May 11, 2010

R.I.P. Doris Eaton Travis

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:31 pm

I must take a moment to address a sad event, but also to celebrate an amazing lady.

I just found out not five minutes ago that Doris Eaton Travis passed away today at the ripe old age of 106. She is without a doubt one of my favorite people that I don’t actually know. And I must add that I don’t know this because I saw the very extensive obituary on Playbill, but because I got a text message from a friend as soon as he found out. Her name may not be widely known, and her actual career was relatively short, but she was much beloved in the business.

I came to know of her, like most people in the Broadway community, at the 1998 Easter Bonnet Competition, when she appeared with several other former Ziegfeld girls to usher in the first Easter Bonnet held at the New Amsterdam Theatre, after its restoration by Disney for The Lion King the previous year. It was a nice nod to the building’s former glory, and it was fun to see those ladies return to the stage after more years than many people’s entire lifetimes.

The following years the other ladies didn’t return, but Doris participated in the Easter Bonnet by herself, usually recounting a story about her years in the business, and demonstrating some dance moves from her shows, while flanked by a few boys who could be her great-grandsons.

The Easter Bonnet is probably the best show anywhere in New York all year, and is almost exclusively attended by people who work in the Broadway and Off-Broadway community, as well as devoted supporters of Broadway, so the audience is particularly receptive and appreciative of someone with such a rich history in the business. It’s almost inconceivable to sit in a theatre surrounded by friends and colleagues and right there in the same room have someone tell you about the time they were in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918. Nineteen. Eighteen. She made her Broadway debut in 1917. To have a connection with someone whose work experience extends back basically to the birth of musical theatre, and have that person still alive and well and dancing onstage with today’s Broadway gypsies was just amazing. And she did it year after year.

Obviously we all knew the year would someday come when she would not be around to perform at the Easter Bonnet, but she even made it this year, just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I’ve missed the last two years of Broadway Cares events due to touring, but I was especially thrilled that she was around for the 2006 Easter Bonnet, when I performed with the Phantom cast, crew and orchestra, singing the Broadway Cares anthem, “Help is on the Way.” Her part of the show was right before us, so we couldn’t actually watch because we were getting in place upstage of the curtain, but I did get to meet her very briefly in the wings, and that was exciting after eight years of being in awe of her from the audience.

The Easter Bonnet won’t be the same without her, but I’m so happy that she had such a long and active life that she could share her experience and love of performing with so many later generations.