Best of Manhattan: Arts Entertainment
BEST CHEESY BROADWAY HIT
Legally Blonde isn’t a very good musical-you can’t hear the lyrics because it’s amplified to death; you see every plot twist coming from miles away (even if you don’t know the film); and the acting might best be described as resembling Aunt Mildred’s meatloaf-totally overdone. But there’s something about the journey of Elle Woods’ character that somehow makes a sucker out of even the most emotionally vacant of us. And if you watched just one episode of that immortal tearjerker, The Search for Elle Woods, you’ve got to root for Bailey Hanks, who was chosen to replace Laura Bell Bundy in the lead role. So we say bend…and snap!
BEST OFF-BROADWAY SHOW THAT BELONGS ON BROADWAY
The First Breeze of Summer
Signature Theater Company, 555 W. 42nd St. (betw. 10th & 11th Aves.), 212-244-7529
Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre Company devotes each season to one playwright-or, in the case of this season, one group: the Negro Ensemble Company. Its first production revives one of the Ensemble’s least-remembered works: Leslie Lee’s The First Breeze of Summer, a dramatic, dynamic drama starring Tony-winner Leslie Uggams. It’s a tight, gorgeously written, emotionally cauterizing work that tells the story of three generations of an African-American family-a true precursor to the rightly cherished oeuvre of August Wilson. If there’s a theater god, Breeze will bow on Broadway not too long after its off-Broadway run ends on Sept. 28.
BEST NEW VENUE
Santos Party House
100 Lafayette St. (betw. Walker and White Sts.), 212-584-5492
Opened in May by a group of investors including party rocker Andrew WK and downtown impresario Spencer Sweeney, Santos is a dark, open space that boasts a million-dollar sound system and a weekly schedule of parties that put it to good use. WK calls the space “a perfect physical representation of freedom,” and says the club harkens back to the glory days of such legendary spots as the Cat Club in the 1980s and Life in the ’90s. When we were there recently for a late-90s-themed bash, skuzzy nu-ravers with dreads, rocker chicks with peeling nail polish danced to New Order. The projectionist played a continuous loop of PiL-era John Lydon above the stage. If the coolest kids you know opened a club, this would be it-though in this case beer isn’t free.
BEST UNDERAPPRECIATED INDIE THEATER COMPANY WHOSE WORK YOU SHOULD GET YOUR ASS TO
The Flux Theatre Ensemble
People who know him call him Gus, but his formal name is August Schulenberg. And as the artistic director and one of the primary playwright-directors of the Flux Theatre Ensemble, he’s among the visionaries behind one of off-off-Broadway’s fastest-rising groups. The company’s mission might lean be a bit toward the bathetic (“the transformative freedom of theater to re-imagine the boundaries of human connection”), but it’s the product that really matters. From its startlingly original summertime revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Schulenberg’s latest play, Other Bodies, a Fringe Festival hit, this group isn’t destined to be in flux for long.
BEST QUIET NIGHT OUT
Phantom Disco at Spiegelworld
South Street Seaport, Pier 17,
Even with thousands of nightlife choices at our fingertips, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to a line-up for weekend activities. Our advice: ditch the crummy bar you’ve been wasting your hard-earned money on and get ready to jam out, thanks to Spiegelworld. Picky when it comes to the beats that get you bumpin’? Not an issue at Phantom Disco, where dancers can turn up their iPods and let loose-sure, you can do this in your bedroom, hairbrush microphone in hand, but this way you get to see other people bust out some of their best moves, which is so much more entertaining.
BEST BROADWAY SHOW THAT BELONGS OFF-BROADWAY
[title of show]
Lyceum Theater, 149 W. 45th St. (betw. Broadway and 6th Ave.), 212-239-6200
There are only a few possibilities: Disney, after all, would never permit its precious productions to plop down anywhere but Broadway, and play lovers are only too excited for Daniel Radcliffe to wear his Equus birthday suit or wave his magic wand. The fact is, while [title of show]Â really is the little musical that could. An alumnus of the New York Musical Theatre festival; it conquered off-Broadway and then, following a YouTube campaign, lured enough investors to arrive at the Lyceum Theatre. This musical about writing a musical is full of downtown ‘tude, not Midtown mojo. Off-Broadway is its natural home.
BEST FREE MUSEUM YOU’VE NEVER BEEN TO
Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library
Audubon Terrace, Broadway (betw. 155th & 156th Sts.), 212-926-2234
In a city that offers so much access to museums and galleries, most of us just decide to stray into a bar that may have some suspicious art on the walls and call it a day. If we need a quick fix of culture without much hassle, it’s easy to plunk down a dime (or even a penny) and get whisked through the halls of the Met. Otherwise, checking out art can be a costly undertaking-with many of the main draws charging $20 on average. That’s one reason it was such a revelation to discover the Hispanic Society of America’s Museum neglected outpost way uptown in rapidly gentrifying Washington Heights. While no one piece of art stands out, it was an unexpected pleasure to find works by Spanish greats El Greco, Velasquez and Goya mixed in among ancient sculptures and craft pieces. The institution is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal and Latin America and is located in a mysterious compound of Classical Revival stone buildings (one of which houses the American Numismatic Society!) and is not too far away from the much more famous Cloisters.
We were tempted to venture there, however, by Dia Art Foundation’s recent collaboration, in which they installed close to 300 portraits of Christian Saint Fabiola collected by Francis AlÃ¿s in an exhibition titled Fabiola. The exhibition was unusual and fascinating, and energized what is usually a musty, tired collection. After closing down their Chelsea gallery and deciding not to erect a new museum along the High Line, Dia sadly has no permanent presence in New York City beyond the Walter de Maria installations they maintain in Soho. But a planned three-year collaboration with the Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library may be the best thing that ever happened to a forgotten museum that deserves some recognition.
BEST OVEREXPOSED NIGHTCLUB THAT’S ACTUALLY A GOOD TIME
The Beatrice Inn
285 W. 12th St (betw. W. 4th St. & 8th Ave.), 212-243-4626
Yes it’s nearly impossible to get in. And drinks are expensive. And nobody’s excited to see Kirsten Dunst in a headband trying desperately to be noticed while not being noticed. But really, with the feeling of a high school party while someone’s parents are out of town, a night at the Beatrice is something to look forward to. The music is generally excellent-solid soul and good rock akin to early ’90s mod parties like Tiswas-and if the crowd seems a bit snooty, just turn your nose in the air (even if everyone else’s seems to be runny and red) and act like they’re the plebes. After all, this is Manhattan in 2008, everyone’s just pretending.
BEST ON-AIR GAFFE
Sue Simmons Says the F-Word
Sue, we feel for ya. This past May, the longtime WNBC news anchor was caught saying the f-word during a live promotion for an upcoming segment (“What theÂ $#*% are you doing?!?”). The reason, it was later revealed, was that co-anchor Chuck Scarborough was allegedly reading something on the computer screen embedded in the news desk, rather than paying attention to Sue. So Sue, probably tired of taking his crap-wheedling his way into the best stories, taking the last Danish and stealing her make-up brush-just totally lost it. Wouldn’t we all? The difference is that Sue was caught on camera and then raked over the coals by the tabloids for a few days. After interviewing some restaurant employees who claimed she liked to get loaded before newscasts, the New York Post called her “Boozy Suzy”-then reminded us of the time she fell off her chair during another newscast. Sure, there’s something amusing about exposing the cracks in a buttoned-up public persona. But Sue’s gaffe was especially touching to those of us who ever wanted to curse out a co-worker, or felt the need for stiff drink to face the day.
BEST SUNDAY NIGHT MAINSTAY
Morrissey Night at Sway Lounge
305 Spring St. (at Renwick St.),
Sure, this Sunday-night mopester dance party has been around forever, but so has Morrissey… and do we love him any less? Also just like with Moz, we can all agree things used to be a bit better, but it sure beats the imitators. In fact, there is almost nothing that soothes the angst-filled teen within like writhing to “Hairdresser on Fire,” drinking an overpriced vodka-soda and sneaking a cigarette on the dance floor. Beware the Sunday night of a three-day weekend, the place gets packed with the 9-to-5 crowd, but sometimes you just want to see people and you want to see life.
BEST PLACE TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club-Lounge
2751 Broadway (betw. 105th & 106th Sts.), 212-864-6662
Former Augie’s bartenders Paul Stache and Frank Christopher are approaching their 10th anniversary as owners of what has since become one of the best jazz clubs in the capital of jazz. What makes the cozy, intimate space unique is that here the music really takes center stage. From the sophisticated audio system to the Steinway grand, Stache and Christopher spared no expense to ensure that the artists sound as good as they play. It’s no surprise that greats like Dr. Lonnie Smith and Cedar Walton, who never performed at Augie’s, keep coming back to Smoke. With an opening act like the legendary George Coleman Quartet, Stache said, the bar was set high from the get-go.
BEST COMEDY TROUPE
Drink at Work
The term “troupe” seems a bit too narrow for the Drink at Work crew. They are in fact a full-fledged production company that branches out with video sketches, blogs and stand-up shows. They certainly know how to diversify. Also, given the crumbling financial infrastructure, their moniker just seems like sound advice.
During a drive upstate to attend a wedding, core member Carol Hartsell explains via cell phone that she first took notice of Sean Crespo because of his award-winning short film I Am Drugs. The success of the crew is also a testament to the magic of the Internet, since they acquired writer and cartoonist Corey Pandolph through something as unceremonious as an email. “Corey is just amazing,” Carol exclaims. Guess you never know what talent just might pop up in the old inbox. The group is performing next on Oct. 18 at Comix (353 W. 14th St., 212-524-2500).
BEST REMINDER TO CALL YOUR GRANDMOTHER
Louise Bourgeois exhibit at the Guggenheim
1071 Fifth Ave. (at 89th Street),
We first saw one of Louise Bourgeois’Â Mother sculptures-a giant, creepy metal spider that looks like it might be a spacecraft from outer space-and easily fell for the nonagerian’s wit and talent for reinterpreting basic assumptions about gender and sexuality. This year’s retrospective at the Gugg proved she was so much more than a one-liner with family issues. Having lived and participated in most of the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century-including Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Post-Minimalism-this grand lady has seen and done it all. While our granny was never this cool, it does make you appreciate your elders and hope that she’ll have another decade of productivity and powerful influence on an art world that is sorely in need of more than marketable trifles.
BEST FILM FESTIVAL
New York Asian Film Festival
It seems there’s some sort of film fest in the city every week to cater to every sort of cinema taste. But the guys who program that New York Asian Film Festival have managed to scrape together funds (most of it on their credit cards) for seven years to offer some of the most exciting and eclectic films from across Asia. This year they spruced things up by screening films at the IFC Center in the Village and Japan Society on East 47th Street. We can only hope next year will prove to be even more lucrative, with a slate of unusual, creative and great films from the East.
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