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Bound for Broadway

Trek from the Tri-State area is a tradition for theater fans

Trek from the Tri-State area is a tradition for theater fans

September 19, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

An annual tradition that started with seven friends has continued for almost 20 years and grown to include nearly 600 women.

It's all about traveling to New York City and seeing Broadway shows - an evolving attraction that continues to pull fans from the Tri-State area.

Donna Weimer received a hand-lettered and illustrated invitation from her friend and former college roommate. The plan was to drive to Baltimore's Penn Station, take a train and see a couple of Broadway shows.

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Seven women went in 1985. Others have joined them.

Carla Chambers, one of the original group, still organizes the outings. Word of mouth started spreading, and now six buses are needed to take the local theatergoers to the Great White Way. They charter the buses which pick them up in their hometown and drop them in the theater district. The large group breaks into smaller groups. People do their own thing.

Two years ago, Weimer and her friends arrived in Times Square on a Friday evening and saw four shows by the time they left Sunday night.

That group is not the only one to journey to the Big Apple's theater district.

Sheryl Metcalfe of St. Thomas, Pa., has made several trips to New York City. Her friend Jack Allison has been traveling to the city - to shop, to take in the sites, to see Broadway shows - for more than 25 years.

Allison is a guidance counselor, and Metcalfe teaches science at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa. Advisers to the school's National Honor Society, they accompanied student members of the organization to tour the city and see "Little Shop of Horrors" on Broadway. They traveled via Greencastle, Pa.-based Kline Tours Inc. Garry Kline arranges one- to three-day trips to the Big Apple. He enjoys going to shows.

"There's nothing like Broadway," he said. "There's nothing like New York."

A lot of the Mercersburg students never had been to New York. Most of them never had seen a Broadway show, Metcalfe said. "The kids were really impressed." When given options for next year's trip, they chose New York over other destinations, Allison said.

Metcalfe's 13-year-old daughter filled in for a student who couldn't make the trip. She loved it. She wants to go back for her birthday present.

Why New York? Why Broadway?

Metcalfe had trouble articulating the appeal.

"It's just the atmosphere," she said.

"There's something special about New York," said Suzanne Grove, another of the original seven women in Weimer's group. "I've never missed a year."

"It's just wonderful," Weimer said. "I think it's the excitement. 'Oh, my gosh. Here I am, just a small-town girl, and I'm in New York,'" she explained.

There are professional musical theater productions in closer cities, and Weimer and her friends and others make those trips, as well.

"Washington and Baltimore are lovely, but they're not New York," said Ruth Ridenour, who's been going and taking her drama and choral students to see Broadway shows for more than 25 years. The New York productions - with original cast and staging - are larger than the touring companies, Ridenour said.

But it's not about size. It's the mystique of Manhattan, the experience of the "city that never sleeps."

Smedley Lynn owns Atlantic Coast Charters and offers motor coach tours to many destinations, including New York. He has two trips planned in December, billed as "New York City On Your Own" on his Web site at www.atlanticcoasttrailways.com.

He also books trips and Broadway shows - always one in July. He goes on the trips and said there's something special about the city.

"There's no other New York," Lynn said. "There's no other Broadway."

"I just love it - the atmosphere," said Anna Stup of Hagerstown, who's been traveling to New York by bus with Dave Baer's Baer Express Tours in Maugansville for 12 years. New York is "first class," she said. Stup has shared her enjoyment, taking her granddaughter and grandson, now in college, since they were 8 and 10 years old.

Ridenour takes students just to give them the experience of New York and Broadway. Waiting outside stage doors, shooting pictures and getting autographs of the stars have become part of her Broadway routine. Nathan Lane, Mandy Patinkin, Tom Wopat, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Bernadette Peters are among her photo treasures. Ridenour also has pictures of Dawn Younker, a former student and Williamsport High School graduate, who was a member of the cast of "Les Misrables" on Broadway and in the national touring company.

"Theater is a partnership," said Anne Runolfsson, who's performed in musicals on Broadway and who was slated to perform at The Maryland Theatre with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra on Saturday in "Broadway Nights."

The audience is a partner in a theatrical production, she explained. There's something about live theater, she said. "The house lights go down ... there's a collective energy. It's a unique, wonderful experience."

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