In old-Hollywood versions of a Broadway opening night, the playwright makes a grand entrance into Sardi's restaurant, and, if the early reviews are auspicious, is greeted with thunderous applause and cries of "Author! Author!" These days, however, most opening-night parties are held in hotel ballrooms or cavernous nightclubs. So is was reassuring one night this week, after the first Broadway preview performance of "Other Desert Cities," to sit in Sardi's upstairs dining room for a post-show dinner with cast and colleagues, and watch a mini version of the classic scenario unfold.
Lincoln Center Theater staff and some of the show's various friends of the production had already made their way down Shubert Alley (which is undergoing mysterious construction) and nestled into their Sardi's seats preparatory to a meal selection of, among other things, cannelloni, salad, salmon, and spaghetti.
I must confess that I can't recall the exact order of arrival. I believe that the writer, Jon Robin Baitz, may have been first, followed by cast member Thomas Sadoski. At some point director Joe Mantello arrived, and then actors Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Rachel Griffiths, and Judith Light. For each, the applause was tastefully effusive. Loudest cheers went to James Fitzsimmons, who, being the stage manager and tasked with all manner of essential details, arrived at supper last. For sheer volume, the Sardi's response could not compete with the standing ovation that the performance had received at the Booth Theater, where the play has transferred after a highly acclaimed run earlier this year at LCT's Mitzi Newhouse Theater. But I suspect that the more intimate applause was equally appreciated.
After the main course was served, I moved around the room. I didn't have the chance to talk to all the cast members - in the course of the show's run, I'll get to them - but I was part of a group that heard Griffiths, who along with Light is a cast member new for the production transfer, tell us that it was "very exciting" to be on Broadway, and that she was "very relieved" to have the first performance under her belt.
I asked Sadoski what it was like to go from the three-quarter-surround stage of the Newhouse to the proscenium of the Booth. The main difference, he replied, is that "uptown, you are very aware of the audience as you are doing the show - that there's a girl in the second row wearing a blue scarf or that the woman who can't stop coughing is in Row C." At the new space, he went on, "you can factor the audience out more. You can disappear into the world of the play."
Speaking of Row C and such, I cannot complete this blog entry without mentioning that the Booth has undergone a renovation prior to the arrival of "Other Desert Cities." There is more legroom and the seat-backs provide firmer support. Whoo-hoo!
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.