Many of the people who work on Broadway keep scrapbooks of their experiences: photos, signed posters, ticket stubs, and, of course, Playbills. These are treasured keepsakes, something to be savored over a lifetime, and then passed on to friends and descendants. Playbill Books has expanded this idea into a project that it hopes will become a Broadway institution. "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" takes the form of a high school or college yearbook, packed with photos and memorabilia from the entire season.
There is a separate chapter for every show that ran during the season — not just the new shows, but the long-running ones from seasons past as well. In addition to all the headshots of all the actors who appeared in the Playbill programs, the book has photos of producers, writers, designers, stage managers, stage hands, musicians and, in many cases, the ushers and box office people as well. The goal was to include as many of the faces that worked on Broadway as made themselves available.
"The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" also includes a wealth of photos from Broadway insider events, including "Gypsy of the Year," "Easter Bonnet," "Broadway Bares" and even the Broadway Bowling League and the annual Broadway League softball championship in Central Park. As a special treat, the Yearbook includes photos of opening-night curtain calls from many shows.
And, like any good yearbook "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" has a "Faculty" section featuring photos of producers, publicists, union leaders and the staffs of theatre organizations like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors' Fund.
The Playbill Broadway Yearbook also found a correspondent working on nearly every production to report on things that only those who worked backstage would know: Opening-night presents, who got the Gypsy Robe, daily rituals, favorite snack foods, celebrity visits, memorable ad-libs — all the little things that will make memories come alive again ten, twenty, thirty years down the road. Correspondents range from dressers and stage doormen to stage managers, dancers, featured players, and sometimes even the star of the show. Among some of the best known: Christopher Sieber (Monty Python's Spamalot), Suzanne Somers (Blonde in the Thunderbird), Donna Lynne Champlin (Sweeney Todd), Angie Schworer (The Producers), Jen Cody (The Pajama Game), Cass Morgan (Ring of Fire), Chad Kimball (Lennon), Erin Dilly (Chitty chitty Bang Bang), Eugenio Derbez (Latinologues). Here is a sampling of Scrapbook entries:
William Joseph Barnes (The Odd Couple): Most Memorable Ad-Libs: Felix usually tells Oscar to “blow on” his burnt London broil. One night Matthew Broderick told Nathan Lane to “blow it,” and they both lost it.
Also Speed (Rob Bartlett) has the line “I'm three blocks away. I could be here in five minutes,” but one night he said, “I live three minutes away. I can be here in five minutes.”
One of the legs on the couch broke and what followed was an amazing ad-lib between Matthew and Nathan about losing weight that brought the audience to tears with laughter.
Christopher Sieber (Monty Python's Spamalot): Memorable Series of Quotes from Mike Nichols and Librettist Eric Idle: Mike (talking to the actors who will play monks who smack their heads with giant Bibles): “Don’t hurt yourselves.” Eric: “It’s comedy, Mike.” Mike: “Oh. Right. Hurt yourselves.”
Donna Lynne Champlin (Sweeney Todd): Ghostly Encounters Backstage: We believe there are at least two ghosts at the Eugene O’Neill. One male and one female. During previews, things would randomly fall from the upstage prop shelf—sometimes dangerous things like gardening shears—when no one was remotely near it. Actors’ hair gets tugged every once in a while, and they have heard their characters’ names whispered in their ears onstage. There’s a strong smell of lilacs sometimes downstage left. My whistle disappeared from my bloody lab coat pocket (which never leaves the stage) and was found down in the basement in the “dead” rack of clothes. They only found it weeks later because they moved the rack and it fell to the ground. Patti’s dressing room has doors that open and close on their own. She also thought she had stepped backward onto her friend’s foot, so she said, “Excuse me.” Her friend said, “What for?” Patti turned around and her friend was a good two feet away from her. Merwin Foard says: I set up the cot to take a nap between rehearsal and a show and asked out loud for a wake-up call. Sure enough, at 6:30, I was awakened by a slap on the bottom of my shoes that almost sent my head crashing up into the bottom of the counter that I had placed my cot under. No one was in the room but me!
Kris Koop Ouellette (The Phantom of the Opera): From her account of the night Phantom surpassed Cats to become Broadway's longest-running show: "The girls parted slowly to reveal Abby costumed as Victoria, the white Jellicle Cat. The audience shrieked with recognition, some laughing, some ooh-ing and aww-ing, but everyone touched and impressed. Abby performed a segment of the Cats choreography most closely associated with her character, then departed the corps and moved towards The Phantom, Howard McGillin, isolated in the downstage-left corner.
Quietly, softly, powerfully, the stage behind these two began to fill with the principal actors of the show, and us chorus-folk. It wa all so subtle, it happened without the audience noticing. “Victoria” nudged the “Phantom” to let her in. He relented, finally, and suddenly, the audience realized that everyone in the company was on stage behind them. The Phantom and Victoria reveled in their newfound friendship for just a moment, and then she started to exit, stage right.
The entire company, sensing her importance and the significance of her visit…and her departure…gathered together and followed her for a few steps. She then stopped to bow to us, her back to the audience, saying: ‘This honor belongs to you, now.’ The entire group bowed to her, and she continued her proud exit.
Reviews of the 2006 edition have been positive. "This book is CRAZY!" wrote BroadwayWorld.com. "The Second Annual Edition is beautifully designed and handsomely put together. Essential for any theatre buff’s collection or school library. This book is the `bang for your buck' event of the year!" The Hollywood Reporter wrote of the first edition, "It is such a magnificent idea, and such a valuable one for theater buffs, it is a wonder it has taken this long to happen. Mark this down as a new essential for anyone who loves, and follows, today's theater scene."
The second edition of "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" is now on sale via Playbill.com, and in selected bookstores.
"Yearbook" editor is Robert Viagas, founder of Playbill.com, editor of Louis Botto's "At This Theatre," host of "Radio Playbill," and author or editor of books including "The Alchemy of Theatre," "The BackStage Guide To Broadway," "The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks" and "On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line."
Assistant Editor is Amy Asch, archivist for the Oscar Hammerstein II and Jonathan Larson estates. Editorial Assistant is Melissa Merlo, Production Assistant is David Gewritzman, and photos are by Ben Strothman and Aubrey Reuben.