Saturday 19 December
In the New York Times at breakfast I spot an advert for a smart gents’ clothing chain having a one-day sale on the basis of ‘buy one get 2 free’ across its range. So guided by the hotel’s concierge I quickly locate the Madison Avenue branch and select some pairs of trousers to try on. Returning from the briefest foray out of a changing room to pick a different size, I find the door locked and an elderly Puerto Rican man inside with my coat, shoes, bag and belongings. I bang on the door and order him out and, in a line which is pure Karen Walker from Will and Grace, instruct him not to leave the store till I’ve checked my wallet.
I then neatly fold the stuff HE’s left in there and put it outside the door, finish my trying on and when I take my selection to the till am met by his lumpen wife, scowling and muttering disapproval at the way I evicted him. The attitude of native New Yorkers is quite infectious and I’m not sure if I’m surprised or faintly proud to hear myself ask her in a Bronx accent if one of the things she’s wanting for Christmas is a fat lip.
I meet my Baltimore friends Curt, Tom and Steve for lunch, and we’re joined by their friends Tim, Troy and Zach for our outing to A Little Night Music – sadly David was deterred by the snows, so we have a spare eighth ticket and there is a momentary frisson when we learn that Zach, who is an opera singer, has offered it to Renee Fleming.
Renee, it turns out, can’t make it and Curt sells the spare ticket to someone in the queue. There’s quite an air of ‘perpetual anticipation’ in the theatre, and for once even I feel it. The staging is the same as the production at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London and even the transition from a 200-seat initimate basement to the 1800-seat Walter Kerr theatre hasn’t damaged it. If anything, the sound’s better and the balance between the small orchestra and the cast has improved. The entrances of Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones are applauded, but not so much as to unbalance the piece.
Lansbury is outstanding, playing Madame Armfeldt as a richly alert observer of the ways of the world, and entirely credible as a past consort of dukes and princes. She finds all the comedy in the role but also the pathos at the end when she realises the significance of what she lost by abandoning her first love is very warm and real. She outshines Maureen Lipman as daylight doth a lamp.
Catherine Z-J isn’t half bad, either. She looks stunning, the high-waisted gowns and piled chestnut chignon suiting both her newly toned figure and her heart-shaped face, she has almost regained some of the wistful beauty of her early days in ‘The Darling Buds of May’. Like Lansbury, she’s far better at the comedy than the singing: her Desiree is coarser and less ladylike than Hannah Waddingham’s and she’s more believable as an old mate of Fredrik’s rather than as the love of his life. Although she sings carefully, she’s not fully in control and loses many of the word endings.
This is quite a gay audience – at interval, the queue for the men’s room is actually longer than the ladies’ - and there’s a real theatrical moment in the second half. The orchestra plays the first bars of ‘Send in the Clowns’ a few lines before she sings it, and there’s a ripple of anticipation as people think ‘here it comes ...’. At that exact moment, a woman about eight rows up in the Mezzanine unwraps a boiled sweet and with the most perfectly executed snap head-turn Broadway has ever seen, two hundred gay men swivel to stare at her as if to say ‘Of all the times you could do this ...’
The rest of the cast are more than adequate with the exception of a new-to-Broadway actress playing the virginal Anne who just isn’t up to standard. Leigh-Ann Larkin, so good as June in the Patti LuPone ‘Gypsy’ is outstanding as the provocative maid Petra, and her version of ‘I Shall Marry The Miller’s Son’ gets thunderous applause. We come out in high spirits, and celebrate variously with cocktails in Blue Fin, a brief chat with Catherine as she comes out of the stage door to welcome some cousin of hers from back home, and taking excited photographs of each other as the snow starts to fall. Sometimes, New York really is magical.
We’re invited to a drinks party at the Chelsea apartment of former TV anchorman Chris O’Donoghue who accompanies us to dinner in his wheelchair, an adventure in itself in the whirling snow, but a positive Winter Olympics event when we emerge from the restaurant into a full-on blizzard. Abandoning plans to meet friends in yet another bar in Chelsea because of the weather, Tim, Troy and I share a hilarious ride up an un-gritted Park Avenue in a yellow cab whose windows are totally iced over and no-one, not even the driver, can see where we are going. If we’d been sober, I think we’d have been genuinely scared but I am immensely relieved to reach the entrance of the hotel.
I do a bit of re-packing and start feeling genuinely excited about tomorrow. I may delete this later but the truth is I even did a little happy dance before going to bed.