Saturday, September 24, 2005

Moondance Diner

How long has it been now since the late Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer prize- and Tony Award-winning musical, Rent, premiered on Broadway-- ? Well, this old-fashioned diner, a former railroad car, is where Larson spent almost a decade working as a waiter while waiting for his big break. Ironically, it came on January 26, 1996, one day after Larson's untimely death of an aortic aneurysm, just before Rent's first preview at the New York Theatre Workshop.

I made a pilgrimage to Moondance during a May birthday visit to Manhattan nine years ago, after having seen a segment about Larson on NBC Nightly News. I ordered the fish and chips and was disappointed to find that it was served only with ketchup. I asked the waiter for tartar sauce for the fish and he returned with a freshly made version of it made with mayo and chopped dill pickle which was none too great. But, for my money, the real payoff came when I went to the cash register to pay my check and discovered Jonathan Larson's handwritten note, inviting his co-workers to the opening night preview of Rent, taped to the back of the register.

My dear friend Ninotchka obtained tickets for us to see Rent on Broadway as my special birthday treat. It was the first month of its run, so we got to see the original production and cast. The outside of the Nederlander Theater where it was playing had been painted to resemble a funky building on the Lower East Side.

Larson's former co-worker at Moondance, Jesse L. Martin, went on to originate the role of Tom Collins in Rent and is reprising his role in the new film version of the play, as are Taye Diggs (Benny), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel), Idina Menzel (Maureen), Adam Pascal (Roger), and Anthony Rapp (Mark).

Moondance Diner
80 Sixth Ave at Grand Street
New York, NY
Phone: (212) 226-1191
Hours: Sun-Weds 7 am-midnight, Thurs-Sat 24 hours; may also be rented out for parties