As we inched toward Hell’s Kitchen, the adjacent neighborhood, the native New Yorker reflected on Times Square’s transformation from ugly, druggy duckling to white swan with Mickey ears.
“New Yorkers complain that it’s been Disneyfied,” she said, alluding to the company’s arrival in 1992 as part of an urban renewal plan. “But the upside is that you’re no longer in a place where you’re afraid to walk.”
Or, if you’re on the Walkin’ Broadway tour, to twirl and dance.
The theater tour was led by a chorus of voices piped in through a headset. The lead voice belonged to our guide, Tom, a perky actor who clearly treats the world as his stage. (He often performed a little “Fame”-style choreography while crossing the street.) His stories were jazzified with show tunes and prerecorded experts, such as Bill Berloni, who trained 103 Sandys for “Annie”; Stephen Schwartz, composer and lyricist of such hits as “Godspell” and “Wicked”; and Elliott Forrest, a broadcaster, producer and, for the next 90 minutes, disembodied co-host living in my ear canal.
Like Nancy, Tom seemed to make the crowds vanish so that we could lose ourselves in the s’wonderful of Times Square. We followed a peripatetic route paved in marquee lights (“Wicked,” “The Heiress,” “Annie”), hopes for “Book of Mormon”-like success (“the hottest ticket on Broadway,” he said of that Tony-winning show) and dreams of high ticket sales (12,334,312 sold in the 2011-12 season, for an astounding revenue of $1,139,331,457). I learned the hard facts and figures, but also savored the behind-the-scenes bonbons. For example, in “West Side Story,” the creators originally planned to pit an Irish American Roman Catholic street gang against a Jewish posse. The Puerto Rican Maria, however, vanquished the Jewish Maria.
We finished our tour where Nancy and I had started, in Duffy Square. The air was mild and the crowds thin compared with the estimated million who pack the place for New Year’s Eve. Dec. 31 seemed months away. But Tom was the director of this moment, and I was his willing audience member.
He shouted out the countdown as if we were on the cusp of 2013. Then he tossed a handful of confetti into the air. The colored flecks fluttered down, only to disappear beneath the crush of passing feet.
Details: Stay, eat and play in Times Square