The Wrong Side of the Room: A Life in Music Theater by Norman Mathews is one man’s tale of a harrowing journey to a fulfilling love and an exciting life in musical theater. As a child, dreams of a life show business and of passionate romance were stymied by lack of self-assurance. Psychological abuse by a priest led to absurdly comic psychotherapy over his sexuality. At age twenty, a failed suicide nearly shattered a promising future. From the ashes of this calamity rose a staggering resolve to build a meaningful life. Byzantine twists paved the way to a career as a magazine editor and eventually a life as a Broadway and movie dancer. During his performance years, he worked with Barbra Streisand, Dorothy Lamour, Gene Kelly, and Michael Bennett. After an untimely injury, he reinvented himself as a compose and playwright, for which he created highly acclaimed works for Tony-Award performers.
His passionate and inspirational autobiography is steeped in dark humor, hilarious celebrity gossip, and backstage intrigue. It is a rare book that can intimately describe a self-destructive trajectory, recount the grisly murder of a Broadway conductor, and detail a gripping path to fulfilling gay love. Mathews brings his colorful Sicilian-American family, his triumphs and heartbreaks, vividly to life.
The author clearly delights in detailing his life story, starting with his Sicilian ancestry and beginning with his grandparents, who arrived in America via Ellis Island. He goes on to present his distinguished life on Broadway with all the glow of center stage and the nerve-wracking thrill of opening night. . .The book also has a delightful, chatty sense of humor with moments of wry wit that make it exciting to read. In the end, it effectively celebrates a life of artistic inspiration alongside the giddiness and glory of live theater.
Norman Mathews delivers a riveting memoir with The Wrong Side of the Room that opens with a contentious genesis and powerfully surges through to its finale. This is the ultimate tale of a man who is knocked down seven times and gets up eight, except in this case our tenacious narrator is struck to the ground far more than that. . .Mathews is the consummate phoenix and, much like he displays in the writing of this book, skillfully maneuvers the trajectory of his life’s own narrative into a story that we are fortunate enough to have shared in The Wrong Side of the Room.
—Asher Syed, Readers’ Favorite
Impressively candid, exceptionally informative, deftly written, organized and presented, “The Wrong Side of the Room: A Life in Music Theater” is an extraordinary memoir that will have special and particular appeal for anyone with an interest in show business. . .highly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections.
—Midwest Book Review
Norman Mathews is an award-winning composer/playwright. His one-person Dorothy Parker musical,You Might as Well Live, which starred both Tony-Award-Winner Michele Pawk and Broadway star Karen Mason, has appeared at the Harris Theatre of Music and Dance in Chicago, the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. His new opera, La Lupa, was recently showcased at the Ft. Worth Opera Company. His music has been performed at the Kennedy Center, in Europe, and by acclaimed choral companies. In his earlier days, he was a dancer-singer-actor on Broadway and films, working with Barbra Streisand, Dorothy Lamour, and Gene Kelly. Mathews has also been editor of Dance Magazine, Sylvia Porter’s Personal Finance Magazine, and is a contributor to The Times of Sicily. His political writing, which has appeared in Common Dreams, has led to his latest play, Drone. He is represented by several commercial recordings and is published by Graphite Publishing.
https://www.normanmathews.com/ (for musical compositions)
On the upper floors of the building was the makeshift costume shop. One day passing through the shop, I noticed a man I found especially attractive. He was wearing a sweat shirt with cutoff sleeves, and the first thing that caught my eye was a pair of very good biceps, unusual in 1968, when gym bodies were rare among gay men. There he was with those biceps, incongruously sewing sequins on a woman’s red bikini-type bottom. He was good looking with slightly thinning hair, but wearing studious glasses, which gave him two contrasting or, perhaps, contradictory traits—both rather hunky and intellectual, a combination I’ve always found irresistible.
I did some inquiring and found out that his name was Todd Lehman. He was an out-of-work journalist, who had been lured into working on the show by his friend John Scheffler, the assistant to set designer Ed Wittstein. Though he was a big fan of Jones and Schmidt, Todd was also drawn to the project by the prospect of meeting some cute boys. . .
Throughout rehearsals, I found myself shamelessly flirting with Todd, doing such things as feeling his biceps. Either he didn’t pick up on my efforts or he just wasn’t interested. I subscribed to the latter theory. Perhaps I was simply inept. I was used to being the one pursued and at best could only indicate to someone that I was interested and open to any advances.
Surprisingly, one day he invited me to dinner at his apartment on our evening off. I was delighted until I discovered that he had also invited Stephen de Ghelder. We both showed up at his place on West 89th Street unaware the other had been invited, wondering what was up. Was he interested in one or the other of us, both of us, or was this just a friendly gesture? Neither of us could decide. I took note that here was someone who could cook, which piqued my interest even further. The apartment was a pleasant two-bedroom with a dining room and a double living room, which he shared with a man named Patrick Shannon, an aspiring playwright who was working for Delta Airlines. . .
One night in our dressing room, a letter arrived for Stephen de Ghelder from Todd. The assistant company manager, Alan Schnurmacher, who was very wealthy, was giving a party at his East Side apartment for the company. In the beautifully written letter, Todd invited Stephen to be his date for the party. Stephen had the incredibly poor taste to read the letter aloud in the dressing room because he was not interested. He had always been partial to tall blonds. I felt hurt and envious that such a touching letter hadn’t been directed to me.
Both Alan and Todd’s friend, John Scheffler, made it clear that they had designs on me. I hated being rude or crushing their hopes, but I hadn’t the least interest in either of them. The intrigue created a tangled web of disappointments and unfulfilled longings among all of us. I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I made it known in no uncertain terms to both John and Alan that I was infatuated with Todd. This got the two of them off my back, while I was certain they would pass the word on to Todd. I waited in tense anticipation to see what reaction I might get.
Two nights later, the stage doorman handed me a note. It was from Todd. I opened it with expectant but trembling hands. It simply stated, “I’m picking you up after the show tomorrow night.” He didn’t ask; he just assumed I was available. To say that I was more than a little titillated by his forcefulness would be an understatement. To me, it read, “I’m giving you no choice. Just be ready for me.” Yes, sir! I loved it. On January 15, 1969, exactly one week prior to opening night, he was at the stage door, and he took me to Joe Allen’s, a favorite after-the-show rendezvous for the theater crowd. Throughout our meal, I kept wondering, is this it, just a late-night snack and then each to our respective homes, or would there be more? There was more.
He invited me to his apartment. His roommate was mercifully absent. I had waited four long months to see him naked, and I was not disappointed. His pecs and flat, washboard abs were impressive, and even his thin, slightly bowed legs I found appealing. I expect I had a wide-eyed, open-mouthed, foolish look of lust on my face. That night I experienced an explosive physical passion, a volcanic release I had not known for years. I couldn’t tell whether the sensation was reciprocal. Positive development—he made another date for the weekend.