Expressway: A school trip to Broadway like no other
On a humid summer day in 1995, my friend Murray Barbash and I were standing on a beach on Fire Island when he told me about a wonderful Broadway play he and his wife had just seen. This was a simple conversation, but the start of something very big.
Murray, a Long Island developer and conservationist, was raving about "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years," an adaptation of the memoirs of two daughters of freed American slaves. In the play, the centenarian sisters tell about the struggle for civil rights. Murray was captivated by their story.
At the time, I was the curriculum coordinator of the Bay Shore School District, and Murray told me there on the beach that he might want to sponsor a trip to the play for "a couple" of Bay Shore High School classes.
I quickly phoned Nina Wolff, the director of English language arts for the district, to strategize. Nina asked how many classes Murray was talking about, and I said a couple. Never one to waste time, Nina saw the show that night and found herself so moved that she wanted to take every Bay Shore High School junior and senior. She and I called Murray and said we wanted to take both full classes. He said he'd think about it.
Shortly after, Murray's daughter Susan called Nina and said her father considered the larger request and told her, "Why not?"
Nina and I were suddenly planning a Broadway theater excursion for 750 students for a weekday afternoon in November. Murray pulled strings and set up a special Thursday matinee at the Booth Theatre. The man who successfully crusaded against Robert Moses' plan to run a highway down the middle of Fire Island showed again why people called him Take Charge Murray!
The trip went off without a hitch. Like nervous parents on their child's bar mitzvah day, Nina and I sweated every detail. After watching the show, the students and their chaperones gave the two actresses a standing ovation, and, of course, another ovation for Murray and his wife, Lillian.
Murray paid an additional $1,500 to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to sponsor a dialogue with the two actresses after the show. He never stopped giving.
After the buses returned to Bay Shore, Nina and I breathed a sigh of relief -- the kind Gen. Dwight Eisenhower must have experienced after the invasion of Normandy. Shortly thereafter, the Barbashes started the Bay Shore Schools Arts Education Fund to continue bringing the arts to our students.
Fond memories of this school trip emerged recently as friends, family and his beloved Lillian mourned Murray after he died March 13 at age 88.
Murray always referred to me as the guy who bamboozled him into taking 750 kids to see a Broadway show.
I didn't bamboozle Murray. He wanted to make the trip happen. He merely allowed me to think he was doing what I wanted.