you nearly gave me a heart attack
After trading in some expiring airline miles for subscriptions, I am surrounded by dozens of magazines, packed with year end lists. Best TV Shows No One Is Watching, Best Recipes No One Is Making, Best Candidate No One Is Believing. I feel like making a list too. But don't shackle me by a mere year. How about The Best Theater of My Life-By Decades. If you like going to plays and musicals, I hope this brings back memories and gets you thinking about your own favorites. If you aren't a theater fan, don't worry, it is still at least as much fun as 10 Favorite Quotes From This Season of Empire!
I was born in the middle of the decade, so I didn't go to much theater. That doesn't matter. My parents had the original Broadway Cast Album of My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Stanley Holloway et al. I did not see a live performance of the show for many, many, years (1993, an uncomfortable Richard Chamberlain as Henry Higgins) but MFL forever is, forever was, and forever will be my favorite musical. It's no accident I parodied it in my anti-banker tirade!
I'll start with a musical that I didn't see on stage until 40 years later. My girlfriend game me the Original Cast Album of Hair for Hannukah, and I was hooked. A friend and I were inspired to compose Haircut-The Censored Jewish Love-Rock Musical which, unfortunately, has never seen the light of production. Now my co-author is an honored film critic and I write blogs. But Raff and Fox could have been another Rodgers and Hammerstein.
I did see a few live shows. In 1968 I was at the Goodman Theater for a stunning production of Othello. I didn't understood all the plot twists, and I couldn't predict that Len Cariou, the actor playing Iago, would become famous as Sweeney Todd. But I am sure that nobody in the theater that night would have been surprised to know that the electrifying young man playing the lead would soon win a Tony Award playing Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope on Broadway and become even more famous a few years later in a galaxy far far away, when James Earl Jones gave his voice to the inter-galactic Man in Black, Darth Vader.
One singular sensation, and you can forget the rest. It was A Chorus Line and Barb and I were together by the time it tapped into our lives. I am a sucker for seeing behind the curtain, and this show brought the curtain tumbling down. I will admit to enjoying some Andrew Lloyd Weber - Tim Rice productions in the '70's, but Evita never held my interest the way those struggling dancers begging for a chance on the line did.
Cats, with an explanation. I know all of its faults and all the dreadful productions of it. I have seen a few of those myself. Why does it make my list? Because it was the question to the Final Jeopardy answer on my one Jeopardy appearance. And I got it right! Take that, Alex Trebeck.
We have one "family musical", and it is Les Miserables. It has lasted from the cassette of the cast recording we played endlessly during Michael's car pools, to the Milwaukee road trip for Laury's first theater experience, and finally to see the film as a Christmas Day group outing many years later. My favorite 5 digit number? Two-four-six-o-one!!
You would think I would have a lot of standouts from this period. Laury was living in New York City part of that time, so Barb and I visited often and had many theater weekends. But we saw some REAL bombs. Does anyone remember Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown? Our planned Spiderman adventure was cancelled in the shows early days of equipment malfunction. But I was enraptured by August: Osage County (missed it at Steppenwolf, saw it on Broadway) and rocked with American Idiot. Our most recent visit was to give Barb a chance to see Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man, but it was Jessie Mueller in Beautiful that won our affection.
OK, back to all the magazines lists. Gotta find out who the ten highest paid character actors of 2015 were! But I would love to know what your favorite theater has been. Leave a comment on ChicagoNow or Facebook, or drop me a note at email@example.com. Hope to hear from you!
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Tags: A Chorus Line, Alex Trebeck, American Idiot, beautiful, Bradley Cooper, cats, dire straits, Evita, Hair, James Earl Jones, Len Cariou, Les Miserables, lists, my fair lady, Otheloo, richard chamberlain, romeo and juliet, Star Wars, The Elephant Man, The Force, The Great White Hope