I don’t remember the first show I saw on (or off-)Broadway which ingrained the love of theater in me but I don’t remember not LOVING it. This week, I finally saw Book of Mormon. It had been the anniversary gift my husband and I had been promising to one another for five years. It was everything I hoped it would be and more; the funnier version of my religion-questioning rants. As they were taking their final bows, I jumped out of my seat in a standing ovation and wanted to pause and bottle up the electric energy in the theater. The actors were vibrant and in perfect step throughout the performance. As my hands feel the sting from clapping, the room is pulsing and the eyes of the actors are sparkling in a way which could only be achieved by feeling pure joy; I am in the audience, witnessing their dreams come true. Live theater is like no other performance medium; you can’t yell cut or desperately go to commercial. Performing on stage forces you to let go with full abandon on a wire with no net.
I thought everyone loved enjoyed the cultural blessing of live theater, particularly on a visit to New York City. Recently I was proven wrong. An old friend of my husband’s visited with his wife and preteen sons. He asked for NYC suggestions but “we don’t do theater” he said. They preferred to spend half a day riding the subway to and from the Bronx to walk around Yankee Stadium on a day with no game.
The irony is the intensity of passion, camaraderie, and spirit of a theater production are quite similar to the burst of adrenaline you might feel at a baseball playoff game. Everyone roots for the actors on stage as much as they might cheer for the pitcher to throw a strike. When your team wins and the fans jump up and down collectively causing the entire stadium to shake in excitement is what I’m feeling at the end of Book of Mormon. Tears are in my eyes at witnessing pure genius.
Sixth grade at the immigrant public school in Queens served as the backdrop for my first (and last) gig as an actress. We staged a play which incorporated a conglomerate of characters from various fairy tales, all of whom had to meet with the secretary in an office for something I don’t remember. I was the secretary who greeted Little Red Robin Hood and Humpty Dumpty and friends. I recalled all my lines on point but it didn’t matter because we all broke! (Is “broke” the technical term for when you start to crack up in the middle of your lines and continue to do so, intermittently for the duration of the play?) We performed for the other sixth grade classes, but there was no evening presentation for the parents. I guess the school administrators knew their demographic and realized the immigrant parents wouldn’t have appreciated any of the American humor. It didn’t matter since we were too busy cracking up to convey our lines in any cohesive fashion. I should mention our classmates in the audience thought we were AWESOME because they were laughing right along with us.
In high school, my best friend’s parents (a high school teacher and a college professor) went to the theater as a hobby. As educators, they were privy to membership to TDF (Theater Development Fund), which offers drastic discounts to shows on and off Broadway. Today TDF operates the TKTS discount ticket booth in Times Square, but in the late80s and 90s, it was an elite and coveted membership. They always invited me along and with tickets in the $12-$26 range, I was always game. I saw many things I wouldn’t have ordinarily seen, such as several versions of Fiddler on the Roof and, at least, three renditions of Jackie Mason on Broadway. I also saw Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, Lost in Yonkers, and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. I’ve seen the classic Broadway musical trilogy, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon. In tenth grade, the best friend’s parents allowed me to join them on their London family vacation. We were there for 7 nights and in that time, saw 8 shows. I even saw the London Version of some of the shows I saw in America (Blood Brothers, Secret Garden, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat). By college, I outgrew the Andrew Lloyd Webber genre, like a refined palate. I wanted more reality, more drama, more heart and less melodic reprise.
Attending college in New York City allowed me to maintain my theater-going habit and eventually I got a job for a theater marketing company where I got to see shows weekly FOR FREE! In fact, two nights before my son was born I had been running to catch a train home after we saw the musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie.