There are two distinctive camps in this world… Those who claim LA as their own, making their selling point the near-perfect weather and then there are those who prefer the energy of a city like Manhattan, one that embodies the moniker of ‘making it here, making it anywhere’ to a custom fit Thomas Pink T. For me, I was always most comfortable being a ‘big city’ dweller, as growing up on Chicago’s Gold Coast made me not only worldly-wise from a young age, but the kind of kid who could move and shake with the best of them. I enjoyed the speed at which a city moved and always connected with New Yorkers as sort of long-lost relatives… Very fast talking, somewhat angry relatives who said ‘fuck’ and smoked a lot.
There is a certain charm about Manhattan- For me, it’s also an unspoken respect for those who can live in the city, make lives and thrive amongst day to day intensity that NYC brings. I admire that, but don’t always want it for myself. It’s one of the many charmed things about life I have come to appreciate: I can visit the city in a style that I enjoy, but scurry back to a quieter life when I’m sick of the pointless noise. Best of both worlds, ol’ sport. The key to life.
Los Angeles was always a city we made fun of growing up in Chicago- A prefabricated, silicone-perfect city of sprawling suburb, near-constant traffic and incestuously obsessed with the film industry. When Steve Martin’s LA Story hit movie theaters, I thought it to be a perfect representation of what I figured daily life was in that city… Along with the stereotypes I was fed by watching Troop Beverly Hills. Let me now introduce you to Phyllis Nefler:
… You’d think that with all of those fancy 90210-based salons, Shelly Long’s character wouldn’t have had that hideous looking red hair. The first time I saw that movie, I secretly wished they had stolen some of that Wilderness Girl cookie money they raised and put it towards fixing her color.
In spending an inordinate amount of time in LA this year, it’s clear perception isn’t always reality and breaking down the stereotypes about the City of Angels has been an enjoyable thing for me. I’ve met a fantastic group of now-friends who have shown me some incredible things, changed my views of Southern California and given me hope that life does exist in that town past the movie industry.
All of that being said, it’s a nice segue to having spent time in each place, back to back, this last month. Manhattan provided a regular experience to catch up on a few Broadway shows and see how the rehab of the old Rihga Royal (now, The London hotel) went. For midtown, the rooms are gigantic (550-600 sq ft min) and if you’re into reality show cooking, they’ve got the flagship outpost of Gordon Ramsey in NYC. While I didn’t sit for a meal, I did cozy up to Gordo’s bar one night and attempt to drink myself into a slight stupor… Only sadly, at $25 a cocktail, my love of expensive gin clashed with a Loehmann’s sensibility. A slight buzz and a $100 tab is never a good thing. It’s like drinking Korbel- It’s fun while you’re doing it, but the hangover reminds you why cheap champagne is very naughty.
The rooms at The London are indeed large, but it was clear that the one thing they didn’t upgrade was the HVAC systems. The whole hotel felt a bit stuffy. Thankfully, they aren’t one of those hotels that expects guests to depressedly hurl themselves onto 5th Avenue, so you can easily open room windows and get a nice cross-breeze going. Great gym, but if it’s not to your liking, you’re literally steps from 5 other big-box clubs, so it’s not a deal breaker. Small lobby, but it’s charming and allows the staff to really keep track of who’s coming and going. The doormen all wear Sinatra-like fedoras… A nice, if not a bit kitschy, touch.
Okay, let’s get right to the meat & potatoes: Jekyll & Hyde, now closed after a whopping span of 30 performances, deserved this swift death in what is an incredibly competitive season on Broadway. While I hate to think of perfectly fine actors out of the job, I shudder to think that Constantine Maroulis was inflicting that performance on unsuspecting audiences 8x a week at the Marquis. I’m almost certain his voice was violating an OSHA regulation somewhere. If Shakespeare were alive today and had Ben Brantley’s job, he’d probably say it was a loud sound, signified nothing and the leads should be immediately chloroformed and hogtied (little known fact: Bill Shakespeare was into kink). It’s rare that I find so little redeeming value in a performance, but this version of Jekyll & Hyde took away anything subtle, emotional honesty and the soaring vocals that made the original broadway cast stars (Robert Cuccolli, Linda Eder, Christiane Noll) truly amazing. This wasn’t a broadway show… This was American Idol-style screaming and total lack of connection with the material. What’s most sad is that my favorite sung Jekyll/Hyde, Anthony Warlow, is currently performing just across the street at the Palace in Annie. At intermission, I had fantastical visions of Warlow storming the theatre, bitch-slapping Maroulis with his handful of Daddy Warbucks rings and finishing out the act.
Sadly, this did not happen. Like syphilis, Constantine came back.
Second show, better experience: Nice Work with a now-comfortable Matthew Broderick and a replacement female lead, Jessie Mueller. I had seen this show over a year ago while it was in previews and while I didn’t dislike it, I thought the source material (Gershwin music) was too good for such a simple finished product. What a difference a year makes… The show is now tight, running like a well-oiled machine and is truly one of the most entertaining nights in a Broadway theatre I’ve had in a long time. Mueller has the perfect combo of comedy timing, vocals and dance ability, making it all appear just so effortless. Broderick once again employs his wide-eyed, oddball schmuck routine that he used in The Producers, but it works well for this. He’s charming, charmingly weird, light on his feet and sings with gusto. The set and lighting are lush. Most importantly is the sound design, which in a barn like the Imperial, can get mushy pretty damned quickly (as it did with the long-running Billy Elliott). Here, it’s clean, easily understood and balanced. All in all, impressive.
LA was going through what felt like a heat wave this past week, with temps passing the 95 degree mark and me feeling like I was squarely in the summer months of South Texas. I usually arrange for a car to be left for me at LAX so I can come in and go as I need to, ultimately not wanting people to have to shlep all the way out to the airport to pick me up. Traffic in that town is something you plan for, quietly fear and attempt to work around. I had asked for something that could fit two pieces of luggage and that wasn’t too flashy: What I got was this person’s version of a joke… A brand new candy-apple red Ferrari FF. Sure, it would get me primo parking with any Los Angeles valet, but how in the hell was I going to fit in a mid-sized roller bag in this thing? Thankfully, it was a hardtop convertible, so once I got things folded down, I was able to pile the luggage into the passenger seat. It all looked positively ridiculous, me driving through Beverly Hills next to a bag that looked as large as a passenger.
I was elated to be staying at Hotel Bel Air, recently out of a two-year, $100+ million renovation. Having been there many times before, it was fantastic to see this legendary property polish up what made it great in the first place. While it’s not the most central location in the city, it’s one of the most private hotels in LA where each room is its own bungalow. The whole property is set inside of what appears to be a lush park and the landscaping alone must have cost a small fortune. Great service, all F&B handled by Wolfgang Puck and far enough away to attract a celebrity clientele, but keep out the paparazzi.
Ate a few times at the new Nobu in Malibu (seen above): Typically delicious and the design of the new location is stunning. It’s right on the beach, so close in fact that you can hear the waves crash as you’re pounding down some sake. I ended up eating my weight in their signature Sea Bass, drinking far too much Nigori and then making conversation with Larry David, who was sitting at the table next to mine. He seemed nice… And almost as tipsy as me at that point.
I added new images to my main galleries, including one new shot that’s about as close to baring it all as it gets. Needless to say, I’m having tons of fun with these snapshots and hope everyone else is too. Head over and check them out, as summertime is nearly here and that means I’m usually wearing very little more than a smile these days. Twitter continues to pick up followers and I continue to photoblog daily, sharing some of the more interesting moments of my travels. Just click on the buttons below for a smorgasbord of BN-based goodness… I’ve also finally gotten a new, completely anonymous way to Q&A me. With Formspring having shuttered, this new site is a free, quick and easy way to ask me whatever might be on your mind. ASK BN is back!
Be well wonderful readers. Wishing you always the safest and best,