How Theatre People Weathered Hurricane Sandy; Wine! Food! Friends! Kids! Pets!
By Kenneth Jones
Playbill.com reached out to housebound theatre people in New York City and surrounding states to ask what they were doing Oct. 29-30 as Hurricane Sandy lashed the area. Here's what we learned at the time.
Among the 375,000 people ordered out of flood zones near water, where storm surge is expected to be high, are Tony Award-nominated actor Stephen Kunken (Enron), his director wife Jenn Thompson (TACT's Lost in Yonkers, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale) and their daughter Naomi, who live in Red Hook, Brooklyn. They said that they removed all lightweight objects from their patio and placed sandbags around their doors and windows. Their apartment is on the ground floor, within a mile of New York Harbour. The Kunken-Thompson family has retreated with their pets deeper into Brooklyn to stay with actor friends Mark Lotito (Jersey Boys) and Valerie Wright (Elf) and their kids. "The kids are 'picnicking' on the floor," Thompson said. Update: The Kunken-Thompsons learned late Monday that their home's lower level suffered serious flooding.
Librettist and Tony-nominated actor Hunter Foster (Little Shop of Horrors, Urinetown, The Hollow) and his actress wife Jennifer Cody "are sitting inside all day, probably watching 'Downton Abbey' — worried that Netflix [streaming] might get overloaded!," Foster said. "She is making soup and dog biscuits, and we have plenty of wine! And I'll maybe work a little on some lines for Inner Voices. If the lights go out, we may work on a little hand-to-hand combat to the death."
Tony Award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; "GCB"; "Pushing Daisies") confessed, "I live by the water. I just ran out, trying to hurry to get one last thing. I turned the corner and felt lift-off. I decided I didn't want to fly away, so I came back home. I can live without trashbags."
Stafford Arima, director of Off-Broadway Carrie and Altar Boyz, said that rehearsals for his next project, the Off-Broadway rock musical Bare, were canceled Monday. "So I am using this time to catch up on some pre-tech paperwork as we begin technical rehearsals at New World Stages in one week." Of his disaster readiness, he said, "Perhaps I'm in denial, but I only semi-prepped for the worst-case scenario. I do have some canned goods, water and non-perishables, but I didn't go into a frenzy and line-up at a grocery store with a basket filled with Chef Boyardee. If we lose power in the city, I have fully charged my iPod so I can use this time to listen to a couple of new albums, including Streisand's 'Release Me.' So many of my friends and colleagues who live in far-more perilous areas surrounding Manhattan have more to be concerned than I do; my prayers go out to them and to every one who will be up against Mother Nature."
Mary-Mitchell Campbell, the Drama Desk Award-winning orchestrator (Company) and busy music supervisor (The Addams Family), whose coming Broadway project is Pump Boys and Dinettes, said that she is at her apartment doing paperwork for her not-for-profit ASTEP/Artists Striving to End Poverty. "I'm prepping for some concerts coming up, doing some ASTEP work, and hopefully catching up on a little sleep," she explained. "As long as I have internet, I can be working. I am cuddled up with my lovely dog Coleman on the Upper West Side. We have supplies and are ready!"
Actress Marya Grandy found herself at loose ends Sunday night when the evening performance of her show, Closer Than Ever by York Theatre Company, was canceled due to weather. "Instead of doing a Sunday night show, I had a glass of wine and many laughs with my divine co-star Anika Larsen. After that, I headed home to the Lower East Side, immediately changed into sweatpants, and I made a salad the size of a small satellite (my husband refers to it as a 'GrandyBowl'). To cap off the evening, I cozied up with my laptop and HBO Go. [On Monday]: see above, unless I lose power, in which case I will go to my friends' apartment, and, well...see above."
Natalie Charle Ellis, of Off-Broadway's Forbidden Broadway, said, "My mom flew in to see my show Saturday morning, and was planning on leaving this morning. Not only did she not get to see my show [Sunday] night, Ms. Sandy has trapped her here. So, yesterday, just like the millions in Manhattan, we stood in the massive lines with screaming children, women having their husbands save their spot in line, then arriving with an overflowing basket (I was furious!), and crazy people stealing flashlights right out of our hands. Luckily, we were able to buy water, vodka, flashlights, beer, batteries, wine, random canned goods that were left over from the chaotic masses and, of course, tequila. We're putting together our Ikea furniture while listening to the all-consuming reports of Frankenstorm…"
Actress Lauren Molina, of the just-closed Marry Me a Little, said, "I'm staying home with my boyfriend, Rob Morrison. He's in Avenue Q, so his shows were canceled. Sunday night we began our 'staycation' by making 'Dark & Frankenstormies' — a drink of ginger beer, dark rum and lime. Then I cooked a huge dinner. Unfortunately, the hurricane forced us to cancel our big Skivvies' Single Release Concert: Hardbody Hoedown at The Cutting Room [Monday night]. I was really looking forward to it, but we've got another show there Nov. 19, which will have to be twice as big."
When Playbill reached out separately to producer Hal Luftig and director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, it turns out they were on really high ground — Chicago. "I am weathering the storm in Chicago where Kinky Boots completes its out of town tryout on Sunday [Nov. 4]," Luftig said. Mitchell added, "I'm in a safe and kinky place, Chicago! Out of town tryout with Kinky Boots! We'll show Sandy a thing or two!"
Kathy Voytko (Evita for Hal Prince's last national tour and a Next to Normal standby on Broadway), who is married to actor John Cudia (The Phantom of the Opera), told Playbill.com, "We live 15 miles west of midtown Manhattan in New Jersey, and the saddest part of our hurricane prep was taking down the Halloween decorations in our yard. My three-year-old was disappointed that the 'spooky cemetery' had to come inside. Styrofoam headstones, plastic hands and vampire heads are no match for these winds. Our last run to Costco has us stocked with copious amounts of coffee, some canned goods, batteries, and an enormous tub of animal crackers. You know, the essentials."
Marty Cooper, a Broadway usher whose home-base theatre is the Shubert, where Matilda will play starting in 2013, is laying low in his home in Sunnyside, Queens. He said, "Sunday, the eve of the great storm, we were to have a matinee and an evening show [of The Performers, where he is subbing]. The evening was canceled as the mayor shut down the transit system! With that, I vowed not to stick my head outside until things subside. My wife, fortunately, is recently retired, so we could stay safely indoors. I hope that my community of friends and co-workers could do the same! If things are back up Tuesday, I will be back at work. Until then, stay safe and warm, guys!"
Producer Tom Kirdahy (Ragtime, Master Class) and his playwright husband Terrence McNally are "going to catch up on our TV watching," Kirdahy said. Monday rehearsals for McNally's play Golden Age at Manhattan Theatre Club were canceled. "It's my great shame to say we've never seen 'Downton Abbey,' so we've got a marathon planned — seasons one and two on DVD. There's a lot of ice cream in the freezer and our dog will be cuddled up between us."
Ann Harada, an original cast member of Avenue Q who has appeared on "Smash" and will be in Broadway's coming Cinderella, said, "I am holed up on the Upper West Side with husband, son and parents. Went out just now to see what was open. Returned with Dunkin Donuts. As my son Elvis said last night, 'We've got a LOT of carbohydrates for the hurricane.' Stay safe!"
Actor Will Rogers (NYSF's As You Like It) has a rain-day off from rehearsal of McNally's Golden Age. He said, "I'm watching the images on NY1 of the river already swelling. I'm wondering if I'm as prepared as I should be — though maps I've seen have my area of Astoria in a relatively safe zone. Me and my roommates are planning on staying in and watching movies, and catching up on sleep and reading. I bought PB & J fixings, a flashlight and bottled water. That's enough, right? Hoping gas and power stay on so I can make a giant spaghetti dinner tonight."
Enid Graham, the Tony nominee of Honour who recently joined the cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, is with actor-husband Robert Sella (Side Man, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and their three sons, in upper Manhattan. She said, "I am home with my family in Washington Heights — luckily the highest natural point in Manhattan! —with a roast in the crock pot, [and we're] decorating wizard hats for little-boy Halloween costumes. We went to a wedding last night for a friend from Juilliard on the lower east side, and took the last or almost the last subway home. Our poor friends had to evacuate their Red Hook apartment on their wedding day, bring their dog to the ceremony and float around (hopefully not literally!) at friends' houses until they can begin their delayed honeymoon…."
Tony nominee Danny Burstein, of Broadway's Golden Boy this fall and Talley's Folly come spring, is with his Tony-nominated actress wife, Rebecca Luker (Show Boat, The Music Man, Death Takes a Holiday, 54 Below). He said, "Rebecca and I will be in New York City in our apartment, which, thankfully, isn't in the evacuation zone. We'll be staring out the window, crossing our fingers and watching NY1 and the Weather Channel all day. It's Monday morning, as I write this, and they say the worst of the storm is coming late this afternoon into the evening. We hope all New Yorkers remain safe, and that Sandy is here and gone quickly. Unlike Cats.."
Roger DeWitt, an actor who appeared in Off-Broadway's Adding Machine musical and The Phantom of the Opera, said, "I am hunkered down in the West Village with my husband and our Norwich Terrier Buster. We have food, water, wine and cocktails. Should we lose power, I have downloaded three movies to the iPad and candles to read by. Glad we are all together."
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, of Broadway's A Little Night Music, is currently in windswept Connecticut. He said, "Fortunately, I am working at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. Unfortunately, the hurricane is supposed to hit really hard here and we could possibly lose power for a week. So we have been stocking up on food, water, candles, gas for our cars, etc. Every surrounding store for miles is sold out of D batteries, so I guess our house flashlight is out of the question. Whoops. All of the water for the town is on an electrical pump, so if we lose power, we don't have running water. I can't imagine. Thank goodness we have the next two days off, and even without power in Connecticut, the Opera House has a generator, so Something's Afoot will continue on with one person in the audience, or 398."
Playwright Sean Grennan (Making God Laugh) and his actress wife Kathy Santen (Broadway's Wicked) are staying put in their apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. He said, "We're hanging here. I think the real story is that Kathy has had an emergency kit ready for years. The women at Wicked were asking about it, and it quickly became clear that she is the authority. The kit has water, food (from our pre-vegetarian times — tuna, Vienna sausages, Cliff bars and more), money, flashlights, batteries, transistor radio, a file of important papers, a 'to grab' list if we have to leave, first aid kit and more."
Eric Schaeffer, artistic director of the Tony Award-honored Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, was feeling the storm in the DC area on Monday afternoon. "Our wind has really kicked in," he said. "The lights just flashed here in DC, so Sandy is starting to bear down. I went into the theatre this morning for some conference calls but am back home, hunkered down with a stocked bar, a reading-pile of scripts and a fire. So it's actually looking to be a productive day as long as no trees fall down on my roof. And my neighbor and I are making hourly outdoor trips to the storm drain to clear the leaves so we don't get flooded. Rainy days and Mondays..."
Scott M. Ellis, company manager and associate general manager of Broadway's Elf, said, "Today was supposed to be our first day on stage with the cast of Elf over at the Hirschfeld Theatre, but I guess Sandy felt otherwise. I've made enough turkey chili and jalapeño cheese cornbread to get me through to next week, and have turned my home into a temporary-housing shelter. My good friend Bill Gregory from San Francisco is staying with me, as his plans to attend a Baltimore conference have been derailed."
Erica Lynn Schwartz, director of development for MCC Theater, said, "My husband Matt and I are nestled down in our little apartment on the Upper West Side. Thankfully, Equinox gym was open this morning so I got a workout in. Between the laptop and the iPad, we are both checking in with our offices regularly — which, so far, has mostly consisted of moving meetings to later in the week. The wind is certainly howling more and more. I've been taking advantage of the quiet day by finally getting around to writing the thank-you notes from our wedding and flexing my Vitamix-recipe-making muscles for as long as we have power. And for when the power goes — I have a pile of scripts to read that I took from the office on Friday!"
Tony-nominated actress Celia Keenan-Bolger (Spelling Bee, Peter and the Starcatcher), said, "My husband John Ellison Conlee has been in tech for the new musical Murder Ballad at MTC and we've barely gotten to see each other these past weeks. We are both so excited to spend the day together in our apartment. I think we are going to watch Mike Birbiglia's movie 'Sleepwalk With Me,' and then make some calls to voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania for President Obama. Last year we spent Hurricane Irene upstate with our friends Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie. We discovered that cocktail hour really helps you get through a storm, so there will probably be some of that as well. I'm grateful for a day like this but I also realize this storm is a big deal and I hope it doesn't cause too much damage or pain."
Actor Andrew Keenan-Bolger, "Crutchie" of Broadway's Newsies, said, "I'm spending my free time on BarackObama.com using the dashboard to make calls to Ohio and Pennsylvania, gathering information and reminding people to vote on Nov. 6."
Actor Joel Hatch of Broadway's current Annie and Billy Elliot, said that he and his actress wife Carol Kuykendall "are getting together with a group of people in our building who are dancers or former dancers in the business. We shared hurricane Irene with the same group and played board games well into the night. One member of the group is about to have a baby, so it should be a very interesting evening."
Actress Nikka Graff Lanzarone, of Broadway's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Paper Mill Playhouse's A Chorus Line, said, "The hurricane actually coincided with my post-show nesting tendencies. I really have to do that deep-clean that my apartment so desperately deserves. Maybe some laundry! Otherwise, I'm gonna hang with my cat and my neighbors, hope the power doesn't go out, maybe cook a little (okay, microwave the frozen foods), and be grateful for the chance to rest my body. There are copious amounts of cheese and wine, a well-stocked Netflix queue, many episodes of 'This American Life' and a few back issues of Vogue — and batteries, even though I realized I don't have any battery-operated devices."
Heather Parcells, of Broadway's Wonderland and A Chorus Line, said, "Of course I couldn't sleep late. Michael Minarik of Rock of Ages and I live four blocks from each other and we decided to do a Rock of Ages/A Chorus Line mash-up performance for the mouse that lives in my apartment for 'Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Sandy.' We actually decided to brave the Frankenstorm of Death and walk in Riverside Park. We successfully crossed the police line at the entrance and about 500 yards in, the law stopped us and we ran for our lives. So, we opted for a new tea place and some nice beet juice and a pound of dried mango. We thought we had successfully wasted enough time of the day until we arrived back at my apartment to watch TV and realized it wasn't even 11:30. As for the rest of the day, we will wonder if the tree across the street from my brownstone that is trapped in scaffolding will give way and fall on my building. It creaks, therefore it will falter…"
Anne L. Nathan, who plays the passionate Czech mama in Broadway's Once, said, "With the exception of the 'stir crazy' break I'm taking right now to visit with my friend Merri Sugarman, at her place a few blocks away, I will be hunkering down at my apartment, solo. This will be my day: couch, coffee, changing to wine in the evening, 'Nashville,' a possible re-reading of 'The Agony and the Ecstasy,' learning a new song on my new ukulele and...that is it. Last night I had Fig Newtons, but that turned out to be a terrible idea as I ate half the box."
J. Elaine Marcos of Annie, said, "We actually have two days off of Annie because our schedule is switching, so I just plan on napping and resting. I did want to go upstate and enjoy a day apple-picking or wine-tasting, but it's a home day. It's not often that I get to spend all day napping because I don't often let myself do that, but on snow days or hurricane days, I don't feel bad if I do! I did do a couple yoga stretches just because moving from the bed to the couch requires some physical activity."
Ruth E. Sternberg, production executive at The Public Theater, and her talent-agent partner Liz Rosier, are sticking to their home in Yonkers, just north of Manhattan. Sternberg said, "Liz and I and our dog Scout are happily hunkered down. So far so good. We've been checking on our elderly neighbors, the Diet Coke stock is ample for a week or so. The house is very clean, laundry done and Liz's hair blown dry — attempting to do chores that require power first. We are safe and grateful!"
Actor Matt Doyle, of Broadway's War Horse, Bye Bye Birdie, Spring Awakening, is riding out the storm at his boyfriend's apartment. "His shows were canceled and the rehearsals for the workshop I'm working on are canceled, as well," Doyle said. "So far we've watched 'Hocus Pocus' and 'Breakfast Club.' We're making mimosas and of course, hurricanes. Some of his closest friends are over, as well. We walked down to the water earlier. It was already pretty rough. Now it's time to snuggle up with the dogs and stay safe inside for the night."
Actress Allyson Carr Arena, of Mamma Mia!, is "hanging out with friends from the cast." She said, "I'm crashing with Lauren Sambataro and we are drinking wine and painting her apartment. Mark Dancewicz and his dog are also here as we prepare to paint, workout and then carve pumpkins."
Actress Hannah Elless, of Broadway's Godspell and Off-Broadway's The Other Josh Cohen, said, "Monday is my normal day off and when I usually do my grocery shopping anyway. It's worth noting that I'm not from the East Coast, so Sandy is my very first hurricane. I guess New York beat me to the stores. Wish me luck! They're aren't a lot of recipes involving both Cheez-Its and chocolate chips. Happy Hurrication!"
Actress Courtney Reed, of Broadway's In the Heights, said, "Sandy gave me an extra day to memorize my sides! So I'm being a good girl. Just me, my PJ's, hot tea, Hello Kitty and my sides before chillin' with my roomie and neighbors while they cook baked ziti and watch a horror flick. I'm not mad about it."
Matt Blank, Michael Gioia and Adam Hetrick contributed reporting.
(Kenneth Jones is holed up with his actor-playwright partner Jeff Talbott and their cat in their Sunnyside, Queens, apartment. The local Key Food nearby looked like the helicopter scene from Miss Saigon on Sunday night. No bread left on the shelves. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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