My family moved to Rockaway, New Jersey in the summer of 1978. It was there that my dreams of stardom began.
I was nine years old. Heather lived next door, and she and I became best friends. I thought she was so lucky because she got to go to dance lessons. She took tap and jazz and got to wear cool costumes with bright sequences and makeup and perform on stage. I went to all of her recitals and wished I, too, could be on stage.
My living room and sometimes the garage were my stage. I belonged to a cast of four, which consisted of Heather, my two younger sisters, Lisa and Faith, and I. Since I was the oldest and the bossiest, I was the director. Heather came with her own costumes and I designed the rest. We choreographed most of our dance/tumbling numbers as we went along. Poor Faith…we would throw her around like she was a rag doll. She was only about four or five…and so agile. We danced around in our leotards/body suits and bathing suits...to audiocassettes and records from all the Broadway musicals. We’d put a small piece of plywood on the living room carpet, so Heather could do her tap routine, and I would imitate her in my sneakers on the linoleum in the hall. I was a dancer in the making.
My dad eventually converted a portion of our basement into a small theater. He hung two “spotlights” and a sheet for a curtain. We performed dance numbers to tunes like “One” and “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line. I sang all the songs from Annie. I loved to sing, whether I was good at it or not…I just loved to sing. So I belted out songs like “Tomorrow”, “Maybe” and “What I Did For Love.” I knew then, this is what I wanted to do with my life.
My Uncle Jim took me to all the Broadway shows in NYC, and I was star struck! Actually he wasn’t my real uncle…that’s just what we called him. He was a close friend of my parents. He was 5’7”, a bit stocky with red hair, and he had a beard and mustache. And he loved to tickle me…he’d just have to hold his forefinger up in my direction and with that glint in his eye; my ribcage and I had to beware. He was about the same age as my dad, early to mid thirties and single. I don’t remember him ever having a girlfriend, but he claimed to be in love with Joey Heatherton…some famous musician. I thought he should marry my father’s sister, Aunt Doris, but he always talked of marrying me someday…I was his special girl.
I remember the theaters on Broadway were so old and plush. The curtains were made of this real heavy, dark red material with gold fringe and tassels. There were huge chandelier lights hanging from the ceiling. The walls were dark, paneled wood. The seats were red and cushy and set real close together.
The ushers carried little flashlights. When you showed them your ticket, they’d escort you to your seat…and everyone got a Playbill for free. Besides the massive amounts of advertising for this restaurant and that fur shop, there were all sorts of trivia questions near the back and little bio blurbs about each actor being seen in the show. Sometimes we’d be there on a night when an understudy was filling in and there’d be a loose insert telling you about them. The actual programs were expensive, but my uncle always splurged. He spoiled me rotten. They were larger than life with big glossy pictures and often times the lyrics to all or most of the songs were included. I still have every one I ever got.