Sunday, August 5, 2012

Beyond Broadway: 5 Great Cultural & Culinary Day Trips from NYC

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Catching a Broadway show should be at the top of your New York City “To Do” list. But, the surrounding, tri-state area--Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts--also offers great theater. At these venues, easily accessible by public transportation, you get wonderful entertainment at reasonable prices. Plus, the theaters are near nice restaurants and other interesting cultural activities for a perfect day trip. You might even be inspired to stay for the weekend or longer!
Connecticut
1) Westport Country Playhouse
25 Powers Ct., Westport, CT; Tel: 203/227-4177; www.westportplayhouse.org
Westport Country Playhouse, Stockard Channing & Jane Alexander,
 David Hare’s The Breath of Life (photo: Carol Rosegg)
Tickets: $30-$65
Paul Neumann and Joanne Woodward were key to the revitalization of this historic theater. The red barn was originally built in 1835. Transformed into a theater in 1931, the Playhouse initially featured try-outs bound for Broadway, then became a stop on the “straw-hat,” summer stock circuit throughout the 20th century. Today, the not-for-profit Westport Country Playhouse presents a selection of terrific plays with top-notch actors.
Westport Country Playhouse
 (photo: Robert Benson)
Nearby Eats: The theater recommends several nearby restaurants.
Other Cultural Activities: Westport Arts Center - art exhibits, gallery talks, concerts, and films.
Stay the Night: The Westport Inn
Getting There: From New York (Grand Central Station), take Metro North train (New Haven line) to Westport. Then, a 10-min. taxi ride. (Westport Star Taxi: 203/227-5157) Travel time: About an hour and a half.
New Jersey
McCarter, Daphne Rubin-Vega & Jimmy Smits,
Anna in the Tropics (photo: T. Charles Erickson)


2) McCarter Theatre Center
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ; Tel: 609/258-2787; www.mccarter.org
Tickets: $20-$62
Begun in the 1930s as a venue for the Princeton University Triangle Club (who still perform here), the McCarter stage has been graced by some of the most illustrious actors of our time. (Joshua Logan and Jimmy Stewart were in the first production.) McCarter was a popular pre-Broadway and summer-stock stop, then developed into a place where noteworthy playwrights premiere new work (Thornton Wilder's Our Town, William Inge's Bus Stop). Today, the theater continues presenting premieres and nurturing new talent as well as showcasing re-imagined classics.
Nearby Eats: There’s a café at the theater, Terra Teatro, and a wide selection of great restaurants nearby in downtown Princeton: Alchemist & Barrister, Triumph Brewing Company, Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar, Yankee Doodle Tap Room.
Other Cultural Activities: Princeton Tour Company - great walking tours; Princeton University Art Museum - 72,000 works of art including Degas, Monet & Picasso and an extensive collection of Chinese artifacts; free.
McCarter Theater 
(photo: Peter C. Cook)
Stay the Night: Nassau Inn
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Northeast Corridor line) to Princeton; get off at Princeton Junction, then take the "Dinky" train to Princeton, a 5-min. ride, stops across the street from the theatre. Travel time: About an hour.


3) Paper Mill Playhouse

22 Brookside Dr., Millburn, NJ; Tel: 973/376-4343; www.papermill.org
Tickets: $25-$98
Paper Mill Playhouse, Oklahoma 
(photo: Gerry Goodstein)
In 1938, the Paper Mill Playhouse opened in a defunct paper mill. Begun as a repertory theater, operettas and musicals were soon added to its’ repertoire. Over the years, the Playhouse gained a reputation for offering a selection of great plays and fabulous productions of Broadway musicals. Today, in addition to reviving iconic shows, the Paper Mill Playhouse presents brand-new musicals.
Nearby Eats: There’s a café at the theater, Kirby Carriage House, but Millburn’s Main Street, just a few blocks away, is worth exploring--several ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and restaurants. (The Millburn Deli is famous for its’ Sloppy Joes.)
Other Cultural Activities: In nearby Short Hills, NJ: Greenwood Gardens, a 28-acre public garden on the National Register of Historic Places; Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary, 16-acres of woodlands with nature trails.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Stay the Night: Short Hills Hilton
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Midtown direct Dover) to Millburn. Short walk or taxi ride to the theater. Travel time: About an hour and a quarter.


4) State Theater
State Theater, Musician Michael McDonald
(photo: Danny Clinch)

15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, NJ; Tel: 732/246-7469; www.statetheatrenj.org
Tickets: $25-$75
The State Theater is housed in an historic vaudeville and silent movie palace from the 1920s. Best known for its’ concert series featuring headliners at affordable prices--from Aretha Franklin to Yo-Yo Ma to Bruce Springsteen, the theater also presents Broadway musicals, opera, jazz & blues festivals, comedy, and children’s theater.
Nearby Eats: Lots of nice restaurants near the theater: Clydz, Tumulty’s Irish Pub, Harvest Moon Brewery, and Panico’s Brick Oven Pizza. Other Cultural Activities: Zimmerli Art Museum - an excellent university museum with an impressive collection from ancient artifacts to contemporary art.
State Theater
Stay the Night: The Heldrich 
Getting There: From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit train (Northeast Corridor line) to New Brunswick, just a few blocks walk to the theater. Travel time: About an hour and a quarter.


Massachusetts
5) Barrington Stage Company
30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA, Tel:
 413/236-8888; barringtonstageco.org
Barrington Stage, Debra Jo Rupp, Dr. Ruth
(photo: ©Barrington Stage)
Tickets: $15-$62
Founded in 1995, the not-for-profit company, housed in a 1912 vaudeville theatre, produces award-winning plays and musicals, and finds innovative ways to attract new audiences and introduce young people to theatre. The new productions at Barrington Stage are so terrific they often transfer to Broadway (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Freud’s Last Session) – but you can see them first, right here!
Barrington Stage
Nearby Eats: There’s a huge selection of all kinds of restaurants, cafés and wine bars on North Street in the Upstreet Cultural District. 
Other Cultural Activities: Pittsfield is abuzz with artsy activities from 3rd Thursdays street fair to 1st Fridays ArtsWalk. Berkshire Museum - art & artifacts from every continent.  
Stay the Night: Crowne Plaza 
Getting There: From New York (Port Authority Bus Terminal) take a Peter Pan bus to Pittsfield. About four hours (but worth it!)

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