‘CORNELIA STREET’ CRASHES: Well, we saw “Cornelia Street,” the new musical by Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel, at the Atlantic Theater’s Stage 2 in Chelsea last month, and we can safely say it’s not that much of a “rip-off” of Robin Hirsch and his former Cornelia Street Café.
On the other hand, we didn’t really enjoy the show. Neither did the critics. In fact, we haven’t seen scathing reviews like this since the ones mocking Spinal Tap’s albums in “Spinal Tap.” In the observer.com, David Cote sniffed, “A talented cast is trapped by cringe material,” calling the show “aimless tedium” and “dreadful” and complaining there’s too much talking about “friggin’ balls.” Not surprisingly, after a short run, “Cornelia Street” closed March 5.
Only when cocaine dealing was thrown into the mix was there any momentum — at least some suspense and danger had been added. Some theater critics up from Philly sitting behind us just grumbled when asked their thoughts on the show.
To his credit as a Brit, Stephens at least picked the relevant theme of a small business struggling to stay afloat amid New York City’s hypergentrification (though wasn’t that the real cafe’s story, too?). And he tossed in some references to lesser-known local landmarks — like the former tow pound at Pier 76 — kind of neat. But, over all…nah.
The set, at least, did resemble the real Cornelia Street Café. There was the front door, with its three horizontal brass bars (though the gold-leaf lettering said Marty’s Cafe) and the awning with its red-and-white stripes. However, the lead character, Jacob (Norbert Leo Butz) was a rough-and-tumble chef from New Jersey, not at all like Hirsch, the cultured and witty, Oxford-educated artistic impresario and non-chef (though onetime dish dryer in another life) of the former Greenwich Village venue. And, unlike the real cafe, Marty’s didn’t feature a basement cabaret space with an array of entertainers. Like the real cafe, though, Marty’s was facing eviction due to rising rent. The landlord counseled Jacob: “The Village is gone. Maybe [try] Red Hook,” and that he should ditch food and “just do drinks.”
One character that rang true was Patti (Lena Pepe), a former flame of Jacob’s, who, older now and sporting a lush mane of white hair, formerly discoed fabulously at Studio 54. “This was the one place I feel needed,” she said.
Hirsch and Stephens had a sit-down, for tea of course, at Tea & Sympathy, on Greenwich Avenue, before the show opened. Hirsch had felt left out of the loop upon learning over the summer that a musical named after his erstwhile establishment was about to hit the stage. As The Village Sun previously reported, Stephens hung out at Cornelia Street Café, soaking up the place’s atmosphere, during its swan song.
The upshot was that Hirsch read his “Cafe Stories” at one of the theater’s off nights. “Simon made a really gracious introduction [before the reading],” he said. “I think we really healed whatever rift had grown between us.”
As for what got Stephens onto the cafe in the first place, Hirsch said the playwright had met Kristen Abate, who grew up on the block and worked at the hotel where Stephens was staying, and who ushered at Cornelia Street Café during its final days.
COMMUNITY BOARD (MUSICAL) CHAIRS: After two years leading Greenwich Village’s Community Board 2, Jeannine Kiely is stepping down (per the board’s voluntary term limit) to be succeeded by Susan Kent, the first vice chairperson. Kent ran for office unopposed. David Gruber, a former C.B. 2 chairperson, praised Kiely as “a ball of energy” and Kent as having “the right temperament to be chair[person]. She’s fair, level-headed.” Former Councilmember Alan Gerson, a leader of the Save Our Supermarket (S.O.S.) effort to keep the Morton Williams store at Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place and another former C.B. 2 chairperson, also called Kiely a “very impressive” board chairperson.
Gruber said, though, that the all-volunteer body will suffer a big loss when Bob Ely, the longtime co-chairperson of its State Liquor Authority committee, as expected, steps down. “There will be a hole in the community when he leaves,” he said. “He has been doing this for 10 or 12 years and I think he wants to move on with his life.” We’ll never forget that epic committee meeting where the late Tom Connor accused Ely of badgering him over Connor’s support for an alcohol application — was it for Zero Bond? — but it actually turned out that Connor, due to his hearing loss and the echoey acoustics in the Our Lady of Pompeii Church basement, actually had just misheard a lot of what Ely said.
C.B. 2 also has finally hired a new district manager (head staff member), Mark Diller, who succeeds the man, the legend Bob Gormley. He’s a lawyer and formerly chaired the Upper West Side’s Community Board 7.
Meanwhile, over at the East Side’s Community Board 3, Michelle Kuppersmith has stepped down as the S.L.A. Committee chairperson, to anti-bar watchdogs’ rejoicing. There has also been a shakeup at the top of the board, too, with Paul Rangel not only bailing as chairperson but ditching the board altogether. The new chairperson is Tareake Dorill.
V.I.D. PRESIDENCY: There’s been a changing of the guard at the top of the storied Village Independent Democrats club. Jonathan Geballe is the club’s new president, succeeding the unique co-presidency of Mar Fitzgerald and Cameron Krause, who led the club for the past two years. Geballe, an even-keeled attorney, is a former district leader and club president. Maybe not everyone knows, but he originally came to New York City to be a guitar player.
‘WHAT’S GOIN’ ON?’ As if you haven’t read enough about Arthur Schwartz and the ongoing WestView News/Village View clash, the Greenwich Village district leader celebrated the big 7-Oh at Turkuaz restaurant on W. 53rd St. on Feb. 12. His younger, accountant brother Ray was there, along with their mother, 100, who was scrolling away on her cell phone in her wheelchair, and his daughters and son, plus a cousin, whom Schwartz remembered going to the Fillmore East with to see bands when they were young, “for $3!” he recalled incredulously. His wife, Kelly Craig, an actor-turned-real estate broker, was by his side. The group also included friends, neighbors and people from WBAI radio (Schwartz hosts a show and is the station’s attorney), staffers from his law office and writers from his new breakaway newspaper, like Brian Pape. Ray Cline of the Village Reform Democratic Club and Save Our Supermarket, also made the scene. He noted that more than 8,200 locals have now signed the petition to keep the Morton Williams supermarket at or near its current location at Bleecker and LaGuardia Place.
Schwartz said, in a bit of exciting news for him, that the Village Independent Democrats, for once, have actually endorsed him for reelection as district leader. He noted he’s been forging a good relationship with his co-district leader, V.I.D.’er Jenn Hoppe. Meanwhile, negotiating the boundaries of his Part A with Part B, the latter which is represented by District Leader Jeannine Kiely, was a challenge, he said, noting, “Jeannine is a tough negotiator.”
Schwartz’s bro Ray told us the story of how their mom once did Marvin Gaye’s toenails. The two lived in the same building in Santa Monica, CA, and during an elevator ride Gaye mentioned he was having issues with his nails. She gave him a pedicure and also abraded his heel calluses, and went on to become a huge concertgoer at 60. At 100, she’s still a doctor of pediatric medicine (D.P.M.) in good standing.
Also at the party was Miranda Ordonez, who was the youngest City Council candidate, at age 20, in 2021. Schwartz said she’s an up-and-comer in the mold of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Also in the house were W. 13th Street activist David Marcus and Lindsey Boylan, the former candidate for borough president and Congress who made the first sexual-misconduct accusation against Andrew Cuomo.
Mark Diller is the new CB 2 district manager.
But is Diller still a member of CB 7?
I saw “Cornelia Street” at the invitation of. a theatre friend who knew of my involvement with the cafe in the last four years of its existence as creator:producer of spoken word & music series at the underground cabaret. I considered writing a review before I saw it. But Robin warned me by sending the NYT review. So, I was surprised to see him there on the same night. He made a speedy getaway. Only later, remarked in an email that the only resemblance as you point out was the set!