Chill Demands Cocoa: The Thespian’s Guide to Hot Chocolate in NYC

Didn’t expect to see me so soon, did you? Well, as it turns out…I’m full of surprises! Although it’s still plenty warm here in New York, we have officially entered the autumn season, so those temperatures are bound to drop soon. And what better way to cope with the cold than by enjoying hot chocolate? Today, I’m going to share some great places for you to drink up. As a bonus, I’ve even hand-picked classic songs to match the mood of each location. Cheers!

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MARIEBELLE: Looking for some old-fashioned ambiance with your confection? Look no further than Mariebelle in SoHo, whose very name oozes class. What’s interesting about their homemade hot chocolate is the amount of flavors you can choose from. These variants range from milk chocolate with hazelnuts all the way to white chocolate with banana! Relevant music– “I Never Do Anything Twice” from The Seven Per-Cent Solution

MADISON & VINE: Nestled in the heart of Midtown is this elegant restaurant embedded within a hotel. Of course, you can have your fill of tasty food here, but there’s something on the drink menu you may not know about. Seasonally served, their hot chocolate is made with brandy, dark crème de cacao, spiced chocolate, and whipped cream on the top. Scrumptious! Relevant music– “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!

MCNALLY JACKSON: Books and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s afternoon are the stuff of dreams for hipsters everywhere. In this indie store, indulge your thoughtful side by sipping a mug of their Italian Agostoni dark chocolate concoction. It is made via melting the good stuff with hot water and then blending it with Hudson Valley milk. Relevant music– “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me

THE CHOCOLATE ROOM: For the environmentally conscious folk, this café places an emphasis on “sustainably sourced chocolate.” It actually has two Brooklyn locations- one in Park Slope and the other in Cobble Hill- and they both work with a fair trade co-op in Madagascar. As far as hot cocoa goes, each cup is topped with a giant marshmallow and may include an espresso or alcohol shot. Relevant music– “In Summer” from Frozen

NUNU: Not many people can say they’ve enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate within a chocolate factory. But pay a visit to Nunu in Brooklyn, and you can say just that! Their flagship location has small chairs and activities perfect for children…but the whole family will enjoy watching sweet treats get made and dipped as they drink. Relevant music– “When the Children Are Asleep” from Carousel

IL BUCO ALIMENTARI: At this NoHo spot, the atmosphere is warm and casual…rather perfect for a cozy date! You and your beloved can enjoy a mug of their signature hot cocoa, brimming with Guanaja goodness. This kind of chocolate is made with 70% dark and 30% white- plus a marshmallow. It comes in flavors ranging from rosemary to cinnamon to burnt orange. Relevant music– “Liza” from An American in Paris

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Best Not-So-Secrets of the Theater District

Everyone loves those tours that offer glimpses into NYC’s “hidden” side, the stuff that tourists can’t tell you about. These are often called local secrets…even though, thanks to social media and the like, many of them are badly-kept. This week, I thought it would be fun (for both my readers and me!) to put together my own list of hidden gems.

In keeping with the code of honor for Puccini’s Chronicles, all secrets will center on the performing arts (of course). I apologize in advance if you already know some of these, but I’ve never claimed to be an exclusive source. Either way- here we go!

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The Hidden Mermaid: Disney’s The Little Mermaid may have closed on Broadway quite some time ago, but Ariel seems to be sticking around! If you sneak toward the other side of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (where the show played) near 46th Street, you can see its one marquee that was never taken down. A timeless reminder of how sometimes a “sure thing” on Broadway, doesn’t turn out to be!

One Singular Sensation: Seeing Hello Dolly at the Shubert Theatre? Lucky you! But while you’re there, you shouldn’t forget to check out the bronze plaque in the lobby. What plaque, you ask? The one dedicated to A Chorus Line, honoring its status as one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Caught up in the excitement of Bette Midler fans, this can be easy to miss!

Imperially Miserable: While we’re talking about bronze plaques, there’s another one embedded in the pavement in front of the Imperial Theatre. This circular emblem pays homage to the legendary Les Miserables, which played the majority of its astounding Broadway run at this venue.

Poster Pandemonium: Are you missing your favorite show’s window-card from your merch haul? Consider stopping by Triton Gallery, inconspicuously located in a building on 8th Ave between 43rd and 44th Streets. Nick, the owner, is always happy to help you find the poster of your dreams in his inventory. Prices vary.

Theatre Hall of Fame: This place is easier-to-find than the others on my list, but there’s a catch. You must be seeing the Gershwin Theatre’s current production (Wicked) to access it! That’s right- the Theatre Hall of Fame is housed within the walls of the largest house on Broadway, and they won’t let you in unless you’ve got show tickets. I was only 13 when I saw Wicked, so unfortunately, I only have a faint memory of the performing legends who are immortalized on the walls.

Little Theatres in the Big Village

Have you ever been hanging out on Wall Street and thought, “Damn…why is Times Square so far away? I want to catch some quality theatre!” No? Well, too bad. As the “pink elephant phenomenon” teaches us, you’re thinking it now.

Never fear, because I’ve got a secret to share. There are a host of wonderful theatrical venues nestled in the fabulous Village of New York City! They’re not terribly massive, but sometimes a close-knit experience is what you want. As a bonus, many excellent new productions and classic revivals will find a home in these theatres.

The three houses I’m spotlighting were so chosen because they do not belong to a theatre company. Off-Broadway, for example, venues like the Laura Pels (Roundabout), Lucille Lortel (MCC), or Mitzi Newhouse (Lincoln Center) are often owned by bigwig arts institutions. But the three below are typically rented out for independent productions. And sometimes, you’ll get to see a big-name star in their show, up close!

Let’s get to it!

Minetta Lane Theatre. 18 Minetta Lane. Pictured show: Himself and Nora

09himself-master768 The Minetta Lane Theatre opened in the East Village in 1984. It is noteworthy for having two seating levels (orchestra and balcony) that can accommodate 391 total patrons. Fun fact: Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (which has become a cult classic) first premiered at this house!

Cherry Lane Theatre. 38 Commerce Street. Pictured show: Out of the Mouths of Babes

mouth-of-babes-450x300__main The Cherry Lane Theatre opened in the West Village in 1924, making it the oldest operating theatre off-Broadway. It was converted from a warehouse by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Today, it seats 179 people and is mostly known for hosting new and unconventional works.

Barrow Street Theatre. 27 Barrow Street. Pictured show: Sweeney Todd

02sweeneyjp-superjumbo The Barrow Street Theatre opened in the 1990s, but its location (within Greenwich House) has been around since 1902. The venue has a 200-seat capacity. Nowadays, it is getting a great deal of buzz for hosting the lauded immersive production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd!

What is the best production you have seen at one of these little Village theatres?

It Takes a Woman (Three, actually)

Greetings, readers! Sorry this post is late, but it was a long week and I was also suffering from some writer’s block. (Drat!) Luckily, I found some great subject matter this weekend in the form of a production of Jerry’s Girls.

My doll, Cecily, is on hand to help me with this recap.tumblr_ocyid8cb591thkr0po1_500
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The show was presented at my theatrical home-away-from-home, off-Broadway’s York Theatre Company. It is a breakneck revue of the songs of Jerry Herman, composer/lyricist for such classics as Hello Dolly!Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles. He was also the brain behind some lesser successes, i.e. Mack and Mabel and Dear World. Nevertheless, the fact that a piece of the Jerry Herman songbook is able to fill a 2-hour show…without any dialogue…cements him as one of musical theatre’s literary greats.

I got tickets to this production as a birthday gift for my grandmother, who loves all those old showtunes. It starred “two Stephanies and a Christine,” tasked with singing every number as a solo, duet, or trio- no ensemble required.

What I found particularly interesting was that each actress seemed to have a particular strength. Stephanie #1 (D’Abruzzo) was the physical actress, Christine (Pedi) was the classic comedienne, and Stephanie #2 (Umoh) was the torch singer. There was never a dull moment, thanks also in part to the charismatic (and very animated) pianist, Mr. Eric Svejcar.

Group songs like “Take It All Off” and “Hello Dolly” produced big laughs and inevitably brought the house down. In my opinion, each lady also had a couple of standout solos. I loved Christine’s rendition of “The Man in the Moon” from Mame, originally recorded by the peerless Bea Arthur…heaven rest her soul. Stephanie #1 delivered a simultaneously poignant and rousing “Before the Parade Passes By.” And Stephanie #2 showed off every vocal chop with a knockout performance of “I Am What I Am.”

Also, all three girls sang a number that made me cry. But I’ll let my doll friend cover that. Take it away, Cecily!

Cecily: “Your humble blogger cried first during Stephanie #2’s rendition of ‘I Won’t Send Roses.’ She bawled again during Christine’s ‘If He Walked Into My Life.’ Finally, she teared up with Stephanie #1’s ‘Time Heals Everything (But Loving You).’ She really ought to carry around a water-well when she goes to the theatre.

That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed this trip through history with Jerry’s Girls and little me. Stay tuned for next week’s post. I promise it won’t be as delayed.

Goodbye, Miss Kathleen: Reflection on a Teacher

“Goodbye Miss Kathleen,

From the young girl in the 22nd row

Who sees you as something more than what we know,

More than just our sophomore hero.”

Knowing the subject of this post in high school taught me some important lessons…and not just the ones I got from her classroom.

Kathleen Nolan taught a few religious studies courses at St. Joseph Hill Academy high school. She was a soft-spoken woman, probably in her sixties, with short mouse-brown hair and spectacles. She was rarely seen not wearing a sweater-and-long-skirt ensemble. This God-fearing educator was also fighting for social justice…as well as a long battle with cancer.

It was she who first told me to “keep things in perspective.” She was also one of the select people who found amusement (rather than annoyance) in my histrionics. At the innocent age of 15, I admired Ms. Nolan’s strength and tact, and yet her existence also confused me greatly. I couldn’t wrap my head around why such a gentle person had to suffer in such a manner. I remember crying over her more than once. Her cancer ultimately went into remission, but she still retired the following year.

Through my fleeting experience here, I learned that bad things would happen to good people. But I also figured out that if we spread charity and decency…and maintain optimism…happiness is still a very tangible goal.

I’ve sadly come to accept that I will never see Ms. Nolan again, at least not in this lifetime. I guess it’s often impossible for teachers to know whether or not they made a difference in their students’ lives. I think everyone fails to recognize just how many people drift in and out of his or her life; that doesn’t diminish their significance, though.

So…do as Ms. Nolan did…and be good to others.

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Goodbye, Amelie: Shows That Could (in theory) Play at the Walter Kerr Theatre

The theatrical industry is kind of a funny animal. You just never know what will catch on and what won’t. Many things factor into this: word-of-mouth, critics, award season, marketing, and pure luck. And for one reason or another, Amelie (a musical adaptation of the beloved 2001 French movie) just couldn’t make enough stars align. The show (which I quite enjoyed) will play its final NYC performance at the Walter Kerr Theatre on May 21st.

This venue is named for Pulitzer Prize-winner Walter Kerr and opened in 1929. (Today, it is operated by the Jujamcyn Company.) With a seating capacity of just over 900, it is one of the smaller Broadway houses and therefore well-suited to plays and cozier musicals. Its external marquee, with the bright blue lights, is one of my favorites.

That being said, let’s look at a few shows that might inhabit this theatre as well as a few that won’t…but could, in theory.

heathers5 Heathers (New World Stages, 2014). Many a fangirl wished this show, based on the cult teen movie, would transfer to Broadway after its premiere run. Although that seems unlikely three years after the fact, it would still be hilarious to see a musical of this subject matter stand with the likes of Dear Evan Hansen or Come from Away.

taste0037_orig A Taste of Things to Come (York Theatre Company, 2016). Similarly, this small-scale show about women’s roles from the 1950s-60s probably belonged Off-Broadway. However, one of its calling cards was the fact that it also had an all-female cast and band; we could always use more of that!

cyclone0888r Ride the Cyclone (MCC Theater, 2016). This musical is about a group of teenagers vying for the afterlife in the wake of a horrid rollercoaster accident. It seemed to divide public and critical opinion but still managed to be nominated for several awards.

mbutterfly_content M. Butterfly (Planned for the 2016-2017 Broadway season). Now this production of David Henry Hwang’s classic play, directed by Julie Taymor, is confirmed to come to Broadway this year. The only question is which theatre will be chosen- and the Walter Kerr could be an ideal space.

twood_sg_07 The Secret Garden (Seattle Shakespeare Theatre, 2016). Rumors have been swirling that this acclaimed production of the show, featuring Daisy Eagan in a new role, has its eyes on a Broadway transfer.

Alternately, the powers-that-be could just annoy Lincoln Center Theater enough for them to bring Falsettos back.

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In Which I Take the NBC Studios Tour

Note to self: Don’t attempt to take an hourlong tour during a lunch hour. As I should have known from my past tour guide job- it will run long and then you’ll be rushing back to your building in 75-degree heat. But I digress.

As promised, folks, this is a special recap post of my journey through the innards of NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Incidentally, you probably noticed that my blog has a brand new look, too! I didn’t actually plan for these two to coincide. Anyway, entry into my 1:20pm tour cost about $30, which wasn’t too bad for a single person…but I can see how a large family might run into problems with that admission.

After checking in at the gift shop, I was given a really pretty pin to wear for the duration of the tour (and keep after it was over). There were about three different stations of security check as well- understandable. There were 12 of us in the group, and we were then introduced to our guides Ariel and Deborah, both students in the elite NBC Page program.

The tour officially began with a short video (hosted by Al Roker, of all people) that explained some of the history and significance of NBC. After heading up the stairs, we were in the rotunda; this is where audiences for the live broadcasts are corralled. This rotunda is a throwback to the original Art Deco designs of 30 Rock.

The first studio we visited belongs to Nightly News with Lester Holt. It was a cozy, sleek room with wood panel floors and plenty of lights and cameras. Ariel and Deborah explained that this studio is also the one that gets used for breaking news stories, as its technologies are well-suited for change on-the-fly. As we left, we saw a glass casing that memorializes NBC journalists who died in their line of work.

To balance this somber moment, we next rode an elevator to what the girls called “the comedy floor.” Sure enough, they had an entire hallway dedicated to Saturday Night Live, including production stills from past and present seasons. When we entered the studio where the show is filmed, I was surprised at how simple it looked! Indeed, a lot of behind-the-scenes magic occurs on the three parts of the SNL stage. Sets are assembled and taken apart in the span of a commercial break! And did you know that “Weekend Update” is the only sketch that occurs every single week?

As we proceeded, Ariel and Deborah mentioned that we may or may not get to see Jimmy Fallon’s studio for The Tonight Show. But we were lucky enough to catch them on a lunch break, so in we went. Fallon’s desk and his announcer’s podium looked very different than on television; as we learned, this is all due to great camera tricks. The Roots band gets their own “pit” on the opposite side.

After another short elevator ride, we arrived at the control floor, where hardworking production people manipulate the technology. We saw rooms at work with cameras, audio, and music mixing (one guy even waved at us). It was also time for the zenith of the tour: an interactive mock talk show, starring us tour guests.

We were each assigned roles- I volunteered to play the celebrity guest, because it was the only part that wasn’t totally scripted. And, well…let’s just say I hammed it up like a butcher shop. Don’t believe me? Just watch!

All in all, The Tour at NBC Studios was a really cool way to spend my lunch hour. I had fun, I learned some interesting information, and- perhaps best of all- it enabled me to get one more notch on my NYC adventure bedpost. Well, so to speak!

Shine…Again?

Thank you to everyone who took an interest in my NYC cabaret debut!

I’m pleased to announce that thanks to this show, I have booked another gig- this time at Don’t Tell Mama. I’ll be singing in the April 4th edition of Seth’s Showcase, emceed by Seth Bisen-Hersh, alongside 5 other performers. We’ll each be doing a set of two songs, and all of the sets will either share a theme or tell a story of our choosing.

I don’t want to give too much away, but here are some clues as to my rep for this show:

  1. Both songs will surround a theme.
  2. Both songs are from modern musicals.
  3. One song is an uptempo and the other is a ballad.

My kingdom for a Tony Award…

Get tickets!

Daily Prompt: Record

We’re halfway through March and it seems that spring should be just around the corner here in New York City. Sadly, we are expecting a foot or more of snowfall tomorrow. But you could argue that a blizzard is the perfect excuse to kick back with a mug of tea and listen to some vinyl records.

Speaking of which, today I’m going to share five of my favorite “morning songs.” These are tunes I most like to crank up when the weather is sunny and warm. For one reason or another, they’re a perfect soundtrack for the crack of dawn.

5. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall: Maybe it’s because of this song’s role in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, but “Suddenly I See” practically brims with inspiration and admiration. As you wake up and the sun shines through your window, it’s hard not to imagine Tunstall cheering you on as you chase your dreams in a big city.

4. “Opening Up,” Sara Bareilles: The version of this number that Bareilles performs on the What’s Inside album is sure to get you pumped for your day with its rousing drumbeat and infectious chorus. With any luck, it will put you in a good enough mood so that when a Starbucks barista pours your latte, you’ll want to say “Hello, how ya been?”

3. “Another Day of Sun,” La La Land Cast: Sure, everyone talked about what happened to this movie at the Oscars, but it’s hard to deny that its score makes for great listening. This song in particular is full of energy, with an earworm-inducing hook. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles to let “Another Day of Sun” brighten the morning.

2. “Beautiful Day,” U2: There are certain songs that I associate with specific mental images. For “Beautiful Day,” I envision driving along an empty highway in the summer, just as the sun is beginning to rise. The song’s three-note riff is instantly recognizable and the lyrics are just as life-affirming.

1. “Mr. Blue Sky,” ELO: “Today’s forecast calls for blue skies.” This Jeff Lynne-penned hit song practically had to make my list. Lynne was even inspired to write it by beautiful weather in Switzerland. With its upbeat rhythms and bright vocals, the tune has not only become a radio staple but a popular addition to several Hollywood films.

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