Lost Playbills and found memories: Cats @ The Winter Garden; Spring 1988


Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting fellow theatre blogger Steve On Broadway, and during drinks he asked me about my first big show.

I was nine eight, and it was our annual family trip. This time: off to Manhattan to see the sights and a show!

I remember when we were planning the trip, my mom asked my sister and I, while eating lunch at the Alpena Big Boy, if we wanted to see A Chorus Line or Cats. Those were the two options her travel agent gave her. We chose Cats, because, you know, cats. (But imagine if we chose differently. I’m sure my parents would LOVE their kids watching a show that openly discussed cross dressing, gay relations, and “Dance: 10; Looks:3,” if you know what I’m sayin’…)

"Cats" marquee at the Winter Garden Theatre

"Cats" marquee at the Winter Garden Theatre

This was my first Big Musical. We all remember our first. (Fellow theatre blogger Kevin Daly does. What about you?) My memory of seeing Cats at the Winter Garden is full of magic and light: How were those actors singing AND dancing? How were their voices so loud (to me there were no discernible microphones)? Wow – did they really just pull down a wall, and behind it was a huge, animated ship (during “Growltiger’s Last Stand”)? OMG! That Rum Tum Tugger just danced on a lady’s lap! The tire is floating! FLOATING!!! Mom, I want a Jellical cat when we get home!

I got to go up onstage at intermission, and had the option of sitting on Deuteronomy’s lap (I didn’t.) But I got to see the band area off to the side, which floored me that there was an actual live band, and the huge John Napier-designed junk piles.

Naturally, Cats holds a special place in my heart. I’ve since seen a really outstanding production in Stuttgart, Germany back in 2000. All in German, but with a mostly American cast, strangely enough. And later this week, I’m reviewing the non-equity tour of the show for Edge.

But on to the title of this post: My parents visited this weekend, and my mom brought along a bag full of my old Playbills and souvenir brochures from my early theatre-going days. In it: the Playbill from Cats at the Winter Garden Theatre. Ah, yes, Memories!

In the cast, we had Larry Small as Old Deuteronomy, Anna McNeely as Jennyanydots (who originated the role on Broadway), Frank Mastrocola as Rum Tum Tugger, and the late, great Laurie Beechman as Grizabella. I don’t recognize any of the chorus cats. Actually, Beechman and McNeely are the only two names I do recognize.

In the same Playbill, it’s a goldmine of late 80s theatrical lore. Most notably, there’s an article about Blythe Danner and Aiden Quinn starring in A Streetcar Named Desire at Circle in the Square, a full-page ad for the upcoming flop musical Chess along with an ad for the even bigger flop, Carrie*, and an interview with “celebrity” Jane Krakowski, whose only claim to fame at the time was starring in Starlight Express as Dinah (the Dining Car).

Among the list of currently playing Broadway shows: a revival of Cabaret with Joel Gray at the Minskoff, Oh! Calcutta! (why didn’t my parents take us to see that?), Me and My Girl, Anything Goes with Patti LuPone (!), Macbeth with Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson at the Mark Hellinger, The Gospel at Colonus* (A new gospel musical starring Morgan Freeman) at the Lunt-Fontanne, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Barrymore…

(*These references help pinpoint the time-span for our NYC trip. According to IBDB, these two extremely short-lived shows both played around the May 1988 time frame.)

Looking at the list of Off-Broadway shows, Frances Sternhagen and Earle Hyman were starring in Driving Miss Daisy, Steel Magnolias was still hot, and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party brought the camp.

Fun, huh?

I’ll dig through the rest of the bag and share some more early theatre memories and Playbills when the urge hits.

And special thanks to mom for locating and scanning these photos from our Spring 1988 NYC trip:

Bob_NYC

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15 Comments

  1. awww, baby Bob!

    My first? Peter Pan on Broadway with Sandy Duncan (who I immediately fell in love with). My parents were so poor my mom took me alone while my dad saw “The Fog” in a movie theater down the street.

    • I would have LOVED to have seen Sandy in Peter Pan. First off: I love flying. Secondly: Peter Pan is another fave childhood musical of mine. And third: Sandy Duncan can do no wrong.

      Aww @ your dad.

  2. actually you were 8

    • Thanks, mom!

  3. What you really wanted to see on that trip was the Statue of Liberty. We did it all by train and went to DC first.

    • I was most excited about the Statue of Liberty, as I hadn’t seen a Broadway show yet. :)

      But I do remember my obsession with Lady Liberty. It’s apparent in those photos.

  4. Isn’t it serendipitous that both our first times to see a Broadway show ON Broadway happened to be “Cats”? I’m sure we’re not alone.

    What a sincere pleasure meeting you! See you again soon.

    • And you saw Beechman too, right? Amazing. Great meeting you, and let me know when you’re in Chi again!

      • Wish I could tell you with more precision whether I saw the show with Laurie Beechman. Alas, I lost my Playbill years ago.

        I do know, however, that Anna McNeely was still in the show as she is the friend of my family who arranged for me to get the seat next to my parents when I surprised them on their wedding anniversary.

  5. Wow, you’re so lucky My parents didn’t take us *sniff* anywhere *sniff* unless we had relatives we could stay with. Which explains the week I once spent in Utica, New York, when I was about 10, which is nowhere near New York City. Although it’s not too far from Cooperstown, so we did go to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    But I digress!

    Unless you count the R&H musicals I saw on tv growing up, my first “big musical” was seeing the tour of “A Chorus Line” in Boston when I was in college.

    I did see “Fiddler on the Roof” in Tel Aviv, in Hebrew, in 1998, with Topol. It was my first time seeing the musical in any language. I’d never even seen the movie!

  6. The first “big” show I ever saw was actually STOMP on tour in Grand Rapids. While not a traditional musical, it made me want to see everything I could get my hands on.

    Next up – and the first big MUSICAL I ever saw – was the tour of “Les Miserables” when it came through the Wharton Center.

    The first show I actually saw on Broadway was, of course, “The Phantom of the Opera” starring Hugh Panaro as the Phantom in winter of 2005, which was the first time I’d actually been to NYC. It was thrilling and amazing, even though I’d seen the show twice on tour prior.

    The other show I saw in NYC was the flop “Brooklyn,” which still makes me smile. I had my choice of any show in NYC – Harvey Fierstiein in Fiddler, Sutton Foster in Little Women, Hairspray, anything!! – and I chose “Brooklyn.”

    And you know what, I’ve never regretted it. :)

    Thanks for triggering memories, Bob.

    Get it.. Memories??

    I am delighted to see Cats with you on Wednesday, for the first time.

  7. Come back! COME BACK!!! It’s been ever so long & we miss you terribly. You can even search my drawers again.

    (P.S.: First big show I saw? First show I loved desperately? POTO. POTO, ad infinitum. The trap was cleverly set; here I confess. POTO till the end of days.)

    • I miss you all terribly, too! :( Condo owning, especially a condo that needs a new roof, really sucks the fun out of a lot.

  8. [...] Anyway: Despite all its inflated glory, I love Cats, as I reminisced here. [...]

  9. [...] It was my first Broadway show I ever saw as a wee lad. You can read all about that memory (MEMORY!) here. I’ve since seen several other productions, including a first-rate German production in [...]


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