Broadway Features and Reviews
By Charlie Samios, Broadway.tv
On December 3, 1750, New York City's Nassau Theatre opened its doors for Beggar's Opera, John Gay's satirical ballad opera. 250 lucky souls were in attendance that night to mark the first ever performance on what is known throughout the world today as Broadway. Little did they know that they would hallmark the beginning of one of America's most lasting and significant cultural traditions.
Having recently moved to New York, I was unpacking the other day and found a ticket stub from long ago. On December 3, 1988, 238 years to the day after New York City opened its arms to Broadway, I lost an epic bet with my babysitter and I was wrangled into seeing her then boyfriend star in the local high school's rendition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. As I think back on growing up, though, there are a few instances in my life that have stuck with me because I've realized in their midst I'm a part of something larger.
The minute I saw that ticket stub, though, I remembered with uncanny clarity going to see The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I can vividly recall sliding into the crushed velvet seat of my hometown theatre, popcorn in hand, looking around at everyone taking their seats, all dressed up in dresses and suits, with me in my Batman pajama shirt. The lights went dim, the crowd hushed, and Tom Sawyer slowly walked out onto the stage, a beam of light coming out of nowhere to draw my eyes. I remember that right at that moment, an incredible feeling washed over me. I was about to be whisked away into a magical world unlike any I'd ever seen.
Last week, at the age of 28, I was whisked away into that other world yet again. I attended my first Broadway play, John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves. I entered the Walter Kerr Theatre as a newcomer to this world, having long forgotten about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This time I decided to trade the Batman shirt for a blazer and tie, but to my delight and disdain, the man sitting next to me was sporting a pair of mesh shorts and a Lakers jersey. I had researched the production, knew the ins and outs of the cast and crew and the storyline with the expectation of the coming review, and yet a funny thing happened. The minute the show started, I forgot everything I knew about it. Once again, as it happened so many years ago, the lights went dim, the crowd hushed, and I found myself held in that same cloud of wonder I entered into twenty five years earlier. David Cromer, Ben Stiller, Edie Falco, and Jennifer Jason Leigh offered up one of the most captivating and genuinely unique stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. I was willfully trapped in their performances, their characters' nuances, and the mirror that the stage gave way to in the world I had just come in from.
As I walked out onto West 46th Street and rounded my way onto Broadway after the show, I decided to take a slow walk down the Great White Way to digest The House of Blue Leaves and this new experience. Throughout the production, I caught myself looking across the crowd periodically. I was quite curious of the audience- why were they there? Wide-eyed, beaming smiles, tears, uninhibited laughter, unparalleled despair… and meanwhile, on stage, that whole spectrum of emotion and life is paralleled before us. It was yet again a singular and powerful experience.
As I snaked through the hundreds of late night wanderers moving through the perpetual glow of Times Square, I looked up and down these famous twelve blocks, from the Nederlander Theatre to Broadway Theatre- the Broadway stretch. It has stood, stoic in time, as New York City has grown up around it. The flashing lights of the late 1940's and 50's gave way to a new era as film exploded on the city scene. New York City became the cultural epicenter of the world in just a few short decades. Today, billboards shine like the sun in neon lights that stretch their rays up and down Broadway. What's remarkable to me is that even though this city has grown up around Broadway, it still stands in all its glory, its importance unforgotten in the two and a half centuries since its inception. Just as I've grown from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, so too has Broadway from Beggar's Opera, and interestingly enough, you can still see many productions that were on Broadway over a century ago to this day. Billboards, neon lights, and fliers are posted everywhere for hundreds of shows on and off Broadway this year. These twelve blocks have stood the test of time because at some point or another, everyone that has crossed the threshold of one of these theatres understood its magic.
I know I will never meet Tom Stoppard or Tennessee Williams, but I am going to seek out Arcadia and The Night of the Iguana this year. I will never be able to see the very first time Brando yelled "Stellaaaaa!" but I bet I can find an incredible production of A Streetcar Named Desire in the coming weeks, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. This season, I look forward to Finding Broadway.
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