On Dec. 18th, it will be exactly 40 years since I experienced my first Broadway show. Dec. 18th, 1970, at 2:00 pm, I experienced the joy that was the original Broadway production of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical-comedy, “Company” the score to which I pretty much know by heart at this point. It was sort of a class trip, except there were only four of us plus our chaperone, a representative from the Josten ring company. The four of us were being rewarded for a gigantic class ring order for the Hackensack High School Class of ’72. We were, you see, the class officers, and as class treasurer, I ran the entire ring order and sales tally, and therefore got to choose the Broadway show we got to see. “Company” was my third choice. Class President Ray Cottiers and vice-president Tom McGrory were major jocks-they didn’t care what show they saw, although I was later to discover Ray’s Dad ran the door at the Royale Theatre, where the original version of”Grease” would soon open, so Ray probably saw Broadway shows on the side and never told anyone. Oh, those champion swimmers! Class Secretary Debbie Capozzi was more excited about a Broadway show, but the four of us made for an interesting team. My first choice was to see Lauren Bacall in “Applause”, which was running at the Palace Theatre. No such luck; “Applause” was a sellout and even the Josten Ring Company couldn’t get tickets. My second choice was a thriller called “Child’s Play”(no, not the dopey movie about the evil doll come to life, Chuckie), which was about some evil goings on in an all boys’ Catholic school and it starred Ken Howard and Fritz Weaver. Josten couldn’t swing that one either. My third choice was a show I knew nothing about, but it sounded kinda cool, so I put its name in the mix and BINGO!, that’s the one we got.
The Alvin Theatre on West 52nd Street is now the Neil Simon Theatre, but its balcony is still one of the steepest, scariest climbs you will ever have in a legit Broadway house. Once up there, you’ll never want to move until all the house lights are on full-one false move and you’ll be crushing some unsuspecting matinee lady in the orchestra, much like Lucy’s purse in the classic “Most Happy Fella” episode of “I Love Lucy”, which, by the way, was a marketing ploy, because Lucy and Desi were investors in the original stage version of “Most HappyFella’, but that has nothing to do with this story….where was I? Oh yes, 2pm in the balcony of the Alvin as the house lights went down and a chorus starting chanting, “Bobby, Bobby baby, Bobby bubby..Bobby…” then the sound of a busy signal-the old fashioned busy signal that will forever be branded on my brain pan because of the score to that show. Can you honestly say you remember what a busy signal sounded like 40 years ago? I’ll bet you can’t, BUT, if you have the original cast album of “Company”, all purple and gold on the outside, black and round and vinyl on the inside, and you start to play the little round bugger, one of the first things you hear is the old-fashioned Ma Bell busy signal, followed by 45 minutes to an hour of one of the funniest, classiest, most engaging, wittiest and most literate scores ever to play on Broadway. Stephen Sondheim would follow that show with many many classics; shows like “Follies”, “Pacific Overtures”, “A Little Night Music”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Sunday In The Park with George” and “Into The Woods”, but for this novice 16 year old theatregoer hearing his first live Broadway musical on a bitter December afternoon a week before Christmas, nothing will ever match the joys of discovering the artistry and the beauty of what I consider one of Sondheim’s finest creations-”Company”-the story of Bobby, the confirmed bachelor who’s trying to either remain single or splurge into the joys of marital chaos surrounded by his friends, both married and not, who either want to preserve him or toss him into their chasm-you never quite know for sure-in fact, by the end, you’re not sure what really just happened and if it indeed did happen at all, but in that two hour show, there are some of Stephen Sondheim’s finest creations-songs like “Ladies Who Lunch”, “Not Getting Married Today”, “Sorry-Grateful”, “Side By Side By Side”, “Little Things You Do Together”, and my personal favorite, “Barcelona”. You have to hear the score to understand, I think.
I recall singing snatches of songs as I remembered them, on the ride home that afternoon, much to Tom McGrory’s astonishment, I seem to remember, although i think he was actually bemused by the whole situation. We did talk about it many years later at our 25th reunion, but I believe I brought it up and I think he was just going along with my nostalgic ride and didn’t actually remember, but to this day, I remember Tom McGrory with great fondness for that afternoon-he put up with a Broadway musical about marriage and solitude and never groused about it once. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if he never saw another show after that day. Didn’t matter. I had found something amazing and wonderful. It formed the core of the rest of my life-it awoke something in me heretofore never considered;it made me want to see more and experience more and even become part of the performing arts, which I proceeded to do and continue to do to this day.
Consider this a Christmas story only if you’re stuck for something to give someone special this year who might need a push in a specific direction, something that just might give him or her something to strive for and come to love the rest of their days. And what better gift could you possibly want to give someone special than a gift that will carry them happily through the rest of their life?
Merry merry Christmas to all.