Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Last Five Years

When I was a senior in high school, we had a brand new principal who used to sign off from her daily morning address with a treacly admonition of "The choices you make today, shape your world tomorrow." Given that she was ingratiating, new and a bit of an upstart (and a marriage between Hillary Clinton and Miss America), we were loathe to consider what she said at the time. However, as I sit here this evening I realize how accurate she is.

You see, it was five years ago today that the revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters closed on Broadway, and a chance meeting at the theater that day led to the writing of this blog and the substantial friendships I have cultivated as a result of it, and has contributed to the course my life has taken.

When it was announced for the second time that Gypsy would definitely close at the end of May, I decided it was time for me to get my rear in gear and see the show. I had never seen Gypsy, one of the best shows ever written, live. While browsing online at Telecharge, I noticed that tickets were available for the very last performance and I decided I would jump at the opportunity. I had never attended a closing before.

Then came the problem: no one wanted to go with me. "Some people can't even give it away" rang true as I counted down to the big event. The day of the show I managed to get in contact with a close friend from high school, who dropped everything and rushed to meet me at the train station. Sam is a writer and was just beginning studying to be a playwright at SUNY Purchase, so she was interested to look at it from that perspective, since she had only heard selections of the score and was almost wholly unfamiliar with the work.

That day, Bernadette and co. blew the roof off of the Shubert Theatre. The announcement of Marvin Laird as the musical conductor brought cheers from many regulars. That overture. That titanic overture brought the crowd to a standing ovation. Shortly thereafter came the words "Sing out, Louise" as the audience once again flew out of their seats to cheer the star entrance as Bernadette as Rose made her way from the back of the house to the stage. In spite of any critical misgivings certain people might have had, Ms. Peters delivered nothing short of a powerhouse performance as Madame Rose, with absolutely no vocal trouble and passionately intense acting. The energy was palpable, the book was ripe and Bernadette's Rose finagled, seduced, charmed and ultimately horrified when she brought the house down on itself with "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

At intermission, we were engrossed in conversation with the woman to our left, who was in attendance with her young son, looking dapper in a suit and who couldn't have been more than seven. Turning to each other, we discussed the show from a written perspective. Sam had never heard "Everything's Coming Up Roses" in its context before, so she floored at the underlying subtextual darkness. A younger gentleman making his way back to his seat in our aisle passed by as I was discussing the definitive nature of Ethel Merman with the role of Rose, at which point Sam alerted me that someone behind me was disagreeing with me. I turned and had a congenial debate with the young, passionate theatregoer, who admired the theatre and in particular this production. We discussed all the actresses who have inhabited the part of Rose, having as big a conversation in about 6 or 7 minutes than many people have in an hour.

Then came act two. The show was uproariously brilliant, every number bringing great applause, half the house even stood for the three strippers. Tammy Blanchard had to work hard on her "Strip," ultimately falling short of expectations but still getting an E for Effort. Then came that moment to end all moments. A cone of silence fills the theatre as an embittered Rose emerges from a heated row with her daughter. Rejected, vilified, humiliated yet defiant, she once again starts to stand her guard by defiantly shouting to the empty stage that she could have been better than everyone else. This embittered cloud explodes into the storm that is the eleven o'clock number to end all eleven o'clock numbers: "Rose's Turn."

Bernadette Peter's Turn was as devastating and cathartic as you could imagine, with hers an emotional breakdown as you watched her seams come apart. On the final "For me!" The audience stood and cheered and cheered and stood and stood and cheered some more. Bernadette bowed. And bowed. And bowed. Then she froze to wait for the applause to end, only to continue bowing as Tammy Blanchard entered clapping. This Gypsy still played to the more positive ending, with both leaving arm in arm, the audience emotionally drained yet exhilarated from witnessing yet another performance of "the best damned musical I've seen in years."

Sadly, I had hoped to say goodbye to the young guy but missed him as we exited the theatre. Someone else from my high school happened to be there and had grabbed my attention. Such is the case with so many of the theatregoing acquaintances you meet. You share two to three hours with one another; if you're lucky they are vibrant and intelligent conversationalists. So, I continued on my way.

The day also marked the first time I went backstage at the Shubert. Sam and I have a mutual friend from high school whose father plays in the pits for various shows and he was subbing that last week in the Gypsy pit, and arranged for us to get a brief impromptu tour of the wings and backstage area. We got to venture down into the pit area and look up at the Shubert from the most unusual vantage point, the three tiers towering above us.

The next day, I posted on ATC something specific about the production and lo and behold, my theatregoing friend and I reconnected via one of the threads about this particular performance. From that moment on, I made a fast friend by the name of Noah, who shared an exuberant passion for theatre, and in particular, musical theatre. Unbeknowst to me, he also met someone at the performance who also loves the live theatre experience and is always in the endless pursuit of entertainment. I would meet Sarah briefly a year later at the Theatre World Awards, but within the following two years developed a sturdy friendship that involved theatrical excursions and goings on, whose pursuit would bring us to many Mame-like heights opening new windows and enjoying life to the fullest. It was due mostly to Noah and Sarah's encouragement that I started writing as the Theatre Aficionado at Large back in October '07.

Life has a funny way of leading you into unexpected territory. Though I wrote some theatrical criticism in college, I never loved it. In fact I rather hated it. When forced to turn a critical eye to everything, there is the risk of missing out on enjoying the experiences. The very first thing I wrote was "I refuse to be a critic." The blog was a compromise of which I was initially reticent. At first I didn't take it seriously, only occasionally posting and not thinking I would stick to it. Well, I kept blogging, and then blogged even more. Now not a day goes by where I don't think about something to share with my bloggers. As a result, I've made some of the greatest friends; people I would never have met otherwise. I look forward to seeing them on a daily basis via their websites, but also for their woefully infrequent trips to the New York City, where we gather for food, drinks, endless banter and of course, theatre. Whenever any of us get together, it is unquestionably an epic win.

Five years removed, I look back nostalgically on the friendships I treasure and look excitedly toward the next five. So to celebrate this anniversary, I raise a toast to all those good and crazy people, my theatre friends. Thanks for the laughs, the memories and the good times. My world is a better place because you are all a part of it.

And here's to Bernadette Peters, for starting it all.


Esther said...

Awww, Kevin, that was wonderful.
What a great story. I knew you and Sarah met through Noah but it's great to have all the details.

It's pretty amazing how we all managed to connect, isn't it? I mean, if I hadn't fallen in love with Kevin Spacey and been determined to see him on Broadway and done a Technorati search and found Steve on Broadway. ...

I feel so fortunate to have all of you as friends. I don't think any of it was a coincidence. It was "bashert," or destiny, in Hebrew.

karigee said...

What a lovely memory -- happy anniversary!

miles said...

Kevin, I need a drink. Kevin Kevin Kevin Kevin, you're such an awesome person!!!!!!!! I'm smoking a cigar, drinking a 40 and I JUST READ THE GOAT AND PISSED MYSELF.

oh wait we're atually talking on im right now HAHAHAHA

mrazfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

wonderful post, my friend

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Here's toasting you back.