The PopCulteer
June 2, 2023

Earlier this week your PopCulteer and his lovely wife took a little whirlwind trip to New York City. Our Mission was to see two-time Tony Award nominee and two-time Drama Desk winner Gavin Lee perform a cabaret/tribute to Fred Astaire at the legendary Jazz club, Birdland.

This whole trip was a bit of an experiment. We had learned from our trip to DC a couple of months ago that we really liked the way Alexandria, Virginia was laid out in terms of hotels being within walking distance of the train station.

The Amtrak Cardinal, which goes all the way into NYC, only runs three times a week, which can be rather limiting in terms of how we structure a trip. So this time we took the Cardinal as far as Alexandria on Sunday, spent a night at the Embassy Suites, then got up early Monday and hopped the Northeast Regional for a four-hour trip to the big city.

Once in New York, we got a cab to our hotel, The Hilton Times Square, settled in and tidied up for the short walk to Birdland.

The show was amazing. Gavin Lee captured the grace and elegance of Astaire, and sang so many standards from the Great American Songbook which were originally introduced by the legendary dancer. You can’t go wrong with the songs of Berlin, Gershwin or Porter, and the show was exquisite.

I would go into greater detail heaping praise on Lee, and his backing band, Brian Taylor on piano, Corey Schutzer on bass and Rich Rosenzweig on drums, but while I’m sure he will be doing this show many times in the future, there are no solid dates on the horizon. Lee is off to Chicagoland to star in a production of The 39 Steps.

I will tell you a bit more about his show in the captions below.

We had arrived at our hotel about 1 PM, saw the show at 7 PM, wandered around Times Square and picked up our breakfast for the morning and were back at the Hilton by 9 PM.

Then Tuesday morning, 19 hours after we’d hit Manhattan, we were on the train back to Alexandria, where we would cool our heels until it was time for the Cardinal to drag our happy asses back to Charleston on Wednesday.

This trip was also experimental because we travelled light. We each had one personal bag for meds and chargers and tablets and stuff, and then we shared one backpack. This is a far cry from our usually entourage of rolling luggage. It worked out pretty well, too.

Here’s the photo essay version of our trip…

Alexandria, a great place to change trains, especially since there are four Hilton properties that are a short walk from the train station, and Mrs. PopCulteer is a Hilton points wizard.

The street where our hotel in NYC is. It’s just to the right of the Dave & Busters you see in this pic.

Among the many advantages of being married to “Diamond Mel,” the wizardess of Hilton points, is being able to score a top-floor room with a panoramic view of the skyline, and getting it for chump change.

I mean, this is what you see when you walk into the room.

On the other side of our hotel from Dave & Busters, there is a two-story It’Sugar store, one of Mel’s favorites.

Obligatory hotel mirror selfie before we went out. I still can’t get Mel to look at the camera in the mirror instead of just staring at the camera itself and complaining about how she looks.

Behold, the land of Bird.

Waiting to get in (your PopCulteer is notoriously early for everything). Had to get a photo of the neon.

Seated and ready for dinner before the show.

It was at this point that I realized that we were being all sophisticated and crap.

I did not take the photos of Gavin Lee performing. This one is courtesy of Birdland. As I said, the show was wonderful. Borne of the lockdown, Lee researched the life of Astaire and presented a musical biography of one of the greatest showmen to ever take the stage. No slouch himself, Gavin Lee honored Astaire with a top-flight performance.

This photo by Kevin Alvey (borrowed from Broadway World) shows a bit of Lee’s amazing recreation of Astaire’s dance moves.

Following the show, we took a roundabout route back to the hotel, hitting Theatre Circle for some Lights of Broadway Show Cards, and Junior’s, which will be the subject of a Monday Morning Art painting in a week or three.

Of course, 44th Street is world-reknown for its bowling!

Okay, so I don’t really give a crap about Harry Potter (sorry folks) but this show is currently running in the heavily-renovated Lyric Theater. Ten decades ago, The Marx Brothers starred in Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers in this very theater (at least behind the facade). The building was gutted, and combined with the Apollo Theater (not that one) on 42nd Street, but they kept the historic fronts of both theaters for the new combined behemoth of a theater.

Back in the hotel, and it was Memorial Day, so they lit up The Empire State Building for us.

Morning has broken. You’re probably going to see Manhattan-inspired works for the next month in Monday Morning Art.

And then there was the matter of breakfast. And if you have any complaints about the price of Junior’s Cheesecake, please jot them down on a piece of paper and mail them to your colon. It’s worth every penny.

Even the wall art in our hotel was cool.

From the lobby (on the 21st floor) we had this killer shot of The Paramount Building. Fawcett Comics was based there when Bill Parker and C.C. Beck created the original Captain Marvel in 1939.

We just did get to the station in time to board our train back to Alexandria, and one tunnel later, we were in Jersey, gazing back at the skyline.

In Alexandria we were greeted by the George Washington Masonic Temple.

This time we stayed in the Hilton, where next door resides a fantastic 24-hour diner where the portions are bigger than your head.

Wednesday morning we got there right after the breakfast rush ended. The food is spectacular at Bob & Edith’s, so if you get a chance, go.

My lovely wife. This whole adventure was because she wanted to see the guy who played Squidward in The SpongeBob Musical perform again.

And we wrap up the photos with a train selfie of your humble (and temporarily clean-shaven) blogger. The trip was so much fun, and the experiments were all successful.

And that was our quick adventure to NYC to see Gavin Lee salute Fred Astaire. Check back for all our regular features here in PopCult, and tune into The AIR Saturday for 24 hours of Disco with MIRRORBALL, starting at 7 AM and Sunday, for 24 hours of The Swing Shift, also starting 1 7 AM.