There are many beautiful theaters in Detroit, but the Fisher Theatre launched my love affair with the stage. Laura and I would dress up in our finest little girl duds, and our parents would drive us downtown for a night of music, melodrama, and Jolly Ranchers.
There was no greater thrill than walking down the halls of that building, craning our necks at the expansive art deco ceilings, lost in its vast loveliness. We would perch on the balcony, peeping over to watch the people milling to their seats on the opera level.
I remember staring at the huge stage, with the curtain already pulled back so the set was visible but darkened, and feel a fluttering in my stomach. A bell would ding to alert patrons the show was about to begin. The lights would dim. Darkness and quiet and a communal sense of anticipation permeated the atmosphere. And then the stage lights would halo the actors and a different world came into being.
While I sat enraptured by the drama unfolding, Laura would doze. Mom would sit, prim and upright, watching through her “opera glasses” (which were actually giant binoculars). Dad, if he was enjoying himself, would get swept away in the music and smack his thigh to the beat, loudly humming “pum-pum-pum-PUM!” If he was not into the show, he would absentmindedly twist Jolly Rancher wrappers, somehow always at the quietest and deepest moments of the show, much to the dismay of the people in accompanying seats, while my mother glared at him.
The big, dramatic musicals were my favorite. Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and, of course, CATS. I freaking loved Cats. I knew every single lyric to that damn show. (I still do, who am I kidding!) What was it about that show? It’s not like there’s much of a plot to follow. It’s based on C.S. Lewis’ book of poetry about kitty cats. But it was full of dancing and big operatic tunes and I adored it. I would play and sing along to the record album in the living room. My parents must have thought I was demented when they walked in to find me prostrate, arms raised to the heavens, shrieking, “MEM’RY!! ALL ALOOOONE IN THE MOOOOONLIGHT!” I know my sister did. She still won’t let me live it down.
The Fisher Theatre embodied my childhood image of Detroit. I still see the Fisher in my mind’s eye, through damp seething clouds erupting from the sewers, a symbol of elegance, artistry and romance.