A Decade in Review

As we approach the end of 2010 as well as the first decade of the 21st century (There’s no such thing as Year 0 in our calendar), I’ve been looking back on the ten years of theatregoing I have had and have compiled a list of some favorite moments:

January 9, 2001 – It was my third Broadway show, but the sublime revival of Kiss Me Kate was the first show in NY that made me feel as though I were ten feet in the air. Stylish, elegant and irrepressibly funny, I went with my high school AP English classes (one section was reading The Taming of the Shrew). Starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie (whom I adored from the original cast recordings of Ragtime), the revival (at the Martin Beck). I can remember every detail. We gathered after school, caught a train and headed right to TKTS (my first time at the booth) then dinner at TGI Fridays. I sat with my favorite English teacher, Fran Schulz, and we just laughed and laughed. We were breathless by intermission and practically needed oxygen by the end of act two. It’s become the standard by which I judge all musical comedy revivals. The London company was preserved for PBS telecast and DVD, but that incarnation doesn’t live up to my memories of this enchanted evening.

July 9, 2002 – Noises Off! I didn’t think I’d see the revival, which had recently won a Tony Award for featured actress Katie Finneran. However, while roaming the local mall on school break with a friend, I saw there was a contest for free tickets to the production. For the hell of it, I just put my name on the piece of paper and tossed it into this vat of thousands of slips. You can imagine my surprise when I got a phone call telling me how to arrange my free tickets. Knowing that the revival’s original cast would be departing, I arranged for the final week of their run. I’m glad I did; it was one of the most hilarious productions I’ve ever seen. It was my first time seeing Patti LuPone, Faith Prince, Richard Easton and T.R. Knight onstage. On top of it, it was also the first time I stage-doored a production and as a result I fell in love with Katie Finneran, who showed me great personal kindness and graciousness in a brief moment. Noises Off was the funniest production I’d seen until The Norman Conquests in 2009.

November 27, 2003 – Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim. I’ve long been a huge admirer but had never seen her perform live. Then I received word that she’d be in my very town while I was on Thanksgiving break. I had the CD of the 2001 Carnegie Hall concert, which featured Malcolm Gets. However, in Peekskill, it was just Barbara and her three man band. I sat in third row center and just basked in the performance. Her nuance with the lyrics, her warmth and humor, the depth of her feeling as she delved into the lyrics. The pinnacle, though, was hearing Cook sing “Ice Cream” her trademark number from She Loves Me. In the original key, no less. Chalk that one up to musical theatre zen.

May 27, 2004. I’ve talked about this day before, as it remains one of the most important of my life. Without the final performance of Gypsy with Bernadette, I wouldn’t have such marvelous friends like Noah and SarahB (and the extended family as a result). It was my first time at a Broadway closing (I’ve now done 14) and it was the first time I ever went backstage at a Broadway house. It was also the first time I saw Bernadette onstage, and in spite of what you see in print these days, her performance was well received by critics and audiences alike. And she should have won the damn Tony.

April 18, 2005. My first opening night. The Light in the Piazza at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. (To date I have done 7 opening nights). It was the start of an obsession with a superlative musical, which I ended up seeing 12 times throughout its run. There have been many other important theatregoing experiences of my life, but none that have been this magical. Victoria Clark’s performance as Margaret Johnson was one for the ages, and Kelli O’Hara was equally sublime as her daughter. Adam Guettel’s score was one of the best of the decade and it’s a shame we haven’t yet heard anything new from this brilliant composer/lyricist.

December 4, 2007 – August: Osage County opening night at the Imperial. I’d never gotten more dressed up or cared more about my appearance than this particular opening, as I was a guest of Noah. Because of the union strike, the opening had been delayed and by my great good fortune I was allowed to attend. It was a lot of fun standing in the lobby with Sarah, Kari and Sally people watching people as the stars made their entrance into the lobby. But what was even more amusing was the fact that there were celebrities who were there because they just had tickets for that performance – and celebrities who brought celebrity friends as plus-ones. But nothing prepared me for the searing power of Tracy Letts’ play with a dynamite cast including Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed. After the second act, I was in need of air. Saw this three and a half hour play 7 times.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007. My first post-Tony performance. We were in attendance after Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson won Tonys for their brilliant work on Grey Gardens. I had seen and loved the show earlier in its Broadway run, but the audience at this show made it something to behold. The applause at the top of the show threw the actresses off of the pre-recorded track (charmingly saved by Wilson) and Ebersole received the only second act standing ovation I’ve ever seen upon her entrance as Little Edie just before stopping the show with “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.”

March 27, 2008 & April 4, 2008. Two glorious revivals of American musical classics opened: Gypsy at the St. James Theatre, South Pacific at the Vivian Beaumont. I was in attendance for both and just adored both productions. I’m of the school that loved both Bernadette and Patti, so comparisons are a moot point there. However, this second revival was aided considerably by the sublime Tony-winning performances of Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. Over at Lincoln Center, Bart Sher directed what is probably the best production of a musical I’ve ever seen. Superbly cast, thrillingly sung and acted – and that orchestra of 30. I couldn’t ask for a better week at the theatre (interspersed between the two were favorite flops Juno and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue/A White House Cantata).

May 11, 2008. Two-fold. Brunch at Joe Allen’s and No No Nanette at City Center Encores. Each in itself was an event worth rejoicing, but the combination made it a day for the ages. It was the first gathering of the Bloggers Who Brunch (as I like to call our gatherings). At that point, I had only been blogging for seven months and it was the first time I was aware that there were other people whom I didn’t know that were reading what I had to write! It was the start of many wonderful friendships that I continue to cherish wholeheartedly. The afternoon was spent SarahB in my first visit to the TLC before we took in the fabulous production of Nanette, which is still the best of the best when it comes to the Encores productions I’ve seen – and the only one I think deserved a Broadway transfer. The performances were all top-drawer (esp. Sandy Duncan and Beth Leavel), the choreography was sublime as were the costumes and orchestrations and… well everything. The evening ended at Seppi’s afterward with many of the folks from brunch, all of us smiling and singing “I Want to Be Happy” until the wee hours.

March 15, 2009. I had seen Angela Lansbury make her Broadway return in Terrence McNally’s Deuce opposite Marian Seldes and I would see her sublime portrait of Madame Armfeldt in the revival of A Little Night Music. But there was something extra-special about her Tony-winning performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. I never would have imagined Lansbury would have such a Broadway renaissance, but am so grateful to have been here to witness it. As Arcati, Lansbury was an utter delight and continued to become even more entertaining as the run progressed. She nailed every laugh, gesture and indignant expression. And watching her improvise her spirit dance around the Condomine living room was worth the price of admission. This opening night was like something out of a 50s movie: tie and tails, elegant evening gowns and a party at Sardi’s. We maintained our own mad-cap party of sorts on the street and gleefully applauded the Liz Ashley as she got into her car (“I’m not in the show!”)

May 16 & July 26, 2009 – The Norman Conquests. I had been out of the country for the birth of my nephew when the announcements and the marquee went up and was a little surprised to see the play’s logo at Circle in the Square upon my return. I confess, I knew very little about Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of plays. But on a whim, I decided to take in a Saturday marathon of all three. It would become one of the most personally satisfying theatrical experiences of my life. A brilliant ensemble, impeccable direction by Matthew Warchus made these plays the funniest dramas or the saddest comedies I’ve ever seen. I was aching with laughter. I loved it so much, I had to be there for the final marathon which only cemented its place in my estimation. The ensemble was brilliant, but Stephen Mangan’s turn as Norman remains a personal favorite of all time.

September 18, 2009. I only knew of The Royal Family from its place in theatrical lore, but was excited to see the play at Manhattan Theatre Club. Sarah and I attended this early preview and were in awe. Jan Maxwell owned the stage as Julie Cavendish, in a sublime study in comedy. I also just adored Rosemary Harris as the aging matriarch, whose eleven o’clock moment took my breath away both times I saw the show. But more than the production itself, it was the way it made me feel – I loved the Cavendish dynasty and reveled in their love of all things theatre and would have loved to have been a member of the extended family.

December 12, 2010 – The final performance of The Scottsboro Boys. The performance was brilliant, as I knew it would be. However, it was the audience that surprised me this time. Before the show started, the audience gave composer John Kander a spontaneous full-house standing ovation – a gesture I’ve never seen in my ten years of theatregoing. At the curtain call, Kander toasted the late Fred Ebb, librettist David Thompson toasted the real-life Scottsboro Boys and director/choreographer Susan Stroman toasted the entire audience.

Every trip to the theatre is a memory for me, some good and some bad. (The Philanthropist, Bye Bye Birdie, The Ritz, Next Fall… but why dwell on the negative?) So here’s to the next decade and all the wonderful theatre it will bring.

Act One Finale

My musical theatre professor Stephen Kitsakos teaches his classes about various song types heard in musicals. He would start at the very beginning with the overture and progress in sequence through the general structure of a musical. However, my two favorites were always the eleven o’clock number and act one finale. The eleven o’clock number is that last showstopper that galvanizes or energizes the audience just prior to the finale. With the act one finale, Stephen (facetiously) said its most important function is to entice the audience to return after intermission. That is merely one aspect (and truth be told, a valid one). It should also serve to move the story forward and provide a sort of button for what has been seen so far. There are dozens and dozens of different numbers that come to mind, but I’ll keep it to a few examples.

Dreamgirls. Michael Bennett’s staggering finish to act one is the stuff of theatre legend. The Supremes-like trio is on the rise, but everyone is forced to deal with Effie White’s diva temperament. Effie, the overweight lead singer finds herself pushed to back up position for the prettier Deena. The first act ends with her being kicked out of the Dreams, with a volatile confrontation (“It’s All Over”). Effie sings of not feeling well and pains in her stomach, which hint at the pregnancy revealed in the second act when she struggles to make a comeback. The original production’s first act ended with Jennifer Holliday’s impassioned and defiant “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” a force of nature showstopper that earned the star standing ovations mid-song. There are reports of people standing on their chairs and running down the aisles to the stage screaming while she was riffing. Bennett; however, brilliantly cut off Effie’s moment by upstaging her applause with the debut of the new Dreams as the curtain falls.


A Little Night Music. Stephen Sondheim has written phenomenal act one finales for his shows, but this one in particular is quite dazzling. Fredrik and Desiree have reconnected after fifteen years apart. He’s married to an 18 year old virgin. His 19 year old son is in love with his stepmother. Desiree’s lover is insanely jealous, his wife tells the virgin about Fredrik and Desiree having a fling. As the show approaches the end of the first act, Desiree unhatches a plan to win Fredrik back for good by inviting him and his family to her mother’s estate for “A Weekend in the Country.”


South Pacific. Rodgers and Hammerstein and Joshua Logan ended the first act of the show with a musical scene rather than a curtain number. It’s mostly dialogue between the two protagonists, interspersed with reprises of Nellie’s upbeat songs heard so far. The scene takes a serious turn when Emile and the audience discover a new, uglier facet of Nellie’s personality when she reveals her racial prejudices against Emile’s deceased Polynesian wife. The final reprise in the act is Emile’s “Some Enchanted Evening,”  first sung as an expression of love to Nellie, but is now in an entirely new context.


She Loves Me. My favorite musical comedy. The first act ends with Georg realizing that Amalia, his arch nemesis at work, is his lonely-hearts correspondent and soul mate. Knowing this information, he irritates Amalia, who is quite insecure as to whether or not Dear Friend will actually show up. Georg’s teasing leads to an argument between the two and Amalia dismisses him with a withering summation of his character flaws. The quieter-than-usual first act finale is her plaintive plea, “don’t let it end, Dear Friend,” a gentle waltz that brings down the curtain as she becomes quite aware that she has been stood up.


Gypsy. I don’t know that you an have a discussion about act one finales without bringing up Gypsy. Madame Rose dominates the musical and has three major solos that are all at eleven o’clock quality. I look at Rose’s character arc through these three numbers: “Some People” is a defiant expression of her determination, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is her desperation and “Rose’s Turn” is her defeat. As the show approaches the end of the first act, favored daughter Dainty June runs off with Tulsa, the rest of the act walks away while faithful Louise and Herbie want nothing more than to settle down. Rose, ever the pioneer woman without a frontier, sets her sights on bringing stardom to the overlooked Louise, in an incredibly chilling moment where it becomes clear that Rose will stop at nothing.


"Like Shiloh and Valley Forge…"

The sublime revival of South Pacific is poised to end its run at the Vivian Beaumont after a monumental 1,000 performances this August. I’ve seen the show twice; once on its opening night and the other on the night Barack Obama was elected our President. The production is a personal favorite of mine, and I hope to make another trip back before it ends.

The musical is based on the collection of short stories by James A. Michener, and there are two simple references to the original text. They are quotations which bookend the book’s introductory chapter which are projected onto white scrim; one before the overture, the other after the curtain call.

We have had an old mass market paperback edition of Tales of the South Pacific lying around the house for years. I got it in elementary school, but I didn’t read it until 2005, a result of seeing the concert at Carnegie Hall. It’s a collection of tangentially related short stories all revolving around Operation Alligator, a fictive military operation which took the restless Seabees and sailors out of their restless waiting and into the heart of the Pacific theatre of WWII. I couldn’t put the book down, I was fascinated – as I always have been and always be – with the history of the Second World War.

I can’t say that I grew up as a military brat, as my father (a Marine, once and always) left the military more than 20 years before I was born, but there was an immense amount of military influence in my childhood. Many family friends were veterans of WWII, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. So I have spent much of this time talking with them about their experiences, and have an immense appreciation for the sacrifices they have made and difficulties they have gone through for our benefit.

This past week marked the 65th anniversary of the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Some of my time this past week was spent helping my father get ready to go halfway across the world. He is currently on a military tour with other veterans who are meeting in Guam. They will be visiting Iwo Jima for a ceremony honoring the loss of both US and Japanese life during that bloody battle.

On an entirely different note, I am seeing the new musical Yank! at the York Theatre on Saturday, so there’s been a lot of WWII on my mind lately. I have seen practically every film about it, read numerous books – both fiction and non-fiction, and have seen countless documentaries about it. It’s been something I’ve been aware of ever since I can remember and my fascination continues.

It was the Michener quote at the end of South Pacific that I recall today. I didn’t expect it, nor did I expect to be as moved as I was by it:

“They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific. They had an American quality. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge.”

-James A. Michener, Tales of the South Pacific

Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush

Ever wonder how the original South Pacific looked? Well here’s your chance to have a look at the original staging and design. These are some excerpts of the original London production starring Mary Martin and Wilbur Evans. The musical opened in late 1951, running for two years at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane. The video quality isn’t spectacular, it looks like an old kinescope, but I believe it was shot on 16mm film. However, it offers a truly rare glimpse into musical theatre history. Enjoy. (Note: Mitzi Gaynor completely stole Mary Martin’s “Wonderful Guy” dance!)

Opening scene – “Dites Moi,” “A Cockeyed Optimist” & “Twin Soliloquies”

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”

“Some Enchanted Evening – reprise” & “A Wonderful Guy”

Vintage Photo: "South Pacific" closing night

This snapshot was taken at the closing night party for the original production of South Pacific on January 17, 1954. Rodgers and Hammerstein are about to help three Knucklehead Nellie’s wash the men right outta their hair, with (from left-to-right) Tony-winning original Mary Martin, Janet Blair and Martha Wright. Gotta love these vintage posed-publicity shots.

"South Pacific" 60th Anniversary Reunion

Tomorrow night, the smash-hit revival of South Pacific celebrates its first anniversary at the Vivian Beaumont. However, on Tuesday the musical itself celebrates its sixtieth anniversary. The show originally opened on April 7, 1949 at the Majestic Theatre starring Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza, Myron McCormack and Juanita Hall, all of whom would win Tonys (still the only production, musical or play, to sweep all four acting categories!). The show closed at the Broadway Theatre on January 16, 1954 after 1925 performances.

Meanwhile yesterday at the Vivian Beaumont, there was a reunion of the surviving cast members. Here is a brief video montage showing the mingling of casts old and new.

Blessed Event: O’Hara to Depart "South Pacific" due to Pregnancy

The effervescent Kelli O’Hara is expecting her first child with husband Greg Naughton in mid-July and will leave the company of the smash-hit revival of South Pacific in March. No replacement casting has been announced yet, but she does plan on returning to the show in the fall when co-star Paulo Szot plans on finishing up his run. Congratulations to the proud parents to be!!

Theatrical Highlights of the Year

1. Sunday in the Park With George. January 25, 2008 @ Studio 54. This was the first of three big musical revivals that set fire to the New York stage this year. An import from London, the cast was led by Olivier winners Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, with able support from Mary Beth Peil (her ability to listen as an actress was a marvel to watch), Michael Cumpsty and Jessica Molaskey and company. The revival featured spectacular scenography, with breathtaking visual design that enhanced the experience. I’ve never seen the second act work so well before. The only complaint was the reduced orchestration.

2. Gypsy. March 27, 2008 @ the St. James Theatre. The superlative City Center Encores! production became the most acclaimed Broadway revival of the show in my lifetime. All but Nancy Opel transferred, bringing something more in depth to the tables as actors, as well as marking the return of Lenora Nemetz to Broadway after an absence of more than two decades. LuPone, Gaines and Benanti won deserved Tonys for their work, with the latter two providing especially definitive interpretations of their roles. Quibbles with the minimalist production, unnecessary edits and kabuki lamb not-with-standing, a stirring, earth-shattering revival of the Great American Musical.

3. A White House Cantata. March 31, 2008 @ Jazz at Lincoln Center. This marked the NY debut of the concert adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner’s colossal (and much-loved, by me anyhow) flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Though a concert presentation from the Collegiate Chorale, it was important as it was a presentation of an incredibly rare and important Broadway score, one that has long been forgotten because of the embarrassment surrounding its original concept and staging. While I would have preferred theatre actors to opera singers, I was still thrilled for the opportunity to hear many of the favorites of the score performed live with Hershy Kay’s original orchestrations. I still hold out hope that the estates will let Encores! put on the original Broadway 1600 with Victoria Clark giving us the “Duet for One” (and perhaps a chance for the overture to be heard).

4. South Pacific. April 3, 2008 @ the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. One of the most entrancing musical revivals I’ve ever seen. My excitement for the production was high from the first announcement that the show was a go a couple years back. Kelli O’Hara and Paolo Szot oozed sensuality as Nellie and Emile, with his “This Nearly Was Mine” bringing down the house. Matthew Morrison sounded better than I’ve ever heard him sing, and his acting continues to grow more nuanced and polished. Danny Burstein channeled more than a little Bert Lahr into his Luther Billis, but that was okay. And finally, the delightfully gracious Loretta Ables-Sayre made her Broadway debut as Bloody Mary, finding depth and humor from within the character. The staging and its design were flawless, with eye-popping and lush visuals. Plus there was that packed orchestra with that glorious reveal during the Overture. What what was a pleasant surprise was that it quickly became (and still is) one of the hottest tickets in town.

5. La Fille du Regiment. April 18, 2008 @ the Metropolitan Opera House. I had never even heard of Donizetti’s opera comique when Sarah offered me a comp to the open dress rehearsal. Since it was the right price and seemed like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, I was decidedly game. However, I didn’t expect to be totally overwhelmed by the production. World-renown coloratura Natalie Dessay was playing opposite tenor Juan Diego Florez, with Marian Seldes making her Met debut in a cameo role. I was thoroughly engaged but went into a near frenzy when Florez tackled that Mount Everest of arias, “Ah, mes ami! quel jour de fete!” (aka “Pour mon ame”). The aria demands nine high C’s in a row, and is a challenge for even the most nimble and technically proficient singer. It was one of those rare moments that you watch well aware that you – and everyone around you – is about to go completely wild with enthuiastic applause, which we certainly did. Dessay and Florez’s chemistry is palpable and their vocal blend is top-notch, and I hope to see them together again in La Sonnambula this spring.

6. No, No, Nanette. May 11, 2008 @ the City Center. Hands down, the best thing I’ve ever seen performed at Encores! There was the most polish, the sturdiest direction, the best choreography, costumes to complement stellar casting. The show itself is a wonderful example of the pre-Show Boat crowdpleasing musical comedy with its trite characters and machinations; however, the show, especially as seen in its 1971 revisal (presented here) is nothing but a huge Valentine to the 1920s (Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Drowsy Chaperone are decidedly not). Sandy Duncan tore it up at 62 with the chorines, kicking just as high and twice as energetic as the kids. Charles Kimbrough was charming. Mara Davi was an ingenue delight. Rosie O’Donnell had a blast supporting as the wise-cracking maid. Michael Berresse charmed and danced up a storm (another one who could have been a fantastic Joey Evans). But it was Beth Leavel who walked away with the evening, particularly her devastating eleven o’clock torcher “The Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone-Blues.” Infectious, endearing and charming, we hummed all the way across the street to Seppi’s. This is one Encores! I wish made a transfer to Broadway.

7. Boeing Boeing. September 3, 2008 @ the Longacre Theatre. What should have been a tired, unfunny exercise in bad farce turned into one of the freshest comedies of the season, winning the Best Play Revival and Best Actor Tony awards. The success is owed in part to Matthew Warchus, who took this English adaptation of a third rate French farce and felt that there was something to work with there. The majority of the success; however, belongs to Tony-winner Mark Rylance in his Broadway debut. Originating the part in Warchus’ original London production in 2007, Rylance’s character was a complete creation of his own, finding succinct choices as an actor which proved uproarious onstage. Bradley Whitford, Christine Baranski, Kathryn Hahn and especially the fearless Mary McCormack provided sturdy support.

8. [title of show]. September 27, 2008 @ the Lyceum Theatre. The one everyone thought I’d hate, but to the surprise of apparently everyone, I absolutely adored it from start to finish. Fresh, effervescent and unyieldingly clever and entertaining, the show might have fared better had it played a smaller Broadway house like the Helen Hayes or the Circle in the Square. Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff are all heroes, with special mention of Blackwell’s unique comic sensibility (“Die, Vampire, Die!”) and Blickenstaff’s vocal prowess (“A Way Back to Then”). I hope they all receive Tony nominations this spring. A return visit for the closing performance only cemented my admiration for the show and those who created/starred in it. The final performance of “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” prompted the longest Routledge ever witnessed by this Aficionado – three whole minutes.

9. On the Town. November 23, 2008 @ the City Center. In celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s birthday, the Encores! crowd decided to present his first Broadway musical as the debut of their latest season. The score is superb, the comedy hilarious. The book is a trifle, but with such winning numbers, zany antics and plentiful opportunities for exceptional dancing. Tony Yazbeck is a star on the rise – and I am glad to have seen him in this. Andrea Martin was the comic highlight with her uproarious turn as Madame Dilly. Of course, they rumored a transfer, as seems to be the case for every favorably reviewed Encores! show, but that seems quite unlikely.

What I want to see next year: Blithe Spirit, Billy Elliot, Music in the Air at Encores!, Hedda Gabler, All My Sons, Equus, The Philanthropists, Waiting for Godot, The American Plan, 9 to 5, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Firebrand of Florence (Collegiate Chorale concert), La Sonnambula at the Met, West Side Story, 33 Variations, Mary Stuart, Impressionism, Accent on Youth, Happiness, Mourning Becomes Electra.

"Where I went one day…"

I’m not sure what it was about the revival of South Pacific that got my father interested in the notion of going to see it. I think part of it stemmed from my overwhelming and enthusiastic response to the show after I saw it on opening night last April. That was the first time that I noticed he was genuinely listening to what I had to say about the show I’d seen. My parents just know I go and see shows and that it’s my thing. My mother enjoys a good show, but is rather wary of venturing down to NYC. The incongruity here lies in her completely unfazed attitude at flying around the country on exotic vacations at the drop of a hat. (There was less drama about her flying out to the Philippines for the birth of her grandson than driving down to Manhattan last Tuesday evening). Neither had ever seen a Broadway show. Until now.

My father’s favorite movie is The Sound of Music. One of his other favorites is the 1958 adaptation of South Pacific. So much so that he and I on our various travels have visited both Salzburg and Kauai, HI, taking in the filming locations. So whenever a place with which he is familiar is mentioned, he always interjects subtly under his breath “Where I went one day.” (Case in point: he once listened to the Ricky Nelson classic “Travelin’ Man” realizing he’d been to every single place listed in the song). My brothers will attest, if we had a $1 for every time he said “Where I went one day, ” we’d be considerably well off… Anyway I digress…

Back in August, the subject was brought up again after my father came home from a golf trip and mentioned that his friend had talked about wanting to see it, but not being able to get tickets until March. Then it became something he wanted to do, so I set to work getting tickets. Anyone who has tried to purchase tickets for this revival knows that it is one of the hottest tickets in town (huzzah for LCT!) and you have to really scope out the tickets. For my parents, where we sat wasn’t an issue, as long as we got there.

For years as a child, I had always asked for tickets to see shows in NY and everytime I was given a gentle dismissal, as if to say “I know, but that’s not going to happen.” So I gave up on my family as theatre-going companions. They understood that this was something I enjoyed doing, but aside from obligatory viewings of myself in educational theatre expositions in high school and college, they were mostly homebodies. So my excitement levels were already amped up for this, since they would be on my turf, following my lead and this was really also a testing area to see if this is something they will do on a continual basis.

This was all planned out in August. Then October came around and my family was knocked for a considerable loop. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had an idea of this back before South Pacific was even a discussion, but wasn’t 100% certain until his actual diagnosis. Barring my father’s need for privacy, he didn’t tell anyone that he was having a biopsy. But when it became clear that surgery was the option, he had to let us know. My first suspicions came when I heard two red flag alerts: “I don’t want radiation or seed implantation” and “I have tickets for South Pacific on the 4th, this won’t interfere with that, will it?”

Thankfully everything is fine. His diagnosis was made in stage I, meaning he was cancer free as of his surgery; however, I was a little concerned as his surgery was twelve days before the show! If anyone reading has ever met my father, they know he’s a hard-working, quiet, engaging person. He was in the Marines and worked as a paid firefighter for 36 years in Scarsdale, NY. He is also incredibly stubborn. He had surgery on a Thursday and was home from the hospital on Sunday. Monday was a comic sight as my mother was yelling at him to take it easy as he insisted on working around the house. However, given the minimally invasive nature of the procedure these days, recovery time is much less than it was even five years ago. (Everything is done with robotics; with pinpoint accuracy not even afforded the naked eye and hands).

Anyway, Tuesday rolled around and there were no worries. As I said in my post from that day, we did our civic duty and voted. Around 3:30 in the afternoon we got in the car and drove down to the city. My parents had never been to the Lincoln Center area, but we got there easy enough. In an amusing case of “small world,” a gentleman approached the ticket booth in the garage and nodded a hello to us. After a moment, he turned to my mother (who at 4’9″ and a rather jovial high decibel Scottish brogue is a rather memorable character) and told her “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.” Lost she shrugged and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. As soon as she spoke, it clicked in for him. “If I’m not mistaken, you live around Peekskill, correct?” Well, we were clearly making a connection here. Turns out he was Jehovah’s Witness that had come to prostelyze his at our door several months prior. My mother, a devout Catholic, adamantly tells them immediately that she has no interest in converting but will never be rude enough to not answer the door and will usually engage the ladies and gentlemen in a brief conversation. Turns out my mother kept him around for the Cliff Notes version of the family history as he turned to me and asked “Is this the archaeologist?” (My brother). The amount of information he recalled from the conversation was either incredibly remarkable or incredibly creepy, possibly a little bit of both. My mother, with a cosi fan tutti shrug, just turned to us and said “I just can’t get away wherever I go.”

We emerged at Lincoln Center through the Met. They are undergoing some intense renovations at the moment, so it’s a little easy to get lost. We exited into the main plaza where they took in the beauty of that area (and were impressed with the set-up regardless of the all the paneling and detours). Dinner was at O’Neals, where I looked on with a smile as they couldn’t get over the grand treatment that was given them at the restaurant (they really treat the customers spectacularly there). We ate early as to avoid the rush and to give us ample time to relax and digest leading to the performance. Originally we were going to walk around a few of the blocks as they wanted to scope out the surrounding area, but poor weather prevailed. We instead headed over to the Vivian Beaumont and waited for the house to open.

A lot of this time I entertained questions from them about this particular house and about Broadway etiquette in general. They were fascinated by the presence of a bar and the concession stand, with both charming the hell out of the girl behind the counter. (My mother could make friends with the enemy during battle, she’s got that gift; my father can be one hell of an innocent charmer when he wants to be).

The show was resplendent; even more nuanced and affecting than the first time I saw it. Kelli O’Hara is giving one of the most dynamic, three dimensional performances in NY; she’s just continued to grow since opening night. It is easily one of the most naturalistic performances I have ever seen in a musical. William Michals was on for Paulo Szot, which led me to quip “Paulo who?” Michals, a little older and perhaps not as physically imposing as Szot, acts the role with sincerity and can sing the hell out of the score. Not only sing it, but act it as well. His was one of the most impressive understudy performances I’ve ever witnessed. Matt Morrison is back after a month hiatus and is sounding more legit than ever. Danny Burstein is still giving Luther Billis the Bert Lahr treatment. And Loretta Ables-Sayre is still as impressive as ever.

I have to admit I was a little on edge during the performance, not so much because of my enjoyment of it, which was incredible, but moreso because I was curious/nervous as to how my parents were reacting. I realized that I hadn’t been in an audience with my parents since my dad took us to a George Jones concert in the now-defunct Opryland for his birthday back in 1994, so I had basically nothing to go on in gauging their reactions. It’s very interesting though, that their body language could help pinpoint it for me. My father has the best poker face you’d ever see. When I saw him crack a smile during the first Billis-Bloody Mary exchange, I knew he was enjoying it. My mother, on the other hand, is very exuberant in her reactions; she practically fell out of her chair cheering on Loretta Ables-Sayre at the curtain call and couldn’t stop talking about how much she enjoyed her performance on the ride home.

It was amusing to be the one conducting their evening. They purchased the souvenir program and a magnet to bring home. He briefly considered a t-shirt until he heard the prices. (Frankly, I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t plop down the money for a glorified Hanes myself). While my mother talked on about what she enjoyed (which was basically the entire show; I heard nary a complaint the entire time), my father drove on with a very calm, peaceful and satisfied look on his face. Another tell-tale sign he was enjoying himself, he was cracking quiet jokes to me before, during and after the show. (It was not nearly as bad as it may sound, in fact both were ideal audience members – my mother even unwrapped all her lozenges beforehand after reading the notice in the playbill – but for what it’s worth, be wary if you sit next to him at Mass, it’ll be a struggle to maintain your composure).

Given their immense enjoyment of South Pacific, can I get them to see anything else? I’m not sure. My father is generally content to be a homebody – and venturing into NYC for an evening at the theatre isn’t something I can expect him to do on a regular basis. Perhaps if Julie Andrews might appear in something (ohhh, does he love her…) or if The Sound of Music were to come back in another revival, maybe he’d consider it. My mother would probably be up to more trips to the city to see things, as she has seen many of the classic musicals in their film adaptations. (I’m going to work on a friend of hers to go see Gypsy. She’s enjoyed the movie, but hasn’t experienced the real thing).

It’s interesting to open up your world to people for the first time. To see people enter a Broadway house for the first time, take in their surroundings and audience neighbors (The twosome hit it up nicely: Mom with the woman from Ohio on her left; Dad with the woman to his right), I have to say (and this seems a little weird, but oh well) I was incredibly proud to have witnessed this milestone. To have them see how transportative the Broadway experience can be, especially with one of the first-class productions in NYC, well who could ask for anything more?

And now when someone mentions Broadway to my father, he can now say “Where I went one day…”