The venues say it all. After picking up tickets at the box office inside Madame Tussaud’s on West 42nd street, ticketholders are told to gather outside Chevys, a high-volume, Mexican fast food franchise at Ninth and 42nd, to await The Ride.
The Ride is an admixture of tour and performance—an odd, one-off show delivered in a specially outfitted bus. This motor coach is tricked out with wraparound windows, a sound system, screens with video loops showcasing iconic Gotham, and two hosts, Stuart and Julie.
The bus’s stadium seating puts the audience in an altered state, as it alters point-of-view. We ride in the street but above the street. We watch and wave at the pedestrians as they watch and wave at us. Along the route buskers are seeded among the regular bustling crowds. As we turn a corner onto 7th Avenue we encounter an unhappy young man in a crowd of busy people. He is an actor “playing sad” and somehow we care. On an uptown stretch of 6th Avenue we see a sidewalk sweeper who can dance, and dance he does until the bus pulls away. Just past Carnegie Hall we come upon a street musician playing jazz joined by a big-voiced woman who lifts our spirits. At Columbus Circle a dazzling ballerina (no really it’s dark and her clothes are alight, um, dazzling) dances around the circle as our bus circles it and her.
The conceit is brilliant. Chatty hosts escort a bus full of tourists through Manhattan’s most visited venues – Radio City Music Hall, Central Park, Times Square. The audience looks up through windows that wrap around the ceiling to enjoy views of the ball that drops on New Year’s Eve and of the Chrysler Building’s gargoyles that were an homage to the hood ornament of the classic Plymouth automobile and the machine age.
The screens and hosts are full of factoids: How tall is the Empire State Building? How come the Hearst Tower has a nearly 100-year-old skirt? Where in Manhattan is the third best public bathroom in America?
The on-board hosts are meant to work the crowd, to engage the out-of-towners. (“These are windows. Do you have windows in Brazil?”) With four shows a day they work hard, but clearly do not have enough material. (Add to that, on this particular ride, a phalanx of 60-year-old women from Boston reverted to sorority house giddiness early on. The hosts never regained control. )
The street performances, however, even in their modest moments, are imbued with a fierce “theater-of-the-absurd” sensibility that is intriguing; You’re on a bus passing a guy dressed as a Santa on November 15th, who not only does an athletic, spinning, leaping dance on the pavement, but challenges another young man, also dressed as a Santa, to a dancing duel; this, as a good share of passersby pretend nothing unusual is happening. You do clap, and hoot, and stamp you feet with pleasure. The busker-elements are terrific but too widely spaced.
The on-line price for this ride is $64. Still, as we handed in our (free) press tickets, everyone else handed in printouts that screamed discount codes. So, I have no idea what this jaunt actually costs. But, your concierge will. And that’s the thing. The Ride is a lot of fun if you are a visitor, or even if you live here and have out-of-town guests to entertain for 90 minutes. It is not for locals.
The Ride is offered with different themes throughout the year. Currently, The Holiday edition offers Christmas music, a peek at the early seasonal lights, and plenty of talk about where to shop. Did you know there is an enormous Ferris wheel inside the Toys-R-Us in Times Square?
Tickets are available at Madame Tussaud’s box office, 234 W.42nd Street or at ovationtix.com.