If you're familiar with NYC, you know it doesn't lack in comedy, theater, and tours - they abound just as much as rats, Starbucks, and curse words. But what if you combined all three? No, I'm no talking about how you cursed a blue streak when you spotted a rat while ordering a light mocha frapp - I'm talking about something part comedy show, part theater production, part informative tour of NYC. The new show How to Be a New Yorker pulls these three genres together (with a bonus meal) at Sofia's Downstairs Theater, just off Times Square.
If "The Ride" is the Magical School Bus of tour experiences, this is the zany Miss Frizzle exploring Manhattan. Writer-performers and licensed tour guides Margaret Copeland (a native New Yorker) and Kevin James Doyle (an Ohioan-turned-Brooklynite) take audiences on a tour of the city in under an hour - and did I mention a meal is included? More on that later.
To squeeze it all in, Copeland and Doyle use a number of short, fast-paced skits that cover a basic overview of NYC information. The small scale Saturday Night Live-style skits include a three-part basic history of NYC, a goofy game show, and highlights of the five boroughs (including the usual dig at Staten Island). They poke fun at many generalizations about tourists: they don't want to leave Times Square, they are worried about the safety, they all have thick accents, etc. (and that's just in the game show). In between the mostly cheesy humor, there are bits of wit and sarcasm that elicit fuller laughter from the audience instead of chuckles (or even groans). Basic costuming like hats (by Janell Clingenpeel) suggest certain types of characters in the silly scenarios, where Doyle is generally the less-effective straight man to Copeland's outrageous characters. Both could use some smoothing around The Edges for better line delivery, especially during their most personal anecdotal scenes. These scenes are the only respite from the actors cartoonishly running around the set, which seems to be direct Robert Ross Parker's sloppy attempt at farcical staging. The most realistic and subdued part of the show is the backdrop made to look like the Times Square subway station walls with simple, straightforward projections (by Nick Francone).
It's difficult to reduce a city so vibrant as New York to an hour-long show, and Copeland and Doyle try to cover basic information as well as comedic skits. In trying to cover so many topics, they only scratch the very surface with zany screwball characters. Perhaps a bit more focus and direction would bring forward some stronger characters and allow them to refine the comedy, but for now, it's tourist-fare cute comedy that simply samples the how-tos of NYC.
Oh! Speaking of sampling: included with the show is a catered buffet-style dinner (or lunch) by Sofia's which includes bread, salad, pastas, and chicken. It's not exactly table service in Little Italy, but a good deal when you consider it comes packaged with the show, especially considering the Times Square location.
The show is best for tourists, especially those coming in with a remedial knowledge of NYC. Real New Yorkers and those familiar with the city take on a "been there, done that" attitude, but they can go along with their out-of-town visitors, laugh at the MTA and prove just how much they know about How to Be a New Yorker.