Broadway Day & Night - Backstage and Behind the Scenes
presented by Ken Marshalls, Rodger McFarlane and Tom Viola
It's March 6, 1978. On the Twentieth Century has been open since February 19 and it looks like we're a hit. And though at first I resisted even taking this job, so far away from a cozy bungalow in Los Angeles, I'm very glad that I accepted. Being part of a new Broadway musical, even as a lowly understudy, has turned out to be very exciting, indeed. Just being in the same room with Hal Prince, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green has been thrilling to say the least. And the talent on the stage! Madeline Kahn, John Cullum, Imogene Coca - and this fabulous new guy, Kevin Kline - incredible! And while playing the maid is not the most fulfilling role I've ever done, it does have its moments: eight solid laughs on a good night. And of course, waiting in the wings for Madeline to miss a performance feels ghoulish, at best. Still, maybe I'll get to play Lily Garland in stock somewhere.
I've been in my sublet apartment all day watching a Carole Lombard movie, picking up pointers on Hollywood starlets of the thirties. It's about one in the afternoon. Time enough to run an errand, go to the gym, have a leisurely dinner, and get to the St. James Theatre well in time to don my rather fabulous Flossie Klotz-designed maid's shmatte and hit the stage.
I've had a good stretch and gotten the old heart pumping and decided to take a little steam. (I do a little vocalizing in the steam room.) I should call my service, but there's a long line of naked, betoweled women waiting to use the phone. And besides, it's late and there've been no calls all day. So, I just hop back into my jeans and plaid shirt, boots, and green parks and go to that little Belgian restaurant between the gym and the theatre.
Dinner is terrific! Sole meuniere, salad with Dijon vinaigrette, rice, and what the hell, a glass of white wine. I know I shouldn't, but jeez - I don't go on for over and hour. And it's really just one little scene. What could it hurt?
I check my watch. It's seven-ten. Plenty of time to stroll to the St. James. Well, here's the stage door. I unzip my army-surplus parka and open the door. Surprise! You're on! My God, there's the whole cast draped around the foyer telling me news too impossible to be true. And I'm five minutes slow. All I can say is, "No shit..."
Madeline's dresser rushes me up to her dressing room. She helps me off with my lumberjack outfit and starts trying Madeline's costumes on me. There are no understudy clothes yet, and the dresses are rather intricate: a breakaway middy dress, a wool traveling dress with matching fox-trimmed cape, and of course, the peignoir. It all fits fine, if a little short. After all Madeline is perhaps six inches shorter than me. The wigs are tight, but okay. Somehow I'm getting my brunette mane under the platinum tresses. I have no fake eyelashes - Agnes the maid doesn't wear them. I borrow a pair from Imogene.
Well-wishers keep knocking at the door. Imogene climbs the stairs to wish me luck. Kevin asks if there's anything I want to go over. I'd love to go over a number of things, but there's only time to assemble myself and go.
I wish I could tell you that I remember every millisecond of what happened. But, as in all otherworldly experiences, you go into a zone of semireality. I know I did the show. I'm sure I made some mistakes. But it went well, for at the curtain call when I finally came to, I was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience and gorgeous yellow roses from the cast. I had lived through the understudy's dream, and what a dream it was. True reality reintroduced itself two days later when I put my maid's uniform back on. But I have spectacular memories of that magical night, and the bow I kept from the roses.
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