When you grow up gay in the suburbs of New York, you develop certain affinities. Like, for instance, the Broadway musical.
(I don’t mean to perpetuate any stereotypes. I actually know plenty of people who like musicals who aren’t from New York. And some of them are straight.)
I saw my first Broadway show in the summer of 1969. I was 13 years old. Even before the curtain went up, I knew there was nothing as thrilling as seeing a big live musical theatre production, sitting in the middle of the front row of the mezzanine. (“Mezzanine” is a word that doesn’t come up often outside of live theatre. It’s a pretty word.)
The show was Fiddler on the Roof. I went with my grandmother, my mom, and my two sisters. My memories of the experience are vivid, as if it was just last week. It was the 3,000th performance of Fiddler, and the local news was covering the story outside the Majestic Theatre. The doors weren’t open yet, but they asked us to walk as if we were entering the theatre. Some scenes from the play are etched deeply in my memory. Most especially, I remember how I cried during the scene when Chava begs for her father’s acceptance of her marriage to a non-Jew, and he denies her. And I remember reading the Playbill and seeing that an actress from Hawaii was playing the role of Tzeitel. Her name: Bette Midler. (I also remember how much the tickets cost: $8. It seemed like a lot to my 13-year-old self, but nowadays similar seats can run upwards of $150.)
Fiddler was not my first live musical theatre experience, though. That came in 1964 at the Westbury Music Fair, when my parents took me and my sisters to see The Sound of Music with Gloria DeHaven. I was so excited to see a movie star live and in person, though I honestly don’t know why I’d ever heard of her, and I still couldn’t name a single movie she was in.
Until I was old enough to go into The City with my friends, going to a show was a family affair. The TKTS booth, where you could get half-price tickets on the day of the show, opened in 1973, the year I graduated high school, and that provided us an affordable way of catching some of the big musicals of the era. Among the shows I saw on Broadway while I was still living in the northeast: 1776, Hair, Pippin (twice), A Little Night Music, Raisin, The Wiz, A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd, Barnum, and 42nd Street.
I moved away from the northeast in the early 1980s, and for a while I had few opportunities to get back for a visit that included time to go to The City, let alone see a show. Some of the shows I did get to see on visits to New York are Crazy for You, Falsettos, Rent, Side Show,
I have settled for seeing a lot of shows on tour, where you get the same production values as from the original Broadway run. Often the tours are impressive, and a few have stood out (the pre-Broadway premiere of Hairspray, Ragtime, The Book of Mormon, and Next to Normal), but it’s not quite the same. For one thing, the two theatres in Seattle that host Broadway tours are too big. The 5th Avenue Theatre has a capacity of 2,130, and the Paramount Theatre seats over 2,800. They feel cavernous. Even sitting relatively close to the stage, the performers seem to get swallowed up by the space. By comparison, the largest theatre on Broadway seats under 2,000.
I may be jaded, but there’s something about entering Times Square and seeing all the lights and all the brilliantly colored ads for all the shows that will always get my heart racing and put a spring in my step. It’s an integral part of the theatre experience, and it cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
I’ve decided it’s about time I give myself the authentic Broadway theatre tourist experience, so I’ve booked myself a six-night stay and bought tickets to some of the hottest shows on Broadway. It’s going to be my special present to myself, a couple of months ahead of my upcoming milestone birthday.
Stay tuned for details.