Once in a while, it’s important to go out of your comfort zone; to pursue those things you’ve always dreamed of doing when you get the chance. For me, that opportunity came in the form of a spontaneous solo New York trip.
Here’s some context; I’ve used my time really productively this year. And by that, I mean that I’ve let my musical theatre obsession grow dramatically (pun intended). Two new musicals have really stood out to me this season: Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. The latter even inspired me to read all 1,350 pages of War and Peace, the show’s source material.
Both of these shows will eventually tour around the country, landing in LA and Orange County. The chance to see them with original casts and staging, however, is totally unique to Broadway. At this point in my life, I’m lucky enough to have time and money to spare, so I started flirting with the idea of traveling to New York. I scoured Broadway chat boards for information on procuring cheap tickets, found an affordable round-trip flight, and discovered a cozy Airbnb in Times Square. Everything was coming together.
I’d been to New York only once before, tagging along with my mom for a work conference at age four. I had faint memories of visiting Central Park and maybe going to a museum? Other than that, my only experience with NYC came from movies and TV shows. I was essentially replicating the weekend trips from my time studying abroad: traveling to a totally new city, figuring out the public transportation, and making the most of a very short amount of time.
I left from California around 6:00 AM on Tuesday and arrived in New York at 5:30 PM (thanks, time zones). From there, I immediately headed to the Music Box Theater, home of Dear Evan Hansen. Thanks to its popularity and success at the Tony Awards, the show has been completely sold out for months. My only hope was to wait in line for Standing Room Only tickets, a bargain at $42 instead of the usual $200+ seats. I got to the theater at 7:30 PM with all my stuff, preparing to wait overnight for the box office opened at 10:00 AM the next day.
When a group of people come together who all geek out over the same Broadway musical, a sense of camaraderie forms instantly. Many of these new friends had done Standing Room for other shows, and they had awesome stories to share. One of the girls next to me worked as a stage manager; another was a journalism major who got to interview Broadway stars. The hours flew by as we sat and talked. I met people from Chicago, Utah, Toronto, and even London, all of us brought to this glittering city by the mutual love of theatre.
That night, a miracle happened. It turns out that the day before, the Music Box Theater had switched its Standing Room policy. Since the change was so new, few people knew about it, and most didn’t line up until 10 or 11 PM. At approximately 12:15 AM, a security guard came to hand out wristbands. Each of them were numbered according to our position in line; I was number four. We all wrote our names in order on a clipboard and were told to return the next morning at 10:00 AM to buy our tickets from the box office.
The next morning I woke up bright and early, eager to begin my day of exploring the Big Apple. I savored a delicious bagel with lox and a rich cup of coffee, then meandered back to the Music Box Theater. Reuniting with my newfound friends was fun, but tinged with nervous energy as well. Some of the Standing Room tickets are allocated to friends of the cast and crew, and it’s impossible to predict how many will be left over each day. As it turned out, there were plenty of tickets left over for the matinee, but only 5 or 6 available for the evening show.
My body jittered with caffeine and excitement as I stood in line. “I’d like a ticket for the mezzanine… I mean, matinee,” I stammered to the box office attendant. She smiled wordlessly and printed out my ticket. Seeing the words “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Nicole Kennedy” on the same ticket stub was a dream come true. I was in!! All my friendly neighbors from the Standing Room line got tickets too, and we hugged and rejoiced together. Happy tears were shed. It was a truly magical, euphoric moment.
I still had a few hours to kill, so after saying goodbye to my new friends, I started walking through Times Square towards Rockefeller Center. After slightly getting lost in its vast array of boutiques and cafes, I picked up a nice salad and took it to Central Park for a picnic. The juxtaposition of nature and skyscrapers was beautiful; it reminded me of my days jogging through Hyde Park in London.
Dear Evan Hansen was amazing. Ben Platt’s remarkable performance has been well documented, so I’ll just say this: I hardly cry at anything, but I was absolutely bawling by the end of the show. The Music Box Theater is a fairly intimate space, so even from my Standing Room “seat” in the back of the house, I could see the actors’ faces up close as they performed. As Evan sings in Act 2, “Words Fail.” I simply cannot put into words how amazing it was to see this show.
After the show, I flailed around Times Square for a couple hours, window-shopping in department stores and gift shops. It reminded me of a cross between Piccadilly Circus and Hollywood Boulevard: touristy, loud, and very claustrophobic. When I ran into a guy wearing a creepy Trump mask, I knew it was time to get out of there. So before seeing Great Comet, I found respite in a dive bar, where I enjoyed a pint and an old issue of The New Yorker (as one does in New York).
Thankfully, I’d bought my Great Comet tickets beforehand, so the experience of getting to that show was much smoother. The atmosphere was breathtaking from the moment I walked through the door; Comet‘s Tony-winning scenic design transforms the Imperial Theater into a uniquely immersive environment. Every seat offers a completely different experience. I was way back in the cheap seats, but it still felt very intimate. Ensemble members danced through every aisle passing out letters and pierogis. I even “cheersed” with one actress during one of the lively dance numbers, tapping my vodka soda against her empty shot glass. Hearing Josh Groban perform live was transcendent. The score, composed by the amazing Dave Malloy with original text from War and Peace, came alive with a vast array of musical genres. I don’t think I stopped smiling once.
After the show, I immediately went to the stagedoor and met some of the amazing cast members. Everyone was super friendly and down-to-earth, happy to sign programs and chat with us. I’ve heard horror stories about fans being really pushy and rude at stagedoors, but the people around me were all super respectful. There was a bit more of a flurry when Josh Groban came out, but everyone still remained calm and kind. Normally Josh stops to take selfies with fans and have more substantive conversations, but that night he had another commitment afterwards, so he wasn’t able to stay for quite as long. I was fortunate enough to get his autograph and a couple blurry photos.
Between the jet lag, excitement, and uncomfortable sofa bed in my Airbnb, sleeping that night was almost impossible. I only got a couple hours before my alarm woke me up at 5:30 AM, signaling the start of my journey home. It was a super short trip, but I’d seen two amazing shows and seen some of my favorite actors perform up-close… I was a happy camper.
This trip has instilled in me a greater love for live theatre and a better understanding of New York. One day, I hope to go back there for longer. I want to see Brooklyn, the Upper East Side, more of Central Park, and all of the amazing libraries and museums. For now, however, I will cherish the memory of this wonderful trip, and hold steadfastly to the confidence I’ve gained from planning it myself.