Playbill Staff Recalls Cherished Holiday Theatre Memories

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24 Dec 2012

For theatregoers, nothing tops the gift of live performance. As the New Year approaches, the Playbill.com staff looks back at holiday theatregoing experiences.

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Petula Clark in Sunset Boulevard.

MATT BLANK, Playbill.com Photo Editor

Tickets to shows served as my Christmas or birthday present almost every year starting in late elementary school, provided there was anything decent coming through Northern California in a given year.

One that stands out in particular was in 1997 or 1998 when I was in high school. I was sick in bed with the flu during the holiday break. I was totally miserable and couldn't make it out of the house to go to various Christmas outings or even enjoy the time off from school.

I remember my mom waking me up and handing me an envelope. I don't know what day it was or what time it was, but it felt like I had been sleeping for weeks. I opened it to find tickets to the upcoming touring productions of Miss Saigon (with Steven Pasquale and Kristine Remigio), Show Boat (with Tom Bosley) and Sunset Boulevard (with Petula Clark and Lewis Cleale) — all of which were coming to San Francisco that year — and an IOU for tickets to the still-unopened Las Vegas production of Chicago starring Ben Vereen and Chita Rivera.

I immediately felt better. All four of those productions were remarkable and influenced me to pursue theatre and not, y'know, become a doctor.

ANDREW GANS, Playbill.com Senior Editor

I was a senior in high school in New Jersey, and my parents had gotten tickets for my sister and me to see Bernadette Peters in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance. My mom and Claire, a close family friend who had also been both my nursery school and Hebrew teacher, were seeing the show next to the Royale Theatre — Lily Tomlin in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe — and during their intermission, they happened to strike up a conversation with Peters' assistant, Patty, who was standing near the Royale stage door. They told her that I was a huge fan of Bernadette and was seeing Song and Dance for the third time, and we were invited to come backstage after the show. It was the first time I ever met Bernadette, and I believe I smiled for about a week afterwards. She was so gracious to us all, posing for photos and autographing a Song and Dance poster that hangs in my New York apartment. A true class act, offstage and on.

Norm Lewis as Javert

MICHAEL GIOIA, Playbill.com Staff Writer

The only gifts I ever asked for at Christmastime were tickets to a Broadway show. It was my freshman year of college, and, although I knew all of the music to the iconic Les Misérables — and heard just about every classmate sing "On My Own" in my vocal performance class in high school — I had still never seen a fully-staged production.

My parents always raved about the original Broadway production of Les Miz, but the time had passed, and the show had closed, so when it was announced that a revival would open in 2006 (So soon? Phew!), I knew what show I wanted to see for the holidays.

I asked my grandmother to take me to Les Misérables after the holiday season. I had never been to the theatre with her — and, at this point, I had been to the theatre with just about everyone in New Jersey. We saw the show on a cold Sunday in January 2007 — just the two of us. I was completely engrossed in the work of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg from the moment the curtain went up at the Broadhurst Theatre. It was unlike any other theatrical experience — a classic, a staple to the world of musical theatre, but with such an epic score. My first discovery of the wondrous Norm Lewis, and Daphne Rubin-Vega live (no matter what the reviews were, it didn't matter because Rent was my favorite, and I had listened to her on that recording for years)! I couldn't thank my grandmother enough.

About two years ago, shortly after the holidays, my grandmother died from cancer. It will be my second Christmas without her, and this holiday season, Les Misérables has resurfaced in my life. As I sat through a recent screening of the film, I could not help but think of our special date six years back and how a musical, and the power of theatre, brought us that much closer.

Chita Rivera
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

ADAM HETRICK, Playbill.com Staff Writer

From the moment I spotted Chita Rivera on the cover of Theater Week magazine and saw the performance of "Where You Are" on the 1993 Tony Awards, my obsession as a 13-year-old became John Kander and Fred Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman.

As a Christmas gift, my parents bought tickets to see the Broadway production on Dec. 29, 1993, at 2 PM at the Broadhurst Theatre. The tickets were wrapped in a giant box that kept revealing smaller and smaller wrapped packages, like a Christmas nesting doll. At the bottom were three tickets for a performance just four days later in New York City. Spider Woman would be my second Broadway show after Phantom of the Opera two years before. I guess my family has a thing for Harold Prince musicals – my parents' first was A Little Night Music in 1973.

There was a big snowstorm, so my family took the Amtrak from Hershey, PA. We watched the snow fall while having lunch upstairs at Sardi's overlooking the Broadhurst. Adding to the jittery excitement, I had a stomach bug and lost my lunch at the restaurant right before the curtain went up. My parents were so worried I was going to be sick, but nothing was going to stop me from seeing Chita Rivera in the flesh.

I still remember the tremulo of the strings in the darkness at the start of the prologue and seeing Chita Rivera, Anthony Crivello and Jeff Hyslop (who replaced Brent Carver) make magic that day. As a young kid who was still unsure about his sexuality, that musical changed my life – I too had a place to escape, and it was at the theatre.

I didn't get to meet Chita that day (though I have several times since), but they did send my Playbill backstage for her to sign. I still watch that Tony Awards performance and swear she's singing right to me when she says, "Turn off the lights and turn on your mind..."

KENNETH JONES, Managing Editor of Playbill.com

My widowed Aunt Rose and Aunt Mary, on my mother's side, used to send my parents money for Christmas. In 1978, my folks had the wisdom to buy tickets to the first national tour of the musical Annie, and we attended the show at the Nederlanders' flagship Detroit venue, the Fisher Theatre, the day after Christmas that year. Ruth Kobart (the original Miss Jones of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and the original Domina in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) was a very funny Miss Hannigan. There was a dog on stage! Kids sang! The show's setting was Christmastime! The actors moved on conveyor belts! The Times Square scenery was animated! I still have the program, and the souvenir program. Through my childhood eyes, I never knew such lavishness was possible on stage, or that stories could be told with such ambition, humor and musicality. I would mature to have a passion for the emotional complexity of the musicals of Stephen Sondheim, but I was lucky to learn about the basics of musical theatre craft from Martin Charnin, Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse, the writers of Annie, who kept things simple and direct; oh, I get it — characters have "I-want" songs and "this-is-who-I-am" songs! Annie, now on Broadway in a revival, remains a perfect way for kids to be introduced to the theatre. I will always think of the joy of Christmas as synonymous with the joy of going to the theatre. My family gave me a wonderful gift.

BLAKE ROSS, Playbill magazine Editor

Taking my cousin Eli to see his very first Broadway show was the greatest gift for me. Eli has always shown a great passion for theatre and music. I've made the trek up to Boston (where he lives) to see him in many a school play, so I wanted to be the one to share this experience with him. The show was the recent revival of Godspell, and from the second the lights came up on the stage at Circle in the Square, Eli's eyes were filled with wonder. I imagine it's what I must have looked like when I was a kid seeing my first Broadway show. It was a real gift to be able to share that experience with him, because for anyone who loves theatre, Broadway is the top and is something every kid should get to experience.