James Dybas, a stage veteran who plays the Executioner in The Scarlet Pimpernel, agreed to keep a diary of the experience for Playbill On-Line's readers. Here is his diary of the weeks leading up to the opening. Watch for his posts throughout the day as he shares his opening night with you.
Sunday November 9, 1997 - noon It's a drizzly day in NYC and I'm having lunch with my brother David and his son, my nephew, 11-year-old Daniel Dybas, who are in from Chicago to be at our Opening Night at the Minskoff and the Gala Party afterward.
John Lennon was alive and the Beatles were at their peak when David last visited NYC with my Mom and sister in 1969. David saw Hair, which was playing at the (now boarded up) Biltmore Theatre on West 47th St. And now here we are, telling his son Daniel about what the past decades were like and what he might expect on this opening night. Although it IS theatre and happening in the moment and ANYTHING can happen.
We started rehearsals for Scarlet Pimpernel at the Clark Studio Theatre at Juilliard on August 4th. For the first week, Peter Hunt (our director) had us start our rehearsal day mornings, sitting and reading the play aloud. It gave us all a sense of the arc of the piece and where we were going with it. Then, week by week, we kept layering. Learning music with Frank Wildhorn, Jason Howland, Ron Melrose, Andy Wilder and Wendy Bobbitt. Speech and accents with Steven Gabis. Staging and choreography with Adam and Dani (Davis) Pelty. Fight choreography with Rick Sordelet and David Debesse . . . and getting it all on it's feet. It's a joyous company of very talented, seasoned and creative people (thanks in part to Barry Moss & Julie Hughes - casting ). We had fun and a whole lot of laughter with the rehearsal process. No screaming and yelling & never a temper tantrum by anyone. Always a lot of love and hugs and laughter. It's truly been, and continues to be, a happy time.
After six weeks at Juilliard we moved into the Gershwin (the sets were still being loaded into the Minskoff and we couldn't be there) for a week, so that the creative staff could take a look at the show from a distance.
A coincidence that I opened that theatre (when it was called the Uris) with a show called Via Galactica and one of our actors, Melissa Hart, had just closed (now called the Gershwin) in Candide. The week was productive and we were able to do some more staging and spacing before moving into the Minskoff.
A week later and we're home in the Minskoff. I'd closed in Sunset Blvd at this same theatre several months ago and I staked claim to my same dressing room space. My favorite spot, next to the floor to ceiling window which looks out over 45th Street.
We rehearsed on our sets for two weeks and started previews on Oct. 7th. The houses have been full and the audiences are loving the show. Crowds wait at the stage door after the show to meet the cast, and the ticket office tells me that they're stopping on the way out to buy tickets to see it again. Needless to say, we're all hoping for a big hit and long run. Keep your fingers crossed.
This is a light show for me. No Kabuki makeup ( Pacific Overtures), no trampolines ( Via Galactica), no tongue twisting songs and monologues ( BIg River) no walking the highwire and juggling ( Barnum) no exhausting opening tap number ( 42nd Street). Etcetera , etcetera, etcetera ( The King & I).
My biggest concern is, that as the executioner, the guillotine will work properly and that the blade will fall and chop . . . whoops, almost gave the secret away. And that as Jessup, the Blakeney's butler, I won't crash into. . . and yet another secret.
And now for a commercial break. Our logo say's "Do Not Reveal The Secret". I hope you'll come to see our show and discover for yourselves, the many secrets, twists and turns we have in store for you.
Today, before making my way to the theatre for our 5:15 PM call, I have the luxury of relaxing for a bit and showing my family some of our city's glorious sights. I brought my tux (for our gala opening night party) to the dressing room at the Minskoff last night, so that I can go directly to the theatre after our day of sightseeing.
Daniel asks "How do you feel Uncle Jim? Are you nervous?" I can't help but remember a lifetime of so many other opening nights and I'm feeling grateful for and a bit nostalgic about this life in the theatre. So many happy times, so many friends, some now gone but always with me in spirit, so many cities all over the world, in which I've had the opportunity to work and celebrate opening nights. Here are few OPENING NIGHT memories:
Opening Night in Atlanta of a summer stock tour of Hello, Dolly! dancing to "Close to You' with our star Betty Grable.
Opening Night of Do I Hear A Waltz? at Sardi's with Richard & Dorothy Rodgers, Steve Sondheim and Arthur Laurents.
Opening Night of Les Miz in Los Angeles. An enormous party in a soundstage on the back lot of 20th Century Fox. With copies of the classic book on everybody's table setting.
Opening Night of Via Galactica at the now-defunct restaurant under the theatre. The producer said the title of the show sounded like it might be and Italian show spoken in Italian, confusing prospective theatre goers and suggested to the playwright that they change the name of the show to " Up ! " (one of his favorite songs in the show). The playwright replied "I don't think so. It wouldn't look right on the marquee: 'Up Uris.' Television sets were tuned in for reviews at the party. They were all devastating. The name of the show didn't have to be changed. We closed a week later. True story.
Opening Night of Carousel at the Long Beach (California) CLO with guests Jan Clayton, John Raitt and Shirley Jones .
Opening Night of summer stock tour of Tovarich at the Dallas State Fair Music Hall, dancing cheek to cheek with star Ginger Rogers.
Opening Night of Ray Bradbury's The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California, with Jose Feliciano (composer/lyricist) playing his guitar and singing all of the songs from the show at the party in the outdoor plaza in front of the theatre.
Opening Night of Guys and Dolls tour in Hartford, with our Adelaide, Lorna Luft and sis Liza joining us to celebrate. And then the same tour in Tokyo with a pizza company (one of the sponsors of the show) feeding us pizza Japan style. Don't ask !!!
Opening Night of Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles. Party at the Masonic temple. Auditorium seats covered over to make a floor. The enormous auditorium chandelier hanging over our heads as I dined at a table with ("Hey everybody, my name is June") June Havoc, Cesar Romero and Valerie Harper.
Opening Night of Elaine Paige's American Stage Debut in Sunset Blvd. Party at Barbetta's with hundreds of people and 20 of Elaine's family and friends including Lord Lloyd Webber, all in from London, jet lagged and having a smashing time.
So many parties in almost every major city throughout the U.S.A. while on tour with Godspell, Camelot, The Boyfriend, J.C. Superstar, 42nd Street, Guys and Dolls.
And now, "Another Openin' , Another Show"