Saturday, March 17, 2007


Another weird experience, not too long ago...

I was invited to see a nephew in his high school's production of 42nd Street. I had just seen another nephew play one of the leads in As You Like It, so I figured I had to go, and there was the small matter of the music. What's not to love about "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me" or "We're In the Money"?

Maybe it's not high art, but it does satisfy.

Back in my salad days, I worked on several different versions of David Merrick's original stage production of the show. I am glad to say that I had almost no dealings at all with the Abominable Showman himself, but I dealt with and liked his assistant and all-around ax-man, Leo, a lot. Maybe the show wasn't high art, either, but it satisfied, and I saw it several times, to learn it. It was one of the hallmarks of my time in the Big Apple.

And so I was caught in what Arthur Miller calls a "time bend." Part of me was looking at the dreary high school auditorium, and part of me was back looking at Robin Wagner's scenery and Theoni Aldredge's costumes, and Tharon Musser's lighting; part of me was looking at some really spirited if rather half-assed hoofing (though still amazing for a high school show) and part of me was looking at Gower Champion's last hurrah.

Part of it was realizing that a show that opens on Broadway [and plays there for years] goes on to have a second and a third life, in national companies, bus-and-truck tours, summer theaters, and finally amateur productions. And all along the way, some bits of the original production get passed along, probably no longer even consciously stolen, just passed along as "tradition." Well, here was the same old show again, at the end of the line. It wasn't half-bad.

And the same people fell into place: the Julian Marsh was no Jerry Orbach, but he certainly commanded the stage; the wonderful young actress playing Dorothy Brock will some day be able to compare herself to Tammy Grimes, who had also been wonderfully funny as a no-talent old broad making way for youth -- how could someone only seventeen years old pull
that off? The answer is, pretty well. The girl who did the Carole Cook role was amazing, almost too good for the show. And if the young woman shadowing Ruby Keeler, called on to be beautiful and sing and dance like an angel, fell a bit short of that, so did Wanda Richert, her predecessor on Broadway. So, for that matter, did Ruby Keeler. And my nephew, in the non-singing, non-dancing, almost non-acting role of Dorothy Brock's unmoneyed boyfriend, did a nice job. Really.

My Shakespeare nephew was in attendance, and it was clear from his questions that the Broadway show lay so far back in history that it might as well have been Shakespeare -- and it's true, it's almost thirty years old now.

In fact it feels, if not like four hundred years, at least like eons, since I was at that stage, on that stage, so full of those high spirits and that simultaneous sadness on the closing night of a show; I felt I was looking at myself through the wrong end of a telescope. Which, in a way, I was. All those "kids" were in fact... kids.

And the person who was washed up, the no-talent old fart making way for youth was... well, you guessed it. Yours truly.

It was one weird evening.

Hang in there, all.
And remember to count your blessings.
I always start with the first three, who imply the fourth.

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