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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Chariots of Fire - If You Liked the Movie - You Will Love the Play

Waiting for our dinner at our table in "The Buffalo Brothers" across the street from our play.

We spent a beautiful night on Friday - dinner at Fratelli La Bufala (Buffalo Brothers) - a stroll around Piccadilly Circus -  then "Chariots of Fire" - finally a night cap at Marlborough Arms.

London is buzzing with the exciting anticipation of the coming Olympics. I can't quite tell if it is the calm before the storm - or the breezes before the first thunderclap.

We left our apartment at 5:30 - catching a double decker bus south to the theatre district. Lulu chose Fratelli La Bufala - mainly because of the wood-fired oven clearly visible from the sidewalk. We sat on the second floor with a picture window view of the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue. The Gieldgud is on a corner within a row of about 5 theaters playing - Michael Jackson Show - LesMiserables - etc.

After dinner - we had about a half hour to stroll along Piccadilly Circus doing a little window shopping and enjoying the early theatre crowd. At 7:15 - the doors opened and we were unfashionably first to our seats. The play - Chariots of Fire - is mainly about 2 English runners preparing for the 1924 Olympics in Paris. 

Our seats were in the stalls - close up to the stage in the second row. What was unusual is that we were sitting in the middle of a running track. For most of the play - the actors would run around us! What seemed silly as first - made the play action packed and kept your attention. Combining the haunting music of Vengalis - and a circular treadmill - they pulled the whole thing off. The Choreography had split second timing - along with a few spectacular strobe light effect scenes - one could easily imagine being in the center of these historic games.

The play followed the script of the movie. Simply - it focuses on the life of 2 British gold medal winning runners. Harold Abrahams - a Jewish "athletic scholarship" student at Cambridge - and - Eric Liddell - the Flying Scot - an unorthodox runner and minister from China via Scotland. Both runners really won gold medals in the 1924 games and went on to lead very productive - albeit different lives. 

As fate would have it - it is July 7th - the day that Harold Abrahams won the gold medal in the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds. Arthur Porritt of New Zealand finished 3rd with a 10.7 time. For the next 54 years - Abrahams and Porritt had dinner together on every 7-7-7. July 7th at 7 PM. Tomorrow on July 8th - the Olympic torch will pass in front of Harold Abrahams home in Bedford - north of London. At that time they will unveil the "blue sign" on Abraham's home. In Britain - the "blue sign" is a national sign of respect - an honor from your country - forever.

Jackson Shultz - the USA superstar and bon vivant - finished second at 10.6.  A few races later - Shultz ran the 400 meters race against Eric Liddell. A few seconds before the race began Schultz who respected Eric’s religious stance ran up to him with a piece of crumpled paper on which were written  “It says in the old book, they that honour me, I also will honour”. Eric Liddell, paper in hand, ran the race of his life and won. He was acclaimed a hero in, and of Scotland.

There are many other side stories in the play - one which felt very personal to me. Sam Masabini was a professional trainer. In those days - having a "professional" trainer was not acceptable. Masabini trained Harold Abrahams to be at his best. Masabini did not enter the stadium - he only heard  of Abrahams success via hearing the national anthem lilting through the air to his hotel room. Masabini near the end of his life had a taste of success through Abraham's success - but was not able to revel in the victory. He punched a hole in his straw hat instead.

After the play - we stopped by our favorite pub for a night cap. The last call bell rang at 10:45 - we walked the last 100 yards home. We were very pleased with a wonderful night that we hope is a harbinger of what the next 5 weeks have in store for our family.

This is our 5th summer in London - not enough time to get a feel for what makes one "British." But tonight we enjoyed a bit of the story - an old London theatre - a double decker bus ride dressed up for a play - Piccadilly Circus at a 5 o'clock rush hour - a play about an old Olympics celebrating a new one that will burst on the scene in 3 weeks. More history will becaptured by NBC Sports. Even in failure - like Captain Smith on the Titanic when he said "Be British" - I am starting to feel what he meant - maybe a little bit.

As George Bush might said - "Where are all the chariots?"

The Gielgud Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue.

The flags of all the Olympic nations hang on Regent Street.

The ceiling of our theatre from our seats in the stalls.

We were first in the theatre and a chance to video the place from our seats "inside the track."

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