Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Loving Broadway - How It Started

It was the mid-1960s. I was in high school and found myself working for the school's official photographer - Bob Heilman. Bob owned a small business called The Hill Studio, so named because it was located on Allison Hill in Harrisburg, PA.

I worked in the print dark room, learning to print black & white photos in a room which always smelled like rotten eggs. (The aroma coming from the fixer which was the chemical sodium thiosulphate.) Right next door, my best friend, Bobby Jones, worked in the negative dark room. He processed the negatives, mostly taken with one of our Graflex cameras.

Bob was a huge fan of Broadway musicals and while we worked in the studio, there was always show music playing on the stereo. In his home, he had almost every Broadway musical record album there was. (Note for youngsters: record albums were the predecessor to tapes and CDs and digital downloads!) Whether in the studio or in his home, we were always listening to music from Broadway shows. This music was my introduction into the world of live song and dance.

In 1966, Bob was making one of his usual treks to New York City to take in a Broadway show. He asked me if I wanted to go and, if so, I should get my ticket ahead of time. I decided I wanted to see Cabaret. So, I sent the theatre a blank check, then anxiously awaited my ticket. (Those under 30 reading this blog need to remember that there was no Internet, no way to purchase tickets online, and Visa credit cards were just getting started in 1966 and almost no one had them. Bob had taught me to do what he always did - send a blank check made out only to the theatre and ask for the best seat available.)

Soon, my ticket arrived and I found myself in New York City watching Jill Haworth, Bert Convy and Joel Gray (Yes, the same Joel Gray whose daughter, Jennifer, starred in Dirty Dancing with Jerry Orbach and won last season's Dancing With The Stars) sing and dance. And, my love of Broadway began.

This initial show was followed quickly by tickets to I Do, I Do with Mary Martin and Robert Preston. (I sat front row, center. They were so close, I could have easily touched them.) Next came How Now Dow Jones with Marlyn Mason and Brenda Vaccaro. Then there was Man of La Mancha with Richard Kiley - a show that Bob Hileman had found "boring." He discouraged me from going as he said it had no intermission and he had actually fallen asleep. I went anyway and loved it.

In the 70s, I was able to take in two shows starring Jerry Orbach - Chicago and 42nd Street (which I saw twice). You may only know Jerry from Law & Order but he was a great stage actor, as well. I never got to see him in The Fantasticks, the Off-Off-Broadway show which really established his career, nor in Promises, Promises. But in Chicago and 42nd Street, he was at the top of his game.

I've been fortunate enough to see some other shows including Phantom of the Opera; but, since moving to Florida eighteen years ago, my trips to New York City and the lights of Broadway have been limited. Still, my wife and I are looking forward to taking in a show this July when we are in New York for our oldest son's wedding.

Looking back, I really do have Bob Heilman to thank for my love of Broadway shows, particularly musicals. May he rest in peace.

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