Stars Appear to Applaud the Centennial of Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre

By Robert Simonson
29 May 2012

Harvey Fierstein
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Fierstein recalled first visiting the theatre in the early '70s, when it was still a television studio hosting talk shows. He was far from the only former Hayes star to revisit the stage on May 24. A parade of nearly two dozen creatives who have called the theatre a temporary home in the last 30 years stepped up to the podium to offer remarks and remembrances.

Playwright Alfred Uhry and actresses Dana Ivey and Jessica Hecht reminisced about putting on The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Hecht and Ivey performed a short segment from the first scene of the play. Steve Guttenberg recalled stepping into the production of Craig Lucas' Prelude to a Kiss. Also representing the cast of Kiss was actress Debra Monk, whose first Broadway play it was. Monk recollected co-star Barnard Hughes standing in the middle of the Hayes stage one afternoon looking out at the house and rhetorically asking, "Aren't we lucky?"

Playwright-composer Rupert Holmes recalled the experience of staging his one-man play about George Burns, Say Goodnight, Gracie, and how he liked to imaging that Burns, who lived a long life, probably visited the theatre where, years later, his life was depicted. Jay Johnson, the ventriloquist and star of Jay Johnson: The Two and Only, told of his experience seeing what he came to regard as a theatre ghost during one performance. (No one believed him.) "The theatre's exactly how I remembered it, except the seats were blue, and now they're red — and filled," he quipped. "It's hard to believe this building is 100 years old. Until you go down and flush the toilets. Then you know."

Debra Monk
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Jonathan Hadary, a star of two long-running Hayes shows, Gemini and Torch Song, recalled an earlier event at the theatre, when the name was changed from Little Theatre to Helen Hayes. Hayes herself was at the event. "She said," recalled Hadary, "that she hadn't shed any tears when the Helen Hayes theatre was torn down. But she added that she had been taught that tears were for the stage and the bathroom. And she had shed many tears in the bathroom."

Alison Fraser talked about her career-making turn in the musical Romance/Romance. Mandy Patinkin remembered bringing his solo show Dress Casual to the theatre. Sarah Jones, in her remarks, revived two characters from her solo show Bridge and Tunnel. Kevin Chamberlin recalled the nerve-wracking experience of, as a closeted gay young man, seeing Torch Song in the theatre with his mother. Years later he appeared in drag on its stage as one of the stars of Dirty Blonde. "I'd come a long way," he laughed.

Appearing last were the bookwriter and three of the stars of the musical Xanadu: Douglas Carter Beane, Jackie Hoffman, Mary Testa and Kerry Butler.

Actors being actors — always looking for work — more than a couple of the speakers called out from the stage to Markinson. "I'd love to come back!" they said.

Second Stage Theatre, the nonprofit Off-Broadway company devoted to contemporary American theatre, continues raising money toward making the Hayes its Broadway home; it will also continue producing at its two Off-Broadway venues. Second Stage did not have a presence on stage at the Hayes centennial event, which was, after all, a chance to look backward before moving forward.