Wheeeee! (Opening Night Party)

The opening night bash for Ragtime was held at Tavern On The Green in Central Park. Many of us had had our fingers crossed that the event would be at the Roseland Ballroom, largely because it was right across the street from the theatre. But the Tavern it was, and shuttle buses were ready take the cast members from the theatre to the party. Guests had to find their own way there, so John and Debbie had instructions to take a cab and go on to the party, since I still had to get ready.

Savannah and I dashed to our dressing room and frantically started repairing the damage from the opening night performance. Both of us had long hair that had been in pincurls all night, so our hair was curly, if nothing else. I had a curling iron to fix the curls that were bent at weird angles, but eventually realized the best way to go was just sweep everything off my forehead, spray it in place and call it a night. Savannah fiddled with some hairpieces but then decided just to go with her own lovely locks. We’d both agonized over our dresses; she’d ended up having hers made, and I finally found one I liked at Lord & Taylor. So we went from this:

To this:

And all in the space of about 30 minutes, which may be a new world record. We did pause long enough to drink a toast with some prosecco that had been a gift from two of the ensemble men (in champagne flutes provided by our wonderful dresser, Rose Keogh). Savannah was ready first, so she scurried down to meet her boyfriend and was gone before I knew it, I took a more leisurely speed of necessity, since I was wearing VERY high heels and they were turning out not to be terribly comfortable. I paused in the stage left wing to get a photo with some of the ladies of the ensemble:

From L to R, Carey Brown, Carly Hughes, Mamie Parris, me, Tracy Olivera, Lisa Karlin, Jennifer Evans.

The shuttle buses were parked across the street from the theatre, so I picked up the train of my dress, started across the street in a stately and elegant manner, and promptly caught the heel of one shoe in a manhole cover. I had to actually step out of the shoe and stand on one foot before I was able to yank the damn thing free. Then I got on the shuttle and we were rushed to the party.

Upon arrival, I was culled from the bus riders by our PR people and hurried into what I can only call the photo corral. I waited in line until they called my name, then stood like a ninny in front of the a bunch of photographers. Savannah had been ahead of me and coolly posed like a pro, laughing and smiling, but I was flummoxed by the whole experience (particularly the photographers calling “Look here, Donna! Look here, Donna!”) and the photographs that showed up in the press the next day showed it. This is one of the better shots, but I still look a little befuddled. The PR people hustled me out of the photo corral and sent me in to the party, bypassing the area where select company members were actually asked to SPEAK to the press – which is probably just as well, as I think the most I could have provided at that moment was a dumb look. I was waylaid by a reporter in the hallway and didn’t even realize he was taping until midway through the conversation when I saw his recorder; I doubt I said anything of any significance and fortunately never heard or read any of my quotes in any subsequent publication, which was probably a good thing. Finally I made my way into the party and spent nearly half an hour in the crush of people trying to find John and Debbie. We kept missing each other on the cell phone, and I was having a terrible time juggling my drink (club soda – I was parched) and the cell phone and trying to keep my train from under other guests’ feet at the same time. I was actually starting to get a little teary when we finally located each other.

Then came the struggle to find a place to sit down. I had been on my feet for less than an hour and was already discovering that the Very High Heels were a Very Bad Idea. All the tables seemed to have reserved signs on them, but finally we found one that was largely vacant and the few folks sitting there welcomed us to sit with them. John dutifully went off to get us some food, and I took a moment to breathe and look around. It was absolute madness – crowded and loud and sparkly and festive, but in a really overwhelming way. I saw a few famous faces go by but was simply content to look at them and drink my club soda. Eventually John returned with a plate of food and a more festive beverage for me; we shared the food (I really never eat much at parties; someone always stops for a chat or a kiss when you’ve just taken a bite of something greasy). There was a band nearby and Debbie promptly went off to dance.

At one point John turned to me and said, “Tell me how you’re feeling right now.”

“I wish everything would just slow down – it’s all going by so fast!” I answered. So we slowed down for a minute.

I love this photo. John looks so happy, and I look almost normal at this point. I was finally starting to relax and enjoy myself (I think my feet were also going a bit numb, which was a relief). After our nosh, we got up and socialized a bit. It was an unseasonably warm night, particularly for November in New York, so we went out onto the Tavern’s patio, with its topiaries and sparkling lights. Everyone had a camera and we kept stopping to take pictures. Here are a bunch of “Me With ______” photos:

Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge….

James Moore, conductor and music director…

Playwright Terrence McNally…

Robert Petkoff (Tateh)…

Max Woodward, Vice President of Theatre Programming, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts…

Mark Aldrich (Willy Conklin)…

Nicole Powell (Ensemble)….

And a giant topiary bunny.

I think John would have happily stayed much longer, but the combination of a long week, a long night, numb feet and the knowledge that I would have to be back at the theatre at noon made me less inclined to stay. We gathered up Debbie and made our way out of the Tavern. I’m glad John thought to get this photo of Debbie and me at the Tavern’s entrance. A month and a half later, the Tavern went out of business after decades as a New York City landmark.

The cab dumped us out at the corner of 54th and 8th. Debbie walked down two blocks to her hotel, and John and I walked up to my building. We got out of our glad rags and I sat down at the computer to look at the reviews as they rolled in. Many were quite good, but the New York Times, was a little tepid – although Ben Brantley called my performance “rousing,” which was nice to see. By the time we climbed into bed, it was close to 3 AM, and I regretfully set the alarm for 9 AM, knowing that it would arrive all too soon.

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