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Once More…With All The Feelings

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(Clockwise from top left) Me with Beth Nicely, Christian Borle, John Cariani, Heidi Blickenstaff, and Rob McClure

Just over a year ago, the “little show that could” rolled into my life like a runaway freight train via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.  Something Rotten! performed a couple of songs from their show, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  A couple months later, I traveled to New York to see this show I couldn’t get out of my head and proceeded to spend three straight performances with them taking it all in.  I was hooked.  I’ve been back several times since to see the show, again and again.  It’s just that good, in my opinion.  I spend my days crunching numbers and telling people what they can and cannot do, which does not lend itself to the creative process in any way, so spending those two and a half hours inside the St. James Theatre watching these talented people spread the creative process all over the place while bringing this hilarious and heartfelt story to life fills my heart with joy.  I have been to see it just because, and I have been to see it because an understudy (or two) was performing for one of the principle cast.  Seeing different takes on the characters keeps the story fluid and provides new perspective.

As is the standard with a hit Broadway show, actors depart their roles for new adventures even when the show is not closing immediately.  This was the case on Saturday night when four of the original cast took their final bows in Something Rotten!.  I am eternally grateful to the creative masterminds Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and John O’Farrell, who I finally got to meet that night, for the beautiful words, lyrics, and music of this show.  They are the reason I know who Nigel Bottom, Bea Bottom, and Portia are as well as a very different side of William Shakespeare.  Beyond that though, Heidi Blickenstaff, Christian Borle, John Cariani, and Kate Reinders are the reason I know what those characters look like and sound like; what makes them laugh and cry and sing; why they get mad and what they do when they get mad. These characters and the people who played them have become a beacon for me.  Something I could point to and say, “You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Heidi Blickenstaff belt Right Hand Man live and in person.” Or, “Boy do I understand how Kate Reinders feels when she swoons and falls at Christian Borle’s feet the first time she meets Shakespeare.”  Plus, “I cannot even explain how difficult it is to get through To Thine Own Self and its reprise without crying because of John Cariani and Brian d’Arcy James’s (before he departed in May) heartfelt portrayals.”  And, “Can we please talk about Christian Borle’s voice as he sings the lines from the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet?” I can’t. It leaves me speechless.  These are my memories…the ones I will carry with me when someone asks, “what do you remember from the first original Broadway cast you ever saw?”  Because that’s what they are.  This is the first show for which I had the privilege to experience the original cast.  They have set the bar mighty high, and I’m not sure anything will ever be able to top it.

Because they have brought me so much joy, I felt the only thing I could do in return was to be there for their final performances.  I could tell during the show it was an emotional night for all of them.  Not just the ones leaving, but the rest of the cast as well.  It was bittersweet for me.  I tried to take in every second knowing this was the last time I would see these actors perform these extraordinary roles that have, from the beginning, seemed like they were written for them intentionally.  And, having seen the show a number of times, I was even more emotional as each person’s final scenes were played out.  That last walk off stage is a hard one to accept even for an average audience member such as myself.  In a crazy way, I (or anyone who bought a ticket to this show over the last 16 months) have shared something with those four.  We’ve shared the irreplaceable beauty of live theatre together, and we’ve shared moments at the stage door that have meant the world to me even if they were only brief seconds.  In fact, on Saturday night, I finally had the opportunity to meet Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters who owns the St. James.  He shook my hand, told me he recognized me from “the Twitter,” and talked to me about his baby that is due this week.  Mazel Tov, Jordan!

It is not a simple thing for the actors to walk out of the theatre, sign a few autographs, smile for pictures, and listen to us ramble on about how amazing they are.  They’ve just completed a two and a half hour high intensity, cardio workout all while singing, dancing, acting, and entertaining us.  They are not obligated to stop.  We are not entitled to their presence, but I’ve learned so much from spending time at the stage door after shows, particularly this one, as I’ve watched them in their interactions with other fans in line with me.  I continue to be stunned when one of them recognizes me and even remembers my name. (Looking at you, Beth and John.) Their kindness, generosity, and patience with everyone speaks volumes no more so than on Saturday night.

The line stretched the length of the front of the theatre, which is at least 100 feet, if not more.  One by one, the cast members walked out and took their time with every single person who wanted an autograph, a picture, or simply to tell them “you were fantastic.”  It took a solid 90 minutes from the time the show concluded until the last fan had seen the last cast member, and not once did any of them get flustered or impatient with the crowd.

Christian was the last one to exit and by the time he had reached the end of the barricades, which only stretched about halfway through the crowd, the security guard (one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met) told Christian to stay where he was and directed all of us to keep moving up for our turn.  As I stood in line chatting with Jim, my favorite usher at the theatre, I watched Christian not try to move everyone through as quickly as possible, but to give each person his full attention for just those few moments he would have with them.  No one person was more or less important than the next.  Everyone received the same respect and appreciation from him.  It was a masterclass in how to treat the stage door from both the actor and the fans.  When the last person had their time with him, he stopped to give the security guard and Jim each a hug and take pictures with them, and then he was off to what I’m sure was a cast party to end all cast parties.

By all accounts, the show is in good hands with the replacements.  I had the privilege to see one of them Saturday night.  Rob McClure who replaced Brian d’Arcy James in May was utterly phenomenal.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because I have such adoration for Brian and his portrayal of Nick Bottom, but Rob took that character and made it his own.  He showed me things about Nick that hadn’t occurred to me, and I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a really long time.  Rob is this little nugget of joy that I didn’t know was missing in my life until Saturday night, and I cannot wait to go back and see him in this role, again, and to take in all the other new cast members.

As I’ve tried many times over the last year in conversations with people to explain just what this show means to me and why I keep going back, there’s this little quote from an episode of the television show Designing Women that comes to mind every time and sums it up better than I ever could:

It [is] a rip-roaring firecracking, roller coaster of a ride — and we are all better for having bought a ticket.

Farewell, Christian, Heidi, John, and Kate. Thank you for the ride of a lifetime and for making those tickets worth every penny.