PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: A Catered Affair Altar Egos

By Harry Haun
18 Apr 2008

On opening night, he drew combustible applause — but not all nights, said Wopat. "Sometimes it get applause, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I walk off, and it's quiet. I think there are times when the audience feels I've slapped them a little bit.

"What I do is just keep refining what I'm doing. All I can do is try to stay inside the piece and inside of John's direction. He has given us a pretty nice set of perimeters of where to go and how to do this. For me, I find it's pretty clear direction. It doesn't vary a whole lot, and it depends on what everybody else does, a little bit, obviously. I'm working with Faith in that last scene quite a bit, but Faith and I have worked together for years. There's a depth of emotion that's hard to find in other people."

When he arrived on Broadway as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, there she was as the ever-lovin' Miss Adelaide. Six years earlier, they hopped a ride on Carousel in Washington, DC — he as Billy Bigelow, she as Carrie Pipperidge. This is their first time out as husband-and-wife, and the chemistry of their professional past shows.

As the embattled bride-to-be, Kritzer lets slip not a hint of what an unbridled comedienne she can be on the stage. Her Broadway debut — a stand-out bit as a sorority girl in Legally Blonde — is the yardstick on how to maximize mirth.

Yes, she wishes her character had some humor, "and she does. Janey has her moments, but she's a serious girl. She's a survival kind of chick. This is not a showy kind of role, and this is not that kind of show. I'm glad I pulled it off. I hope I continue to pull it off, and I'm just eternally grateful to be able to work in this show."

Foreshadowing this, the star-making turn that made people sit up and take notice of her was the manic spin she gave Fanny Brice in a Paper Mill Playhouse production of Funny Girl a few years back — but her most memorable moments were dramatic.

Gorgeously made up and begowned for the opening-night party, Kritzer resembled a Greek statue — probably, in all likelihood, a tragic one. An un-Funny Girl, for sure.

Cavenaugh seemed perfectly content with his status as the show's forgotten man. "Well, aren't most grooms?" he shot back. Actually, his role has grown from the show's try-out gig in San Diego. "After that run, we all assessed the show — what works and what doesn't, what needs to be improved, what needs to go or stay — and we all came to the conclusion that we needed to see more of Ralph, his relationship with Janey, with his parents. The event of the play is there's a wedding and how that affects everyone so we really needed to honor that and give voice to all that.

"I loved doing this. It has been a real joy from the get-go. We did a reading about a month before we started rehearsals for San Diego — and this was after I'd read the script. I was sitting there, thinking, 'This is something very special, and I need to be a part of it.' I was very moved by it, and I hope the audiences are nightly."

He had to travel to the West Coast to do it, but Cavenaugh finds himself right back where he was last season — at the Walter Kerr where he played a couple of characters in Grey Gardens. "I can't leave that theatre. I have an affinity for Dressing Room No. 6. It's the same dressing room I had before. I can't seem to leave it."

Bucchino wandered about the ballroom bedazzled and benumbed by his Broadway bow. "I can't even feel it," he admitted. "I'm too overwhelmed." After grabbing a few Instamatic shots of raucous revelers — among them: Doyle and his life-partner (civilian Robert Wilson), producer Jordan Roth and his (manager Richie Jackson), Fierstein and Raul Esparza — Bucchino retreated to quieter quarters to dispense some sage sound-bites, escaping the deafening party music.

Outside in the foyer leading into the vast ballroom, his pride was practically visible. "The show is in wonderful shape. I'm very proud of the show. I think it's just sorta coalesced into this beautiful, deep, rich show. If it were lasagna, it would be the second day where everything just sort of comes together. Flavors mingle. I'm Italian."

Would he want to come back for seconds? "Not necessarily," he confessed quickly, "only because this was such a special, magical little project. I didn't go seeking this. It came to me and found me, and it provided a way [for my writing to] interface with a Broadway show. As you may have noticed, this is not a traditional Broadway show so, if I were to do it again, it'd have to be a project that I have real feeling for."

One of the unusual aspects of his score is how it weaves in and out of the drama, without leaving room for applause. "I have to admit it was sorta shocking. At first, when it was like, 'You mean we don't get to do the ending of that song?' — because I don't come from a Broadway background. Even what little I know about Broadway is 'You have a big ending, and you just leave 'em with a big bump, and then they clap.' But, now, seeing how this works and understanding it makes me appreciate it.

"It's a little bit like a film. The very first thing that John Doyle said when we met with him was 'I'd like to direct this like a film on stage.' That was, I think, in the back of his mind, but he shifted his focus a bit and changed constantly — I mean, that's one of his strengths. He's constantly re-evaluating and improving and polishing and shaping something. But I think it still retains a lot of that cinematic quality, part of which is that it just flows. It moves along. I think that when we clap, in a way, it just pulls us out of it — the fact that you don't have applause moments keeps you in it."

He can thank Fierstein for the shot at Broadway. "A mutual friend gave him one of my CDs, called 'Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino.' I have some illustrious singers singing, with me playing piano — Art Garfunkel, Judy Collins (who is here tonight), Liza Minnelli, Michael Feinstein, Kristin Chenoweth, among others. When Harvey heard the CD and heard something inherently theatrical in the writing of it, he called me up. I'd done a little theatre, but I had done nothing on this scale."

Before making the Broadway leap, Bucchino went to fellow tunesmith Stephen Schwartz for advice. "John asked me if I thought he should do it," recalled Schwartz. "I was, like, 'Yeah! Do that!' If it weren't for John, there wouldn't be Wicked. It was on a trip with John that I first heard about 'Wicked.' When Harvey talked to John about A Catered Affair, I was the one who said, 'Oh, yes, you should do it.' We traded shows."

First-nighters included Sheila MacRae (whose daughter, Heather, plays a sunny caterer and a gossipy neighbor in the show), Glenn Close (a close friend of producer Daryl Roth), Bernadette Peters, Karen Akers (Oak Room-bound May 13), Edie Falco (Broadway-bound in January in a new, but unnamed, play) with Side Man co-star Kevin Geer, Matthew Broderick (mugging it up for the cameras with Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman), Joan Rivers, Cafe Carlyle headliner Christopher Cross, Regis and Kathie Lee (they didn't arrive together, but they sat together at the party), B.D. Wong, Brian Stokes Mitchell and the Mrs., Come Back, Little Sheba's S. Epatha Merkerson, "Saturday Night Live" star Rachel Dratch, reality TV star Countess LuAnn de Lesseps (displaying a real showbiz savvy-ness despite her newness to the scene), sought-after music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell (who music-supervised Doyle's Company, snagging a Drama Desk for her orchestrations; her next gig is Little House on the Prairie, the musical, at the Guthrie), Wayman Wong, set designer David Rockwell, Roger Rees and Jersey Boys co-author Rick Elice, Suzanne Vega and Dan Chayefsky, who was born while his dad was filming his Oscar-winning "Marty," soon — too — to be a major Broadway musical, composed by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams and starring John C. Reilly. Television's "poet of the pavement" now has composers.