LUCY BURDETTE: A couple years ago, I spotted Lesa Holstine at a book conference in New York, and somehow we began chatting about Broadway. I loved hearing about her family trips to take in as many shows as they could in a short stretch, and I'm betting you'll enjoy it too!
LESA HOLSTINE: Kristin Chenoweth, who originated the role of Glinda in “Wicked”, just did a concert series called “My Love Letter to Broadway”. I could easily say the same, but I can’t sing. I’m passionate about Broadway, and, recently have tried to make a couple trips a year to see shows in New York City.
I credit my mother and two good colleges for my love of theater. My hometown, Huron, Ohio, has the longest running summer theater in the state. My mother would take us to see their children’s productions – “Cinderella”, “The Wizard of Oz”, and the actors would come out in costume to meet the children afterward. Both Kent State University and The Catholic University of America had outstanding theater departments. I had a wonderful “History of Theater and Drama” class at Kent State, taught by the chairman of the department, and we were required to attend plays and review them as part of the class.
But, it was the first show I ever saw on Broadway that won me over. I was attending a conference, and decided to go to the show that was closest to the hotel. It turned out to be “Les Miserables” before it closed the first time on Broadway. I had first row balcony seats, perfect for all of those songs addressed to the heavens. And, the theater! I had only been in giant modern theaters. There’s an intimacy to Broadway theaters that is seldom felt elsewhere. I fell in love with Broadway, but also fell in love with “Les Miz”.
It wasn’t until I moved to Indiana four years ago, though, that I had the chance to go to New York regularly. It’s so easy to get there, flying non-stop from Nashville. When I go to BookExpo in the spring, I usually go to three shows. And, then, in 2014, I went on a mad, week-long trip with a friend, and we crammed as many shows in as we could. We saw “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” twice. I had a front row seat to “You Can’t Take It With You”, and James Earl Jones was just six feet away from me! I saw “Pippin”, and sat behind the conductor. I could see every song that was coming up next. There truly is “Magic to Do” at a Broadway show.
Best of all, I went back to see “Les Miserables”, once again at the Imperial Theatre. And, I fell in love with the actor playing Jean Valjean, an Iranian-born actor, raised in Canada, married to a British woman, Ramin Karimloo. He had been the youngest actor to play the Phantom. And, now, he brought a depth and strength and passion to the role of Jean Valjean. I went back to see the show a second time that week. And, in 2015, I would go see him two more times in the role before his run was over.
Remember, though, when I said my mother took us to the theater when we were children? My sister, Linda, and I decided to return the favor. In June 2015, we took Mom and our younger sister, Christie, to New York. Neither of my sisters had been there, so we all picked three things we wanted to see while we were there. I picked three shows. And, I carefully selected shows that would be memorable. We went to see “The King and I” at Lincoln Center, starring Kelli O’Hara, who went on to win the Tony Award. Tyne Daly from Cagney and Lacey starred in “It Shoulda Been You”, and her partner in crime, Sharon Gless, sat in front of me, and talked to me afterward. And, maybe the most memorable show was “The Audience” with Helen Mirren. Only two corgies could steal a scene from the queen.
Linda and I have been back to Broadway twice together, long weekend trips that are really Broadway trips. She made me stand at the stage door to meet Ramin Karimloo after I dragged her to Les Miz. We laughed at the irreverence of Jim Parsons in “Act of God”. Our last trip took us to “The Front Page” starring Nathan Lane, John Goodman, and Jefferson Mays, “Sweet Charity” with Sutton Foster, “Fiddler on the Roof”, and “Holiday Inn”, where I met Bryce Pinkham afterwards, and learned his grandmother was a librarian. And, coming full circle, we ended our recent weekend with Kristin Chenoweth’s show, “My Love Letter to Broadway”.
I, too, love Broadway. I pick my shows carefully, sometimes with a star in mind, sometimes based on the recommendation of a friend. I read The New York Times reviews, and follow Playbill. I won’t pay an enormous amount of money to go see Hugh Jackman when he’s in a play that doesn’t interest me. But, I’ll pay full price to see a show starring Sutton Foster or Bryce Pinkham or Jefferson Mays or James Earl Jones or Ramin Karimloo or Kelli O’Hara when it’s a plot or musical that entices me. I’ll go see a drama or a comedy, but I truly enjoy the musicals.
I already have my spring 2017 shows selected. “Come From Away”, the musical about the flights that landed in Newfoundland on 9/11 was recommended by a friend. Another friend saw “Groundhog Day” in London. How can I pass up Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce in “Hello, Dolly!”? And, “Anastasia”. Ramin Karimloo will be back on Broadway in that show.
Thank you, Lucy, for asking me to write my own love letter to Broadway. Have you been bitten by the theater bug? Or, do you have your own passion, some hobby or interest that demands your attention? For me, it’s books and Broadway.
Lesa Holstine is a library manager/administrator who blogs about books and authors, especially mysteries.