I didn’t grow up loving the theater. As a kid, I remember dressing up and going to a couple of productions of The Nutcracker over the holidays. I know my parents and I saw The King and I – possibly the last tour with Yul Brenner, though I was thoroughly unaware at the time.
Even so, the stage was not a passion for me. I was an 80s kid. I was all about music videos, sitcoms, and sketchy hour-long dramas. Obviously, these don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but for me they were.
I’m not sure now when that changed. Maybe it was college when I discovered Mandy Patinkin through movies and television. A friend suggested I listen to a little musical called Evita. I balked and claimed I didn’t like musical theater. He proved me wrong.
Over time, I discovered I could in fact enjoy musical theater – if it was done with some humor, some irreverence, and most preferably with some men in drag. Not long after college, a friend and I went to New York to see Billy Crystal do his one-man show, 700 Sundays. I didn’t yet realize that you could wait outside the stage doors for autographs.
A couple of years later, that same friend, the BFF, and I headed back to New York for an epic weekend of theater. There was a perfect storm of sorts on Broadway and we wanted to see everything we possibly could. We started with Denzel Washington in Julius Caeser. He hung around afterwards for hours. If you had a Playbill, he would sign it. I remember someone in front of us telling him how patient he was being. “Do you know the story of Job?” he asked. “Now he was patient.”
The next day, we stood in line at the TKTS booth and got seats to Fiddler on the Roof. Harvey Fierstein and Andrea Martin were starring and I had already been a fan of Fierstein’s for years. They were terrific, and though Harvey rushed off not long after, Andrea was positively adorable. I remember her chatting with another fan about how they both had relatives who lived in Boca Raton. She was as funny and personable as you would want and expect.
Third was a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, starring Liev Schreiber, Alan Alda, Tom Wopat, and Jeffrey Tambor (I honestly didn’t remember he was in this until looking at the Playbill again. It’s possible I didn’t really know who he was yet.). As I hung out near the stage door, I was told more than once that Alan Alda would not sign autographs. Indeed, he came out of a separate door, practically sprinted down a red carpet, and was ushered into a private car.
I wasn’t there for him.
Not surprising to anyone who knows me, is that I was there for Liev. He was brilliant, I thought, the most compelling one in an already compelling David Mamet piece. When the audience gave the show a standing ovation, I heard a man in front of us mumble how we were obviously a tourist audience. “They’ll stand for anything,” he sneered. Liev would end up winning a Tony for his performance. I felt oddly vindicated.
Afterwards, I was one of few waiting for his autograph. He was about to release his directorial debut, called Everything is Illuminated. I had read the book and told him I was curious what he was going to do with it. He laughed and said, “Me too.” Afterwards, we watched him walk off and actually followed him for several blocks. Right up until we realized he had likely seen us more than once.
For our grand finale, we saw the original cast in Spamalot – Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, and David Hyde Pierce all in one place. AND I discovered Sara Ramirez. What a voice. Somehow, I managed to be upfront, near the ropes, when the cast came out. I listened as Hank Azaria ran through a litany of his voices from The Simpsons for a young fan standing next to me. And I was able to get autographs from each of the three male stars, and have pictures of them as well.
Before walking away, the BFF and I stood around trying to decide on what to do for dinner. That’s when she spotted Jeff Goldblum coming out of a show he was doing. He looked tired, but he took time for everyone who came up to him. There was never a big crowd, just two or three at a time. I nearly didn’t want to bother him – we hadn’t seen the show he was in – but we approached him anyway.
I told him we had gone to Pittsburgh to see him do Music Man there. “Did you like that?” he asked. “I’m from Cleveland and I went to Pittsburgh,” I said. “So yes.”
He laughed. Jeff Goldblum, born in Pittsburgh, laughed at my very regional joke. I’m intensely proud of this moment.
We’ve been back a couple of times since, sometimes for the theater, sometimes not. We saw Neil Patrick Harris do Hedwig and the Angry Inch, though we couldn’t get close enough for an autograph.
So it’s not actually very often that I feel compelled to travel for a show – the weekend of epicness was 2005. But this past weekend, I returned once again to see Liev Schreiber and Janet McTeer in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. To no one’s surprise, they were both phenomenal. I had scored a third-row seat and commiserated with a couple of neighbors about our mutual crush on the male star.
Afterwards, outside, there were more of us waiting for the actors to come out. It was windy and cold and I was nearly about to give up when Liev finally emerged. I had practiced how I wanted to open, and hoped to come up with more in the moment, depending on his answer. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Even so, I told him I had literally been a fan of his since Mixed Nuts (his first film). I wanted him to know that I wasn’t there just because of Ray Donovan or even Wolverine. I was old school, dammit.
“That’s a long time,” he replied. I’m still not whether he was surprised or impressed. Even as I walked back to the hotel, I wished I had also told him it was the second time I’d seen him live. But my brain had frozen. I needed warmth, and hadn’t wanted to keep him out in the cold any longer than necessary either.
Another show, another autograph and fun memory. And this time, it was even more of an escape than usual. In these last few weeks before the inauguration, I was determined to enjoy myself on what could be interpreted as a very superficial level. I witnessed great art by some of the best players in the business, and am not ashamed of that.
I saw other sights that could also be seen as frivolous. But I need a little frivolity every now and then. Otherwise, life gets too serious. Entertainment has always been my escape, and usually that means film. I am happy to say it now includes the theater.