Amid pandemic and economic turmoil, there is already speculation about what life will be like “after” and how the new “normal” will likely be different. I suppose it’s true. Change is inevitable, even in good times. But one world I believe will remain much the same — live theater. Yes, I’m just a Broadway baby and I’m confident the show will go (back) on, brilliant and vibrant as ever.
For me, there’s nothing as thrilling as that shared moment when the lights dim, then brighten, and an actor (or actors) appear on stage and begin to speak; when set, lights, sound, and costumes come together to create a perfect illusion; when fantasy becomes reality. It’s that moment when the action — even if the action is merely a raised eyebrow — takes your breath away. And it is that moment shared in the moment of the performance with fellow audience members, then, re-lived walking out of a theater — in hushed or loud exhilaration — and in conversations and memories lasting long after the performance that can never be replicated by streamed content. And that is why live theater will never change in the post-pandemic “after.”
Don’t get me wrong. I want live theater streamed and content made more accessible to audiences. But it’s no replacement for the “real” thing, the thrill of watching a live performance.
I grew up in a theater-loving family. Make that a theater-fanatical family. Playbills were always scattered on our coffee table. Broadway musicals and dramas by Shakespeare and Arthur Miller constantly “played” front and center on our living room stereo day and night.
Each Wednesday, my mother and my aunt conducted a sacred ritual. They rode the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan, bought a new pair of shoes from Saks Fifth Avenue, had lunch, saw a Broadway matinee, had dinner at some posh supper club with the menfolk, and then, saw another show.
At some point, my mother had seen every show on Broadway. Some little girls dreamed of “world peace” as their goal. I dream of seeing every show on Broadway. To this day, my most prized possession is my Mother’s two bound volumes of all the Playbills from the shows she saw.
Growing up, going to shows was as natural as lox and bagels for Sunday brunch. Some little girls dreamed of being ballerinas and wearing pink tutus. I dreamed of being a chorine, wearing black tights, and dancing in The Pajama Game. Some kids went to church and the movies. I went to the theater, rarely to temple. Some teenagers listened to the Beatles. I listened to Showboat, Carousel, Man of La Mancha, and yes, the Beatles.
As a child, my family moved to Las Vegas, then a small town. There we rubbed shoulders with crooners and comedians on a regular basis, but those encounters my family treated with seasoned nonchalance. But oh, we sang a different tune when we returned home to NYC to see shows and family. Oh, how we gushed about the playwrights, composers, and Broadway stars we chanced to run into. Those were the stars that truly struck us!
As an adult, on the phone each week, my eldest brother, (he in Las Vegas) and I (in DC) reviewed the list of our favorite shows of all time. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen a new show recently. It just mattered that we had “the talk” — the theater talk. When one of us went to NYC, we didn’t say, “What did you do?” We asked, “What did you see?” Shows were everything (plus a little pastrami and a few museums on the side).
When I married, I didn’t worry that my intended wasn’t Jewish. I knew we could handle our different religious backgrounds, but I did worry that he wasn’t a living-breathing theater fanatic. In fact, on our honeymoon, it did cause a problem. I secured primo seats for the US debut run of Les Miserables. All through the first act, my adorable new spouse squirmed and twisted in his seventh-row center seat. Was my beloved ill?
At intermission, I asked what the problem was. His tortured explanation was that he was surprised everybody in the show was — and I quote — “so miserable.” I reminded him of the name of the play and asked if that wasn’t a clue. I asked if he had read Victor Hugo’s novel and asked if that wasn’t a clue. His reply — and I quote: “Well, yes, but I thought this would be different. It’s a musical. I thought it would be happy.”
All through Act II, I contemplated getting the marriage annulled, and how I could have given the ticket to my mother or brother who would have appreciated sitting seventh-row center at the US debut of an acclaimed production.
Happily, despite the honeymoon contretemps, our marriage has survived. Just as the theater has — and will — survive.
Still, it breaks my heart that the theaters on and off-Broadway are dark. I can’t wait for the marquees to light up. The stage doors to fly open. The orchestra pits to start humming, and the lobby doors to swing open.
The show will go (back) on and this Broadway baby cannot wait!