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Playbills speak to history

The Bell Curve

May 20, 2010|Joseph N. Bell

I went to the theater Sunday afternoon, and, as is my custom, took the Playbill to my office afterward and added it to a shelf in my bookcase that has been housing a steadily growing family of Playbills for the past 50-some years. They pretty much chart my cultural life for all those years and, I guess, also define the parameters of my soul.

When I added Sunday's Playbill to my collection — also as is my custom — I lingered over the shelf. That was both a mistake and a joy. It shot my evening plans, but it also transported me back to the treasures that are still almost as vivid to me as they were at the time I experienced them. Reliving them always makes me realize, once again, how important theater has been in my life. And how good and accessible it is where I live.

These shows enriched and influenced my early adult years just as the movies of the 1930s shaped my adolescence. And in some mystical way, they continue to follow a pattern my wife and I set in 1956, when I was offered a pair of fourth-row seats to "My Fair Lady" early in its run. We cleaned out our savings to fly to New York from our home in Chicago, and today I wouldn't sell for all the money in Goldman Sachs the memory of Rex Harrison standing on his doorstep only a few feet away from me singing, "I've grown accustomed to her face."

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Just as vivid in reverse was "Camelot," Lerner and Lowe's first Broadway show after "Fair Lady." It had a terrific cast headed by Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, and I went looking for the same high — and lost it in the first few minutes of the second act. I saw "Camelot" three times in New York, hoping these superb craftsmen would finally fix that second act so I could sustain my euphoria. They never did.

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