July 2, 2018
New York City
My CPAP mask had slid off my face during the night, and the condensation from the humidifier tube had completely soaked my pillow. According to the Weather Channel, the New York tristate area was being suffocated by a “heat dome.” I had blasted the air conditioner all night and basked in the arctic air streaming toward my bedmate Samantha and me. Samantha is 14, an apricot cockapoo, much more cocker spaniel than poodle. Apparently, they breed the two together to be “hypoallergenic.”
“They have hair as opposed to fur,” the woman at the shelter assured me. “They don’t shed nearly as much as other dogs.” My navy-blue comforter would beg to differ. There were swirls of ginger hair/fur all over the bed as well as dust bunny tumbleweeds in the corners of my bedroom.
Samantha pushed her spine against the side of my leg, her way of saying, “Snuggle with me. Don’t leave. Let’s sleep in.”
It was 10:10 a.m., time to listen to The Daily, my favorite news podcast. For the past two years, I’d been obsessed with host Michael Barbaro’s voice, his deep, sexy, intellectual intonation, his slow, paternal tone. It was only recently that a friend had pointed out that my podcast app had been set to half-speed. I had fallen in love with “half-speed” Barbaro. Now that he’s on full speed, I still listen, but with somewhat diminished enthusiasm.
I tend to listen to podcasts more than music these days. It’s difficult for me to listen to music when I’m in my apartment. I’m currently employed as the Wizard of Oz in the Broadway production of Wicked, so when I enter the Gershwin Theatre at 7:30 p.m. (half-hour call before an 8 p.m. show) I hear the cacophony of the 24-piece orchestra warming up over the monitor speakers in my dressing room. And at 8:05 p.m. on the dot—2:05 p.m. on matinee days—the overture starts, and the music doesn’t stop until the curtain comes down.
Imagine walking into work and hearing the same music at the exact same time of day—every day. Your entire workday has a soundtrack.
I jumped in the shower and started humming and buzzing to warm up the vocal cords. A few months ago, the apartment radiators were filling my lungs with bone-dry dusty air. On those cold winter days, I would stand in the steam of the shower for an hour before the dried crust would loosen the cords, freeing them from their mucal prison.
On this hot, damp summer’s morning, there was nothing to worry about. Starting on a low note, I made my way up and down the scale, “ZA ZA ZA ZA ZA ZA ZA ZA. LA LA LA LA LA LA.” Humid July air filled my lungs as my vocal cords zinged and pinged into place. A little theatergoer tip: Broadway shows sound so much better on hot, humid summer days.
Samantha finally stirred, so we leashed up and headed out into the summer heat for our morning walk. Sammy has a way of attracting young folks who wish they could have a dog but whose busy city lives don’t allow for the responsibility. I live right near Fordham University, so many of the students know Sammy by name, and she greeted them with a smile as she pooped, peed, sniffed, and sauntered her way to Central Park. I hummed and buzzed and softly sang scales and arpeggios as I carried a newly filled doggie bag towards the trash can.
Something you should know about me: I can’t be late for work. Ever. If I’m late for half-hour call, my understudy gets to play my role. There are a few acceptable excuses or extenuating circumstances, but very few. Actors’ Equity—the stage actors union—allows you three strikes, then you’re fired.
If I’m late for a call on a film set, I’ll text the assistant director to say, “I’m stuck in traffic. Should be there 15 minutes late.” They’ll text back, “Drive safe. We’ll have breakfast waiting for you when you get here.”
If I’m late for a Broadway show, I’m inconveniencing 1,900 people who just paid a week’s salary to bring their family to see a show that starts at 8 p.m. sharp. If I text the stage manager, telling her, “I’m stuck in traffic!” the stage manager will simply text back, “Turn around and go home. Your understudy’s already dressed.” And your paycheck gets docked an eighth.
I filled Samantha’s dog bowl with fancy dog food and headed down to the Citi Bike dock at the end of my block, unlocked my bike for the day—and zoomed down Ninth Avenue.
It smelled great. There was roasted garlic from Masseria dei Vini, fried chicken from Blue Ribbon, mole and cumin from El Centro, and grilled-burger smoke from the Olympic Diner. I zoomed past the crowded sidewalks and docked my bike in front of the theater. A seven-minute commute. Those bikes (and subsequent bike lanes) are the best thing ever to happen to NYC.
I signed in at the call-board, just in time for the “half-hour call” before the 2 p.m. matinee—and headed up to my dressing room on the fourth floor of the Gershwin Theatre. Originally named the Uris Theatre, the Gershwin straddles West 51st and 52nd Streets between Broadway and Eighth Avenue at the north end of the Broadway district. It’s one of the more modern theaters, built in 1972.
And in the spring of 1979, this 15-year-old kid from South Jersey came up to NYC on a high school class trip to see his first Broadway show at the Uris Theatre, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
I sat in the house right mezzanine, frozen in concentration as I witnessed Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou give their brilliant performances as the cannibalistic meat-pie shop owner and her murderous, vengeful lover.
I could barely move when the lights came up. (I remember very vividly having a pounding headache.) All I could think was “I’m a chubby, closeted drama nerd. Who would ever cast me in a Broadway play?” As the cast bowed and the house lights came up, I was paralyzed. An intense, overwhelming feeling of focus and determination came over me that night. I realized I belonged up there, and at that moment, I made up my mind. Nothing would stop me from getting on that stage.
And today, as I prepared to make my first entrance, a chill went up my spine, as it does eight times a week. I glanced up at the mezzanine seat I sat in almost 40 years ago—and thanked the theater gods for making my dreams come true.
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