One Cat's Diary: Stephen Mo Hanan Offer a Cats Chronicle

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Day 40: September 23, first preview

More changes in Growltiger -- group lines have now been spread among individuals, which should clarify the story and also add more acting moments for me and Bonnie [Simmons]. Other small changes throughout the show, new mikes, lighting cues, etc. Trevor's last words before the break were a reminder of how much we have to give the audience tonight - "make your offering and have fun." He remains the essence of calm and patience -- despite all the new stuff for tonight -- the light-up overture glasses and the outrageously complex curtain call (I wish Gillie could take it easy sometimes).

Matt [Tim's partner], Tim [Scott] and I go to dinner with Troy Garzaa, whom I enjoy meeting very much. Tim remarks that I seem quite calm. "Actually, it's paralysis." Truth is it hasn't really hit me that we're playing a preview tonight, though toward the end of dinner I experience some flutters. By 7:15 I'm getting into wig and makeup, having finally mastered the painting of my own face. At 15 minutes Steve helps me into the costumes (maneuvering around the huge bundle of black, gold and white balloons that Greg Gordon has brought) and I'm ready with time to spare at Places. Everyone wishing each other "merde" and "break a paw." The atmosphere is marvelous, electric. The overture begins, we steal into the house and blink our cat-eyes on and off. It's hard to gauge the response because the shock of people being in every seat is so great. Overture gets a great hand and off we go. The opening is marvelous and applause begins just before the moment when I cut it off. "Naming" is great, it's wonderful playing it to real people. "Gumbie" gets a great hand, the first such opportunity of the night, so much that the play-off music before Tugger seems an endless stage wait. I make my change and get big laughs on Bustopher, and a hand at the end -- even without a button. Timmy [Scott] plays his embarrassment over the tacky wind-out-of-a-sheet Mungojerry entrance and gets a solid laugh. I give him the pre-arranged signal (polishing my monocle to mean "make it a joy--offering to God" and he perks up and sells the number to great applause. With the Macavity scare I'm off again for another quick change, returning for Pekes and Pollicles, which gets a tremendous hand. The Ball brings the house down, though during its length there doesn't seem [to be] much audience involvement. Curious.

Act Two. Off we go. Gus gets a hand at the end of Bonnie [Simmons]'s first segment, again at mine and again at the finish. The costume change gets a hand. The boat gets a hand. The aria gets a hand. They go quite mad for it, though my re-entry as Gus seems anti-climactic and the exit applause is less than I'd wanted. The train gets a hand and Macavity stops the show. Tim makes his rope entrance without the light jacket and does beautifully, though he improvises in some places to conceal his fatigue. Betty [Buckley] wows 'em with "Memory" and the entire effect is sensational. By the curtain call the entire house is on its feet and everyone is ecstatic. Great joy backstage. Trevor, Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and Cameron [Mackintosh] accost me to say that Growltiger never had anything like this effect in London. "I'd say it's been a very good night for you," Trevor says. I do feel terrific, though exhausted. Tim invites me share some champagne Matt's brought. Day 42: September 25

First two-show day. The matinee is very good. My bandanna (newly snap-equipped) stays on throughout for the first time, which helps me no end, especially in acting through the end. Another standing ovation at the end. Audiences are obviously having a great time, in spite of the lapses in continuity or excitement that are obviously occurring, and yet it doesn't seem to matter.

Everyone's tired for the evening show, but it's a good one nevertheless. Timmy [Scott], continuing a trend begun in the afternoon, is relaxing and being ever more outrageous, sensual, feeling himself up, parking his tail between his teeth, having fun. Growltiger keeps getting better, I'm developing the stamina to keep everything controlled and less haphazard (Gillie asks if I'd mind prolonging the sword fight since it's such a crowd-pleaser and I agree), though it still pisses me off that I can't hear the roar of applause at the end because of the quick change back to Gus. Tim does his solo in the jumpsuit for the first time, and though he's so tired that he's sloppy, the audience loves him. In fact, there seems to be an established pattern that the heightened bursts of curtain-call applause go to him, Betty [Buckley], Terry [Mann] and me.

Day 43: September 27

Rehearsal at the downtown studio again. Nice to be away from the theatre. Gillie does some tightening of the Ball. She is the most incredible workhorse -- on and on and on with unflagging spirits. Trevor also seems to have regained his energy level and is quite buoyant. I'm released early and go to the gym for a sauna, where I'm amazed to discover that I've gained ten pounds since rehearsals began! Seven o'clock call at the theatre. I can't really comprehend that we're performing again: somehow it seems as if last week's four previews were a quirky experiment interrupting the rehearsal process. But no, we have an audience and a good one, though the day off has sapped my Growltiger stamina and the number exhausts me as thoroughly as last week -- but I add some things at the end, chiefly GT getting religion and praying for forgiveness before his leap -- the last hokey touch, heartily endorsed by Trevor.

Day 46: September 30

More Growltiger changes, shortening the first Siamese chase sequence. While Gillie teaches the Siamese, Trevor takes me and Bonnie [Simmons] aside and works beat by beat through the seduction scene, sharpening the focus on Griddlebone's ambivalence ("Stop it, I like it.") As usual, he poses goals and leaves it to us to offer the methods of solution and we come up with some wonderful new stuff. Stanley suggests that at last night's viewing he found Gus too virile and the voice too strong. Trevor notes that this is on a first viewing and consequently worth attending to. Must create wider contrast between Gus and GT. Gillie adds some beats to the swordfight and we run the ending several times. At last I get to play with different ideas on walking the plank and select and polish without the pressure of performance. Finally we add the technical run of the new disappearing mast, so that moment at last makes sense. Four and a half hours on GT. I'm bushed. The last half hour spent rearranging a new entrance for Tim -- the rope comes down while the chorus sings, instead of on a drum roll. Looks much better.

Tonight's audience is very dull. I'm so exhausted from rehearsal and running to Roy Siegel on the break, I can't hit the B-flat during my intermission warmups. But GT turns the audience around, they howl with laughter, the note comes through by the grace of God, and the rest of the act is turned around. But I come home so tired I can hardly find my way to bed.

Day 47: October 1

I'm on the verge of tears all the time, especially when I see anybody old and frail and forlorn to remind me of Gus. Walking down Church Street to the gym (I'm not called till 2:30), it suddenly hits me how to play the last lines after Gus' return: internally, as if the audience weren't there, closing my eyes on "made history" and then becoming aware of people when I re-open my eyes and leaving in embarrassment. I'm sure this will work for me and provide what Trevor wants.

At the theatre, "Gumbie" has been shortened; Tim [Scott] and Cynthia [Victoria]'s solo is gone (to their delight). Trevor spots me in the darkened house and says "Where'd you spring from?" "The brain of Zeus -- full grown," I reply. "I believe it," says he. "I believe you do, " I respond. The afternoon's off to a great start. Trevor works on the train assemblage. Tim complains of soreness and I offer him a massage. He declines and then impulsively changes his mind. I give him a long slow massage in the aisle of the theatre, relaxing some knots in his lower back and shoulders. I'm enjoying the suppleness of his muscles and he's moaning and the whole process is deeply hypnotic, when I hear Trevor call my name. He wants to segue into Skimbleshanks from the final Gus moment. I skip onto the stage and play the moment as I've just grasped it. It goes well but TN complains of my rushing the exit cross. I try again and this time it's perfect. Afterwards Nancy Bell says it was the best I've ever done it. "Do it that way tonight and I'll be in puddles on the floor." As it happens in performance, the GT sequence makes it even better. The applause is fuller and warmer (not bigger) than ever before, and a middle aged man in the SL seat block whispers "Bravo," as I pass. I've got it! Later there's a note from Nancy on my dressing room door, "Puddles and puddles!"

Day 49: October 4

We convene in the house with Trevor at noon, Gillie nowhere in sight. He announces his intention of re-exploring the values we found at the very beginning of rehearsals, and the whole afternoon is spent working with him in top form. For an hour he gives notes, riffling through four or five days worth of foolscap. Upon giving me a note to cut the "explanatory gesture on [the word] "Luna" he adds, "I'm saying this in front of witnesses: No. Very clever -- NO." He gets back to the original essence of the process, his special concern being that it takes the whole first act and intermission to warm up the audience to what we're doing. What can we do to make them join us earlier on? How to switch from the arrogance and aloofness of the opening to an invitation to participate with us? He invites everyone's feedback and a great group discussion occurs, as in the early days (but with everyone speaking more effectively and briefly). I throw out my image of a remote tribe being visited by 1,500 National Geographic photographers. Just before the break, Trevor confides this: "You must remember what the greatest power in the theatre is. It has nothing to do with sets and special effects. It's what's going on in your minds, and how that affects the minds of the audience."

He talks about the falling-off of spontaneity since we began technical work. "There is no more inventive group of people working together in theatre anywhere on the planet than you (looking around). I really mean that. You must find ways of re-asserting that." I ask about pulling focus and he offers the analogy to a concert pianist playing with right and left hands: one half of our "theatre brain" is totally committed to representing a character totally; the other remains aware of the greater needs of the whole piece at any given moment. He gives unstintingly of the distillate of his wisdom all day: cutting the first Macavity entrance and sharpening the Old D kidnap to better set up the Macavity fight -- which indeed draws great applause that evening. Inventing ways to play more fully and warmly and wittily to the audience in Act One. Bringing acting values to the fore as choreography recedes. It's really an amazing day. A great deal is accomplished -- not the last being a renewal of our company feeling at its warmest and most creative. The audience in the evening is so-so (till the finale, of course) but we do a truly great show.

Day 52: October 7, Opening Night

I reach the theatre by 6 PM. Everyone assembles to present the company gifts. Backstage is crammed to the rafters with flowers, telegrams, champagne. Buckets filled with cat food and Moet line the stairs (gifts to the company from Ralston Purina). Every square foot of counter and floor space in my room bears bouquets, long-stemmed roses, champagne, cards, wires, packages large and small. Everyone is overwhelmed by the profusion of gifts and tokens.

Downstairs, Trevor proclaims that though he had no speech prepared, he'll make one anyway: in spite of his claim that last night was the really important night, now states that tonight is. There's applause for him, Gillie, Stanley, each other. Declarations of love from everyone to everyone else. The whoopingly ceremonial presentation of the Gypsy Robe to Bonnie Walker (Herman [Sebek] asks what's going on, like the Simple Son at Passover, or the kitten he is) and up we go to dress. Tim [Scott] opens my gift and urges me to look at mine: "You won't believe it." We've each given the other a hunk of crystal. From Trevor, a bottle of Moet accompanies his handwritten note, including an invitation to do Shakespeare with him in England (my secret fantasy).

The black-tie audience is wild as early as the overture. Rumors circulate of Paul Simon, Baryshnikov, Placido Domingo in the house. We're a huge hit. The aria tears the roof off. The entire house stands even before we begin the individual bows. An evening of total triumph. Praise Allah!

Backstage, I see all my beloved faces beaming as they climb the stairs, everyone with purple-rose boutonnieres. Mother's first words are, "I didn't know you were such an actor." I show off Napier's Growltiger sketch and the diamond-flecked locket from Andrew and Cameron. Sara and Edith, Aldyn, Jim Roman, Justin, Peter, Lenny, Sarry T are all agog over the show and the unforseen dimensions of my performance. At last they leave for Sardi's. I dress with Sara's help, don my party hair and climb into the waiting limo which takes us to Sardi's and my parents on to Long Beach. At Sardi's Aldyn is reading the Times review to hefty applause. I walk in, he skips to the paragraph about me, and the joint erupts into applause and a standing ovation. I took it all in slowly, savoring this exquisite joy-laden moment. Subsequent ovations go to Rene Ceballos, Timmy [Scott], Ken Page, Betty [Buckley], Donna [King] and more. It's divine. Howard and table toast me with love. The Times review, despite intelligent reservations, is enthusiastic and Betty and I get the burden of praise. Tim is also well-received. I toast him as the greatest dancer on Broadway and meet his parents and Terry Cole Whittaker. The whole room is buzzing with our success. Utterly, utterly amazing. A dream.

Day 53: October 8

Cameron [his friend] rouses Jay and me with the News and Post reviews. Mixed, like the Times, but Clive Barnes calls me "fantastic" and "the best individual performance by far." The phone rings. Otis Bigelow says "This is your friendly wake-up service. It's 12 o'clock and you're a star." More agents call: Don't sign with anyone till you've talked to us. The Wall Street Journal devotes its first three paragraphs to Growltiger. So the day goes -- unanimous raves for my performance, calls from friends, much well-wishing. Further congratulations at the theatre.

Trevor on the intercom tells us that despite the reviews the show "can't be stopped," the box office this morning took in $50,000 in the first 50 minutes and went on to set a world record of $250,000 in one day.

The performance is anything but a second night slump. Gus gets a longer hand than ever, before the reprise. Is this the result of media conditioned expectation? Time will tell. As I finish the Gus return and turn to exit, some man in the front house right emits a heart-felt, choked, "I love you, man," and the Bravos begin -- first time ever at that moment. Wonderful, wonderful.

Day 54: October 9

The matinee performance is wild, greatest house we've ever had. I rush out to pick up by 5:00 the rented car that will convey Jay and me up to the Berkshires for the day off. Then there's a meeting called at 6:45 for Trevor to make his farewell. The cast gathers in a tremulous and soul filled room. I'm crying before he even appears. He begins by talking about where the show goes from here. It must grow and change if it's to stay alive, yet fixed beats must remain, and focus can't be diverted to down left when it should be up center. The ideology of development and spontaneity versus the reality of eight shows a week and set business and staging. What keeps us working in this art from that may become obsolete in our own lifetime. What is the nature of the contract that we renew nightly with every fresh audience and with each other. Our obligation to one another within the democratic context established form day one. "If conflicts arise, don't hold them in and stew -- talk to each other. The only theatre I believe in is theatre where people talk to each other." Everyone is sniffling and wiping their eyes. He celebrates our achievement, praises us as the most wonderful possible experience of an American company and promises to return in January after Peter Pan opens at the RSC. "Speed the dawn," I exclaim, and we all line up for hugs. Tears stream down my face as we embrace. "Stevie," he says, exquisitely tender, "we'll have to have our literary talk in three months." "I'll never be able to thank you enough," I sob, and he gulps in return. Then Betty [Buckley], crying mightily, has her hug, and then "Timmie love." It's simply overwhelming. How profoundly and unalterably has this wonderful man touched our lives. (In the wig room during prep Betty and I still can't stop crying.) May it please God to keep him happy and well and serving the best in humanity through his work and may we be reunited again and again in our work together and our love for each other, through the joyful years to come.

(c) Copyright 2000 -- Stephen Mo Hanan

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