Always look on the bright side

Brian came all the way up from Philadelphia today to go see The Odd Couple with me. I'm not a big musical guy, but among the things I wanted to do in NYC before I left was to see a live show starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Even though chances are that Matthew Broderick will look exactly the same for the next twenty years, the same cannot be said for Nathan Lane. For tonight's show, I had second row seats, dead center.
We grabbed dinner beforehand at Fatty Crab, the new and much buzzed-about Malaysian restaurant in the Meatpacking District. It's one of those tiny NYC restaurants where weaving between the tables and all the people standing inside waiting for a table requires holding your hands over your head like you're dancing to hip hop, shimmying sideways, and wriggling your hips like a hula hoop dancer. It's an entire restaurant of two-person tables, so arriving with an Allen Iverson-sized posse is unwise.
To avoid some of the restaurant's usual claustrophobia, we arrived at 6pm, about a half hour before the dinner rush. The menu is manageable, just a few pages, and the food is meant to be eaten family style, with dishes arriving in random order, whenever the kitchen happens to knock them out.
The first of our dishes to arrive was the Fatty Duck, a plate befitting its name, much like characters in Chinese karate movies. Take, for example, Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain. In this movie, one of the characters is an old man with huge, superpowered eyebrows. His name? Long Brows. Take almost any Chinese martial arts movie where the hero has an overweight sidekick, and 8 times out of 10 the sidekick's name will be translated as Fatty or Piggy or Porky. The Jet Li/Tsui Hark classic Once Upon a Time in China has one character named Porky, another named Buck Teeth Soh. Their appearances, I assume, are vivid in your mind.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that the Fatty Duck consists of four pieces of duck, each topped with a healthy, juicy layer of fat. Brian and I attacked this dish with forks, then chopsticks. Then we conceded and grabbed it with our hands, and the waiter nodded his approval. Spicy, sweet, salty, awesome.
Second place in the race from kitchen to dinner table were the Heritage Foods Slow-Cooked Pork Ribs. I'm a huge fan of braised meats in general, especially when eating out because I'm too impatient to spend the time braising at home, and if you take braised meats home as leftovers, they taste just as good or better the next day. These ribs, coated in a sweet sauce, were so soft they melted in our mouths like butter. By the time we finished, the two of us looked like two-year olds after consuming a bucket of ice cream with our bare hands. I shudder to think of the carnage had we ordered the signature dish of Chili Crab.
Once our Nasi Lemak arrived (coconut rice, chicken curry, slow poached egg), we realized we'd over-ordered by just a bit, a sentiment confirmed a minute later when a steak/noodle/clam/chili pepper dish (whose name escapes me now) arrived to complete our order. There is a wine list, but this is food to be enjoyed with beer, and we washed our meal down with a Hitachino Classic, a sort of IPA.
This is food that's survived the journey across the Pacific. I cringe at the words Pan-Asian or Asian fusion, and all the Jean-Georges Asian fusion restaurants have been disappointments, massively over-priced for food whose roots lie in cheap street-side food stands, but this isn't a remix, it's a faithful rendition of flavorful Malaysian cuisine, with all its intense flavors. It will cost you a whole lot less than a meal at a Jean-Georges Asian joint like Spice Market and leave your taste buds a whole lot happier. The best news is that it's open until 4am from Thursdays through Saturdays, making it another addition to my list of really late night weekend food oases. Add Fatty Duck to the Beef Marrow and Oxtail Marmalade at Blue Ribbon Restaurant as two of the most pleasing and decadent ways to counteract (or top off, depending on how you view it) a weekend drinking buzz.
After cleaning our hands with turpentine in the bathroom, we hopped a cab up to the Brooke Atkinson Theater. The show was set to start in 15 minutes, and already a long line had formed. A man was passing out flyers to everyone in line, and then he pressed one into mine, and it took me a minute to digest the news. The show had been cancelled because Nathan Lane had laryngitis. I was crestfallen and felt like a failed host, but Brian took it well considering he'd travelled all the way from Philly for one night. He suggested a movie instead. As we walked away from the theater, a ticket broker materialized out of the shadows, like an ambulance chasing attorney at the scene of a traffic accident.
"How about seeing Spamalot instead?" he said, leering through a mouth in which every other tooth appeared to have never grown back, or perhaps he'd pawned them off to someone coming out of a dentist's office. "Show starts in five minutes."
I responded with my best poker face, as if I'd hit a set on the flop and was contemplating a fold. But inside, I knew this was the lucky break we needed. I hadn't seen Spamalot yet, it won the Tony for Best Musical in 2005, and it was among the more difficult shows to score tickets to. Brian was a huge Monty Python fan, knew nothing of the show, and had watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail "a thousand times." The ticket broker interpreted my frown as skepticism and produced a business card as proof of his legitimacy. It read "Tix R Us".
A few moments later, each of us $50 lighter, Brian and I were sprinting through the usual Times Square sidewalk traffic down to 44th St. Dashing up three flights of stairs, we sat down just as the lights went down, our $50 having bought us seats in the second to last row in the theater, a thin pole about seven rows up bisecting our view (though the theater was cozy and we were in the center).
At first I thought the entire show would be a literal rehash of the movie on stage. It began that way, and I was worried that we'd paid $50 to watch what we could've watched at my apartment for free. To my relief, the musical does branch away from the movie to generate some parallel identities, for example as a post-modern spoof of musicals themselves (one of the songs is titled "The Song That Goes Like This" and begins: "Once in every show, there comes a song that goes like this. It starts off soft and low, and ends up with a kiss. Oh where, is, the song, that goes, like this."). And, as the lady working the cashbar told us with breathless excitement at intermission, a portion of the French guard skit was improvised every night. Even she, having seen the show countless times, had no idea what was coming.
This is somewhat of a spoiler, but if it's the same gimmick every night, it may be worth knowing ahead of time if you can choose your premium seat, but the Holy Grail ended up being located below seat D101 in the Orchestra. I don't know if it's always seat D101. From our nosebleed seats, we couldn't see who occupied the lucky seat, but apparently it was not an attractive woman, because the cast member who went to bring the lucky audience member on stage said he'd have to choose a surrogate and ended up bringing what appeared to us to be a hot young woman named Elizabeth Riley on stage. She was presented with a trophy and a Polaroid of her standing with the cast. So, if you're a really attractive young woman and can obtain seats in the general vicinity of seat D101, or seat D101 itself, you stand a better than average chance of ending up a part of the show.
The reenactments of famous skits from the movie didn't do much for me, but some of the musical numbers were both funny and catchy. The Lady of the Lake in Act I is a tickle (Lauren Kennedy). The cast members probably have the best time of anyone in the theater, but the audience is a close second. It's a musical I'm putting on the recommended list for out-of-towners, so many of whom deem a musical an essential part of a successful New York visit.
So The Odd Couple had been cancelled. Hey, as one song in Spamalot urged, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." It was hilarious when all the crucified folk in Life of Brian were singing it to Jesus, and it was sage advice for me on this night. Brian and I were whistling that little ditty the whole subway ride home.