The Music Man, A Straw Hat, and Ellen’s Stardust
If you found yourself in the packed audience of The Music Man, you would never guess that Broadway is experiencing difficulty in luring audiences back into theaters. These theatergoers are voting with their feet despite the hefty price of admission. The Music Man is one of the overall best shows I have seen on Broadway in a decade. Yes, it’s a bit of a chestnut and everyone knows the plot, the songs, the eventual fate of Harold Hill. But this production has Hugh Jackman, and he is electric from a magical appearance in the opening scene to the final bow.
The good news is that the run of the show was extended by a couple of weeks into mid-January, 2023. The bad news is that tickets are scarce, with prices in the stratosphere. But let’s end with more good news. Apparently Jackman has had a custom and talent for raising money for charity whenever he’s on Broadway, beginning years ago with The Boy From Oz. From Playbill:
“Big bucks were raised at a post-show Broadway Cares fundraiser over at The Music Man November 26, with film star (and one-time Broadway alum) Nicole Kidman bidding six figures for Hugh Jackman's straw hat worn during the performance. Kidman's $100,000 donation is the largest-ever single donation from any auction in the history of Broadway Cares, and follows The Music Man's all-time fundraising record of $2,071,806 during the spring campaign earlier this year, according to the theatrical non-profit.
"That’s 20,000 meals and 2,000 doctor visits this holiday season for those living with HIV/AIDS, struggling with COVID-19 or facing other life-threatening challenges," says Broadway Cares.”
More fun? Check out Ellen’s Stardust Diner, “home of the world famous singing waitstaff,” at 1650 Broadway, next door to the Winter Garden Theater where The Music Man is playing. Words almost fail in that you-had-to-be-there sort of way; here’s my best shot. It’s jammed, with a line snaking not just down, but around, the block. The food is ‘50s-themed and while not destination-dining fare, better than you might imagine. Tables are crammed together; an elevated stage/catwalk juts through the crowd on the first floor (because yes, there is a also a balcony.) And . . . the place has a disco ball.
The volume can make your ears bleed (earplugs help) as one waitperson after another—the music never stops—pauses from delivering plates to strut and sing Broadway favorites. Now and then confetti (is it shot from a cannon?) rains down, but it is big pieces of the stuff, so you can more easily clear it out of your hair and your mac and cheese or chicken pot pie. Later as the hat is passed, the restaurant manager announces names of the singing servers who have made their way into actual Broadway productions, some discovered while singing at Ellen’s. And, by the way, the waitstaff performers are talented, and they sing every day and all day from 7:00 am to 12 midnight.
Forever burned into my brain is the spectre of a waitress on the elevated stage belting out a famous song from Wicked, her long hair alternately streaming behind and then fanning out around her head, such special effects supplied by a fellow server below, aiming at her with . . . a leaf blower. At the end of the number, both took a bow.
It’s weird mostly in a good way, maybe a tad touristy, and a big slice of New York City fun.
(Photo, top, by Susan B. Apel. Photo of Ellen’s Stardust Diner by one of my dearest high school pals, Marie Steinmetz.)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.