Amid pandemic and economic turmoil, there is speculation about life “after” and what the new “normal” will look like. Change is inevitable, even in good times.
But one world I believe will remain much the same — live theater.
Yes, I’m 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 house lights dim, the stage lights go up, and the actors begin to speak; when set, lights, sound and costumes come together to create 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’s that moment, first shared at the time with fellow audience members, and then relived when walking out of the theater (in hushed or loud exhilaration) and again later (in conversations and memories lasting long after the performance) that can never be replicated by viewing 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 thrill of watching a live performance.
I grew up in a theater-loving family. Playbills were always scattered on our coffee table. Broadway musicals and dramas by Shakespeare, Ionesco and Arthur Miller constantly “played” on our living room stereo.
Each Wednesday, my mother and aunt had a sacred ritual. They rode the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan, bought shoes at 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.” I dreamed of replicating my mother’s theatrical achievement. And to this day my most prized possession is her set of bound, embossed volumes containing all the Playbills from shows she saw.
When I was growing up, going to shows was as routine as having lox and bagels for Sunday brunch. Some little girls want to be ballerinas and wear pink tutus. I wanted to be a chorus girl, wear black tights and dance 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,” “Man of La Mancha” and, yes, the Beatles.
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.’
When I was a child, my family moved to Las Vegas. There we rubbed shoulders with crooners and comedians. Those encounters my family treated with seasoned nonchalance. But, oh, we sang a different tune when returning home to New York City to see shows and family. How we gushed about the playwrights, composers and Broadway stars we chanced to run into. Those were the stars that truly struck us!
When we reached adulthood, my eldest brother (in Las Vegas) and I (in D.C.) reviewed, via weekly phone calls, our favorite shows. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen a new show recently. It just mattered that we had “the talk” — theater talk.
When one of us returned from New York City, 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 religious diversity, but I did worry that he wasn’t a living, breathing theater fanatic. Sure enough. On our honeymoon, our marriage immediately faced a dramatic dust-up.
I had secured primo seats for the U.S. debut 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, “Are you OK?” He grimaced, explaining how surprised he was the entire cast seemed — and I quote — “so miserable.” I asked if the show’s title wasn’t a clue and if he hadn’t read the Victor Hugo novel. His answer — 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 this acclaimed show’s debut.
Happily, despite the honeymoon contretemps, our marriage has survived. Just as the theater has — and will — survive.
Still, it breaks my heart that Broadway theaters are dark. I can’t wait for the marquees to light up. The orchestra pits to start humming. And the lobby doors to swing open.
The show will go (back) on, in Manhattan, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and on stages all over this country. And this Broadway baby cannot wait!