By Taylor Griffin
NEW YORK – Truly, there is no business like show business.
How do you know when you’ve “made it”? Many claim it’s getting that dream job in the city, hitting it big time in the lottery or even traveling the world end to end. For me, it’s always been a spot on Broadway, and secretly, it still is.
From a superficial standpoint, Broadway represents how the world sees New York from the outside—bright lights, competition and excess. In fact, according to Broadway World, just this last week over 200,000 tickets were sold on the Great White Way, grossing $22,905,607 in total. World-class entertainment certainly doesn’t come cheap.
But beyond the mistaken frivolous notion it carries, Broadway means a whole heck of a lot more than a ticket stub.
As an incorrigible theater buff, I saved money all summer just for this semester’s inevitable “Broadway Binge.” I racked up quite a bit doing a few odd jobs like creating ads for a medical spa, hours of babysitting and directing several Disney’s Frozen camps for 200+ early elementary girls. Needless to say, this Princess Anna never wants to build a snowman again.
Over the past weeks I’ve been here, I’ve added “Chicago,” “Pippin” and “Book of Mormon” Playbills to my growing collection waiting for me at home, all the while wondering how I’ll display my masterpiece when I get back.
To me, no show is a bad show, but while “Chicago” and “Pippin” were fantastic on their own, it was “Book of Mormon” that’s been absorbed in my head the past few days.
If you’re at all familiar with the show, you’ll know that it was written by the creators of the television series, “South Park,” of which I’m a fan. With that in mind, it’s important to then understand the humor and sheer genius behind the show’s multifaceted material. While certainly it pokes fun at the Latter-day Saints religion on the surface, the socially satirical message digs much deeper into the reality of poverty, missionary efforts and having surety in what you believe. That aside, the show is definitely not for the easily offended. At some parts, I was almost afraid to laugh.
Apart from the show’s significant impact on Broadway history—and the fact that the cast signed my Playbill after the show—I’m still reeling about it several days later. Was it the catchy lyrics? The sinfully clever script? Something more?
As I learned in one of my classes the other night, New York became what most of our parents and grandparents still associate it with—rampant crime in the streets— after a huge economic downturn in the 70s and 80s (think “Rent”). In fact, even seeing a Broadway show during this time wasn’t a guaranteed safe trip.
However, the Disney Company bargained with the city to bring one of their popular animated movies to life on stage only if it could clean up 42nd Street in Times Square. And thus, the Lion King on Broadway was born.
With the help of Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, both mayors during this time of revitalization, New York became a much safer, cleaner place to enjoy, certainly for Broadway. In many ways, it was partly Broadway that saved New York’s reputation.
This illustrates part of the deeply emotional ties I have with the Great White Way—a sense of restoration and a place to feel completely alive.
Since I was old enough to stand, I’ve always found solace on the stage, whether it was singing on my fireplace hearth at home or performing with my dance team on the football field. As a dancer for 16 years, my home was on the stage, basking under the heat of the lights and feeding off the energy of the audience.
I suppose this is why I connect with musicals and plays so fondly—I know what it’s like to get a high from doing what you love.
Perhaps my favorite part of the watching experience is the last few minutes before the show begins when the energy is at its peak. I remember the healthy amount of butterflies before a dance recital, no matter how many times I had practiced the routine.
As an audience member, I can practically feel the nerves of these seasoned actors from my seat. It’s their job, but the rush of performing never gets old.
When the house lights dim and the orchestra hits the first notes, a surge almost as intense as the Phantom’s overture washes over me, and suddenly, I’m behind the blue velvet curtain of my hometown’s auditorium once again, awaiting my cue to begin. The goose bumps on my arms practically ache my skin.
Of all the musicals and plays I’ve attended, it never fails that I cry at some point, whether it’s just a bit misty-eyed or a full ugly, heaving sob. Typically I can expect the tears at the beginning of the show because it is in that moment of pure nostalgia that I well up—even in the ridiculous opening to “Book of Mormon.”
No other medium of art has this effect on me quite as intensely. I study film and therefore find incredible value in its intentionality and purpose, and music holds special meaning as I used to play the violin. But feeling one with the actors on the stage as they transcend space and time to create a new world is an overwhelming sensation. A couple hours at the theater is far from a fleeting experience. Now on the other side of the curtain, I feel just as intimately involved in a production as I did performing it.
Broadway allows me to feel the world in a different way. I believe the truth is best represented in art form rather than the bleakness of reality. The extreme exaggeration and fantasy depict a much more honest world than what everyday life is willing to accept. All of the props, set design, costumes and backdrops paint the space, and as audience members, we must find the deeper meaning, the “so what?”
It’s a temporary escape—yes, an exotic one—for automatic reflection and permanent applicability. To me, this is what makes Broadway timeless and ever relevant.
Sunday night as I stood outside waiting to greet the cast of “Book of Mormon” after a job supremely well-done, I introduced myself to a fellow fan next to me, a newly-transplanted New Yorker hailing from London. That night rounded out her seventh time to see the show and her second just that weekend. In fact, some of the cast members even happily remembered her from the previous time. The joy on her face was unmistakable—her love affair with Broadway was just as fervent as mine.
In all, it’s not about the sparkly costumes and beautiful sets for me (though it doesn’t hurt it). Actress Brooke Shields once put it nicely, saying, “The thing about Broadway, they always welcome you with open arms.” Undoubtedly, with every show I’ve seen on Broadway, I never feel more welcomed home.