Broadway’s starriest moment this past week was the opening night of Helen Mirren in The Audience, but for me an equally thrilling occasion involved the audience at the first preview, on Thursday, for The King and I. Sitting in the Vivian Beaumont Theater before curtain, and glancing around at the more than one thousand patrons, I could feel palpable excitement.
The Beaumont has been dark since last summer, and it was a pleasure to see its lobby and interior brimming with people once again. Since the last time the house was open to such a fervent public, the auditorium’s seats and carpeting have been replaced. Except for the last time I sat in a Barcalounger at the home of my cousins in St. Louis, I cannot remember when my back settled so gently into a seat’s contours.
After the performance, the excitement spilled across the street to PJ Clarke’s, where a first-preview party was held for the cast, crew, and LCT staff. You’d think that after dozens of such gatherings I would get used to just how famished actors are after a performance. Yet I marveled once more at how much of the restaurant’s signature creamed spinach the performers put away, the better, Popeye-like, to fortify themselves for the weeks of perfecting the production that await before opening night on April 16th.
I marveled as well at how many of the show’s child actors were still milling around the party at midnight. I come from a generation when curfew on school nights was strictly enforced, and still carry a resentment that, as a child actor in a community production of South Pacific, I was not allowed to attend a first-preview party because I had a math test the next day. Today’s kids are more fortunate in their parenting, and lucky that they have a school set up on LCT premises, in a rehearsal room.
The adult actors also stayed enjoyably late at PJ Clarke’s. Christopher Vo, who plays Simon of Legree in the beautiful “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, told me that he was thrilled to have one performance behind him. “It’s a challenge, but an enjoyable one. We’re still getting used to the stage space. Before your body is completely used to the rhythm of an uninterrupted performance you have the tendency to move a little more cautiously. But soon everything will be instinctive.”
Murphy Guyer, a veteran of LCT’s South Pacific who in The King and I plays Captain Orton, told me that the first preview and the opening night are performances unlike any other in a show’s run. “The opening night can be tricky because of the burden of expectations and the first preview is unique because the actors are finally before a big audience and we really have no idea how they will respond.”
They know now. Onward!
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.