Thursday, November 20, 2014

One Shining Light Is Out: Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols' death was reported today and I'm sure that throughout the entertainment field or anywhere someone enjoys creativity and invention and entertainment for adults, it resonated deeply. He was one of the premier talents of his time and his works will inspire and cause us to think as well as to laugh for millennia to come. Mike Nichols now belongs to the ages and I, for one, am very glad I had an opportunity to see his work early on when he first began performing with the very talented Elaine May at New York's Golden Theatre.

Nichols and May provided my extremely wonderful entrance into becoming a regular New York City theatre goer, even if I sat almost against the wall in the balcony. It was a magical event in my mind. I didn't know how to dress, what would be expected of me and how or whether I'd fit in.

Yes, I grew up in the wilds of Queens and we didn't have theatre there even though my town had five movie theatres. A version of summer stock would come after the vaudevillians had left and were forgotten. But we still had remnants of vaudeville when I was much younger and I'd seen many. When you went to the movies on Saturday morning in addition to 10 cartoon features and a double feature film, you had to sit through god only knows how many vaudeville acts. Doesn't that sound ancient now? It sure does to me.

Broadway was a place we all knew existed, but none of us had ever been there. You only went anywhere near Broadway when you got a job in Manhattan and then you discovered two-fers that meant cut-rate tickets to shows. I don't think Nichols and May were two-ferred, but however I got the tickets I am forever grateful.

As soon as the couple came onto the empty stage the magic began and it continued without a break until they suddenly turned the tables. Looking out at the audience, Mike asked for ideas for an impromptu skit they would create right there without preparation. The suggestions came fast and loose and he gleaned several immediately. They'd pick a situation that was posed, improvise the skit without any discussion and go on to the next without missing that proverbial beat. It was marvelous! I was in love with the theatre and I've never lost that love.

When they broke up, I was mystified because they were so perfect together and they played off each other so effortlessly. But each went their way. It was a moment in time and then it was gone, but oh, what a moment. Some things, I guess, live out their lives and then it's on to something else.

Nichols would go on to amaze us with the breadth of his talent in film and TV. Sure he'd have misses, but when he was on his game as he had been that night in the Golden, he was unbeatable.  I do have the LP album of the performance and I treasure it even if I currently do not have a turntable and ancillary equipment to do it justice. The album stands as a rare piece of entertainment Americana that I treasure. That night was my theatrical christening and we do try to keep something from these momentous occasions, don't we?

RIP Mike Nichols I'm sure glad I got to have the experience you provided.