PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Glory Days — Bleacher Seizure

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Glory Days — Bleacher Seizure
Youth must be served — but a Broadway musical? That's right, Mr. Ripley. Believe it or not, a rambunctious quartet of mid-20-somethings laid siege to Circle in the Square's stage on the Sixth of May and established their own Broadway beachhead.
Stephen Booth, Adam Halpin, Jesse JP Johnson, James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire, and Eric Schaeffer
Stephen Booth, Adam Halpin, Jesse JP Johnson, James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire, and Eric Schaeffer Photo by Aubrey Reuben

At the curtain call, there was something movingly unguarded and open about their smiles, which seemed to be coming in the express lane directly from their hearts.

And there was more where that came from — more rowdy youths, more disbelieving smiles — when four other guys in suits and ties joined them for bows. These would be the understudies and the show's creators — songwriter Nick Blaemire and book writer James Gardiner, who decided their generation had something to sing about.

Drinking in all that radiant reality, you could see that they were all telling the truth in their Playbill bios: Adam Halpin (Skip) notes simply this is his "Broadway debut." Steven Booth (Will) raises him one: "Broadway debut!" Jesse JP Johnson (Jack) "is so stoked to be making his Broadway debut!" Alex Brightman (Understudy) "is thrilled to be making his Broadway debut with the best boys on the planet" — he names names — and Jeremy Woodard (Understudy) "is beyond thrilled to make his Broadway debut." From this point on, officially, all of them are Broadway actors.

The lone veteran among these Broadway babes is Andrew C. Call, who hates to be called Andy but gladly agreed to play the role of Andy, a macho jock wannabe with no discernible athletic skills. Call made his Broadway bow, however briefly, in High Fidelity and is technically on a three-month leave of absence from Cry-Baby where he stands by for title player James Snyder. Blaemire is also in Cry-Baby, providing doo-wops for an evil barber-shop quartet, but he took the night off because his heart was five blocks uptown from the Marriott Marquis pulsating at Circle in the Square.

There was a ninth man on stage, joining the youth on parade — an old guy of 45 named Eric Schaeffer, who turns out to be their director, mentor and coach. He has spent the last three years steering this project from embryo to Broadway. It was in one of Schaeffer's two-week summer seminars on musical theatre at the Kennedy Center that Glory Days was sparked — you could even say spanked — into existence. Blaemire presented to the class a song he had written, inspired (or, more precisely, inflamed) by a bitter bust-up with a close friend. He spent his Maryland teens in a pack of four, all football rejects with a theatrical bent. Two of them are currently understudying on Broadway — in Chicago and Xanadu — and the third is an actor on the West Coast. All were in attendance on opening night, and Blaemire, in his Playbill bio, dedicated the show "to my three best friends, Brian, Ryan and Zak."

Taking this autobiographical cue, Gardiner concocted a plot where four friends reunite at the football field they were never allowed on — to assess the damage done by one year of college at different schools. It turns out to be irreparable, especially when one of their number announces he's gay. There is much running up and down the bleachers, emotively sorting it all out, but, ultimately and poignantly, the news fragments the friendship into four distinct pieces, and they go their separate ways.

"It's a plot mover," conceded Johnson (a.k.a. Jack the Gay) later during an interview. "The main thing about my character is just to show the guys he's the same. He's the same friend he always was, only now he has grown up. I really admire his honesty, his coming out to them. It's funny how simple the show is. Something like this is very real, and their reaction to it is very real, whether we're talking about this generation or the ones before. Everyone can relate to this particular situation."

Opening night, for him, "was a blast, but then every night is the same. It's always just having fun. The energy is awesome. I feel very blessed to have had this opportunity.

"I have dreamed about being on Broadway my whole life. Ever since I was three years old, this has been my dream. My mom has videotapes of me being, like, 'I want to be on Broadway!' I did my first show when I was four. I told my mom, 'When do I get paid?' My family always calls me and says, 'Jesse, you're living your dream!'

"My parents are actually coming for Mother's Day. I want to have a very personal time with them. It's my little brother's birthday tonight so he's here. I thought it'd be a special night for him. Looks like I know how to throw a birthday party, right?"

In the same state of ecstasy was Halpin, the Army brat who goes off to college with a flattop and comes back with long flowing blonde hair looking a lot like Anne Heche.

"Tonight was an amazingly overwhelming but beautiful experience," admitted Halpin. "We wanted to treat it like any other show, like any other night, but it's so special because there was such a comforting audience out there. You stay in the world of the play for 90 minutes, and then you gotta go out and enjoy yourself. It's been a wonderful day, and we're all so happy to be telling this story in New York."

His favorite moment is the coda at the close of the play where he and Will are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered friendships: "We sit there on the grass with our legs crossed like young kids, just talking about growing up and how we're going to be able to make this through and I've got to convince him that everything's going to be okay. There's such a calm in that conversation between the two of us. You don't really see much, just, relaxed conversation very often, and it is so nice just to do it."

The dramatic engine of the piece is Call's Andy, who takes Jack's coming-out the hardest. "I hate his behavior about that obviously, but I also love that he's so passionate. He's so passionate about everything. Sometimes his mouth gets away from him. The greatest flaw of Andy is that he trusts too much. He's so simple, but that makes him so complex at the same time. I love this character. He's like born out of my own heart. James and Nick let me go through this whole process and let me bring in my own thoughts and ideas. From the start, it has been so creative."

When or if Call returns to Cry-Baby, they're keeping an iron lung warm for him. His big on-stage moment is a polio-victim sight gag with the moniker of Skippy Wagstaff. "Wagstaff was the maiden name of [co-author] Thomas Meehan's wife," he confided.

As Will, the first to arrive and the last to leave, Booth admitted to "a selfish favorite moment: coming on stage at the show with everyone cheering. It was pretty amazing, to sit there and look around and take it all in. Nothing compares to that."

Booth got the wake-up call to Broadway just as he was going to bed when Schaeffer phoned him the good news. A sleepless night followed — and many more afterward.

"Since then, it has been a roller coaster. Every morning, waking up and getting out of bed and knowing what's ahead of me. My first day walking to the theatre — getting out of the subway and walking to work, and work is the theatre. I'm in New York where I've lived about two years. Ever since I've lived here, I've worked out of town. Every day since, it's just gotten better and better — and tonight was the ultimate."

Kathie Lee Gifford, Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee, Theodore Mann, George Dvorsky and Rebecca Luker, Donald Saddler and Marge Champion, and Rob Ashford.
photos by Aubrey Reuben

Blaemire may just qualify for a niche in "The Guinness Book of Records" for making two Broadway debuts in 13 days — first as a Cry-Baby performer and now as a Glory Days songwriter. "It's like running from a better place in the world to another better place in the world — like having two of your biggest dreams come true at the same moment," he said. "The fact that this is happening just proves to me and, I think, to all of us that anything is possible. There's no age limit on Broadway anymore. It's possible to be 23 and write a show and people are going to see it on Broadway." He can claim 23 two more months. Gardiner hit 24 last month but still thinks young. "What Nick has been able to accomplish at such a young age is so inspiring to any artist. I totally agree with him about staying true to who you are. If you write what you honestly believe in — and it comes from a genuine place — you can go anywhere."

No I.D. was required to get drinks at the after-party, which was held at Moda, an open-aired courtyard running between 52nd and 53rd just off Sixth — a good idea, that (given the young high spirits that were still euphorically bouncing off walls).

The only star at the party eclipsing The Glorious Ones was the one Schaeffer brought to Broadway in 1999's Putting It TogetherKathie Lee Gifford, then nearing the end of her long TV reign with Regis.

Now Reeg's channel competition via NBC's "The Today Show" and looking ridiculously stunning, Gifford chose her words gingerly like a true friend of the court: "I love the effort that went into it. It's a different generation. Having a teenage son at home, I know there's a lot of reality to it. I will always be the biggest fan in the world of the classic book musical, so it's hard for me to go to that Spring Awakening place — and yet I respect it. I know every generation has to bring its newness to it. I thought there were glimpses of great raw talent there. I love the youth and the exuberance and truly some beautiful intricate harmonies happening and things. There was a lot to like about it. I thought that it was an incredible first effort."

Mary Poppins had the night off, and its stars showed up in force — Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee and Rebecca Luker. The latter's hubby, Danny Burstein, joined the festivities late, in from South Pacific. Also present: Martin Moran, late of Spamalot; the Cry-Baby choreographer, Rob Ashford (his second viewing); Lisa Lambert, the composer of The Drowsy Chaperone, and, best of all, Marge Champion and Donald Saddler, fresh from one of their twice-a-week dancing sessions — a glamorous set of 88's (albeit, "Marge claims to be four and a half months older than me"). A Tony-winning choreographer of No, No Nanette, Saddler said he'd catch the Encores! rendition the next night. "Those beach balls were [producer] Harry Rigby's idea."

The Playbill lists Circle in the Square "under the direction of Theodore Mann and Paul Libin," and both of these gentlemen were in attendance. If not exactly humming "It Seems Like Old Times," they were plainly pleased to see their old Circle twirling to such an exuberant — and young — beat.

Mann was one day away from the Lucille Lortel Awards, one of which he received for his considerable body of work Off-Broadway. His acceptance remarks, according to one observer, traced the entire movement of theatre from 1483 on. He countered with a good offense, brightly leading with "How did you like my speech? It wasn't too long, was it?"

Brightman, who understudies the roles of Will and Jack in the show, was feeling his oats from his opening-night bow, even though he has yet to go on. "I gave them one — now I'm going to break all their legs," he cracked. When last seen at the party, he was wearing sunglasses and a Hitler mustache. Forewarned is forearmed, guys.

The cast of <i>Glory Days</i> at curtain call.
The cast of Glory Days at curtain call. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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