My mother loved the theatre, and she saw to it that I did too. It began when I was nine. We drove from Claremont to Boston and saw two plays – Miss Liberty, a musical starring Eddie Albert, and Mr. Roberts, a drama starring John Forsythe. The only thing I remember about either play is that Mr. Roberts was about sailors on a ship during World War II, and there was quite a bit of swearing on stage. I considered trying out a few of those words when we got home, but knowing my mother I thought better of it.
When I was thirteen we went to New York, and I saw my first Broadway show, The King and I. Gertrude Lawrence played Anna, the widow who became the teacher in the royal household. She won that year’s Tony award for Best Actress. Yul Brynner played the King of Siam, the role he inhabited for a lifetime. Whenever I think of that play, my mind starts humming, “Whenever I feel afraid. I hold my head erect, And whistle a happy tune, So no one will suspect, I’m afraid.”
A few years later, we took another trip to New York. My mother said I could invite my friend Mike, who would be visiting his grandmother in Brooklyn at the same time, and we could pick the play. That was an easy choice for two sixteen-year old boys – Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? starring Jayne Mansfield. For those who don’t know what she looked like, check online or ask an older person. I don’t remember anything about the show, but I remember her. She wasn’t that year’s “Best Actress,” not even close, but Mike and I got my parents’ money’s worth, and I think my father did too.
Mike lives in Vermont, and we recently met in Claremont for dinner. We reminisced, and he told me that there was a sequel to our evening on Broadway . His initiation into a fraternity at Columbia University included a scavenger hunt. Among the items on his list was “Jayne Mansfield’s bra.” She was still on Broadway, so off he went to the stage door. Amazingly, he ended up in her dressing room, and she gave him one of her bras. Then she took it back. “Let me autograph it for you,” she said. As he left, signed bra in hand, Mike told her that he had seen the play two years before and would never forget it. He never has, and neither have I.
Mike and I were in our Stevens High School Senior Play, The Man Who Came to Dinner. He was “the Man,” the lead role, and I played the doctor, a small part. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be on the stage, but being in front of the stage has given me pleasure all my life. I’ve seen plays in many places, including Boston, New York, and London and, in the summer, New London and Peterborough. Nowadays, I try to get tickets up close so I won’t miss too much of the dialogue.
I recently took my grandson to New York for the weekend. He’s sports crazy, and our first planned stop was the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue. I learned that the television show Glee was being performed live at Radio City Music Hall. I hadn’t seen the TV show, but Jacob had and thought it was a great idea. So, thinking we would both enjoy seeing the play, I bought tickets, and we got there early.
The “best laid plans,” the poet said, and he was right. It wasn’t a play at all, it was a rock concert! If you haven’t been to one lately, I can tell you they haven’t changed. Everyone stands up the entire time, they sway back and forth, and the teenagers scream at a decibel level high enough to make bad hearing worse. Jacob had a great time, and I suffered until common sense arrived and I took out my hearing aids.
I missed the musical Annie the first time around but would like to see it with my granddaughter. Dorothy Loudon played Miss Hannigan, and she did win the Best Actress Award for 1977. My mother knew “Dot” (as she called her), and I met her one time when she came home to visit. She was from Claremont, and her mother was my piano teacher.