While I was getting ready to go onstage, John was outside taking video of the crowds outside the Neil Simon Theater. Even though my dressing room faced 52nd Street where this footage was shot, I was completely unaware of what was going on outside.
Inside the theatre, the cast was assembling on the multi-level set, calling out good wishes, waving and blowing kisses. We could hear the crowd on the other side of the curtain talking excitedly as they made their way to their seats. We got the call to “stand by” from our stage managers and everyone took their position. Our final warning was the orchestra tuning up; as soon as they finished, there was a moment of silence, then the curtain rose.
There was a ROAR from the audience. Granted, this was an opening night audience and we had a lot of friends, family and producers in the house, but over time we learned that this would be the standard greeting from the audience to the show. It never got old. There was an extended ovation (which also became the norm) and we all stood stock still, waiting for it to subside so the show could begin. I can’t be dramatic and say that my heart was pounding – it wasn’t; I was pretty calm. But I admit to a tweaking in the corners of my eyes at the outpouring of love and hope and good wishes coming from that opening night house.
There was another ovation when the opening number pulled back before exploding into the full-throated final chorus. It’s always been a goose-bump moment for me, whether listening to it on the original cast recording, rehearsing it in a studio or performing it onstage. Yet another ROAR greeting the conclusion of the number, and again we had to stand completely still until the ovation abated enough for us to hear the blast of the ship’s horn that signaled the change of scene. I hurried downstairs for my first costume change, and the opening performance was on its way.
I don’t remember a great deal about the performance except extended ovations were the norm after most of the numbers. I do remember making certain to husband my vocal resources so I would be able to make it through the show – remember that I was still recovering from the respiratory crud, and that we had already done a full week’s worth of performances (not to mention all those rehearsals). But my chops didn’t let me down – I felt strong on my solo moments in both “The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square” and “He Wanted to Say.” In fact, I felt good all the way through the finale, when the company reprised “Wheels of a Dream” and received yet another ROAR from the crowd that lasted throughout the curtain call.
From left to right, front row: Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse Walker), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), Stephen Flaherty (music), Terrence McNally (book), E.L. Doctorow (author of the novel “Ragtime” on which the music was based), Marcia Milgrom Dodge (director) and Christiane Noll (Mother). I wish I could remember the source of these opening night curtain call photos so I could credit them properly – they’re really terrific photos (I’m pretty sure they’re from http://www.broadwayworld.com). I think the photographer was one S. Mack.
As the final curtain came down, the company scattered in all direction because, after the weeks of rehearsals and previews, it was finally time to CELEBRATE!