Twenty years ago or thereabouts, the anti-Christ and I had taken the Metroliner to New York for a weekend of reckless shopping, indulgent dining, and the obligatory theater-going. Our train was late so, upon checking into the Algonquin Hotel (pre-restoration, I might add), we went directly to the Martin Beck Theater to see Tommy Tune’s musical wonderpiece, “Grand Hotel.”
The show was enthralling, with terrific and complex music, dazzling performances, and “over the top” and bold staging. I sat eagerly as David Carroll, Lilliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers, Jane Krakowski, and the under-appreciated Michael Jeter all hoofed, serenaded, and spun glorious magic. The show ended far too quickly. There we were, at 11:00PM, hungry and ready to journey ANYwhere as long as sustenance (at that point both victuals and cocktails) would be imminent.
We settled on Café Des Artistes, in my old neighborhood as it was reliably comfortable and creative, befitting its monicker. The anti-Christ and I not once talked, even to share our impressions of “Grand Hotel.” He was focused already on the eventual bill for the weekend’s escapades. I, however, was replaying Jeter’s show-stealing scene where he toasts friendship and dances a giddy Charleston. And reliving Krakowski’s poignancy, as well as her powerful voice, as an unwed and pregnant German secretary. (This was before her hilarious turn on “Ally McBeal” which ignited her fan base.) And savoring the moments with Miss Montevecchi as the aging ballerina, searching for a “last, stolen chance” to find romance.
Dinner came and went rather quickly. I was barely into my “encore” of Act I, when the check came. My five course “asparagus and mushroom” feast had yet to gain its just attention as I finally put down my fork.
We hailed a cab and, as the anti-Christ reached inside, I realized at once that I was not ready nor was I joining him.
I caught a separate taxi and headed to “Marie’s Crisis”, my old Grove Street haunt in the West Village. Quite the dive and a walk-down, BELOW one of the 729 Ray’s Pizza eateries in NYC! It was a rustic piano bar where usually only natives partook and one could occasionally meet a theateroso.
I met one such luminary that night, well, kinda-sorta. I spied Stephen Sondheim standing next to the piano, boisterously singing with his cronies. Naturally and star-struck, I positioned myself next to him when he, at once, leaned over and politely suggested that my smoking was inappropriate to such a moment. Yes, I was humiliated, horrified, but oddly flattered. Of course I cared, but not about him nor his pretenses.
But that brush-off meant I could focus on my true intent of that stop. I could continue my fantasy to reliving Mr. Tune’s Act II, and then commence my own final reviews of the event and its dazzle. That was such an evening that I needed it to last forever. My night was finally off to a “grand” beginning.
It ended when I finally returned to the hotel, and the anti-Christ with his apocalyptic mumblings.
(Note: I have no clue why the proprietors of Marie’s Crisis claim its status as a cafe as it only serves pretzels and garnishes.)
(Image: “Prissy” by Vicky Knowles, 2012.)