"It was just miraculous," said Gadda, who gets around in a wheelchair owing to his cerebral palsy, but who fell in love with the Broadway musical Side Show just by listening to the original cast album in his home town of Reno, NV.
Gadda (a frequent Playbill On-Line bulletin-board contributor) joined the grassroots campaign to keep the show, about Siamese twins in vaudeville, running past the posted Jan. 3 closing date. In an e-mail to the show's producers, Gadda told The New York Times last week, he wrote, "Your show is my story, and in all my years in the theatre, no show has moved me so much."
Surprise, surprise: Side Show cast member Judy Malloy replied and invited him to come to New York to see the show Jan. 2, the night before the closing. An anonymous benefactor paid for Gadda to fly to New York.
When Gadda arrived at the theatre, about two hours before curtain, the cast members, including stars Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, who sing the show's anthem "Who Will Love Me As I Am?," came down to the lobby to greet him.
"I got to meet my idols," Gadda said, in an interview with Playbill On-Line. Gadda said he told them, "The show's message is that we handicapped are not puppets or playthings. We have feelings and hopes and desires." He said he told Skinner and Ripley that seeing them portray Siamese twins so glamorously "means a lot to me." Gadda met actor Ken Jennings, whom he had admired since Sweeney Todd, and Side Show composer Henry Krieger. Gadda said the two of them discussed the composer's earlier musical Dreamgirls, which is currently on national tour. He said Krieger sang him part of that show's hit song, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going."
Though Gadda asked the name of the benefactor who paid for his airfare, he was told that the person wishes to remain anonymous.
Gadda attended the Friday night show, sitting in a special area down front, to the left of the stage. At the conclusion of a standing ovation, "the incredible cast introduced me from the stage and put a spotlight on me. They said, 'We have a Christmas miracle here tonight, Evan Gadda,' and everyone applauded. It was a tearjerker."
But then, Gadda said, Ripley announced from the stage that the show was closing. "There was incredible boos and hisses," Gadda said, then began weeping himself. Some people sitting near him shouted, "'Shame on New York! Shame on New York!'"
The show's producers are scheduled to meet Jan. 5 to discuss the possibility of reopening the show later this season to take advantage of possible Tony Award nominations.
During his visit, Gadda said, he also met several of the producers and asked about the realistic chances for such a reopening. Emanuel Azenberg, he said, was "Very gracious, but would not give any information."
However, one of the other producers said they're indeed hoping to put the show on hiatus, and not even load the sets out of the Rodgers. That would be difficult, since the incoming musical High Society has already booked the Rodgers
Side Show wasn't Gadda's only stop during his weekend in New York. He attended the Jan. 3 matinee of The Scarlet Pimpernel and met Terrence Mann, star of Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables, who plays the villain in the piece. Another of Gadda's idols, Mann promised to go online and send him messages, Gadda said.
"To have met him and have the cast of Side Show embrace me as they did -- it was just miraculous," Gadda said.
Gadda said he was planning to see Jekyll & Hyde Saturday evening.
Gadda has directed and performed in community theatre in the Reno area. He describes himself as a musical theatre buff who travels to New York occasionally to see shows. His first show was Bubbling Brown Sugar in 1977. Aside from Side Show, his favorites include Aspects of Love, Miss Saigon, Jekyll & Hyde and Les Miserables.
Despite the best efforts of Gadda, the cast, and the support group that has dubbed itself the "Freaks" (from the show's opening song, "Come Look at the Freaks"), Side Show closed as scheduled at the Jan. 3 evening performance. The show played 91 regular performances and lost an estimated $6.8 to $7 million.