An etched-in-my-mind August treat growing up in New Jersey was when our parents took us four kids to the Lambertville Music Circus — theater-in-the-round summer stock at its best! Sitting in a circus-style tent, we saw “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” “Carousel,” and countless other musicals and operattas.
Every seat surrounding the circular stage was good. I remember an actor walking down one of the aisles, then standing right next to me as he sang “Poor Jud is Dead.”
During those long-ago summers, I memorized the words to nearly every Rogers and Hammerstein musical. My pal Judy Waters and I performed endless versions of“I Cain’t Say No” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of my Hair” to anyone who would listen. To this day, “my” version of OOOOOOOOAK-la-homa is a family favorite. (I’ve begged several relatives to sing it at my funeral. No one has committed yet, however.)
I also vowed that I would introduce my kids to the joy of Broadway musicals. During their early years, we saw “Annie” and “Barnum,” even “Evita.” But one of my all-time favorite outings was bringing them to the Sullivan Street Theater in Greenwich Village in the early 1980s to see “The Fantasticks.”
This two-act play holds the record as the world’s longest-running musical, boasting 17,162 performances since it opened in 1960. It’s the wistful story of young love, family feuds, disillusioning experiences and renewed vows. After 57 years, the Tony-award-winning show finally dimmed its lights this past June.
Son Chris told me recently, “My primary memory from ‘The Fantasticks’ is the small size of the theater and the performer walking out at the beginning and saying, ‘I am …. the wall,’ then pointing the baton forward and freezing in place.” Daughter Alex’s key recollection was the opening song, “Try to Remember,” which our family later sang at my mother’s funeral because she so adored that melody.
When I learned that “The Fantasticks” was being staged at the Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick, Maine this summer, I immediately ordered six tickets and phoned my daughter. “Ink August 26 on your calendar,” I said, “because it’s nostalgia night: I’m taking you and the Grands to see my all-time favorite show.”
We had dinner before the show at a funky restaurant called the Thistle Pig.
Then ice cream for dessert.
Finally, we walked into the white clapboard barn where professional and developing thespians from the area have been wowing audiences, including former President George Bush and his wife Barbara, since 1972. From the opening number, I was blissful and the kids loved it too.
But it wasn’t just the music and minimalist staging that made me so happy. Or sitting in that quaint barn with the slightly-uncomfortable seats that reminded me of youthful evenings in the Lambertville Music Circus. Unlike the near-Broadway prices at other summer theaters in the area, I paid only $30 for an adult ticket and $10 for my grandchildren. (Take THAT, “Hamilton!”)
It was just so nice to step back in time — and ticket price — to walk down memory lane with my Grands. That I will always remember.