Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Playbill Broadway Yearbook
Over the weekend, I think I crossed the line from fandom to geekdom. Well, maybe I crossed that line months ago.
I bought the 2006-2007 Playbill Broadway Yearbook. I'd been leafing through it at the bookstore for about a month, but with a slight twinge of regret, I always put it back on the shelf. True, it would make a great souvenir to mark my first year of Broadway theatergoing, but did I really need it? I'm rapidly approaching the point where I'll need a new coffee table just for the coffee table books. Still, I figured it was time to stop fighting and just give in.
The Playbill Yearbook actually looks a lot like a high school or college yearbook. It really is everything that happened on Broadway during the past year, and everyone who was involved in the process. There's even a page for autographs, although at 516 glossy pages, it's a pretty hefty volume to lug around.
Every show that played on the Great White Way is included, from "The Apple Tree" to "The Year of Magical Thinking," from long-running hits like "Phantom of the Opera" to shows that barely played a month, like "High Fidelity." Everyone gets their picture taken, not just the actors but everyone behind the scenes who ensures that the show goes on: the ushers, members of the orchestra, the stagehands, the wardrobe department, the doorman. All of the important events from the past theatrical year are covered, including the Tony awards, "Chicago" celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Broadway reivival, Broadway Show League softball and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraisers.
Every Broadway show has a correspondent, and it could be anyone connected with the production - an actor or a crew member. They write about everything from famous people who came to see the show to opening night gifts, favorite snacks, favorite hangouts, nicknames, embarrassing moments, ghostly encounters backstage, record number of cell-phone rings. Some of them are pretty hilarious.
Among the things you can learn are:
People are apparently curious about seeing themselves on stage. David Frost came to see Michael Sheen portray him in "Frost/Nixon" and former handyman Jerry Torre came to see himself played by Matt Cavenaugh in "Grey Gardens." Bob Dylan also stopped by the short-lived show based on his songs, "The Times They Are A Changin." And the notoriously tight-lipped Dylan was positively loquacious. He told the cast, "A lot of people have covered my songs but I've never heard 'em sung better than here. I feel like I can retire now."
We also find out who got what on opening night. Frank Langella, who played Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon," gave out finger puppets. Appropriately, the cast of "Inherit the Wind" received a small statue of a monkey sitting on a pile of books. Also appropriately, the cast of "Spring Awakening" got condoms. And Stephen Sondheim created a personalized puzzle for each member of "Company."
Some anecdotes are so wacky, you have to wonder whether there's some dramatic license involved, or if the writer was maybe being a little tongue in cheek.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton took in "The Pirate Queen," and reportedly was so impressed with the title character of Grace O'Malley that she wanted to trace her DNA to see if she might be related to her!
And, under the category of earliest audience arrival, "an entire busload" of patrons showed up a year early for "The Lion King." Apparently, no one thought to check their tickets. "They spent the first act on folding chairs in the lobby waiting for their bus to come back." I think this one might be an urban legend. I mean, can you even buy tickets a year in advance?
As you might expect from actors who have to perform eight shows a week, keeping the voice in shape is a priority, so Ricola cough drops pop up on many lists of favorite snacks. But perhaps most unusual, the favorite snack food for the cast of "Spamalot" is dust: "gotta stay thin."
Also, as you might expect, there are numerous reports of cell phones ringing and audience members text-messaging. But I think this incident from "Rent" tops them all: "Two young girls eating a full takeout dinner in the front row. Their setup included various containers and utensils, and they kept reaching to the floor for another and swapping items back and forth. So odd." I'll say!
Just like a yearbook, it's not all humerous anecdotes and group photos. There's also quite a bit of poignancy about what it means to perform on Broadway.
Krisha Marcano from "The Color Purple" writes movingly about what it was like to meet fans at the stage door: "Sometimes they will actually break down in the arms of the actors. I was witness to somebody breaking down in the arms of Sophia and telling her, It's time for me to say 'Hell no!'''
Bobby Steggert, from "110 in the Shade," writes about the show's colorblind casting. "We've created a community of people where race doesn't come into the picture, and as a result, I think, the audience just accepts it as the reality of the world. In my opinion, I think that's how all shows should be cast."
And Kathy Fitzgerald, from "The Producers," writes about the show's final performance: "What a ride this has been. We've been through births and deaths, 9/11, the musicians' strike, the blackout, and we kept making people laugh all the way through it. How lucky for all of us."