The Booth Theatre — and Broadway itself — had never seen anything like it. The morning of Sept. 28, the Phantom of the Opera sat across the aisle from the denizens of Urinetown, who were sandwiched between Brooke Shields and the heroin-addicted boys and girls of the Kit Kat Klub and the knives and forks of Beauty and the Beast.
By 10:30 AM, cast members from every show currently on Broadway (and a few up-and-comers like The Women) gathered in the Booth before being herded toward Duffy Square for the taping of the new "I Love New York Theatre" commercial, a bit of Broadway cheerleading set to the tune of "New York, New York." The mass gathering is meant to re-invite America and the world to a glittering, tough industry bruised at the box office by the Sept. 11 tragedy.
The companies came in all sizes, from the large, fully-costumed and coiffeured The Phantom of the Opera (with 24 actors present) to Dance of Death (who sent two members of its five-person cast; veteran trouper Anne Pitoniak, of the Strindberg play, arrived, but decided she wouldn't be able to stand for hours outside while they shot the unique commercial).
Tony Award-nominated choreographer Jerry Mitchell demonstrated the basic choreography in the theatre, just eight steps, "a big finale like Broadway Bares," Mitchell's fleshy annual benefit show, "but we'll keep our costumes on," he said. The casts let out a disappointed "Aawww!"
One by one, shows were ordered out of the Booth, to congregate on the Duffy Square Island, where they would be filmed with Times Square behind them. Company after company filed out, until only The Producers, 42nd Street, The Lion King and other luminaries were left to fill in what would be the front row of the outdoor group shot. The Producers took front-and-center with Tony- winner Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick most prominent. Around them were Betty Buckley, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, Paul Rudd, Randy Graff, Norm Lewis and Glenn Close, with Michael Arnold and the "We're in the Money" chorines of 42nd Street, side-by-side with Lion King's Rafiki, young Simba, young Nala and a flock of white-bird puppeteers.
Before filming with mutiple cameras and two booms, the Broadway companies worked through the choreography as Mitchell shouted instructions: "Sunshine, Sunshine!" (meaning reach for the sky) and "Times Square" (point to the Square with hip cocked, ala Saturday Night Fever) through a bullhorn. He continued to give the companies commands as they moved to a pre-recorded version of the John Kander-Fred Ebb classic, "New York, New York," which included a solo spot by Tony winner Bernadette Peters.
After four taped run-throughs, a brief break for water and warm up time allowed the casts to mingle with each other and, for those in Lion King and Rocky Horror's corsets and 42nd Street's moneyed bikinis, to put on some clothes. The temperature was in the fifties.
As time and tapings went on, fruit platters were passed around to performers. The long and short versions of the commercial were taped over and over while Broadway awaited the afternoon arrival of a very special guest.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who spoke out immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, urging New Yorkers and tourists to "come here and spend money; go to a restaurant, see a show," was expected to deliver one line of "New York, New York": "It's up to you." By 2:30 PM, he had not arrived and his appearance in the commercial was called off.
Producers, press agents and other industry folk were in attendance on the clear, cool day. Producers Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams were there to support their shows, which include The Music Man and Noises Off. Waxman told Playbill On-Line: "We were standing at the Booth Theatre, and we all burst into tears. There was every show in every costume — you'd see Beauty and the Beast next to Hedda Gabler. We need to all be responsible in making this industry work. To this day — and I've been in theatre for more than 15 years — every time that curtain rises and you hear the voice on the stage my hair stands on end and I get teary-eyed."
Pete Sanders, a veteran Broadway press agent was in Times Square for the taping, which coincided with the raising of the new marquee for the incoming musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, which he represents, at the Marquis Theatre. He saw a sea of performers, musicians, stage hands and colleagues.
"It was sort of awesome to see everyone there, from stars to chorus and ensemble people," Sanders said. "It was very moving, just symbolic about how everyone's working together. Everyone being there with one purpose in mind was very touching. It just proved once again that Broadway is a genuine family."