I won't lie to you. I can't face another column about guns or bombs. Maybe we all need a break.
So, today, I'm going to tell you a story.
In 1961, my father, Robert McEnroe, and the songwriter Johnny Burke collaborated on a musical adaptation of the film "The Quiet Man." It opened in May 1961 at what was then the Shubert 46th Street Theatre. A balcony seat cost $4.60. I know this, because there's a ticket stub for sale on
Ouch. But it's undeniable. "Donnybrook!" ran for 68 performances, closed and entered the annals of Broadway flops, a mental museum of splendid curiosities. On the Web, a cult has grown up around the Original Broadway Cast Recording, an OBCR, among the kind of persons depicted in
"Donnybrook!" simultaneously entered the mythology of our family as the Great Might Have Been. The critic David Edelstein and I recently addressed an audience in Hartford that had just watched
My parents spent possibly too much time in the ensuing years wondering why they weren't living a different life. The reviews had been mixed but tilting toward good. The show's producers had opened it in May, the dead end of the theater season, and then never built enough momentum to survive those doldrums. Or so it was explained to me many times by my mother.
I, on the other hand, had many adventures being a little kid on the fringes of a Broadway set. The great vaudevillian Eddie Foy Jr. took a shine to me, wanted to take me shopping at FAO Schwartz, wanted me seated in the front row so he could plop his derby on my head at the end of a song. These things did not happen, although I was constantly sure they would.
When the OBCR came out, I played it incessantly, burning it so deeply into my brain that I was pretty much ruined for anything else. When rock 'n' roll came along a few years later, I couldn't sing it without making everybody laugh as I unconsciously slipped into the big-band baritone of
In my first-grade class, the teacher got me — with very little coaxing, I'm sure — to sing a song from "Donnybrook!" at show and tell. I chose "I Wouldn't Bet One Penny," which unfortunately contained the line "Oh well / Damn it to hell." I was sent, protesting my innocence, to the principal. In her office — again I'm sure with very little coaxing — I performed the entire OBCR a cappella.
When my parents died four decades later, there had never been a revival, and it burned in their hearts as one of the many things that had not gone right.
This spring, the Irish Rep in New York revived "Donnybrook!" I found out by accident, and then I went and saw it twice, the second time with my son and ex-wife, who logged more than two decades as Bob McEnroe's daughter-in-law and needed her own bit of closure.
You can't go by me, the guy sniffling his tears in the fourth row, but the reviews were great and the run was extended by a month. It closes Sunday. The paradox of each passing day: My parents recede from me a little more, and I take another step toward joining them somewhere. But for a few hours this spring, our fingertips brushed in the dark, and our family flop unflopped and breathed for a season under the lights.