This celebration of columnist Carl Cafarelli’s history as a fan of live theater originally appeared at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on September 17, 2019. As you may have noticed, the world has changed a bit since then. Cafarelli adds this 2020 preface:
“When I wrote this in 2019, live theater was active and vibrant. I had recently made my first-ever trip to see a play on Broadway. I was looking forward to continued exposure to local theatrical productions in Syracuse, and my wife and I hoped to make Broadway jaunts an annual event. The quarantine scene squashed that plan for now. We’ll get back to Broadway someday.”
I have always loved the theater. I have no specific recollection of my first experience as a theater-goer, though it was probably something along the lines of an elementary school production of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Mrs. Richards’ third grade class at Bear Road Elementary used to put that one on every year, a tradition which ended after I took on the lead role myself as a third-grader in 1968. I guess I broke it. Sorry…?
As a budding li’l narcissist, I certainly liked the idea of being a star of stage and screen. But I left the footlights and floorboards behind me after sparring with all the Whos down in Whoville in ’68. My love of theater continued to grow nonetheless.
Granted, I was mostly a passive fan; I went along with parents or siblings to whatever school production or community theater extravaganza they wanted to see. But I was a willing participant, and I enjoyed most of these outings, maybe even all of them. It wasn’t Broadway, but it was captivating.
The details blur in memory. I recall seeing my cousin Maryann play the lead in The Pompeian Players’ staging of The Unsinkable Molly Brown; I later saw a TV rerun of the film version starring Debbie Reynolds, and sniffed dismissively that Maryann was the better Molly Brown. I saw at least two Famous Artists Playhouse presentations put on at Henninger High School, Three Men On A Horse (with Bert Parks and Abe Vigoda) and Dames At Sea (with former TV Catwoman Julie Newmar). I think my sister Denise had small parts in both; she was definitely in Three Men On A Horse, playing an intrepid newspaper reporter, crying out, “What a story!” See, acting ran in the family. There was also a Cicero High School production of Carnival–one of my favorite musicals–which I think we went to see just because we wanted to see it.
All of the above plays were presented to me in the early ’70s (though Carnival may have been a tiny bit later in the timeline). An eighth grade class trip to New York City in 1973 added Jesus Christ Superstar to my theater-goin’ resumé, an off-Broadway production that was as close as I got to the Great White Way. They say the neon lights were bright on Broadway, but I could not verify that claim firsthand.
Seeking (and failing) to appear more cool than I actually was, I think I distanced myself from plays while in high school; if I did in fact see any musicals during my sentence at North Syracuse Central High School, the memory of it/them is gone. I wish I had been more willing to participate, whether as an audience or an unlikely actor, but I had walls to build around me, and that took up most of my time.
The interest started to rekindle slightly in college at Brockport. I saw a campus production of Pippin, and although I didn’t really like the play itself, at least I went to see it. A Shakespeare course brought me to Geva Theatre in Rochester for Twelfth Night; I was suffering from pink eye that night, but somehow managed to enjoy the play anyway. I took one analytical theater course, and it seems like we must have seen a play in connection with that; maybe it was Pippin? Can’t remember. I retain three chief memories of that course: a theater-major classmate’s fairly accurate imitation of the professor; the enticing prospect of the class meeting the playwright Eugène Ionesco (a meeting cancelled because Ionesco fell ill); and a late-night study session with a female classmate. The latter was probably not what you’re thinking; although we goofed around and giggled like the teenagers we were, we were platonic pals, and we actually did study. (Though I confess that, looking back, I’m not sure if she may have been afraid I was going to try to kiss her, or hoping that I would. The former is more likely. No boundaries were breached in this session.)
It was really after graduating from college that I started wanting to see plays again. I moved into an apartment in Brockport with my girlfriend (and eventual lovely wife) Brenda, and we were occasionally desperate for something to do on the weekends in that small village. We saw movies, we caught two area rock ‘n’ roll bands (The Insiders and The Party Dogs) on the too-rare opportunities they played within walking distance, and we enjoyed beer.
And we saw plays when we could. Carousel at the college. Brigadoon and It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman at Brockport High School, and I think Bye Bye Birdie at the high school, too. Somewhere in there we saw The Rocky Horror Show on a visit to Syracuse. I don’t remember any more than those, and I don’t remember seeing any plays when we lived in Buffalo 1982-87. But the interest had been re-established.
We’ve lived in Syracuse since 1987. During that time, we’ve seen plays whenever we could. High school plays. Community theater. Syracuse Stage. Touring companies. Shakespeare in the park. Children’s theater, when our daughter Meghan was young. Fiddler On The Roof. The Grapes Of Wrath. La Cage Aux Folles. You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. The Sound Of Music. The Music Man. Oliver! Guys And Dolls. Grease. The Pajama Game. Damn Yankees. Hair. The Last Five Years. The Tempest. Brenda, Meghan, and I saw Wicked at the Civic Center, adored it, and we got to see it again at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London in 2010. Brenda has seen it a total of three times, and Meghan has seen it four times. And we have been changed for good.
In the summer of 2019, I finally–FINALLY!–saw my first play on Broadway. Brenda and I had been talking for ages about taking a bus to New York, seeing what matinees might be available at the discount ticket booth, and then catching a return bus to Syracuse the same night. We got up early, made it to Manhattan, and grabbed tickets to see Oklahoma! at Circle In The Square. A wonderful, thoroughly exhausting day, and a dream at long last come true. Broadway. It was daylight, but I do believe the neon lights were bright regardless.
We’re going to try to do that again, maybe make it a once (or twice?) a year treat. And we’re going to continue to see plays in Syracuse when we can. This past Sunday, we saw Keenan Scott II‘s powerful new work Thoughts Of A Colored Man, which we believe is Broadway-bound and will eventually be Tony-nominated. We really, really hope to see Hamilton some day. The play’s the thing. Musical, drama, comedy. We will stand and applaud. Theater. Welcome to the theater.
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