SUNDAY in the Dark for Rush: Or How Fans Slept Their Way to See Sondheim
Here's how I slept with dozens of guys and gals on Wednesday, April 19 ... to get bargain tickets to ''Sunday in the Park With George.'' It's called ''rush,'' and many Broadway shows offer discounted seats around $40-$50 (a pittance compared to the regular ducats that run $150 and up). They're sold as soon as the box office opens at 10 a.m., so the early bird gets the rush. At many shows, getting in line by 7 a.m. often does the trick.
But not at ''Sunday in the Park,'' starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, at the historic Hudson Theatre, 139-141 W. 44th St. Sarna Lapine's celebrated and mostly soldout production is closing Sunday, April 23, and the remaining tickets are premium-priced ($299-$599), and way beyond my budget. So I had to rush. But the demand has been so crazy that Sondheim fans have been lining up at midnight. I know many believe that folks who'll wait hours on end for a Broadway bargain have no life, yet everytime I start to feel defensive, I remember tickets are expensive.
Normally, ''Sunday in the Park'' sells just 10 rush seats, $41 each, at each performance for row T in the orchestra. We lined up for Wednesday because it's a two-show day (matinee and evening), thus doubling our chances. So we buttoned up our overcoat and waited from midnight to morn, sleeping and camping outside the Hudson. Some left work early; others took the day off. But what drew them to this 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning portrait of the French pointillist painter Georges Seurat and his delightfully dotty model and mistress?
It all started Tuesday night with Ellie Aspinal, an actress from Orlando: ''I got here at 10 p.m., so I was the first one in line. I had read on the BroadwayWorld message boards that people were already getting here at midnight. My boyfriend [Frank Japes] really wanted to see it.'' Japes, a Sondheim fan, said, ''We're seeing 'Sweeney Todd,' too.'' And were they eager to see a movie star, like Gyllenhaal? Aspinal added, ''That helped!''
Everything was Jake, too, for Er Suo, who works in New York advertising: ''I followed the reviews, especially for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance. I don't know the show or who wrote it [James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim], but I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.''
On the other hand, Adam Crimson swears that ''Sunday in the Park'' is ''one of my favorite shows ever. I saw the original. Jake and Annaleigh didn't draw me to this. I'm a set designer, and the show's about an artist, and his struggle is real. It's about balancing life versus art.''
If ''It's Hot Up Here'' in ''Sunday in the Park,'' it was cold out there on the pavement. A number of fans brought blankets, comforters and pillows, so they could bundle up and catch some shuteye on the sidewalk. The early a.m. temperatures dipped a little into the 30s, now and then, but luckily, there was no rain of terror. Mason Early, a New York actor, said: ''It's been a little chilly, but I once camped out for hours to see 'Saturday Night Live' when it was pouring. We were all huddled under one umbrella, and that was worse because I don't like the rain.''
By the time the Hudson box office opened 12 hours after the line started, there were 60 people. Aspinal, Japes, Suo, Crimson and Early all happily snapped up $41 rush tickets because they were among the first dozen in line. But anyone who joined the queue after 2 a.m. and had waited up to 8 hours in the cold, was out of luck. Crimson learned that tough lesson just the day before: ''I got here at 5 a.m., but the math didn't add up.''
By 2 p.m., we were inside the rapturously restored 1903 theater, a palace of marble stairs and Tiffany tiles that was stunningly beautiful. Then, there was only the color and light of Lapine and Sondheim's masterpiece framed by a stage that once held Helen Hayes and Douglas Fairbanks. And this Wednesday matinee of ''Sunday'' was historic in its own way. The Lincoln Center Library's Tony-winning Theatre on Film and Tape Archive was taping this performance. Patrick Hoffman, TOFT's dedicated director since 2001, said he was so excited to add this to their famed collection.
As for the sidewalk Sondheim fans, what did they think of the show? And were their rush tickets worth the 9 to 12-hour wait?
Crimson: ''I loved it! Nobody's ever gonna match Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin [its original stars] vocally, but Jake and Annaleigh were great. It was a minimalist approach to the show. Very nuanced and reined in. It was totally worth the wait. And now I have a story to tell.''
Early: ''Jake and Annaleigh were fantastic and perfectly cast. It was definitely worth the 9 hours I slept on concrete.''
Meantime, ''Sunday in the Park'' has one final, two-show day on Saturday, April 22. Assuming they offer 20 of those $41 rush seats for the matinee and evening, you'll need to arrive even earlier than 10 p.m. the previous night.
Break a leg on getting in. And que Seurat, Seurat!
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos