A Utahn's First Broadway Experience
One of my favorite things in life was the Broadway musical, but I'd never actually seen one. I had seen school and community and regional productions of musicals with Broadway origins. I had seen Equity and non-Equity tours that replicated Broadway staging. I had even had the incredible opportunities to see the pre-Broadway tryouts of The Little Mermaid and Shrek the Musical with their original star-studded casts in Denver and Seattle, respectively. But not on Broadway.
Despite its geographical distance from New York, Utah is remarkably connected to Broadway and the theatre world. I'm sure many people would be surprised by the level of talent and sheer number of productions and theatres here. I regularly attend and enjoy shows at several of our area's quality venues. Especially thrilling are the occasional visits by Broadway stars (such as Idina Menzel's concert with the Utah Symphony at Deer Valley), artistically and emotionally satisfying productions of musicals recently on Broadway (such as A Tale of Two Cities at Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley), and rare combinations of the two (Audra McDonald and Will Swenson in 110 in the Shade at Hale Center Theater in Orem).
Still, it seemed to me that my love of the theatre would never be fully matured until I had visited the mecca of what I so adored. I had a couple of false starts in 2002 and 2003, but it was another decade before I was able to make the dream a reality. Thanks to a helping of good luck and the urging of my wonderful wife and parents, I was finally able to visit New York City this summer.
Although my wife and I visited a number of areas in the city, Times Square was by far my favorite. I love Walt Disney World and Universal Studios and Las Vegas for the color and light and imagination they evoke, but Times Square was even more pleasing because of its absolute connection to the theatre. It was exhilarating walking down the street and seeing larger-than-life advertisements that I normally would only see digitally on BroadwayWorld. I also enjoyed sitting in Times Square-area restaurants frequented by industry insiders, such as the Café Edison, Joe Allen, and Sardi's, and hearing the theatre chatter that surrounded me.
My first "theatrical experience" in New York was the Broadway Showcase at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for Fleet Week. I knew that the majority of performers there would be understudies from the represented musicals, so I went with my guard up. After hearing the mic check, I immediately let it back down. I was floored by the abundant talent of the understudies, who sang rousing numbers from Sister Act, Memphis, Chicago, and a number of other shows.
We saw one of the understudies again that night when I attended my first ever Broadway show-Ghost the Musical. At first I was a little upset that I wouldn't be seeing Caissie Levy, who had originated her role in the West End, but my disappointment dissipated when Alison Luff's crystal voice rang out in the first line of the show, "Here right now." Ghost was everything I could ask for in my first Broadway musical and more: mind-blowing spectacle, wonderful performances by Richard Fleeshman and Da'Vine Joy Randolph, soul-stirring music, and affecting emotion.
The following afternoon, we saw the revival of Evita. I loved the operatic set and lighting and enjoyed seeing Ricky Martin and Michael Cerveris (whom I often listen to on my cast album of the musical Titanic). The Eva standby Christina DeCicco (whom I saw as Glinda in the national tour of Wicked in Denver) gave a tour-de-force performance.
That evening was my first straight play on Broadway, Gore Vidal's The Best Man. I knew little about it going in, but I was intrigued by its political world for all three acts. The cast was populated with veterans of the stage, television, and the cinema, and it was surreal to see Angela Lansbury, Eric McCormack, James Earl Jones, Candice Bergen, and others in front of me on stage. I often had to remind myself that the show was live and not projected on a screen.
My experience at Death of a Salesman the next day couldn't have been more different, though just as incredible. Because of the dramatic structure of the play, as well as our seats (in the center of the front row), I was completely enveloped in the lives of the characters and felt as if I was in their kitchen watching real-life conversations play out in front of me. The scenes involving Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, as well as the others in the cast, were devastating in their honesty. These weren't just extremely well-acted characters; they were real people.
My last show in New York was Disney's Newsies that evening. The new music was enjoyable, the set was inventive, and the cast was great, especially leading actors Jeremy Jordan and Kara Lindsay. As expected, the dancing was phenomenal and left me wanting more. I was especially impressed with the heightened emotion that was incorporated into the stage adaptation. It was an appropriate ending to my first Broadway experience.
Some of the highlights of my trip were the chances I had to meet the actors at the stage doors of the theatres. I've stage doored before in Utah and other cities but it hadn't ever felt like such an established event with barricades and crowds of fans. It was a lot of fun to be able to meet the performers I admire and get photos and autographs. Nearly the entire casts of Ghost and Newsies came out to sign, and it was exciting to meet bona fide stars such as Andrew Garfield, Eric McCormack, and Candice Bergen. Even James Earl Jones, who normally doesn't come out the stage door, spoke with us for a time.
I know it will be many years before I'll be able to return to New York, so now I'm more grateful than ever for the efforts of MagicSpace Entertainment, Pioneer Theatre Company, Tuacahn, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival to bring Equity productions to Utah. I am ecstatic about the incredible seasons that will be presented at these and other local theatres over the coming year.
"Broadway" is more than just the street in New York or the shows playing there, or even a category of performance. It's a spirit of art and life and beauty that is cultivated and developed at every level here in Utah. I'm proud to live in a place that so highly values this spirit of Broadway, and I look forward to continuing to experience it here every chance I get.