It’s finally happening. New York’s out of lockdown. Out of our apartments. Even (somewhat) out of the Hamptons. There are luncheons, parties, galas. Show your card and come in. “No one has tested positive in awhile,” City MD reassured me. Can we dare to hope …?
Also coming out: our wardrobe. “We have been locked in a dark closet far too long!” our clothes — in situ since March 2020 — seemed to scream. “Do you even remember buying us? Take off our price tags! Put us on! Take us to a party! And spill wine! We love the dry cleaning buzz. I tried them on, but they still weren’t happy. “You’re hurting our seams!” they shrieked. “Lose that Covid Five!”
So much for my frocks. Time for my friends. And live theater.
Broadway husband and wife hyphenates Bonnie Comley and Stewart Lane invited me to the opening of The Lehman Trilogy and the following week to the Drama League party.
I got my card, got tested and got going.
At the opening, it was harder to recognize people by eyes and hair only. Still, Bernadette Peters, Jane Krakowski, Diane Von Furstenberg, Barry Diller, Lally Weymouth, Michael Kors, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Gideon Glick, Margo and Jimmy Nederlander (it’s their theater) were hard to miss.
The Nederlander Organization also owns the Palace theater (which is undergoing renovation for a TSX Broadway multi-use venue) with Stew. Bonnie and Stew are the work/love team that launched BroadwayHD in 2015, the streaming service that brought theater into our living rooms when the lights went out.
For years they struggled to convince other producers there was a place for plays on television. Suddenly, it became the only place. Then, Stew used it to raise money for the Actor’s Fund (he’s on the board), with one night only pay-per-view events.
Comley and Lane have collectively won nine Tony Awards, two Oliviers, produced more than 50 Broadway shows — including La Cage aux Folles, War Horse, Sunday in the Park with George, The Will Rogers Follies, Thoroughly Modern Milly, The 39 Steps, Sunset Boulevard, Bernadette Peters’ Gypsy, The Goodbye Girl, Legally Blonde, Fiddler on the Roof — and 40 films. He’s written several coffee table Broadway books. Early on, they each acted. He loved getting a cameo in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Forum at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
Now we were front and center, watching Lehman: a three man, poetic piece with Adrian Lester, Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley. It’s a tale of how the brothers built the bank, not what broke it, how they made money: more as they became further and further from palpable goods and services. We sat with Janet Kagan, a lead producer for Porgy and Bess, Pippin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and On the Town. Each intermission was filled with reunions. “I haven’t seen these people in two years,” Janet told me, as we walked around. One intermission later, another award-winning producer, Wendy Federman, said the same thing.
“It’s thrilling to see audiences back in the theater,” Godley told me later at the after party. “You can feel their enthusiasm. It makes us feel like we want to give them 100% every time. They deserve it.”
“The play went very well which is the most important thing,” Lester said. This is Lester’s debut on the Great White Way. And he was clearly enjoying its aftermath, holding court, laughing and gesticulating animatedly. “It’s great to be on Broadway,” he continued. “I wish we weren’t all wearing masks and worrying about all that. But it is what it is. The play went well; that’s the most important thing. I’m looking forward to just being able to let it grow properly through our characters.”
We might deserve it, but how do they do it? They’re on stage for three-and-a-half hours. “Protein shakes,” Godley laughed. “It’s the key to good acting in a long play!” He’s performed it 350 times, in London and New York, but he’s just getting going. “It’s a very dense piece,” he explained, “extremely challenging and rewarding. It uses everything you have. You’re always discovering new stuff, which is an actor’s dream. And (director) Sam Mendes is an absolute master magician.”
“It feels like it’s going very fast because we’re going from beat to beat,” said Lester. “Each 15 minutes feels like five for us. It flies by.”
The party, like most have been, was at Chelsea Piers, taking advantage of its expansive indoor and outdoor space. Bonnie and Stew had already been to three opening parties there.
A few nights later I was again their guest at “Light the Lights! A Drama League Celebration,” honoring Emmy winning Wayne Brady. Bonnie was recently elected Board President of the Drama League, upped from Vice President.
Brady had starring stints in Kinky Boots and Chicago and the national tour of Hamilton. “Broadway is ingrained in me,”he told me. “I’m such a fan. It’s what I always loved and aspired to be, since I was a child. So, if I can be of service in anyway, I will. That means being on stage like I am now, in Freestyle Love, (the Lin Manuel-Miranda hip hop on-stage improv where he guest stars from time to time), doing fundraisers, and helping raise awareness to theatergoers about how safe it is, because of the measures we are taking. I like to think of myself as a Broadway booster and a servant in some way.”
In January, he helped raise $2 million for The Actors Fund, with streaming performances of Ratatouille.
He first met Miranda doing a Freestyle Love TV pilot that never made it to series. They’ve been friends since. Miranda then tapped Brady to play Burr on tour. “Lin just returned to Freestyle a week ago,” Brady continued. “He’ll do another one of these mini-runs in November. It’s part of all he’s doing to make people aware that Broadway, his home, is back. Lin’s words are beautiful to say. His music is beautiful to sing. And to work with a fellow creative like Lin, whose mind is always churning, keeps you on your toes.”
Now Brady has been tapped for The Drama League’s National Advisory Council. Bevin Ross is its new Executive Director. (It wasn’t the easiest year to begin!) She joined Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks as Co-CEO. Bonnie brought in colleagues Irene Gandy, Kumiko Yoshii, Sarah Hutton, and Townsend Teague to the Board.
“To be part of the Drama League is part of that Broadway dream of mine to be in the community and the family,” Brady continued. “So, I’m stoked. Whatever they need me to do, I am their handyman!” That’s, as the song says, “a mighty nice man to have around.”
Raised by his grandmother, theater is family, he told the room. Role models he worked with, like Ben Vereen (who appeared on video), were father figures. Brady closed the show with an improv from Freestyle.
Yes, there is always a star-filled show at Broadway fundraisers. This one also featured Tituss Burgess, Tony winners André De Shields, Jerry Mitchell and Chita Rivera (on video), Telly Leung, Bonnie Milligan, Josh Bergasse and Brenda Braxton. Kandi Burruss hosted.
De Shields, with his dancer’s posture, divo attitude and silver ensemble, was literally a shining star. He’s back in the must see Hadestown. “We were the first show to re-open on Broadway on September 2,” he told me. “It was a stunning experience. I know this sounds like a hyperbolic word, but when we walked on stage the audience was already in a standing ovation for two and-a-half minutes. My character Hermes is the first to speak in the show. But, the audience was in charge. And their response was: you’re not going to speak, you’re not going to dance, you’re not going to sing, until we say so, until we finish the enrapture. It was a beautiful experience.”
I asked him what I asked the Lehman brothers and what I always wonder: How do you get the energy? He replied with a sly smile: “Don’t sleep too much. Don’t eat too much and do every one of the eight shows.”
“Don’t eat too much!” my clothes reminded me the next night, when I returned to choose amongst them. “Those Broadway stars were home all this time, too. And they still fit into their costumes!” I know. I know. COVID pounds are sad for everyone … except personal trainers … and retail.
Photographs by Emilia Madrid & Jenny Anderson (Lehman); Lia Chang (Drama League).