My first Broadway experience was a bit of a disaster.
After a lovely pretheater dinner at Remi (buffalo mozzarella, white truffle pasta and tiramisu), I headed to the Neil Simon Theatre to watch “Hairspray.” The musical, set in the 1960s, was fun but jet lag hit me hard. I fell asleep twice—once before the intermission and once after. Whether I snored or not, I will never know.
Despite my snooze fest, I enjoyed the show, at least the parts I stayed awake for. Shannon Durig was great as Tracey Turnblad, the plump teenager with big dreams of dancing on TV. George Wendt was hilarious, too, as Tracy’s mom but my favorite was Niki Scalera who played Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton.
On my way out of the theater, I bought a DVD of the movie version and ended up playing it in my hotel room at least six times over the next few days. I couldn’t get the song “You Can’t Stop The Beat” out of my head for weeks.
Apparently, I am not the first person to fall asleep while watching a Broadway show because of jet lag. My friend V, who lives in New York, took her dad to a show and they managed to annoy everyone around them because he kept snoring.
Lesson learned—jet lag is a theatergoer’s enemy.
A couple of years later, my friends and I hit Broadway again to watch “Next To Normal” at the Booth Theatre. Since I had been warned by a friend not to Google the plot, I knew nothing about the show except that it was supposed to be really good.
And it was.
“Next to Normal,” the rock musical about a bipolar mother’s struggles and how her family tries to cope with her mental illness, was incredibly moving. It had us laughing, crying and yes, sobbing. No wonder it won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three Tony Awards.
We were so touched by the show that we refused to leave until we had the chance to meet the cast. We waited for them outside the theater.
The first one we saw was Kyle Dean Massey who played Gabe Goodman. He was incredibly nice, he posed for photos and signed our playbills. It was freezing—it was the coldest night of the year so far—and my friends started talking about leaving. I chided them, “Ang daya niyo, porke’t lumabas na yung pinakagwapo, gusto niyo na umalis.”
I refused to budge—I didn’t want to go without telling Marin Mazzie how touching her performance as Diana Goodman was. My friends had no choice but to stay. Our persistence paid off—we got to meet every single member of the cast including Jason Danieley who played Dan Goodman, Meghann Fahy who played Natalie Goodman, Adam Chanler-Berat who played Henry and Louis Hobson who played Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden.
Cell Block Tango
A few days later, the day before we left New York, we lined up at the TKTS booth in Times Square to buy tickets to a matinee. “Chicago: The Musical” was our first choice but if there were no tickets left, we said we’d go for “The Pee-Wee Herman Show.” The backup plan was unnecessary because we were able to get tickets to “Chicago.” I’ve been obsessed with the film “Chicago” and its soundtrack—so obsessed that I used go to my best friend’s house so we can reenact scenes from the show. I was always Roxie Hart, he was always Velma Kelly.
The 1996 revival of the “criminal as celebrity” satire is the longest-running show on Broadway and I was excited to see why.
We sat inside the Ambassador Theatre, sipping our overpriced beer in Chicago cups, waiting for “All That Jazz” to start. I got goosebumps as I watched the Cell Block Tango and I thought Raymond Bokhour’s version of Mr. Cellophane was way better than John C. Reilly’s in the movie. The hardest part about watching “Chicago”? Resisting the urge to sing along.
After the show, we waited outside the theater for the cast members to appear but we met only James Harkness, the dancer who played Fred Casely.
Broadway wish list
We returned to New York a little over a month ago with a long Broadway wish list. We wanted to watch “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” “Wicked,” “The Book of Mormon” and, maybe, just maybe, Hugh Jackman on Broadway.
When friends heard about our list, they all said, “Good luck, ‘The Book of Mormon’ is sold out until next year.”
Still, we were determined. But we wanted to start our new Broadway adventure with Daniel Radcliffe.
One Wednesday, Jill and I took the subway from Brooklyn and started to panic when we realized it was already quarter to two. The show was starting at 2 p.m. and we were still on the subway.
“Run,” we shouted at each other as we got off the train. That’s exactly what we did—we ran from Times Square all the way to 8th Ave. and 45th, stopping only when we reached the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. We went straight to the box office and breathlessly asked the old man behind the window, “Do you have rush tickets?”
“That will be 60 dollars.”
We were quickly ushered to our seats. We couldn’t believe it—fifth row for just $30 each! And before we could catch our breath, Daniel Radcliffe was onstage. The boys in front of us were clearly Harry Potter fans—they kept nudging one another in excitement as the show started.
I have to admit, being a huge Harry Potter fan, I was giddy about seeing Daniel Radcliffe right in front of me, too. (I also got a kick out of the fact that Alan Rickman, who played Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, was performing in his own Broadway show in a theater just a few steps away.) But the fact that I stopped expecting Daniel to cast spells after the first scene showed how effective he was as J. Pierrepont Finch, the boyish man who was so desperate to climb the corporate ladder.
Daniel dropped his British accent and he sang, danced, high-kicked ’til he was purple in the face and you couldn’t help but love him for it.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” And it wasn’t just because of Daniel Radcliffe.
John Larroquette was brilliant as the boss J.B. Biggley, Rose Hemingway shone in her Broadway debut as Rosemary Pilkington, Tammy Blanchard was hilarious as Hedy LaRue and Mary Faber was scary and loveable as Smitty. We also became instant fans of Christopher J. Hanke who made the sneaky Bud Frump almost likeable. And it’s not just them—the entire cast put on a great show.
Post-show, we stood by the stage door, playbills in hand, hoping to get Daniel’s, Christopher’s and John’s autographs. We weren’t alone—a sizeable crowd had gathered.
We met Rob Bartlett who played Mr. Twimble and Wally Womper and Michael Park who played Bert Bratt but we didn’t see anyone else come out.
Long minutes into the wait, when the crowd had thinned, a member of the crew gave us bad news. “Sorry, guys, Dan and John don’t usually go out after the matinee. They’re eating and relaxing before tonight’s show.”
Some people groaned and left but we stayed put. “I’m serious,” the guy said again.
“He’s not lying!” another crew member said.
Perhaps feeling bad for the teenage girls still waiting, one of the guys said, “If I were you, I’d come back tonight. Bring your ticket, your playbill and be here by 10:40, that’s when they usually come out.”
I finally agreed to leave but not before making Jill promise that we’d come back to see Daniel Radcliffe.
But that evening, Jill and our friend Peter lured me away from Broadway with promises of a tub of hazelnut and rocky road rice pudding at Rice To Riches, our favorite pudding place in Soho.
Stomach – 1, Harry Potter – 0.
The next evening, we watched “Mamma Mia!” at the Winter Garden Theatre.
It was fun but it was an experience marred by a restless toddler who wouldn’t stop talking and the woman sitting behind us who wouldn’t stop singing.
Yes, the show was sold out but there were three ways we could try to get tickets to “The Book of Mormon”—win the lottery two hours before the show and get tickets at a discount, line up to get standing room tickets or purchase premium seats.
We decided to try the lottery and didn’t win. It was no surprise—the crowd trying to get lucky was huge.
We tried lining up outside the theater to get standing room seats twice. The first time, there were five people in front of us when they closed the box office. All standing room tickets were gone.
The second time, we went to line up really early but were still number 23 and 24. Still, we were hopeful. After all, they normally sold 25 standing room tickets at every show. We stood in line for hours, chit-chatting with strangers and apologizing to our feet for the pain.
As we inched our way to the window, the guy behind us said, “I hope we get tickets. If we do, I’ll probably cry. If we don’t, I’ll probably cry, too. Either way, I’ll cry.”
I felt exactly the same way.
But again, luck wasn’t on our side. When it was our turn at the box office, the man said, “Sorry, that’s it.” And he closed the window.
Feeling dejected, I walked into the theater and asked if they still had regular tickets for sale. “Yes, for $432 each.” I promptly walked out of the theater.
“Screw that, let’s go watch Hugh Jackman,” we said. We made our way to Broadhurst where he was performing but again, the ticket prices were too steep. I didn’t want to pay over $200 to see Wolverine sing.
“Screw that, let’s do Spiderman.” We walked to the Foxwoods Theatre and were already in line when we decided we weren’t in the mood to see a superhero flinging about.
We ended up walking to a nearby AMC theater, grabbing popcorn and watching Johnny Depp’s Rum Diary, a decision we did not regret.
The next day, the day before we left for Manila, we said, “Let’s finally watch ‘Wicked.’”
But again, the lottery was a complete failure. We didn’t win. We quickly decided that we were going to pay full price.
Soon, we were no longer at the Gershwin Theatre, we had been transported to Oz where Glinda the Good Witch was spinning the tale of her unlikely friendship with the green-skinned Elphaba.
The show was amazing. Chandra Lee Schwartz was sweet, adorable and funny as Glinda and Jackie Burns was a fantastic Elphaba. During the intermission, the man behind me couldn’t stop raving. “Oh my god, those girls’ voices are unbelievable. Unbelievable!”
My jaw dropped when Jackie sang Defying Gravity. I had to remind myself to close my mouth when the scene was over.
I walked out of the theater still feeling dazed. We had paid $131 each for our tickets and the show was worth every penny.
It’s been weeks but I’m still not over my “Wicked” experience. Thanks to a green-skinned witch, I’m even more in love with Broadway than I’ve ever been before.
My Broadway adventures have ended for now—but only temporarily. I have a date with “The Book of Mormon”—I don’t know when but I know it will happen.