Elegance in NYC for New Year’s Eve: Manny Lehman on Broadway
New Year’s Eve goes with New York City the way pre-Lenten decadence goes with New Orleans. Thanks to the traditions of Guy Lomardo leading an orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in "Auld Lang Syne" (replaced by Dick Clark, replaced by Ryan Seacrest) and especially the ball drop in Times Square, the city is the undisputed capital of celebrations worldwide. In fact, it’s not local chauvanism to say that everyone (at least in the Western Hemisphere) dates the start of the New York to the ball dropping off 1 Times Square.
But just because of that, the crowds in Times Square have become notorious as well as famous. Since Sept. 11, the police have cracked down hard on booze. It’s even impossible to bring a knapsack into the vicinity--if you can get in. Gay party-wise, hard-charging party professionals consider New Year’s Eve Amateur Hour: fun for drunken frat boys and suburbanites maybe, but too much hassle for hard-core dancers.
But that’s changed this year. The Saint at Large is giving us a reason to venture out into the cold night air and celebrate ’08 when DJ Manny Lehman takes us on a Saint musical journey at the Nokia Theater.
Located in the very heart of Times Square, the party starts only one-half hour after the ball drop. But don’t be afraid that the streets will be swarming with screaming tourists honking on noisemakers and mugging for the TV cameras. The police do a sweep immediately after Midnight, and by 12:30 a.m., when After the Ball commences, the streets around Times Square will have you humming U2 ("Everything’s quiet on New Year’s Day") as you wend your way into one of the most beautiful party spaces in New York City.
Saint at Large producer Steven Pevner hadn’t originally planned on an event when the owners of the Nokia approached him after last year’s Jennifer Hudson concert. "A lot of the venues were talking about alternative forms of programming," he says. "I got a call from the Nokia saying how impressive they thought the Hudson event was. They told me I could whatever I wanted."
Pevner had toyed with the idea of another performer, but opted to give people a night of pure dancing. Not only would a performer only interrupt the flow of the music, but any big-name draw would have charged so much for that night that it would have sent the ticket prices through the roof.
After the Ball comes at the apex of an exceptional weekend of clublife in the city. After several nights of hard-driving dance music, Pevner expects that people will be ready for a lighter mood. "They’ll have two days of dark," he says. "After all, it’s New Year’s Eve!"
The Nokia itself will add to the feel of the evening. The space, used for rock acts, has a stage and a huge dance floor capable of squeezing in about 2,000 gyrating bodies.
There’s also a mezzanine level, raked-shades of the old Saint!-into the balcony, where people can relax and watch the action below. Or make some action of their own. (Go to http://www.nokiatheatre.com/ for photos. Be sure to check out those bathrooms, bigger than most NYC apartments.)
"It’s a beautiful, $11 million, brand-new facility," Pevner says. "I feel incredibly lucky to get this jewel in the middle of Times Square." There will also be giant plasma screens that will enhance the whole dancefloor experience.
If anyone can send the crowd out into the cold light of morning with an inner light that matches their glowsticks, it would be Manny Lehman. For the Bronx-born and -bred Lehman, this gig marks a major homecoming. Despite having become one of the biggest names on the dance-music scene and regular gigs at the old Roxy, Splash and other venues around town, Lehman has never played a Saint party. He is planning a set that looks back over 2007’s best tracks and anticipates next year’s trends.
Even though he is well aware of the awesome traditions that come with a Saint party, he’s keeping the vibe contemporary, although he promises to bring artillery of classics, in case he senses that that’s what the crowd’s wants. Otherwise, he’ll be doing remixes of recent hits and lots and lots of vocals--the kind of music I call "black girls singing happy songs."
"That’s my kind of music," Pevner says. "Instead of seamless tribal beats, each song will feel different." Lehman promises several new remixes and will debut tracks from his upcoming CD, due out in March.
But just because the music will be fun and the space elegant don’t think Pevner & Co. is ignoring the Saint’s reputation for healthy sexuality. He has made a special trek to Montreal to recruit the hottest go-go boys.
"Anyone who’s gone out globally knows that, in terms of nightlife, it’s happening in Montreal," Pevner says. "They get it. It’s pansexual. When it comes to go-go boys, they’ll do stuff our boys don’t do. Like the old French can-can dancers, they’re world renowned!"
As for logistics, Pevner emphasizes that this is a space used to dealing with large crowds arriving en masse and has a coat check staff in place that is friendly, professional and efficient. In fact, the whole staff is psyched for a gay event, he says.
Both Pevner and Lehman see After the Ball as a kind of stand-in for the old Saint at Large White Party, which used to take place on President’s Weekend in February-only better, because you don’t have to trudge through slush in white outfits. This being a Saint party, there will be many people who don’t go out that often, but, in keeping with the Saint at Large’s New Year’s parties of the past few years, the crowd will be diverse, from old Saint hands to people who weren’t even born when the original Saint opened.
What brings people from different generations and backgrounds together is music, and Lehman is planning a night that will appeal to everyone. "I want it very vocal and uplifting, sexier in the morning," he says. "Not pound, pound, pound. I want to send them home smiling."
After the Ball, Jan. 1, 2008, 12:30-8 a.m. 1515 Broadway at 44th Street (access at Eighth Avenue--be prepared for possible bag check by police if you arrive close to 12:30); www.saintatlarge; Wear Me Out (47th Street just east of Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen); Universal Gear and Nasty Pig (Chelsea); and Screaming Mimi’s (Lafayette Street, block south of Public Theatre, East Village); call 212-674-8541 for more information.