SCHOOL OF ROCK, the musical, and Tender

School of Rock jettisoned Jack Black’s film career in 2003. Can anyone top his performance as Dewey Finn? I hear that Alex Brightman slays it, throwing himself into the highly physical part and losing one or two pounds per show. We saw his understudy, Jonathan Wagner, who comes very close to Jack Black and even looks like him. NYC students will especially appreciate the saga of parents pressuring kids to get good grades and kids wanting to explore private artistic passions. In a kids-to-parents song “If Only You Would Listen” substitute teacher Dewey asks, “What makes you more angry than anything else in the world?” Katie (Evie Dolan, age 11) answers, “Being over scheduled.” The dialogue could be way wittier, but perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes are the perfect team for serviceable children’s musicals. “Stick It to the Man” and “You’re In the Band” were a lot alike, but Arden, our young critic, rocked out to both. Spencer Moses is delightful as Dewey’s best bud, Ned. A shout out to young back-up singer Carly Gendell, with her groovy dance moves—it’s no surprise that she’s played Annie. Parents be warned: the music is loud all the way through. Children in the cast bop, stomp, and punch energetically—and yes, they really do play their own instruments.

Steak and sushi are on the lunch and dinner menus at Tender Bar and Grill in the Sanctuary Hotel near the theatre district in midtown. The tangy, wild ginger-edamame appetizer was a winner, but the flatbread pizza was unremarkable. Atlantic salmon burger was our favorite on the 3-course, $29 pre-matinee prix fixe. Tender is a sports bar with giant screens, exposed brick walls and teal blue leather banquettes, with pop music (but the volume is kept low) and kid-friendly. Arden raved about the steak.

China Doll with Al Pacino and The Four Seasons

Al Pacino at the stage door, photo by Denise Korey
 Al Pacino plays Mickey Ross, a well-preserved big shot now in love with a much younger woman, referred to as Miss Pierson (who never appears). “She could have any man she wished, but she chose me.” Old Man, young wife, new life: “the ultimate fantasy of wealth,” Mickey instructs Carson, his assistant, played by tall and clean cut Charles Denham. Other times Mickey has no illusion that Miss Pierson loves him for any reason other than his money.

Mickey and Carson spend the day working mainly on the telephone (bluetooth devices) in Mickey’s luxurious skyscraper apartment with a view of only the sky (fab set by showboat Derek McLane). On prominent display is a model of the private jet Mickey bought for Miss Pierson, who is in Canada to pick it up, finding that the plane was impounded as a lien against taxes and crashing Mickey's plans.

David Mamet wrote China Doll specifically for Al Pacino, who is now seventy-five. Pacino is no longer the jangly kid in his cinematic debut, the 1971 Panic in Needle Park, but don’t tell him that. Pacino acts all over the place with great verve and generosity. It's impossible to watch him for long without smiling. Even if the two-hour China Doll were a total piece of shit (and some critics have suggested that) you still want to see this play.

Directed by Pam MacKinnon, specialist in the most difficult characters, the ending is so shocking that the audience gasps.

Plans are afoot to move the Four Seasons downtown in 2016. It may never compete with where it has been since 1959, the Seagram Building on Park Avenue and 52nd, the epitome of postmodernity. The interior is designed by the building’s architects, Philip Johnson (of the Glass House) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The vast, sweeping Pool Room has stellar acoustics and is flatteringly lit, which renders it cozy in spite of itself.

The Grill Room was all men in suits. The Pool Room was more romantic, with couples side by side on sleek Mies van der Rohe sofas, holding hands. Menu and the flowers around the gurgling pool change seasonally. A good value $59 three-course prix fixe drew out the pre-matinee lunch to allow for basking in the iconic architecture, in the auspiciousness. My charming waiter said President Barack Obama announced his candidacy at the upstairs private Four Seasons dining room.

You can imagine Mickey Ross and Carson, or Don Draper and Peggy Olson, in the Grill or Pool Room, ordering the celebrated rare bison filet at $72. On the relatively thrifty prix fixe, pappardelle with oxtail-mushroom ragout was rich and memorable, following a tender “ewe blue” and quartered Bibb lettuce salad.

It was a hard choice in primi, secondi and dolce—every dish sounds amazing. Chocolate-pecan cake with a near-cookie texture and wave of Ganache ended the meal in a salted caramel flourish (photo above). And this is as surreal as it soundsand you have to see it to believe itthe towering clouds of pink cotton candy studded with crystallized violets that pour out of the kitchen to the tables. Cotton candy is the Four Seasons’ signature dessert all year long.

Fun Home and B.B. King's Lucille's

Alison Bechdel’s graphic coming-of-age Fun Home creates an idyllic childhood world. Each member of the family works happily on art projects in their own rooms, in a sprawling, antique-filled Gothic revival house. Circle in the Square theatre-in-the-round oddly fits the bill in creating the foundation. A girl and two boys. A mother who acts in regional theatre and an attractive father who is an English teacher and a family funeral home director (where we get “Fun Home”).

Three actresses play Alison Bechdel at various ages. Beth Malone is the present day Alison who narrates from her drawing desk. In a key scene (no pun intended), the child Alison (Gabriella Pizzolo) notes an attraction to a capable-looking girl with a ring of keys hanging from her belt—“Ring of Keys” is one of several heart-stopping ballads that will have you reaching for your handkerchief. At college, Alison has her first romance with a girl, Joan (the lovely Roberta Colindrez) and sings “I’m Changing My Major (to Joan).” It’s a sexy scene for the theatre, and over and over you admire this team for their honesty and commitment!

A sensational Emily Skeggs plays college-age Alison as the girl you wish you knew when you were in college. In coming out to her parents (by post) Alison is disappointed by their slow reaction. Then she learns why—her mother (Judy Kuhn) reveals that Daddy (lovable Michael Cerveris) has always been attracted to men, including the family’s heretofore beloved gardener. The gardener and all the young boyfriends are played by a sympathetic Joel Perez, who looks straight out of a Tom of Finland drawing.

How rare to be at a musical that shares ideas that you were never offered before. The memoir Fun Home is sad. You leave the Circle in the Square with a lump in your throat, but feeling better and more hopeful about the future. It’s very funny at times and consistently a triumph of everyone involved. Music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics Lisa Kron, directed by Sam Gold, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel.

The James Brown Soul Revue was warming up at Lucille’s when we walked in. The sound was amazingly authentic, and when James Brown impersonator Lloyd Diamond, in a red jumpsuit, came out dancing, the illusion was complete. Fred Thomas, who leads the six-member band, was James Brown’s principal bassist from 1971 and drummer Tommy Greene also played with Brown’s original group. We were swept away by this incredible entertainment for a small cover charge over a pre-show meal. But we know that Lucille's regularly features the most impressive entertainment. What a nice way to reward yourself for starting the week on the good foot: Bluesman Jon Paris plays on Mondays with bassist Amy Madden and drummer Steve Holley.

Sunday's popular, powerful Harlem Gospel Choir brunch includes bottomless mimosas and a limitless buffet of Creole and Southern classics. At nighttime chef Wenford Simpson does a steaks-and-BBQ menu, but with flourishes, like the grilled lemon slices served with salmon, green beans, and rice. Most were ordering the hamburger plate, so that had to be very good too. 

Something Rotten! and Hourglass Tavern

Set in Tudor England, William Shakespeare is a preening and conceited rock star. Christian Borle, with flowing locks, is “the Will with the skill / To thrill you with the quill.” Rival playwrights, the Bottom brothers, (Brian d’Arcy James and John Cariani), grease the palm of a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to look into the future and give them an edge on the next big thing. “A Musical” celebrates every Broadway musical you ever saw or heard of. The Bottom brothers approach their rich patron proposing to write the first great musical and the first ever musical: about the Black Death. Ah, the patron doesn’t much like the subject.

Anticipating Shakespeare’s next masterpiece, the Bottoms conceive of the musical “Omelette.” Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon) features tap-dancing actors with tremendous codpieces (Gregg Barnes did costumes). Brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote the score. Karey wrote the book with John O’Farrell, who is British, making Something Rotten! an American-British collaboration. It’s a huge success, yet its style may be more Broadway than West End. So far Something Rotten! has delighted audiences only on this side of the pond

Shakespeare used the hourglass to depict the transience of life. At Hourglass Tavern, the opposite is true. Hourglass has remained pretty much the same since the nineteenth century, has changed hands rarely, and even the staff is long term. Our wonderful waitress, Maria, has been there for twenty-five years and remembers when hourglasses were on each table for guests to use, to make sure they made their curtain.

Rather than a speakeasy, Hourglass was a narrow, 3-floor rooming house. The tiled bath on the second floor is the original, now the lady’s powder room. Check out the mirror and see a younger version of yourself. (References in Shakespeare to “glass” are taken to mean “hourglass” when more likely Will meant “mirror”).

Hourglass's weekend pre-matinee brunch features eggs with short rib hash. Roasted short ribs are great on the dinner menu, crispy on the outside, served with perfectly steamed broccoli and “homemade double butter mashed potatoes.” The basic salad has a vegetable-rich dressing, and you can add blackened shrimp to the salad.

The menu is the most versatile restaurant menu we have ever seen! There’s a $22.95 pre-theatre prix fixe. At any time at all you can create a 3-course prix fixe by adding $10 to your entrée. A picky eater child menu allows the child to design their own fussy meal for only $11. Arden, however, ordered the “Big Ass 12 oz. Angus beef burger,” served on the homemade bread and layered with vegetables. She took a few dainty bites and had the rest wrapped. We all had the rest wrapped, happily enough. Eat, drink, and be merry, as the Bard said.

Sylvia by A.R. Gurney and Haven Rooftop

Written before the rescue dog renaissance, yet anticipating it totally, Sylvia is A.R. Gurney’s most beloved play. This beautiful revival should satisfy the 1.1 million dog owners in New York City. The stray poodle mix that Greg (Matthew Broderick) picks up is rejected for every reason by his wife Kate (Julie White). West Siders who live along Central Park, the play has that romantic backdrop—a lower skyline from 1993, and moves on through Bill Clinton’s re-election, with references to Kitty Carlisle Hart and Bella Abzug.

Many couples can relate to the jealousy that erupts when a dog is brought into the equation. Kate wishes that it were an affair instead: “Any wife worth her salt can manage that.” Really? And was the play’s transgender shrink (Robert Sella, who plays three characters, including a female and a male), added to keep up with the times? But that gives Sylvia some meat.

Even Broderick’s heartthrob boyhood roles contained a layer of irony that is denied him in the part of Greg—he might do better switching parts with Julie White, what with White's real-life love of dogs and Kate's Shakespearean histrionics. Also straining at the leash, Annaleigh Ashford plays the poodle Sylvia with genius comic timing and maximum lovable-ness. (It’s a tough part that was also well played by Broderick’s partner, Sarah Jessica Parker.) Wish we saw Ashford’s Tony turn in You Can’t Take It With You; her transcendent working-class girlfriend redeemed Kinky Boots for us. We loved those Welsh Corgis in last season’s The Audience. The addition of a real dog or two in the park scenes would make us like this Sylvia even more.

Around the corner from the  Cort Theatre, Haven Rooftop is a year-round outdoor rooftop restaurant open late, and a young person’s hangout with both loud music and great food—a combination you don’t often find.  Havenly Chicken is a well-seasoned, fanned-out chicken breast in beurre blanc, with tender mesclun salad and a heap of fries. (It was enough to share, only $21.) Arugula Parmesan, “Holy” truffle fries and the stacked crab and avocado appetizer were delicious, and the shrimp and shaved Brussels sprouts another inspired combination. With a spiky midtown view of skyscrapers and Gothic church, and a transparent ceiling, we’ll return one day when it’s snowing and sample the winter menu.

The Flick and the Little Owl

The Flick is set in a small cinema in Worcester, Massachusetts, with three complex characters in low-paying jobs: two male ushers and a woman with green hair who runs the reel-to-reel projection booth. The new usher Avery (Kyle Beltran) is black, sensitive, a student and cinephile living with a father who teaches at Clark University. Rose (Nicole Rodenburg), the projectionist, shares an apartment, is in default on college debt, and rarely makes eye contact. Maybe it’s the script or the director’s fault, but Rose remains an island even when she comes on to one of her co-workers.

The usher Sam, age thirty-five, lives at home and is the unselfconscious type who stands with his mouth open while he thinks. Sam, too, is a cinephile, who believes Avatar was a great movie. Danny Wolohan is courageously real and stunning in the role, even as he wrings out the mop in a bucket and scrubs the floor. What a sensational actor.

The well-lit set is perfect, with worn pink seats, ugly gold and brown walls, and stained, white pebbled ceiling panels. It is ambitious in this era of speed to do a long-format play, and Annie Baker’s creative risk lead to a deserved Pulitzer Prize. At three hours with intermission, The Flick is longer than a movie. Baker tortures her audience a bit with the frequent sweeping up of popcorn off the floor, and the scaly rash on one of her characters’ neck and back, and the many real-time pauses. Darkness contrasts with light-hearted music from François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim. 

The meatball slider at the Little Owl
The Little Owl, with blue awnings, is on an idyllic corner of the West Village. The food is justly celebrated, prices are fairly moderate, and portions are righteous. The petite hamburger (or slider, if you insist) is kind of exquisite, with fennel notes. Seasonal basil gnocchi was in a meat accented fresh tomato sauce. Truffle risotto is heady, with an organic egg yolk on top. The fresh tasting crabcake is served on crunchy greens in champagne vinaigrette. Signature dishes are the pork chop and lamb chops grilled in honey barbeque. One of the desserts is light beignets served with nutella and raspberry sauces. Our only complaint was that the rhubarb crisp wasn't crispy enough. Otherwise the Little Owl treated us wisely. Book in advance.

The Audience and Chat Noir

Photo by Johan Persson

Helen Mirren reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth II on Broadway. We saw the London production of The Audience, and the film The Queen (no relation, but yet another chance to see the great Mirren). Our favorite was the Broadway production.

The Playbill comes with a helpful reference card to the twelve prime ministers the Queen has had Tuesday audiences with over the course of her life since the coronation at age twenty-five. As others have noted before us, the high notes are higher than they were on the West End (which we reviewed here). But we say, What's wrong with that? Her Majesty seems to prefer her Labour Party PMs over the Conservatives, however the interesting Scottish PM Gordon Brown is again miscast. Fireball Texan Judith Ivey is cast against type for “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, yet she delivers on toughness. Another American actor familiar from stage and screen, Dylan Baker, disappears into the role of John Major and even gets the accent down. Richard McCabe reprises his historically inaccurate though super charming Harold Wilson.

The staging is brilliant, especially the quick costume-wig-and-handbag changes, and Buckingham Palace appears less chilly than it did in the London production. Balmoral Castle is cozy, with the corgis dashing by and her personal favorite prime minister, Labour's Harold Wilson, and Mirren gets to swing her hips to the skirl of the bagpipes.

The Broadway production goes further in humanizing the Queen, assuring us that life in the palace was not a total drag—even though she was taught from childhood to never let her feelings show. Elizabeth Teeter and Sadie Sink play the future queen with aplomb. Tracy Sallows is lovely as Nanny Bobo, and she can sing like a bird. Sallows understudies Mirren in surely the hardest role to live up to on earth.

Since the production is closing, it’s not a spoiler to say that after all the curtain calls, the curtain closes and parts again for a generous last glimpse of Dame Helen Mirren as HRH Elizabeth.  

Not far from Broadway, off Fifth Avenue, Bistro Chat Noir is a sweet tablecloth restaurant filled with ladies who lunch. A welcoming bank of fragrant flowers greet you as you walk in, striped wallpaper and a femmy decor. You know you’re safe to reveal to your girlfriend the size of your wife bonus or lack thereof. You may cry here, you're among friends, and the charming waiter is likely to kiss your hand to make you feel better again.

Bistro Chat Noir smells so good, it tastes so good, and the wine list contains moderately priced wines. We ordered a la carte the frisée salad with poached egg and lardons (perfect), a delicious puréed chickpea soup (classic), grilled branzino sea bass and salmon steak crisp on the outside and tender inside - gorgeous grilled fish with truffle French fries. Lunch and brunch include a famous BLT and the truffle fries. When it’s nice you can sit outdoors with your borzoi on a leash and the second husband in training.

Don Giovanni and Via della Pace

Mozart’s opera buffa Don Giovanni is quite a bit about class. The don lures lovers by the offer of marriage into unimaginable wealth. This was not so apparent in that other Don Giovanni I saw—the Franco Zeffirelli production at the Met Opera, starring Plácido Domingo. In the Met production every character was dressed opulently. These fine points are not lost in the downtown Amore Opera’s Don Giovanni, performed by opera stars and starlets who never sing flat. The overture, by a 24-piece orchestra directed by Douglas Martin sounds as sweet as it did at the Met.

Rob Garner commands the role of the rake, even doing a respectable turn at a sword fight. (Here he is with another Taci superstar, Brad Cresswell.) Garner’s sonorous Deh vieni all finestra, o mio tesoro had tenderness and soul. His descent into hell was thrillingly hammy.

It’s only a measure of my respect for this handsome baritone that I felt some distress when he removed his tricorn hat and his curly, pony-tailed wig seemed momentarily flattened down. Don Giovanni would be nothing without his right hand man, Leporello. Tenor Frederic Rice was extraordinary as Leporello, squeezing every comic possibility from the role. He was somewhat apologetic, rather than boastful, as he sang Madamina, il catalogo è questo.

The don’s women are either paid supplicants back at his palace or noblewomen and peasants alike who are understandably angry at his behavior. Victoria Wefer, Iris Karlin, and Sarah Moulton Faux were full-throttle as Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Zerlina. The Amore production suggests that the clown Leporello gets together in the end with one of Giovanni’s exes, the sadly pregnant young Donna Elvira, offering a happy future at least for these two.

If any stage production in New York City deserved a standing ovation that day it was this engrossing, faithful, and fleet production by Nathan Hull. But most of the sold-out audience was too old to jump to their feet. That’s the thing about opera. Amore Opera tries to expand the audience by offering witty productions with a revolving cast, well-matched subtitles, and charming sets. It goes without saying that tickets cost a fraction of what they do at the Met. Amore is looking for a new home, unfortunately losing the gemlike Connelly theatre in the East Village. Hurry to see them there.

Via della Pace is the real thing and has a lot in common with other historic Italian restaurants/caffès with its murals, tin ceiling, distressed wood, good food, and a silent soccer game on a screen over the bar. Comforting pastas and a well-turned tuna steak give Via della Pace an edge over competition. Or maybe it’s their hot pressed, toasted bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Fresh bruschetta is piled high and comes in broad variety, served with a boat of oil and vinegar dressing. It’s irresistible to linger further, over coffee and Italian pastries or biscotti.

Epic Poetry and Las Tapas

Epic Poetry traces a young woman’s search for the father she never knew. The resourceful Connie Castanzo is our heroine, and Noah Witke plays the 13-year-old half brother she discovers on her quest. They enact a story that is being played out more and more in our fractured world.

James Bosley’s play gives new meaning to the search by splicing in the Odyssey and the Iliad. The Greek chorus is composed of characters met along the way. Drummer Jason B. Lucas punctuates the story. Tubular bells, singing wine glasses, and Carmina Burana are used to great effect.

This odyssey snakes through the subway and out to the sunnier outer boroughs. Set designer Duane Pagano transforms the space with city skyline and chain link fence, and when the action moves to a trailer park, pink flamingos and plastic windmills. A trailer park couple is embodied with gusto by Elizabeth A. Bell and Carlos Molina. Rik Walter provides more comic relief. The lovely actor Bill Christ is the long-lost father returning from a war. He is not our heroine's hoped for and dreamed of father, but she has travelled so far that she knows how to handle, philosophically, any surprise that life deals her. What a good story she’ll have to tell when she returns home.

Up Theater Company is dedicated to entertaining the Inwood neighborhood with regional theatre of the highest order. “We eschew crowd pleasing chestnuts” is how they put it in their mission statement. They are lucky to get a director known for his edgy work in Shakespeare (including Hamlet set in a prison, the well-received Bound in a Nutshell, 2008). Gregory Wolfe directs this new play for Up Theater with characteristic grace and wit.

Photo Becca Pulliam @Please Repeat the Question
The Washington Heights Inwood neighborhood that supports its local cultural establishments has a selection of fine restaurants. We were directed to Refried Beans, but went instead to the new Las Tapas, serving Spanish happy hour pintxo or tapas. We were seated in a back garden with a fountain.

Diners around us ate heaping salads with a side of cassava chips before entrées , but we stuck to the tapas, or small plates, menu. Pulpo y Papas, tender octopus with Yukon Gold potatoes was a classic. Tortilla, the ultimate potato omelet is served warm here (rather than room temperature as we've had it before). Creamy croquettes come with two sauces. Grilled asparagus was so fresh, straight off the grill, with melted Manchego. Our favorite was Chicharon de Cuerda, or pork belly with a crispy crust, served on chickpeas in a heady red sauce. Toasted baguette allows you to mop up. Complimentary garlic olives help you wait for your food to arrive. Las Tapas serves six kinds of sangria, including a four-glass sample. A long happy hour (from four to eight) makes anything possible.

Finding Neverland and City Kitchen

Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer, photo by Carol Rosegg.
The new musical Finding Neverland is based on the 2004 film. Matthew Morrison plays the sensitive Scottish playwright, author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie. One afternoon in London’s Kensington Park, Barrie stumbles upon Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (the fabulous Laura Michelle Kelly, aka Mary Poppins), with her four lovely sons and their shaggy dog. Carolee Carmello is powerful as Sylvia’s mother, the famous mystery writer Daphne du Maurier. The family releases the playwright from writer’s block, and one of the boys becomes the inspiration for Barrie’s indelible creation, the boy who never grew up. The boys rotate the role of Peter.

Arden, our nine-year old reviewer, swooned when the “Glee” star appeared on stage. To us it seemed at first that Matthew Morrison might be phoning it in. Or was it the heavy tweed suit, the Scots accent, and the beard that hid his chiseled chin? He redeems himself in Act 1 when he has a chance to show off his remarkable dancing skills. Mia Michael’s choreography is angular, abrupt, and there are lots of vertical jumps. The choreographed dinner party is a gem.

Kelsey Grammer is delightful and totally present as the curmudgeonly producer and also Captain Hook. His dead-pan delivers. The ensemble actors in the backstage story and Teal Wicks as the first Mrs. Barrie are fun. There is something satisfyingly dark about it all. The pop score by British rocker Gary Barlow is manipulative but sweeps you up. Catharsis comes with sparkling stars, a storm of glitter, and Tinker Bell’s flight. We left feeling shaken and stirred.

Like salted caramel and "large plates," the food court is a trend. Brand new City Kitchen has sushi, Gabriela's Taqueria, Kuro Obi noodles, Luke's Lobster; homemade pita and salads from ilili Box (our best destination); local green pickles, wedge salad, and the Juicy Lucy burger at Whitman's (Arden's best pick), alluring Wooly's Shaved Snow and other vendors. It's a good place to take children, allowing a huge choice and the ability to see the food before ordering.

Rather than eating in the food court, carry your boxes to the spacious adjoining hotel lobby. It's peaceful there, however if you would like less peace, and Mom would like a drink, broad steps lead down to a flourishing bar with a huge movie screen showing vintage rock concerts. 

Wolf Hall, Parts I and II, and Russian Samovar

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hilary Mantel’s books on the court of Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, is the scintillating two-part “Wolf Hall." This king is driven (at least in Part I) by his heart. He needs to get his marriages annulled under the Catholic Church, which leads to the Reformation. Characters speak at times in modern short-hand. “Thank God!” Thomas More. “No, thank me,” Thomas Cromwell.

At the center isn’t More, Henry VIII, or Anne Boleyn, but wily advisor to the king, Thomas Cromwell. The BBC miniseries has Mark Rylance to play Cromwell like he’s constantly having to save his own neck. Ben Miles is sleek and smoother, more of an Eddie Haskell and a Republican. Courteous but deadly, he sounds like David Brooks explaining the Bush administration’s war.

Lydia Leonard is a thrilling Anne Boleyn, who may be young but knows her power. She protects religious “heretics,” and unfortunately can’t guess what’s coming. The king’s new mistress was always kept under wraps until the current queen could one way or another be deposed and the next one installed. (A funeral dissolves into a wedding onstage.) In Part I, handsome Nathaniel Parker’s King Henry is sweet as a puppy. In Part II he feels the effects of gout, though he is still somewhat of a pushover for women. Was this ever possible? “Henry the Eighth to six wives he wedded: one died, two survived, two divorced, two beheaded.”

Hilary Mantel has said in interviews that she “leaves certain questions unsolved” as would only be honest to do in writing about the Middle Ages. Her revisionist Thomas More is not A Man for All Seasons. “He was a great man apart from when he wanted to burn people alive,” Mantel has said.

The mostly empty stage facilitates swirling costumes and skipping, joyous dance. You wonder whether there really was a sixteenth-century dance step where they snapped fingers in unison. Such is the authority of Hilary Mantel that you accept that she discovered rather than invented anything.

After a didactic first half hour, the remaining five hours plus fly past. The production was condensed for Broadway, yet, you feel nothing important is left out, including two-faced sister Lady Mary Boleyn, the royal lapdog, and Mark, the lute player. Leah Brotherhead is a freshly imagined Jane Seymour. Can’t wait for the third in the trilogy: The Mirror and the Light.

Table 16, where Joseph Brodsky wrote.

Between Wolf Hall I and II at the Winter Garden, it was a treat to eat pelmeni with dill and sour cream, tender smoked salmon and sturgeon, and "herring in a fur coat" (layered beet salad) at the nearby Russian Samovar, a non-glitzy piano bar.

Our corner banquette, table 16, is a shrine to poet Joseph Brodsky. At another table sat Bolshoi ballerina Maria Kochetkova, wearing sweat pants, dining with a fellow dancer before a performance.

The Russian Samovar was nightclub Jilly’s in the Sixties, Frank Sinatra's hangout. If Frank’s ghost walked in, he’d appreciate in the stairwell that a graffitied wall from the old Jilly’s was left intact.

The Heidi Chronicles and Butter Restaurant

Nothing has captured the beauty and excitement of the women’s movement in the 1970s like Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles. This star-studded revival leaves behind the cushy Ivy League feel of past productions and makes the revolution egalitarian. Sharp supporting roles by Tracee Chimo and Ali Ahn bolster the thrilling Broadway debut of Elisabeth Moss as Heidi Holland, art historian and trail blazer.

Heidi’s slide-show art history lesson promotes unsung women painters of the Renaissance. At a feminist consciousness-raising session, Heidi is ill-at-ease, alienated from a woman asserting independence by refusing to shave her legs (a dated reference, and the only one that may require more explanation). Participating in a morning television panel, Heidi is overlooked by the host, and the men on the panel interrupt her. She feels frustrated and insecure. Two full-strength actors portray her great friend, who is gay, Bryce Pinkham, and the manipulative boyfriend that she finally leaves behind, Jason Biggs. Songs by Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin provide underpinning.

Elisabeth Moss is an actress for our times. She’s the liberated Heidi sort: smart, self-sufficient, considered a sport. In “Top of the Lake,” Moss's character uncovers, in the New Zealand outback, and led by Holly Hunter, an all-female utopian community living in discarded boxcars. Moss made that seem real. Her Peggy Olson grounds “Mad Men”—she adds a needed threat. Heidi Holland wins, too, but sometimes she breaks down. Moss is so affecting on stage that when her character gives a commencement speech and gets carried away and cries, sniffles could be heard around the audience.

This is an exceptional revival in every way. Pam MacKinnon shakes up this wordy, unwieldy, cathartic play. She is marvelous directing the juicy roles that every actress wants to act: Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Heidi in The Heidi Chronicles.

Down the street from the Music Box is Butter restaurant. Chef Alexandra "Alex" Guarnaschelli is a television star and cookbook author. Hot Parker House rolls served with herb butter begin your meal. The butter is fresh, from local Jersey cows (either from Jersey cows or from cows in New Jerseywe couldn't tell from the menu's unspecific wording). Alex may be all about comfort food, but she also wants you to try the unexpected. Butter’s menu used to include ostrich. The menu changes all the time. Her current signature main course is peppery charred whole cauliflower with braised carrots and sherry reduction.

The food looks as good as it tastes, served on a collection of vintage restaurant plates. Tuna carpaccio is in cubes on top of melon-balled cucumber. Grilled Long Island striped bass has sesame vinaigrette. Flavors are subtle, and the chef has a light touch with salt.

The former East Village location was more celebrated. Like it, Butter midtown is windowless and cavernous. You walk downstairs to a dark and woody lounge with a central core and view of shadowy foot traffic overhead. A hideout for a rendezvous and favorite for Sunday brunch before a Broadway matinee. The $35 prix-fixe lunch makes it permanently Restaurant Week (a New York City tradition that every city should adopt). Next time we’ll order the frozen toasted marshmallow faux Mallomar.

Rasheeda Speaking and West Bank Café

Master class in a doctor's office. Photo by Monique Carboni.
There is a pre-Obama retro vibe to Rasheeda Speaking by Joel Drake Johnson. Timid, white Ileen, played by Dianne Wiest, is asked to spy on and list the infractions, like arriving late to work, of her black co-worker, Jaclyn, played by Tonya Pinkins, building a case for human resources to fire her. Jaclyn has just taken time off work after having an allergic reaction to the Xerox machine that sits next to her desk.

Dr. Williams (delightfully unctuous Darren Goldstein) condescends and offends both women, including speaking with Jaclyn in jocular black dialect. He flatters Ileen and rewards her with the title “office manager.” The employees are obliged to flatter him. He loves for Ileen to tell him, “I love my job. I love working for you.” To Jaclyn, he asks, “Do you think I’m fat?” She offers him donuts and gives him a Hallmark card in which she has written, “You are not fat.”  

The windowless Chicago doctor’s office (marvelous set by Allen Moyer, fluorescent lighting by Jennifer Tipton) is decorated with wilting philodendrons and a Georgia O’Keeffe flower poster from the Chicago Art Institute. It’s a chillingly lifelike set for a ninety-minute master class in acting, each moment coached with humor and infinite finesse by first-time director Cynthia Nixon.

Ileen feels terrible about what she has become. Another brilliant actress, Patricia Conolly, plays Rose, a delicate elderly patient. Because she is clueless, her racial epitaphs (“It’s like they’re paying us back for slavery”) float past unacknowledged. Jaclyn is indeed in a toxic environment. You can probably guess which one of them winds up leaving.

Generous prix fixe at West Bank Café

Established in 1978, West Bank Café has a dedicated following and is difficult to book before or after a play. The reason is the food, and for instance, kale salad—now on every menu across town—is ingenious here, mixed with grilled octopus, radishes, and smoked salted almonds. A 3-course prix fixe for $35 gives as a main course salmon or chicken with abundant vegetables. Entrees include rainbow trout piccata and black linguini with rock shrimp, and desserts, hot chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice-cream and caramel. The cocktail menu sounds delectable and wine by the glass is good value.

West Bank Café has a downstairs space, the Laurie Beechman Theatre, where many great performers have done shows, including, as recently as 2013, Joan Rivers.

Honeymoon in Vegas and Wolfgang's Steakhouse

Photo by Ruven Afanador for Vanity Fair

Based on the film written and directed by Andrew Bergman, in which a sweaty Nicholas Cage tried to pay off a gambling debt with his fiancée, Sarah Jessica Parker. As long as you ignore the woman-as-chattel theme, you’ll have a great time at Honeymoon in Vegas. The onstage orchestra sets the mood with a terrific overture.

Tony Danza is suave as the casino owner Tommy Korman, in mourning. Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley) is a dead ringer for Tommy’s late wife and a Vassar-educated teacher to boot. O’Malley has an edge that makes Betsy believable. It’s stunning when she appears as a mirage of Tommy’s less impressive dead wife, with crazy hairdo and manicure, chewing gum and sunbathing in a bikini.  

Rob McClure’s sweet Jack Singer stumbles his way to heroic, but first wins the audience singing “I Love Betsy.” When shopping at Tiffany’s for Betsy’s ring, his mother’s ghost (Nancy Opel) hilariously rises from a display case. Jack’s manipulated into playing poker with Tommy, who suggests as payment for a huge debt a chaste weekend with Betsy. Insulted, Betsy ends their engagement and stalks off with him.

Tommy secretly plans to marry her himself at a 24-hour Nevada chapel, but first spirits her away to his private island in Hawaii. The orchestra changes into Hawaiian shirts for this part. Jack follows them and proves his mettle by skydiving and by resisting the local women. Despite Catherine Ricafort’s vibrant voice and selling of the song, “Friki-Friki” is a road bump.

Lyrics and music by Jason Robert Brown are otherwise so clever that you follow every word. Choreographed showgirls and Elvis impersonators add zing. Sleazy, cheesy Vegas denizens are expansively portrayed by David Josefsberg, Michael Saldivar and George Merrick and all of the others. Honeymoon in Vegas is a very classy production.

Head waiter, Matt
Wolfgang’s is a high roller’s steakhouse. The Times Square location has tall windows and unusual spaciousness. It’s light and airy any time of the day. Park Avenue Wolfgang’s has an amazing vaulted tiled ceiling. We’d like to visit all the locations and compare them architecturally. They're always open; lunch and dinner served seven days a week including holidays.

Mouth-watering smells hit as you walk in, and a one-page menu makes the choices seem manageable. That’s a little deceptive, because it’s hard to skip extravagant appetizers, like the specialty Canadian bacon strip that would be a main course in any other country. Chunky crab cake comes with a cool and delicious herb sauce that we’d like the recipe for. Tomato sauce, horseradish on the side, accompanies the seafood platter and is also a fine sauce. Steaks and lamb come perfectly seared and tender, with brilliant flavor. Baked potatoes the size of footballs and chipped German potatoes lead as side dishes. Another favorite with guests is creamed spinach that is pure spinach (without cream). Their famous Schlag with dessert is so fully whipped, the way it's done at the Wisconsin State Fair, that you can cut it with a knife and fork, and it’s served in the size of the snow bank outside.

On the Town and Carnegie Deli

On the Town has music by Leonard Bernstein and a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. You've probably seen the 1949 MGM movie filmed on location. Sailors on a 24-hr shore leave must see the whole city and find a date. The Manhattan women they meet are not a bit shy and include a taxi driver, an anthropologist, and a dancer. These sailors could not possibly get more lucky. If anything dates the tale, it's perhaps how gosh golly happy they feel, and that happiness is contagious.

Bernstein's music performed by a full orchestra is so fresh that the songs feel new. Written several years before his West Side Story, On the Town might be the sparkier of the two, you think, after seeing this stellar production. Dancing choreographed by Joshua Bergasse is spectacular. The pas de deux with Megan Fairchild and Tony Yazbeck in Act II made us forget the Gene Kelly version. Alysha Umphress, the taxi driver Hildy, is a hoot in "Come Up to My Place" and the careening ride around town with her new love interest, Jay Armstrong Johnson. The scene in the Natural History Museum, Elizabeth Stanley's "Carried Away" with her new supplicant, Clyde Alves, is the coolest version of this female empowerment number that we may ever see, and "Lonely Town" was never more haunting. Jackie Hoffman in her many hats, who this reviewer met during her Second City days, was perfectly silly.

Could have done without the American flag curtain and "Star Spangled Banner," but maybe that's just us. On the Town is playing in the massive Lyric. Thin menus attached to the seats offer seat service at intermission for drinks and snacks. We'll have two Brooklyn lagers, a large Brooklyn Popcorn, a bag of North Fork Chips, and Tate's chocolate chip cookies, please.

Not much of an appetite after dinner, a mile-high pastrami sandwich at the non-kosher Carnegie Deli. You might know this tourist hotspot, which opened in 1937. It never fails to be a warm and friendly slice of Manhattan, around the corner from Carnegie Hall. (The joke goes, out-of-towner asks, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The answer: "Practice.") There are wheeler dealers here and also just simple folks like us, who come to share a sandwich, complimentary pickles, coleslaw, and sterling conversation with native New Yorkers. It's relatively expensive, but you can have lunch for an entire week on sandwiches and salads made from ample leftovers. Carnegie Deli's mustard is particularly good, and they deliver, so ask for extra mustard and pickles.

Side Show and Joe Allen

Set in the 1930s and based on the Hilton sisters, Daisy and Violet, conjoined twins, Side Show opened and tanked after a matter of weeks, just as it did in 1997 when this full-blown musical premiered. Side Show is teeming with powerful love songs, however it is doomed by its subject: the darkness of the lives of side-show performers. A corny subplot involves a forbidden love interest. Jake, a black man, appears in the circus as the “cannibal” and is their one true friend. David St. Louis is absolutely gorgeous when he sings of his love for Violet. He's sure to get a Tony nod in spite of the show's closing within minutes.

Erin Davie as Violet and Emily Padgett as Daisy are marvelous and deserve Tony noms too. Violet and Daisy are discovered by a vaudeville producer who helps them create a name for themselves on the stage. Additional love interests are the producer and dance captain. Robert Joy is evil Sir, the Joel Grey-ish sideshow manager with fancy manners. We embrace his demotion to coffee boy for MGM when the sisters go on to appear in a movie. The lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer was dramatic and memorable.

The story has great heart and it’s engrossing in spite of a slow pace. Side Show has reportedly been successful in regional theater. The creation of Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music), you have to give them credit for taking “difference” as a theme and running with it. 

Joe Allen descends the stairs and has breakfast while reading the drama criticism in all of the newspapers every morning. He has a soft spot in his heart for the plays that close on Broadway. His star-studded restaurant is decorated with posters of plays and musicals that have bombed. The poster of Side Show is at the framers' shop now.

The actors who eat at his restaurant are the ones appearing, for however long, in plays nearby. It does not feel touristy, 'though undoubtedly many tourists who love Broadway gravitate. Waiters are attentive and get you out in time for the curtain. The diners who really enjoy Joe Allen stick to a few dishes on the menu. House-made paparadelle is pretty delicious, and the dark crusty bread in the bread basket accompanies it well. Lobster roll is really good, but especially the Joe Allen hamburger, served medium-rare, with toasted bun and pickles, has a dedicated following. The spinach side dish is fluffy and a triumph. Popeye would adore this place. But the best is that at Joe Allen's bar or table area, you mix with marvelous New Yorkers. 

Here are the charming actor types enjoying Joe Allen's at the table next to ours. When they were posing for a group selfie we intercepted this group portrait. Wait, isn't that a phenomenal stage and screen actress we all know standing in the back row? 

Posters behind them include that brief sensation, the musical based on Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.