Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sneak Peek: The Hyatt Times Square

by Louise, Director of Operations

One of the best parts of my job is going and touring the hotels of NYC, which I would most likely never get to see otherwise. As an avid traveler, I can’t help but think about what choices I would make if I were a visitor to the city I call home. It’s always a treat to let tempting new hotels like the Hyatt Times Square (scheduled to open December 3rd) capture my imagination.

We toured the almost-completed hotel yesterday and I must say I’m extremely excited to start sending people there!

hyattts3First of all, let’s talk about the location. This is where so many visitors – especially first time visitors! – want to be: in the heart of Times Square. On 45th between 6th and Broadway, you are about as “in the heart” as you can get. So much so that when we made our first stop on the tour – the soon-to-be rooftop lounge on the 53rd floor – the view in every direction was striking. The first thing that caught my attention was the view of the New Years Eve ball – one of the best such views I’ve ever seen in person. While the lounge won’t be open in time for the 2014 ball drop, you can bet this will be THE place to ring in 2015.hyattts1 And thanks to the southern view of the Freedom Tower and the eastern view of the Chrysler Building, as well as the surrounding view of Times Square, I’m willing to bet that it will be popular year round starting from its tentative opening date February of 2014. Our tour guide specified that it will be a lounge atmosphere rather than a club atmosphere, which was welcome news for someone like myself who prefers quiet ambience over noisy parties.

Once we were done taking in the views we headed down to take a look at some of the rooms. The Hyatt will be a large hotel with nearly 500 rooms available, but it’s also a tall and narrow hotel, meaning that you won’t be navigating cavernous hallways for several minutes to find your room. In fact, each floor has only 11 rooms located down a single hallway. So even though the hotel is huge, you can still enjoy something of a boutique experience.

hyattts5The rooms themselves are fantastic – averaging 364 square feet (hyattts6well above average for NYC hotels), with a plethora of options to combine rooms for larger families. It’s always a challenge to visit New York City with a family with more than two children, and this will be a perfect spot to do so! The rooms are stylishly designed, with some fun touches like hyattts4these little balloon animal statues that I really enjoyed, along with practical touches like a bar in the shower to place your feet on while you shave your legs, and several different lighting settings easily controlled by buttons next to the bed.

In addition to a future rooftop hotspot and excellent rooms, the Hyatt Times Square will also include one of the only full service spas in Times Square – a 4000 square foot facility with individual and couple treatment rooms, a blowout bar, and manicure/pedicure stations. It is open to the public, so even if you can’t stay at the hotel you can still partake in the excellent location whether prepping for night out in NYC or recovering from one.

The hotel will also feature a large, state-of-the-art gym with an impressive array of equipment, and an on-site diner-style restaurant in the lobby with a bar attached.

By now I hope you are as excited as I am! If you are planning to book a trip to NYC in the coming months, be sure to e-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com for information on the Hyatt Times Square and other fantastic NYC options. I’m looking forward to living vicariously through you when you visit our city!

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“The Great Comet…” is splendid

by Louise, Director of Operations

greatcomet1“Immersive” is becoming a more and more widely-used term in the theater community, although the definition may not be fully recognized by say, spell check. But anyone who attends the theater often knows that immersive shows are on the rise. Sleep No More – the four story, nothing-off-limits, Macbeth-inspired experience that has made its home in Chelsea for nearly two years is perhaps the most ubiquitous (read our review here), and this week I attended another that I hope will be part of the NYC theater landscape for a long time: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.

At first glance, Kazino – the temporary structure built especially to accommodate the show – looks somewhat like a circus tent. As my friend and I stood outside in the surprise 30 degree weather, waiting for the doors to open, she even remarked “I hope it’s heated in there.” Any fears quickly dissipated when we were ushered into the space, a cozy supper club atmosphere with cabaret tables set up around the perimeter and long platforms on either side. We were served borscht and ordered drinks. The venue offers a full bar and an assortment of shareable dishes, but there is absolutely no requirement to order anything, and there are several complimentary snacks served throughout the show. (Pro tip: if you check in on Foursquare you also get a free shot of vodka.)

greatcomet2The show begins with a fantastic fourth-wall-busting opening number, where the cast introduces themselves, gives a quick overview of each main character, and reminds you that the show is based on War & Peace, which is “a complicated Russian novel,” and “everyone has nine names.” The actors pick up programs and show you that it includes a synopsis and a “family tree” showing how the characters relate to each other, and encourages you to use these resources so you don’t get lost, concluding with “We appreciate it, thanks a lot!”

Throughout the show the actors are all over the space, on both side platforms and between the two rows of cabaret tables. You do need to keep turning your head to see all the action, but you definitely also feel a part of it all, and will occasionally interact with one of the cast members, which is of course what makes it an immersive experience. I even got to bring home a flirty note that was passed to me by a handsome gentleman during the second act.

greatcomet4As for the plot, it may seem intimidating and cumbersome to go to a show based on War & Peace (although it makes no claims about telling the entire 1440 page tale and bills itself as being based upon the “scandalous slice” of the story), but at its core it is really just a story about a young girl behaving foolishly with her heart, and who among us can’t relate to that?

greatcomet3The show has an extremely talented cast, even with many of them being relatively new on the scene. The lead actress Phillipa Soo blew all of our minds with her expressive acting and gorgeous voice, and male lead David Abeles was compelling and enchanting as well. Every supporting player was fun to watch right down to the ensemble, and they all did such a wonderful job interacting with the audience without making it awkward for anyone, which is no small feat. Besides the opening number, several other songs really stuck out for me, but my favorite was Sonya Alone, a lament in the second act sung by Natasha’s cousin as she wonders how to keep her dear friend from making a terrible mistake. The closing number is similarly gorgeous, and leaves you wishing you could have a few moments of quiet reflection before having to spill out on to the busy Times Square streets.

If you’re old hat at theater, or just want to see something interesting and out of the ordinary, this is the show to consider this holiday season. Currently the show is scheduled to run through January 5th but I sure hope it will be around for longer! Feel free to e-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com with questions or for help with tickets.

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Billie Holiday’s Stories Come to Life

by Ebony, Concierge

ladyday1Last week I had the awesome opportunity to see the off Broadway play “Lady Day” the musical story of the legendary Billie Holiday. She is best known for her famous jazz standards such as “Strange Fruit”, “Lady Sings The Blues”, “Love Me and Leave Me” and much more. The show stars jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater who I must say did an outstanding job. Her rendition of the classic songs mixed with her jazz influenced voice simply blew the audience away.

Although it is known that Billie Holiday had a troubled life dealing with failed relationships and drug addiction, the play begins by telling the audience why her life became the way it had. It’s amazing to see Dee Dee Bridgewater’s transformation from the grown Billie Holiday to the little 10 year old child and witness the traumatizing life she lived. As quickly as she transitioned to a little girl she bounced right back into an adult and would break into a song.

ladyday2The small cast includes herself, her band members and her manager who stepped into character well. There were a few scenes that stood out, one of them in particular was when she told the story of being banned from performing in the US. The lights grew dim while her band played softly and was drowned out into the darkness. The scene was written with so much detail that you can just visualize everything she is saying as if it were happening right before your eyes. She talks about having to escape out of her home town of Philadelphia while being chased by police. The most interesting part is she fled by car when she’d never even driven before. It’s a famous story, but the way they told it made it brand new again. Once she was banned from working in the US, she found herself performing in London, all the while yearning to perform in NY again before she died, a dream that never happened.

ladyday3In one of the play’s highlights, Billie Holiday appeared in a bedazzled white dress. The lighting was white with hints of midnight blue. Billie was so intoxicated, however, she was determined to put on a great show for her fans and actually delivered fantastically. She sang her most popular hits and told the stories behind them, which I will not share with you least I spoil it for you.

I would suggest this play to folks who were around in Billie Holiday’s era or who grew up with her music. The music drives the production, there is not much acting in her story, however, the music tells it all. So be prepared to be entertained by the blues.

It’s not the happiest musical out there, but certainly one of the most memorable, so be prepared for a few uncomfortable and tear jerking moments.

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A Night Full of Laughter

by Jared, Concierge

12thnight1Although English professors are loath to admit it, Shakespeare is a tough sell to modern audiences.  For those who can get past the sometimes arcane language of his plays, there is the problem of the overwhelming familiarity many people have with the material.  Shakespeare’s plays, especially his more popular ones like the mistaken-identity comedy Twelfth Night, are performed so often that it can be difficult for any new production to stand out.

The latest incarnation of Twelfth Night, currently playing to full houses at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, has decided to draw its inspiration from the staging traditions of Shakespeare’s day.  This revival features an all-male cast, just as it would have in Elizabethan England, along with period-appropriate costumes and an intentionally spare production design to match.  Yet rather than making the play feel like a stuffy museum piece, these choices have illuminated the text in new and exciting ways, resulting in one of the most hilarious and accessible stagings of Shakespeare I have seen in a long time.

For those who have forgotten their high school English Lit, the heroine of Twelfth Night is Viola, who lost her twin brother at sea and has washed ashore in Illyria.  In search of employment, she disguises herself as a young man named Cesario and goes to work for the Duke Orsino.  The Duke has fallen madly in love with the Countess Olivia, who is in mourning over the death of her brother and refuses to see any suitors.  The Duke sends “Cesario” (really Viola) to woo Olivia in his place, but instead Olivia falls head over heels in love with Cesario/Viola.  Shenanigans and hilarity ensue.

One problem I often have with Shakespeare’s comedies is that they never seem particularly funny, often due to the actors focusing so hard on making the poetic text comprehensible to modern ears.  This is not a problem here; the actors have such a handle on the language that they are able to color their performances with all kinds of comedic mannerisms and quirks, which snowball into an ever-increasing ridiculousness that will have you doubled-over in laughter.  Yet the play is also surprisingly accessible and easy to follow (no mean feat given the layers of mistaken identity and cross-dressing), so that you can actually enjoy the play rather than get caught up in the details of decoding the plot (there is also a helpful synopsis in the program that those unfamiliar with the play may want to read beforehand).

Althou12thnight2gh he does not have the leading role, the star of this production is undoubtedly two-time Tony-winner Mark Rylance as the grieving Olivia, who gives a performance for the ages.  Whereas most actors choose to emphasize Olivia’s regal qualities, Rylance has turned her into an hilariously childish woman prone to temper-tantrums and the hurling of objects.  Rylance milks every bit of comedic potential out of this supporting role, from the bizarre shuffling gait of her walk to her incredibly overt flirtation with Cesario/Viola.  Rylance’s stunningly physical performance sees him throwing himself (and his gorgeous black gown) on the ground and over furniture, and even wielding a battle-axe in one of the evening’s best sight gags.  And while Rylance’s interpretation certainly differs from the norm, it is fully supported by the play’s text and his character’s actions.

O12thnight4ther standouts include Paul Chahidi as Olivia’s devilishly clever handmaiden Maria and Colin Hurley has Olivia’s drunken cousin Sir Toby Belch.  Together these two comic masterminds drive the play’s B-plot as they scheme to bring Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (an excellent Stephen Fry) down to size.  The Malvolio subplot has always been Twelfth Night’s most overtly funny, and it remains a highlight here, especially once Maria and Toby convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him.

12thnight3In every instance, the decision to stage this production using the conventions of Shakespeare’s time illuminates new complexities and comedic potential in one of the Bard’s most enduring comedies.  The cast is top notch, as is the starkly beautiful production design (especially the elaborate Elizabethan garb of costume designer Jenny Tiramani).  This is Shakespeare for the masses, losing the pretension that so often plagues productions of his work in favor of a contemporary and relevant reexamination of the play.  Serious theatre buffs owe it to themselves to see this wonderful revival, and parents looking to expose their preteen and teenage children to some culture may be surprised at just how much the kids enjoy it.  For anyone looking for some laughs, this Twelfth Night is highly recommended.

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