5 days in N.Y., 4 Broadway musicals, 1 giddy California girl

The author with Anna Maria Perez de Tagle of 'Godspell.' Photo by Artie Perez de Tagle

By Tara Saha

As our red-eye flight from California dipped into the polluted air, I gripped my friend’s hand till she winced and squealed girlishly. I’d abandoned all dignity. New York City, land of fame, loss, money, musicals, and superb shopping had been my dream since I was a little girl.

When, six months earlier, I was given the opportunity to take a theatre-themed trip to the Big Apple with my school, I jumped at it. At Menlo School, one week each school year, we get to take a non-academic course in a program called Knight School (we’re the Menlo Knights, get it?). Knight School is an invaluable opportunity to take seminars at school, at surrounding schools or organizations, or to go on trips like ours to explore a wide range of interests.

Menlo's Knight School group (Tara sixth from left) consisted of 30 students and three teachers. Taken at Radio City Music Hall. Photo by Paul Gralen

Ever since I discovered theater at a young age, my head had been filled with visions of the Great White Way. To finally get a chance to go to New York was a dream come true for me.

However, it was going to be no picnic. Just looking at our itinerary made you want to grab a double espresso. We were to watch four Broadway musicals and a play, attend improv and musical theatre workshops, eat at Sardi’s (among other wonderful restaurants), have Q&A sessions with multiple Broadway actors, and hopefully get it all done before the clock struck 12…or 12:30, or maybe one. Actually, we managed to do it all in five 16-hour days.

Following a dazzling swing around the NBC Television Studios, we arrived at our first dinner. Ellen’s Stardust Diner, barely a few yards from our hotel, has spawned “American Idol” contestants and Broadway stars alike with its unique premise: You work as a waiter or waitress, you sing. After the two-hour dinner, or more accurately, “show,” the waiters earned tips that pay for singing, dancing, and acting lessons to help pave their way to success.

The dinner at Ellen’s was followed by our first show of the trip, the revival of “Godspell,” starring Hunter Parrish (of the TV shows “Weeds”) as Jesus. When the lights rose in the less-than-typical circular theatre, I could barely contain my excitement. I mean, sitting 20 feet away from a Broadway stage does that to you. All joking aside, however, the level of energy, dedication, joy, and plain talent that I witnessed blew away all preconceived expectations. Eight times a week, these actors and actresses give 110 percent for ecstatic fans and a less-than-ecstatic pay.

Courtesy of my amazing mother and her friendship with a Broadway father, my group and I got to meet fellow FilAm Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, one of the 10 ensemble characters in the cast. After getting the obligatory pictures and autographs, we got to ask her a few questions about her climb to Broadway. Just a few years earlier, Anna Maria had been a young Broadway hopeful living in San Jose like myself, and with the help of CMT (San Jose’s local community theatre), extensive training, and full support from her family, she fulfilled her dreams. Meeting someone with such an amazing and relatable story made me feel like, with the right classes and a certain amount of luck, I could have my own shot at fame.

Next, we saw “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert,” a campy yet emotional romp through the life of a married drag queen in Australia.

We also watched “Memphis,” a musical set in the 1950s about the rise to fame of Huey Calhoun, a poorly educated white man who falls in love with a black singer. Light-hearted as it was, the show touches on the very serious issues of racism and hatred in the South.

Our last show was “The Book of Mormon,” the famously profane brainchild of the writers of the TV animated show “South Park,” about two Mormon missionaries’ trip to Uganda and the lessons they learn about the importance of friendship and honesty (truly, it’s not as gooey as it sounds).

However, my most favorite show was the only non-musical we saw, “War Horse.” We witnessed a stunning display of engineering and emotion, based on the same book as the movie was. In rural England, in the throes of WWI, young Albert falls in love with a thoroughbred horse named Joey. When Joey is sold to the army, Albert enlists to try and find him, and the two go through nameless perils in order to reunite. As it would be a ridiculous feat to have real horses play Joey and the various other equestrians in the show, an intricate puppet constructed of cotton mesh and painted aluminum plays Joey.

The horse puppets are controlled by three puppeteers that operate the head and ears, the front legs, and the hind legs and tail respectively. While this may sound crude in theory, these puppets and their operators dance through every scene and transform into a breathing horse. I was lucky enough to get the aisle seat where the horses run down, and the mechanical beast was only inches away from my face. Seeing the genuine emotions of Albert and the puppeteers so close was a humbling experience; after the show, my friends and I were so emotionally drained we barely wanted to go to dinner.

Having just returned to California, I’m still in shock: the good kind, though. Needless to say, the bright city lights of New York were intoxicating, and I’m already saving up my money for a plane ticket back (as well as orchestra seats to every Broadway show playing). I mean, what’s New York without a little song and dance?

Tara Saha is a 15-year-old living in Silicon Valley in sunny California. She likes hanging out with friends, reading good books, playing the piano, and attempting to not annoy those around her with her continuous singing and dancing.

One Comment

  1. Jerome M wrote:

    I didn’t know that Priscilla: Queen of the Desert was a play. Must’ve just been adapted. Good post!

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