I had a chance to experience New York's early theatrical history during the Chatwal's two-night "Beautiful" package, which in addition to accommodations, includes two premium tickets to see "Beautiful -- the Carole King Musical" at the Stephen Sondheim Theater; a private backstage tour of the theater following the performance; a pre-theater dinner at the Lambs Club Restaurant, and a manicure at the inhouse Red Door Salon by Elizabeth Arden (package rates begin at $695 and continue through Aug. 1 for "Beautiful.")
Despite being a Carole King fan, I was mostly familiar with her "Tapestry" days, so seeing this Tony Award-winning play was an eye-opener. I really didn't know that before she rocked it with her head of unmanageable curls and made the perfect duo with James Taylor, a pony-tailed Carole and her then-husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin, wrote a battery of 1950s rock 'n' roll hits.
This wonderful show chronicles the couple's personal and professional ups-and-downs, all set to their most famous collaborations, including songs such as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," written for the Shirelles; "Up on the Roof," for the Drifters; "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman," for Aretha Franklin ... even "Pleasant Valley Sunday," for the Monkees."
To say that this was one of my favorite-ever theatrical evenings isn't an understatement, and it was only enhanced by the choice seats that are part of the Chatwal package and the backstage tour available only to package guests.
FROM MUSIC OF THE 1950S AND 60S TO GRAND OPERA
My friend Ruth, a Manhattan-based magazine writer, is a massive opera buff and has seen every opera performance at the Met multiple times. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when she managed to score two tickets for the opening night performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "Il Trovatore," a tale of a gypsy woman's bloodthirsty curse and how it affected the fate of a young noblewoman and her troubadour lover.
To enhance our evening, Ruth insisted that we also partake of what she described as "a quintessential New York experience." We would join other opera-goers for a pre-performance dinner in the Grand Tier Restaurant located off the lobby and then return at intermission for dessert and coffee.
The restaurant is glamorous in the extreme -- with two enormous Chagall paintings and chandeliers gleaming like starbursts reflected in the wall of windows overlooking Lincoln Center Plaza.
So rich in tradition is the Grand Tier that we felt like characters in an Edith Wharton novel, sipping our champagne and eyeing the soignee crowd.
For the three-course prix fixe dinner ($78), I chose crab cake with lobster beurre blanc, celery root remoulade, avocado mousse and winter citrus, and roasted chicken breast with truffled cauliflower, sunchoke flan and potato pave for my appetizer and entree respectively. Paired with a crisp sancerre, the excellent meal fortified me to cope with the operatic travails of the gypsy, noblewoman and troubadour.