Rounding Third … Exciting moments as curtain goes up

“Annie,” the musical, is coming to Erie. We probably won’t be buying tickets this time around, but “Annie” holds a special place in our family’s memory.

My two grown children probably don’t often think back to their first theater experience, but I’ll never forget it.

My son, Bart, was 5 years old on our first foray to Shea’s Buffalo theater. Alix, his big sister, was 9. We had purchased four front balcony tickets to make sure they could see well. The children were seated on either side of me. Separating them was always a good idea.

When the theater lights dimmed for the overture, Bart leaned over to ask if he could sit on my lap. Oh, no, really? I so wanted to enjoy this afternoon. But then I realized that he needed to be comfortable in the strange, new setting. “OK, come on up,” I motioned.

Bart, my skinny little boy, all pointy elbows and knees, climbed into my lap. When the overture ended, the curtain rose on the girl orphans, singing and dancing across the stage. “Mom!” he turned toward me, all wide-eyed. “They’re real!”

“Yes they are,” I said.

“It’s not a big television set!” He was wowed.

“No. No it’s not,” I said. “Shh.”

As he pushed back a bit and nestled himself into my chest, Bart said “Oh, I think I’m going to like this.” And he did. Loved it actually. I have never forgotten what he said.

For days afterwards, both of my little jabber jaws talked a lot about what they had seen. That exciting and fun show was the beginning of a lifelong interest for both of them.

Over the next few years, we worked some theater into our vacations. We managed to see “My One and Only” in New York, the national road show company of “Evita” in Washington, and “Phantom of the Opera” in Toronto,

It is easy for me to remember back to my first theater outing – when the bug bit me. It was soon after I graduated from high school.

An acquaintance (a college man!) invited me to see “Showboat.” The music was so beautiful, and I’d never seen anything like the dancing, costumes, and sets. It was magical, transportive, truly a part of my early education. It was later that I learned about Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, the team who wrote the musical. And the beginning of an additional lifelong fascination with composers. I was lucky.

My late husband had never been to any kind of theater when we met. And yet, it was he who suggested that we attend the Olde Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego. During our first year of marriage, our budget for entertainment was divided between the San Diego Gulls hockey team and the Bard’s plays.

The woman who became my best friend for life is a native New Yorker – and a theater goer. When we were stewardess roommates together in New York, we had no bucks for theater tickets.

But in the years that followed, it was from Ginger that I learned about the important Broadway singers, dancers, and even the directors whose shows would be terrific.

Ginger knows the Theater District inside and out: where the reasonable nearby restaurants are; where the nearest subway stop is; the closest church so she can attend a mass between a matinee and an evening show. I went to mass with her once at St. Malachy’s and was stunned at the quality of the singing voices around me. It took a few hymns to realize the parishioners were from the musical Broadway stage, also being faithful between Saturday performances.

Ginger has kept every PlayBill from every performance she has attended in the last 60-plus years, her seat ticket stapled inside each cover. The large cabinet containing the collection is stuffed, but it is a wonderful reference library when we begin discussing shows – like which play Julie Andrews was in after she starred in “My Fair Lady.” She has often taken me to the half price TKTS booth in Times Square. Those bargains help a lot with today’s Broadway seat prices equal to groceries for two weeks.

It was Ginger’s encouragement that drove us to want the theater experience for the children. Today, Alix takes her children to the theater – another generation bitten by the Broadway bug. And Bart still goes when he can.

He went often during the years he lived in London and New York, including having theater tickets waiting for me when I visited him across the pond.

I don’t get to go much anymore, but the promise of a few hours of delight still has the allure: suspending reality, tickling your funny bone, putting a new song into your ear, and best of all, appreciating breathtaking talent.

When I’m in my theater seat, awaiting the curtain going up, my little brain is repeating “I think I’m going to like this.” The excitement has never faded.

Comments can be sent to moby.32@gmail.com


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