If you love musicals, at some stage in life you’ll want to plan a pilgrimage to New York to catch a Broadway show. If you really love musicals, it might be a regular expedition.
Even with the famous half-price tickets booth in Times Square, this can prove a costly business, plus the show itself can be over so soon, leaving you hungry for more.
A new hotel has stepped into the limelight to address such matters and make your trip all the more memorable.
James Murphy checks into the new hotel Civilian, which lies in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood, near the theatres of Broadway
‘The Civilian is a hotel made by theatre-lovers for theatre-lovers,’ James reveals. Above is the library-like Blue Room
The hotel’s name is stencilled in brightly-lit letters alongside each side of the building, just like the city’s theatres
The Civilian – or CIVILIAN as it’s officially called, in capitals – has some impressive showbiz credentials. Firstly it’s situated at the heart of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, a neighbourhood that in our time doesn’t really deserve its nick-name.
Sat right behind the cluster of Manhattan’s theatres, the area has much more of a ‘backstage’ vibe: it’s busy, jittery, rammed with snack bars and assorted pubs, flanked by the skyscrapers’ plainer sides, each saving their showy, neon faces for Times Square.
If you’re a regular New York theatre-goer it’s the perfect spot to grab a beer or burger pre- or post-show (even, if you’re swift, in the interval, to avoid the exorbitant theatre prices).
The hotel itself is on the very same street as the Longacre Theatre (where Tom Stoppard’s glittery new play has just opened) and only one street away from such mega-hits as Wicked, Chicago and The Book of Mormon.
Fittingly, the hotel has a big imposing marquee, its name stencilled in brightly-lit letters alongside each side, just like the nearby theatres, as if it were hosting a show itself. In many ways, it is.
The Civilian is a hotel made by theatre-lovers for theatre-lovers. The intimate foyer glows with countless tiny bulbs just like those you see round dressing-room mirrors. There’s a row of seats ripped straight from the stalls of a theatre (or the ‘orchestra’ as New Yorkers call the principal area of their auditoria). The cheerful, casually-dressed reception staff all have the vibe of Broadway hopefuls themselves, though they stop short of bursting into song as the waiters do at the Stardust diner (two blocks away, and so much fun).
James says of the hotel’s guest rooms: ‘They’re compact, like most New York hotels, but jazz hands have been hard at work, striving to give them a touch of theatrical pizzazz’
Pictured left is James’s room, complete with a velvety ornamental curtain that has been tied back, evoking Maria Bjornson’s iconic Phantom of the Opera designs. On the right is James’s ensuite bathroom, which is ‘playfully lit by oversized versions of dressing-room bulbs’
Guest rooms feature jet-black illustrations of theatre exteriors and stage designs by Clint Ramos
The elevators that propel you up to the hotel’s 203 rooms are wallpapered with Paul Tazewell’s Tony Award-winning costume designs for the musical Hamilton.
In every corridor there are framed monochrome photos taken backstage at Broadway shows, from classics such as Cats to the brand-new Beetlejuice, which this reviewer had a blast seeing on this latest trip.
Somehow this makes you feel part of the moment, and part of the drama.
This spirit continues in the bedrooms. They’re compact, like most New York hotels, but jazz hands have been hard at work, striving to give them a touch of theatrical pizzazz.
Each has an ornamental velvety curtain tied back in a corner, evoking Maria Bjornson’s iconic Phantom of the Opera designs. Each has its own jet-black illustrations of theatre exteriors and stage designs by Clint Ramos. Each bathroom is playfully lit by oversized versions of dressing-room bulbs, giving you ample light to apply your own greasepaint.
Pictured is the first-floor bar where a few breakfast basics are served each morning, and drinks in the early evening
Framed pictures in the bar. According to James, the Civilian is a handy haven to make your base in New York, as it’s full of fun and loving touches
‘While few New York hotels are cheap, it’s also rather more affordable than many of its counterparts,’ James says of Civilian. The intimate foyer, pictured, glows with countless tiny bulbs just like those you see around dressing-room mirrors, he reveals
An exhibit of ‘maquettes’, the compelling scale models that set designers make for shows
All this set-dressing is charming but, happy to say, your essential necessities are covered too: air-con, television, remote-controlled black-out blinds, ample storage units and a safe beneath each bed, plump bedding and towels, and fragrant toiletries.
To borrow showbiz parlance, the hotel is still somewhat ‘in previews’ on my visit, and they’re still putting the finishing touches to the ground-floor Rosevale café, the library-like Blue Room, plus the rooftop Starchild bar. You get a good flavour of what’s in store from the first-floor bar where a few breakfast basics are served each morning, and drinks in the early evening.
Here, more theatrical flourishes abound. There are more swag curtains cloaking a spiral staircase up from the lobby.
Pictured is the spiral staircase that leads guests up from the lobby to their rooms – it’s cloaked in swag curtains
And there’s an exhibit of ‘maquettes’, the compelling scale models that set designers make for shows. Again, some of the current hits are among them, including Moulin Rouge.
Adjacent is another inspired touch: the ‘Company Wall’, which features an eye-popping array of art specially commissioned from theatre professionals and fans alike, all responding to the same lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company: ‘It’s a city of strangers, some come to work, some to play.’
Whatever brings you to New York… work, play, or plays and musicals… the Civilian is a handy haven to make your base, full of fun and loving touches.
While few New York hotels are cheap, it’s also rather more affordable than many of its counterparts.
All in all, lyrics to another Sondheim classic come to mind: ‘I’m just a Broadway Baby, learning how to sing and dance, waiting for that one big chance… to be in a show.’
The Civilian might not quite be on Broadway itself, but it’s waiting in the wings, sure of its lines, and ready for a starry future.
James was hosted by Civilian Hotel, 305 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036. Doubles are priced from £294. For more information, visit www.civilianhotel.com.
Virgin Atlantic operates regular flights between London and New York. Visit www.virginatlantic.com.