Yup. It was fifty years ago, on March 17th, 1966--St. Patrick's Day--that I saw my first Broadway show! Why would I remember it? Easy. I was already approaching my teen years and I had never seen a show. My parents hadn't taken me to one. In fact, they never would. I was listening to WABC-AM radio (770 on your dial--radios actually had dials then), the station virtually all kids kept their ears to during the heyday of the Beatles and the Stones, when I heard one of an endless series of radio contests. Over the years I have won CDs and concert tickets from radio contests, but this contest promoted tickets for a Broadway musical that was about to open. The title? It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman! I was an aficionado of all things DC and Marvel when it came to comic books. I had a Comic Club. I spent hours drawing the likenesses of Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Adam Strange, The Silver Surfer, The Fantastic Four, etc. I was not a naturally gifted artist but I had a little talent for copying the work of others with some degree of verisimilitude. This particular contest required merely the submission of a poster advertising the show. As I recall, there would be two hundred winners who would enjoy the musical during a preview performance, about ten days or so before the show actually opened. I worked feverishly on my poster, drawing and coloring a spectacular depiction of the visitor from Krypton slashing through the sky! I walked to the post office and mailed it in. I waited and waited until I got the call that two tickets would be waiting for me at the Box Office for a night time performance on March 17! The winning posters would be on display in the lobby of the theatre! My problem? How would I get there?
(Above and Below: Two of the four or five official posters for the production sandwiching a photo of the Alvin Theatre, which is now the Neil Simon Theatre).
My father taking me was out of the question. But I thought for sure my mother would. What I probably didn't realize at the time is that there was no way my father would have let my mother go into the city unless he accompanied her. So, she said no too. Taking pity on me, though, she asked a relative of her best friend, a woman named Dolly (You don't hear that name much anymore), to escort me to New York.
We went into the city and as I entered the lobby of the Alvin Theatre, there were all the winning posters on display. Some were mounted on easels and some were attached to the walls. As we approached the doors, we were all handed a large pinback button (See below), which I have to this very day.
The show was reasonably well received when it opened the following week, but I don't remember it being all that great. It was decidedly campy, as was the Batman TV series of the time, so there were many POW! BAM! BOOM! AAARRGH! kinds of elements to it. Superman wasn't even really the star of the show--that title belonged to the unctuous Jack Cassidy. He could ham it up with the best of them. And with the star playing a villainous antagonist, it wasn't focused enough on the Man of Steel. There were a few melodic tunes, but there was nothing much that cried out "Chart-topper!" One nice song was "You've Got Possibilities", but Charles Strouse, who composed the music, would have much more notable success with the hit shows Annie and Applause. Other musicals that year were Mame, Man of LaMancha, and Sweet Charity, so Superman had serious competition!
(Below: The cast of the show).
Interestingly enough, the ingenue's role was played by a very young Linda Lavin, (far left in the photo above) who went on to five TONY nominations and a win, roles in two hit TV series, and countless appearances on stage and screen. Amazingly enough, she is still a hit on Broadway in the current show, Our Mother's Brief Affair. She's old now! I feel that I have watched her entire life! Below is a recording of Linda Lavin singing the show's best number and a candid photo of Bob Holiday at the stage door:
I missed the very end of the show (I had to leave early because of school. My parents would have never let me stay home and sleep in on Friday). And though this show doesn't hold a special place in my heart for any reason other than that it was my first theatrical venture, it did start a lifelong commitment to theatre that is evident to anyone who walks into my classroom. Tomorrow marks FIFTY YEARS! It seems like a good opportunity to recall some of the highlights of my five decades on the aisle. I've got some stories to tell.