One of my travel missions is to spend my birthdays in as many different countries as possible. It’s partially a challenge to make sure I go somewhere I haven’t been at least once a year, and partially something I realised when, at 24 I had just happened to have birthdays in four different countries. So, now it’s five because I turned 25 last week in the USA – specifically, New York.
What was particularly special about the trip was that I would be spending my 25th with my oldest friend, Amy, who is currently living in New York and happens to share my birthday (June 6, 1988 – if you were wondering). We’ve known each other for 20 years and went to primary school, high school and university together, so it was pretty damn special to stay with her. Here’s how we spent the day:
Got up at 5.15am to queue for cheap tickets to Pippin, one of my favourite musicals. (Post coming soon about how to nab discounted seats to Broadway shows). Amy, Jon and I sat in the line on the pavement for over 4 hours so we could be guaranteed seats to the show. It sounds like an awful thing to do on your birthday, but it is actually lots of fun. We met some lovely guys who were both professional musical theatre performers, Family Feud and Sporcle and chatted about musicals to pass the time. We were also interviewed for Japanese TV about Broadway and the Tonys (it was only a few days before the Tony Awards ceremony happened).
Following our ticket coup (box seats!) we went home for a nap (ROCK AND ROLL!), and spent quite a lot of time choosing birthday outfits before heading out to Grimaldi’s pizzeria in Brooklyn. A New York institution, Grimaldi’s does big pizza at low prices. You get a base for $14, and then add your desired toppings for $2 each. As a menu, it can’t be beaten for expediency – they don’t do salad, or even pasta, just pizza for mains, an antipasto starter and home-made cannoli for dessert. Brilliant.
Grimaldi’s is also perfectly placed for a wander around Brooklyn Bridge Park, which affords a stunning view of the skyline of downtown Manhattan, and, very small in the distance, the Statue of Liberty. It would be a great place for a picnic, as there was loads of seating, tables and barbecues, plus courts for some kind of sporting endeavour (although not much grass or open space).
Next, Amy and I treated ourselves to shopping at criminally cheap Forever 21 at Times Square and each bought ourselves a birthday dress. Then, we went for a cocktail at a small hotel bar, so we tried to get birthday special treatment. The awkward conversation went something like this:
Us: Is there anything very special on the menu?
Waiter: All the cocktails are special.
Us: But, you see, it’s our birthday, so we’re looking for something special.
Waiter: Special event doesn’t make the cocktails any better. All the cocktails are special.
Us: Right, okay, it’s just that it’s our birthday so want a special drink.
Waiter: All the cocktails are special.
We were not subtle, and it was pretty awkward. But he eventually cottoned on and brought out some mini hamburgers. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite calculate the tip in line with the waiter’s expectations so he followed us out and asked if there had been a mistake. We all felt guilty and went and gave him extra. Lesson: if you’ve been a bit demanding, always tip generously. I will do another post on tipping soon because it’s a fascinating and strange and highly annoying world.
And to top off the day: Pippin.
Pippin is a much under-appreciated and very beautiful early work of the great composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pocohontas, Godspell, The Prince of Egypt, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It’s about Pippin, the son mediaeval king Charlemagne on a classic “hero’s journey”, feeling he is destined for greatness and trying to find it in all the wrong places.
But it is more than a simple “coming of age” story: the whole thing is witnessed – and sometimes, meddled with – by a troupe of players, helmed by the Leading Player, a kind of ringmaster (an aspect brought to the fore in this circus-inspired production), and is a meta-theatrical masterpiece. Each aspect of Pippin’s journey is introduced in the first song, Magic To Do, which also is very aware of its own theatricality:
“We’ve got magic to do
Just for you
We’ve got miracle plays to play
We’ve got parts to perform
Hearts to warm
Kings and things to take by storm
As we go along our way”
It’s dark and compelling and sexy, with a classic Broadway sound and incredible performances from some extremely talented carnies (seriously, some of the cast were 5th-generation theatre folk), and there was all kinds of clever staging, contortion, balancing, tumbling and trapeze.
I laughed and cried, gave a standing ovation IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SHOW, and couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever witnessed on stage. It was the perfect way to finish the day: next birthday has a LOT to live up to.