At the top of [title of show] on its opening night July 17, the oft-overlooked Larry Pressgrove was welcomed to the Lyceum stage with wildly sustained applause.
And he was the keyboardist. You can imagine how crazy the place went when the cast showed up — such tumult! — just as you can imagine how at the curtain call there wasn't a dry eye on that stage, keyboardist included and counting the director-choreographer, Michael Berresse, who was brought up from the audience in tears.
Okay, it was a passionately partisan house, full of friends, fans and family — plus a newly activated gaggle of Internet groupies who've kept the decibel level sky-high since the first preview — so perhaps it was easy for Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell and Jeff Bowen and Heidi Blickenstaff just to stand there in their Mickey & Judy & Mickey & Judy fashion and put on "a little show" of their own making.
This is the little show that could — and did. Bell, who wrote the book, and Bowen, who wrote the songs, have come a long way (not to put too fine a point on it, but they've come the distance). Four years ago, they first sat down in Bell's living room — on that brown couch from the Salvation Army — and began writing themselves a show, documenting in amusingly minute detail what you go through when you do that. Back then, just to get their creative engines to turn over, they were doing it as their entry for the annual New York Theatre Festival — but, clearly, things got wildly out of hand because here they are now in the oldest theatre on Broadway, facing a thunderously appreciative audience who was just as misty and mystified as they are.
|photos by Aubrey Reuben|
Eventually, Bowen and Bell stepped forth to say a few words to the newly converted. "I really don't know what to say," admitted Bell, once he had choked back enough tears for him to say anything, "but, if anybody ever asks you 'Have you ever watched somebody see their dream come true in real time?,' you can actually say 'Yeah.'" On both sides of the footlights, an emotional time was had by all, and it carried the crowd to the after-party at a new club, The Hudson Terrace (as in Hudson River), waaay across West 46th St. They arrived in dribs and drabs, by foot or on clouds.
The nightclub came with two rooms at the top, and both were cramped to capacity — on a pretty muggy evening. Somehow, pizza didn't seem like a good idea.
The freshly minted new-stars-on-the-block arrived — one surmised, via a slow boat to China — one hour and 45 minutes after the curtain fall TSCST (True Stars' Central Standard Time). Family rated first over the panting press. (Can you imagine?)
They were still wearing the magic of the night — glowing with it, in fact, as opposed to glistening like the rest of us were from the humidity — and they lit up the room.
Yep, said Blickenstaff, that was no acting trick: "Those were real tears. It hits me in a very real way because this is what I've dreamed about since I was a very little girl. I've been lucky enough to be on Broadway and I've played wonderful parts, but this show is something very sacred and special to me so I'm very emotional about it."
In fact, Blickenstaff was the first to break down emotionally at the final curtain. "I'm always the first to crack. I'm such a baby — but I think we're all very overwhelmed by the response. We love it that people are loving it, and we will forever be stunned by that — that what we have loved other people are enjoying — and that is amazing.
"I'm just trying to breathe and not forget it. I'm not a kid. I've been working hard in this business for a long time so I appreciate this very much. I'm just trying to take it all in and store it in my head forever because I may not get another moment like it."
Bowen seemed the most contained at the curtain call, but that was just an act. "Oh, I was crying there toward the end," he was quite quick to confess. "Usually, I let it go once the curtain comes down. I try to stand in character until then. Then I let go. I was a mess three nights ago. We have different nights all the time. It'll hit us in different ways on different nights. You never know who's going to tip over.
"It was nice to know that this milestone was coming. We have just enjoyed the process. We're really conscious about taking every moment and making it awesome and feeling good about it. The thing I'm happiest about is that I really feel that I have felt all the goodness up to here. Like, none of it has passed by. I'm savoring it all."
|photo by Aubrey Reuben|
Like Bowen, Blackwell is making her Broadway debut — and it was pretty nerve-wracking backstage before The Big Leap. "We were very nervous," she admitted. "We kept trying to talk each other down and say, 'Tonight let's just communicate with each other. Let us enjoy. Let's try to tell the story. Let's try not to spazz out, as one is wont to do on an occasion such as this. So at the beginning of the play we were a little spastic, but we calmed down a little bit and had a wonderful time."
The show is coming at a good time for Blackwell, who, like the Susan she plays in the show, was preparing to leave showbiz for the real world and star in "Corporate Whore." Bowen and Bell rescued her from that. "They sure did. I was a little baby kitten. They just picked me up by the scruff of the neck and just lifted me out of the corporate experience." Not that she has completely said goodbye to her newly modified nine-to five. "Now, I work 30 hours a week at my day job. It's a little more flexible and a little less frantic. In both places, I work with people I love, so it's great."
|photos by Aubrey Reuben|
A Broadway virgin until he gave it to The Grinch last Christmas, Bell wants partial credit for a just-slightly-tarnished Main Stem debut. "That was astounding, but this is my first time with something I wrote. To be on Broadway is one thing. To be on Broadway with your best friends, doing something you believe in so much and want to share, is something else. I couldn't be prouder. It's been amazing every night." Of course, since their two sold-out gigs Off-Broadway at the Vineyard, he and Bowen have worked overtime (temp work permitting) to develop and nurture a following. "We've worked two years cultivating, connecting, answering fan mail, Then, when people whose work we respect come see us — like Penny Fuller," he trumpeted abruptly, fleeing to the arms of the actress, ending the interview in mid-sentence.
The party was packed with celebs: Blaine Trump, recent Tony contender S. Epatha Merkerson, Ragtime composer Stephen Flaherty with Judy Gold, Legally Blonde director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, the much-Tonyed Terrence McNally (who wrote rhapsodic liner notes for the [title of show] CD), Harry Bouvy (back from the Vegas Spamalot), T. Scott Cunningham, Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman, In the Heights creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Brigadoon director-choreographer Rob Ashford ("We have all our ensemble dancers cast, and we start in September"), Brian Stokes Mitchell, Il Divo's David Miller, Les Miz/A Tale of Two Cites' Aaron Lazar (Berresse's bro in Light in the Piazza and bursting with pride for him), Joan Rivers (who was Office-Temping a generation or so before the [title of show] foursome), Jessica Molaskey (done with Sunday in the Park with George and readying for the Café Carlyle with hubby, guitarist John Pizzarelli, September through November), They Might Be Giants bandsman John Flansburgh, NY1 critic Roma Torre first-nighting-it for a change, Geoffrey Nauffts, late of Cry-Baby Christopher J. Hanke, Birdland impresario Jim Caruso, High Fidelity composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Amanda Green (whose dad, Adolph, and godmother, Betty Comden, are lauded in the show for their On the Town breakthrough).
A number of Names who are dropped in the show — Betty Buckley and John Cameron Mitchell, among them — showed up to check it out and stayed to love it.
Cheyenne Jackson arrived late (soul intact) from Damn Yankees, having caught [title of show] earlier. His contract with Xanadu is up in January — about the time Kelli O'Hara's expires with South Pacific — and he said there has been serious talk of teaming them in Jan Warner's musical version of an Arnold Weinstein-John Wulp play, The Red Eye of Love, to be directed by Ted Sperling and designed by Willa Kim. Sportingly, considering that Bowen & Bell did the early and unused first draft of Nine to Five, producers invited a whole contingent from that show, which is now rehearsing for its upcoming Ahmanson opening — Megan Hilty, Stephanie J. Block and Ann Harada. Hilty was with her longtime main-squeeze Steve Kazee; in fact, they caught the show on opening night of the first Vineyard engagement at the start of their relationship.
Kazee will complete the Craig Bierko-Jan Maxwell triangle in To Be Or Not To Be, which director Casey Nicholaw is installing in the Biltmore this fall. Nicholaw was in attendance, as was his scripter for The Drowsy Chaperone and the forthcoming Minsky's, Bob Martin (a.k.a. "Man in Chair").
Harada hails originally from Avenue Q, which was represented by Barrett Foa, Heather Hawkins (wife of [title of show] co-producer Roy Miller), Kate Monster (Carey Anderson) and Princeton (Howie Michael Smith). Avenue Q's Tony-winning scripter Jeff Whitty was taking a break from writing the musical book for Tales of the City to party and was particularly pleased to be in attendance: "Of all shows, being at the opening of this is special." He practically swooned on learning he was in the same room with Marian Seldes. "They should to find a way of preserving Marian Seldes, as she is, for all eternity. She is so divine."
Character actress Mary Stout (Beauty and the Beast, Jane Eyre), who was struck by a runaway Sabrett hot-dog cart a few years ago and is referenced for that fact in the show, discovered on leaving the party a functioning one outside the club. It was marked The Mary Stout Honorary Cart. Forgiving soul that she is, and flattered, she partook.