Countdown to Curtain:
Talking with BILL LIEBERMAN, Royale Theatre House Manager
With so much to be done organizing the creative aspects of a Broadway show, it's easy to forget that people are also needed to supervise the basic running of a theatre -- especially on opening night. That's where house managers come in, and that's where Bill Lieberman, house manager of the Royale Theatre, has come in for more than 20 years.
"My job is three-fold," Lieberman told Playbill On-Line. "I'm a supervisory person of the staff working in the theatre (box office, ticket takers, porters, ushers, cleaners, some stagehands); I prepare payrolls for staff and work as liaison between Shubert Organization and the management of the show. Also, I also act as representative of the customers. When they say, `I want to talk to the manager...that's me.'" People always wanna talk to me; they don't like their seats, they're too hot, too cold, they want to get a message backstage. Yet in all the years I've worked, I've almost never gotten complaints about the staff."
Though Lieberman always hopes a show will be a success (just like the cast, he's unemployed if a show fails), he does admit to being "on the fringe" of a musical more than being truly a part of it. "My duties are always the same; the interaction with the creative forces of any show. don't get nervous on opening nights. Before I had this job, I was general manager/associate producer on a couple of shows -- where you get nervous every night. Here it's much less direct. Also, I've made it a practice not to give my opinion on a production unless it's asked for. If it is, I give it fully and honestly. The last show we had, Dream, my opinion was solicited often and I gave it often. Sometimes they took my advice."
Continued Lieberman, "Being in the back of the house for 20 years gives you a perspective. I can assess the general energy level of an audience. I rarely listen to an audience when they laugh or applaud. I look at an audience. That tells me a lot. Sometimes a few people make a lot of noise which leads people to think the whole audience is having a great time. I look at where their hands are when they're clapping. Are they loving it or just being polite?" Which leads to the natural next question about Triumph -- where are the customers' hands? Answers Lieberman, "In the years I've worked at the Royale, we've had five or six musicals. The response from the audience on this show [Triumph] has been better than all the others, except for Joseph...And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Triumph is an unusual piece; there's a lot of subtlety and wit and heart in the show. It's a stylized and stylish piece of work -- and I'm a pretty tough critic. The audience does respond with a lot of energy. Well, last night the audience was awfully quiet -- but that happens. We thought maybe it was the hot weather or the Jewish holidays. The director was muttering in the back. You always try to come up with a reason, but sometimes it just happens. Many times producers will say, `why was business so off today?' It's an unanswerable question. My favorite response over the years has been, `There's a dance in Hohokus, New Jersey.'"
Lieberman does say he knows Triumph's creators are reworking the opening "so the audience learns it's a funnier show earlier." [Earlier in the day, Playbill On-Line talked to orchestrator Bruce Coughlin, who was working on a new, more comedic overture to the show.]
Amazingly enough, for all his years in the business, Lieberman has no `war stories' to tell: "No heart attacks, no fires. I've been real lucky," he said. "I've never had a real emergency, never had to stop a show, ken a'hura" he adds in Yiddish.