On September 11th, I awoke to my phone ringing followed by a message from a friend in Ohio requesting me to call her back right away, as well as my parents, to tell them I was okay in light of what just happened. At the time, I was working as a Broadway performer in the revival of ‘The Music Man’, and 3 months pregnant with my daughter in an apartment in Uptown Manhattan. What just happened, I wondered? With coffee in hand, I turned on the TV as Two World Trade Center was hit. I watched the television in disbelief as the two towers collapsed. I walked outside to the Hudson River just after the attacks, and saw the smoke rising from the burning ground zero. All around my neighborhood I saw people walking to the nearby park, which led to the Henry Hudson Bridge, hoping to get out of Manhattan and into New Jersey by walking- fearing more attacks on Manhattan might be on the way.
There no Broadway shows that night. All Broadway shows were canceled for the few days thereafter. When the city returned to work on Thursday, free tickets were given out to families of first responders, to tourists who were stranded in New York, and anyone who needed a couple of hours of respite from the shock, worry, and desperation. “God Bless America” was sung after our final bows at the end of our shows for the next week. What we all went through is beyond words, hard to describe, and almost seems like another lifetime.
Mary Illes is a professional singer and actor who has appeared on Broadway, most recently in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, has toured nationally, and has sung with orchestras around the world such as the New Haven Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic.