Friday, April 27, 2012

Thirty-five years ago today

I've only done it once. I wish I had done it more. It was 1977, thirty-five years ago, and I haven't done it since. Want to know what it is? I saw a Broadway show on Broadway. I saw "The King and I" with Yul Brynner and Constance Towers in the 1977 revival of the 1951 show. I will never forget it.

Of course I kept my ticket stub. All these years.

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.


  1. Annie is playing in Melbourne soon.

  2. Man, I wish my "first time" would have been with Yul Brynner!
    I'm not joking either.

  3. Wow. What a great memory. I only saw the movie, but Yul Brynner had charisma to burn. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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  5. (heh heh --Good one, Carolyn)

    Maybe if I ever saw a Broadway musical, I'd like it, but, I'm not convinced-- I just have never liked the theatricalness of musicals. I like to feel lost in the story, and I just don't when it's a musical, I think.

    I didn't realize that Albany was only 3 hours from NYC. Cool class trip, I must say! My sisters both went on a class trip to see "Jesus Christ, Superstar" on Broadway, when they were in high school. We lived about an hour away in New Jersey.

  6. i saw Yul Brynner in a road show production of King & I in new orleans.....cant imagine anyone else in that role

  7. Did your post ever bring back a flood of memories of my first Broadway show. I was 19 and headed off to a year abroad in France. During my (first ever) flight, a nice elderly man on the plane started talking to me and my traveling companion (Molly M from Danville, IL). When we arrived at Laguardia, he asked if we would be interested in dinner and a show that night. With no other plans on tap, we said yes, and he replied, "Meet me at Sardi's for dinner." After a wonderful meal, he took us to see "Cabaret" with Joel Gray (and Liza Minelli, if my memory of 44 years ago is correct). Our orchestra seats and the show were terrific. Dont' know what happened to the old guy, but he sure gave us a great send-off to our excellent European adventure.

  8. My class trip was to the zoo in Independence Kansas. yeah.

  9. Would have loved to have seen King and I.

    I went to grad school in NYC in the 80s. TKTS sold half-price tickets in Times Square back then, for shows that weren't sold out.

    I was lucky enough to see Les Miserables (amazing), Chorus Line, 9, Gypsy (with Tyne Daley aka Detective Lacey), My One and Only (with Tommy Tune and Twiggy, yeah the model), Sunday in the Park with George (wake me when it's over), and Phantom.

    Love good musicals.

  10. I never cared much for "stage" shows. Maybe if Mr. Feldman had been my teacher.....

  11. What sweet memories.

    My first Broadway "show" was when I was in 6th grade and we went to see "The Royal Hunt of the Sun," which I thought until I got there was "The Royal Hunter's Son," and I thought my version would be a cool show. Instead it was HISTORY!!! But in retrospect, it was amazing. (And it starred Christopher Plummer and David Carradine... with no shirt! Even my 6th-grade teacher, Miss Slater, liked THAT.) I can't remember my first Broadway musical. That surprises and saddens me...

    Barbra Streisand??? I love it!

  12. It's only 2 hours on the Eurostar from Paris to London. You guys can go up and visit the West End, the city's equivalent of Broadway. Here are some of the musicals playing there now:

  13. A gifted and generous teacher is one of life's treasures. Thanks for sharing your memory of Mr Feldman.

    My mother was nuts for Rodgers and Hammerstein, and she played recordings of their musicals frequently. I think I know the words to every song they wrote (give me enough wine, and I'll sing "Honey Bun" for you). I've only seen the musicals in movies, though.

    We saw Wicked a couple of years ago. Beautiful and impressive staging, but I didn't find the songs to be very hummable.

    1. We saw Wicked in London. Like you, I felt there were no memorable songs. I also felt that the amplified sound made me want to cover my ears occasionally.

  14. Wow, seeing Yul Brynner in The King and I in high school! Plus a course in theater- that was some high school you went to, Walt.
    Lewis and I love musicals and have seen a few. One of our favorites was Hair in London in 1969.

    Took the kids to see Annie in 1980 when their former babysitter was Annie (Sarah Parker was what she was called when she lived across the street from us in Cincinnati). She took us all back stage and gave us autographed copies of the Playbill and a photo of herself with Sandy, the dog.

    I have enjoyed reading the comments today.

  15. $8 for a major Broadway show! How times have changed. When I lived in London in 1974/75 I used to attend the opera at Covent Garden and sat in excellent seats for £4 an opera, ridiculously cheap by today's rates.

  16. Very interesting Walt! My first (and only) time seeing a Broadway show wasn't actually on Broadway but a pre-Broadway tryout in Philadelphia. I had a friend who was a local theater critic and he liked me to go to movies and shows with him to get another opinion before he wrote his column. The show I went with him to see was at the Schubert Theater in Philadephia called "Over There." It starred one of the Andrew Sisters (Pattie I believe). But what was really interesting was one of the chorus boys, his name was John Travolta. I was impressed and I knew then he was destined for bigger things.

  17. The first and I think only Broadway play I ever saw was 110 in the Shade with Robert Horton. It was 1964, and I was in NYC with a school group to go to the World's Fair. The musical was at the Broadhurst Theatre, of all places. I was pretty impressed.

  18. When my son turned 16 and was a counselor at a baseball camp, my husband and I visited my parents before going up to NYC to pick him up for the return to France. My dad said he wanted to give him a dinner and a show for his birthday and that meant treating us all. Our 16-year-old loved the idea of dinner, but not so much the show -- until he saw the show! "Annie Get Your Gun" with Bernadette Peters. Since then, he's been to musicals in NY and London. It's become a Christmas tradition for someone to treat the family to a show. I hope he carries on the tradition with his son (only a week old, so maybe not yet!)

  19. Ah, Ellen, Bernadette Peters, the most amazing person on Broadway ever! Walt, how great a memory this is. My first Broadway "show" was The Good Doctor (with Frances Sternhagen- Trey's Mom in SATC), a school trip my senior year from Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1973, a very good drama. But then, in 1976, I saw Pippin (with Ben Vereen - the rest of the famous cast, Jill Clayburgh, Irene Ryan, Leland Palmer, and John Rubenstein had already departed). I was hooked. Since then, until I moved to Ireland 11 years ago, I went as often as I could, but, sadly, the last Broadway show I saw was in 1998 - the perfect Ragtime. So beautiful - the music and the production wonderful. I miss it terribly....there is NOTHING comparable in Ireland.

  20. Catching up. What a great memory. You saw a Broadway performance with the person who created a role--that's pretty special! I am so happy to have grown up in NJ and gotten to see several B-way shows. I remember Ben Vereen in "Pippin" as being amazing, and we saw Herschel Bernardi (not the originator Zero Mostel) as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." There were more, but those were the most memorable. Hooray for musicals!

  21. Hi.....Thanks so much for the great memories and the kind words....A college friend sent me your blog and I was very touched...Now, I'm trying to figure out who you are....I don't have a '77 yearbook and I'm trying to locate one...I can't tell from your picture..You identify your partner and your pets but not yourself...In 1984, Yul Brynner did a brief 6 month revival when he had terminal throat cancer and his life was almost over...I took 3 buses to see it because I wanted the kids to see a legend on stage before he died....You could tell he was weak and when he took his curtain call and threw his arms up in the air, the audience went wild....Your life in France sounds wonderful and I see that you are now in Albany on a visit and headed to Montreal....I have been retired for 21 years after teaching at BCHS for 33....In September, I've been invited to the class of 1962's 50th reunion...I directed their senior musical...BABES IN ARMS...Matt Damon's mother had the lead...For 10 years I taught a college version of the musical theatre course at Siena...and now it's designed for seniors at elder hostels and institutes of lifelong learning and retirement complexes.....I belong to the Albany Area Retired teachers Association and take a bus to New York once a year..On May 30, we're going to see GHOST, The Musical.....Have a great rest of your vacation and please let me know who you are..........I'll try to check your blog...I don't spend too much time on the computer or Facebook because I can never get away....If you come back through Albany, maybe we can meet for a cocktail...

    Richard Feldman
    1304 Huntington Court
    East Greenbush, NY 12061
    (cell) 518- 428-6927

  22. Mr. Feldman,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. I'm not in the 77 yearbook. I am in the 75 yearbook, as a sophomore. My family moved for my junior year, and we came back to BC for my senior year, but I didn't get into the yearbook for some reason.

    Your work at BC is inspiring. It's great that you saw Yul Brynner again at the end. He was wonderful.

    I wish you all the best. You were a teacher who made a difference in my life. That sounds trite, but it's true. I will always remember you and the class you taught. Thank you. :)


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