By Ruth DeSarno
The 35th anniversary of Chicago has given me an opportunity to think back and reflect on a wealth of memories. I saw Chicago at least three times over the years. The first time was at the 46th Street Theater (Playbill, yes) although I’m not sure of the exact date (ticket stub, no). The production starred Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach. The trip was a specific pilgrimage to see the show, as my former junior high band director had begun weaning himself from public school music teaching and had broken into the wonderful world of pit orchestras. He was a featured reed player. We went not only to hear him, but to see him – from what I remember the pit orchestra was set on stage, upstage on scaffolding with the action below. I saw the show again during the time when Liza Minnelli stepped in for Gwen Verdon. I saw Chicago for a third time in the late 1990s at the Shubert Theater (during a rare night off on an orchestra tour). It is, without a doubt, the only show I’ve seen three times!
While I can’t say that attending Broadway musicals from the fairly impressionable age of fourteen (at least that’s the oldest ticket stub-stapled-to-a-Playbill that I have in hand – 1776, April 16, 1971 – St. James Theater) changed my life forever, I do know that live musical theater has been something I’ve enjoyed for nearly forty years.
I have been fortunate to be able to turn my passion for music into a living: first as a teacher; and subsequently, in the music business where I have been very lucky to have been able to work for a major American orchestra, a major classical record label and as part of a team that looks after an individual musician. All of which have afforded me a wide variety of musical experiences both as a musician and as an audience member.
I grew up close enough to New York City to make theater attendance something my brother and I thought of as a normal, regularly recurring event. No need for a specially planned family trip. In fact, our introduction to Broadway really started after our parents had attended the original production of Camelot, bought the cast recording LP, and played it incessantly from the living room as we were falling off to sleep upstairs. The other cast recording that featured in our bedtime listening was On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. I knew those recordings by heart. Funnily enough, many years later I played French horn in the pit orchestra for a series of community theater productions where my first test was none other than Camelot! The nuances of the score (at least the main vocal selections and of course the overture) had been ripening in my brain for decades! Being able to play the show was definitely one of those full-circle moments.
I moved about as far from New York City as you can get when I migrated to California for graduate school and lived there for a number of years. Thankfully I had a yearly dose of Broadway each Christmas-time when my mother began a tradition of giving tickets as gifts. Over the years we saw many shows, including every Andrew Lloyd Webber show, as well as Grand Hotel and Victor Victoria. I did see Ragtime in Los Angeles, one of the few shows to premiere there before opening on Broadway.
Fortunately when I relocated back to the east coast in 2000, I could once again attend shows on a more or less regular basis. It didn’t hurt that I was lucky enough to be working for a record company that not only had a wealth of historical cast albums in the catalogue, but was also active in recording new shows. I continue to attend shows on Broadway, although now it’s a dedicated train or car ride from Boston. It is a relatively short distance to travel for a rewarding experience that has been part of my life for many years.
Ruth DeSarno holds a Ph.D. in Music from UCLA and has been fortunate to work in several areas in music. Beginning her career in music education, she taught at the public school and university levels, as well as private instruction on the French horn. She has served as the Orchestra Administrator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and as an Artist & Repertoire Manager on the staff of Sony Classical. For the past six years, Ruth has been working in the Boston area for an instrumental soloist.