The Sounds and Lights Are Bright on Broadway – by Charlotte Canelli

Charlotte Canelli is Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

I’ve loved Broadway musicals since my beloved Aunt Gladys brought me on a three-night excursion to New York for my 19th birthday. In typical “Aunt Gladys style”, she treated me to not one, not two, but three live performances.  I still remember each one vividly forty years later and I was simply enchanted by the lights and stars on Broadway.

Our first attendance during that weekend was the serious play, “Butterflies Are Free” which debuted on Broadway in 1969. In the play, which ran for 1128 performances, Don Baker (played by Keir Dullea) is a young blind man who falls in love with a free-spirited hippie (this WAS the era, after all).  At first, his over-protective mother doesn’t like it one bit.

I loved everything about it. The other young actors were Michael Glaser and Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom).  The play didn’t close at the Booth Theater until they had performed it 1128 times.

My second favorite event that night was being whisked by taxicab down the maze of New York streets to a late dinner at Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant.  It was famous at the time but it doesn’t seem to exist any longer. (One of my favorite cookbooks as a young bride was the then popular “Mama Mia Italian Cookbook: The Home Book of Italian Cooking” by Angela Catanzaro. It’s nearly impossible to find. )

But I digress.

The next day of my birthday trip we saw a matinee of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.  I think I was most impressed by the size of the theater which seats nearly 6,000. In the early 1970s people still dressed magnificently for the theater and my second impression was of the glitz, glamour and furs around me. There was music and dancing and plenty of chorus-line kicks but no intimacy of the 500-seat theaters of Broadway.

Of course, my aunt wouldn’t have brought me to Broadway without introducing me to a musical on our last night in Manhattan.  “Man of La Mancha” starred Richard Kiley as both Don Quixote and Cervantes and had just moved off Broadway to the Eden Theater in early 1971. Kiley was the first to sing and record “The Impossible Dream”, the hit song from the show and the 2,329 performances of the musical were performed in the original run in New York City.

Growing up in California, my experiences of live performance, particularly musicals, had been limited to those in my high school cafetorium (a blend of cafeteria/auditorium).  We sat on hard folding chairs surrounded by the lingering smells of institutional cuisine. Broadway was different altogether. When those velvet curtains at the Booth Theater on West 45th Street parted I was hooked forever on New York, New York.

Of course, everyone in my family knows I still love Broadway.

For Christmas, my youngest daughter and her fiancé gave us tickets to see “Avenue Q” at the New World Stages Complex just off Broadway at 50th Street.  The musical ranks 21st as one of the longest running shows in Broadway’s history and stars the Muppet-like puppets animated and voiced by actors who are part of the stage-cast.

However, the resemblance to Sesame Street ends there – with the puppets.  The bawdy, rowdy and somewhat irreverent production of “Avenue Q” is not for the faint of heart.  I loved it, though, and the musical score was simply superb.  Most of the song titles aren’t even appropriate for a family publication such as this one except for a few, like the opening number “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” (There is a high-school version of the musical, you should know, that censors the most offensive material.)

The trip to New York last week also included my musical gift to my husband, Gerry. It was three orchestra seat tickets to “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”.  I already knew much of the score but I was enthralled with the smoke-and-mirror choreography and crooning voice of one of our favorite artists, Harry Connick, Jr.

As a young girl, I grew up listening to the original cast soundtracks. While we never saw the live performances, my mother was a huge fan of Broadway and there was always a record on our living room turntable.  We listened to “The Sound of Music”, the “Music Man”, “South Pacific” and a plethora of hit shows of the 50s and 60s. I think I listened to “Bye, Bye Birdie” so many times that the vinyl wore out.

Of course, you know you are addicted to musicals when you can’t wait to listen, and listen, and listen again.  A few friends and I spent a weekend in New York with our daughters when they were teens and went to see the Broadway revival of “Chicago”.   Navigating out of Manhattan, I diverted to a very busy Broadway Avenue, sending one of those teens into Tower Records to purchase the recording on CD.  We sang the sassy lyrics over and over, imitating Roxie Hart, on our way back home to New England.

Nothing cheers me up more than a happy memory of my first experience of a live performance or watching my favorite musicals on film. Soundtracks of original musicals and movie-renditions are available at public libraries. We abandoned vinyl records years ago but our CD collections grow every month.  Minuteman Library Network owns thousands of CDs of original cast recordings and movie soundtracks such as “Annie” and “Phantom of the Opera”, “Grease”, “Oliver” and “Godspell.”

You can find musical scores and recordings by name or simply use the keywords “original cast” or “soundtrack.”  If you need help searching for any of them, please call our Reference or Information desks (781-769-0200) or visit the library in person.

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