Just back from a lovely evening at the Hollywood Bowl. It was "Hall of Fame" night as they inducted Roger Daltrey, The Smothers
Brothers, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane and Leopold Stokowski. All but Mssrs. Lane and Stokowski were present and performing. Nathan appeared via a
pre-tape to explain that he was off to England to do a movie. Leopold would probably have been there except for the fact that he died in 1977.
But Daltrey (introduced by Brian Wilson) was great, LuPone (introduced by Joe Mantegna) was great, and the Smotherses (introduced by
Michael McKean, Annette O'Toole and Fred Willard) were really great. Also appearing (and also great) were singing sensation Josh Groban and, of
course, The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra under the able baton of John Mauceri. Oh, yeah — and at the end, they had fireworks.
The Hollywood Bowl is one of those places I always enjoy being but it's a huge pain to get there and only a slightly smaller pain to
get out. I remember several trips with my parents when I was a tot — once for Disney Night. They had the costumed characters from Disneyland
dancing all over the place, and performances by Disney-related performers. I remember comedian Gene Sheldon playing a banjo, doing an act that struck
me as way too small for the stage. I also remember Henry Calvin coming out in his Sgt. Garcia character from the Zorro show, bragging to the
audience about how Zorro was scared of him: "He would not dare come within five miles of me because he knows I would instantly spot him and conquer
him with my expert swordwork." And of course as he was saying this, Zorro (i.e., a stuntman in the costume) could be seen sneaking over the
top of the Hollywood Bowl and climbing down a rope to the stage to sneak up on the unsuspecting Sgt. Garcia. Every kid in the place was screaming
"Zorro" and Garcia kept saying things like, "Yes, I am talking about Zorro who is probably a hundred miles from me..." They milked this for about
five minutes and it was very funny.
At the end, a lady dressed as Tinker Bell "flew" (slid down a wire) from a back row of the Bowl, all the way down to the stage. Then
all the walkaround characters wheeled out huge boxes, opened them and released hundreds of multi-color helium balloons. It was all a lot of fun, and
I still recall it vividly, even though I was probably about nine at the time.
I remember a few other childhood trips to the Bowl — once to see Danny Kaye perform. The moment I recall best from that was that
he had every adult in the place light a match or lighter (this was back when everyone smoked) and then he sang "Happy Birthday." I remember seeing
the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus there and it seemed all wrong to do a circus in that configuration. And my parents took me to see Allan
Sherman in two consecutive summers. One must have been 1963 because he performed almost everything that was on his just-released album, My Son,
the Nut, including "Hello, Muddah...Hello, Fadduh." Then in 1964, he used the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra to perform Peter and the Commissar,
the album he did with the Boston Pops.
Then I didn't go the Hollywood Bowl for a long time. I think the ordeal — parking, walking, sitting on hard seats — got to
be too much for my father. When I was old enough to go on my own, I didn't. Not until September of 1980. The Monty Python boys did a four-night stand
and I took a small posse to the final night. It was an odd crowd, packed as it was with Python fans, a surprising percentage of them in costume as
Mr. Gumby. At a performance by a rock group that's had a lot of hits, audiences seem to want to hear the familiar tunes and they zone out when the
lead singer says, "Here's something off the new album..." The Python attendees were the same way — less interested in the unfamiliar material
than they were in seeing the Parrot Sketch, the Crunchy Frog routine, "Nudge, Nudge" and other classics they knew by heart. During a promo interview,
John Cleese commented that about 90% of the folks in the audience were just as qualified as he was to perform any sketch in the repertoire. He was
exaggerating but not by much.
Then again we have a lapse of two decades or so. The last few years, my friend Carolyn and I have gone to the Bowl...not often, but a
lot more often than I did in the first 45 years of my life in Los Angeles. As I said, it's a huge pain to get there and a slightly smaller one to get
home. But while you're there, it's pretty damn good.