Timing plays a big role in every live performance – the exact moment when the actor delivers that crucial line, the precise beat when that blinding spotlight hits the stage. Timing has an especially significant role in a play about boxing. In The Royale, which opened last night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, a bell is sounded to start and stop each round of the fights.
Timing meant something else for at least one member of the cast at this week’s opening-night party, which was held at PJ Clarke’s restaurant, across the street from Lincoln Center. John Lavelle, who plays fight promoter Max, told me, over the party’s joyous din, “I’m really grateful that my wife made it in time for the performance. She flew in today from L.A., but her flight was delayed for a couple of hours, so she only made it into Manhattan with an hour to spare.”
Lavelle was also grateful for the enthusiasm for the opening-night audience. “On such a special occasion, people can be overly polite. You’re hoping for a high-energy response to match the adrenaline you’re feeling as an actor, and you don’t always get it. Tonight, we got it.”
Some of the party fare was designed to keep those high spirits flowing. Upon entering, patrons were enticed with a cocktail called a One-Two Punch. It contained various, squeezed fruit juices plus Maker’s Mark bourbon. That type of liquor figures into the play – the character of Fish repairs to a bar to watch the climactic bout and the bar, in turns out, has 26 brands of bourbon on offer.
McKinley Belcher III, who plays Fish at the Newhouse, was the not the only Fish swimming around the party. Okieriete Onaodowan, who played the role at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater, in a production directed, as was LCT’s, by Rachel Chavkin, was in attendance. Onaodowan, known to friends and colleagues as “Oak,” appeared in Luce, an LCT3 production, in 2013.
As the party raged, fueled not just by food and drink but by news filtering through of the excellent reviews for the evening’s onstage drama, Marco Ramirez, the author off The Royale, asked Onaodowan if it was strange to watch a performance of a play that he’d been in.
“I felt both in it and out of it as I was watching,” Onaodowan replied. He meant that he was engaged the whole time but “in” the performance when he could relax his critical faculty and feel an emotional response, and “out” of it when the more evaluative side of his brain was functioning and his was assessing the situation. To put it more plainly: he had a good time.
As my conversation with Oak wore down, I asked him what he was working on these days. “I’m in a Broadway musical right now,” he replied. “Which one?” I pried. "Hamilton," he said. “I play James Madison.”
I have seen Hamilton six times, and enjoyed watching Madison on each occasion. I told Onaodowan that my failure to recognize him had to do with the tight cap he was wearing at the party.
If I wasn’t a teetotaler, I would have had a better excuse: the bourbon.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.