Blair takes on New York

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“Tina” finale. Adrienne Warren has THE LEGS!

I recently read where “transformational travel” is the new way to experience all trips; “all travel should empower people to make changes in their lives — to find yourself or lose yourself.  It’s a philosophy.” Really? Isn’t it just a way of marketing vacations?

So, I (who hate all travel and read in some philosophy book that the three things that drain your strength are travel, sin, and anxiety) decided to come to New York with “transformation” in my mind.  Even though getting to and from the airport and through the security line is enough of a live or die transform for me.

I kicked off my arrival with the shaking of the “lulav and esrog” (amongst the needle dicks).

My editor David Patrick Columbia warned me to “pay attention” to the city streets since people are slamming into each other distracted by their devices, and the city bikers (and delivery bikers) will hit you and leave you flattened in the bike lanes.  Not to mention people complaining of late how out of it they all feel with dizziness and loopiness from the world’s state of “existential angst”… better known as “free floating anxiety.”

On my flight into Newark I ironically sat next to the CEO of my favorite marijuana dispensary, who was engrossed in his 3 devices (never mind CBD or THC gummies for inflight fear).  He was consumed with his iPhone for games, his laptop for business spreadsheets and his iPad for whichever Netflix streaming series that more closely resembles porn than drama.  What a way to fly!

I got to my hotel in a raging rainstorm and a friend delivered a “lulav and esrog” (a celebration bundle of plants and citrus fruit) you wave at the completion of the Jewish New Year for good luck.  So, I shook it on the hotel balcony, and it disintegrated immediately, but so did the downpour.

Not bad for the opening of a transformational travel event.


Touching down at the Plaza Athénée.
Lunar view of sunrise from my balcony.

I came to New York to see the new hit show “Tina” based on Tina Turner.  I was an “Ikette for a Day” for Esquire in 1975 and I was curious how theatre would cover Tina.  After all, she was already done as a hit book and movie (my Esquire article will rerun here soon).


Faded Polaroid of the author on the Esquire Tina story; Esquire Tina cover shot by Mike Salisbury.
Faded Polaroids of Tina rehearsing and ME rehearsing with Tina.

As for the Broadway production, I found Adrienne Warren to be better than the real Tina (like Hugh Jackman was better than the real Peter Allen in “Boy from Oz”).  Not that Tina isn’t great – of course she is monumental and very raw and raucous in person.  But Warren embodied Tina for a solid 3 hours and that in itself is a Force of Nature.  The energy you need to do that performance is overwhelming (7 performances a week!)


ADRIENNE WARREN embodies Tina Turner!

The scene of her recording “River Deep – Mountain High” with the “Wall of Sound” music producer Phil Spector was riveting and the last ten minutes of the “Simply the Best” concert reenactment with Tina running up and down strobe lit steep stairs in her micro mini, great legs, and stiletto spike heels was iconic to say the least!

HOWEVER!

The show is way too long. Most musicals should be 90 minutes no intermission.  After all, this is a concert/rock bio. All the songs are Tina’s own songbook – no original music.  The cast is strong, and the dancing is authentic to the times (though I found the Ikettes a bit too stylized – being “20 feet from stardom” as a backup dancer/singer you had to be a tough street dancer).


Terrific “Tina “cast and band doing encores.

I don’t see much Broadway anymore, but lately when I do it seems all productions are on a revolving stage.  Perfect in some cases, but overused as a gimmick in a lot.  No doubt it has to do with space but there was a lot of revolving in Tina.

Tina’s story is compelling (like Judy Garland) and therefore every actress who has ever played Tina has been winning simply for the drama of it all. But Warren isn’t merely “imitating” Tina (like Renee Zellweger in the current movie “Judy”).  She truly “transforms” (talk about transformational) into Tina in voice, dance, and speech.

Certainly, Tina Turner herself has a giant piece of the show. And I thought about her love of high-end jewelry and clothes as I passed by all the lobby “merch” with Tina sweatshirts and crappy necklaces and bracelets. Swag was never Tina’s style. But she deserves all the theatrical acclaim and financial benefits of a real tried and true rock and roll survivor. Her story lives on… as does she! And unlike Cher, she is not doing a follow up retirement tour.  She lives The life in Zurich! Over and out.


Tina finale.

I am such a “fan gal” for Yannick Nézet Séguin and the wonders he has done with The Philadelphia Orchestra for the last 7 years. He is also  now the Musical Director of the Metropolitan Opera (replacing the James Levine). He seems to be The Guy to watch in the classical world. And honestly, I have no solid knowledge of classical music other than viewing “Mozart in the Jungle” and watching Yannick in concert.  He is not the “new Leonard Bernstein.” He is simply Yannick – he has his own moves and personality to observe. He seems to conduct with such love for the musicians in front of him. And he transmits the connection from the podium with his fluid hand and baton gestures. Plus, he has great facial expressions and wears interesting scuba jackets and glittered Louboutin loafers. His is not a showboat, but part of a new wave of conducting.


Yannick and Philly orchestra view from Kimmel Hall’s “conductor’s circle “seat.
Yannick’s reaction from podium.

Classical music is changing and clearly Yannick is on the forefront.  But to say he is a “Rockstar” is actually too much of a cliché.  Who knows if he can bring in a younger audience. Although there is another edgy maestro in Siberia, Teodur Currentzis, who is supposedly goth punk and wears black leather motorcycle jackets, boots and skinny jeans while conducting Bach.  Tattoos may soon appear.  I am not sure I am ready for that!

I watched Yannick tear into Mahler’s Symphony #5 at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center Hall.  I was sitting in the “conductors circle” where you face Yannick and become a part of the orchestra.  It is The Best way to see a concert, and you get a direct hit of Yannick’s musicians and music from that full-frontal view!!


Yannick Nézet Séguin conducting in his uniform of white scuba jacket; Yannick thanking the Philly orchestra.
Going headless in his Philly Orchestra final bow.

Later that week I saw my very first Opera at the Met.  It was a momentous weekend for them as they did four major productions (matinee and evening) in 48 hours.  Talk about giant turnovers.  I attended Puccini’s Turandot and figured I’d last one act.  I made it through all three from 8:30 to 11:30 PM and love the Zeffirelli pageantry and whole over-the-top gala.  Yannick was conducting but he was in the pit and frankly I forgot to watch him since there was so much stage action going on. Including a finale of cascading glitter and gold – now this was an event you couldn’t get on Netflix. It topped Disney in every grand way, not to mention the singing of “Nessun Dorma,” the famous aria that Pavarotti made popular in The Three Tenors.


Met Opera intermission snooze.

The opera audience was very different than the Tina crowd.  Very respectful and kind getting in and out of their row seats with two intermissions.  They even slept politely – no snoring.  The only thing I couldn’t get over was the audience stampede at the 11:30 finale.  I wanted to stay for the campy curtain calls, but the masses dashed up the aisles and swept me along with them to get to the subway and waiting Uber cars. It was a long but special night. At least it was a show you couldn’t already or eventually see in Vegas. It’s enough that most of 42nd Street already looks like a bad Vegas Strip. And who is to blame for that? Giuliani?  Bloomberg?  Who cares. The crowds still come.


Finale of Met Opera’s Turandot.

On Monday I met my pal and great art advisor Angela Hudson to do some gallery scouting, but most of the galleries were closed and we got a late start.  So, I suggested she just take me to one unique gallery that would be fun. We landed at Two Palms gallery majoring in prints of newer great artists.


Evelyn Day Lasry, Director of Two Palms Press, and my art advisor Angela Hudson.

I got to see some of Mel Bochner’s colorful fun “word” pieces and even witnessed some “backstage printing” of his newer things.  It did feel fresh and vibrant and Bochner has a message that I found amusing … in color!


L. to r.: Artist Mel Bochner’s colorful print at Two Palms; Another Bochner print at Two Palms – says it all!
Backstage at Two Palms.
Two Palms staff preparing for Bochner print.
The Bochner print palette.
Seen as you leave Two Palms.

From there I literally dragged Angela Hudson to Hudson Yards (Angela is not related to this tortured development) mostly to see the 150-foot-high “connected stairway” structure called The Vessel designed by Thomas Heatherwick. A climbable structure of 2,500 individual steps (for all those maniacal step counters) and 80 landings. Apparently, it is the centerpiece – a new landmark for this downtown community and shopping mall.



“The Vessel.”
“The Vessel” and climbers.

Unfortunately, this is the only “art” I ever got to see – a part of retail environment.  But lately malls (which were once considered the new galleries of taste and style) are becoming extinct.  So, I asked everyone in NYC if they had been to Hudson Yards, and no one has.  Only one couple went to dine at Milos there. And they never went back. It opened last March and so far, I hear not to much acclaim.

I walked into the mall and felt it was like any other marble luxe venue – but more like a midwestern airport.  I did see the doormen were nicely dressed and the bathrooms had long lines to see the unusual (?) sinks and toilet stalls (???).  I left in 9 minutes to see The Vessel which was merely another Instagram backdrop of not much.  One critic called it a giant ribbed cage sex toy.  How perfect for our times.


The entry at Hudson Yards.
Hudson Yards Mall … the same old marble.

Next March an observation deck is supposed to open next to The Vessel called The Edge.  It will be the highest deck in the world.  I wonder if it will beat all the needle dick apartment houses on Central Park South. Skinny tall buildings now mean something in NYC.  I guess you get a view of Connecticut and New Jersey.


My Hotel view of JLo’s needle dick apartment tower.

The same day I was at Hudson Yards, the $5.7 billion American Dream Mall opened in New Jersey’s Marshlands – with the promise of a 16 story indoor ski slope, rollercoaster, waterpark, bunny farm, dog run, 450 retail luxe shops (the same as in Hudson Yards), miniature golf and movie theatres.  No doubt a hotel as well because why would you go to Jersey Swamp to do any of that. And just the thought of all those features, plus the drive and complicated parking paralyzed me.

What were these city developers thinking? I am sure Christmas will bring out the kids to the Dream Mall’s Nickelodeon and Lego Land and real snow slope. But nowadays everyone has a Gucci near them and a Nobu-esque eatery and dog runs are now on the rooftops of a lot of apartment houses. There is even the promise of “drag queen” shows in the mall’s center court. So what? Are we all in such need of a Disneyland “Happiest Place on Earth” at every turn? Are we that sad and desperate? Maybe Bob Iger, not Jeff Bezos can save retail.


Is this the American Dream?

But after America’s Dream Mall experience opens, then what?  We go back to our at-home online shopping and shipping returns.

It seemed odd that on the day Barney’s was still announcing its Bankruptcy, Nordstrom’s opened its new midtown NYC store.  The feeling is Nordstrom’s will make it because it will handle online orders and returns from Kohl’s as well as Macy’s. And its own merchandise is very well curated to be high and low. Everyone loves Nordstrom’s. But who knows?


The end of an era.

All I know is I did go into Barney’s for a lipstick and they were out of it and almost everything. The place felt grim. I think Barney’s era is over. It worked especially well in New York and LA, but it closed everywhere else. Barney’s was The place in a certain time.  That time is gone.  It will probably become a “label” or a pop-up boutique in another store. What doesn’t become a pop-up!

The only thing still happening in retail is Beauty and especially Skincare.  I went into Norma Kamali’s boutique and her customers were more interested in her new skincare line called Normalife (all natural, chemical and fragrance free and easy at $30 – $50) than her popular sleeping bag clothing.  She has a line of four simple products to clean and moisturize your skin.  She was sold out of all her kits the day I was there.


Two skin care “hits” —  Cle de Peau and Norma Kamali’s “Normal Life” line.

Bergdorf’s most popular department is currently their Beauty and Skincare in the basement. When I went, Cle de Peau, the super popular luxury brand using Japan’s cutting-edge science and the French elegance, was having a “face off” event of new products. The counter was 10 women deep and Cle de Peau face “expert” Maria Arena was helping everyone buy their famous serum ($295) and concealer ($70).  I left with samples – “skin transformation” is expensive.

But clearly people are spending less on clothes and more on skin moisturizers.  Makes sense since no one is getting past their black hoodies, sneakers and athleisure gym pants. Not to mention the current trend of Apple EarPods being the one and only piece of jewelry to own.

Even in the popular HBO series “Succession” – the wealthy 1% men looked the best in their $1,500 Moncler puffer jackets and vests and simple Loro Piana cashmere polo sweaters. And they wore these understated chic styles at uptown board meetings.  In fact, the only talk of “fashion” I heard all year were the clothes on “Succession.”


Kendall Roy in his Moncler puffer.

Last Wednesday I walked up a sad and rainy Madison Avenue.  Lots of empty store fronts and mountains of trash bags on every corner. Only The Real Real resale store looked brightly lit and popular. While it is nicely styled inside, the actual clothes simply appeared “old” and “dull” on the hangars. What will this all look like at Thanksgiving with all the UPS, Amazon, and Chewy boxes cascading out from all the apartment lobbies? Will the back-elevator porters and doormen get more money in holiday tips? What about the small “mailrooms” in all those older buildings?


The Real Real Madison Avenue window of used clothes.
The Real Real creed.
Luxe used clothes are still USED.

As for NYC and retail and merchandising, the only storefront I saw that was “happening” were the Urgent Care centers.  I called my stock advisor immediately, maybe we should dump the pot stock and go for the Urgent Care outlets.

How’s that for creating transformational life change from taking a trip?

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