Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ides of March

"Beware the Ides of March." Well, I'm sure glad I didn't heed the soothsayer's warning. March 15 is probably most famous as the day Julius Caesar was stabbed in the Senate by his little friends (including Brutus). The date also marks the anniversary of Tsar Nicholas II's abdication, Maine's admittance into the United States and Constitution Day in Belarus. But it's also the anniversary of the Broadway opening night of My Fair Lady, as well as my brother's birthday. However this particular day is also very personal to me.

On this day ten years ago, I went to see my very first Broadway show. When I tell this story there are some who are surprised, assuming that I'd been going to the theatre since I could walk. But I'm not from a particularly theatrical family, so I had to wait. Years of asking to see things fell on the unwilling ear of my parents (who would finally get to Broadway themselves in 2008 for South Pacific). I had taken in local community, high school and regional shows but it appeared to my young mind that the allure of Broadway would forever elude me.

The opportunity finally manifested itself in high school. It was my junior year, and I had recently become involved in our theatre arts department. The advisor and director arranged for various theatrical trips during the year, and arranged to take a group of students to see a Wednesday matinee of the long-running hit Miss Saigon. I knew a couple months in advance that this was going on. It didn't matter the show. All that mattered was that something I'd always wanted to do was finally within my grasp. I made it a mission that I just had to get to Broadway.

The usual information was involved: permission slips, money for the ticket and bus fare and the unwritten permission from the teachers whose classes I'd be missing that day. All of that cleared, and I was all set to go. Then much to my personal panic, an even greater obstacle struck - sickness. It was my father - who never gets sick - who brought this one home. By Tuesday, everyone in the house except for myself was sick. I knew it was inevitable that I was next.

Wednesday morning came, and I did not feel well. Deciding that there was no way in hell I was going to miss the production, I persevered to get to that show. It was a battle of wills that I won... or at least staved until after getting home. There might have been some rosaries and a little bit of zen meditation involved, but focus was where I was at. I was ably distracted on the ride from northern Westchester into Manhattan while we watched South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut. (It was a fun ride, in spite of how I was feeling).

My teacher handed us our tickets outside the Broadway Theatre around 12:30ish. We then had some time to roam around the Times Square area with other students. I figured lunch was a bad idea, so I roamed down into Times Square where I discovered the Virgin Megastore for the first time. I made a mental note that I needed to come back this store; this time with more money. Keeping careful track of the time, we made sure to get back up to 52nd Street in time for the show.

I took in every part of the process: the mob of people lining up to get into the theatre, the organized chaos of finding our seats (we were seated in Row J & K right orchestra) and settling in for the show experience. Reading my first playbill as I placed by ripped ticket stub inside as a bookmark. (I have faithfully kept every playbill and ticket stub from every show I've seen). There I was, feeling somewhat feverish and unwell, absorbing everything I could about this experience. I was in a Broadway theatre. Hell, I was in the Broadway Theatre. There was an announcement about pagers (remember those?) and cell phones. And we were off.

I wish I could say I remembered every single detail of the show. I don't. What I can recall:

- There are a lot of chorus girls in g-strings. That means they must be promiscuous
- Our heroine, Kim. A virgin, but not for long. Decent singer. (Deedee Lynn Magno).
- I know this song. ("The Last Night of the World")
- That Will Chase sure is pretty good. (Chase was playing Chris).
- People are singing far too much. This first act is going on too long.
- Okay, first act finale. I'm curious for act two.
- The Engineer is such a fun role. How the hell was Jonathan Pryce cast in it?
- "Bui-Doi,"eh?
- The helicopter is interesting, but distracting. Good sound design, but not the best thing for a feverish teenager to experience.
- This show has a curiously structured sense of time.
- Oh, Ellen. You're the reason Kim can't have nice things...
- This isn't going to end well.
- The second act is a bit tighter, but this is still too long.
- "The American Dream" is fun. (This was before I knew what an eleven o'clock number was)
- What an abrupt final curtain.

Well, I made it. I got through that entire Wednesday matinee without getting sick, and without getting anyone else sick too. Slept on the ride back to our high school and then proceeded to a choir practice. When I got home, that's when I went to bed and stayed there. It was like a perfect storm illness as I found myself battling three separate infections simultaneously. I was out of school until the following Tuesday, when I made a feeble but grand return. I had never been that sick in my life before (or since). But, if I had to do it all over again, I would.

Ever since, I have tried to get to the theatre on or around March 15. Exactly a year after Miss Saigon, I was surprised by friends with a trip to see The Music Man revival. Others include Urinetown, Come Back Little Sheba and most recently last year's opening night performance of Blithe Spirit.

For years, the idea going to Broadway continued to thrill me. For the first four years of my theatregoing, my trips to the Broadway were few and far between; I could count the annual trips on one hand. Now that I go to the theatre with considerable regularity, I no longer quite have that sense of being awestruck (though I take note if I'm entering a house for the first time), but still sometimes smile at the idea that I'm entering a Broadway house to see a Broadway show. There is no way to put it into words, but there is nothing like it in the world.

The Ides of March may have cursed Julius Caesar, but for me it will always mark the beginning of one of the more interesting chapters of my life.


Esther said...

That one heckuva story!

It's funny how something so close can seem so unobtainable and distant when you're a kid. My parents never took us anywhere (or at least not anywhere I wanted to go!) We lived an hour from Boston but we rarely went there. So I know the feeling.

I wasn't feeling well when I saw Young Frankenstein and ended up taking a couple days off from work when I got back from New York. It's not easy to sit there when you're not feeling well. So I admire your intestinal fortitude at staving off illness to make your Broadway dream come true. I still get excited every time I'm in a Broadway theatre. There's just nothing quite like it.

Happy Broadway anniversary!

Monica Reida said...

Happy Broadway anniversary!

I think there's something memorable about the first play someone goes to. I still vividly remember some parts of the first play I attended. (And they're all very odd things.)

And it isn't easy to sit through a play when you're feeling ill.

Linda said...

I really enjoyed this post. Miss Saigon was the first theater experience I can remember. It was in LA and I loved every second of it. I sat there in complete awe and to this day I love that show--no matter what anybody says about it. I know what you mean about seeing so many shows now--I love that I can see everything, but I miss when I would see one or two shows a year and how special it was.