Tag: Central Park

I believe in love

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

Another summer Sunday, another street fair.  This one was just a preview of the larger Columbus Avenue Festival which will be taking place on September 21, 2008 between 66th and 86th Streets.

After a late May visit to Central Park’s Delacorte Theater for Hamlet, we continued the summer streak with Shakespeare in the Park’s second production: Hair.  This time, it was SYB who scored a pair of tickets through the Public’s virtual line.  (No Craigslist for us.)

The landmark rock musical was presented here (also for free) last September in a concert staging to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its debut at the Public Theater’s inaugural 1967 season. The music by Galt MacDermot, with lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, is notable as an era-defining soundtrack, but remain familiar to the Flower Children’s children through television commercials… and the closing credits of The 40 Year Old Virgin.

The Public’s impassioned artistic director Oskar Eustis, profiled in The Times in June, introduced tonight’s performance by underscoring the continuing relevance of Hair’s anti-Vietnam War anthems by drawing parallels with our current “unpopular war abroad” — a sentiment greeted by enthusiastic applause.

(As for the connection to Shakespeare, one need look no further than the song “What a Piece of Work is Man,” which draws almost entirely from Hamlet’s famous speech.)

Joyous performances by a diverse and wildly charismatic cast (under the direction of Diane Paulus), the 12-piece on-stage band, that famous flash of group nudity… Although Hair is in structure little more than a revue with just the wispiest suggestion of a storyline, this is one situation where the whole truly is more than the sum of its quaintly dated parts. And how about “the duo of hotness” that is Jonathan Groff and Will Swenson? (Groff is best known for his Tony-nominated role as Melchior Gabor in Broadway’s Spring Awakening;  Christopher J. Hanke took over the role of Claude on August 17 and will remain through the show’s extended September 14 run, replacing Groff, who had a prior commitment.)

Check out the lauding reviews from New York magazine, The Post, Variety, Time Out New York, and The Times.

From the opening “Aquarius” to the plaintive “Let The Sun Shine In” finale, it seemed at times that half of those in attendance were singing along with the performers.  When the show reached its explosive conclusion, and the entire audience was invited on stage for a riotous dance with the actors and musicians, we could not help but be swept up in the Summer of Love… or at least the 2008 approximation of it.

Flickr preview: Labor Day at the U.S. Open, 4th Round, featuring Andy Murray and Serena Williams, both of whom advanced to the semis.  Also: cast members from HBO’s Entourage.

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What a piece of work is a man

Friday, May 30th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

Our summer tradition: The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions. In 2007, we enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This year brings Hamlet and Hair… and a change to the ticket distribution system. Reserving a seat to these free productions used to involve camping out — sometimes overnight — on the line in front of the Delacorte or Public Theaters for the 1PM ticket distribution, or making a “summer supporter” donation to the Public Theater.  This summer, for the first time, the theater also offered guests the option of joining a “virtual line” — actually, more a lottery — by registering at the Public Theater reservations website and submitting requests for up to two tickets on each performance day.

Online reservations?  That, I can do.  That, in fact, is how we found ourselves at the Delacorte, the first week of the run.

This production marked the SITP’s first Hamlet since 1975, when Sam Waterston held the title role.  33 years later, Waterston settles impressively into an almost sweetly buffoonish Polonius.  Somewhat less successful was Michael Stuhlbarg, who received a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination for 2005’s The Pillowman, as the melancholy (and sometimes manic) Dane.  Rounding out the familiar television faces: Lauren Ambrose (last year’s Juliet) as Ophelia; Emmy winner André Braugher as Claudius; and Margaret Colin (lately of Gossip Girl) as Gertrude.

Of note: an unexpected ending, some amusing costuming (especially in the swapped top/bottom suits of Rosencratz and Guildensten) and the wonderfully creative of play-within-a play, which featured dancing lifesized marionettes.

Reviews were mixed, but this Hamlet at least fared better than the 2000 production at The Public, with Liev Schreiber in the title role, which received one of the most brutal reviews I’ve ever read in New York magazine.

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Seneca Village

Sunday, February 24th, 2008 | All Things, NYC History

On a walking tour organized by the Central Park Conservancy this clear and chilly Sunday afternoon.

Our group of about a dozen met a pair of guides inside the Park at the Mariner’s Gate entrance at 85th Street. From there, we set off to tour the lands that once made up Seneca Village, Manhattan’s first known community of African American property owners. The village, founded in 1825, once occupied the land between what is now the Great Lawn to Central Park West and from 82nd to 89th Streets — an area of about five acres. Within a few years, the community developed into a stable settlement of over 250 working-class residents, with its own churches, school and cemetery. African Americans owned more than half the households in the village — an unusually high percentage of property ownership for any New York community. By the 1840s, Irish and German immigrants, and perhaps Native Americans, owned several land plots as well; in total, during its over three decades in existence, approximately 1,600 people owned property, lived and/or worked in Seneca Village.

Up the trail to Summit Rock — at 141.8 feet, the highest elevation in Central Park (but not the highest point in Manhattan.)

Summit Rock

The guides explained the challenges of this particular park tour, as nothing of note remains of the original community, save for the trickling remnants of an abundant natural spring near 82nd Street which would have served as the village’s main source of fresh drinking water. Instead, we were given photocopies of historic maps, and shown artists’ renderings of the structures that would have existed in the mid-19th century. This view overlooks what would have been the heart of Seneca Village.

Seneca Village

In 1855, the New York State Census reported approximately 264 residents in the semi-rural village, at a time when most of the city’s immigrant population was concentrated in slums below 14th Street. Two years later, after the state legislature authorized the use of eminent domain to publicly acquire private land for the purpose of creating Central Park, the entire village was razed without a trace. Landowners living within the boundaries of the proposed park were compensated financially for their property, though several filed claims in New York State Supreme Court, protesting the city’s valuations of their land. Little is known of the outcome of those lawsuits, or where the hundreds of residents may have relocated. What is known is that once scattered, the community of Seneca Village was not re-established.

This spot of red is a cardinal, hidden among the trees:


Winterdale Arch at 82d Street, a pedestrian underpass and bridle path. The 1994 restoration included the award-winning recreation of the original cast-iron fencing along the top of the arch:

Winterdale Arch

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