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Thursday, September 14, 2006

MAMA MIA! WHAT A DAY! (Day Three, Part Two)

You see Pedi-cabs all over Manhattan and we'd been curious about them, so when the guy approached us in Central Park and offered his services for a pedi-cab tour to the Strawberry Fields, the Dakota Apartments, the Lincoln Centre and other sites along the way right to the discount ticket place in Times Square, for only $55 (plus tip) we agreed. And we certainly weren't sorry we did, nor did we begrudge the fare. After all, our City Pass tickets to all the other sites had been donated by New York Tourism as part of the prize I'd won, along with the airfare to NY. So we hopped in and off we went.

Straberry Fields is the living memorial to John Lennon set in the park opposite from the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West at 72ns Street where Lennon was slain on December 9, 1980.
Established in 1985, five years after the tragic event by his widow Yoko Ono who donated $1 million to the project, it grew into a peace memorial with contributions of plants and trees from countries all around the world. Known as the "International Garden of Peace" it is a round slab of black marble with the word "Imagine" set in a starburst of black and white mosaics, contributed by Italy. All around it are planted river birches from the Soviet Union, maples from Canada, cedars from Israel, daffodils from Holland, dogwood from the late Princess Grace of Monaco and other plants and trees forming a shaded bower around the memorial.

Across the street, the Dakota Apartments, built in the 1880's, designed by architect Henry Hardenberg for Singer Co. heir Edward Clark, was the first luxury apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and still probably the most famous apartment building in the city. Our pedi-cab driver, William, took us to the exact spot by the side entrance where John Lennon was shot down by a crazed assassin who had lurked by the building waiting for him to come out. That man is still in prison. Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and William pointed out the entire floor where she resides. Lauren Bacall also lives in the Dakota. Marily Monroe lived there for a time. Peter Tchaikowski did too. And Leonard Bernstein died there.
Boris Karloff's ghost is said to haunt the hallways.

We cycled down Central Park West toward the city centre, passing the Juilliard School, the most prestigious music institution in the country, which is located near the Lincoln Centre of Performing Arts, composed of many buildings that house permanent companies as well as venues for world class performances such as the Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre, NY City Opera, NY City Balley and NY Philharmonic. We were told by William that there are excellent jazz concerts at Lincoln Centre and we wished we'd had time to go back there one evening.

As it was, we were pretty thrilled to get a close-up look at the Met and while we were sitting there in the pedi-cab a man came along and asked if we'd like him to take our photo. It turned out he was one of the tenors from the opera company and he told us if we came there Saturdaywe could see a performance of Carmen for just $25. What a thrill that would have been! Unfortunately, so much to do, so little time!

Right across from the Lincoln Centre is the fabled Trump Tower, a black glass sky-scraper, and nearby is Columbus Circle with a tall statue of Christopher Columbus directing the traffic around it. It was thrilling to ride in the pedi-cab right in the middle of the New York traffic, weaving in and out. William dropped us off at TKTS (Times Square Theatre Centre) at Broadway and 47th St. so we could pick up our half-price tickets for a show. He recommended we see Mama Mia as he said he'd seen it three times and loved it. I'd always wanted to see this show too, as I enjoy ABBA's music and was curious to see how they would work it into a Broadway musical. So, without even having to wait long in the line we scored tickets for $76.
The tickets are generally sold for that night's performance and go from 25% to 50% discounts. Ours were 35% discount. We thanked William for his informative, interesting tour of Upper Manhattan, tipped him $10 and went back to our hotel to prepare for an evening at the theatre. We decided to dress for it, and treat ourselves to a lobster dinner at The Oyster Bar
then we headed off to the lovely old Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre for the evening's show.

NYC is the entertainment capital of the nation and here you can catch not only Broadway and off- Broadway theatre performances, but opera, musicals, dance, and shows from all over the world. (I was disappointed to find I'd be missing a performance of Aescylus' The Persians by the Greek National Theatre Company, peformed in Greek with sub-titles on Sept 15.) The city has hundreds of theatres, some of them dating back to the turn of the last century, and these include the many off-Broadway theatres such as those in Greenwich Village where the Pronvinceton Playhouse started up on MacDougal Street to show the works of a young playwright, Eugene O'Neill. These off-Broadway theatres became popular during the '50's and '60's, known as The Golden Years of Circle in the Square, the Theatre de Lys and the Cherry Lane Theatre. It was at these theatres that the late Geraldine Page rose to stardom, Edward Albee tried out his early work, and names like Ionesco, Beckett, Bertoll Brecht and Kurt Weill became household words. The longest running show on Broadway or off was The Fantastics that ran for over 30 years.

I had done some research on the current productions before going the NY, but we were happy we'd settled on Mama Mia! because, just as William had said, "You'll come out of there singing and dancing!" And we did! Mama Mia! What a day!

Next: A Circle Island Tour

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