Donate a Coat, Take the Plunge–It’s the New York Cares Coat Drive

New York Cares Coat DriveOK, New York, want to get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions? Want to get one made and checked off before end of the year, without having to wait to break it four days later?
Of course you do.
New York Cares has been holding a coat drive this month—the organization collects almost 70,000 coats for New Yorkers who otherwise wouldn’t have one. The drive runs until the end of the year, so you still have five days to dig through your closet and find that gently used outer garment that can go to good use.
Want proof that your donation is needed? Almost 90 percent of homeless New Yorkers need a new coat each winter, and many families have to make a choice between buying a coat and buying food for their families.
Certain donation sites generally accept coats between 7:30 and 9:30 am, during the morning commute; these drop sites include Grand Central Terminal; New York’s Penn Station; and The New York Port Authority Bus Terminal. Other places accept them any time—New York Police precincts; Janovic Paint and Decorating Centers; and Time Warner Cable stores are on this list. (For a complete listing and more information, go to newyorkcares.org)
Finally, if you still need an incentive, the last coats will be collected on January 1 on the Coney Island Boardwalk—while members of the Polar Bear Club take their annual New Yea’s Day plunge into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. More than 800 dippers are expected to take a dip, including three New York Cares staff members.(There’s still time to sign up and join them…)
Doing good and watching people plunge into icy water–what more could you want?

Kristin Chenoweth To Be Guest Judge on American Idol

Broadway star Kristin ChenowethIt’s that time of year again, when Fox’s ratings juggernaut American Idol takes over the airwaves and a new slate of aspiring performers become incessant water cooler talk (a select few even go on to superstardom). During the audition episodes of American Idol, several guest judges will be sitting in on the panel, and among them will be a couple of Broadway babies. Kristin Chenoweth (of Wicked fame) will serve as a guest judge on January 20 for the Orlando auditions, and Neil Patrick Harris (who has several Broadway credits but is more recently known for TV’s How I Met Your Mother) will join the Dallas auditions on January 26.

New York’s Randall’s Island Under Scrutiny Again

Randall's IslandNew York’s Randall’s Island–which contains dozens of acres of parkland off the Triborough Bridge in Manhattan–is under attack once again.
A judge ruled last week against the city’s plan to give certain private institutions in New York City near-exclusive access to most of the sports fields on the island. Twenty such institutions would have paid for almost full rights to use the fields during after-school hours, due to the use of an exclusive lease.
Randall’s Island is one of those oddly little-known spaces in New York. It holds not only sports fields, but Icahn Stadium, a modern track stadium; wetlands; and venues for concerts and Cirque du Soleil. Its sports facilities include 26 baseball and softball fields; 18 soccer fields (some of which are under construction); a golf center; a tennis center; a playground; and picnic areas, many which are free and open to the public.
A judge has ruled that the plan must go through a community and environmental review. While on the surface it seems that such a plan is blatantly unfair, it would actually bring in money from the private schools, which would, in turn, allow the fields to be renovated. Much of the money would go towards the refurbishment of 63 fields, which would eventually open the playing field, so to speak, for public schools and the public as well. Free programs are already provided for many public schools kids, and the Island hosts more than 7000,00 visitors annually, including spectators to the events.

In 2010, the Trend is to Read the Menu–Carefully

Tabla RestaurantMerry Christmas! While New Yorkers are opening presents, strolling down Fifth Avenue to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the department store windows, and generally displaying holiday-ish behavior, we’ll offer our holiday gift to you–a little insight into the minds of those trying to get you to spend money for meals out. Those savvy enough to plan ahead can think about facing the New Year and a new trend in restaurants: The menu gambit.
It is no shock that New Yorkers are eating out less frequently and spending less money when they do. In order to tweak this trend, restaurants have taken all sorts of steps, from re-pricing items to offering specials and tinkering with their service. In order to part you from your hard-earned dollars, restaurants have pulled out the big guns to entice you to order more, differently, and most important, more expensively. The most recent approach is to target the menu itself.
Take New York’s Tabla, for instance, one of restaurateur-extraordinaire Danny Meyer’s places. As reported in a recent “New York Times” article, you can see the thinking at work. No dollar signs appear next the prices, for example; you won’t see a zero as part of a price; and the name of the chef’s mother is heavily invoked beside a dish.
Diners will also notice such tricks at New York restaurants as using more descriptive language for higher-priced items or setting them off somehow. Using brand names (made with Aunt Mollie’s flour!) and nostalgic names (made with Aunt Mollie’s chocolate!) are also ploys.
(The trend also applies to national chains and restaurants in other cities as well.)
So Merry Christmas–and may your future eating out be merry, bright–and aware of the tug on your wallet strings.

Merry Christmas! And Beware Strange Holiday Scheduling

Cirque du Soleil WintukIf you’re planning to celebrate Christmas Day by seeing a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, bear in mind that the theater schedules are quite unusual over this holiday. Some shows have altered performance schedules for the holiday, and many shows don’t have a performance at all today, so be aware of this if you’re thinking of last-minute Broadway ticket buying. However, for the adventurous, this could be a good opportunity to snag some great deals at the box office. Broadway shows frequently hold back premium seats and then release them at regular price at the last minute. Good luck, and Merry Christmas!

In the Next Room Broadway Show Review

In the Next Room Broadway ShowShow Summary
Set during the Victorian era, this new play by Sarah Ruhl is about a doctor who is treating his hysteria patients with an electrical instrument that releases pent-up energy in the womb. Today it’s known as a vibrator, but at that time the medical profession had not yet discovered its “recreational” uses. While the doctor’s patients enjoy the benefits of this treatment, his wife sits in the next room, craving his attention.

Broadway Review
Of course In the Next Room derives much humor from the basic premise, which is based very much on genuine medical history and captured hilariously onstage. But what playwright Ruhl is clearly interested in most is human relationships, and this play isn’t so much about the merits of physical stimulation as it is about the importance of emotional connection. It is a funny, touching, and intelligent play that captures an era when scientific curiosity and societal repression began to come up against each other.

Holiday Shows Bring Theatrical Joy To New York City

Radio City Christmas Show‘Tis the season to see holiday-themed theater. For decades, the ultimate Christmastime show has been the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which continues to bring eager audiences in by the droves to Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center to see the world-famous Rockettes. But in recent years, other holiday shows such as a stage version of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas and a new musical of A Christmas Carol have turned up in New York City in November and December. This year we have Cirque du Soleil’s winter wonderland of a show, Wintuk, and at the Marquis Theater on Broadway Irving Berlin’s White Christmas has returned for another limited holiday engagement. These shows are closing by New Year’s or shortly thereafter, so if you want to get into the holiday spirit Broadway-style, you should act fast. If you miss them, they may very well be back – and, if not, they will have likely been replaced by something similarly jolly.

Signature Theater Will Be on the Move by 2010

Signature Theater CompanyNew York’s Signature Theater–whose signature is devoting an entire season to the work of one playwright–is getting a new home come 2012. The city has chipped in $25 million toward the projected cost of the move to a Frank-Gehry-designed space on 42nd Street, where the theater will be part of a residential hotel and building on 10th Avenue. The new space, a 59-story complex, will include three theaters, a bookstore, rehearsal studio, and administrative offices. It will feature environmentally conscious building materials. The theater was originally slated to move into a performance space at the World Trade Center site. The news is welcome in the theater world, especially at a time of such economic doubt when funding for the arts is down.
Past playwrights who have been featured include Horton Foote (“The Trip to Bountiful”); and August Wilson (“Two Trains Running”). The work of playwright-in-residence Tony Kushner, known for works like “Angels in America,” will kick off the 20th anniversary season in 2010-2011. Actors who have appeared in past Signature productions include Parker Posey, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, and Anne Bancroft.
The announcement was made this week at a ceremony featuring Mayor Mike Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Tony Kushner, as well as luminaries in the theater world like actor Bill Irwin and playwright John Guare.
The theater is currently featuring the work of playwright Horton Foote.

See These Broadway Shows While They Last

As always, January is a brutal month for Broadway, which unfortunately gets a chilly reception from the ticket-buying public. The tourists have all gone home following the December holiday season, and locals are staying in the warmth of their homes as they recover from the financial blow dealt by all that Christmas and Chanukah merriment. Knowing this, Broadway producers frequently decide in advance that they will close their more monetarily troubled shows in early January. This year, those doomed Broadway shows include Burn the Floor and The 39 Steps (closing January 10), and Shrek the Musical and Superior Donuts (closing January 3). The limited-run shows In the Next Room and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas will also be shuttering in January. So if you have been dragging your feet on seeing any of these Broadway shows, be sure to get tickets while you can. Even these plays and musicals might not be discounting right over the Christmas holiday, but for most of them you can get good discounts on tickets for January performance dates.

A Great Musical Institution Simply Fades Away

Boys' Choir of HarlemOne of New York’s great musical institutions, the Boy’s Choir of Harlem, is no more. The announcement was made last week by a choir alumnus, after former members of the group performed in Harlem.
Although the Choir gave its last official performance two years ago, in 2007, no official announcement of its demise was made. After its founder, Walter J. Turnball, passed away, attempts were made to revise it, but without success.
The choir’s downfall can be traced to both financial issues as well as an abuse scandal; the group was removed from the Choir Academy of Harlem in 2006 and never really recovered their footing.
In its heyday, however, the choir sang for almost every United States president since Lyndon Johnson. They performed everywhere from Royal Albert Hall in London to their final home at the United Methodist Church in Harlem; appeared on TV Christmas specials; and had a repertoire that included works in German, Latin and English. They sang Mozart and Stevie Wonder; Cole Porter and Bach. The group was awarded the National Medal of Arts by former President Bill Clinton. Its original goal was to help kids–often from underprivileged backgrounds–develop more fully through music.
People still call to try to book the group for events, and a splinter group of musicians does exist. It includes both male and female voices, and has performed at venues as diverse as a Brooks Brothers store and an arts festival in Shanghai.
Some members hope the original group will find its way back to its beginnings. In the meantime, the rest of us will just have to dig out one of their old recordings and remember what made them such a New York legend.