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When traveling on Metro North, try to avoid eye contact when the Stamford riders board. They always seem to have a look of desperation in the small hope of perhaps getting one of the remaining middle seats in the back of the train. (Photo courtesy of Shore Line East/Metro North )
Grand Central is not only a train station, but a destination in and off itself, with an impressive food court and with shopping too. (Photo courtesy of Grand Central )
If you decide not to eat at Grand Central, another great choice is Los Tacos 1, a quick and inexpensive taco joint. (Photo courtesy of Los Tacos 1 )
If you go to Grand Central, be sure to look up at the ceiling and around at the surroundings. (Photo courtesy of Grand Central )
The District M bar/lounge is a great place to meet friends or just hang on your way to or on your way from a Broadway show. (Photo courtesy of District M )
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The difficult part is in the choosing which shows to see. There’s a bounty of new musicals and plays this season that appeal to a wide range of tastes.
But first things first: Getting there.
Sure, you could drive and good luck to you on that, what with traffic, weather, parking, and stress (from the traffic, weather, and parking).
But as a theater critic for Variety, I regularly hop onto Shore Line East to New Haven’s Union Station and then take one of the many regularly scheduled trains on Metro North trains into the city. And because the routes begin in New Haven, you’ll always get a choice seat. But try to avoid eye contact when the Stamford riders board. They always seem to have a look of desperation in the small hope of perhaps getting one of the remaining middle seats in the back of the train.
Now you could skip Shore Line East and drive directly to Union Station and park there, but the fees defeat the purpose of this cost-saving means of transportation.
Tip: A thrifty alternative is to drive to the relatively new West Haven station stop, and park there for much less, or even free on weekends and holidays.
Ok, you’re on board now. Relax. Have your coffee, read a newspaper, even talk with your family, and in about two hours you’ll be deposited at Grand Central Station, a show in and off itself.
Or, you could opt for the more comfy—more expensive, too—Amtrak, which will deposit you at the far less glamorous Penn Station.
But I generally go for Grand Central.
Once you are there, make some time to take in the beauty of the vast cosmic ceiling dotted with constellations.
Tip: Don’t rush off to head to the theater district. The station’s downstairs food court—and its main floor market—offers a wide selection of food at fairly reasonable prices, so consider having lunch there before the matinée, instead of a restaurant in the theater district, which will cost you far more.
Next stop: Broadway.
Skip the cab or Uber and take a $2.75 MTA “S” shuttle straight from Grand Central to Times Square.
If you decide to eat at Times Square, my favorite quickie-cheapie is a Mexican joint with great street food at 229 W 43rd St. called Los Tacos No.1.
Tacos aren’t your thing?
A hidden gem is the City Kitchen on the second floor of the Row Hotel on 700 Eighth Avenue, between 44th and 45th streets. It’s an upscale food court of various cuisines and it’s a little gem for a reasonable no-fuss meal before or after a show. The District M bar/lounge is also one of my favorites and a great place to meet friends or just hang. Also great is the Intercontinental Hotel lounge at 300 W. 44th Street, just off of Eighth Avenue.
OK, you’ve traveled, you’ve eaten, you’ve lounged, and so now what show this season should you see?
Here are my suggestions:
For a Woman’s P.O.V.: Wicked and Mean Girls all have strong female appeal, but if you want to be au courant, Jagged Little Pill, based on Alanis Morissette’s album, just opened.
Jukebox Heaven: If you love dazzling dancing moves, see Ain’t Too Proud, the bio-show about The Temptations. The sizzling Adrienne Warren is the reason to see Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. But for my money, David Byrne’s American Utopia is the one to see. The former Talking Head has created a show that takes his music to a new theatrical level that is thrilling and burns down the house.
The Dazzlers: Moulin Rouge is visually spectacular, even if the story is banal; so is Beetlejuice, which, surprisingly, was a great deal of fun, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part event, is as well. Sure, it’s pricey, but the kids didn’t really need that tuition money.
For the Hip: Right now it looks like two plays will be battling it out for the Tony in June and both began in Connecticut. The first is Slave Play. Written while playwright Jeremy O. Harris was at the Yale School of Drama, its producers include a shoreline trio from Branford-based Seaview Productions. It’s a stunning examination of race, sex, and so much more that you’ll be thinking about it for days. The second is the two-part, seven-hour The Inheritance, written by Matthew Lopez when he was an Aetna Fellow at Hartford Stage in 2014-’15, which gave the show its first workshop. Can’t do the marathon shows? If you just see just the first part of The Inheritance it will still be an extraordinary, stand-alone experience and will include a finale that has the audience weeping.
On the musical side, nothing is more hip and divine than watching Andre De Shields in Hadestown, last year’s Tony Award-winner and one cool show straight from hell.
The Noirish: Last chance to see this darkly re-imagined Oklahoma!—and deliciously spoofed by the latest edition of Forbidden Broadway as Woke-lahoma!—before it closes Sunday, Jan. 19. And still in previews before its Wednesday, Feb. 5 opening is director Ivo von Hove’s non-traditional take of West Side Story.
Families and Kids: To Kill a Mockingbird now has Ed Harris as Atticus Finch, Disney’s Aladdin and Frozen are well produced and entertaining, and the bittersweet Dear Evan Hansen still is endearing, but for my money, if you had one show for the entire family, it would be the heart-soaring Come From Away. It just may restore your faith in humanity.
And yes, Hamilton is still packing them in but entering its fourth year, tickets are easier to get, bit not any cheaper. If you want some improvisatory rap fun for the kids, then see Freestyle Love Supreme, co-produced by Lin Manuel Miranda.
And don’t forget off-Broadway shows, too—too many to mention here but worth checking out, too.
One more tip: There’s a fabulous freebie for theater lovers, up at Lincoln Center at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In the Company of Harold Prince: Broadway Producer, Director, Collaborator is an extensive exhibit about the legendary theater master who died earlier this year. The show runs through Tuesday, March 31 and it’s a terrific stroll through 70 years of Broadway theater.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide