I was a senior in high school and I took an English elective called "American Musical Theater." If Kurt Hummel from "Glee" had been in my school, he would have been in that class. Our teacher, Mr. Feldman, taught us all about musicals and what made them great. We studied "Oklahoma." We talked about "Annie Get Your Gun." We watched "West Side Story" on some newfangled contraption called a video tape machine. We read the reviews of a new show called "Annie," based on the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip (The sun will come out, tomorrow!). I remember Mr. Feldman telling us that New York audiences would eat up any song about New York City, and "Annie" had one: "NYC." He was right.
For my final class paper, I wrote a biography of Barbra Streisand. Yes, I did.
The biggest thing we did that semester was to go on a field trip to New York City to see "The King and I." Yul Brynner reprised his role as the King of Siam on Broadway and Mr. Feldman got us all tickets. If our parents would pay, of course. Mine agreed. The ticket cost eight dollars.
What a trip! We were in the nosebleed seats of the Uris Theater, now called the Gershwin Theater, on Broadway at West 51st Street. We took a school bus down from Albany (a three hour drive) and, once in mid-town Manhattan, we were allowed to walk around a bit before the 2:00 p.m. matinee. I remember going to Nathan's on Times Square for a hot dog.
As for the show, I was thunderstruck. The production was amazing. Beyond anything I had ever seen before. Of course, as a seventeen year old kid, I had not seen much. But I had seen a lot of the movie versions of Broadway musicals on television, including this one. It was so much more amazing live.
I saw "The King and I" once again, many years later, in San Francisco. Rudolph Nureyev played the King and I dragged Ken to see it. A great show it was, but it was nothing compared to that first time, with Yul Brynner. That show is, and will always be, one of my most cherished memories.
Thank you, Mr. Feldman.
The abbey where Mr. Brynner is buried.
An interesting side note: Yul Brynner, who died in 1985, is buried in Luzé, France, about eighty-five kilometers (roughly fifty miles) from where I live now. You can't walk in to see the grave without paying for and going on a two-hour tour of the abbey. Too bad.