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How theatre enhanced my romance with my late wife
It's been a while since we published one of our Theatre Lovers essays and we're excited to share this moving and romantic story by performer and artist Mike Pardo, who drew the amazing TKTS illustration above. If you'd like to submit your story for consideration, email TDF Stages.
Eve and I met on Sunday, April 2, 1978, at a Jewish Singles Rap Group at the 92nd Street Y (back when rap meant talk, not Ice-T). I was there on assignment from my therapist. In an effort to cure me of my devastating shyness around the opposite sex, I was supposed to participate in activities where I could interact with women. So, I schlepped from my home in New Jersey and ended up connecting with Eve. It turned out we were both artists and we hit it off. We exchanged phone numbers, and I called her for a date the following Sunday.
We met at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and went to check out the Willem de Kooning exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. Neither of us liked it very much but, since it was still rather early, I asked Eve if she'd like to go to TKTS in Times Square to see if we could find a nice show to see that evening.
We picked The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas—a curious choice for a guy in therapy for being bashful around the ladies! Still, we both enjoyed the show a lot, the first of our many dates.
Over the next several months, I took the bus into Manhattan every weekend to see Eve. We did all the usual NYC activities: renting bikes and boating in Central Park, visiting museums and, of course, going to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. We visited TKTS frequently and saw many plays and musicals.
On January 1, 1979, I proposed to Eve. We married the following August and got our first apartment in Princeton, NJ. After several moves, we settled in Reading, PA in January 1988. But that's not where our theatre lovers story ends.
In 1994, the Reading Jewish Community Center decided to sponsor an amateur production of Fiddler on the Roof. I had always wanted to perform in shows as a high school and college student but was too insecure to get up on stage. Finally, as a 41-year-old married father of two, I figured I had nothing left to be embarrassed about and suggested that our entire family audition for the show. I was cast as Avram the bookseller; Eve got Grandma Tzeitel; our 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, played Tevye's youngest daughter, Bielke; and our 6-year-old son, Dan, was one of the village kids. It was a wonderful experience, and I was immediately bitten by the theatre bug.
Thus began my 30-year career as the biggest community theatre ham in Reading, PA. The timidity of my youth completely conquered, I am now the go-to guy for any local director seeking an aging, over-the-top scenery chewer. Over the decades, I have played Wilbur Turnblad in Hairspray, Hucklebee in The Fantasticks, Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, Martin Vanderhof in You Can't Take It with You and Juror #11 in Twelve Angry Men, to name a handful of favorites.
Despite acting in school productions at college, Eve rarely got on stage following our family Fiddler. After rocking the house as Mother Superior in a 2008 production of Nunsense, she retired from performing. She was terrified she would forget her lines and none of my coaxing could make her change her mind.
Sarah's stage career was brief. Shortly after Fiddler, she, Dan and I auditioned for Oliver! Dan and I were cast in the ensemble, but Sarah didn't make the cut. This devastated her. So, save for portraying Little Red Riding Hood in Mother Goose, Inc. her senior year of high school, she decided to pursue non-theatre activities.
As for my son Dan, Fiddler turned out to be the beginning of a long career. A pianist since age 3, he started serving as the accompanist for local children's theatre at 10. By 17, he was music directing productions, including The Who's Tommy, Urinetown and Jesus Christ Superstar. After graduating from West Chester University with a music education degree, Dan accepted a position as assistant to the music director at Connecticut's famed Goodspeed Musicals. He stayed for three seasons, working with Paul Williams and Garry Marshall on Happy Days: A New Musical and the legendary Julie Andrews on the musical adaptation of her children's book The Great American Mousical. Today, Dan is a NYC-based music director, pianist, arranger and educator. When he's not tickling the ivories at various venues in Manhattan such as Marie's Crisis, The Townhouse and the Stonewall Inn, he's music directing shows all across the country.
The ending of my love story with Eve came prematurely. In 2019, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she succumbed to the disease two years later. She was only 67. Forty-two years together wasn't nearly enough. In addition to a lifetime of fantastic memories and two wonderful children, I have a particularly special keepsake of our years together: my autobiographical graphic novel Eve & Me.
Shortly after Eve and I married, I came up with the idea of a serialized comic strip based on our courtship. I couldn't find a syndicate interested in publishing it, so I reworked the strip into a graphic novel and submitted it to many different book publishers. Again, no takers.
Eventually, I opted to publish the book myself. I had 1,000 copies of the 7 in. x 7 in., 128-page paperback printed. I tried to sell them but wasn't terribly successful. (I'm a better cartoonist than marketer!) Half the copies are sitting in my attic, still in their original shipping cases from the printer.
Publishing the book did lead to an interesting, theatre-related event. In 2008, in honor of our 29th wedding anniversary, I decided to throw a surprise party for Eve featuring a two-person stage adaptation of Eve & Me. I asked a pair of young actors I had worked with, Angela DeAngelo and Philippe Levesque, to portray the two of us circa 1978. It ended up being a sequel of sorts to my original graphic novel. Act I is essentially the entire Eve & Me book; Act II jumps ahead 70 years with Eve and me now 95-year-old codgers reminiscing about our life together. For an entire year, I rehearsed the play in secret with the two actors on Sunday mornings while Eve was busy teaching religious school at our temple.
Finally, the night of Eve's surprise party arrived. It was being held at the Genesius Theatre in downtown Reading where I do most of my performing. I told Eve that we were going to a birthday party for the theatre's artistic director. When Eve and I entered the lobby and everyone yelled, "Surprise!!," she nearly had a heart attack—especially when she realized the party was for her! I had packed the theatre with all of Eve's closest friends and relatives from all over the country, about 100 people in total. She was flabbergasted both by the magnitude of the celebration and the fact that I managed to plan it for a year without her finding out.
After a dinner of giant deli sandwiches, the guests assembled in the theatre's auditorium for the performance. The acts included tributes to Eve from her sister and our daughter. Our son Dan played piano and crooned a parody of Cole Porter's "You're the Top." I had one of my theatre friends sing "Can't Smile Without You," the song Eve and I danced to at our wedding. And I performed a parody of the old Eddie Cantor song "Okay Toots."
Then the Eve & Me play started. Eve couldn't get over it. In their makeup and costumes, the two actors looked exactly like Eve and me when we were young. They sounded like us, too! Most of the guests had read the original book and they roared with laughter throughout the performance. It was the perfect finale to a memorable evening. Although Eve had a good time, she made me promise never to do that to her again. She hated surprises!
Now that I am a retired widower, I fill my time making theatre. Last year, I appeared in four different productions: as Professor Marvel and The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz; a small character role in the musical Dogfight, a loud and greedy businessman in a musical adaptation of The Little Prince; and an ensemble role in the musical Jekyll & Hyde. My two grandchildren enjoy seeing their Poppy perform, particularly my grandson who laughed his tuchus off the entire time I was on stage in The Little Prince.
My love affair with Eve began at TKTS in 1978, and my love of theatre and my late wife continue to this day. May the curtain never close on either.
Top image: An illustration of TKTS Times Square in 1978 from Mike Pardo's graphic novel Eve & Me. All photos courtesy of the author.