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Paul Ford played piano for Broadway shows for over 40 years, with Stephen Sondheim publicly declaring him the “indefatigable master of the musical theatre”. Paul has lived in Hell’s Kitchen since the 1970s — this is his West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I’m from Atlanta and moved here in 1978 at 25 years old, played the piano for Broadway shows until 2015. I’ve lived in two apartments, both on W45th Street — now I live at the famous Whitby apartment building.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job in 1978 was playing the piano for the 1954 musical, The Golden Apple, at the York Theatre. I have been retired for seven years
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Being offered the pianist’s job on the original Stephen Sondheim show, Sunday in the Park with George in 1984… and having Petula Clark sit on my couch!
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
It was incredibly convenient for doing 20 Broadway shows, and also many fantastic famous people came to my apartment for various show business purposes. My building went co-op in 1987, and my maintenance is really low today — yes, it can happen just one block from Times Square! I used to know everybody in the neighborhood, because at one time everybody was in show business. I love the fact that it’s now a very gay neighborhood.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I had a talent for playing the piano but it certainly wasn’t hidden. I published a book about my career last March and I think I could write something else! Superpower?? I’ve been sober for 27 years.
What else should we know about you?
My parents were the greatest people ever and supported me fully in my personal life and my professional life. My mother in particular came to see everything I did — unfortunately, the rest of my Republican Trump-supporting so called family couldn’t have cared less. I consider myself a survivor through epidemics, bouts of self-destruction and show business itself. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the greatest people and if I owe any success to anything it’s that I always showed up two hours early for every gig, show, rehearsal or auditions — I was NEVER late! I was a great organizer and troubleshooter and that got me more jobs than my piano playing skills!
READ MORE WEST SIDE STORIES
Paul’s Favorite West Side Places
Ollie’s Sichuan — 411 W42nd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I have been seeing a terrific Chinese gentleman for a year and we have a great time eating.
I like having my friend explain all the details about the food, and it’s reasonably priced
It WAS Colony Records
I found all the great sheet music and cast albums here. It’s still there in my memories.
Manhattan Plaza — 400 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
Because of all the friends I’ve made there
Westway Diner — 614 9th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
30 years of eating with friends there
All Season Bodywork — 594 9th Avenue (bw W42/43rd St)
Massages, massages, massages at an extremely reasonable price
Galaxy Diner — 665 9th Avenue (bw W46/47th St)
again, eating with friends there
Yum Yum Too — 662 9th Avenue (bw W46/47th St)
Delicious, and my new boyfriend approves of it
Schmackary’s Cookies — 362 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I’m diabetic so I can’t have them anymore but at least I get to smell them.
My building The Whitby
Easy, convenient, clean, great rooftop, and over the years, many performers lived here dating back to the 1920s
46th Street Club House — 252 W46th St fl2 (bw 8th/Broadway)
Home of 12-step meetings for decades, unfortunately hanging on by a thread thanks to the ridiculous hotel being built at 45th and 8th —what Times Square doesn’t need is another big hotel! LOL
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Yes. I think the Times Square pedestrian mall, the bike lanes, the pedestrian lanes, the blocking off of lanes preventing traffic from flowing smoothly is idiotic, not to mention the weed stores. I preferred my neighborhood in the days of porn stores and porn movie theaters, because nobody bothered you and it was quiet! But things never revert back.
You can follow Paul on Instagram @lord_knows_at_least_i_was_ — and his memoir, Lord Knows, At Least I Was There, is available at all good bookstores (and Amazon).
If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form —w42st.info/WSSnominations (Thanks to Doug Berger for nominating Paul). You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.
TOTALLY agree with you about the neighborhood, Paul. The last 10-20 years have NOT been an improvement. Give me the porn houses, drag queens, and reasonable prices.
Wonderful article. My daughter tia riebling lived in adjacent apartment. I was visiting when you rehearsed Bernadette and Mandy for Summer etc. thrilling. Will never forget. Let her know if her apartment is ever up for sale again. Big mistake to sell but hubby worried after 9/11.
Tia sang on a demo recording for me. She was fabulous. Say hi from Robert Armin.
Miss the Pergola at 252!
Wonderful, warm and wise memories. I can’t understand why he or anyone would prefer a Times Square built for cars and not people, but to each their own. Thank you for an illuminating moment with our long-time neighbor.
Love Paul. Great neighbor and a great article. I totally agree on everything he said about our Hells Kitchen. I’ve lived here for a little more than 30 years. Slave of New York. 😁 that movie.. Tom
35 years living in hell’s kitchen and it has changed tremendously…..sometimes miss the old more colorful elements but change is part of life here. You are amazing Paul!
Thanks for accompanying me at auditions! you are blessed!
What an honest heartfelt memoir !
My family started in Hells Kitchen coming here from Ireland
Talking the 1800’s to early 1900’s
I later dabbled or thought I could make it in theater
My acting coach At Manhattan plaza etc
Just loved reading this !!
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