Saturday, October 20, 2007
Stage door stories
In a lifetime of moviegoing, I've never once had a chance to go into the lobby afterward and meet the actors whose performances I've just watched. Sure, in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" Jeff Daniels walks off the screen and into Mia Farrow's life. But really, that's an exception.
I know this isn't something a serious-minded theater fan should say, but it's pretty thrilling to go to the stage door after seeing a Broadway show, meet the performers and get my Playbill signed.
There's something exciting about knowing that the Broadway experience doesn't necessarily end when the final bows are taken. I love the sense of anticipation, standing with a crowd of my fellow theater geeks, er, fans, talking about the show, what we saw the day before and what we're going to see next.
My first stage-door experience was at "A Moon for the Misbegotten" in April. I had my camera and my Sharpie ready for Kevin Spacey, but unfortunately, I hadn't yet perfected the dexterity required to get the autograph and the photograph. Still, it was great meeting him for the five seconds we shared. I asked him to sign my name on the Playbill - so he'd know I wasn't going to peddle it on eBay! I managed to blurt out that this was my first time seeing a show on Broadway and I'd come just to see him. "Well, welcome," he responded, and I was in heaven.
I've had many great stage-door experiences since then, including meeting the entire casts of the musicals "Curtains" and "Spring Awakening." (I keep thinking it would be great someday to see the "Spring Awakening" cast perform "Curtains.") Both are wonderful shows with a talented, gracious group of actors. I was lucky enough to get my picture taken with three 2007 Tony winners - David Hyde Pierce from "Curtains," Christine Ebersole from "Grey Gardens" and John Gallagher Jr. from "Spring Awakening."
I think the "Spring Awakening" crowd was the biggest I've seen, three or four people deep, lots young, enthusiastic fans on repeat visits. One woman brought a poster she'd made for the cast to sign. I was really impressed with the amount of time the cast spent talking to people and posing for pictures. This was after a Wednesday matinee - they still had the evening show to do. Lea Michele even brought her own silver-colored Sharpie that showed up especially well on the Playbill.
I learned a lot between "Curtains" and "Spring Awakening." After David Hyde Pierce signed my Playbill, I started to walk away, then saw him pose for a picture. I ran back, asked if I could have my picture taken with him, and thrust my camera into the hands of the person closest to me. By the time I got to "Spring Awakening" three months later, I was better prepared. I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we agreed to take each other's pictures when John Gallagher Jr. came by.
It's startling sometimes to see the actors in their street clothes, sometimes just minutes removed from the costumes, makeup and emotions of their role. In person, wearing a raincoat and glasses with thick frames, Patti LuPone looks much smaller, hardly resembling the strong-willed stage mother in "Gypsy."
Sometimes, you get to have a few words with them. Other times, there's only a chance to to tell them how much you enjoyed their performance. Still other times, the crush of humanity is so great, all you can do is get the autograph and move on so someone else gets a chance to move to the front of the crowd.
I told David Hyde Pierce that I was seeing my first musical on Broadway, and I'd been to my first play the night before. He asked me what I'd seen and how I'd liked it, and seemed genuinely interested. John Gallagher Jr. beamed when I congratulated him on the Tony. After seeing Gavin Lee as Bert in "Mary Poppins," I told him how much I loved watching him walk upside down across the proscenium arch. He told me how much he loved doing it.
I only had a fleeting chance to tell Angela Lansbury that she was wonderful in "Deuce." Talk about troupers, both she and costar Marian Seldes spent quite a while on a cold New York evening signing autographs and talking to their fans. Miss Seldes signed her tiny, delicate signature with a ballpoint pen, and when someone offered her a Sharpie, she said that she couldn't possibly use such a thick marker. When she found out it was someone's birthday, she smiled, gently caressed the woman's face and thanked her for coming.
And it doesn't even matter if I've never heard of the actors before. I stood outside the stage door after "Mamma Mia!" Yes, it was me and three 10 year olds waiting to get autographs from the show's stars, Carolee Carmello and Carey Anderson. It didn't matter to those young girls that they'd never heard of either performer. They were just excited to get their souvenir programs signed. Kudos to their parents for giving them the total Broadway experience. I hope it was one they'll always remember.
Then later that evening, after seeing "110 in the Shade," I stood outside waiting for a chance to meet Audra McDonald and John Cullum. When I told Mr. Cullum that I'd seen him some 20 years earlier at Syracuse Stage, along with his wife and son, in a production of "Look Homeward, Angel" he was genuinely thrilled.