This year Sondheim and Chekhov and Tom Hanks and Vanessa Redgrave share honors with a bus. The Drama Desk Awards nominating committee has selected “The Ride” as one of the choices in “Unique Theatrical Experience,” one of its 29 award categories.
“The Ride” is a 75-minute tour through midtown Manhattan on a sightseeing bus. This is its “third season” – the trips began in October, 2010 – and, because the bus is full of illustrations by an artist named Charles Fazzino, it is now called the Fazzino Ride. It differs from other Manhattan sightseeing bus tours in two ways. The bus itself, which the owners prefer to call a mobile theater, is specially constructed, so that passengers sit on three rows on the right side of the bus, and face the left side, which is a series of big picture windows bordered by blinking colored lights and video monitors. The most impressive technical achievement of the bus is its ability to impersonate a subway train. For a couple of blocks along Eighth Avenue, the lights turn blindingly white and blink rapidly, the sound system grinds, roars, rattles and barks, and the bus violently rocks the passengers back and forth. It is a spot-on and queasy simulation. No word yet on whether The Ride will next simulate a mugging.
The second distinguishing feature of The Ride is that, along the route, the passengers are treated to brief performances by a tap-dancer, break dancer, rapper, Broadway belter, ballet couple, and jazz duo – each introduced as if they were accidentally passing by.
In-between the performances and the simulation, the two tour guides offer the typical sightseeing patter of corny jokes, half-hearted quizzes, and interesting trivia mixed in with deliberate or inadvertently inaccurate information about New York City. (Purists need look no further for errors than the bus itself, which misspells “The Book of Mormon.”) The best thing about the ride is the reaction and interaction from (the real) passersby. Two young men started dancing as if they were part of the professional entertainment.
Is this a unique theatrical experience? To break this down: It’s certainly an experience. Is it theatrical? That depends on what the word means. To the creators of The Ride, theatrical apparently doesn’t mean pertaining to the theater: Although the tour begins and ends on 42nd Street at Eighth Avenue, the heart of the theater district — and though the bus itself is illustrated with the names of many Broadway shows (most of them no longer open), the two tour guides offered no information about Broadway.
Is it unique? One can argue that the Ride symbolizes, if not embodies, most of what Broadway has become – an entertainment, full of genuinely talented performers, geared to tourists.
The other nominees in the category:
Chris March’s The Butt-Cracker Suite! A Trailer Park Ballet
Cirque Du Soleil: Totem
That Play: A Solo Macbeth
The Man Who Laughs