“It’s a happy ending/to the greatest show on earth/Now the curtain’s descending/and I hope you got your money’s worth…” Those lyrics from “Goodbye” had special poignancy when Aaron Tveit sang them on Sunday, September 4, 2011, during the final performance of Catch Me if You Can. And it got me thinking about some fond farewells I’ve been a part of over the last several years, and what it means to say goodbye to a show you love.
I often tell people that I like being in attendance for particularly momentous performances, like opening night. I say that there’s a different energy in the air; usually, most of the people who are in attendance are there because they wanted to share in the momentous occasion, and not just because they wandered in off the street. And so there's extra passion in the air and extra enthusiasm behind every clap.
But after saying goodbye to Catch Me on Broadway, I started thinking about how a closing night is different. And I think I’ve figured it out: Closing night is the last time you’ll get to cheer on those performances. On an opening night, you’re generally assured you’ll have other opportunities to applaud. (Of course, nothing is a sure thing and certainly in theatre nothing lasts forever; this is why I like seeing my favorite shows as many times as possible while they’re running.) Sunday afternoon was the last time Tveit would sing “Goodbye,” surrounded by his Catch Me cast mates and in a Broadway house. He knew it. That’s why he gave it more than his all and packed in even more emotion than usual. We knew it. That’s why we—the entire audience—gave him a standing ovation.
Theatre, by its very nature, is ephemeral, and that’s part of what makes it special. Every performance is only experienced by those particular people in that particular room on that particular day. It can never be duplicated. And so it is a special honor to be counted among the 1,200 or so people attending a Broadway show on its closing night. Of all the people in the world and of all the things you could do, you chose to be in the theatre to be part of it all.
Which brings up another part of closings. In the [title of show] song “Part of it All,” Hunter and Jeff dream about what it would be like to be part of theatrical history—to make it big; to get a paycheck; to score a sitcom; to land on Ellen. But they also recognize the other part of it all: “A part of dreading the day they post the closing notice…” (I can’t even type that without tearing up.) That closing notice is part of the cycle—part of being part of it all. But so is this other lyric from the same song: “…A part of knowing that the way we’ll stay afloat is/to rise back up/and just start over again.” (Again, tearing up. I miss [title of show]!)
I remember being in the audience for the final performance of [title of show] and everyone in the theatre—the audience and the cast—got choked up in that moment. We all knew this beautiful piece of art would no longer be seen on Broadway, but we all also knew it wasn’t the end. It was simply the beginning of something else. (For [team tos], that something else is Now. Here. This., which they recently presented at the Vineyard lab.)
And that thought reminded me of something my fellow Halev BBG 2362 girls used to say in high school: Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened. Which was basically the sentiment an 18-year old stranger passed on to Catch Me composer Marc Shaiman.
During his curtain speech, Shaiman (who also came on stage to revel in the orchestra during the entr’acte) said that an 18-year old boy had contacted him and asked Shaiman if they could speak about the difficulties of coming out. While they were speaking, Shaiman mentioned that he was depressed that his show was closing. The sage 18-year old said, “Why are you depressed? You wrote a musical and it made it to Broadway!” How true.
Whether you’re four chairs and a keyboard making a musical or you’re a large, ensemble cast with a full orchestra putting on a big bold musical, making it to Broadway for six months (as in the case of Catch Me) or six weeks or even just six performances is a big deal. Heck, writing a musical or play and having someone other than your mother see it is a big deal. Writers, actors, designers, directors, technicians… everyone involved in a show should hold their heads high and be proud of their achievements.
Because in the end, every show is someone’s favorite show, or so says my old friend Jen Tepper, a musical theatre historian who relishes in the under appreciated. Every show could help someone “suddenly connect/with the thing that you forgot/that you’ve been looking for...” It could be the start of someone’s part of it all.
At the end of every performance of American Idiot, the cast came out and sang, as an encore, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” It wasn’t until Monday, when I was reflecting on saying farewell to beloved musicals (and listening, exclusively, to cast recordings of shows that were gone too soon) that I realized what a perfect title that is. Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it as a response to a break up, so it's no surprise that a song about a broken heart would resonant when a show is closing: We are saying good riddance to some part of it all, and we’re simultaneously so sad and thrilled because “it’s something unpredictable/but in the end it’s right,” and we did, in fact, have the time of our life.
I love you, musical theatre. Sometimes, you make me weep like there’s a bottomless well inside of me. Sometimes, you make me happier than I thought possible. All the time, I am grateful to be part of your part of it all, even when it means being part of the happy ending and saying goodbye.
(One final note: Original cast recordings are a great way to keep a show with you. I've seen Hair and American Idiot and Catch Me enough times that I can listen to the recording, close my eyes, and picture the show in my mind. It's a wonderful way to relive the experience, and keep hold of the magic of theatre. Go to sh-k-boom.com or your favorite music retailer to purchase some spectacular recordings.)