Thursday, September 27, 2012

New in New York: This "Chaplin" is Worth Trying on For Size

The New in New York musical celebrating the life of Charlie Chaplin

By Mitch Broder

Charlie Chaplin would surely approve of a musical called "Chaplin the Musical," if only on the grounds that it's a musical called "Chaplin the Musical."

Not just approve of it, but also believe it to be the world's greatest musical, since he would believe it to be a musical about the world's greatest movie star.

Chaplin was the Little Tramp who got the Big Head. But it was forgivable, because he actually was the world's greatest movie star. And happily, by the end of his life he had reduced his head enough to publicly act as if he wasn't, even if he still thought he was.

Chaplin The Musical is playing at the Old New York theater the Barrymore

It took a long time to get a musical based on Chaplin's life to Broadway. It took a long time to get a musical based on Shaw's "Pygmalion" to Broadway. That musical was "My Fair Lady," and it became the longest-running musical. "Chaplin" isn't "My Fair Lady," and it probably won't.

Still, it's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. It's a pleasant show with pleasant music about a recurrently unpleasant life. It follows Charlie from his bleak boyhood, which, early on, he sums up with the line: "Dad died drunk, Mom went crazy, so maybe I should go into the movies!"

"Pygmalion" was so tough to convert that even Rodgers and Hammerstein gave up. Others have made Chaplin musicals, but none made it to New York. This one must be the best yet, considering that it's here, but it enjoyed no help from Rodgers and Hammerstein, let alone from Lerner and Loewe.

The cast of Chaplin The Musical sings and dance in this New in New York show.

It does enjoy a lovely cast, led by Rob McClure, who has Chaplin nailed both as the Little Tramp and as Chaplin. It also enjoys a lovely design, suffused with black and white, which is, of course, the way most of us have come to picture Chaplin.

And it does enjoy nice songs. But you won't go out humming them. They work well in the show. Then they stay there.

The lack of memorable music is frustrating, since this is, after all, a musical. The lack of Tramp scenes is also frustrating, since this is, after all, "Chaplin." McClure is enchanting when he does the enormously popular character, but he doesn't do much of him. This is not "Little Tramp the Musical."

In the end, that could be the biggest drawback. Chaplin's wasn't a musical-comedy life. Parental alcoholism and mental illness were just the overture. His later years were afflicted with — besides the Big Head — bad marriages, governmental harassment, and exile. Everybody sing!

The show's best number is itself sinister. It's "All Falls Down," sung by Jenn Colella as the sinister gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Hedda sings gaily of destroying Chaplin because he didn't grant her an interview.

This is insulting to a former newspaperman like me.

Maybe that's the best reason to see the show.

Patrons picture themselves as Chaplin before heading into the Old New York theater, The Barrymore

Hats off to "Chaplin," at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, in New York City.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Old New York: Stars Dim on the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame

A faded star for Daniel Libeskind on the old new york landmark the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame
By Mitch Broder

In a sense, it won’t matter when you finally can’t read the names, because most people already don’t recognize the names. Or at least they wouldn’t recognize the names if they tried to, which, at least for the most part, they don’t.

The names are of stars of New York City’s Yiddish theater. They’re engraved in granite slabs, which are on Second Avenue at 10th Street. Unfortunately, the granite slabs are embedded in the sidewalk, and the sidewalk is often used by people heading for Ninth or 11th Street.

So the people walk on the slabs, which is forgivable, and the names get gradually scuffed away, which is regrettable. But the man who got them embedded has been dead for sixteen years, and now the slabs, apparently, are the domain of nobody in the world.

Foot traffic has eroded the names along the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame an old new york landmark

Yiddish theater flourished here from the 1890s through the 1930s. Theaters for its shows clustered on Second Avenue below 14th Street. The stretch, which was then regarded as part of the Lower East Side, came to be something of a second Broadway, at least if you understood Yiddish.

Many of its stars moved on to the first Broadway, as well as to movies and television. Probably the most famous of them was Paul Muni. He starred in classic films like “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.” But even his is no longer a household name, which doesn’t bode well for Maurice Schwartz.

Moved by the stars’ fate, Abe Lebewohl came to their rescue, perhaps because he was in a unique position to do so. In 1954, he had opened the 2nd Ave Deli. In 1985, he installed the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame in front of it.

The founder of the Old New York landmark the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame Abraham Goldfaden's star

It consists of about thirty markers, mostly in two rows, mostly with two names to a marker. Most of the names are inside of stars — not Jewish stars but Hollywood-Walk-of-Fame stars, signifying that the tribute was as much to talent as it was to heritage.

There is David Kessler with Zvi Scooler. There is Leon Liebgold with Lilly Lilyana. There is Boris Thomashevsky with Bessie Thomashevsky. Boris, at 13, helped to bring Yiddish theater to New York. His grandson is the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

In 1996, Abe Lebewohl was murdered. His brother, Jack, took over the deli, but ten years later he closed it. The year after that, his sons Josh and Jeremy reopened the 2nd Ave Deli — but on 33rd Street, between Lexington and Third.

Last year they opened a second branch, on First Avenue at 75th Street. There they installed an Automat section that had been on display at the original store. I’m sure that they’d like to have the walk of fame  at the new store, too. It’s kind of hard to fault them for not dislodging and moving a city sidewalk.

An old new york staple Automat returns

On the site of the original store there now stands a Chase bank. Neither the bank nor its building manager seems to want much to do with the walk. Nor does the city, which has reportedly said that it never actually approved it. David and Zvi and Leon and Lilly and Boris are on their own.

I’ve never quite gotten the concept of being honored on a sidewalk. I’m too conscious of the substances that are bound to find their way there. Jazz greats were honored with a walk of fame on 52nd Street. The last time I looked, Thelonious Monk had turned into Niou Mon.

Still, many people have embraced the Yiddish Walk. Some years ago, Jack Lebewohl told me of one. “One Rosh Hashana,” he said, “I actually saw a woman stand out there, drop a rose on the sidewalk and say a Hebrew prayer.”

And just maybe, all those names were meant to fade away, before the day when not a single one is known to pedestrians.

So if you want to go look at the names, don’t put the trip off too long.

This walk isn’t going to be preserved. You can bank on that.

The Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame, an old New York staple is being taken over by a Chase Bank branch.

See the stars on the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame, on Second Avenue at 10th Street, in New York City.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New in New York: Allow Yourself a Taste of Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit is a yummy treat that is New In New York

By Mitch Broder

Forbidden Fruit was founded on two sound principles: Fruit belongs in chocolate, and chocolate belongs on fruit.

Except maybe in the cases of melons and grapes. But every principle gets resistance.

The small interior gives way to big flavor at the New in New York Forbidden Fruit
Forbidden Fruit is an all-chocolate-covered-fruit place, which makes it a good fit for the all-peculiar-place food court that is MacDougal Street. It’s a simple store with a simple selection that harbors the simple hope of conquering all the other food courts of the world, peculiar or not.

When you’re ready to help it succeed, prepare to “dip it!!!” or “drip it!!!” (With either choice, you get three exclamation points.) The dip-its are the individual fruits, which are coated with chocolate. The drip-its are the medleys of fruits, which are drizzled with chocolate.

Dip it or Drip It with your favorite Forbidden Fruit at this spot that is  New in New York.
The dip-its include strawberries, pineapples, bananas, and apples (in wedges). The drip-its include fruit sticks, fruit cups, berry boats, and clementines (in wedges). The chocolate comes in the customary white, milk, and dark. You can add coconut or walnuts. Or sprinkles, but just on bananas.

A manager gave me chocolate fruit. This was especially generous, since a clerk had already given me chocolate fruit. The manager gave me all dark chocolate, which is the correct kind. Everything was delicious. The bananas tasted like chocolate-covered banana ice cream.

So Forbidden Fruit has the product. Then again, so does Edible Arrangements. But Forbidden Fruit is different from that global fruit-bouquet chain. It has no Grand Confetti Fruit Cupcake or SpongeBob Bikini Bottom Bouquet. It has no fruit growing out of footballs. It’s not about arrangements. It’s about a snack.

Forbidden Fruit includes chocolate covered pineapple, of course it does.

The idea for the snack reportedly came from a fountain — specifically, the chocolate fountain at Dylan’s Candy Bar. Abbas Devji saw lots of people there waiting in line to dip things. He was uneasy with the public dipping. He envisioned fruit predipped.

Other New York treats can't shake a stick at Forbidden Fruit's chocolate dipped bananas that are certainly New in New York

He enlisted a creative director, Matthew Higginson, to create a store. Matthew led a six-month quest to develop the look and the menu. He dipped many fruits. He found that some of them didn’t agree with chocolate. Those included watermelon, cantaloupe, and grapes. They are the forbidden fruit.

The classic chocolate covered strawberry gets the Forbidden Fruit treatment.

Matthew wants to see Forbidden Fruits from Boston to L.A. Meanwhile, he’s planning  a Chocolate of the Month for New York City. And he’s just added a Fruit of the Season. The first one is the cherry, which, of course, has had a long and successful relationship with chocolate.

The new in New York spot, Forbidden Fruit, is already a popular destination for locals.

For now, though, the star fruit is the banana, which is convenient, since the banana is the symbol of Forbidden Fruit. You might not think it would work with a chocolate peel, but it does. As Matthew puts it: “You could cover a rock with chocolate and it would taste good.”

Cartoon fruit welcome those looking for a special Forbidden Fruit treat at this New in New York space.

Take a dip at Forbidden Fruit, 106 MacDougal Street, between Third and Bleecker streets, in New York City.