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A Warm Hand on My Big Opening

Aug 13, 2008 by Susan
...a classic joke that never goes out of style...

I know we opened a while ago, but I wanted to share some thoughts. Actually, I've been intimidated to write about it; Living it felt like such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm afraid I won't be able to capture it accurately or completely in words. But what-the-hey...I'll give it a shot.

Let's back up...

A couple of years ago, when the conversation first arose regarding whether [tos] would transfer to Broadway, my mind immediately turned to...opening night gifts. I love using any major occasion to cook up a crafty present. I knew exactly what I wanted to give my collaborators on opening night. When we started looking at theatres, I took my camera along and began collecting source material. Then, once the theatre was confirmed, I contacted our friend and uber-creator, Craig Thompson. We put our heads together, and then I put him to work...

Preparing for opening night is a lot like preparing for a wedding (as Heidi Blickenstaff said, "It's like we were getting married to Broadway"). You have to sort out seating arrangements, travel and lodging for out-of-town guests, the aforementioned gifts, goodies, family dynamics, formalwear, hair and makeup, flowers, limousines, rehearsal dinners...the details are seemingly endless. But, if you're lucky, there's so much love surrounding the proceedings that it is a true pleasure. There are moments of stress, and times when you wonder if you're going to be able to accomplish everything on your to-do list. But if you keep breathing and stay organized, it all gets done.

Opening a Broadway show is different from a wedding because throughout the whole preparatory process, you're rehearsing and previewing a Broadway show. Plus, weddings don't usually get reviewed in the NY Times.

I was really excited because I had some special visitors on their way. My mom, dad and sister were flying in from Ohio to be there. My beloved theatre professor Bob Hetherington was flying in from Tennessee, where he chairs the Theatre and Dance Department at The University of Memphis. Other special guests included Miriam Laube, Marita Clarke, Tom Schultheis, Michael Warga, Stephen Karam, Todd & Tamar Haimes, John Flansburgh & Robin Goldwasser, Richard & Ann LaGravenese, my beautiful husband, Steve White...a delightful blend of family, friends, loved ones and treasured collaborators...Code Name: Team Monkey.

You only make your Broadway debut once, so you better look good doing it. Our friend Scott Allgauer is the fancy West Coast representative for Rag and Bone. He kindly agreed to shepherd Heidi and me as we selected our opening night looks. He thoughtfully listened as I explained that this handsome lady wanted to look pretty, fresh and sophisticated on opening night, not like a 90s prom I don't like to be uncomfortable in my plus I don't like to wear shoes. Poor Scott had his work cut out for him. I had hoped that some designer would be kind enough to lend me something to wear on opening night, but I'm not famous enough for that (plus, I'm not a sample size 4). Scott gently held our hands through multiple department stores and boutiques trying to find that perfect dress. Heidi and I both ended up rocking dresses by Nicole Miller (are you reading this Nicole Miller?...Good work on them dresses! Next time, throw a sister a bone!). My dress cost way more than I had budgeted ($678), but I justified the purchase because you only get married to Broadway once. Plus, I got my shoes from the Payless sale rack ($14.99), so I saved some money there.

Then came the gems...Ryan Hill (our Associate Producer) arranged for Heidi and I to borrow gems from Verdura. The day before opening, we met at Verdura's by-appointment-only 5th Avenue salon. Our Verdura guide was the fabulous Adele Bove. She helped us select hundreds of thousands of dollars of earrings, cuffs and rings. I got legitimately nervous when we walked out of Verdura carrying those gems in a shopping bag. I was afraid if we lost one of them earrings, we'd have to sell Jeff to pay back Verdura. Sorry, Jeff...

Meanwhile, Larry Pressgrove and our intern Leah Harris had been working like tiny elves preparing our opening night gifts for all the people who had worked on [title of show]. For such a small show, there sure were a lot of people to remember. Larry did an AMAZING job of keeping it all organized! And Leah and Larry's sister Theresa did a fantastic job of wrapping and tagging all of those opening night gifts. Thank you so much, Larry and Leah and Theresa! Special special thanks to Leah for sneaking into the theatre very early on opening day and delivering my presents to each dressing room.

Heidi, Hunter and Michael Berresse (our Broadway veterans) had forewarned us that opening night would be a lot like Christmas...lots of presents to unwrap, lots of cards to open, lots of well-wishes and exultations. They told us to get to the theatre plenty early so we could enjoy it all. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I was the first one up! I got to the theatre around 2:30pm (our call wasn't until 6pm), and the hallway was lined with packages and flowers and fruit baskets and ribbons and bows and cards.

I got some slammin' gifts, people.

We have some truly creative m'f'ers in our crew. Our excellent Assistant Stage Manager Tom Reynolds made us each an action figure representing our character. Mine looks like a total badass, complete with BlackBerry and vampire-killing stakes. Tom also made us [title of show] trading cards. Each pack contains a stick of gum and five tosser trading cards. Everyone is represented: the cast, the stage managers, the crew, the producers, the interns. Good stuff. Jeff Bowen made us [tos] clocks...every number represents a moment in the show. Joanna Gleason and Chris Sarandon sent stakes and garlic to kill vampires and round-trip tickets to visit them at their home (!). Sean (the Aussie Supertosser) sent each of us a doll representing our character. We got cookies that looked like Playbills. We got comic books and journals and caricatures and DVDs and champagne and super hero supplies and golden ponies and cookies and candies and baskets of nuts and boxes of cheeses and sausages and monkey tote bags and jack-in-the-boxes and vampire bats and bouquets of fresh fruit and cards and letters and collages and framed photos of our marquee and M&Ms and books and sterling Tiffany pens engraved with "[tiffany pen]". We received some amazing tshirts (I badgered Gideon Glick for 6 straight months to give me his LORDY LORDY JANET'S 40 tshirt...imagine my thrill when I found it waiting for me in my dressing room...Wow, Gidzy!'s so soft and broken-in and Gideonlicious!). I got flowers from family and friends and even SUTTON FOSTER!! Sutton Foster sent ME flowers!!!??? What the fuck is going on???

And the VIDEOS! You've seen them by now, but let's enjoy them again, shall we?

Just like Christmas morning, I was so sleepy after opening all those presents that I snuck up to my secret Lyceum nap cave and fell asleep.

Then I woke up and went back to find more presents waiting. Unbelievable.

You know what's crazy to me? That you get the honor and privilege of doing a Broadway show, and then people send you presents to celebrate the fact that you're doing a Broadway show. Doesn't it seem like WE should be sending YOU presents? I mean, really...

Then it was time to warm up.

Then it was time do the show.

And what a show it was.

The audience was made up of the Four Fs: Family, Friends, Fans and Fancy People. It was such a warm, exciting, emotional rollycoaster performance (thrill rating: one million six). I learned after the fact that we got a standing ovation before the show had ended. I was blinded by the lights and I thought the audience was just clapping a lot a lot A LOT--it sounded like a thunderstorm! Apparantly, that thunderstorm was standing up!

When we bowed we cried like little babies.

To quote Hunter Bell, it really was like a dream coming true in real time.
To requote Heidi Blickenstaff, it felt like we were getting married to Broadway.
To misquote Jeff Bowen, it felt like we were getting dragged behind Broadway's "Just Married" car like so many tin cans!
To quote myself, it felt like one of the best fantasies that you've ever had, except you're fully present and it's actually happening to you.
And it felt like winning a very, very specific contest.

Immediately after the show, we were whisked to the basement of the Lyceum for interviews with our friends from NY1. We got to hang out with Roma Torre (!) and Frank DiLella (!!)--I see you back there, Frank...How much do we love our friends at NY1? So much.

And can we discuss all the fancy people who were in the audience that we never even got to see? HOLY FUCKING SHIT! Marc Shaiman?! Terrence McNally???!! Marian Seldes???!!! David Miller and Joy Kabanuck!!??! Joan Rivers!!!??? Jerry Mitchell??!! Megan Hilty??!! Ann Harada??!!??! Stephanie J. Block???!!! Amanda Green??!?!!! Bob Martin??!! Betty Buckley??!! My boyfriend Lin-Manuel Miranda??!!! Anthony Rapp???!! S. Epatha Merkerson??!!?!? My creative homeboy John Cameron Mitchell?!?!??!?!??!

(Two days later, I learned that John Cameron Mitchell was seated directly in front of me in the 2nd row when I said the line "John Cameron Mitchell is here". I'm glad I didn't know that at the time. It would have definitely been an adult diaper situation.)

The awesome Peter Zielinski was on hand to photograph all of it! Hey, you, reading these words! You should check out Peter Zielinski's website...he knows his way around a camera! (Special special thanks to Peter for letting me use his beautiful photos in this blog...he's the B. E. S. T.)

Then ran back upstairs to pull ourselves together for the big party. Scott Allgauer and Jenna Brauer (wunderstylist from CHICAGO) worked calmly but quickly to polish us up. Hunter, Jeff, Larry and Michael had kindly agreed to wait for us girls until we were ready so we could all ride to the party together. It took a little time, but we were so happy with the results. Scott, Jenna...thank you so much.

After a strange limo ride, we arrived at the party and were greeted by lots of photographers and videographers and reporters and well-wishers. Each time I would begin talking to someone, I would feel a hand on my shoulder and I would be pin-balled into another conversation. I got to speak to each person for about 20 seconds total before I was pulled in another direction. I wanted to stay centered and present with each person. At one point, I turned around and was face-to-face with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was all, "How you doing?" And I was all, "I need to find my family, Lin...At this rate, I don't think I'm going to make it to them." Lin, who has become really adept at handling this kind of situation, determined where my family was, and then acted as lead blocker to get me through the party, through the crowd, through a bussing station, up a staircase, across a dance floor, gently depositing me in front of my family. Somehow, everyone got out of his way and he averted all grabbing hands and attempted interruptions (I remember seeing Cheyenne Jackson's face blur past me...I love you Cheyenne Jackson...never forget that I love you...). I don't think I would have made it to my family without Lin's help. If I'm ever trying to cross the border of a terrorist-occupied state, I hope I'm traveling with Lin-Manuel Miranda. That bitch can make tracks. Thank you, LMM.

It was such a joy to see my family and close friends. How wonderful to get to share this strange, unique, creative life event with them. I can not tell you how happy I was that they were there. Thank you for making the trip, you beautiful people. I love you all so much.

Near the end of the night, I re-found my cast-mates and we made a human barricade so we could breathe together for a second. That was some sweet breathing.

There were only a few times when drunk people slurred at me or dropped drinks on me or approached me with the sort of feverish aggression that compels one to set a boundary. On the whole it was a lovely whirlwind of an evening. Somewhere along the line, I ditched my Payless shoes. Somewhere along the line, my Payless shoes found their way back to me. Then Steve put me in a cab and we rode home. And I washed my face and hung up my dress and put on my pajamas and ate cheesey bread with my mom and dad and sister and Steve.

It was the most delicious cheesey bread ever.

I want to thank all the people who made a night like this possible. If you're reading this, you know who you are. All the hands, seen and invisible, who contributed to this experience. So much love exchanged hands. So much creativity. So much once-in-a-lifetime-ness. How do you thank people for contributing so profoundly to your existence? These people have forever changed my life for the better, have literally altered my course. There was a dream that I had that I could not admit out loud. Somehow these people orchestrated making that secret dream come true. Knowing them has made my life richer and fuller than I could have imagined for myself. I don’t know how to thank them for all of that… I guess one simply says, "Thank you".

And then presents them with a [title of show] finger puppet theatre.


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