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Akin to politics, theater needs your participation

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There comes a time when your local theater columnist is at a loss for words. For those of you who know me, this may be hard to believe but it’s true. Granted, I’ve had the gift of gab long before I kissed the Blarney Stone at that Irish castle in Cork, but I’ve been writing this column for more than four years, trying not to repeat myself, and when I now look at the blank computer screen, it just stares right back.

Once in a while I give into the temptation to throw in a political comment or two, revealing my liberal leanings, but things are in such a mess right now that it’s hard to summon up much enthusiasm. An analogy that will lead us to the theater scene has to do with getting out the vote. An amazing number of people don’t vote, even in presidential elections, and that can make all the difference in who wins and who loses.

Similarly, a lot of people never go to the theater, although they live here in New York where there is so much to choose from. Manhattan, of course, is where most of the action is, but for Broadway, on and off, you need a high credit card limit to afford the price. Even with available discounts online or at the TKTS locations, you’ll spend close to $200 for a pair of seats. That’s why two of every three tickets to Broadway shows are purchased by tourists, who save up for their trip to the big city, and most of those are for musicals.

And there’s no guarantee that you’ll see something good, even if the hype claims that what you’re about to see is one of the best shows ever, starring one of your favorite celebrities.

I do, however, urge you to take in “Follies,” lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, now in revival at the Marquis Theatre. I’ve seen a couple of prior productions of this 40-year-old musical, but this one is the best so far — find out how great theater can be.

What about those of us in Queens, known to Manhattanites as the bridge-and-tunnel people? There are many stages in the borough filled with many talented actors, and tickets to be had for not much more than the going rate for a movie. By the way, if you’re an adult, how many movies are really worth seeing? The fall season is when most of the local groups are in action. Check out the calendar listings, or go online to www.SpotlightonStage.com, www.DebsLiWeb.homestead.com, and www.LocalTheatreNY.com, three sites that will tell you what’s playing.

Local venues are easy to get to, with free parking and a subway or bus stop nearby. The spaces are intimate so you’ll be close to the stage where you can see and hear everything. And that everything will be a play or a musical you’ll recognize, bringing a history of contented audiences.

As I’ve urged you before, get away from the TV set, take a short trip to a local theater and take advantage of a couple of hours of quality live entertainment. When the time comes, make sure you get out to vote, and with the new theater season just getting started, do yourself a favor and show up.

If you have any local theater news or anecdotes, and you’d like some coverage in Ron Hellman’s “The Play’s The Thing”, send it on to him. We don’t want to leave you out, especially if you have a good story to tell. Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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