Donald (Don) and Linda Mohler’s 75-year-old home in the heart of old Catonsville can’t help but hold memories as it was once the home of Don’s grandparents. But venture down the steps to a knotty-pine-paneled rumpus room of a certain era and you will find the walls filled with memories the couple can call their own.
More than 30 “official Broadway window card posters,” in show biz lingo, line the walls and an adjacent hallway. “We are attached to them because they really truly do represent different phases of our lives,” said Don, surveying the collection.
The couple met while undergraduates at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College. Their first Broadway show together was “Grease,” in 1971, the year they married. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for the couple—joined by Don’s college roommate and his wife—to see three Broadway shows in a weekend. “We would stand in the ticket line or take standing-room-only; anything we could do to see three plays,” said Don.
There is no poster for “Grease” or other shows from the early years.
“We were young and poor and didn’t have money to buy a poster,” laughed Linda. They were hard-pressed to have money for dinner. Their trick was to find well-known bars where you enjoy a happy-hour buffet for the price of a couple of drinks. A favorite watering hole was Molly Mogg’s, no longer there.
One that remains is Joe Allen’s, where the poster-bedecked walls caught their eye but they were curious why they had never heard of any of the shows. “In order to get your poster hanging in Joe Allen’s,” said Don, “you had to be so bad that you closed on opening night.”
The posters in their collection came from a shop in Shubert Alley. Usually they stop in before the show, order a poster and then pick up the framed piece directly after the performance ends. Instant gratification.
Music was always a part of their lives so the couple was determined to pass along their cultural experiences to their two children. They took their son and daughter at a young age to see “Starlight Express,” which they figured to be a hit since it was performed on roller skates.
“They were bored out of their minds,” said Linda. Instead, they have shared their passion with like-minded friends.
They recalled seeing “Spamalot” with the Methodist minister who married them and his wife. David Hyde Pierce’s cousin was a member of his church and secured backstage passes for the four of them to meet the star, who had just completed his successful run on the TV hit, “Frazier.” So star-struck, they neglected to mention it. “He probably thought he was taking to four buffoons,” said Don.
Over the years they have had the chance to see many legendary performances: Ben Vereen in “Pippin” and Joel Grey in “Cabaret,” to name just two.
Said Don, “One of the reasons that we kept going was that no matter how good the touring show was, it couldn’t replicate the staging and the energy of the Broadway show.” They cite one exception: the production of “Jersey Boys” at the Hippodrome, which both deemed better.
Besides similar tastes in music, Don and Linda have shared careers as educators. Linda retired this past June as the French teacher at Catonsville High School. She previously taught at Lansdowne, Carver Center and Franklin. Don left Catonsville High School as principal in 1995 to take a position in central administration, Baltimore County Schools. Currently, he is chief of staff to the Baltimore County Executive.
Not surprisingly, they have accompanied students on field trips to New York. Don recalled one memorable trip when principal of Sparrows Point Middle School. Chaperoning 40 eighth graders to a performance of “Tommy,” they had briefed students on how to behave, how to dress, but neglected one key element. Unlike a neighborhood movie, theater tickets are for a specific seat. Don said the next thing they knew, just before the curtain was set to rise, ushers were scurrying to relocate dozens of kids who chose to sit wherever they pleased.
The couple once found themselves in primo seats by serendipity. A revival of “Oklahoma” starred Rheba McEntire, which a friend said was a “must-see” because of her. Upon discovering she was on hiatus, they pleaded successfully for a refund. Noticing that the St. James Theater’s marquee advertised a new musical in preview, with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, they choose to go. Arriving at the box office, they were told someone had turned in two front row tickets, close enough to touch the performers on stage. So it was that they had a chance to be among the first to see “The Producers,” one of the longest-running hits of all time.
But sometimes orchestra seats aren’t the best seats in the house. Balcony seats for “Phantom of the Opera” proved better because of the staging. And, they chose standing room for “The Lion King,” again on a friend’s recommendation, as those patrons alone had an up-close view of the parade of costumed animals en route to the stage.
Forty years after their first Broadway experience together, the couple finds musical theater as enjoyable as ever. That is why, on the heels of their 40th wedding anniversary, Don and Linda went by bus to a Wednesday matinee of the runaway hit musical, “Book of Mormon." Their verdict: “Outstanding.”