed, especially since more than one of the actor’s masks reminded me of those horrid "pig" masks the poor Light Magic pixies were forced to wear. I fear I will find Lion King more of the same, we’ll see. My virgin Broadway play experience was, as most virgin experiences usually are, lacking. Or, to put it in a more Disneylandish term, I did not choose wisely.

We spent the rest of the afternoon prowling about a street faire and then getting ready to go uptown to Lincoln Center where we would run into Rosie O’Donnell and spend the evening seeing what was to become the Tony winner for best new musical.

We walked from 44th Street to Lincoln Center where we arrived with enough time before the performance to peruse the nearby Disney Store. Earlier in the day, I was so disappointed to find that the big Disney Store in Times Square, right next to Lion King, was gone. They’ve got everything torn up in that area so my visions of massive purchases of Statue of Liberty dressed Minnies had been dashed. I wanted to bring bounty home to my two friends who didn’t get to come along on this trip so I was happy to see there was another Disney Store. My happiness quickly faded when I went inside. There was little NY specific Disney merchandise and the store looked old and tired. After making no purchase, Carroll and I quickly left to hang around Lincoln Center.

Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center

I was thrilled and delighted to find a city that supports the arts so fully. Lincoln Center had so much going on at once and everywhere there were people filling up the theatres for the various performances. It’s not like LA where you have the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Dorothy Chandler and on any given night, maybe one of them is going. At the Lincoln Center, there was an opera, an orchestral event, and two plays all going on in one evening. And, Carroll and I had our first celebrity sighting.

We located the appropriate theatre and because we were a little early, found chairs in the lobby area to sit and pass the time. Lots of people were milling about, so I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention plus, by this time, I hadn’t slept in at least 36 hours. The old gray cells were a little slow on the uptake.

"Sue? Did you see who just walked by you?" Carroll asked.

I looked around, "No, who?"

"Rosie O’Donnell."

"Really? Where?"

He pointed in the direction of the reflection pond and sure enough, there was Rosie with a friend walking around.

Momentary story interruption...

The Six Degrees of Disney-part deux

Connect Rosie O’Donnell to Disney

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

Carroll decided he’d go talk to Rosie and tell her thanks for the efforts she’s made to foster interest in the American theatre. He found her to be gracious and charming as she introduced him to her friend and thanked him for the thanks he was giving her. She said she’d see him inside the theatre. While Carroll was having his brush with celebrity, I was scrambling to get out my camera, take a picture of him talking to Rosie, and not be horribly obvious about it. My efforts went un-rewarded. The photo shows Carroll walking away from this sort of dark shape half obliterated by the person who stepped between Rosie and me at the moment I clicked the shutter. C’est la vie...

The rest of the evening was lovely. We saw Contact, which ended up winning best new musical the next night. After that, tickets were impossible to be found, good thing we saw it when we did. Contact was enjoyable, but I do not understand why it won best new musical. I do not understand why it was even nominated for best new musical. It’s not a musical. There is no live music. Everything’s recorded and there is no music composed especially for the piece (although I love Stephane Grappelli and Squirrel Nut Zippers, doesn’t the music have to be newly composed for the play to qualify as new musical, or is that just my perception?). There is very little dialogue (there are three stories and they are told through dance), and no real story, at least no story by my definition of a story (the common thread of the three pieces is the contact or lack thereof we make with others). 

It is very entertaining, the dancing is stunning (what is done with a swing in the Fragonard piece is amazing) and Karen Ziemba, who won the Tony for best performance by a featured actress in a musical, gave "the" performance of that play, in my not so humble opinion. I’m looking forward to seeing it here again in LA. All that said it’s still not a musical to me.

In world according to me, The Wild Party would have won best new musical. I am told it was offensive to some. This I do not understand.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery, all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.

Perhaps The Wild Party should have announced a disclaimer like that at the start of the play. Maybe then, folks who are concerned with political correctness wouldn’t have been so offended by a character appearing in black face (he was a vaudeville clown and it’s perfectly correct for the time period and absolutely essential to the story), the drinking, drug use, and sex (it was about a wild party, after all). Oh dear, I am getting up on my soapbox. Allow me to climb back down.

Well, all of that was day one. Pretty jam packed, huh? I slept well that night. I’m not going to further bore you with details of days two through seven, but do allow me one more indulgence. I shall tell you what it’s like to attend the Tony Awards.

In a word, exciting.

Day two was spent on two things, both of which involved theatre. We attended a matinee of Dirty Blonde, a tour de force starring and authored by Claudia Shear. It was completely wonderful and I cannot wait for it to come to LA so I can see it again. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with preparations for attending The Tony’s.

You know, before I left, I shopped far and wide for the perfect ensemble in which to appear. I realize I’m not a star and no one would pay any attention, but I still needed to look completely fabulous, for me. And, the outfit needed to be black and preferably something vintage. I had a hard time finding anything that fit that description and my pocketbook. Finally after giving up, my friends dragged me to a mall (I’m not overly fond of malls—I’m a flea market kind of girl) one afternoon and refused to let me leave till I had my dazzling Tony ensemble. After going from store to store and rejecting dozens of choices, Macys was suggested. It was there I hit pay dirt. I found a gorgeous black chiffon skirt that just billowed when I walked and looked fabulous. I also found a black silk bustier top all boned and sort of corset-like. The outfit wasn’t vintage, but it suited me and I was finally happy, as I had vintage jewelry, a beaded 1920’s evening bag, and a lovely black silk shawl beaded with delicate little glass beads that I could add.

So, late that afternoon, while Carroll took the bathroom to change into his tux, I began the ritual of preparing to get dressed. My lovely chiffon skirt was a bit crushed from its encasement in my luggage so I decided to eliminate wrinkles with the hotel’s iron. I set the thing to low and when it was up to speed, held the skirt aloft and the iron a respectable distance away, with the thought in mind that the steam would smooth things out. Then I watched in horror as the iron (which had one speed no matter how it was set--hotter than Hades), vaporized a hole in my lovely skirt. It was peachy. At that point, any idea of touching up the bustier was quickly tossed out the window (which opened up to the brick building ten feet away). Onward. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a hole in my skirt ruin my evening at the Tony Awards.

At this point Carroll emerged looking quite handsome in his tux. At least one of us would look good. The scent of burning chiffon permeated the air and despite his efforts to console me, I grabbed everything and closeted myself in said bathroom to transform into a Broadway diva for the evening (a Broadway diva with a hole in her skirt). I put on the damaged skirt, turning the hole to the back because, at this point as far as I was concerned, if I couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist. I was delighted to find that the hole fell into the folds of the chiffon and was for the most part, hidden. Then I began to don the lovely bustier. The zipper broke.

I was batting a thousand here.

Okay, plan two.

Here I was just hours before the start of the 54th Annual Tony Award Ceremony with a hole in my skirt and a broken zipper. What’s a girl to do? Well, dear readers, I am resourceful. A minor tragedy like this is not going to get me down. I simply popped open one of my trunks, pulled out a stunning black beaded velvet corset top (would that I had packed two skirts), changed and in no time, we were on our way to Radio City Music Hall (I read your travel advice Lani, really I do. And, I have learned something too. I only had three Louis Vuitton trunks this time, instead of the standard five).

The Great Stage at Radio City
The Great Stage at Radio City

Getting to attend the Tony’s was both exciting and a little boring. Exciting, because there was an electricity in the air that was positively energizing. It was thrilling to walk up Avenue of The Americas (otherwise know as 6th Ave) toward Radio City Music Hall, see other folks in black tie and know exactly where they were going, because you were headed there too. 

It was exciting to wait to be let into the Tony’s, watching all the arrivals, playing Mr. Blackwell and critiquing everyone else’s clothing choices. It was exciting seeing the limos pull up and the police directing traffic, the cameras, and recording equipment everywhere. It was exciting just setting foot in the grand and glorious space that Radio City Music Hall is. It was exciting to see stars of the Broadway stage right there in front of me. It was exciting hearing Rosie O’Donnell’s instructions to the crowd before the ceremony started, "Don’t do this," she grabbed her crotch as if adjusting something, "Or this," she shifted her cleavage, " and don’t take longer than two minutes to say thanks cuz nobody cares," big laugh from the audience. It was exciting to hear off camera-between commercial banter while the rest of America watched those commercials. The big running joke was directed at a producer couple in the audience who are notorious for penny pinching. Every time we’d take a break Rosie and Nathan Lane kept announcing the new titles for the plays these producers would be doing. Cats became Cat. Grand Hotel became Grand Motel. If you were watching the ceremony on TV and wondered what the audience was laughing at when they came back from commercial, that was it.

The ceremony was also three hours long. THREE HOURS LONG. With no drama. Everyone pretty much knew who the winners would be so there were very few surprises and as a result, absolutely no tension, which made a three hour long award show rather dull. Contact got best musical, Brian Stokes Mitchell won best leading actor in a Musical (for Kiss Me Kate), and Heather Headly won best leading actress in a musical (for Aida). All in all though, it was fun and I’m glad I can say, "I got to go to the Tony’s." How many people get to do that?

Well dear readers, that’s pretty much it. In one week I saw an award show and eight plays, The Green Bird, Contact, Dirty Blonde, The Laramie Project, Cabaret, The Music Man, The Wild Party, and Kiss Me Kate. My favorite play was The Wild Party (I am still listening to the music over and over). My guiltiest pleasure was The Music Man (it’s so gosh darned corny, you know? One shouldn’t like it that much. I loved it, it made me teary eyed—and, well, you get to look at Craig Bierko for two solid hours).

Six Degrees of Disney-alert!!!

Connect The Music Man to Disney (and you cannot use the Disneyland Main Street song connection since I already have)

I visited the Metropolitan Museum of art, where I saw a stunning impressionist exhibit --- how I adore Monet — and Carroll got to see a study Seurat did for Sunday In the Park (he was happy). I had high tea at the St Regis Hotel (beats Mary Poppins Tea hands down — I can say that because I am a big Mary Poppins Practically Perfect Tea fan). 

I saw celebrities Rosie O’Donnell, Pauly Shore (does he count as a celebrity?), Mandy Patinkin, Eartha Kitt, Tony Collette, Jack Wagner (I’m not sure he counts as a celebrity either), and the red-headed actress (whose name I do not know) on Sex and the City

I had a lovely dinner at Joe Allens, saw the Flat Iron Building, The Chrysler building, The Empire State building, and Grand Central Station (New York ---- New York --- Hey, hey, just one minute, just one down home minute). I found oodles of Statue of Liberty Minnies at a glorious three story tall Disney Store on 5th Avenue and I filled my souvenirs-for-home bag full. 

I added another cheesy souvenir building to my Cheesy Souvenir Monument collection, the Chrysler Building (I just adore those horrid touristy monument souvenirs sold in any tourist destination in the world that has some outstanding architectural feature and have a large collection of them. Amassed together, they have a certain charm that I am unable to resist).

And last, but not least, I found New Yorkers to be warm and friendly and not at all as the stereotypical image (I had a nice conversation about the NHL playoffs with Guillaume, the taxi driver, on my way out of town to JFK --- I left by myself, Carroll, the rat, got to stay two days longer and see more plays than I did).

I would say that two out of three ain’t bad. I went to the Tony’s, saw tons of theatre and had other adventures. I just didn’t get to see the statue of Liberty.

Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go back.

Now back to the chilling challenge I set for you... I made nine different theatre references, all except one are from musicals. There are 3 Six Degrees of Disney. Who can answer the challenge? Anyone? I’ll leave you with that till next time...

Editor's Note:

Call this the "great found column." Sue had submitted this right after her trip to see the Tonys in New York earlier this year, and yours truly promptly lost it somewhere on the hard drive!

Well, thanks to Jim Hill's suggestion that Labor Day 2000 weekend be our Road Trip special edition, Sue was kind enough to let us dust off this charming trip report and let us post it for you to keep in theme.

I've gone ahead and also added a few links to the various things she visited, so you can get a little better feel for them. How could I not - as a former Manhattanite. ;)

Enjoy, and thank you Sue for letting us share your trip with you. Even if it is just a little bit delayed...

- Al



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