As we come to the end, let’s look at the beginning. Launching this show at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre has been like one extended Opening Night. So many changes went in up to the last second. And the whole Atlanta run was a chance to settle and understand how to play the show, strike it’s various tones, find these characters who turned out much deeper than I had even realized when I signed on. Bull Durham reached deep into us and while it’s a lot of fun, it also gets you thinking about your choices, how to know when to turn the page in life, how to repair your losses.
Ummm, did I mention it’s also about sex? Sex and baseball. 😉
If the whole run felt like one OPENING – yes, an opening of our hearts, an opening up of how to sing and share this music, an opening up of a company connecting and relying on each other (friendships forming, the usual amazing kindnesses that start happening backstage as we repeat a show over and over) – let’s look at our actual opening night. It’s kind of a formality to declare one night an opening but September 13th was our actual day. In fact opening night was more like an opening WEEK. There were parties almost every day, gifts and flowers flooding the halls, and that opening weekend was jammed with action.
Yeah, Opening Night was more like opening WEEK.
It sort of began on Labor Day when Will [Swenson], Johnny [Behlmann] and I got asked to sing the national anthem at the Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field.
Classic! It turned out to be some sort of notorious game where no one made a hit.
(Ok, you caught me. Not following all the baseball details. I’m still learning.)
Every day that week was 12:00-5:00 rehearsal with a 90-minute break before a big audience filed in for previews. Every day, we were handed pages and new ideas and sections of songs were patched in. Sometimes I got lines recited to me and there was no paper so I scribbled on a scrap of paper and stuffed the lines in my bra while I kept on working. At the end of each rehearsal, I would uncrumple the notes and review and memorize. Sometimes I would transfer key lyrics to my makeup mirror in lip pencil so I could consult them during fix up and wig time. I also wrote at the very top of the mirror what became my motto. It was actually a text from Broadway veteran Ron Raines who had sent that to me in support. I loved it so I wrote that down too so I would be reminded every day.
Just tell the story and be true.
The batting cage scene changed significantly and I wondered how its intense emotions would shift other areas of the show and I tried to piece it all together. We loved the improvements and knew that like all new musicals, it would take time to settle and smooth out and flow. It sure was exciting! There were times Will carried lyrics in his pocket onstage just in case. But he never needed it.
By the official opening weekend, we had done five shows in a row.
That weekend the cast presented Ron Shelton with a great gift: an original framed baseball card of him when he played for Rochester. He was blown away!
Two per day and a Friday, with really lovely big parties every single night
Including the official gala on Saturday night at a beautiful restaurant across the street on Peachtree, with a disco inside and, my favorite: a balcony with cafe tables under the stars. Atlanta is warm in the days but the nights are sultry and beautiful this time of year.
Sunday night was the topper. We finished our long week with a fantastic party thrown by Jack Viertel and Laura Stanzyck, two of our amazing producers.
(with Viertel and Stanzyck)
(with my leading men, Will Swenson and John Behlmann)
They rented out this groovy spot called Einsteins and before we knew it, it had turned into a raucous singer songwriter show down featuring Jimmy Buffett himself!! He had seen the show and was clearly a big fan of it and wanted to join our party. Is there a role he could play on stage!?? We didn’t want to ever say goodbye. He admitted he was a ham, and he sang and sang. I think he borrowed Susan Werner’s guitar but had his own pick in his pocket.
Susan sang and was utterly brilliant. Brent Bateman got up and sang his 16 bar barbershop-style audition. Joe Tippett got up and sang an original tune… Later he said he had never been so nervous. Really Joe? You’re a God. Ron Shelton had just left for LA but called on speaker phone and the phone was passed around in the chaos so he could be a part of it.
I guess I ought to mention that despite having no wine (I devoured two cheeseburgers though), I was lured to sing with Susan and she and Jimmy and I did a three-part harmony swing country guitar arrangement of “Loverly” from MY FAIR LADY. It was surreal and funky, and I thought I gotta sing this again with Susan maybe at 54 Below sometime. She can open me up to such a happy musical place. What a person (and composer!) she is. She sang that night about Iowa, her life growing up around farms…and about herbicides making people gay (watch that video up above to see what I mean). She’s a smart, edgy, unique and fun woman.
So that was opening week. Audra McDonald arrived at the party late, right from her Broadway show LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL (and straight off a plane) and into the loving arms of the fantastic Will Swenson. The room was crowded with love and camaraderie, guitar strides and smiles of a long process begun. Hardly over. But begun and built on laughter, acceptance, eclectic voices blending in one common joy.