IN ‘ARTFORD WITHOUT ME ‘AT
I apologize for the long delay in finishing this series on My Fair Lady. I was halfway done with part 4 when my computer, with its seemingly impregnable Linux system, crashed; so that The Rain in Spain went gushing down the drain. On the brighter side, my e-mail inbox was suddenly inundated with editing jobs. Paid work! Hold everything!!!!!!!!! Now that I’ve sent out my last invoice, I can try to pick up where I left off.
So where was I? We were tantalizing close to opening night, and it didn’t seem possible that we would be able to pull it off. I later learned that I was not alone; others shared my apprehension – although no one wanted to blurt out, “No way, we’re ready.” But, ready or not, on Tuesday, May 29, we would have to collectively, “Get me to the Hirsch on time.” Every one of the purplish upholstered seats in the Hirsch Theatre would be filled opening night with someone expecting a first-rate show. The Thursday before, we would leave the cozy confines of our rehearsal space and venture over to Melabev, a facility for frail seniors, for our next to last rehearsal, in which everyone was supposed to be in full costume. We would for the first time have enough room to move about, even if it wasn’t a real stage, and even though we wouldn’t have available any of our wonderful scenery. What we would have, for the first time since the first week or so of rehearsals, was Alfred P. Doolittle, having just arrived that morning.
In a “more perfect” world, some of our principal performers would be major stars. In the world we presently inhabit, we get to have the services of one Bezalel (Chip) Mannekin, as fine a comic actor as you‘ll find anywhere. He could play Doolittle at any time (except Shabbat), on any stage, with any company; he’s that good. So the question wasn’t whether he would be ready, but would the actors who would be onstage with him be able to mesh their performances with his – with less than a week to go?
Normally, we would have another rehearsal the Sunday before we open, but this year Shavuot came out on that day; so no rehearsal that evening (remember, only one day of ‘yuntif’ in The Land). Now we were really down to the wire. Monday night, our one and only dress rehearsal, on stage with the scenery in place and all the props ready to go. We had that one night to figure out where we were supposed to be on stage and how and when we were to get on and off. Take, for example, the scene at Ascot. There simply wasn’t enough room on stage for all of us in the ensemble to perform the wonderful gavotte that Lerner composed. So somebody, probably Gila, suggested that some of us – a dozen or so – be situated on the sides, in the ‘box seats’ at the race track. In our rehearsal space, ‘on the side’ meant being squished in the corner, but still only an arm’s length away from the rest of the cast. It was only that Monday did we find out that our real place would be standing in the aisles in the theater. We would get there by walking through the men’s dressing area, out into the lobby, and back through the corridor on the other side of the theater. When it was our time to ‘go on,’ one of us would open the door to the front of the theater, from where we would walk up the few steps to our places. The curtain would rise, and everyone in the audience would be watching the stage, mesmerized by Roxane’s backdrop, Rob Binder’s costumes, and, of course, Rachel’s hats. Almost nobody would see those of us standing on the sides. But they could hear us. “Any second now, they’ll begin to run. Hark a bell is ringing, they are springing for it. Look, they have begun…..”
Our opening night audience is invariably a friendly crowd, made up of families and friends of the cast. They never get an A+, 100% performance; there are always too many kinks to iron out. But still, it’s pretty good. (No, it’s better than that; it is, in fact, the best show in town. It’s just not as good as it’s going to get.) We in the men’s chorus go back to our dressing area after each number we are in and ‘confess our sins.’ Each of us is the first to mention our mistakes. We all get a good laugh out what we did wrong. But then we set about correcting our faux pas, so that we don’t do it again. I suspect that’s part of the secret of our success. By opening night, there is very little that Rob, Paul, and Arlene can do to make things better; they’ve been working with us for months, and there is very little left for them to say. Now it’s up to the cast (and the orchestra); we’re the ones who have to do it – or not. It just so happens that everyone is determined to get it right, to correct even the tiniest miscue.
By the second night, something magical invariably begins to happen, for real – just as it does every night in the script we’re performing, when after day and weeks of getting it wrong, out of nowhere, Eliza Doolittle gets it right. Suddenly, ‘Artford, ‘Ereford,’ and ‘Ampshire, are renamed Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire. Just like that! With us, the lines the actors have been dropping in rehearsals are now being articulated cleanly and on time. The lumbering elephants in the dance routines are replaced by a brigade of nimble feet. Everyone in the cast remembers where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. We go from “No way, we’re ready,” to “What did you expect,” virtually overnight. (OK. It takes a few performances to really get it down.) Everything falls into place, and the result is magical. The audience is astounded, flabbergasted, “blown away” by the performance they have paid 100NIS to see. It happens with every production, and that’s part of the fun.
The crazy thing is that we who are in the show never really get a chance to see it. We are usually in our dressing areas frantically changing costumes so we will be ready in time, or just kibitzing. We just have to remember when it’s time for us to go on – which means we have to know what the scenes are immediately before ours. We get to hear those bits of dialogue or musical introductions so often, we pretty much know them in our sleep,. And speaking of sleep, I did have an anxiety dream about the show. This production, more than any other, I had a lot of pieces of costumes and the frequent need to change them. I was in a constant state of worry that I would lose something: a glove, a spat, even the imitation bowtie I wore for the twenty seconds I was on stage during the opening number. Is it any wonder that I would have a dream that I couldn’t find one of my hats and therefore couldn’t go on stage? Fortunately for me, I had this dream two weeks after the final curtain. Imagine being in ‘Artford without me ‘at’!