After she went on as the title character in the tour production of Aida, I wanted to meet Merle Dandridge at the stage door. While it’s been a strong temptation, I no longer do the stage door Johnny thing, but at the time, I was still daring enough to go for it. As I was standing beside Ms. Dandridge outside the stage door, my friend accidentally snapped a picture of me with her before we were ready. In the picture, you can literally see the awe in my eyes, like I can hardly believe I’m standing within touching distance of someone so great.
And, indeed, I am completely in awe of stage people. If I could have a chance encounter with Sherie Rene Scott or Norm Lewis, I would prefer it a million times more than a chance encounter with the likes of Tom Hanks or Julia Stiles. Though I certainly have enjoyed their movies, they don’t make me excited like stage people. Give me Amy Spanger anytime!
I’m so bad that when I go to shows on tour, I try to get my theatre-going friends to eat out after the show at one of the restaurants touring actors are known to frequent when in my city. Unless there was a chance encounter, I’d never work up the guts to approach one of them, but I can’t help being in awe.
And no, I’m not a stalker. Remember, I was a teacher, so I’ve passed every background check imaginable.
I know the stage life isn’t nearly as glamorous as the movies would suggest it is—read Making it on Broadway if you want it to happen to you too. But I’m still every bit as envious of their talent and ability as I’ve ever been. The moment Marin Mazzie entered the stage in Kiss Me, Kate, it was love at first sight. Can anyone be more beautiful than Marin Mazzie? Can anyone be more talented than Marin Mazzie? Okay, so she ties with Rebecca Luker, Lea Salonga, Audra McDonald, Emily Skinner, Sutton Foster, Rachel York, Carolee Carmello, Heather Headley, and a bunch of others, but you can’t blame me for falling for her. She’s not only beautiful, but she’s talented. She’s a Broadway star.
I’ve often said it. If I was rich and it was the 1920s, I’d be one of those guys with flowers and an engagement ring outside the New Amsterdam Theatre, waiting to ask the most talented Follies girl to marry me.
My stage door Johnny pictures have actually been very important to me. I don’t think I could even fully put into words how much I have cherished my photos with all these wonderful people, even though I always end up embarrassing myself by burbling on and on and sounding extra stupid. I don’t get nervous at job interviews. I don’t get nervous speaking in front of groups. As a teacher, I never even got nervous on the first day of school. But boy do I get nervous around a talented stage person.
More importantly, I have formed an unspoken bond with the people I’ve met. Having met them in person, I feel like I owe it to them to support their work. That’s why I bought Adam Pascal’s first album (which is awesome), for example. That’s why I would make a point of seeing Michael Berresse—who was so incredibly nice beyond belief times fifty outside Kiss Me, Kate—in A Chorus Line if I make it to NYC while he’s still in the show. I keep my eye open for what Coleen Sexton is in, cheering her however I can when she gets another role. I perk my eyes up when I read that Mary Testa has been cast in something new.
I can’t wait until one day, when I have my own shows on the boards, I’ll remember some of the folks who were so kind to me as I stood in awe beside their talent. They had just done marathon dancing and singing on stage, sometimes twice in one day, but they didn’t exit through a secret door to escape notice, though they were tired. When they are cast in one of my shows, I’ll happily show them a picture of me with them, and they’ll see how excited I was to even be near them. And hopefully they’ll be happy they took the time.
June 19, 2007