A few weeks ago we were invited to take a backstage tour of the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street, current home of the Disney Broadway musical, Mary Poppins. The New Amsterdam is a particularly rich historical theater – it housed the Ziegfeld Follies and the fabulous Fanny Brice and is haunted by the ghost of Olive Thomas. Like most of Times Square in the 70s and 80s The New Amsterdam had fallen apart, become decrepit and rat ridden and showed Kung Fu movies. I remember when Disney purchased the theater and announced their intention to restore it and bring The Lion King there. Most New Yorkers were skeptical at best.
What occurred is one of those extraordinary New York and theater moments. The restoration of the theater – most of it helped by the memories of original Ziegfeld Follies girls then in their 90s – is glorious. All of the original details were restored or rebuilt from the crowned sconces, to the Shakespeare friezes, to the beautiful murals in the downstairs lounge that depict the history of New York. It’s hard to imagine the lounge with 2 feet of dirty water filling the floor as it was 15 years ago when they began the restoration.
On our tour we not only saw the beautiful details but also had a backstage, hands-on experience with props and set pieces from all of the Disney musicals. Sitting in Ariel’s scallop shell bathtub was a definite highlight. That evening we saw Mary Poppins – for the second time I should say. But, now that my girls are 9 they had a whole different appreciation. It also was pretty amazing to see the show after standing on that very stage that morning. There is nothing like walking on a Broadway stage! Except, maybe, seeing yourself on one of the giant screens in Times Square.
We had an extra dose of Disney Magic that day when the girls got to experience a virtual Disney Park experience by posing with a beamed-in Daisy Duck and having their pictures projected on the screen above the Disney Times Square store and then again and again on within the “castle” that covered the building across the street. I think they could have watched themselves forever…
This is a post I wrote a year ago for the Westside Independent, but after meeting so many women this weekend at BlogHer who asked me how I could raise my kids in NYC I thought I’d repost it here on Beccarama for a whole new audience.
Are city parents crazy? This is the question that a dad blogger posted on his site last week upon returning home to the Midwest after a four-day trip to New York City. I always think that while I am certainly not crazy, this kind of question always brings out the crazy in me. First I get defensive – the knee jerk well how can YOU live in the cultural, ethnic, culinary wasteland that is the suburbs? Then I go into my why New York City is the best place ever routine – oh the museums, the landmarks, the food, the theater, and the one that always freaks out everyone, we don’t even own a car! But truth be told that routine is getting a little stale. Why do city parents really want to raise their kids here?
All of the reasons I listed above are of course true, but do they really outweigh the small spaces most of us live in, the lack of backyards and basements, the battle for kindergarten admission, the financial costs and the ever-nagging sense that city kids grow up too fast? No, I think there’s more to it.
My daughters are in second grade and their social studies curriculum is all about New York. They happen to attend a great public school that is outrageously field trip happy and this course of study lends itself to exploring neighborhoods. I love this aspect of the curriculum because the strange secret of New Yorkers is that they rarely venture outside of a ten block radius from their homes except to commute to work (and as a writer that would mean the walk to my kitchen table) We eat at the same restaurants over and over again, we go to the same playgrounds every weekend, and we shop at the same grocery and drug stores on a weekly basis. With everything at your fingertips it’s easy to take it for granted and not take advantage of all the things that the city has to offer. It takes effort not to fall into a lazy New York lull of the familiar.
And this is why it’s always so shocking to me when people ask me how I can raise my kids in New York City. I don’t really raise my kids in New York City, I raise them on the Upper West Side. We zip in and out of other areas on weekends – Flushing for dim sum, the East Side to museums and the zoo, Times Square for the theater, downtown for gallery hopping, Chelsea Piers for bowling and ice skating, Brooklyn for old friends and family, and of course Central and Riverside Parks for grass, trees and nature – but at the end of the day we come home to our small town. It’s the best of all worlds. A familiar place called home nestled inside the most exciting city in the world. And that is why I am not crazy to raise my kids in (the Upper West Side of) New York City.