September Theater: Check off the List and Bandstand Goodbye

Hi all and welcome to September’s Broadway Adventures! You can find my past escapades here, or just read August in two parts.

September didn’t seem that busy, but I still managed to fit in quite a few shows as well as a special event: the Broadway Flea Market, which I’ll tell you all about in a new post.

September is a wonderful time for Broadway fans because we get the 2-for-1 discounts that is Broadway Week (also happens in January/February!) I’ve seen Wicked, Spring Awakening (Deaf West production), Kinky Boots, Matilda, School of Rock, Waitress, On Your Feet and others with this discount during past Broadway Weeks. This year, there were a few new shows I wanted to see so I looked for those first. I scored tickets for Miss Saigon, Prince of Broadway, and Lion King (which has only been out for 20 years; it was about time I saw it!)

First up was Prince of Broadway. It was so early in September that they still had the August playbills! This is kind of a combination bio-musical/revue, celebrating the career of one of the great Broadway producers, Hal Prince. This show is put on by the non-profit organization Manhattan Theatre Club, which functions similarly to Roundabout, in that they are a non-profit theater organization and have specific shows with limited runs. Prince produced many, many musical theatre classics such as Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, Company, and Phantom of the Opera among others. This show has a small cast who rotate characters. They performed a few musical numbers from each show, introducing each one with a little info told from Prince’s point of view about his involvement. I enjoyed it, but it’s not for the average theatre patron. This one is more for fans of Broadway and musical theatre rather than someone who comes to see a specific story. I chose to skip stage-dooring this show to get home a little earlier on a weekday, but I hope to hit it up at a later date to be able to thank and congratulate the performers.

 

Saturday night, I hit up the revival of Miss Saigon with Ally and another friend of ours. Originally, it hadn’t been high on my list, but I’d heard Eva Noblezada was amazing as Kim and was robbed of a Tony award. I’d seen Bette Midler (who won the Tony for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical) in Hello Dolly, and now I wanted to see the one who didn’t win. I was initially disappointed to see that Eva’s alternate, Lianah Sta, was on for Kim that night. The good news is, she was excellent and I didn’t feel slighted in the least. If the alternate is that good in the role, I can only imagine (plus the performance I’d seen on the Tony Awards telecast) how incredible Eva is. Other standouts were Alistair Sims as Chris and Jon-Jon Briones as the Engineer. Jon-Jon was actually in the original production of Miss Saigon in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s in the ensemble, and now he’s in the revival in a principal role. I knew very little going in—only that it was set in Saigon during the Vietnam War and there was a helicopter onstage at some point. The basic plotline, without giving away any major spoilers, is about a young Vietnamese girl named Kim who joins other young girls in “Dreamland,” which is a brothel run by The Engineer. An American soldier, Chris, meets Kim and it is love at first sight, and he tries to give her a better life with him while he’s there. He has to leave Vietnam suddenly as his platoon was evacuating and he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Kim.  The story is based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, which also tells the story of an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover.  This production was so incredibly well-done. I was very impressed, and not just with the helicopter! I’m glad it made its way onto my list. No rush on a Saturday night, so we stagedoored. This was a very chill, laid-back stagedoor, much like Groundhog Day was back in August. There wasn’t a huge crowd and everyone was respectful: no shouting, no pushing. This is the way to do it! We met Lianah, Jon-Jon, Alistair, and others. I even found a former newsie in the ensemble: Julian DeGuzman! I’d reached out to Julian on twitter prior to the show and he said he didn’t normally come out to the stage door, but he would since we wanted to see him. Thanks, Julian!

Stagedooring at Miss Saigon

I’m always scoring the Broadway websites for good deals, and I found a very good price on Anastasia through Audience Rewards, a points system for Broadway, Off-Broadway, and related events (such as 54 Below shows). I used some of my points and paid $50 for a seat in orchestra row M. I’ll take it! I had an excellent seat. Although I’d seen this show back in March, I’d wanted to see it again, and this time I had a better view as well. I’ve gotten to know some of the songs through the showtunes on Pandora Radio, plus being familiar with the plot (revised from the 1997 movie) helped me enjoy it even more this time around.  This is such a beautiful show, especially the lighting and the costumes, not to mention the performers themselves. I was able to stagedoor a bit, but had to leave fairly quickly to make a bus home (curtain time was 7:30, as opposed to the usual 7, which pushed everything else back). I did get to see Derek Klena, who is a perfect Dimitry, John Bolton, who is hilarious as Vlad, and Mary Beth Peil, who earned a Tony nomination for her performance as the Grand Empress. I told them this was my second time (it won’t be the last, but I will wait probably another six months again). John responded that I must have the show memorized by now! I think I said “not quite,” but I was certainly thinking that twice wouldn’t do that, but I was pretty close to full memorization with Bandstand!

Saturday afternoon brought me to the Minskoff Theatre for the first time to see The Lion King. It’s only been playing for 20 years; it was time enough! I got a good deal through Broadway Week, so it was time to check this off the list. (I believe the only long-running show I haven’t seen at this point is Phantom of the Opera, and I’m not running to the Majestic anytime soon.) “Circle of Life” alone was quite the spectacle, with all the animals (puppets, mostly) coming from various entrances and making their way to the stage. Overall, it was pretty true to the movie, with excellent performances by everyone. It was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. I think this is great for people who don’t see Broadway shows often and/or those with children. I’m glad I saw it once, but it wasn’t my favorite.

I skipped the Lion King stage door so I could stop by the Jacobs to start my goodbyes to the cast of Bandstand, which was closing the following day. I had a ticket to the closing performance, but I wasn’t sure what the crowd would be like (or the emotions) so I wanted to see them on Saturday. I hung by the end of the barricade, not taking up spots for anyone who’d seen the show that day, and I got to chat with other fans as the cast made their way down the line. It worked out perfectly because I got to see and hug everyone I wanted to, letting them know that I was of course going to be there for the final show, but I’d wanted to see them that day as well. Joe Carroll let me know he had something for me the following day, which made me so intrigued. What could he have for me? I’d find out the next day, but I had about 24 hours to muse on it. Also while there, I was able help another fan get pictures with Corey and Laura. We were chatting and she was a little shy, so when Laura and Corey came down, I took the girl’s phone and asked the actors for pictures. They posed, I snapped the pics, gave the girl back her phone, and everyone was happy!

 

Signed by the “Donny Nova Band”

Sunday was closing day for not only Bandstand, but Groundhog Day as well. It was a sad day for Broadway. I got into the city a little after 11am and checked out the rush line for Bandstand. Although I already had my ticket, I wanted to go visit the people in line to say hi and wish them good luck on getting tickets. The line was so long, it blended right into the rush line for Come From Away next door! The first people got in line at 2:30AM! The next people were in line at 5:30AM! I’m impressed and also very glad I didn’t rely on rush tickets myself. I was wearing my Bandstand shirt with lyrics from the song “Nobody” (“You know who tells me no? NOBODY!”) as well as my Newsies Playbill earrings. As someone I was talking to that day said to me, “you’re very on-brand.” Yes, that is my way: repping the faves. After lunch, I stopped by the August Wilson Theatre to say hi to the Groundhog Day fans and wish them well for their show’s closing. Then it was time to start lining up to go into the Jacobs. There was some commotion above us, so we looked up. Corey was hanging out of a dressing room window to “wave through a window” one last time to Mike Faist across the street at Dear Evan Hansen. This was an ongoing thing between the two of them. They were friends from Newsies and through a little bit of Broadway fate, their theaters were across the street from each other. One of the most popular songs from Dear Evan Hansen is “Waving Through a Window,” so Corey and Mike often made it a point to wave to each other before their shows. Corey was often livestreaming the process, letting us fans in on the joke. Not only did Mike wave through the window to Corey, he’d put up a “Happy Trails” sign in the window. When Mike left, Corey aimed his camera down at us and Joe Carroll and Joey Pero popped their heads out the window as well to say hi.

Inside, the energy was already crackling. The audience was full of devoted fans, friends & family of the cast & crew, and the creative team. It’s not often that there’s a standing ovation during shows; during bows is standard. Even this show, the powerful eleven o’clock number in Act 2 sometimes got one and sometimes didn’t, depending on the audience that night. This time, not only did that number get a standing ovation, but 2 other numbers did as well! During intermission, I found myself near one of the writers so I said hello to him and thanked him for helping to create such an amazing show. I told him I’d seen the show ten times and he responded by telling me to get a life. Thanks for the advice? You’re welcome for the support? I’m pretty sure he was kidding. The performers onstage absolutely fed off the audience’s energy and gave it right back and the result was electric. It was quite possibly the most amazing performance I’d seen, of that show or potentially any other. There was no match for the energy in that room. It’s just such a shame that all that positivity and energy couldn’t keep the show open. Everyone got to take their final bows onstage during curtain call, including the swings*! Andy Blankenbuehler, director and choreographer, gave a moving speech after everyone had their bows. As people started to make their way out of the theater, the cast was still onstage. Associate choreographer Mark Stuart got down on one knee and proposed to Jaime Verazin, one of the many talented dancers in the ensemble! What a day for them!

*Swing – someone who is not in the show all the time, but “swings” in when someone calls out. Often understudies for principal roles are in the ensemble, but then a swing has to step into that role if the understudy is on for the principal that day. Sometimes swings are understudies for principal roles as well, but are still only onstage if someone is out.

Outside, the crowd by the stagedoor was packed and I was a few rows back. It made me glad I’d gone the day before because I wasn’t close enough to say anything. Nearly everyone came out to sign, swings included. They were all dressed to go to a wrap party after, but they still took the time to greet us. There were more people at the stage door than I’d ever seen (not everyone in the ensemble regularly came out to sign), and the fans appreciated it. Although I was a few rows back, I was still able to see everyone they could see me. Joe spotted me in the crowd and reached over to hand me one of his drumsticks, signed and dated for Bandstand’s closing performance. How incredibly special! I hope he knows I will treasure it. I thanked him, and he thanked me for coming to the show so many times. It’s really something when we can build relationships with the people making our favorite creative product, no matter the type of art or artist. I feel lucky that I was able to come and see the show so many times during its short run as well as getting to know the performers (to the point where they not only recognized my face, but greeted me with hugs when they saw me). I hope the show will live on in a National Tour and/or regional productions. It’s such a shame it couldn’t find its full audience on Broadway.

The final performance of Bandstand was my last Broadway show for the month of September, fittingly, it gave me time to mourn my show. Join me here next time for my day at the Broadway Flea Market!

 

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