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Who Wants to Live in New York?

Filichia's friend from San Antonio happens to like New York. Guess why. logo
Ain't nothing like this in San Antonio!
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Had a good time while Byrd Bonner, my buddy from San Antonio, was in town. Yeah, that's his first name: Byrd. I assumed he was named for the artist who did the Follies logo -- what parents wouldn't want to honor the wizard who came up with the best logo any show ever had? -- but Byrd is actually an old Southern family name. This Byrd is executive director of the United Methodist Church Foundation but he's also quite active in San Antonio community theater. Favorite role: Oscar Jaffe in On the Twentieth Century. After he closed in that show, his two daughters Caroline and Rosalie (who had memorized the cast album) did their own performance for him, donning clothes they'd dragged out of the attic and playing all of the roles.

At one point, Byrd said to me, "Did you ever notice that in a song, when there's a sequence of numbers that increases -- one, two, three, etc. -- the highest number is always 12?" To which I immediately said, "Sure, because that's the highest number that has only one syllable." He roared. After all, this is hardly an observation one hears around the Alamo. There, it's not an advantage to know the names of all the Broadway composers -- the older, two-named ones or the new three-named ones. But Byrd does. Whenever he comes to town, he embarks on a whirlwind trip to see all the musicals he can see. Though this time he did pass on Dracula and Bombay Dreams -- he knows where to draw the line -- he has attended every other current Broadway musical. Byrd was happy to find that he was here in the midst of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and he took in The Flute Player's Song, The Man Who Would Be King (neither of which will make his Top 10 list), Title of Show, A Hundred Years Into the Heart (both of which he rather liked), and Altar Boyz (which, like everyone else I know, he adored).

I brought him to the last two and he was happy when, after the show, I introduced him to Lonny Price, Jamie De Roy, and Paige Price. I mean, you don't get to meet people like them hangin' around the Josephine Theatre in San Antonio. When Byrd went to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical, he bought the cast album at the theater, because it sure doesn't grow on trees in San Antonio -- nor can it even be found in the local record stores. While at the York, Byrd approached artistic director Jim Morgan and mentioned that he'd heard Alice Playten would like to reprise her role as Kafritz in the upcoming "Musicals in Mufti" reading of Henry, Sweet Henry -- and that he thought she should. "How did you know about that?" Morgan asked in astonishment.

Actually, Byrd had heard it at a party to which I'd taken him on Sunday. A musical theater enthusiast there said he'd heard that Playten wanted to do the show and could provide the little beany cap that she wore in the 1967 musical. He also relished hearing Ann Reinking's story of when she and the cast of Coco were freezing during rehearsals because Katharine Hepburn preferred a chilly studio; the star solved the problem by going out and buying cardigans for everyone.

On Tuesday, I brought Byrd to Barrymore's where a number of musical theater enthusiasts meet for a weekly dinner. Not surprisingly, Byrd was the only one of us who had an opinion on the touring show The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, so he spent more time listening to our opinions on the musicals we saw that he didn't and now couldn't. (Few Texans know Bajour, Kwamina, and Tovarich.) But he got our full attention when he told us of the time when he was in Chicago and saw Kander and Ebb's The Visit there, for none of us had caught the show. "There's nobody back home who wants to hear about it in the detail that you guys do," he said with a big smile.

I remember when I was in Byrd's position. In 1964, when I'd come up from my native Boston to see Fade Out, Fade In, I noticed as I emerged from the Hellinger that a virtual family of people were greeting each other and heading for the stage door as, it turned out, they did most every day to see Carol Burnett. How I longed to know them, and for them to know me! In 1966, when I was standing at the back of the Alvin for a matinee of It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!, the orchestra was halfway into the overture when a drum riff sounded and the band segued into what I would later learn was the title song -- and the guy to my right said to the guy on his right, "I love this song." He loved it? How did he know it? The show was only a week old! The cast album wasn't even out yet! Had the song already landed a pop recording that hadn't reached Boston yet? Had the fellow had the luxury of seeing the show a number of times, while I'd be going home tomorrow?

I also flashed back to that day in 1981, four years after I'd moved to New York, when my girlfriend and I were in Breckenridge, Colorado to speak at a writers' conference. It was early morning, we were walking down a hillside, the air was beautifully clean and crisp, and in front of us were purple mountain majesties. Linda said, "When I'm away from New York, I feel like I'm missing something." I immediately gave a brisk nod -- and I felt the feeling even more intensely that night, when I saw the local community theater production of The Dining Room.

Those of us who live in New York often ask ourselves, "Who wants the worry, the noise, the dirt, the heat? Who wants the garbage cans clanging in the street?" Well, suddenly, I do, because Byrd reminded me of New York's incomparable assets: Its theatrical attractions, its theatrical people who become your real family. Granted, Byrd probably lives in a pink palazzo with tons of space. We know he at least has an attic, because that's what provided Caroline and Rosalie with the costumes for their tab version of On the Twentieth Century. Each month, Byrd probably pays a mortgage payment virtually identical to the maintenance I pay on my pathetic co-op. (How pathetic, you ask? Well, let me put it this way. When CNN brought its cameras to the prison cell that Martha Stewart will soon be occupying, it looked perilously close to the inside of my place.)

So, yes. When it comes to New York, I've always hated the noise, the dirt, the heat. But ever since I met you, Byrd, I'm reminded that this city is its own reward, for it allows me the chance to be at home at 7:30pm and still make it to an 8pm show if the mood suddenly hits me. And yes, you gotta have a real taste for maniacs who already know and care that Sara Gettelfinger is getting raves for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in San Diego and that Caligula had to extend at the New York Musical Theatre Festival because everyone loves it so. Here's to those good and crazy people, my friends; I wouldn't give them up for Boston, Austin, Wichita, or St. Louis.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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