Thursday, October 18, 2007

Happy Anniversay, TLS

10 years ago yesterday, on October 17th 1997, The Last Session opened off-Broadway. Here's the diary entry for that night:

Thursday-Friday, October 17, 1997
Opening Night Part One.

Thursday night -- our last preview -- was a total disaster (or at least it seemed to be). The sound person was late and someone booted up the system incorrectly, so when Bob Stillman sat down and began singing the opening of TLS, he was singing a cappella. It was just one of those things that makes a composer go crazy. And not only that, we had critics in the audience. The guy on the sound board went into total heart attack (figuratively) and finally it all got put under control, but that's why you have previews: so you can figure out what can go wrong.

Since Mama Ronda and Kim were out from El Lay and seeing this production for the first time, it was shocking for them because (since the show was being mixed manually without benefit of the sound guy actually being able to hear it), they thought the mix was normal. By intermission they looked shell-shocked. For the second act, though, they had rebooted the system and got it under control. But what a scary ride that was!

The big opening was Friday night and everyone was on pins and needles. The actors were nervously getting ready down in their dressing rooms surrounded by bouquets of flowers, the producers were checking the guestlist and making sure everyone had a seat, the PR guys were handing out press packages for VIPs, and it was so exciting.

Myself, I put on my new suit (compliments of Carl and Jamie), Jimmy put on his new clothes, including a spiffy new hat which made him look like Citizen Kane, and we made our appearance. I had this ear to ear grin plastered on my face. Tonight would be the opening night of the off-Broadway production of The Last Session. My stomach was doing butterflies and flipflops but I knew we would be okay.

It took a while to get everyone piled into the little 47th Street Theatre, but when they finally got settled, I noticed an empty seat way down front, so I jumped into it just as the lights were going down. I grabbed Ronda's hand, took a deep breath and listened as Bob Stillman began the opening chords for "Save Me A Seat." Then I breathed a sigh of relief. The sound was working. It was beautiful.

All the actors were now in their element and with the sympathetic crowd, it was clear to me that this was going to be a prime performance. "Preacher and the Nurse" totally brought down the house as did Amy Coleman's new rendition of "Somebody's Friend." And once again, Stephen Bienskie's (and Bob's) "Going It Alone" took everyone's breath away.

There's a moment in that song where the music stops for just a moment -- where Gideon and Buddy turn to look at one another. The silence in the room at that moment was stunning. No one took a breath, no one coughed, no one shuffled. It was a crystal clear moment of absolute stillness. By the end of the act, the audience was in tears and the explosion of applause practically tore down the house. (Ah, theatre!)

Jimmy told me he's been to plenty of opening nights. When the play is lousy, everyone tries desperately to smile and try to have a good time, but it's apparent when it doesn't work. This opening was nothing like that. The buzz on the street, the tears, the hugging, the laughs -- complete strangers telling me they had never seen nor heard anything so "real" and so emotional in their lives.

Act Two went even better. The ovation for Bob Stillman's "Connected" seemed to last forever, as did the applause for Grace Garland's "Singer and the Song." At the end of the show, the actors demanded that Jimmy and I come up and take a bow. Well, I shot up to the stage and all I can say is my heart was about to burst. I know I had a grin on my face that practically knocked my ears off.

The roar from that crowd, all of them standing and stomping and screaming, was heart-pounding. I felt my heart would just rip out of my chest. We took a couple of bows with the cast and then went backstage with them, told them how terrific they were and headed out to the street.

There was a big meal planned for after the show, but it was like no one wanted to leave the theatre. We took photos and laughed and hugged. So many tears. So much joy. Then we all trudged off two blocks away to a fancy restaurant where the producers had set up a big opening night celebration for all 200 of us. By then, I was in a big foggy blur. Almost speechless.

After the meal, Carl, Jamie, Jay, Michael and Nancy -- the producers -- got up and thanked everyone involved in the project, past and present -- including the cast, First Angel Don Kirkpatrick, Kim & Ronda who were there from before the beginning, Jeremy Koch of Sound One, the cast, the crew, and then finally, Jimmy and me.

Jimmy said a few words thanking all of them and then gave me the microphone. Well, my mind was a total blank. I think I said something about Bob Stillman's rendition of "Connected" as being as good as or better than anything on any stage anywhere in the world, about how much of a role my friends had in keeping me alive, and how "you don't need an explanation when you care." And I also told everyone that Director Jim Brochu deserves all the credit for the miracles on that stage.

We came home and fell exhausted into bed. The neat thing was, since we had so many people who wanted to come on opening night, the producers scheduled TWO opening nights and we would get to replay the whole evening again on Saturday.

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For my birthday, also St. Francis of Assisi Day,

here is "Rescue" the song I sang to Erika Amato 's Buddy the dog. Imagine if we loved humans as much as we love our animals...