Theatre yesterday and today



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As a kid in the 1960s and 70s and totally infatuated with Broadway, listening to a cast album was as close as I could get to the real thing. There was no internet to go on YouTube and watch clips, and no such thing as streaming on your television screen. There wasn't Google, so if you wondered about who this Tammy Grimes with the odd voice was in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, you needed to go to the library and look her up (and believe me, I did). No, the only real way to enter the world of the Broadway musical was by listening to records (yes, records!), which I did with joy and abandon (and still do).

Bob Martin as "Man in Chair" in The Drowsy Chaperone (and lover of records).

But there was something else back in the day that furthered the intrigue and laid the ground for my own personal curiosity about who was behind all of these wonderful shows. Sometimes the back of the album jacket would include photos and bios of the creatives behind certain shows. The prolific producer David Merrick often made sure to provide this information (Hello, Dolly! and The Happy Time come immediately to mind), and for someone as hungry as I was to learn everything they could, all of this was invaluable to me. And what got me to thinking about this today is that it reminded me it was how I first discovered Hal Prince, when I saw his photo on back jacket of the Fiddler on the Roof album. Most importantly, it's where I learned why his inclusion there among Jerome Robbins, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein and Zero Mostel was so necessary (after all, what did a ten-year-old like me know what a producer did?).

Hal Prince (circa 1964) in the photo that appeared on the back of the Fiddler on the Roof cast album.

I would read these mini-bios (in tiny print) and it was truly the beginning of my theatrical education. Of course, the main attraction of these records was that they allowed me to imagine what shows looked like on stage, the same anyone might do today. However, at the time of this obsession, record albums sold for around $3 to $4, making them a bit costly and out of my reach. I was a little kid—I had no money.

That all changed when my dad purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder (a Philips, if I recall correctly). With this hefty forty pound machine in my house, I would now be able to take albums out on loan from the local library and make my own tapes of cast recordings that I could play to my heart’s content. This allowed me to build a collection, but it didn’t mean I could go crazy. There was still the cost of the blank tapes to contend with, so I had to be choosy with what I chose. One particular bonus though, was that the two-sided aspect of the tapes made it possible for me to record two albums for the price of one tape. Nice.

Stock photo, but from memory, pretty much the model we had at my house.

And anything I recorded was a gift, since it meant adding to my then-library of two (count them, two) albums. One was I Do! I Do!, which I was given on my tenth birthday (I mean, what else do you give a kid with a hero worship of Robert Preston?). And besides, it made for a perfect match with the other album I owned, yes—The Music Man. And let me make note of an interesting distinction here: my album was the film’s soundtrack, not the original Broadway cast recording. This made perfect sense, as it was the movie of The Music Man that started the Indiana Jones-sized ball rolling for me with a love for musicals, seeing the film as I did at the age of five, when it played the Radio City Music Hall in 1962.

Film Soundtrack (1962)