BWW Review: HOW TO BE A NEW YORKER Amuses Tourists and Natives Alike at Planet Hollywood Times Square
Do you know what a knish is? Can you pronounce Houston Street the way New Yorkers do? How about the way we say "forget about it"?
If you are the member of the audience picked to answer these questions on stage in the newly-opened Screen Room Theater at Planet Hollywood Times Square , you will win a button that says "I Learned How 2BA New Yorker." But everybody gets the button at the end of the show, because everybody's a winner, tourists and natives alike, at this silly, knowing, funny series of skits about the city. The exception might be gourmets.After a year in a theater downtown, writers and performers Margaret Copeland and Kevin James Doyle have brought their hour-long show to the Crossroads of the World - or anyway a cross between Disney World and Escape from New York; which is to say, Times Square. "How to Be A New Yorker" has taken up residence Fridays and Saturdays in what looks like a small private dining room off the cavernous main Planet Hollywood restaurant The $59 ticket price includes a "buffet Italian meal" (salad, brownies, some limp spaghetti, Fettuccini Alfredo, and, if you're lucky, Chicken Parmigiana.) But the show itself is a tasty selection of hors d'oeuvres, with Copeland, a New York native, and Doyle, a Ohio-born actor who made the big move some five years ago, portraying dozens of characters, from George Washington to Bob Dylan to two pigeons mourning the death of a third. There are skits mocking how trendy the food, how small and pricey the apartments, how vicious the competition to get a cab, how over-the-top the New York Post, how rivalrous the residents of Brooklyn with those of Manhattan, how frequent the celebrity sightings. There are numerous comic but spot-on re-enactments of city history, and a mock game show -- Is It Safe? -- where host Doyle asks a series of comic tourists played by Copeland whether it's safe to 1. Eat from the food carts , 2. Sun-bathe in bikinis in Central Park, 3. Visit Hell's Kitchen. (New York, they point out, is statistically speaking the safest city in America.) Not every skit scores (I could have done without the first-time mugger being instructed by his victim, and the sentimental tribute to New York after 9/11), but I'd say Copeland and Doyle have a higher average than the typical episode of Saturday Night Live, and their energy, charm and quick-change talent make it all go over sweetly. Among the most successful bits are the monologues where the two tell stories, presumably true, of their personal experiences in the city.
As a native New Yorker myself, I especially appreciated the throw-away obscure references surely meant only for people like me (Do tourists know who Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs were?), and the slides before the show even begins, with some fascinating facts (40 percent of Americans -- 140 million people -- are descendants of foreigners who passed through Ellis Island; the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge is built on bedrock, while the Manhattan side is built on sand), sandwiched in between the iconic images of the city, like Audrey Hepburn having breakfast at Tiffany's, and the workers on the Empire State Building sitting on a beam. Copeland and Doyle have Photoshopped themselves Zelig-like into each of these pictures. They clearly have learned well how to be a New Yorker.