Last year, I joined some 3,000 people at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark for a wide-screen showing of Mel Brooks' 1974 Western parody "Blazing Saddles." In the onstage interview that followed, Brooks, then 89, was beside himself in his delight at sharing his 42-year-old comedy with a real live audience.
There was only one awkward moment in a joyous and hilarious evening, and it came when Brooks asked if anyone in the audience actually lived in Newark. One person, in the balcony, said yes. Brooks couldn’t know it, but it was a reminder of the sad history of Newark and the white ethnic populations, including a vibrant Jewish community, that fled the city for the suburbs — an exodus that culminated with the riots that scarred its downtown in 1967. The Performing Arts Center is an attempt to woo back suburbanites, although few linger after the concerts and performances end.