As I have written previously, my adolescence was a social one. I learned early that theatre was an excellent vehicle for many things, not the least of which was dating. Dad knew lots about theatre and we all enjoyed going. I loved the ride in the jump seat of a checker cab from 83rd Street and Broadway to the theatre district. We would pass up regular cabs for the checker ride that was so much fun. In the fifties and sixties we understood that the West Side was filled with writers and other creatives. It was also the home of stars.
I was not often left out of things but I felt left out being the only member of my social circle who had neither braces nor glasses. Both PS9 and JHS 44 were filled with kids with teeth straighteners and kids with four eyes. I met the beautiful Iris during the summer before my sixteenth birthday (1965). Golden Boy starring Sammy Davis, Jr. was a broadway hit with a hero* of Jewish boys in the most important role. So I took Iris for my birthday and got to wear my brand new glasses for the first time in public. Of course these had been secured at the optician’s in the Hotel Bretton Hall on the east side of Broadway between 85th and 86th Streets. One of many such establishments in the neighborhood.
When my sister’s birthday and fathers’ day fell on the same Sunday, it too was a time of celebration by going to the theatre. That night we went to see Pal Joey. Dad tripped on the way up the stairs and limped to our seats. Before intermission he was so uncomfortable that he left and took a cab home. It was the next day that I learned that he had actually fractured his leg when he fell.
PS9 was the elementary school of many future theatre persona of note; TV stars, too, graduated from ‘9’. It is said that among them were Hamlisch and Winkler, could be true.
We were well versed in the stage as it was common for numerous elementary school classes to perform for assemblies. My sixth grade class did The Mikado and my sister’s sixth grade class had put on Pinafore. Both Mrs. Miller and my father, the volunteer director, thought that Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were shows to which all west side kids should be exposed. I do believe that my love of G&S works and other theater can be traced directly back to those assemblies as well as the love of theater in apartment 9E.
While the Beacon Theatre had given up it’s live stage vaudeville to become a movie theatre, the Promenade Theatre up the block and downstairs became home to great shows like Godspell which I fell in love with in that little West Side theatre. Godspell played there from 1971-1976. The show moved to Broadway and through many tours and revivals. In 2011 it was brought back to Broadway as a first of its kind crowdfunded production in which I invested.
That revival was not a success but my friend Ira has said “Ken, you may not have gotten your money back but you certainly got your money’s worth”. I met people I never would have met, went to places (like 54Below) I would never have gone to, and met at least one friend I expect to keep forever.
The theatre, from PS9 until today, has been a part of my life.
*Sammy Davis was our hero because this great entertainer had converted to Judaism in the late 1950’s.