It was the perfect backdrop for a Spider-Man movie: 1am in mid-town Manhattan and a blistering heatwave gripped the Big Apple, turning its streets into a sauna. The city that never sleeps couldn’t, even if it wanted to.New Yorkers struggled to keep their cool in the 100 degree temperatures; headline news reported 28 US states on “excessive heat alert” and with air-conditioning systems on overdrive, energy companies battled to cope with record power surges.
In Times Square thousands thronged the streets, wilting defiantly under a mass of giant screens that lit up the night sky. Occasionally people would dart into the nearest air-conditioned building to cool off and theatres and cinemas across America were reportedly doing brisk business. One had even replaced its front-of-house listings with a sign that simply stated: “We have AC. Who cares what’s playing?”
Manhattan’s skies were too hot even for Spider-Man; I found him in West 42nd Street, clad in his signature red and blue and playing saxophone for spare change outside the Foxwoods Theatre, where his name was in lights.
Over the next five days I grew accustomed to the sight of New Yorkers who had swapped their briefcases for towels and, on the advice of my hotel concierge, revised my sightseeing to include some of the cooler spots.
After a long stroll along Fifth Avenue, starting from the famous Flatiron building (the setting for Peter Parker’s ‘Daily Bugle’ offices) I entered Central Park, a two-and-a-half-mile strip of tree-lined footpaths, lawns, bridges and waterways. Bigger than the principality of Monaco, its 843 acres are home to Central Park Zoo with its Madagascan wildlife and a disparate but none-the-less entertaining species, the jobbing busker.
En route to the Upper West Side a stream of talented artistes lined my path, from tumbling acrobats and jazz musicians to jugglers and street dancers, all keen to thrill me and take my money. In fact, so anxious were the authorities to preserve the park’s peace for its 25 million annual visitors, they introduced controversial Quiet Zones where busking is banned. (www.centralparknyc.org)
In a deserted play area nearby I stumbled across a location crew preparing a scene for Tom Hanks’ latest film, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. With no movie star in sight I headed to the coolest sanctuary yet, the American Museum of Natural History on Eighth Avenue: Famed for its vast collections of North American wildlife, dinosaurs and fossils it also offered the ultimate air conditioning experience. Cocooned in a comfortable seat in the Hayden Planetarium I gazed skywards as the voice of Whoopie Goldburg escorted 400 of us on an air-cooled Journey to the Stars.
The museum was one of many attractions to access with a CityPASS, and with the others already on my wish list it was the most economical and convenient way to explore the sights.
A short subway ride away and 70 floors up on the Top of the Rock were some of the most spectacular 360-degree views of Manhattan, from Central Park on one side to the elegant Art Deco spire of the Chrysler Building on the other and in the far distance, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. From my vantage point this World Heritage Site looked smaller than a Barbie doll but the next day, after a short ferry ride to Liberty Island, the grand lady looked every inch an icon of American freedom. Unfortunately I didn’t plan well enough to climb inside her shell (Crown Tours are pre-booked months in advance) but standing in her shadow and getting her take on Manhattan was a thrilling experience.
It is a world-famous skyline that has had to be redrawn since the devastating attacks of 9/11; more than a decade on and a new One World Trade Center is emerging from the wreckage and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, with its reflecting pools, sits in the footprint of the Twin Towers. Admission is free but advance booking is essential (www.911memorial.org)
A perfect way to appreciate the sheer size and scale of Manhattan and to place the other boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and The Bronx, is on a Full Island Tour with Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. Our captain’s entertaining guide to Manhattan, particularly his Who’s Who on the exclusive Upper East Side, kept us amused for hours. We covered many landmarks, including the Empire State Building, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, and it was a brilliant way to watch the sun go down on a glorious city.
“Chicago’ (Ambassador Theatre, Broadway)
by Ann Hubbard
Hard to believe the city’s streets could get any steamier but as the curtain rose on 1920s’ Chicago, so did the temperature in the house. Plunged into a seedy world of murder, greed and jealousy, I was spellbound by what followed - two hours of exhilarating vocals and choreography that had me sitting on the edge of my seat and tapping along to old favourites like “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle”.
A simplistic stage set relied almost entirely on a talented cast and orchestra who delivered slick, polished performances as though THEIR lives depended on it.
Showgirl Roxie Hart, accused of murdering her lover, was deliciously played by a sinewy Charlotte d’Amboise, who made her exhausting dance routines seem effortless. Standing by her (so long as the celebrity tag lasted) was hot shot lawyer Billy Flynn, taken to new heights of showmanship by Christopher Sieber. Nikka Graff Lanzarone delivered a convincing performance as sassy jailbird Velma Kelly and R Lowe’s incredible vocal range and facial expressions, as tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine, raised the roof. But it was downtrodden husband Amos (Chris Sullivan) who stole my heart and ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“Chicago” may be one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway, but it was as fresh as ever in the hands of director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking. The show’s billboards don’t lie - it WOULD be a crime to miss it.
Chicago is one of 16 shows in The Broadway Collection
New York CityPASS: Adult $89, youth (6-17) $64, admission to six attractions, valid for 9 days. Visit www.nycgo.com
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises: Offering a wide range of tours. Go to www.circleline42.com
Return flights London-New York from £380.