Nothing seems more New York than a line. Lines at the supermarket, at the drugstore, at the airport. One of the joys of Broadway used to be its absence of lines: you showed up at the Winter Garden or the Booth or the Majestic and just walked in. Sometimes, there was a little pushing but it was nothing to spike your blood pressure. Why the change? Perhaps some producer began using one ticket taker instead of two to cause outdoor queues and to make the show appear especially popular. More certain: the no-lines custom collapsed under the weight of 9/11. Bag checks were instituted, which meant that patrons had to form lines out front to comply with the security. Walk through the theater district at 7:45 these days and you will see lines half-a-block long in front of every house. For a few brief minutes, every show looks as hot as Hamilton.
The Vivian Beaumont is a Broadway house, but it retains the civilized manner of an earlier era. Lincoln Center has a more spacious layout than does midtown Manhattan, so patrons are free to enter the building calmly. The lobby can be a slight crunch before the house is opened, but, unless it’s raining, people are free to mill about out-of-doors.
Lines do, occasionally, form in front of the plaza entrance. But they tend to be composed of groups of schoolchildren, whose minders are trying to transform the kids from their naturally rambunctious selves to the digitally deprived selves they must assume inside. Before the matinee of The King and I this past Wednesday, I sat in the grove of trees in front of the Beaumont and watched the assembly of two such queues. My brain flashed to Ludwig Bemelmans, and the only words I retain from his classic children’s book Madeline: “They left the house at half past nine/In two straight lines in rain or shine.”
Downstairs from the plaza, simultaneously, another group of children were lining up in front of the stage door. These were the young actors who play the progeny of the King. Every day, at about 30 minutes to curtain, they are transferred from the tutelage of their parents to the care of the “wranglers” who tend the kids backstage. The scene resembles a morning drop-off at a grade school – parents exchange pleasantries, children share cell-phone selfies – except that everyone must be present before anyone goes in. As they pass single file through the stage door, I can’t help thinking that this is, consciously or not, a kind of daily dress rehearsal for their big number: “The March of Siamese Children.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.