Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last and Firebird

Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last is so much fun as Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers, who represented Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway and (the lout) Steve McQueen, among many others. Entertaining us in her sunlit Beverly Hills mansion, Midler’s voice alone is hypnotizing as she imparts the principles that made her a great businesswoman: “To me ‘no’ always meant ‘maybe’.”

On a day in 1981, while Sue Mengers, agent to the stars, is waiting for her star client and best friend, Barbra Streisand, to call her and fire her, she dishes her best, most hilarious stories and picks out an audience member to come up onstage and refresh her drink, also to pass her the marijuana container (a silver box), from the side table.

We felt a little smarter, a little stoned, leaving the theatre listening to a recording of Bette Midler singing, which couldn’t help but remind us that she is a way bigger star than Sue Mengers was. It’s not a problem! Just what happens when you hear her uptempo Stoney End. In 1994 Midler started the historic New York Restoration Project, which spruced up parks and gardens everywhere in the city and that is now restoring gardens destroyed in the hurricane. She is the beloved queen of NYC on the basis of good works alone.

After 90 minutes in the company of the Divine Miss M we felt high and wanted caviar, vodka, drama. The opulent Russian restaurant Firebird answered the call. Star chef, Paul Joseph, has created a new Russian menu, for instance replacing noodles in the beef stroganoff with light gnocchi and making buckwheat blinis for caviar that are thin crêpes. Joseph’s version of beet salad uses peekytoe crab and cucumber. The amuse-buche of creamed, condensed carrot with truffle froth in a demitasse cup was the best thing we ever tasted.

Our waiter suggested infused vodka produced in house in a dozen varieties. He coached us to start with a savory rather than a sweet: the senses-awakening horseradish vodka, served chilled and in a chilled flute.“Vodka must be freezing cold,” he said. It was entirely unrushed – so rare. We ended with lavender creme brûléeand Russian tea.

As with other restaurants moving with the times, it is permanently restaurant week at Firebird, which offers a two-course prix fixe for $21. The tasting menu allows you to range over the entire menu. Pretty bars upstairs and down are full of crystal vodka bottles (but amber bottles too) and lead on to opulent, tasseled nineteenth-century dining rooms decorated with costumes and artwork associated with the Stravinsky ballet The Firebird. Among the statuary and gaslights and draperies, we felt like Lara in Doctor Zhivago on her date with Komarovsky – only better.

This Round’s On Us and Il Buco

The six-year-old indie Nylon Fusion Theatre Company has a festival of well-chosen short plays four times a year. Led by Ivette Dumeng and a glamorous team of actors, the evening has an unexpected effervescence. An open bar near the stage encourages audience – and cast – to down a few drinks and be happy. The plays are all funny, and there’s an uninhibited party atmosphere, but also serious acting going on.

In Searching for Armstrong by James Harmon Brown, two brothers divide up their father’s estate, each accusing the other of having stolen a thing of value: a signed photo of Neil Armstrong in his space suit. Finally one of the brothers fesses up.Lucas Beck and Adam Belvo look nothing alike but were totally convincing as brothers, and kept us rooting for both of them.
Racine Russell and Andrew MacLarty

There was an intermission after Owed, by Joseph Samuel Wright – a wife meets her husband’s “bimbo,”as she calls her, face to face. Pooya Mohseni and Kate Garfield are both amazing in this gem, directed by Shira-Lee Shalit. These brief plays go as far as they can go, and there isn't a dud in the bunch.

While audience members mingled during the intermission, some with complimentary gin, others with a glass of the Nylon Fusion’s “signature sangria,” a fight broke out backstage between actors and spilled out onto the bar area. It seemed unlikely to come to blows. Yet, for a minute or two, it was believable enough that audience members took cover. It’s a testament to the freshness of this company that they’d even attempt something like that – and carry it off.

Right down the street from the Gene Frankel Theatre, and close to the Public Theatre, is the highly esteemed Il Buco, where everything you taste will be exceptional, including the bread dipped in olive oil.

The décor is Italian country kitchen. The menu is a poem. You’ll notice that all the main courses are similarly priced, so there’s no point in ordering chicken when you can have fluke or something exotic. The Italian kale version of caesar salad and a half portion of risotto or pappardelle will run you about fifty dollars, with one glass of the sommelier-choice wine at ten dollars a glass. You have to be prepared to pay the piper, but after dining at Il Buco, you’re excited to start cooking better at home, and that perhaps should be the test of a great restaurant experience today.

Matilda the Musical and Un Deux Trois

The 1996 film of the Roald Dahl Matilda is my 7-year-old daughter’s favorite movie, and in the first 10 minutes of “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway, both she and I knew that this is going be a hit! The clever lyrics, percussive movement, and glowing, alphabet block set captivated us. Also, there is the empowering message that you can create your own destiny.

The new characters that have been added absolutely enhance the story.Two faves include Rudolpho, Mrs. Wormwood’s slick and slimy ballroom-dance partner who slithers and undulates across the stage, and the all-knowing librarian, who listens uncritically to the 5-year-old Matilda’s stories. The most exciting, twisted, and hilarious performance of all is Bertie Carvel in drag as the tyrant headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Surprisingly, children are not frightened by his stern and wicked portrayal. I refuse to divulge more, but he’s a scream in the phys ed number.

Our Matilda (four actresses play her) looked the part, but seemed more a film than stage actor. It was difficult to understand her British accent. (She may improve with practice—this was a preview.) Bravo, Royal Shakespeare Company! We had to get the brilliant soundtrack, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and can’t stop listening to it. Her favorite? Telly,sung by Mr. Wormwood, who proudly learned everything he knows from the telly.

Around Café Un Deux Trois (One Two Three) are plenty of intimate, red banquettes, tall mirrors, chandeliers, and a romantic bar for late at night. A brunch menu makes it a pre-matinee destination on weekends. It doesn’t keep white place mats and crayons on the table for children specifically, but that and its noise level (because of high ceilings) make it a place where a child can feel perfectly comfortable.

The weekday lunch prix fixe includes a much-ordered daily soup and a made-in-house rustic pâté served with celeriac salad on radicchio. Apart from too much tilapia on the menu, there are steak frites, moules frites, a creamy Quiche Lorraine, and other French bistro fare, as well as le burger and a choice of salads (which many restaurants have done away with, replacing anything sandwich- and salad-like with the high-priced scourge “small plates”). It’s probably nobody’s favorite restaurant, but achieves its status from being around so long that practically everybody has a memory of a kiss in one of those banquettes.