When Theater Curtains Rise & Hotel Rates Fall

Elsewhere Off-Broadway

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Prepared for August 30, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All

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Off-Broadway for Labor Day

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When Theater Curtains Rise & Hotel Rates Fall

Labor Day Weekend, a.k.a. the last gasp of summer,

has arrived all too soon. Let’s wave goodbye to all the thousands

of the New York City dwellers that are leaving their apartments and

heading for a final fling at fun in the sun. Let the masses head for

the shore, mountains, rivers, lakes and forests. Be an individualist,

a culture maven, or an entertainment seeker and help fill the void

in the Big Apple. There is something special about the more relaxed

pulse of the city when it has been conspicuously thinned of its

hardcore

residents. Of course, you will feel the rush of adrenaline as you

secure your space in the center of the universe. One Labor Day weekend

in New York and you will surely begin to make it a tradition.

For years, the best kept secret in town has been the easy availability

of show tickets on Broadway and Off-Broadway, getting a table on short

notice at the best restaurants, and taking advantage of bargain rates

at top-rated hotels. Whether you opt for going directly to the box

office or choose to get in line for discounted tickets at the TKTS

box-office in Duffy Square, or at TKTS downtown at No. 2 World Trade

Center, you will be surprised how friendly and affordable the city

becomes on this holiday weekend. Because Broadway shows are generally

given a higher profile, I have elected to recommend a select group

of Off-Broadway shows that are worthy of your attention, and may be

only around for a short time. But first, where to stay?

Finding lodgings for a one, two or even a three-night stay that won’t

deplete your savings is easier than you think. Forget about spending

the usual $250 to $350 a night in three or four star centrally located

hotels. I’ve found seven super hotels that have rooms for under $200.

3 West 51st Street Club at 51st & 5th ($159.95); The Broadway Plaza,

at 27th & Broadway ($159.95, $189.95); Howard Johnson’s at 34th Street

& 8th Avenue ($145.95); Milford Plaza at 45th & 8th Avenue ($169.95);

Paramount at Times Square ($174.95, $189.95); Ramada at 34th & 8th

Avenue ($189.95); and the gorgeous newly renovated Regency, at 61st

& Park Avenue ($199.95, and breaking the barrier slightly at $205.95).

The Regency will also accommodate your pet. For more hotels, plus

easy-to-make Internet reservations go to CitySearch.com. Fill in New

York, and click on hotels.

For complete restaurant information, including reviews, menus, and

reservations, you can always rely on Zagat.com, although you do need

to register first. It’s free and worth it. Also Playbill.com has neat

restaurant reviews, plus you can click below the review and get a

location map.

If you happen to stay at the Regency, take the opportunity to see

"Mind Games and All That Jazz." This unusual show is the

creation

of Marc Salem, a mentalist and thought-reader without parallel. If

you love to be baffled and amazed and included in the fun, you will

love every minute of this audience-participation show. You only have

through September 9 to see Salem at Feinstein’s At The Regency. Not

only can you enjoy dinner at one of the best hotel restaurants in

town, but you can also see attend the show without leaving the hotel.

Except for some musical augmentation, "Mind Games" is the

same show that already had a successful run Off-Broadway. Now there

is the added pleasure of the Vibrations, a jazz trio comprising

members

of Diva, the all-girl band. I promise you that Salem will have you

gasping at his astounding ability to tell you what’s on your mind,

as well as have you laughing at his dry and wry sense of humor. One

segment that I find astonishing is when he asks someone in the

audience

to think of a song, and then mentally transmits the name of the song

to the band, which then proceeds to play it. For tickets and club

information call 212-339-4095.

You only have until September 17 to catch George Bernard

Shaw’s "Don Juan in Hell," which, as you know, is the rarely

performed third act dream sequence from "Man and Superman."

Written in 1901, the epilogue is meant as a sequel to Mozart’s

"Don

Giovanni." In it, Don Juan, Donna Anna, a woman he compromised,

and her father, a Commander who became an animated statue after Don

Juan killed him, are reunited in Hell. Here they debate with the Devil

on the relationship of men and women, i.e.sex, marriage, morality,

religion, politics, and what have you. It is being presented at the

Irish Repertory Theater at 132 West 22nd Street.

Under the direction of Charlotte Moore, the formally attired cast,

which includes Celeste Holm, Fritz Weaver, Donal Donnelly, and James

A. Stephens, may not be as dreamy as the one that appeared on Broadway

in 1951 and ’52 (Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke,

Agnes Moorehead). But the classy, witty text has been assigned to

polished pros, each of whom know how to bring life and luster to

Shaw’s

deliciously gabby prose. For tickets call 212-727-2737.

Thinking of a way to celebrate the centenary of composer Kurt Weill’s

birth? Then consider "Berlin To Broadway With Kurt Weill,"

a show-by-show retrospective of one of the 20th century’s most

enduring

and important theater composers. This is a snappy and smart re-staging

of the revue that first appeared Off-Broadway in 1973. In two acts,

the revue spans Weill’s career from his pre-war days in Berlin

("Threepenny

Opera," "Mahogany"), where he collaborated with Bertolt

Brecht, to his post-war Broadway shows collaborating with such

renowned

writers as Maxwell Anderson, Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay

Lerner, and Ogden Nash.

If the talented young cast does better with the brighter than the

darker side of Weill’s music, their concerted effort to make this

a memorable commemorative song and singspiel is noted. Of the more

than 30 musical numbers, Bjorn Olsson’s melancholy rendition of

"September

Song," from "Knickerbocker Holiday," Veronica Mittenzwei’s

humorous take of "That’s Him" from "One Touch of

Venus,"

Michael Winther’s plaintive "Lonely House" from "Street

Scene," and Lorinda Lisitza’s lyrical "It Never Was You,"

from "Knickerbocker Holiday" connect artfully and gracefully

with the luscious music and text.

Musical director and arranger Eric Stern provides flawless and bracing

piano accompaniment. And don’t forget you can have a reasonably priced

dinner (arrive before 7 p.m.) and drinks before and during the show

at the Triad Theater, 158 West 72nd Street. For tickets ($45, not

including dinner) call 212-279-4200.

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Elsewhere Off-Broadway

Don’t forget that TKTS has discount tickets for

Off-Broadway,

as well as Broadway shows. The following are highly recommended

Off-Broadway

shows. Notice how many are in the Broadway zone. Bargain-hunters

should

try for tickets for these shows first at TKTS before you pay full

box-office price, or order tickets by phone. There are, of course,

many more shows that I would recommend, but this is a starter.

"It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues" is making a

deserved

comeback, as well as being the inaugural attraction, at the new B.B.

King Blues Club at 243 West 42nd Street. This is the revue that we

first saw at New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater before it moved to

Broadway. The six dynamic singers, including three from the original

Broadway company plus a band will have you stomping along through

this bracing 90-minute musical journey that traces the history of

blues (212-239-6200).

Another play that found acclaim and Off-Broadway success

following

its run at Crossroads Theater is "Jitney." This is the

early play by the even-then brilliant August Wilson about a group

of gypsy cab drivers in Pittsburgh in 1977, who struggle though

personal

and collective problems as a way of life is threatened. The ensemble

acting, under the direction of Marion McClinton, is dazzling, as is

the rich, ear-pricking dialogue. You can hail this "Jitney"

at the Second Stage, 307 West 43rd Street (212-246-4422) until

September

10. It then moves to Union Square Theater, 100 East 17th Street on

September 19 (212-505-0700).

"The Countess" is one helluva brand-new period

melodrama. Inspired by the true story of the relationship between

19th century art critic John Ruskin, his wife (the countess), and

the painter John Everett Millais, the entertaining, beautifully acted

and directed play seethes with Victorian-scented passion, civility,

and cruelty. It is at the Lamb’s Theater, 130 West 44th Street

(212-997-1780).

Like many plays that win the Pulitzer Prize these days,

"Dinner

With Friends" has found a hospitable home Off-Broadway. Donald

Margulies’s play about two married couples, long-time friends, who,

at a turning point in their lives, begin to evaluate the success and

failure of their marriages and their friendship. Catch this

intelligent,

funny and wise play at the Variety Arts, 110 Third Avenue, at East

13th Street (212-239-6200).

What Labor Day weekend would be complete without Free

Shakespeare

and a brutish stabbing in Central Park? As bargains go, this loud

and bloody production of "Julius Caesar," under the

direction of Barry Edelstein, certainly provides more than you

bargained

for. Don’t look for psychological subtleties in the performances of

David McCallum, in the title role, Jeffrey Wright, as Mark Antony,

or Jamey Sheridan, as Brutus. But the histrionic historical play,

here set in some timeless placeless zone, remains a topical and

trenchant

drama of political chicanery. Percussionist Bill Ruyle excitingly

underscores the Bard’s oratory. Tickets (only two per person) can

be picked up on performance days at the Delecorte Theater, 81st Street

and Central Park West, or at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street,

starting at 1 p.m. For more information call 212-539 8655.

— Simon Saltzman


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