Imagine New York City streets live and breath and absorb every footfall and tire track and other abuse inflicted upon them by the human populace. If that’s so, Times Square must be exhausted. Not since the beginning of this century, when the pell-mell construction of hotels and theatres converted the area into the Crossroads of the World, has Times Square endured such non-stop activity, both positive and negative. In the past five years, we have torn down its buildings and thrown up much larger ones. Retailers, restaurants and multi-plex cinemas has grown like weeds. Neon signage has increased in square footage by leaps and bounds. The Lyric and Apollo theatres have been dismantled and reassembled into the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The Empire Theatre was physically moved 170 feet west down 42nd Street. The Selwyn office building crashed to the ground one year ago. ABC and Conde Nast moved into the neighborhood. And the construction of the latter’s skyscraper home precipitated a 1998 construction accident that shut down part of the square for weeks.
And now comes the Times Square celebration ushering in the year 2000. (Notice I didn’t say the millennium. I am among those annoying lone voices in the wilderness which continue to insist -- despite what the city government and the New York Times [which ought to know better] say -- that the new century and millennium actually officially begins on Jan. 1, 2001. The Times sort of explained their erroneous editorial stance today by calling such people as me “killjoys.” Funny--I just thought I was right.)
Times Square is taking a special beating this week, all in preparation for the record multitudes that are expected to descend upon Broadway and Seventh Avenue on Dec. 31. From 41st street to 47th, the square is littered with trailers, searchlights, blockades, metal fences, giant television screens and scaffolding propping up several stages. Locals will be forgiven for thinking they’ve stumbled upon a Hollywood film set meant to look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve (a Disney film, of course).
The overall effect is more Las Vegas, than Manhattan. And if the crowds at 9 AM are any example, the festivities will have an distinctly international air. Most revelers seem to have journeyed from across the sea, from Germany and Japan and other nations. Native New Yorkers were few and could be identified by such comments as “This is surreal” and “Who are all these people?”
The blocks surrounding Times Square from 34th to 59th streets, from Sixth to Eighth Avenues were closed to all vehicular traffic beginning 12:01 A.M., Friday, Dec. 31. The activity has forced almost all area businesses to close, including Broadway theatres, which have all scratched their New Year’s Eve performances. (The single holdout is Lincoln Center Theater, where, safely north of the hubbub, Marie Christine will be enacted again tonight, though as the early hour of 7 PM.) But, nevertheless, there is theatre in Times Square this Friday -- and puppet theatre of all things. The puppets, hundreds of them, are the work of Julie Taymor collaborator Michael Curry. Every hour, well past midnight EST, Curry will unveil a menagerie of creatures consistent with the country that is ringing in the new year at that time. 9 AM EST, for instance, saw the parading of two-dimensional kangaroos, koalas and duckbill platypuses, all moving their limbs high above the crowds in honor of Australia’s 2000 celebration. The animals and their handlers worked their way up Broadway from 42nd Street to the odd, pink, onion-domed stage at 46th Street, where, with the aid of human dancers, they performed an extended act.
Other hours will see the arrival of giant water lilies (representing Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Kazakhstan); a shower of cherry blossom confetti (Japan); a Dragon (China); Arabian horses (Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Oman); bagpipers (Britain); and a large elephant puppet (India, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Pakistan).
The celebration ends just after 6 AM and, after workers clean up three tons of confetti and dismantle the other apparatus and bric-a-brac that made up the year 2000 bash, Broadway will get back to normal, with Saturday matinee and evening performances on Jan. 1. And, if anyone’s still craving puppets, go see The Lion King. That show doesn’t need Y2K as an excuse -- its got a large elephant puppet every day.
--By Robert Simonson