Thursday, August 12, 2021

Theater Memories Part 7: Ushering at the Promenade and the Jack Lawrence

The original company of Hurlyburly:
Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel,
William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver,
Jerry Stiller, Judith Ivey
and Cynthia Nixon 

Tales from the House of an Usher, Part II: So in addition to the Lucille Lortel, I ushered for a brief period at the now-gone Promenade and Jack Lawrence and its studio theater, the Audrey Wood. I spent the summer of 1984 at the Promenade ushering for David Rabe's Hurlyburly until its move to Broadway. It was a hot ticket because Mike Nichols was directing and the cast was stuffed with stars: William Hurt, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Jerry Stiller, Sigourney Weaver, Judith Ivey and Cynthia Nixon (who was in college then). Nichols insisted no one be seated once the show started, so there were some difficult moments (particularly when the producer Alexander Cohen came late--we did seat him.)

Because of the cast, we had as many stars in the audience as on stage. On the first night of previews, Candace Bergen and Steve Martin attended. Bergen was so beautiful and glamorous she took my breath away. During the run we had Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Warren Beatty, Meryl Streep, Leonard Bernstein, Gregory Hines, Tom Stoppard (who tipped me $5 when I poured him a Coke at the concession stand), Mary Gross of SNL, Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues (who expressed his anger at the portrayal of TV actors in the play), Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Jack Weston and Marge Redmond (of the Flying Nun), Bob Dishy and Judy Graubart (of The Electric Company), Sandra Bernhardt, Lauren Bacall, David Cassidy, Charlotte Rae, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Kenneth MacMillan (then he was on Rhoda as her boss), Carroll O'Connor (that's all I can remember). Christopher Walken left to film a James Bond movie and Ron Silver (Rhoda, Speed-the-Plow) took over his part when the show moved to Broadway. I got to see him rehearse with the stage manager. Judith Ivey stopped the show every night and won a well-deserved Tony.

Christopher Walken had a long stretch off-stage during the second act, so every night he would go to the bar around the corner from the theater for a quick shot. One night it was pouring rain and after his libation, he came back soaking wet. His dresser said, "You can't go on like that. It's not raining in the play." He ripped off Walken's pants, pressed them and Walken got onstage just in time. He was very erratic but brilliant. Every night he was different so it was fascinating watching him. Cynthia Nixon's mom would come to pick her up. Every night she would stand with us ushers and watch her daughter play the final scene with William Hurt. Anne Meara would attend frequently to watch her husband Jerry. I said to her once, "I really loved your comedy album." She replied, "You're the one who bought it." When I also complimented Jerry, he answered with the same joke.

During the Hurlyburly run, Circle Repertory had its gala benefit at the theater and I got to watch the dress rehearsal with Circle Rep members performing scenes from past shows and original sketches. Lanford Wilson wrote a satire of Sam Shepard and Jules Feiffer did a parody of the Three Sisters. Richard Thomas did a scene from The Seagull.

Also at the Promenade: The Chinese Magic Revue, a limited-run of an acrobatic troupe who performed various circus feats, spinning plates while riding bicycles, etc.

At the Jack Lawrence, I ushered for The Golden Age, AR Guerney's play with Irene Worth, Stockard Channing and Jeff Daniels, and a short-lived musical called Quilters about quilts (what else?) Alma Cuervo and Lenka Peterson were in it.

In the Audrey Wood, I ushered for Love, a three-character musical based on Murray Schisgal's Luv with a book by Jeffrey Sweet with Nathan Lane, Judy Kaye, and Stephen Vinovich. (It was later reworked as What About Luv?). Also the musical Kuni-Leml.

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