“Life upon the wicked stage
Ain’t ever what a girl supposes.” – Showboat
I have loved musical theater for as long as I can remember. My parents went to a play on their honeymoon in St. Louis in 1959. All of our records were soundtracks from musicals. Yes, I was a very odd child.
My parents were also involved in Parke Players a local theater group. They put on a melodrama each October during the Parke County Covered Bridge festival and a play in February/March during the Maple Fair in Parke County. Dad was always behind the scenes building sets; mom was a great singer and actress and she had many parts through the years.
And there I was, the hopeless romantic who knew every love song from every musical.
I was so excited when I got parts in a play. I was a street urchin in A Christmas Carol. I
got small parts in some of the Melodramas. I laid behind a couch for much of Blythe Spirit so I could make things move for the spirit. I ran lines with my mom. I BEGGED to go to any cast parties (Dad always said NO).
I was in one play in college and I worked with a friend who directed several college plays. I had been to some plays at Starlight Musicals in Indianapolis, which was as close as I had gotten to professional theater. In 1982, I went to a play that took things to a whole new level.
It was in that year I saw a play in Chicago for the first time. I was in college and dating a man in Chicago and he got us tickets to Evita. I knew nothing about Evita. All of my parent’s records were the classic musicals from the 1940s-60s. Looking back I don’t even know how he got tickets. It was the first year Evita played in Chicago and this was only the second national tour of the musical.
Evita was playing at the Shubert Theatre. I was in love the second I stepped through the
door. The Shubert had opened in 1906 as The Majestic. It was a
popular Vaudeville venue. It closed during the Depression and reopened with the Shubert name in 1945. The theater was beautiful. It was majestic. It had a sweeping staircase. It had glittering chandeliers and people in sparkling clothes. For a farm girl like me this was definitely what I imaged theater to be.
So many things I didn’t know. I did not know Evita was based on a real person. I had never heard of Eva Peron. It wasn’t until intermission when I heard people talking that I realized this was a play about a real person. I felt like a hick for sure. However, I had never, ever seen anything so spectacular. This was the first time I saw a stage that moved so it appeared people were moving instead of the set. I had never seen a play where the actors held a position for long periods of time to make it appear as if they were statues. It was the most amazing experience and I will cherish it forever.
I then bought ever y book I could find on both Eva Peron and the making of Evita. Less than a year later I had the opportunity for a one-month internship at the Bronx Zoo in New York. I spent one week living in downtown NYC. The average ticket price in 1983 was $30. I was a poor college student. But, someone (I still don’t know who) sent my professor money and asked it be sent to me and the only instructions were that I had to spend it something fun.
I went to three plays: Evita, Dreamgirls and Merlin. In doing research for this, I learned 1983 was considered the worst year for Broadway in more than a decade. Which probably explains how I was able to get tickets to three plays. Merlin was in pre-production and it only lasted a few months. Dreamgirls was awesome and I loved Evita on Broadway. I really enjoyed Merlin and was sad to that it didn’t last.
I still remember being on an elevator and seeing little girls in Cats makeup. I had no idea you could dress up as a character and go to a play. While it was a bad year on Broadway, Cats was the only big thing going and unfortunately, I was unable to get tickets to it.
Since then I’ve seen Evita at least eight times. It will always hold a place in my heart because it was the first.
Mom had always wanted to go to Broadway and luckily we made it a few years before she died. We had the misfortune of being in New York in August of 2003 when a power surge and a faulty computer program caused all of New York City to lose power (and we got the Tshirts to prove it). Mom and I were on a tour bus returning from Liberty Island when every traffic signal in New York City went out. Thank God the bus driver was able to get us to within two blocks of our hotel. Unfortunately, our room was on the 25th floor and mom had a bad knee. There was no way we could climb 25 flights of steps. Instead of seeing the Great White Way; we saw Times Square when it was absolutely dark. No lights anywhere. We spent the night sleeping on chairs in our hotel’s ballroom (and there was no running water for restroom facilities).
We had tickets to The Producers for the night of the blackout. Bummer. Luckily, the next morning power was restored and we were able to convert our tickets to the following evening. We LOVED The Producers. We also took lots of photos of signs saying “Stage Door.” Unfortunately, we didn’t do any tours of actual stages. One of Mom’s wishes was that her ashes be scattered on a Broadway stage. I still have the ashes. I just need to sneak them onto a theater stage at some point. The power outage affected airlines and we were able to extend our stay in New York and saw The Phantom of the Opera as well.
Through the years I’ve taken every opportunity I can to see musical theater productions. I got to see Les Miserables in London. (Where they bring a drink cart around prior to the start of the show. I love London).
I found myself back in the old Shubert Theatre the first week of May to see Hamilton. Of course the Shubert is not called that anymore. It has the horrible name of The PrivateBank Theatre. Naming rights; evidently they get the job done.
It amazes me it was 35 years ago when I first found myself in the theater. It seems like only yesterday. I really couldn’t remember anything except I thought the theater seemed smaller. In 1982 I hadn’t been anywhere or seen any other professional theater. And ticket prices have certainly changed in the last 35 years. Tickets to Hamilton in Chicago were $200.
Like Evita, Hamilton is based on real people (although Hamilton is much more historically accurate). And like Evita; I fell in love. I knew the music to Hamilton. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for months. But, seeing it in person was beyond description. It now moves into my top spot as my favorite musical. I can’t wait to go see it again.
It was a bit disconcerting for the first five minutes or so. I knew the Lin-Manuel soundtrack of the original Broadway cast. The Chicago cast obviously sounded different. Soon however I stopped noticing the differences. I actually loved the actors playing Hamilton, Burr and Washington. And the actor playing King George was fantastic.
“There’s no business like show business like no business I know
Everything about it is appealing, everything that traffic will allow” – From Annie Get Your Gun.