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BroadwayGirlNYC: Shubert Alley Magic

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Back before I was well-versed in the art of discount theatre tickets, I took myself to Spamalot one hot August afternoon in 2005.

I'd wanted to see it, even though (blush) I didn't know much of Monty Python at the time.  Tickets were scarce, and I told myself I'd wait till the show went on TKTS and go then.  But when I heard that Hank Azaria, of whom I'm a big fan, was about to depart the show to work on a TV project, I emptied out my proverbial piggy bank, set my alarm for early on a Saturday morning, and set up camp in Shubert Alley, with hopes there'd be a last minute ticket released so I could see the matinee.

Shubert Alley is famously lined with posters for current and upcoming Broadway shows.  They dominate the passageway, interrupted only by a small memorabilia shop and a glowing, heavy gold door.  This is the Stage Door to the Shubert Theatre, where Spamalot was playing.  It's where I lay down the blanket I'd brought to protect my derriere from the hot cement as I waited and prayed for a ticket that Saturday morning.  I began to settle in, well prepared with a magazine and a cup of coffee, when I realized with a start that I was sitting on a spot where my life had changed forever, over a decade before. 

In a previous column, I wrote about seeing Crazy For You at the Shubert when I was a preteen in the early 1990s.  It was my first Broadway show, and my parents had gotten us front row seats (!).  The lead, Jodi Benson, was also the voice of "The Little Mermaid," my favorite movie. And in a key moment in the show, she looked right down off the stage at me and smiled. 

I thought I must have imagined it, because how could a fancy actress on a Broadway stage take note of a little girl on the other side of the (albeit invisible) fourth wall?  It seemed as unlikely to me as if a character on the television turned to the camera and called out to me by name. Jodi was part of the magic, and I was just a part of the furniture, or so I felt at the time!  But after the show, just to the left of that gorgeous gold Stage Door, I learned I'd been noticed after all. 

I was the first person Jodi spoke to when she exited the theatre.  Her eyes lit up and she said, "I saw you sitting there in the front row, with your pretty smile!"  She gave me a hug and my dad snapped a photo.  If I could have melted from excitement, I would have.

I'd loved the theatre before, but suddenly - even though I was seeing it on a much grander scale than ever before, visiting Broadway for the very first time - it seemed accessible to me.  I had touched it, and (via Jodi) it had acknowledged me back.  Broadway didn't seem so foreign or far away any more.  If Jodi could break that fourth wall to smile at me during a show, why couldn't I jump through it and join the fray?  What had once been unthinkable now felt inevitable.  I would someday be a part of Broadway!

By that day waiting outside of Spamalot, I'd made it to Broadway only so far as residing in New York and having the proximity to decide day-of to line up for tickets.  But I was there, and that's what mattered.  I'd been bitten by something back in 1992, and the bug hadn't left me.  (In fact, it was just beginning to really take form - only a couple of years later, BroadwayGirlNYC would come to life, as a direct result of the influence of those early theatrical outings!)

The show was hilarious of course, and I was thrilled to see Hank Azaria along with Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Sieber and the glorious Sara Ramirez.  I held my side as I cramped up from laughing so hard at the killer bunnies and the Knights who say "Ni"!

But the moment I remember most happened at the end of the show.

I apologize to those of you who haven't seen Spamalot, but I think 18+ months after closing is beyond the statute of limitations for giving away the ending of a Broadway show.  The final scene features The Lady of the Lake (Sara Ramirez) marrying King Arthur (Tim Curry). At the conclusion of the ceremony, she throws her bouquet with gusto into the audience.

At first I didn't see who caught it, but I heard a gasp/laugh/cheer from that part of the crowd.  I swiveled my head and stood up a little in my seat, and I spotted a small blond girl, no older than eleven, with her mouth hanging open and that big white bouquet clutched in her tiny hands.  Her mom was with her and beaming.  It looked like the happiest, and most surprising, moment of both of their lives. 

Smiling, I left the theatre fairly quickly, wanting to find a spot against the barricade so I could get my Playbill signed.  I managed to squeeze in, sharpie in hand. 

Christopher Sieber came out first, dutifully signing every playbill and poster.  Then Sara Ramirez came through the door - and holding her hand was the little girl from the audience, grinning from ear to ear and still clutching that oversized, bright white bouquet!  Sara signed for everyone too, while the child and her mother stood by and watched.  Then after Sara had done her duty, I saw her kneel down and sweep the girl into a huge embrace.  The mom grinned and snapped photos.  The girl jumped up and down with glee.  Sara looked just as delighted as they did.

I thought I was waiting for Hank Azaria's signature on my Playbill, but when I saw that little girl with her bouquet, eyes lit up as the star of the show gave her love, I realized I was witnessing something far more special than an autograph could ever be.  I backed away from the crowd, standing out of the way under a wrought iron street lamp near Junior's Cheesecake, and just watched.

There is a moment in every theatre fan's memory that defines her love for the medium.  Standing in Shubert Alley after Spamalot, I knew that not only was I witnessing the creation of a new life-long theatre lover - but I was being transported back to the moment of my own theatrical birth. 

This child, the same age I was when Jodi Benson lit the fire of my Broadway passion, was practically levitating with the wonder of what had just happened to her - the crossing of the fourth wall and her entrée into the world of theatre.  She hadn't just witnessed the magic; she had been welcomed into it.  I knew just how she felt, because I had been there before. 

Literally, I had been there before - standing in Shubert Alley, just to the left of the gold Stage Door.  Had I left footprints in the sidewalk back in 1992, she'd have been standing in them in 2005.  Watching felt like a window into my own history, and I burst into tears!  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this girl had been bitten just like I had.  The gift she'd been given was going to be bigger than Sara Ramirez could ever imagine.

When I was twelve years old, delightedly meeting Jodi Benson outside of Crazy For You, was there a young woman standing quietly next to Junior's Cheesecake, watching my transformation?  And thirteen years from now, will this bouquet-girl stand under that same streetlight, marveling as a another child gets anointed into the wonder of Broadway? I like to imagine so.  After all, Shubert Alley is a magical place.


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