Midtown ‘n’ Motown

photo 1-1“MAROON 5 IS COMING.”



I’m sitting smack dab in the middle of Times Square reading Double Indemnity by James M. Cain at one of those little red tables waiting for my mom to arrive. Every now and then, in the corner of my left eye, a flashy marquee of all of the artists who will be appearing at the VMAs the following night seizes and blinks. In the corner of my right eye is the rear chunk of a Walgreen’s that I will later go to fruitlessly in search of a bathroom.1

At a table in the dead center of my eyesight is a handsome man who’s totally doing the whole “backpack around Europe” thing in reverse. I can tell he’s European the moment he sits down because he has four or five huge bags with him, he’s alone and he looks upon the hordes of passerby with a casual smile. A few minutes after he sits down, though, he asks a tourist to take a picture of him with Times Square (and me awkwardly on the phone with my dad) behind him. Suddenly, his stoic cover is blown.

An elderly black man sits down at his table at one point. He turns his seat away from the European man, sticking to the ubiquitous stranger-danger barrier people always wear around the city. But within minutes, the black man can’t help but jovially ask the European man where he’s from and what he’s doing in the city. A couple minutes of friendly conversation ensues between the two, and then the black man picks up and ambles away with his own bags.

The whole time, I’m “reading,” partly absorbing the post-murder fallout that happens midway through Double Indemnity, partly being absorbed by the sea of languages that surround me.

There are fewer feelings peculiar than that of the one that comes when you’re reading a mystery novel in the heart of Times Square on a Saturday morning with no immediate sense of urgency.

Especially when that particular part of Manhattan was part of what made me fall in love with New York City in the first place. It’s what made me throw my NYC-inspired sweet 16 back in ’08, and it’s a place I always dragged my mom to when it came time for the holidays.

Before I  moved here, I was a bit worried that 1) I would not fall in love with Brooklyn the same way I fell in love with Manhattan, and 2) I would fall out of love with Manhattan.

The first one has certainly happened, but in a good way. Brooklyn is SO different from Manhattan, which is definitely stating the obvious. Granted, I still haven’t seen every part of Brooklyn yet and I’m not sure if I ever will, but all of the parts I’ve seen so far have been pretty great. I never realized how truly large and diverse Brooklyn is; how it’s harder to get from some parts of Brooklyn to other parts of Brooklyn than it is to get from some parts of Brooklyn to some places in Manhattan. I love how it feels like my neighborhood in Williamsburg is just that: a neighborhood. And it’s not rush-rush-rush all the time, because otherwise that would be terribly exhausting.

I haven’t fallen out of love with Manhattan, either, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s a love-hate relationship that I can only compare to drinking a large caramel frappuccino with whipped cream and caramel drizzle on top.

Actually, no. That’s not it. I was going to say that I thoroughly enjoy it while I’m consuming it and then afterwards I hate myself a little bit. I can’t honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy pushing my way through crowds of people who stop and take pictures every thirty seconds and run over poor unassuming pedestrians with their strollers and then look at them like they’re in the wrong for not darting out of the way.

Maybe it’s the opposite?

No. Maybe it’s like drinking a caramel frappuccino that wasn’t blended properly by the barista and every now and then, as you sip in the sweet and salty goodness, you get little chunks of ice that jolt you a bit and remind you that nothing can be blissfully perfect all the time.

Yeah, that’s the best comparison I could come up with (for now).

photo 2Anyway, Motown the Musical was wonderful, although there were a few things that gave me pause.

One was the fact that there was a little girl sitting behind me with her parents. I applauded them for exposing her not only to Broadway in general but “black” (and I use that term very broadly) music itself. Before the show started, the mom quizzed her on which songs she knew. I was impressed.

The only thing that was kind of frustrating was the fact that the mom thought it was a good idea to explain everything that was going on in the show—as it happened. So when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and Marvin Gaye was crooning “What’s Going On” in the background of what was probably the most politically charged part of the entire show, I had to deal with this going on in the row behind me:

Little girl: “What happened? Why is everyone shouting and angry?”

Mom: “Because a man’s life was taken, honey.”

Little girl: “But why was his life taken?

Mom: “They didn’t want him around anymore.”

Little girl: “Why not?”

(“Because people were ignorant and racist back then, and people are still ignorant and racist today, and people will probably always will be ignorant and racist. This is the world we live in and this is the world you are inheriting, so enjoy your innocence while you can.”)2

That’s what I wanted to say as the music grew into a crescendo and the looting, crying, terrified ensemble joined Marvin in “What’s Going On.”

Funnily enough, however, the mom did not explain the N-word when it was said. She might as well have while she was at it—get it all out in the open. It wouldn’t have been any more awkward than moving my head slightly left and seeing the little girl’s face right literally two centimeters away from mine.

Another weird thing that I hate to admit was weird but it kind of was at first, was the casting of Marvin Gaye himself. Now, I am totally open to colorblind casting, and actors and actresses should not be picked by the color of their skin. Usually.

But there’s something about Motown that makes me feel like the actors and actresses—at least, the main characters—should have been of some kind of black (I use that loosely) descent. Not really sure why, but it might have something to do with the fact that it’s a play that’s very much about the role of African-Americans in pop culture in the sixties through the eighties and the changing notions of “black pride.” It wasn’t anything like Wicked or Chicago where race isn’t really a big driving force of the plot,

(Note: I’d like to think that I would feel this way about any play whose driving force has anything to do with race/ethnicity.  Furthermore, it made me wonder if there were absolutely no qualified African-American males who wanted to play Marvin Gaye on Broadway. I mean, seriously? Something to look into.)

That being said, I bought into it relatively quickly—although Mom cried “Oh, I DON’T THINK SO” at the top of her lungs when he tried to do one of Marvin Gaye’s signature dance moves3, sending me shrinking into my seat in utter mortification. If anyone would know how someone trying to imitate Marvin Gaye should act, it’s my mom, since I’ve heard stories about her seeing him live with my dad back in the day. Apparently to my mom having the facial hair, the build, and being attractive isn’t convincing enough.

I would strongly suggest this show to any Motown fan, because it’s always fun seeing old classics performed in person and not just via YouTube. It even made me think of seeing tribute concerts—not the ones who claim to be The “Real” Temptations or The “Real” Supremes, but the ones who are fully aware that they are not really the group they are impersonating (even if one of the members lived next door to David Ruffin’s ex-wife’s niece’s fiance’s landlord’s cousin twice removed). It’s always fun seeing guy and girl groups with coordinated dance moves in nice suits and dresses singing pretty harmonies and all that jazz.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I was born in the wrong decade.

1This could have been a blog post itself, but when Walgreen’s didn’t have a bathroom I ended up at a McDonald’s, whose restrooms were public. I went in and saw there was a line. There were only three stalls, and one wasn’t working.

I’m waiting for a few seconds, and then the woman in front of me starts blabbering about how she’s going to sh*t herself because she’s been waiting so long. I smile politely, a bit taken aback, and then I humor her: “What’d you eat, so I know not to eat it too?”

I know. I’m hokey.

She’d only had strawberry shortcake and coffee, though, which demonstrated (and she pointed this out to me so you can’t call me out on old-people-hating) that she is in fact, getting old.

Meanwhile, the whole time I’m hoping that I don’t get in the stall behind her.

2Of course, I would never say such a thing to a child. I’m not that heartless. But seriously, she was all up in my personal space.
3The signature dance move is at about :57, if you were curious.

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One thought on “Midtown ‘n’ Motown

  1. […] them all. Not only do I appreciate them, but I embrace them. I talk to them. I humor them (see: the strawberry shortcake incident from my last post in the McDonald’s restroom). I assess the situation before I respond, of […]


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