Award-winning composer/lyricist and professional pianist Seth Bisen-Hersh definitely feels in tune with Hell’s Kitchen — “I love the energy on the streets,” he says. This is Seth’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I moved to New York when I got my Master’s Degree at NYU in Music, and I haven’t been away from the city for more than a few weeks at a time for vacation ever since. I lived in the village for a few years, but now I’m on my third apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Since I grew up in NJ, I would often visit, so there never was any doubt in my mind that this is where I would live.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first paid job was at 16 when I was a counselor at a Summer Theater camp. After a few years, I became a senior counselor and the musical director… and now I play piano professionally. So not much of a difference! I’m also an award-winning composer/lyricist and had a musical called Love Quirks running off-Broadway last summer, which we are now licensing for productions around the world.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
I love when I run into people unexpectedly. For instance, one time I was walking down 9th Avenue to go to Don’t Tell Mama for my weekly show, and I saw my cousins through the windows of 5 Napkin Burger. I had no idea they were even in town! In another “it’s a small world after all” tale, I had a guy in my showcase who just moved here and it turned out that he grew up next door to my sister’s grandparents-in-law.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I love that there is so much culture here and so much good food within a few minutes’ walk. I love the energy on the streets which are not quite as crowded as the touristy avenues a few blocks east. Speaking of, being close to many theaters is definitely a perk when someone has a last-minute ticket to a Broadway show — because I can make it with only 10 minutes’ notice!
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I think my superpower is that I am totally shameless. Some people find that off-putting, but others are innately drawn to it. When I set out to do a project, I make happen, no matter how long it takes. Some might call that obsessive, but I call it tenacious.
What else should we know about you?
My current project is a short film about my grandmother’s Holocaust experience. Before she passed, I promised her I would keep her survival story alive. With today’s rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes, it is essential we keep telling authentic Jewish stories. Malka’s resilience confronting the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust and her journey to recovery and happiness are explored in this short film. You can find out more and help make it happen at: seedandspark.com/fund/malka. And you can find out more about me and my other projects at sethbh.com.
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Seth’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Don’t Tell Mama — 343 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I have been doing shows at Don’t Tell Mama for over a decade, and I just love the atmosphere there and all the people who work there. It brings me such joy to give people of all ages their NYC cabaret debut.
Westway Diner — 614 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
The Westway is the best way! There’s no finer diner! I actually wrote a jingle once for my beloved diner, but I have never actually shared it with them. This is where I first met my sitcom collaborator because that’s where Jerry and Larry developed Seinfeld. It’s iconic.
Turco Mediterranean Grill —604 9th Avenue (bw W44/43rd St)
My wife and I love going to Turco’s for some gyros. They are absolutely scrumptious, affordable, and served in a quick manner.
Frames — 550 9th Avenue (bw W40/41st St)
Every Thursday at 11PM, Frames hosts Broadway Bowling. Many shows have their bowling teams and it is a super fun time to play against other members in the theatre community.
5 Napkin Burger — 630 9th Avenue (corner of W45th St)
My mother likes to go there whenever she is in town for a show. The burgers are very good, and they also have a surprisingly good brunch selection!
Ollie’s — 411 W42nd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
My friend Celia and I go for Chinese food at least once a month at Ollie’s. It always hits the spot!
Norma — 801 9th Avenue (W53/54th St)
Norma has amazing Sicilian food, and it’s also affordable!
World Wide Plaza — 350 W50th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I just like sitting in the World Wide Plaza. There are chairs available 24/7 and it’s a nice place to sit and read that isn’t overcrowded.
The High Line
Speaking of places to sit and read that are overcrowded, I have a few hidden corners on the High Line where I like to go to people watch.
Cheeseboat — 747 9th Avenue (bw W50/51st St)
For my final selection I will go with Cheeseboat, which is as delicious as it sounds! It is food from Georgia, the country, not the state, and now that I’m writing about it, I am salivating for one.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Thank you for including me. I appreciate it!
You can follow Seth on Instagram @sethbhdotcom. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App