Living Unscripted: Opening Night Lifts Curtain on ‘Life’

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“A producer is a rare, paradoxical genius: hard-headed, soft-hearted, cautious, reckless, a hopeful innocent in fair weather, a stern pilot in stormy weather, a mathematician who prefers to ignore the laws of mathematics and trust intuition, an idealist, a realist, a practical dreamer, a sophisticated gambler, a stage-struck child. That’s a producer.”

– Oscar Hammerstein II

The days and nights leading up to the Opening of our musical were a kaleidoscope of colored pieces coming together to form a picture perfect show . . . with a couple with surprises. We knew the creative team did a more than brilliant job of taking a horrific chapter in American history and serving it up as a 5-star gourmet meal. What we didn’t expect was JB drowning once again — and once again, ignoring the lifesavers we were tossing her way . . . or maybe it was the three of us who were floating around naively expecting the perfect wave to appear to lift us up and over to Opening Night. Regardless, “life” was behaving as “life” does, presenting extraordinary challenges and opportunities.

Much to my delight, Bond, James, had become more-or-less a permanent fixture chez moi: 28 days in October and 25 in November . . . men truly are where they plant their feet and his have been intermingled with mine just about every night this fall.

Emma’s guy (a.k.a. “Mr. Vegas”) came in to escort her to the main event and couldn’t have been more perfect . . . He’s totally set-point-match to her artistic sensibilities. Sixteen years of standing by, she was proud to show him off. Much to our delight he’s a comfortable guy with a good sense of playful, fitting right in with the rest of us – Emma was glowing.

Mr. CEO, not so much. He cancelled out on Opening Night three hours prior to our pre-show Champaign Toast for our investors. Via text. Asshole. It was the straw that broke her camel’s back and a sob so painful it could be heard around the world . . . she was devastated. But the evening was too special to allow her to spend it with her head in a bucket. Hoping for the best but anticipating the worst, Karen had counseled Paley earlier to have a “Plan B” — and she did: a downtown buddy (a.k.a. “Cameraman”) stepped in, lovely bouquet of flowers in hand.

And so it was that we three ladies of the theater in thigh highs and pearls were handsomely led about on the much-anticipated Opening Night of our already infamous Broadway musical . . . Bond, James, in tux and funky tie, Mr. Vegas, decked out in traditional tux — and Cameraman sporting “film artiste” in a knee length smoking jacket. Eighty guests hoisted as many champagne flutes at our reserved spot across the street from the theater as our charming, legendary composer stopped by, making it all the more special. We were on a high, walking the red carpet and joyfully taking our seats in the Orchestra, fifth-row-center. The electricity in the theater was felt all the way up to the upper balcony as cheers and applause erupted with the opening number — and exploded with a rousing standing ovation at curtain. We hopped a cab to the after party where Bond, James, and I spent more time snuggling in relatively quiet corners than mingling with the masses . . . everyone had a blast in anticipation of rave reviews.

But they weren’t all raves. Most were raves, a few were “intelligent” (our new word for “mixed”) and only two from fairly remote newsprints were slams. The creative team is legend, the subject matter is based on a true story but the message carrier is controversial. It’s engaging, humorous and horrifying at the same time and the audience reaction seems to mirror the political divide that’s happening in the middle of Obama’s first term. One week after opening a protest was staged in front of the theater on a matinee day: 20 men and women who hadn’t seen the show — and refuse to see the show — are condemning it based on one of those remote reviews by someone with a political agenda. Theater is a very tough game.

Undeterred, we are all championing the story and the story telling, from the back stage dressing rooms to the front-of-house staff. I can’t imagine a project I could be more proud of.

But I’m leaving town in 12 days for that “world tour” of people I know and love, never imagining I would be also be leaving a production in need of my voice. I suppose there’s never a good time to break the ties that bind and I’m not sure anyone really believed I would actually take off for six months, leaving New York — and them, behind. They expected my family — and all the fun we’ve been having (including recent developments with Bond, James) would keep me firmly planted in Manhattan. Haha (!) they only know the “new” me — post babies, corporate career and marriage with the remnant impact of eye-witnessing 9/11 barely visible, and my protective shield from heartaches neatly in place. They didn’t know me in all my years of travel, personal and professional. My spirituality was already three years in the making when my mid-life changed so radically –and it’s that journey that is urging me on to make the connection now from my past to my present.

So amidst all the glamour and the clatter of my two Broadway openings last month, I found the most perfect Aussie to sublet my apartment for six months, spent quality time with my friendly banker setting up my checking account to pay bills electronically and used what was left of my brain to get e-billing set up. Since my four adult children are happily living in other cities and not available to help out dear old mom, I set up play dates with Alice (their nanny and my pal) to clean out my storage bins, making room for the million-plus collectibles I won’t be throwing away despite pressure from well meaning loved ones opposed to sentimental clutter.

My other show, Time Stands Still, is a huge success — and my musical is slowly chugging its way to immortality. It seems I’m taking off at the top of my game …

NOTE TO SELF: No need to store everything: dump stuff!

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.