In part two of the New York adventures of My College Roommate, The World Traveler and I, we checked out the stores on Fifth Avenue and saw St. Patrick's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center, finishing up in Bryant Park for holiday shopping.
Now, we were hungry, so we hopped on the subway and headed to the West Village to eat at Tea and Sympathy, run by Nicky Perry, a British expat.
Billboards on Broadway (on Photobucket)
The restaurant offers British comfort food, such as Shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, and Welsh rarebit, along with an impressive selection of teas and desserts.
The World Traveler had warned us that it was small, but I didn't expect it to be quite so small. It was only about the size of a small take-out place, yet they'd managed to fit several small tables that seated two to three people. Fortunately, we got there at a good time, and no one was already waiting. The World Traveler put our name in and then, instead of waiting in the cold, we walked next door to the candy shop, also owned by Nicky Perry. In it, she sells British candies and cookies, as well as teas and tea accessories.
After browsing the many items, we each bought a small candy bar. I got a Cadbury Crunchie. When we went back outside to wait, I ate it: a crunchy toffee covered with chocolate.
As we waited, My College Roommate and I sat on the bench while The World Traveler looked through the menu. It occurred to me that I was channeling my grandmother. I was sitting on a bench with my purse perched in my lap, with erect posture, wearing a beret, waiting patiently to be seated at a restaurant filled mostly with women, where the tables were covered with flowered cloths and where I could get tea and British food. Grandma Heritage was something of an Anglophile, partly because of her genealogical research leading back to the British Isles (though truth be known, most of my family were Welsh or Scotch-Irish, not English).
Soon, we began to notice groups of young people wearing Santa suits. Not just Santa hats, mind you, but complete, head-to-toe Santa outfits. Clearly, they were on their way somewhere. I found it amusing to see a thin, young blonde woman in a Santa suit, along with a couple of 20-something men. The World Traveler suggested they might be heading for SantaCon, which is where a bunch of young New Yorkers dress as Santa and roam the city, getting increasingly drunker. Reminds me a little bit of St. Patty's day in Philly, except substitute Santa suits for shamrocks.
At first, only people at tables for two left, then finally a table for three. We were waved inside by Nicky. I wanted something with lots of vegetables, so I ordered the Lentil Stew. We also shared a bowl of Butternut Squash Soup. In addition, I got the Mint Chocolate tea.
When the tea was brought out, in a pot decorated with images of Queen Elizabeth I, I was a little confused at first. The tea was not served in a tea bag; rather, the tea leaves were placed with the hot water in the kettle. When I went to pour it, The World Traveler explained how to use the filter you placed over your cup to catch the tea leaves. The first cup, I did fine, but later when I tried to top it off, I misjudged the trajectory of the tea and poured some all over my place setting. Seeing my dilemma, Nicky rushed over with a stack of napkins. "We can't take you anywhere," she chided.
It was a little difficult, fitting all of our food on the small table, but we made a go of it. I was very happy with both the soup and the lentil stew. They hit the spot on a cold day. For dessert, we shared a Christmas Pudding, which features a portion of freshly baked fruit cake, which was rich and tasted a bit like gingerbread. It was covered with a custard that tasted a little like rice pudding, and The World Traveler recognized it as a particular brand of custard sold in the U.K.
Even after all the walking, by my estimate, at that point about 4 1/2 hours of it, the meal filled me up. We still had plenty of time to make our show, and we took the subway to the theater district.
On the subway, we encountered two drunken Santas. One was so far gone that he was sitting with his head in his hands, barely keeping himself together. His friend, a 20-something Italian guy whose Santa cap was pushed back on his head, and whose Santa coat was open at the neck, struck up a conversation with us. It started when he heard us say something about bagels, and he immediately moved to the bench across from us, telling us that New York has the best bagels: "It's the water."
A dapper, gray-haired businessman watched with amusement.
Assuming that we were from out of town, the drunken Santa was surprised to learn The World Traveler was a local. He wanted to know where she lived. She said she lived in the Upper East Side.
"She's an uptown girl," I said.
The World Traveler added, "Way uptown."
"Yes, she's a way uptown girl," I corrected myself.
He said he was from Brooklyn, and My College Roomate and I told him we were from Philly. He raved about all the wonderful things about New York and how the other big cities don't have anything on them. "We have the Phillies," I said, impishly. He shrugged drunkenly. A World Series pennant apparently means nothing compared to bagels.
As we stood up to go, I added, "We also have the best cheesesteaks. It's the water."
Afterwards, we teased The World Traveler about being hit on by a drunken Santa in the subway. "It's a little known fact," I told her, "that Santa actually likes them naughty." We suggested that maybe she leave out extra cookies and milk this year.
Now, I had only ever seen one other Broadway production: A Chorus Line at The Shubert Theater back in high school. So I found it a bit amusing to discover that Spamalot was also playing in the Shubert Theater. Perhaps next time I see a production on Broadway, it will be elsewhere.
Photo from Claymatized.com
They hadn't opened the doors when we arrived, so at The World Traveler's suggestion, we checked out the gift store, which sold souvenirs related to various Broadway shows. She looked at the posters promoting upcoming shows and spoke to the clerk about which ones she plans to see. I didn't see anything I wanted to spend money on, but My College Roommate found a card for a musical that a friend of hers loves, so she bought it for her.
When we finished in the gift store, they had opened the doors. I worried momentarily about the sign that said, "No Cameras," but The World Traveler assured me that simply meant you couldn't take pictures, not that you couldn't take them in. As it is, they didn't check our bags anyway.
We had terrific seats, thanks to The World Traveler, who used her knowledge of such things to get us good seats for a song. We were in the right section, about 10 rows back on the aisle. Of course, the set when we arrived looked much the same as when I'd seen the touring company in Philadelphia, back in April 2007. It looked like a large, medieval gate, flanked by two towers. Very little was different in the interior sets, as well.
In the first scene, as King Arthur (Michael Siberry) encounters two quibbling guards who take him to task over the origin of the coconuts carried by his footman, Patsy (David Hibbard), I thought I recognized one of the guards as Clay Aiken. But forgetting that most of the actors play multiple parts in Spamalot, I thought, "He wouldn't be in such a minor role."
Then, as the gates opened on "Finland" and "Fisch Schlapping Song," I was pleased with our view. We could see the expressions on the actors' faces, which is not something I enjoyed the first time around.
Having seen the play once before, I liked it just as much, even though I knew many of the jokes. It was fun to see how this particular cast performed it differently. For one, they worked in topical references that weren't even relevant when I last saw the show. During the second Knights of Ni sketch, when they change their name, the new name started "Ecke, ecke, ecke," followed by a string of nonsense syllables and closed by the Knight holding out the flap of an imaginary trench coat and saying, "You want to buy a Senate seat?" That, of course, a reference to the latest political scandal, involving the shady governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. The audience roared.
At another point in the play, The Lady of the Lake (Merle Dandridge) worked in a snippet of the song, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" by Beyonce: "If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it," doing the dance move from the famous video.
As far as the performances were concerned, I'd been most curious to see how Clay Aiken did. For someone who was continually making faces and contorting himself into strange positions, he still had a hell of a voice. Anyone who can contort himself to that degree and still project for the back row has talent. I wasn't sure at first if he was hamming it up a bit too much, but The World Traveler, who saw the production when it first opened, said that David Hyde Pierce gave a similar performance. She suggested that maybe the director wants that role to be played like that. (For a taste of his performance, view this video on YouTube.)
I was very impressed with Rick Holmes, who played Lancelot and doubled as the French Taunter, the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter. This role had been originated by Hank Azaria. He threw himself into each role so completely that it was often halfway through the scene before you realized it was the same actor.
By contrast, Clay Aiken was fairly similar in the guard role and Sir Robin, but when he played Brother Maynard, the keeper of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, he was completely different, walking in a slow shuffling gate and, with his reading from the Book of Armaments, seemingly channeling Rowan Atkinson.
I also give props to Michael Siberry as King Arthur (a role originated by Tim Curry), who happened to be the same performer I'd seen in the traveling production in Philadelphia. I loved being able to see his facial expressions: the twinkle in his eye as he muddled through, good-naturedly, trying to lead his men and hold onto his dignity despite sometimes overwhelmingly silly circumstances.
Merle Dandridge did a terrific job as The Lady of the Lake. She wasn't quite as over-the-top as the actress in the Philadelphia performance, who I'd thought for a while might actually be a drag queen! She did a good job of handling the challenging songs while, at the same time, making fun of the conventions of musical theater and the attitudes of divas.
I was surprised at the end when confetti drops on the audience, because I'd forgotten about it. Then again, we'd sat in the balcony and weren't part of the confetti experience.
After waiting in a huge line for the ladies' room, we were some of the last people in the theater. We stopped at the souvenir stand, where both My College Roommate and I bought an original cast recording. We joked around in semi-British accents as we headed outside, where they'd set up a picture-taking site. You could pose as one of the French guards. We took turns taking pictures of each other, and then a couple came along and asked me to take one of both of them. After I did, they offered to get one of all of us. I didn't realize at the time I would be the only one making a silly face.
The World Traveler (on Photobucket)
Me as a French Knight (on Photobucket)
My College Roommate (on Photobucket)
All of us as French Knights (on Photobucket)
Afterwards, The World Traveler wanted to take us to the holiday laser show at Grand Central Terminal, so we caught a shuttle that went back and forth between Broadway and Grand Central. A couple of drummers were playing djembe drums, with a patter designed to attract donations: about how you should stay positive and spread the love. Although we'd passed many talented musicians in our travels that evening, all the drummers had going for them was their positivity.
More interesting to me, though, was a well-dressed man who, despite the short duration of the trip, pulled out a book, pointedly ignoring the drummers, seated just behind him.
Upstairs in Grand Central, we stopped for a little while to watch from breakdancers. I have actually seen better breakdancing at an Otakon rave, but still, I always love to watch people dance. I captured a little bit of it on video.
We discovered, to our disappointment, that the laser show had ended a couple hours earlier. Still, we got to see Times Square, all lit up.
We walked to Serendipity, where The World Traveler hoped we could get some frozen hot chocolate and/or sundaes. As I walked behind the two of them, I remarked, "I feel like I should be banging two coconuts together." Serendipity was terribly busy, and a crowd of people were standing on the sidewalk waiting. We decided we didn't want to wait for that long, especially since My College Roommate was getting tired.
We were going to all it a night, but The World Traveler remembered a 24-hour diner in the Upper East Side that offered some interesting sundaes, Big Daddy's Diner. We took a bus across town.
The diner looks like a '50s diner, except that they also incorporate a lot of '80s memorabilia, including Trivial Pursuit cards on the table. Unfortunately, they were from the Baby Boomer edition, which was difficult for us. We asked our waitress, and she told us that all the cards from the '80s edition had disappeared.
We split a couple desserts: The Candy Man Can-Do Sundae, which has vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream topped with Whoppers, Hershey's kisses, Heath Bar crunch and whipped cream. We also split a Frozen Hot Chocolate, which is a New York favorite. It tasted a lot like a very thick malted milk shake with extra chocolate flakes. While The World Traveler and I thought it was tasty, My College Roommate was more interested in the sundae.
Although it would have been fun to go to the famous Serendipity, it was also fun to sit in a less crowded place full of quirky character.
On the way back to her place, we picked up a few things in a local store. On our way out of the store, a woman behind us had a little purse dog, who was wearing winter garb. I held the door open for them, mostly for the dog. We had seen a constant parade of adorable dogs throughout the day, many of them wearing jackets and sweaters. The World Traveler tells me New York is a city of dog lovers. The disadvantage for the dogs, though, is there's not a lot of green space to enjoy. I'm sure that Una would be very distressed if we moved there.
Back at The World Traveler's place, we watched a little more What Not to Wear, one I'd seen before. I fell asleep before the reveal, to the amusement of my friends. I could hear them saying, "Alyce is asleep," even though my body had shut off its circuits.
(Next time: Brunch and shopping in the Upper East Side)
Santa goes to New York to party.