I was seven. Or eight. Little for sure. I recall being awestruck by the vastness, the hugeness, of New York City. I remember walking while looking so high up toward the top of the buildings that I could have fallen over backwards. I held tight to my parent’s hands. Desperately trying to avoid oncoming pedestrians. Being yanked to a stop before stepping off the curb into the crazy blur of yellow cabs. The flashing lights as far as my little eyes could see advertising Coca Cola, spotlighting hotels and announcing the new XXX movie caught my attention in Times Square. I couldn’t look around fast enough. I wanted to just breathe it all in. It was magical.
We were there to see my first Broadway show. Annie. I don’t remember all of the details as I wish i could. But I do remember sitting on the edge of my seat. Looking down from the mezzanine at the orchestra tuning their instruments before the lights went down. I remember the crash of the first note coming from that pit and looking at the closed curtain with wonder.
And then the curtain raised and my memories of how I actually felt during the production, goes dark. I do remember pieces. Wishing I could sing like the orphans on stage. Wanting to jump on stage and join them as they did backflips and handstands to the song, “It’s A Hard Knock Life”, wondering how the dog Sandy learned to behave the way she did on stage. But most of it is foggy thirty years later.
I do know following the show we purchased the 8-track of the musical and I would go into the living room on my own and push it into the player, stand back and pretend to be Annie. I’d dance and sing as if I were on stage myself. I’m sure my parents were ready to kill me as I nasally belted out the songs one by one, over and over. And over. Oh how I loved those songs. And still do.
Today I dressed Hannah up in a fancy dress and we jumped on the 9:12 am train to New York City. For her first Broadway Show. We didn’t know what we’d see since we, as I did when I was little, planned to wait on the TKTS line for discounted tickets. We’d take what was available. I hoped to see The Lion King or Wicked but would have settled for Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia, or Billy Elliot. We walked from Grand Central to Times Square. Me gripping tightly to my little girl’s hand as she desperately tried to see the tops of the buildings. She asked repeatedly if “That” one is the tallest, or “That” one? She looked sadly at a homeless man sleeping on the street and said, “that poor, poor man must have been so tired from work that he just fell asleep. Someone should help him get home to his bed.” Every little girl we passed she asked if I thought She was also going to a show. We started out strong on our 5 block/2 Avenue walk and ended limping with sore feet in apparently not so comfy sandals.
But we made it. To the crowded TKTS line where we saw our Only choices were Mary Poppins and West Side Story. We agreed we’d see the show with the best seats. The line was LONG. Endless it seemed. Especially after a horrible night’s sleep last night. Hannah wanted me to hold her. I think she would have laid down on the sidewalk, sucking her thumb and holding Ellie had I let her. But I taught her the art of people watching which thankfully kept her upright and happy.
Finally up at the window we found out West Side Story was now our ONLY option with seats together. So a musical about gangs it was.
I spent the next three hours in the city counting the moments (and M & M’s that she was eating at the M &M store) down to when the curtain would rise for her. Her first experience in a NYC theatre. First Pit Orchestra. First experience with sets that make your jaw fall open and voices that sound as if an angel is singing in your ear. The costumes, the dancing, the applause, the bows. I looked forward to it all – for her.
After a quick pit stop to see daddy, and have a snack in Central Park, we finally arrived to our seats. Fourth row Mezzanine. Perfect view. She sat at the edge of her seat just as I had. Her dreamy smile I’m sure resembled mine. “I’m not sure what to expect mommy” she said. Neither did I.
The music started. The curtain went up. The show began. Hannah’s first question was, “are those real people mommy? Or people in costumes?” And then I knew this was not going to be a Quiet enjoyable show. It would be an experience with Questions.
“Why are they singing?”
“Are they singing or is it the radio?”
“What is going on?”
“Wouldn’t daddy look cute up there on stage?”
“How do they all know to dance in the same way?”
“What if they have to pee?”
“What are they talking about?”
“Are they speaking Spanish?”
“Is she really crying or just pretend crying?
“Is he dead or just pretend dead?”
“Are they hurting each other for real or just for pretend?”
“Is that a real knife or a pretend knife because if it’s real, this show is very dangerous and probably not safe for us here.”
But with these questions, was the utter, astounded amazement.
“I’ve never heard such a beautiful voice before. Is it better than MY voice?”
“I love their dresses. they all look so beautiful.”
“I didn’t know boys could dance like that.”
“I love when everyone claps so loud. They must be so happy to have everyone clapping for them.”
“One day I want to be on stage like that.”
And when it was over. After two and a half hours of singing (her favorite not surprisingly was “I’m so Pretty!”) and dancing, she looked up at me, as she gave a standing ovation, and said, “That wasn’t just good. That was the best kind of amazing. I wish I could just see show after show after show. Every day.”
And I smiled. Because there could NOT have been a better response to the experience. And I couldn’t have agreed more.
And on the way home on the train, as she rested her head in my lap and I stroked the hair off of her closed, sleeping eyes, I looked at her. That girl two weeks away from starting Kindergarten. That girl suddenly afraid of being alone. That girl that was yesterday my baby. And I smiled. Because I realized this was just the first of MANY. Many best kind of amazing experiences that I would be sharing with her. And that finally, maybe, she’ll start remembering them. At least pieces of them. So that it won’t just be pictures that will show her exciting firsts she had, but they’ll be there in her memory. So that she can tell the story of her first Broadway show to her kids.
Knives, Gangs and all.