photo by Joe Sinnott – Thirteen/WNET
Last night I went to the Hollywood Bowl with my friend Charla and her friend Beth to see Reba McEntire and Brian Stokes Mitchell in South Pacific. It was a balmy night, our seats were decent, but the bowl has large projection screens now so you can see the details on the stage even if you are further up in the amphitheater. There is something magical about this place.
I was excited to go as in these later years my friend Lorita and I sometimes went; she died very unexpectedly last summer right before the event we had scheduled. Needless to say, I was surely thinking about her last night as our Hollywood Bowl night in 2005 was the last time I actually saw her.
The performance was wonderful. That was one of my favorite musicals along with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Oklahoma when I was growing up. I imagine there are few Americans in my age bracket who don’t know every song by heart. It was hard not to sing along. Stokes Mitchell, who performed in my school’s amphitheater a year ago when it was dedicated, was magnificent as were all the other cast members. McEntire, however, is not a Mary Martin—or a Mitzi Gaynor, but was a wonderful treat nonetheless. She is very down-to-earth and is best in the humorous dialogue.
We intended to eat at old Miceli’s off Hollywood Blvd. last night before the musical, but the town was absolutely jam-packed with tourists and we couldn’t get served in time to make the beginning. Just going four blocks on the boulevard took 20 minutes. At Grauman’s Chinese there were many people in costume and it was more or less a zoo. Wicked is at the Pantages but the Kodak Theater was apparently dark. A few people just stopped their cars and started shooting photos out the car windows. I was brimming with memories as we fought the traffic because when I was in high school, my girlfriends and I would go to Hollywood to “cruise the boulevard” in the 1950s. We were also regulars on Santa Monica Blvd. and Sunset Blvd. You’d actually see movie stars sometimes then. We used to park near a boarding house where starlets like Kim Novak lived, but we were always searching for Jimmy Dean, Natalie Wood and the gang from Rebel Without a Cause. Kids from all over Los Angeles came to Hollywood on the weekends and you thought nothing of hopping from car to car even when you didn’t know the people. It probably wasn’t safe to do then, but it would be a disaster today. The first bar I ever went into was Jazz City at the corner of Western and Hollywood—Chet Baker was playing.
My folks relocated from Michigan to Los Angeles right after the depression and my dad managed a gas station at the corner of Sunset and Gower so early Hollywood was always in our family stories. I wasn’t born yet then, but my other four sisters were and they all lived in a tiny house right on the gas station property. I’ve got photos of that—somewhere. Times were really hard then, my sisters told me, and the summer food consisted primarily of fresh peaches from a tree on the property and day old bread. Or so the story goes.
I was taken aback last night when I found that I couldn’t march right up the hill from the parking areas to where the seats start in the Hollywood Bowl. I had to rest a couple of times and catch my breath. Many other people older than me were trucking right along—and many were going even slower than I was. It was a full house last night and we were like sardines in a can. I thought I was going to have a panic attack at one point, but my shallow breathing and mild paranoia lifted as soon as the musical began.
This theater is a traditional summer “must”, but I must admit that if my friend hadn’t driven, or I hadn’t taken the bus, I would definitely have passed. I am beginning to feel less and less comfortable in extremely crowded venues.
So, what are your favorite musicals?