By Hannah Reimann
December 2021 brought us many surprising turns as we inched towards Christmas with a howl of uncertainty around the 17th of the month. Within a week, the number of people infected with COVID-19 tripled. Broadway and holiday shows opened and closed, shops and restaurants went from full to empty, then some closed due to multiplying positive test results of the Omicron variant. In one week, we heard about positive cases and people quarantining in \our arts and restaurant communities in the Village on a daily basis. I was invited to restaurant holiday parties and shows that were canceled within a day or hours. I waited for an hour between appointments at CityMD to be tested before reviewing a film to no avail and returned at 7:30 am the next day to wait for 105 minutes after which I finally got my rapid and PCR tests (negative). Thousands of people dealt with this—I imagine you did, too.
Our great local restaurants, theaters, live houses, bookstores, museums—anything that involves culture—are the inspiration for this column. We must hold together as like minds in these uncertain times. I’m excited to invite guest journalists to contribute each month with the New Year’s wish to inform our readers about events and eateries we care about, which need to be known and which may bring some light, smiles and happy bellies to all, no matter what is in store for us on a global or local scale. I’m delighted that Robin Hirsch joins us to write for WestView this month!
Tinsel: A Global Holiday Festival December 10- 29, 2021
The Lucille Lortel Theater opened with Christmas in the Lab by the accomplished tap dancer, actor and vocalist, Jared Grimes. One of the cast of the acclaimed Netflix four-season series, Manifest, and an award winning choreographer and dancer, Grimes and his band thrilled audiences and took us away from the grind for an hour. Grimes’ concept of The Lab is his incubating workhouse where he improvises, writes, rehearses and collaborates with his closest musical colleagues. While theaters were closed for nearly two years, he spent his time in his home lab.We were able to get a view into this world first-hand with this wonderful live show. There were skillful surprises of improvisation by both dancer and band including Mark Meadows, Piano & Musical Director; Brent Burkhead, Baritone Sax; Endea Owens, Bass Guitar; Alfonso Horn, Trumpet and Norman Paul Edwards, Drums. Grimes and his musicians paired off to perform duets with his feet as an additional rhythm instrument. They were all in The Lab together, having a great time, creating on- the- spot to songs they know well. As a result, the audience had a great time. Each player would often take the stage alone to play fabulous solos. Among the selections were My Favorite Things, Christmas Song, O, Holy Night and a smashing Little Drummer Boy, the latter backed up by piano and the other the instrumentalists singing harmonies, showcasing Edwards at the drum kit and Jared’s footwork. I brought a young girl, Churchill Stone, who sang Once Upon a December at our student concert to hear Jared sing the same song and she more than approved. His version was laced with Jazz improv solos and fast dancing in between verses. Sometimes the gut approval of a gifted child and the smiles a show like this can bring are the most satisfying signs of emotional communication and artistry.
In January 2022, see Grimes on Broadway in Funny Girl as Eddie Ryan and as choreographer for The Tap Dance Kid at City Center Encores where he will also teach at City Center Tap Dance Outreach.
Canciones de Navidad (Songs of Christmas),is written by Jaime Lozano and performed by him and La Famiglia–his wife, Florencia, and non-blood artistic latin family of singers and instrumentalists. This candid and personal look at holiday celebration provides high-level talent from the Latin musical theater community in New York, led by Lozano. Praised by Lin-Manual Miranda as “the next big thing” on Broadway. Lozano was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and cultivated himself in New York City as a composer rapidly, bringing joy to sold out houses like 54 Below and Joe’s Pub with other versions of this holiday show. The songs delve into the personal stories of the cast with a lineup of Broadway and Off-Broadway performers including Mauricio Martínez (On Your Feet!), Florencia Cuenca (A Never-Ending Line), Marina Pires (On Your Feet!), and Cedric Leiba, Jr. (Carmen La Cubana); and also an all Latin band formed by Ruben Rodríguez (bass), Jhoely Garay (guitar) and Joel Mateo (drums). Sung alternately in spanish and english, featured classic and original songs included I’ll be Home for Christmas, Dreamer, White Christmas, Christmas at Night, Nothing is Broken and Mountain in the Sky (both by Lozano and Pires).Covering everything from families being divided by nation borders, Martinez’s winning four-time battles with cancer, Cuenca paying tribute to those who passed, to world peace (Happy Christmas—War is Overby John Lennon and Yoko Ono) and more. Pires’s stunning voice, Cuenca’s bold and beautiful alto, Martinez’s range and expressivity, Leiba’s warmth and charm, plus the leadership and scope of Lozano’s work made this a most enjoyable evening of entertainment.
Look for Lozano onscreen in the movie, Tik Tik Boom, where he’s grouped onscreen with famous Broadway composers Jason Robert Brown, Marc Shaiman and Thomas Robert Kitt and Alex Lacamoire, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Ilene Reid’s The Sounds Around the House
As someone who has spent a considerable part of his life immersed in performance of every kind and surrounded by performers of every caliber, it has been an unalloyed treat to crawl out of the miserable hole we have all been stuck in, tiptoe into the Lucille Lortel Theatre, and bathe in two of the more than a dozen glorious shows that make up Tinsel, A Global Holiday Festival, curated by Michael Heitzman, with a delicious set by Vivienne Liu, delirious lighting by Amith Chandrashaker, and, not least, impeccable sound by William “Obie” O’Brien.
I was privileged to accompany Hannah Reimann to Jaime Lozano’s Canciones de Navidad, which, with joy, wit and thrilling contributions from a “Familia” of wonderful singers and musicians, infused this holiday season with a magical Mexican spirit. Hannah has written movingly about this show. I hope to do as much justice to the show I saw two nights later, Ilene Reid’s equally rousing Sounds Around The House.
The title is an interesting guidepost. It is, specifically, the title of a song by Alec Wilder, equally comfortable as a classical composer, as a prolific jazz collaborator, and as an award-winning composer of popular songs. Enter Ilene Reid . . .
Ms. Reid herself is equally comfortable as a songwriter, as a cabaretist and as, in her word, a jazzer. Her musical journey has been instinctual. She was singing as a child and knew that’s where she wanted her life to take her. Her family was not exactly enthusiastic . . .
This is perhaps where the clouds come in, and it is in confronting and dispersing those clouds that she found not just her way forward but the strength and wit to take on her own complicated history.
Her father and grandfather were Holocaust survivors. The rest of her paternal family perished, and indeed she is named (Ilene) after her grandmother, Ida, who did not survive. She herself is a mother (of 19-year-old twin boys) and it is perhaps the complex gift of marriage and motherhood, which has allowed her to understand and eventually forgive the opposition her father, in particular, manifested to a musical career. She had some wonderful help along the way:
“So my voice teacher at the time was like, okay, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to go to Indiana University because they have a great business school and they have a great music school. And that’s what I did. I got a degree in business but everything I did was music, music, music.”
When she graduated she was offered a substantial position at Macy’s, but, much to her father’s chagrin, took a job at Opryland for $200.00 a week. It was at Opryland that she found herself whisked into a wider musical world than simply musical theatre.
And that’s what comes through with joy and guts and laughter in her show. She has great musicians with her—Michael Mancini, Musical Director, at the piano; Doug Yowell on drums, Lee Traversa on bass, and, a compelling recent addition, Allison Seidner, on cello. Her show comes replete with re-invigorated standards (The Nearness of You), with playful riffs on songs we think we know (Neil Young’s Heart of Gold) and songs she has written or co-written for her own musicals.
But what struck me most was her engagement, in the context of this holiday celebration, with her own Jewish heritage. With gusto, with delight, and, not least, with risk. In a song called Oil she takes on the extravaganza of Christmas—sleighbells, reindeer, carols, stars, indeed Tinsel—and holds up against it the teaspoon of oil that is the tiny fountainhead of Chanukah. It is passionate, witty, hilarious—and gutsy.
And on a personal level, I thank her for enlivening this celebration of the Holidays with the exuberance, the passion, the engagement—and the guts—that in no small way pay a debt to a heritage I happen to share.
Mazel tov, Ilene!
Robin Hirsch is a former Oxford, Fulbright, and English Speaking Union Scholar, who has acted, directed, taught, published and produced on both sides of the Atlantic; but the titles of which he is proudest were self-bestowed: Minister of Culture, Wine Czar, and Dean of Faculty at the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, which he owned and operated for more than 40 years, and which Mayor Ed Koch proclaimed “a culinary as well as a cultural landmark.”
Other shows included in Tinsel, A Global Holiday Festival: Crikey, It’s Christmas, Cumbé: A Holiday Celebration, Holidelic!, Invocation (A Holiday Summoning), Pastorela: A Very Merry Immigrant Christmas, Rèveillon Branco, ‘Tis De Season with Jelani, Tossing the Tinsel with Telly, Why It Gotta Be White Christmas?!
The White Horse Tavern’s Portuguese Pastel de Nata
On Saturday, December 18th, businesses are slow in the neighborhood as people wait on line at medical centers for tests. There’s not as much foot or restaurant traffic. I stopped into the White Horse Tavern to have a snack and cappuccino, the Tavern’s Portuguese Pastel de Nata, described as “Warm, creamy custard nestled within a flaky, delicate croissant-like crust” on the menu. Boy, are they delicious. Literally translated as “cream pastries” and also spelled Pastéis de Nata, this generic term originated from the Pastéis de Belém made in the district of Santa Maria de Belém, Lisbon by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery, built in 1502. The origin of the cakes dates back to before the 18th century. The monks used egg white to starch their clothing and other fabrics and, with so many leftover egg yolks, they invented these rich, yellow cakes.
After the Liberal Revolution of 1820, religious institutions had no funding and most shut down. The monks began to sell the cakes for extra money. Eventually, the monastery had to close completely and the monks sold their recipe to the local sugar refinery. The refinery smartly opened a cream-pastry factory, Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. Since then, the iconic little cakes progressively became ubiquitous in Lisbon and are now on the corner of Hudson and West 11th Streets at the Tavern.
THE WHITE HORSE TAVERN’S Winter Wonderland in December. Photo: Hannah Reimann
Read more about the White Horse Tavern and its owner, Eytan Sugarman, a generous community supporter, in our February issue.
Honorable Mentions ~ Bookstores West of 7th Ave. South
Did you know that the West Village has a small book district? Four exceptional stores – Three Lives & Company, Slightly Alabama (which also sells vinyl albums, beautiful leather goods and lifestyle items), Left Bank Books and Book Marc – are all within 1-4 blocks of each other, all enjoyable places to peruse dozens of volumes. You can order most titles from Three Lives if they don’t have what you want in the store. Book Marc carries those that look splendid on a table as well as to read, and there are hand-picked, unusual editions, some signed at Slightly Alabama and Left Bank Books. All the shops are operated by knowledgable and courteous sales people.
- Three Lives & Company 238 W 10th Street between Hudson & Bleecker Streets
- Slightly Alabama 350 Bleecker Street, corner of West 10th Street
- Bookmarc 400 Bleecker Street, corner of West 11th Street
- Left Bank Books 41 Perry Street between West 4th Street and 7 Ave South
Hannah Reimann is a pro musician, author and educator who has made films as an actor and director. She has concertized her multi-genre shows as pianist, singer, and composer internationally including an Off-Broadway run of Both Sides Now: The Music of Joni Mitchell. She will be releasing an EP of original songs in 2022. Creator of The International Stretto Piano Festival in 2021, she also studied non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College with arts critic Dale Harris (Connoisseur Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Opera News, etc.) and is delighted to work with WestView News to create Culture & Cuisine with like-minded colleagues as a service to our Village community.