I’m not sure I ever imagined I’d get to type “Broadway” and “Opening Night” in the same line. The magic of opening nights was pretty much dreamed up on that strip of 11 or so blocks in the middle of Manhattan. Ever since I used to read the Yearbook that World Book Encylopedia put out annually, flicking to the section on “Theater” as it was quaintly spelled, I’d read what amazing musicals had opened and when in New York that year. If the internet hadn’t been invented, some goofy ten year-old boy would be flicking through the 2011 Yearbook and read about some show from Australia that opened, about three drag queens travelling through the outback on a bus, dancing, singing and zinging one-liners back and forth as a cavalcade of costumes spilled out onstage. And he would have been desperate to see that show.
I doubt I really thought that Broadway was within my reach when I avidly flicked through those volumes, wondering if the stage Chorus Line could be as good as the movie, whether Cats would ever come to Australia or what the hell Sarafina! was. Even now, a few days later, back in Melbourne and already deep in rehearsals for my next show, the shimmer of Broadway is still as mythical as the backstage of the Palace is mundane. Broadway is as much an ideal as it is a real place. It stands for pursuing the thing you love so intently that one day you walk through the doors of a theatre playing your own show on the street where every show you ever loved began.
So on March 20, 2011 I got to join 2000 hyped-up and overdressed theatregoers push their way into the Palace to watch Priscilla take her place on Broadway.
It was a crazed day. Sunny but freezing, as had pretty much been the case the whole time. I finally finished my opening night outfit (I NEVER want to shop again) with a tie bought down in Chelsea and lunched with my folks who’d been there a week. The festivities began onstage at 430pm with the passing of the Gypsy Robe. The cast gathered onstage where our dance captain, Eric Schiotto received this accolade (for the second time, actually). The robe goes to the ensemble member in the cast who has done the most number of shows and is passed, musical by musical, every opening night (By now, someone in The Book of Mormon is entrusted with it). Before it was passed on, recipients-past listed the shows they’d gotten it for – the highlight being Harvey Evans, a living legend and the original Young Buddy in Follies. Eric was required to run three circles of the stage as we touched the robe, bringing luck to the production.
I got into my free Calvin Klein suit in Tony’s dressing room, reminiscing about the journey that had led here and then I left him to prepare for the night he’d really been preparing for his entire life and joined our producers at the Renaissance Hotel across the street. This had become our alternate local over the last few weeks as it has a killer view of Times Square but is not particularly touristy. The raucous sound of Australian accents filled the air as I caught up with the creatives and friends who’d just showed up, then we all joined the heaving mass in front of the Palace.
For all the hysteria there was no rushing the start of the show. The pink carpet was covered with various celebs (Bette and Audra, of course, Renee Zellweger, Christie Brinkley, Kathleen Turner, Joan Rivers…) and drag queens from here and abroad. I sat down next to Andy, surrounded by our various friends and 20 minutes late, the disco ball dropped and the craziness began.
How was the show? Flawless. The cast gave the sort of performance you want them to give – never pushing, spontaneous, clean and full of the detail you’d been working on for months.
How was the audience? Hysterical at the event to begin, then listening to the show they were actually at and finally rapturous in embracing what looks to be a new hit on Broadway.
There were tears, after, as the magnitude of what we’d accomplished sank in. But really, it was quite a calm feeling. In some ways, it was just another opening night among the many Priscilla has had. Her maturity as a production had taken away that edge of fear that the original opening in Sydney had – the “will-it-actually-go-all-way-without-stopping?” that led to a sense of euphoria possibly never to be topped in my life. The night felt right, well-earned and well-played.
The party was at Chelsea Piers and was a huge glass room looking out onto the Hudson with tables overflowing with roasts, skewers, pasta, onion rings (?), potatoes and more, scrumptious desserts (no cupcakes, yay!) and bars that never stopped. Curiously the spirits were served in wine glasses – very Australian barbecue. In a non-surprise, disco music played all night, but they avoided the tracks from the show, thankfully (there was a cast uprising at the Toronto opening night when they continually played “I Will Survive” and “I Love the Nightlife”). The cutest touch was a faux-casino with tables for craps, blackjack and roulette – we were issued with paper money but professional croupiers – it was very Vegas (though presumably mean to be Alice).
Opening night parties signal the beginning of something – the Broadway run of Priscilla. But for us Australians, of course, it marked the end – the end of our known time on this production, with our colleagues and with our friends in New York. So as the festivities wound down, the goodbyes began. I was very diligent for once and tried to make sure I saw everyone in the cast and crew. And thus the party ended.
Mad rush the next day – suit drop-off, gift/card pickups, packing the suitcase – all to be ready to be picked up at 11am to get to La Guardia to begin a 30+ hour transit home.
I find plane trips reflective, for better or worse. There’s so much time to ponder what’s been and what’s coming. Luckily what’s been was wonderful, in ways I’ve expressed on the blog and in the general day-to-day adventures of Manhattan, and what’s coming is a year full of exciting projects I know about and, as ever, the unknown.
I always wanted to go to New York. Dreamed about it for years, fuelled chiefly by the movies, Judith Krantz novels and Original Broadway Cast Recordings. In 2001 I got there for the first time, with a show off-Broadway in 2002. And in 2011, along with my fellow creators and cast, my name is on the title page of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Finally, it has happened to me.