At Large Elsewhere: The “Newsies” Walking Tour

Many of my blog and twitter friends have been quite abuzz with excitement for the stage adaptation of Newsies, which had its world premiere last fall at the Paper Mill Playhouse and will make its Broadway berth at the Nederlander Theatre later this month. The Disney show is currently scheduled as a 12 week limited engagement (and I’m Joseph Pulitzer) running through Tony Sunday, featuring much of the cast from the New Jersey run.

I must confess, I have never seen Newsies, nor have I ever heard an entire song from the score (film or stage). Apparently I was never home while the film was being shown on TV (where it apparently aired a lot) and we’ve somehow missed each other these last 20 years. The first time I saw Christian Bale onscreen was in American Psycho, so I was surprised to learn that he had headlined a musical, period. That being said, when my pals Patty and Emily put out a request for friends to help them film their latest project, the second in a series of Newsies related videos, I figured, “What the hell?”

I still know very little about Newsies, except that Patrick’s Mother is a Very Important Character. However, that didn’t curb my enjoyment of the four hours I spent roaming lower Manhattan with this motley crew.

Here is the Newsies walking tour (which, incidentally, costs $18.99. Cash only. Exact change). Enjoy.


“Avenue Q” Blogger Night

There are few activities I enjoy more than catching up with my blogger friends (and meeting new bloggers) and thanks to the folks at Avenue Q we were invited for a special blogger night performance of the show on January 19. The group of us converged on New World Stages, where the little show that could recently played its 500th performance (off-Broadway; all totaled, it’s been open almost 8 years!). The musical surprised everyone in September 2009 when its producer Kevin McCollum announced it would move from Broadway to off-Broadway (where it first ran in 2003) and that’s proved to be a lucrative transfer and shows no signs of slowing down.

The cast is mostly comprised of veterans from the show’s Broadway and national tour companies. Anika Larsen, who was making a return to the show that very evening, is just delightful. She’s a phenomenal performer, but she is someone who is also clearly a teaching artist as evidenced by her clarity and intelligence in the post show q&a. Jonathan Root brings a compelling sincerity to Princeton/Rod that gave both puppets unexpected depth. Jed Resnick was on as Nicky/Trekkie Monster and gave a phenomenally funny performance, showing us that he should be more than the understudy.

The show works on a number of levels, but it is fascinating is how its simplistic portrayal of urban life is so reflective of what many in the audience are currently experiencing, or have experienced in his or her own lifetime. Using a platform similar to Sesame Street and the pastiche of its lesson songs as a starting point, it gives perspective on the various crises that infiltrate adulthood – dream job, money, relationships, etc. There seems to be a little bit of Princeton, Kate, Rod, Nicky et al in every one of us. Plus, I find the subversive puppetry in general to be hilarious. What was most interesting – I still the show quite funny, but on a repeat viewing (and knowing the book) it was the poignant moments that really stood out to me (esp. Larsen’s “Fine, Fine Line” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College”).

After the show, the bloggers were invited to meet with the cast and ask questions and pose with various puppets. Larsen talked about the rigors of auditioning for the show, which includes a 2 day puppet intensive. The actors gave considerable insight into how much preparation and rehearsal goes into acting with a puppet – it impacts movement, staging and character – and they must be aware of how to present the puppets. I noticed cast member Ruthie Ann Miles who plays Mrs. T and one of the Bad Idea Bears, was manipulating the puppet as an extension of herself; even out of character the muscle memory remains.

The blog event was, in my estimation, a wonderful way for the show to present itself to those of us participating in social media (and I know other shows are following suit), though I have one suggestion for this and other shows looking to do the same: have a pre-show meet and greet so we can meet some of the other bloggers. It’s a thriving atmosphere and there were some people I know only through their tweets and blogs who were in attendance that I would have liked meeting.

This trip to Avenue Q marked another first – I took my non-theatergoing brother to the show with me. He’s never been one for the musicals, but I also thought Q would be a good first show for him (and other bloggers at the event agreed). His brief assessment: he got into it at the beginning, felt the second half of the first act lagged and really picked up steam in the second act.  Overall, he liked it very much.

The show is offering a great discount through May 26, 2011: With the code AQBLOG12, can get tickets as low as $55! You can bring the code to the New World Stages box office, mention it over the phone, or plug it in at Broadway Offers.

Random Thoughts on This and That

Well, it’s certainly been a busy week. Fringe is well underway and invigorating the month of August. Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have brought renewed interest to a mostly humdrum revival of A Little Night Music. Kelsey Grammer is to be a father for the fifth time. The folks on All That Chat took the opportunity to go open season on the actor; however, I will take this opportunity to offer the La Cage Aux Folles star my heartiest congratulations. Race and Fela! have both posted their closing notices, however, the latter will go out with some added star quality when Patti LaBelle replaces Lillias White for the remainder of the run. I’m a bit disappointed to see Fela! announcing its notice this early, as it was one of the best things I saw last season but it will live on in London with an HD broadcast from the National Theatre. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf brings its production of August: Osage County to Australia. Previews start this week at Cate Blanchett’s Sydney Theatre Company.

The biggest show of the coming season (physically and financially) will be Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which has set its opening for December 21. It’s been a very pernicious gestation from the very first day – rumors about its projected budget, weekly running costs, bad producing and cast members coming and going have not done much to assuage investors or convince Broadwayites. However, a steady team seems to be in place and the show is getting ready to at long last get its legs. The score is by Bono and the Edge, direction by Julie Taymor, so it’s not like this isn’t going to be worth the wait: regardless of the outcome, it should prove interesting. Tickets are on sale and it looks to be a go.

However, it’s the theatre itself that I’m more interested in this week. Garth Drabinsky ripped apart the Apollo and Lyrics and assembled them into one giant performance space, originally called the Ford Center for the Performing Arts when it opened its doors in 1998 (with Ragtime). Then in 2005, it became the Hilton Theatre. Now Foxwoods Casino has teamed up with Live Nation, who operates the space to give their name to the theatre for a period of three years. They’ve immediately gone live with the new website for the theatre and even offer the opportunity to rent the lobby for a private affair. I don’t mind the idea, but it’s being promoted in a way that can only be described as tacky. The jury is still out as to whether the theatre will house a money-maker.

It’s the corporate hand that bothers me in all this. I know – it’s a business, I get that. But it just seems unsettling to me to see an corporation name on a theatre when one of the great rare honors for a theatre artist is his or her name above the marquee. For instance, I never once referred to the Winter Garden as the Cadillac Winter Garden when there was a sponsorship agreement. However, I was thrilled when Stephen Sondheim received the honor on the occasion of his 80th birthday. (The late, great Helen Hayes received the honor twice. When the first Helen Hayes was razed in the great Marriot massacre of 1982, it was decided that the Fulton would be named for her. Her quip: “Oh it’s so good to be a theatre again”).

Word comes through the pipeline that Ryan Murphy is adapting his hit TV series Glee for Broadway. I have to make a confession: I don’t really like the series. I watched the first 13 episodes so I could have an idea what was going on – and to know what the folks in the twitterverse and blogosphere were talking about. But, much to everyone’s surprise – especially mine – it has left me rather cold. It’s not the cast, for sure, but the uneven, inconsistent writing and the overuse of autotune. It got to the point where I was skipping to the end of the musical numbers to get through the scenes (but boy, can Amber Riley belt like it’s nobody’s business). One other minor quibble – they are not a glee club, they’re a show choir. I can’t help but feel that I would have liked the enterprise a lot more had it been a 90 minute feature film than a full length, hour long TV series.

Back to the original statement – in spite of my feeling about the series I’m not against a Broadway version. I just think they should wait. The series has only completed one full season and has an overlying arc that has yet to be determined. At this point, a Broadway show based on the series might just be too much too soon.

I have recently started reading two new blogs. Both are by women who have had important careers in performing arts. The first belongs to Tony-winner Phyllis Newman, who’s frank, amusing and anecdotal about events in her life and her career. She has experienced a lot both as a performer and also as Mrs. Adolph Green, sharing anecdotes about famous friends and memories. Ms. Newman is the sort of person you would want at your table at a dinner party.

The other belongs to Emily Frankel. The name might not be too familiar to you, but you certainly know her husband: one John Cullum. I discovered this blog entirely by accident. Now Emily has achieved great success on her own: dancer, choreographer, director, actress, writer. She’s pretty much done it all. I was doing research on Cullum when I discovered a video blog with the two of them, they create a new one every week. On top of the video posts, Emily writes honestlyand openly about anything and everything that might be on her mind and makes for some engaging conversation – and she’s a really lovely lady.

Speaking of Cullum, the two time Tony winner will be back on Broadway in the upcoming transfer of Kander & Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys at the Lyceum. When the show played off-Broadway at the Vineyard it got a less than stellar review from the NY Times, but it was the first time a negative notice only made me want to see a show more. However, other notices are much more positive, including raves from its current berth at the Guthrie. There are many other shows and stars I’m looking forward to, a sort of anticipation I didn’t quite feel last season (and those shows I did anticipate all closed prematurely). Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Lincoln Center, as well as revivals of Driving Miss Daisy, You Can’t Take It with You, La Bete and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. And this is just the fall.

Patrick Lee (1959-2010)

Ever since I started blogging, I have been experiencing so many firsts. My first press invite or my first interview. There have been first trips to various theatres, seeing various folks perform and it’s been such a joy. However, today with the sobering intensity of a sucker punch, I experienced another first, one that I wasn’t exactly prepared for: the death of a fellow theatre blogger.

I first met Patrick Lee a little over a year ago when Ken Davenport had what would be the first meeting of the Independent Theater Bloggers Association. Over the course of the year, as I volunteered to help out I got to spend some time with Patrick as we worked to bring structure to the fledgling group. It was to my great shock and sadness to learn of his death of a heart attack, at 51 years old.

Every so often we would all meet up in Ken’s offices for meetings discussion our progress and whatnot. But as is the case with so many of the bloggers, I found myself chatting him up before and after the meetings. There would be times when we would end up talking for a half hour on the sidewalk on 49th Street, catching up on what we have seen. Discussing some of the great flops that interest me (namely 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), he told me that he used to travel into the city constantly with his father to see theatre when he was a kid, and as a result saw so many shows (such as 1600) that most of the general public would have missed.

I don’t know if there is anyone who went to the theatre as often as Patrick did. Last August, we would jest over the amount of Fringe shows he was running off to see. You could catch his reviews, interviews and features for Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway theatre on Theatermania, his own blog Just Shows to Go You and Show Showdown. He was a member of the Outer Critics Circle and a juror for the GLAAD Media Awards. Just recently, we announced the 2010 winners of the ITBA awards, with Patrick taking charge of an admittedly thankless task and handling everything with aplomb.

The last time I saw Patrick was, of course, at the theatre. We were heading in to see the Encores! revival of Anyone Can Whistle and were able to chat amiably for a couple of minutes. I do wish I had a chance to know him better, but will be grateful for the conversations we had, online and in person. He will be greatly missed among the theatre blog community.

He is survived by his mother, sisters and other family members.

Wine, Women, Some Song…and More Wine

Perhaps I am the only person grateful for the eruption of that volcano in Iceland. Yes, I’m well aware of the havoc which has been wrought throughout the travel industry, as well as the overwhelming inconvenience at hand. But Mother Nature proving yet again that she’s still running things helped turn my weekend into one for the ages.

You see, the West End Whingers (of “Paint Never Dries” fame) were in town meeting everyone in sight, taking in opening night shows and parties, and even taping an episode of “Theatre Talk” with Michael Riedel and Susan Haskins. The two gents had been scheduled to fly out until Eyjafjallajokull (toss that into a spelling bee, why don’t you?) blew its top. As a result they ended up with an extra week on holiday, continuing to meet more folks and take in more parties.

And as it happened, my buddy Steve on Broadway was also in town for the week taking in the last shows of the theatre season (meeting his personal goal of seeing all 38 Broadway productions). Originally slated to meet for ITBA business, we decided we wanted to catch up earlier so Steve arranged for us to meet Thursday afternoon at the Dean & Deluca on 46th Street next to the Paramount Hotel. Knowing that the Whingers were in town, I really wanted to meet them as theirs is one of the most prolific London theatre blogs. However, I thought it too gauche to be all “Hey Steve. Nice to see you, now can I meet the Whingers?”

Anyway, we settled in and as always started our usual back and forth on the productions we had seen recently, the latest news, gossip, twitter, etc. The conversation turned several times to Whingers, and the exploits that they have had from La Cage Aux Folles’ opening night to a notable incident at the Theatre Talk studios with Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer that had me applauding their honesty and chutzpah. Lo and behold, Steve looks up as my phone (inconveniently) rang and says “And there they are now!” and proceeded to wave them into the cafe.

I can tell you without hesitation that they are as downright funny and genuine as their writing. What you read is what you get, and it makes for the most amusing banter. The twosome can dryly toss out witticisms in the twinkling of an eye. I sat in total amusement as they recounted the whirlwind of activities they’ve had since coming to New York. The gentlemen are never short on anecdotes or opinions and are delightful raconteurs. All this over afternoon tea! (The last time non alcoholic beverages would factor into my weekend). The discussions we had were spirited; filled with interesting opinions and immensely engaging and friendly.

While they went off to get some writing done for their site, Steve and I continued our visit at the Atrium in the Marriott Marquis lobby where I got started in with a white Russian. We met again later that evening at the Hourglass Tavern on 46th & 9th to celebrate Andrew’s birthday (who shares it with QEII). Steve charmed the hell out of our waitress, who was a dead ringer for Anna Magnani. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I found myself enjoying red wine for the first time in my life (whenever the Whingers are around there is wine, they famously give out glasses of wine in lieu of stars in their blog’s rating system).

I thought it was a perfect afternoon, but little did I realize that I would be trumping this ace the very next night. I was in back in town to cover MTC’s Collected Stories with Linda Lavin and Sarah Paulson (more on that later this week) and lo and behold I found myself on the same block as Steve! We chatted for a few moments before we participated in a conference call with the delightful Alicia Silverstone (see previous parenthetical), an exclusive event set up through the ITBA. More wine flowed on the patio at Sosa Borella before we went our separate ways for the evening shows.

Post-show we all met up again at Angus. I walk into Angus, see Andrew and Phil at the barJoining in the fun was SarahB, her delightful best friend Beth from Texas and the irrepressible Karigee, as well as the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye (the Michael Riedel of the West End, but much more likable). The theatre talk continued, as did the laughter. There I was double fisting with wine in one hand, water in the other recreating Donna Murphy’s greatest hits from Anyone Can Whistle with Kari and Sarah. Theatre was shop talk and how I wish it could have gone on forever. It was yet another night when we closed down the joint, those are admittedly some of the best nights we have as a group. I even got to pose for a quick pic with Eglantine Price who dropped in for a nightcap. It reminded me of that first blogger brunch I attended almost two years ago where I met Steve, where I got to know many extraordinary theatre lovers.

My weekend with the Whingers ended there, but I wasn’t quite done with theatre folk. The following afternoon, Roxie and I ended back in New Paltz to work with some of the college kids on a revue that will be going up next month. Over the course of an amusing rehearsal found myself playing Anne, Fredrik and Fredrika in a four person version of “A Weekend in the Country.” (I’m officially Fredrik when everyone is in attendance) It was so good to be back, and even more delightful to have my ass kicked in rehearsal once more (it’s been over five years since I’ve done anything of this sort). As always – I love New Paltz, I love reminiscing about my memories (which all burn in my head with a steady glow) and revisiting my favorite places. I’m looking forward to going back and working with the kids again.

And on the Sabbath, I rested. It was so good to spend time with theatre friends, old and new. My world has gotten both a little bigger and a little smaller and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Oh, and by the way, should I become a wino it is entirely Andrew and Phil’s fault. Steve’s too.

The Aficionado Goes Back to Church

It was time for yet another gathering of “The Bloggers Who Brunch” yesterday, as Esther, Steve and Doug, Chris, Hubert, and Alicia came in from out of town to join Sarah, Roxie, Byrne, Jimmy and myself over our usual Algonquin-esque gathering. The location this time was Cognac on 55th and Broadway, and as always the banter was witty, the brunch libations flowing as we caught up on what we had seen and what we were going to see in the near future.

Some of us weren’t seeing anything, so when our pals departed for their adventures we decided to keep the party rolling. In what could be classified as the first-ever Theatre Bloggers Bar Crawl, Sarah, Roxie, Byrne, Jimmy and myself headed up to Trattoria Dell’Arte on 57th to visit Noah, and have a drink (and stare at the giant sculpted breast on the wall). And then there were four as Roxie had to depart to strike the play she costume designed out in New Jersey. With nothing on our agendas, and a beautiful autumn Sunday in New York, the rest of us continued the party by taking Sarah to the Mark Hellinger Theater for the first time.

Last November, a small group of us went in on a Saturday and had a look around. No services were going on, so the place was rather empty and we could soak in the interior from the orchestra section. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. The only thing none of us thought to do was take pictures of this glorious piece of architecture. On this field trip, SarahB made sure to document the trip for posterity, and all the photos are hers.

If there’s anything I won’t forget about this second trip, it is definitely Sarah’s reaction upon entering. I’ve done it myself; and I still was taken aback even though I’d been inside less than a year earlier. We hadn’t even gone into the theatre itself when I told her that Dear World, Coco, My Fair Lady and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue all played in this very theatre.

Sarah made the smart call of snapping some photographs of the interior. The lobby is quite reminiscent of the sort of theatres you find in London’s West End, and are a rare commodity in NY. The closest I’ve ever seen that comes to his is the New Amsterdam on 42nd Street, and even that pales in comparison to the Hellinger.

The lobby, which must reach about three stories in height, is a spacious elliptical area, with two separate staircases that lead to a comfortable mezzanine lounge. Everything about the interior still screams theatre, and I half expect the ushers to have a playbill for God starring David Wilkerson.

It is the most spacious lobby in any Broadway house, and these pictures do not begin to do it any justice. The house itself can seat approximately 1600 people and has excellent sight lines (and would be a sumptuous money-making house for many of the larger musicals and revivals).

The one thing that can be said for the Times Square Church is that they’ve spared no expense in the building’s upkeep. Since the building is protected by the city of NY as a landmark, they are required by law to maintain the original integrity of the architecture and interior design – the grandeur and beauty which make it such a remarkable Broadway house.
The church is in the hands of David Wilkerson, who last year famously (and in my estimation carelessly) predicted a vague disaster in the midtown area that would wreak havoc and cause riots, etc. It’s that sort of thinking that proselytizing that turned me off of organized religion in the first place. In fact while we were in the church, the minister implored the audience, “If you’re thinking of becoming a Jew, come talk to me first” in a tone that made Jimmy and I both look at each other in muted horror.

The church has no interest in selling, unless a more suitable venue can be found in the Times Square area. (The Minskoff anyone? No one would care). Unless there’s some divine intervention it’s highly unlikely the Hellinger will ever be a legit house again. And it is that divine intervention for which I will pray.

"One Rap for Yes…Two Raps For No"

We were there for opening night, we were there for Tony Tuesday so it was inevitable that we would be there for the final performance of Blithe Spirit (some of us went much more often than that). For the record, today marked my fourth and final trip to the Condomine residence.

However, the day got started at Thalia’s for some bloggers who brunch action. Steve and Doug, Esther, Chris, Sarah, Kari, Roxie, Jimmy, Alicia and myself gathered for the usual conversation over breakfast concoctions (make mine a mimosa any day). Even with the pleasure of reading everyone’s blogs, writing on someone’s Facebook wall or communicating via twitter, nothing beats gathering together at a table in a swank NY restaurant for the real thing.

Sarah, Kari, Roxie, Noah and I headed over to the Shubert for a sold-out matinee that featured yet another fizzy champagne afternoon. The crowd was electric, very much into the play and appreciative of the comedy. Some of the lines were rushed/dropped, but that didn’t hinder any of the enjoyment. Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole were still problematic in their characterizations, but not so much to hinder from the experience. Susan Louise O’Connor is a star on the rise. Simon Jones and Deborah Rush gave the Bradman’s their final exercise in skepticism. Of course there was that devil-may-care Tony-winning performance of Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati, a pro among pros who (if the rumors are true about her involvement in A Little Night Music in the fall) is certainly enjoying a late-career renaissance on Broadway, and deservedly so.

My admiration today, though, is reserved for Jayne Atkinson. Atkinson took the role of waspy Ruth, a stark contrast to the ethereal and immoral Elvira, and turned it into something extraordinary. Ruth usually provides a great comic angle, but mostly as a straight man to the lunacy and farce going on around her. To put it frankly, she’s rather bland on paper. Atkinson, though, created an indelible leading lady performance that was one of the most underrated treasures of the theatre season.

Today, especially, Atkinson’s Ruth seemed to shine ever-so-brightly. Finding even in the final performance truthful comedy that none of us had ever seen before (a riotous parody of Madame Arcati’s earlier trance dance). Droll, clipped, with some of the best listening and reacting I’ve ever seen in a comedy, she was nothing short of effervescent. For my money, she deserved a Best Actress in a Play nomination. But I do look forward to seeing what she does next. If she’s onstage in NY, you know we’ll be there.

After the show, the cast received flowers and continued to bow as the curtain came down and the house lights went up. And predictably enough, we went to Angus for post-show dinner and drinks, continuing to enjoy ourselves immensely on what was a most beautiful day in the city.

Walking Among My Yesterdays: ‘Gypsy’ (2004)

When I was a senior in high school, we had a new principal who used to sign off from her daily morning address with a clinical admonition of “The choices you make today, shape your world tomorrow.” Given that she was new and ingratiating (imagine a cross between Hillary Clinton and Miss America), we were reluctant to take anything she said seriously. However, I sit here this evening and I realize just how right she was.

You see, it was five years ago today that the revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters closed on Broadway, and to this date that sole theatre experience has had a greater impact on my life than any other.

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. On a whim I bought two tickets.

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 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 (something I’ve never seen before or since). In a few short minutes, the words “Sing out, Louise” rang out and the audience once again flew out of their seats to cheer Bernadette as she made her way from the back of the house to the stage. In spite of any critical misgivings certain people (Riedel) 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, Sam and I became engrossed in conversation with the woman to our left, who was there with her young son, who couldn’t have been more than seven, looking dapper in his suit. 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 subtext. 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. 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 the second act. Every song brought great applause; half the house even stood for the three strippers. Tammy Blanchard had to work hard on “The Strip,” though she didn’t quite pull off the transition from Louise to Gypsy Rose Lee. Then came that moment to end all moments. A dead, palpable silence filled the theatre as an embittered Rose emerged from the dressing room where she had just thrown down with her daughter. Rejected, vilified, humiliated yet defiant, she once again stood her ground by defiantly shouting to the empty stage that she could have been better than everyone else. This embittered cloud exploded 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; an emotional breakdown as you watched her seams come apart. On the final “For me!” The audience stood and cheered and cheered and then cheered some more. Bernadette bowed. And bowed. And bowed. Then she froze in character to wait for the applause to end, only to continue bowing as Tammy Blanchard entered clapping. This Gypsy still played to the more positive (and superior) ending, with both leaving arm in arm, the audience emotionally drained yet exhilarated.

I had hoped to say goodbye to the young man, but missed him as we exited the theatre. Someone else from my high school happened to be there and had grabbed my attention and focus. Such is the case with so many of the theatregoing acquaintances you meet, or as I like to call them: show friends. You share two to three hours with one another; if you’re lucky they are vibrant and intelligent conversationalists. But for the most part you never see them again.

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 was subbing in the pit that final week, and he arranged for us to get a brief impromptu tour of the wings and backstage area. We got to venture down into the pit and look up at the Shubert from the most unusual vantage point, the three tiers towering above us. It was a surreal and wonderful experience, especially as we emerged from the stage door and the crowd, expecting the stage stars, exhaled dismissively.

The next day, I posted something incredibly specific about the production on All That Chat and lo and behold, my theatregoing friend and I reconnected. We took our conversation to instant messenger, and I made a fast friend named Noah Himmelstein, 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 Our Sarah only briefly a year later at the Theatre World Awards. Within the next two years we developed a sturdy friendship that involved theatrical excursions and outings. It was due mostly to Noah and Sarah’s encouragement that I started writing anonymously 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 hate it. When forced to turn a critical eye to everything, there is the risk of missing out on enjoying the experience and being in the moment. It was due mostly to Noah and Sarah’s encouragement that I started writing anonymously as the Theatre Aficionado at Large back in October 2007. The very first thing I wrote was “I refuse to be a critic.” This blog is my compromise, and I still don’t consider myself critic. At first I didn’t take it seriously, only occasionally posting and not thinking I would stick to it and frankly not sure anyone was reading what I was writing. However, I kept at it. As a result, I’ve made some wonderful friends; people I would never have met otherwise. I look forward to seeing them on a daily basis via their websites and twitter feeds, and also on 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.

Theatre Bloggers of the World Unite!

Well, this is some fun news! Broadway producer and theatre-blog enthusiast Ken Davenport has arranged for the First Theatre Bloggers Social. The event is taking place on April 23rd from 6-8PM at Planet Hollywood in Times Square. Mr. Davenport is enticing us with free food, a talk given by a blogging consultant and here’s the real coup de maitre: free tickets to shows that evening (and if that includes Blithe Spirit, I will be a lion pouncing on a gazelle). And for those out-of-town bloggers, be sure to RSVP as well because they are working on ways to include everyone. Hopefully my fellow bloggers who brunch can make it!

The criteria to participate:

-Have a blog devoted primarily to theater
-Post regularly
-Be an independent blogger (not sponsored/paid to blog by any organization)