Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Evening at the Theatre

 Lights and Shadows of New York Life; or, the Sight and Sensations of The Great City. By James D. McCabe, National Publishing Company, 1873.

Theater Program: “The New Yorkers” at Broadway Theater, New York Theater Program Corp Publishers, opening Jan. 5, 1931.

From Sight and Sensation of the Great City: “The theatres: There are usually from 50,000 to 100,000 strangers in the city, and the majority of these find the evenings dull without some amusement to enliven them.” Pg 470 
“In no other city are such establishments as elegant and commodious, and nowhere else in America are the companies as proficient in their art, or the play so admirable put on the stage.” Pg 471

With our few days’ overlap in the “Greatest city on earth,” we decided we must explore everything this city is so famous for: the central Park, the statue of Liberty given by the French, the libraries and museums and cultural centers.  New York is such a fashionable, high society place, though poverty, crime, and danger lurk among many dark corners.  According to James McCabe, author of “Sights and Sensations,” “It is not safe for a stranger to undertake to explore these places for himself…no respectable man is a match for the villains and sharpers of New York.” 

In this era of Prohibition, an underground culture of speakeasies, dance halls, and street workers borders the edge of some of the most respectable destinations.  In order to protect ourselves from the dangers laid out by such a big city, we mostly tour during the day, where one can glimpse the underground culture but not be engrossed in it.  We decided, though, that no trip to New York is complete without a trip to the legendary theaters.  Musicals, opera, drama, Shakespeare, vaudeville, and more grace the dozens of stages of New York each night.  Many stage stars have their own following by members of the elite here, who attend the lavish opening night events of each of their new shows.  Film stars beloved across the nation are also beginning to cross back over into stage work, bringing a celebrity quality to the most classic of productions. 

"The New Yorkers" theatre program, January 1931.
We decided to splurge on tickets to a production of “The New Yorkers” at B.S. Moss’s Broadway theatre, in order to have the most classically new York evening.  The play was described as a sociological musical satire and pokes fun at New York stereotypes, including the elite, conmen, thieves and prostitutes. It was a whirlwind romantic tale about a socialite named Alice and her relationship with a bootlegger name Al.  It included such musical numbers as “Say it with Gin,” “”The Great Indoors,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” and other tales that made it a pleasure for New Yorkers and tourists alike, as it gave a humorous picture of the lives of the residents of such a city. 

The theater program, which I saved as a memento of the experience, includes articles on up-and-coming New Yorkers, the latest fashion trends, and some warnings about the fall of the economy.  It is clearly directed at the socialites who frequent the theater.  Advertisers flock to the theater program in order to target such an elite audience, but it was enjoyable for us as visitors as well. 

After the show, we visited a dance hall popular with the young people of the city.  It was an adventure in nightlife that we had previously shied away from, due to James McCabe’s warnings, but we learned that with a little common sense there is no reason not to enjoy New York’s many offerings at all hours of the day.  This risk-taking also served us well for the coming adventures in Europe and the rest of the world!  Tomorrow we leave new York and America for good, setting off across the Atlantic for a tour of European Greats, ancient ruins and indigenous cultures of Northern Africa, an East Indies passage through India, and a recreational jaunt around the south Pacific.  The world is literally ours to explore.

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