In the last minutes before the actors arrive, associate choreographer Chris Peterson is running through a dance with two of the chorus. "When you start your strut, you have to be a little more down-ish," he instructs. "When you come around it's oom-pah and you have to be ready for the split . . ."
All the lights are down at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The tech people haven't arrived yet, so it's work lights everywhere. In the lobby you can still hear the rehearsal pianist plunking away upstairs. But in the lobby on opening afternoon, there's little sense of the chaos to come. The theatre's namesake gazes benevolently from vintage photos as production assistant Kristen Coury bustles through with arms filled with flowers and presents.
She says she's been watching everyone else open their presents, but she refuses to open her own. She says she heard that it's bad luck to open presents before you open the show, so she's waiting. But it isn't easy: "There are flowers and presents all over the theatre. There's not enough room! We have them in the dressing rooms, the hallways, the house manager's office. We may wind up putting them out in the alley!" Fred Santore, the treasurer of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, has worked in box offices for 21 years. The big scene there is not opening night, but the morning after. In that time, he says, he's seen "shows that got good reviews and with had a line with three windows open the next morning, and I've seen shows where the reviews were not so good and we just sat there waiting for somebody to show."
That doesn't mean opening night is quiet, however: "It gets crazy, what with people switching tickets here, there. Who needs an extra, who is picking up late. Then, at performance time, starting an hour prior, you've got 300 tuxes at the window and they all want their tickets, now. We call it 'fun'."
A hit show will "wrap," or take in, $150,000 to $200,000 the day after the opening. Santore said the biggest hit he's seen at the Rodgers was Chicago, which wrapped a quarter of a million dollars the day the rave reviews hit the stand. "That's what we're hoping for Steel Pier," he said.
"Even though we are not involved in the creative end, we feel the jitters for the people back there," he said, cocking a thumb toward the backstage area. "They put so much into it."