It’s December, 1961. I’m with my friends, $5 standing room at the back of the American Theater in St. Louis, waiting to see Gypsy. Right on the aisle and as I glance to my immediate left and there is Ethel Merman waiting for her cue to enter down the aisle. It doesn’t get much better than this.
I have delicious early memories of the theater: Rapunzel at a children’s theater in Kirkwood; then One Touch of Venus with my Mobile aunties to see Ethel Merman and then the next year Call Me Madam with Ethel Merman – both at the magnificent St. Louis Muny Opera. The aunties were great Ethel fans. Nothing subtle about their taste in theater.
We were not a musical family. Daddy sang, always off key. Mommy sang, but never more than along with the hymns or the radio. As the youngest with two brothers, I was raised with America’s Top 40, then Johnny Mathis, the Kingston Trio. But somewhere along the line, I grew to love musical theater, opera and classical music. And, through my DBH, to enjoy blues, Portuguese fado, reggae, and lots of great Brazilian music.
So, even though Saturday morning was spent with stomach flu, I snagged a half-price ticket to the Chicago Shakespeare’s Gypsy, starring Louise Pitre as Rose. What a magnificent show. It’s a small theater, and I sat in the first row left, singers and dancers almost in my lap. Was it the flu or the catchy music of Jule Styne and the great lyrics of Sondheim that brought tears to my eyes? This musical just has one hit after another.
Moral of the story – take young people to the live theater. One of my joys is hearing my nieces enthuse about the plays we enjoyed when they were young: Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Master Harold and the Boys – but no Ethel Merman…