marc acito2
Marc Acito relaxing with his dog at home.

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of Eileen Katz’s series for the West Side Rag called “Why the West Side?” She’s interviewing locals, particularly people in creative fields, to find out why they live on the Upper West Side.

By Eileen Katz

Marc Acito is an award winning playwright, novelist, and humorist. He wrote the book for the current Broadway hit musical “Allegiance”, starring George Takai and Lea Salonga at the Longacre Theater. And although I spoke with him in North Carolina where he is about to open the musical “Chasing Rainbows”, based on the early life of Judy Garland, he and his husband, Floyd Klaver, call the Upper West Side home.

Why the West side, Marc?

We moved to Lincoln Towers in September, 2011. My husband and I left NYC in 1987, back when the Upper West Side was cool. So when we returned we still had this fantasy of living here. What we discovered, of course, is that everyone aged along with us, and it is no longer cool, but we love it.

What’s the best part of living up here?

We love that it’s actually a slightly sleepier and quieter part of New York. It’s nice to come home to a sedate environment in what’s otherwise a pinball machine of a city.

What makes you stay?

Our goal is to remain in Lincoln Square partly because of the 1, 2 & 3 subway. If your life is centered on the West side, as ours is in the theater, it’s just the best subway lines in the city. And also we have a dog! And Central Park is off leash until 9 a.m. We want to be able to be with our dog there. We now have this coterie of Central Park dog friends. This bizarre eclectic group of artists and entrepreneurs and some very high-powered business people who walk their own dogs. It’s a very stimulating morning in Central Park! Many of the world’s events are being discussed and solved. Any given morning you could be chatting with Tony Kushner or Jim Dale or Barbara Walters or any number of people who are equally accomplished. It’s a pretty impressive group of people walking their dogs in this neighborhood!

So in the vein of “boxers or briefs,” if I asked “Riverside Park or Central Park” what would you say…?

Central Park, absolutely!! My favorite time to be in Central Park is the absolute dead of winter, with a foot of snow, January or February, 8 o’clock in the morning. There are half a dozen people in the park. It is empty. And there’s not a leaf on a tree so you can see clear across through to the East side. It’s so peaceful. I actually prefer Central Park without leaves.

What’s one of your favorite places to go to in the neighborhood?

The Lincoln Center Library for The Performing Arts. As a playwright, the idea that I have this massive resource just blocks away from my door is amazing. The theater and film archive is a treasure trove of material. But I actually use it as my branch library as well. Growing up as a theater kid, that was one of those idyllic destinations. And the idea that you could have a New York City Public Library card and access to all this material was really a dream come true. So the idea that that’s now my neighborhood library never ceases to be thrilling to me.

What’s your favorite place to shop?

I’m not really a shopper, but Trader Joe’s caters my life. Trader Joe’s provides us with a healthy balance of all four food groups: jars, boxes, cans and resealable bags.

…and to eat?

We’re really not restaurant people. I prefer to eat without wearing shoes and I suffer from waiter anxiety.* but this is one of the reasons why we chose the Upper West Side. We specifically chose Lincoln Towers because the living space is wide enough to accommodate a dining room table that can seat 8! We don’t like to eat out, but we do like to entertain. I looked at 60 apartments before we chose this one and even though it looks like Stalinist housing from the outside, what I love about it is the space planning inside.

[*Editor’s Note on the definition of waiter anxiety: Knowing so many waiters are under employed artists hoping to upsell the menu and turn over the table, Marc finds it very hard to relax and enjoy the meal feeling guilty about not ordering enough and/or holding the table.]

Can you describe any quintessential Upper West Side moments you’ve experienced since living here?

I knew I had found home when I was waiting for the Realtor to show me the apartment in Lincoln Towers and I was standing in the lobby taking photographs for Floyd to see what it looked like, and a voice behind me that sounded straight out of my childhood said to me: “Do you love it or hate it?” And I said: “I beg your pardon?” And this woman, who is the quintessential Upper West Side woman, like 4’ 10’’, like 150 years old and she’s got one of those wheelie grocery carts and she says: “The lobby! Do you love it or hate it? It’s very controversial.” And I just thought: “Ok. I’m home.”

If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one thing from Zabar’s with you, what would it be?

You have to ask? It’s the chocolate babka!

If a street were going to be named after you in this neighborhood what would it be and why?

It would have to be 65th Street along LaGuardia High School because Floyd and I have adopted it. When we thought about where do we want whatever we have earned to go, it just seemed natural to say to these kids who really are exactly who we were (theater kids who want to be artists, performers) and also, in terms of being part of the neighborhood, it was a chance for us to support our local school. It is our local public high school. We love it. The idea that we can now have involvement in this institution that frankly, was one of the greatest inspirations for me to pursue a life in theater, I mean the year that “Fame” came out in 1980, for me that’s what made the decision for the life I wanted to lead. And to be able, even though I didn’t go to that school, to be able to support that institution, which really needs it, feels right.

When they finally declare “Marc Acito Day” on the Upper West Side, describe what the celebration would be.

Let’s say tomorrow they declared “Marc Acito Day”, Lea Salonga and the cast of “Allegiance” would be paying tribute to Marc Acito at the LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts with the LaGuardia High School dancers and orchestra and performers performing excerpts from my collective works and “We Sing The Body Electric”.

If you could change one thing about the Upper West Side what would it be?

I would say the return of independent businesses.

What’s your favorite hidden gem here?

Have you ever gone inside the Apple Bank? I just love the building itself. To me it feels like what banks are supposed to feel like. You know, they’ve got those high ceilings, the Romanesque architecture, and it’s so monumental and quiet. I don’t bank there. I just like going inside. They always look at me suspiciously cause I like to just go inside and walk around and I’m sure I just look like I’m casing the joint.

Read the first installment in Why the West Side? here. It’s an interview with Jerry Stiller.

ART, COLUMNS | 6 comments | permalink
    1. Jordan says:

      Great piece and love the new column – great celebration of our neighborhood!

    2. Lisa says:

      Great article!

    3. wcsnyc says:

      The main male star (and guiding light) behind “Allegiance” is spelled George Takei (rhymes with gay, as he often says). And though the show is a worthy effort describe and explain an embarrassing moment in U.S. history that deserves to be exposed, publicized and discussed, it has received only lukewarm reviews and can hardly be classified as a “hit”. Incidentally, it closes this Sunday.

      • Theaterfan says:

        Hey wcsnyc, why such negativity? Allegiance was very well received and an important work. We should compliment and praise important contributors such as Marc Acito, not take snarky, anonymous swipes at them. Send us a list of your books that are currently on Broadway please.

    4. Rob Schwartz says:

      Why so negative? Let’s celebrate artists in our neighborhood such as Marc Acito and their accomplishments instead of making negative, snarky comments. Just my view.

    5. Cyrus says:

      I love this series and I appreciate the interview but I can’t say I’m sold on his love for the UWS. He lives here due to proximity of the 1,2,3 lines. He doesn’t eat out (waiter anxiety, seriously?) and shops at TJ’s. Sounds like he’d be just as happy in any NYC neighborhood.