To say that April 24, 2013 at the Booth Theatre, Opening Night of Bette Midler's solo show, "I'll Eat You Last," (an imagined evening with legendary Hollywood agent, Sue Mengers; Barbra Streisand was one of her first clients), was an explosion of famous faces is an understatement :). When I found an available single ticket in the very last row of the mezzanine for the show's official opening, I grabbed it. I already had a ticket for the following Sunday's matinee, and was in NYC for other shows, so I scrambled to rearrange, and happily went people-watching for the evening :).
My fun was somewhat hindered by the [very!] dogged security personnel of course, but I tried to stay out of their way while gawking. It worked until a few minutes before the show when they aggressively herded everyone other than the Susan Sarandons of the world inside. And while I didn't get any photos in the theater, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor (while trying to appear completely blasé about it all) as I squeezed by Diane Von Furstenberg, Barry Diller, Mario Cantone, Barbara Walters, Harvey Weinstein, Marc Shaiman & Scott Whittman, Ron Meyer & his daughter, Carolina Herrera and most of the folks I saw arriving below.
Actor Martin Short greets Marlo Thomas, who arrived just behind him, and they posed together for the photographers
Ali McGraw, escorted by the show's playwright, John Logan (Tony-winner for "Red," and screenwriter for "Skyfall"). At the time, I didn't know that there's a fairly long, very intimate story about Ali and Steve McQueen in the show. It was a "breaking the fourth wall" moment listening to the story knowing she was sitting in the audience with us. (in the center photo, you can can glimpse Ron Meyer in the brown jacket and his daughter Jennifer with green bag)
Victor Garber greeting a friend at the first of two openings I saw him at that week ("Pippin" was the other; I wrote about that in my previous post).
Author Fran Lebowitz (left) and American composer Adam Guettel (right) facing the phalanx of paparazzi!
There was a reunion of sorts for several of those involved in the 2011 Broadway production of "The Normal Heart" (which starred Joe Mantello, the director of "I'll Eat You Last"):
Ellen Barkin and playwright/director George C. Wolfe
Actress Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer
Kinky Boots' writer Harvey Fierstein (also attended "Pippin" opening night the following evening)
I would have had a great photo of Susan Sarandon if she hadn't missed the entrance for the step and repeat, and headed directly into the theater just in front of me as I was also walking in. When they caught her, she turned right around into my face. Slightly too close to pull out the camera :). I will say that she is absolutely beautiful up close!
Bette Midler is such a huge personality on stage, that it was truly shocking to see how physically tiny she is in person! She took her time with everyone at the stage door and, when I mentioned that I could have listened to Sue's stories all night, she said that there were many more that didn't make it into the show...I can only imagine!
And no SUVs or limousines for the Divine Miss M :), her little hybrid awaited her outside the stage door.
By the way, the audience is greeted by this scrim before it rises to reveal an amazing recreation of Sue Mengers' Beverly Hills living room, and it was all deliciously true!
I said it. I said "I'm never going to try the stage door after "Lucky Guy." It'll be complete chaos, and there's no way I'll get close enough to see anything!" But it seems as if every time I swear I'm going to avoid the craziest of the stage doors, there I am. Al Pacino? Scarlett Johansson? Alan Rickman? Liev Schreiber? Patti LuPone? Kristin Chenoweth? Yep, there I was. And despite the numerous times I've thought (and been right!) "why exactly am I standing here? I must be crazy!," I've honestly never regretted any of it.
The surprising thing about stage doors on Broadway is that the crowds I have encountered after wonderful shows with not one "big" name actor in the cast have often been just as frenetic as those with the "superstar" lead. To me, that's part of the magic of live theatre. The connection an audience can feel to the actors when the chemistry is right (story, music, performances, etc.), can be immediately shared (and returned) with the cast after the show. I especially love hearing the actors thank the crowd for being a particularly good audience that day. This was true for shows like "Godspell," "Hair," "Chaplin" and "The Normal Heart," for example. Those were such passionate crowds at the stage doors, and it felt like an extension of the show itself. Some people don't go to the stage door because they don't want to take themselves out of the magic of the show itself. I always thought it would be that way for me, but what I've found is that I love sharing the excitement of the other fans and the actors after the show because it cements my love for the unique nature of this art.
Being of short stature is always a liability at a crowded stage door though. I'm ever so grateful to fellow "waiters" who make room for me or switch places so I can see! I had an aisle seat at "Lucky Guy" and was able to make it out of the theatre pretty quickly. Shockingly (to me anyway), there were spots on both sides of the door at the front of the barricades. I went to the emptier one on one side without realizing in my rush that I'd made exactly the wrong choice. Not only was the weather miserable (icy rain) and I'd chosen the side not under the awning, but the stage door opened the other direction, meaning that some of the actors went down the side directly to their left when they exited, and didn't come back to do the other side. Lesson learned. This is generally only really a problem with big crowds like this, I've found. When a show features a huge star, I've seen the lesser-known actors just head out without stopping, thinking that the crowd is only interested in that star. I talked about this at the "Glengarry Glen Ross" stage door, where Jeremy Shamos wasn't stopped in time. In this case, that meant I missed getting to thank Richard Masur, who I love and was thrilled to see on stage. Had I been on the other side, it would have been a better possibility. But there was so much noise, that it was difficult for the actors to hear people calling out their names.
The photo below gives you an idea of the atmosphere at the stage door when Tom Hanks made his exit/entrance :). And that's only one side of the door! The other side was just as crazy. I had an umbrella that I was sharing with the person beside me, but I felt badly that the umbrellas in front did block the view of some in the back. I would have eschewed the umbrella but it was just too wet and uncomfortable, unfortunately.
One of the earlier actors out though, was Deirdre Lovejoy, who played the only female newsroom characters in the show, and she was delightful. She chatted with everyone, and thanked us for waiting in the bad weather. She did do both sides of the door and stayed a while. But to give you an idea of the difficulty of balancing umbrella, Playbill, phone/camera...this was the best photo I could get of Deirdre while she signed for us. This would be why I generally concentrate on having the moment with the actor, rather than worrying about photos :). It's always nice when one turns out though! Sorry Deirdre!
Probably next to Tom Hanks, the actor who elicted the most enthusiastic response was Christopher MacDonald. He clearly enjoyed the crowd and the feeling was definitely mutual. He went up and down both sides of the door, signing and taking photos with everyone who asked.
For me though, my favorite of the non-Tom Hanks variety :), was his beloved former "Bosom Buddy," Peter Scolari. He is such a gentle, kind soul, and spent time with each person along the row. I loved getting to chat with him briefly. He has a wonderful smile!
After seeing that some of the actors only signed for one side of the crowd, we asked the very, very nice stage door manager about Tom Hanks' routine, and he told us that Tom generally did go down one side and come over to the other, so we were hopeful. Damp and cold, but hopeful. And he did just that. He's funny and warm and somehow got to many more people than I would have thought possible. It was neat to make eye contact and exchange a few words with him, and somehow, in the midst of being overwhelmed that I was that close to TOM HANKS!! :), I got these (perhaps a bit too close up :) photos as mementos!
The crowd waited a while after Tom left to see if Courtney B. Vance and Maura Tierney would come out to sign, but it was announced they'd already left through another exit. And I should say that the walk back to the hotel was one of the most miserable ever. It was just nasty, cold sleet and the streets were massive puddles. But believe me, this "lucky girl" was smiling still!
For my brief thoughts on the show look here: Stage Right...Now March '13
New musicals are always cause for excitement. Revivals are wonderful treats as well, but without the new, there won't be treasures to revive later! I was certainly intrigued by the transformation of the successful documentary "Hands on a Hard Body" into a stage musical; how would they take a story of ten people trying to win a truck by keeping at least one hand on the truck at all times and outlasting all the others ? The choreography with the massive, bright red truck is so inventive, and I loved hearing each of the poignant stories told by these talented actors. One of the best things though, was getting to see the excitement of the cast at the stage door after the show. I think for any show, but a new musical especially, there's always apprehension about how it will be received, and having enthusiastic audience members waiting to congratulate you must be gratifying!
Every one of the actors who came out was warm, friendly and appreciative. There was no barricade set up, so it was just a lot of milling about trying to catch a moment with each of the actors. There's always a challenge at the stage door, especially when there's no organized "signing line," to keep your eye out for any of the actors you wanted to meet in particular, without being rude to the actor who is signing for you at the moment. I would never want a less well known actor to think I wasn't just as grateful for his/her time and performance as I was for the better known actor emerging just after! The milling crowd also makes it much more difficult to get decent photos, but the fun remains :)! And although I didn't get a photo of Keala Settle ("Norma," the evangelical Christian relying on a Higher Power for stamina), she gladly signed Playbills and chatted with everyone. I loved her in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert," and she is a scene-stealer here, receiving one of those seemingly endless laughs from the audience at one point in the show.
Another actor I loved in the show and enjoyed meeting at the stage door was Jacob Ming-Trent, the endlessly hungry and supportive to all "Ronald." This was another photo that was just too hard to get, but he might have one of the best smiles in the business! :)
One of the charming things that happened at this stage door was that Dale Soules ("Janis"), was having everyone who asked her to sign their Playbill, sign a little keepsake book of her own. This is the second show I've seen her in ("Hair" was the other), and, along with Allison Case (also from "Hair") and Jay A. Johnson ("Working"), it was great to experience these wonderful performers in such different roles!
Here's a taste of the show courtesy of the show website:
Hunter Foster is the brother of another wildly talented actor, Sutton Foster (recently of "Anything Goes," and the ABC Family show "Bunheads"), and recently guest-starred on her TV show as her fictional brother :). In this show, he plays "Benny," the combative, repeat contestant, and previous winner, eliciting resentment from most of his fellow contestants. The character's story is central to the theme of "holding on" to what's important in life, and he is, arguably, the hardest to root for, but I thought he did a great job in keeping his story intriguing and meaningful despite the hard edges.
Keith Carradine, as "JD," partners with Benny to make it through the grueling contest. The love story with his long-suffering wife, played by Mary Gordon Murray, is a big part of the heart of the show.
Dale Soulis is "Janis," who with her loving husband (William Youmans) cheering her on, fights hard to better their life but knows what's really important. You can see her "autograph book" being signed by a fan on the right while she signs their Playbill.
I just love Connie Ray, and her hilarious turn as "Cindy," the dealership rep trying to rein in the craziness into which the contest is spiraling. I welcomed the chance to tell her how much I also enjoyed her in the 2010 play "Next Fall," and we bonded over being left-handed!
After "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a significant crowd waited at the stage door, primarily for two of the leads, Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker (from the sound of it anyway :)). The crowd bias was so evident that some of the supporting cast members (who I would have loved to personally thank) just skipped the crowd altogether and walked quickly off without anyone noticing, clearly thinking that no one would be interested in them. In fact the woman next to me, who had been at the play, dismissed Emily Bergl (who played Mae, Maggie's sister-in-law) as "no one," and then misidentified the great Debra Monk (Big Mama) as having played Mae. The confused woman even remarked that Debra Monk should have played Big Mama since she was a bigger woman and the character of Big Mama called for a heftier build. Yeesh. And she dismissed each of them haughtily as not really worthy of her attention because Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker had not yet emerged. We all have our favorites of course, and sometimes it's not always easy to recognize the actors off stage, but it's always frustrating to me when the supporting cast is spoken of as "nobody," despite the hard work they just did for us.
Debra Monk emerged to applause, signed and took photos and graciously spoke with everyone who spoke with her. She went down both sides of the crowd and took her time. Ciarán Hinds, Big Daddy, also received exit applause and likewise took his time, signing and chatting and posing for photos.
I have now been at two stage doors (and have the below matched set of photos) from which Scarlett Johansson shot as if from a cannon, with hat/hood, quickly signing a random few Playbills and posters, and jumping into the waiting car. She was out and gone in a flash, and signed for a few at least; but did not speak or really engage with anyone. I was only a few feet from her face in a flurry of waving Playbills, posters, etc. and I can say with confidence that she is stunning :).
Benjamin Walker tried to skip the (greatly thinned out) stage door waiters by shooting out another door down the block into another waiting SUV. He was spotted by some young women anxious for his attention and did pose for some photos as others rushed down to see if they could catch him. For whatever reason, he didn't stay around to get to the small group waiting for him, and there were some disappointed folks. I couldn't help but think of the contrast with what happened after "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" when he walked out the stage door on his own, no waiting car, and stopped to sign for anyone who asked him. I'm guessing that the issue this time might have been that it was a Sunday performance that would have marked the beginning of his "weekend" and he may have had a plane to catch, or just somewhere to be. That's what keeps the stage door interesting...you never know exactly what will happen :). Unless of course it's Scarlett Johansson...she's pretty predictable apparently :).
I will also say that the "sign by" that SJ does is preferable (whether you're a lucky recipient of her signature or not) to Katie Holmes' decision after "Dead Accounts" to stand a few feet away from the relatively small crowd of fans, and sign a stack of Playbills collected by the stage door manager to distribute back to their owners, without ever looking up, greeting or otherwise acknowledging those waiting. I think folks were happy she signed, but perplexed that she couldn't at least look up and say hello while she was standing there. In contrast, Norbert Leo Butz and Jayne Houdyshell (the true stars of the show) definitely took time for each person waiting.
p.s. Judy Greer, the other well-known actor in "Dead Accounts" didn't stop at all; it was my birthday, so she must have been rushing off to get me that gift she clearly forgot :).
It's not what you think. I mean the term "crushing" quite literally here. As in, I almost got crushed to death at the stage door for "Glengarry Glen Ross" (starring Al Pacino).
The stage door after a show that features a "big name" is always a bit dicey. Unless you're right up at the front of the teeming masses, it is highly unlikely you will get the coveted signature on your Playbill, or even get an unobstructed shot of the actor. Case in point, I have a most excellent photo of Daniel Radcliffe's hat (no face, just hat..and an ear~see below) after "How to Succeed..." from across the street; that's as close as you could get.
So you need to make a beeline for the stage door after the final bows if you want even a ghost of a chance. I've been in extremely claustrophobic stage door mobs before. In fact, one of the more worrisome ones was at "Promises, Promises" for Kristin Chenoweth & Sean Hayes. I somehow got propelled through the crowd to within one layer of the barricade but was immobilized; I couldn't even get to my purse or pocket for my camera or phone to let my friends know where I was after we'd gotten separated. A very nice woman next to me passed my Playbill to those actors I couldn't reach, and it was worth the uncomfortable 40 minutes to get to see Kristin (she's adorable & so sweet!) & Sean (also very nice). But it would have been impossible for me to get out of that mob even if I'd changed my mind about waiting! I had to just hang in there and find my stage door zen. :)
The other crazy stage doors were those for Scarlett Johansson & Liev Schreiber after "A View From the Bridge," Alicia Keys after "Stick Fly," Alan Rickman after "Seminar," and for Al Pacino after "The Merchant of Venice."
Photos are generally not my motivation to go to the stage doors, but if I can maneuver my camera, I figure why not see what happens.
Scarlett Johansson at left; Liev Schreiber below left; Alan Rickman
But honestly, nothing compared with this past Friday night's scene. I had really decided that I wasn't going to worry too much about the "Glengarry" stage door, as I'd met Al Pacino after "Merchant" (he bounded over and gave me a big hug; still not sure why, but hey, it worked for me :)), and knew it would be chaos. However, I really love Richard Schiff, Bobby Cannavale & Jeremy Shamos and figured I'd at least survey the situation before I gave up the fight. This was the very first performance of the play; it had been scheduled to take place a couple of days earlier, but Pacino had another commitment out of town and they delayed it to, thank goodness, the night I had tickets! So that also meant that it was the very first stage door for the cast as well.
It was deceptively calm at first. The aggressively controlling stage door manager was physically preventing people from entering the small barricaded areas without showing that you held a ticket from the show (he pretty much whacked me across the chest in his zeal, so I knew he was serious about this!). I didn't have much time to think, so I popped into the holding pen while I decided whether to wait or not~the decision was then made for me as more people piled in behind me, and again I got pushed forward until I was just behind the front layer.
And the waiting was uncomfortable, but fairly civilized....that is, until the first actors began to emerge. It was so crowded that when Jeremy Shamos came out first, and started to walk by thinking no one would be interested in him, a couple of us called out his name to get him to stop and he looked around confused because he couldn't see who was hailing him...and we couldn't move to help him find us. Oh well...Jeremy, you were great and I'm sorry you didn't think we wanted you to sign!!
Then came Richard Schiff and the crowd started getting hyped, pushing forward, waving Playbills and memorabilia. Being of short stature, I soon found myself engulfed in arms, hands, Playbills, Sharpies, and after getting knocked in the head and face several times, I started fighting back so that I could see/breathe, etc. Richard is a quiet, patient soul who calmly signed everything he could reach, including the random "West Wing" photo or memento. If he could see the person for whom he was signing, he'd make eye contact, say "thanks for coming," etc. He tweeted a photo of himself as he was making his getaway that gives you a better idea of the crowd.
And if that was bad, then came Al himself, and it just got nuts. The crowd started surging forward pushing all of us in the front into the barricade and the strap of my shoulder bag started tightening around my neck. The police and stage door guys were trying to control things, but it was tough. They started yelling at those in the back to move back as the people in front were getting crushed, but it didn't help much. And the poor guy next to me, who was ready to bolt after Al left couldn't get out to leave until the police stepped in to part the crowd.
I foolishly thought things would thin out after Al's limo left, but I waaaay underestimated Bobby Cannavale's popularity and it was just as bad for him.
After it was all over, I actually went over to the stage door manager to personally thank him for his efforts in crowd control...and especially for kindly making sure Richard Schiff did not leave without going to both sides of the stage door crowd to sign. Not surprisingly, he said he didn't get thanked very often :).
Was it worth it? Yep. In no small part because humans fascinate me and stage doors are a veritable petri dish of human behavior!!
If it was possible to order up stage door experiences from a menu, then my meals on Sept 21-22 would be deemed delicious :)!
Jake Gyllenhaal after his performance in "If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet," an off Broadway play. He is an incredibly sweet guy; so patient with all the fans (of which there were manymanymany). I commented on how intense the play is and how difficult it must be to perform it 8 times a week, and he said that he was thankful it was only 90 minutes :). He also seemed genuinely appreciative of all the thanks being offered. I think you can tell when reactions become perfunctory, but his was definitely not.
One of Jake's costars is Annie Funke; who gives an achingly poignant and totally fearless performance as the bullied and neglected teenager in this dysfunctional family. I loved her, and loved getting to say thanks in person. My hotel was right across the street from the theatre and she and her party came over to the hotel for drinks after the show. Clearly I have good taste in hotels!
Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington are two of the four actors in "Grace" at the Cort Theatre. It's a dark, twisty roller coaster of a play that left me breathless. I again mentioned to both actors how impossible it seems that they can give these kinds of emotionally draining performances every day (and twice on Wed & Sat!). Paul responded that he was, in fact, exhausted, but loved the play. Kate said she was glad there was no intermission and had just gotten through a run of a show that was over 3 hours long, so this seemed easy in comparison :).
Ed Asner and Michael Shannon were the other two actors, and I got a chance to meet them the next day at the Broadway Flea Market, but on Saturday, in the words of the stage door manager "Michael is getting his hair cut, and Ed's taking a nap" :). Ah, the glamorous backstage life on a two-show day! As I say in my Stage Door Tips, avoid Saturday matinees if you really are anxious to meet a particular actor, as they don't always do the stage door between shows.
In honor of the story, it seems only fitting to post these photos in black and white :).
The "Chaplin" stage door was so much fun! A really nice and jovial stage door manager saw to it that everyone waiting had a great experience and that is always a bonus! More importantly, the cast was just a blast...really happy to interact with all; posing with anyone who asked, chatting as much as you wanted, and hanging around to make sure they'd gotten to each person.
Rob McClure, in particular, is a sweetheart. He took so much time with everyone, and that's impressive considering he is in pretty much every scene of a 2 1/2 hour, physically demanding musical. Count me as a fan for sure.
Rob on the left; Jen Colella (Hedda Hopper) and Wayne Alan Wilcox (Charlie's brother; in the hat) center, and Jen again on the right (it was her birthday that day!).
The young boy who plays Charlie as a child and Jackie Coogan, Zachary Unger, is in the foreground; and the other young boy signing is Ethan Khusidman, who plays a young movie theater usher. Zachary has remarkable poise and personality!
box. Yes, a box...theatre box that is. One of the most unbelievable close-encounter theatre experiences I've ever had did not take place at the stage door, but it made going to the stage door afterwards a moot point.
I was going to NYC to see some shows that were high priority for me and found I had a slot open for an extra show: enter "Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway." I assumed that it would be too late to get a ticket, but there was one available in a right side box, first row. I'd always wanted to sit in a box and figured it wouldn't be a problem for this cabaret-style show to be so far over to the side, where part of the stage would be cut off from my sight line. So I bought it, just happy to be seeing Hugh Jackman in person.
I will say that it's quite atmospheric to enter your seat by stepping through a heavy velvet curtain...I felt a bit special. And I was thrilled that my chair was the one closest to the stage-side of the box with a great bird's eye view over the audience. And the first act was great; Hugh Jackman has a seemingly endless supply of charisma and interacted quite a bit with audience members in the orchestra. While I had a great view, I was a tad disappointed to be up above the action and not down in the thick of it. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Cue intermission and cue my usual 15 minutes of people-watching and daydreaming.
As I peered over the audience, I noticed a family directly below me with fairly young children. It crossed my mind that they seemed the wrong age for the show; not that there was anything inappropriate in the material, just not of great interest to pre-schoolers. The other thing that crossed my mind was that in my fantasy, Hugh Jackman would open the second act by bursting into the box in which I was sitting and serenading the audience from up high...you know, an unexpected, flashy entrance in which I would have an unmatched view :). That's what fantasies are for, right????
Intermission ticked on and I caught sight of official looking theatre personnel with earphones clearing the aisle below me, and realized that Hugh must be entering for Act II down that aisle. Not bad, I thought, I'd have an unobstructed view! And just as I was watching that aisle intently~in an instant~the house lights went down, a spotlight hit me and I heard that big, heavy velvet curtain being swept aside. As my mind tried to process all of this I looked to my left to see Hugh Jackman in head-to-toe gold lamé gesturing to me in a come-hither manner from about 2 feet away and singing some song that I will never ever remember as long as I live. If there was ever a time I could have honestly said "I must be dreaming," and meant it, this was it. Meanwhile, he's singing, coming closer, winking and I'm sinking into my chair as the audience roared. And sure enough, he was serenading the audience from just where I'd dreamt he would...clearly, I should have bought a lottery ticket that day as well...
But it gets better. As he sang and moved around the tiny space that was the box seating, he suddenly sat himself down...in my lap. In.My.Lap. And periodically turning around, directing some patter to me and sticking the microphone in my gobsmacked face...while I sputtered, turned every shade of embarrassment in the spectrum and just gaped. He stood up to sing some more...and then...sat back down in my lap. This time, he shifted around to get comfortable and asked (into the microphone) if he was "too heavy" for me....and stuck the microphone back in my face...at that moment I was just trying to figure out where to put my hands...I mean, seriously, where DO you put your hands when Hugh Jackman is sitting in your lap and 800 people are watching??? On his shoulders? On his waist? I settled for the shoulders. Anyway, the only thing that came out of my mouth in answer to his question was "um, no, you're good!" Audience got a kick out of that; I suspect because I sounded completely shell-shocked by the whole thing....because I was indeed shell-shocked , or Hugh-shocked I should say.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours (but was, in reality, probably about 10 minutes), he disappeared from the box as quickly as he'd arrived, leaving me completely unable to concentrate on anything else that happened in the show. Oh, except this: remember the family with the young children that I'd noticed during intermission? Yeah, it was Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and his group.
As I've always said (ok, not "always," just now), if you're going to have the experience of a lifetime, and publicly embarrass yourself at the same time...definitely do it while a world leader is watching. It just adds to the fun!
Stage Door Tales
Every stage door has a story.