Last Wednesday, Phantom of the Opera toasted their 30th anniversary on Broadway with more than a few flutes of champagne. In case you missed a few years between Oh, Calcutta and Cats, suitably elaborate signage outside of the Majestic Theatre on West 44th Street firmly establishes the fact that Phantom is Broadway’s longest running musical.
Unlike the standing ovation bestowed upon Pi(e) Day, National Pie Day has more of a reserved audience. You might say Pi(e) Day is the Equity production, a star studded Broadway event while National Pie Day is a non-equity bus and truck tour; a split week between Schnectady and Utica, New York.
It’s not that there aren’t enough pie lovers to go around nor is it that National Pie Day isn’t trying to garner celebrants. It’s simply that people who do not spend their days crafting or consuming or photographing pie tend to overlook January 23rd. March 14th however, summons us to pay attention to pi(e) by nature of its date. As someone who lives, breathes, and dreams in pie, I believe it’s a fine idea to celebrate both holidays, leaning towards the adage, the more pie the merrier.
As glamorous as it sounds, the turn-around from bakery to Broadway wasn’t easy on Wednesday. Anything requiring pantyhose is an effort; combining hosiery with the boarding of a high-stepping train promotes many challenges, none of them good. I have learned to look away from any snags, pulls, or gaping runs incurred enroute to the theatre. No one really notices and if they do, they are generally too self-absorbed to spend much time worrying about the hole in my stocking. Additionally, it never hurts to wear a skirt that borders on ankle length, though that presents an escalator hazard. Secured in one of NJ Transit’s best window seats, I forgot all about the pantyhose once I detected the unmistakable hint of flake coconut and sweet butter. I probably should have worn a different coat.
At six o’clock, the crowd outside the Majestic Theatre swelled from sidewalk to lobby. Adjacent to the bar, Phantom peeps of importance were being photographed and quoted. Windblown and desperately seeking hydration, I inched my way past the over-fragranced and over-cleavaged, mincing my way towards the ladies lounge. Following a brief struggle with the paper towel dispenser, I attempted to make my way back towards the lobby.
Many of the dresses swirling around me were better suited to a balmy summer day, less so a frigid January evening. Spaghetti straps attached to minimal yardage yielded plenty of shivering theatre-goers, yet none of them looked anything shy of fabulous. Damn them.
Tucking the remnants of the shredded paper towel into my evening bag, I looked up to see legendary theatrical director and producer, Hal Prince, standing quite alone. Mr. Prince had directed the premiere production of Phantom and was customarily called upon to deliver a brief post-curtain speech on milestone performances. Attired in a classic black tuxedo, one would never guess that the Broadway icon was a few days shy of celebrating his 90th birthday. Alternately eyeing the crowd, and then his playbill, he only looked up when someone called his name.
Offensive fans are legendary, bordering on maniacal, and for some strange reason, seem to attach themselves to long-running Broadway shows. Wednesday night, an individual attired in what can only be categorized as a Glamour Don’t, practically pounced, lunging towards the dapper Mr. Prince. Grabbing and then shaking his hand too enthusiastically, the fan continued to invade his space, as Mr. Prince immediately recoiled. Announcing that she was a “huge” fan, the woman continued to repeat the word “huge” while stepping in closer. Mr. Prince attempted to backstroke, finally disentangling from the death grip handshake, taking refuge in the rear of the orchestra. In an instant, Huge Fan had disappeared, taking her brand of crazy with her.
I watched the whole thing and yet did nothing. I should have been a better friend to Hal Prince, should have spun on my low-heeled ankle strap shoe and intervened, cutting off the crazy at the quick. That was Hal Prince, for God’s sake! The legendary director, the savvy producer, the man who put pie (albeit deadly meat pie) in a barber shop on a Broadway stage. And did I say anything? I said nothing.
I know a little something about the curious breed of people known as fans. For the most part, they are somewhat rational individuals, guilty of nothing more than enthusiastic adulation of a celebrity. Pre-Twitter and instagram, fans wrote fan mail and waited patiently, watching for the mailman to bring a reply. I know about fan mail because I once answered it, divvying up the letters into two stacks; those that bordered on creepily over-the-top, and those that were heartfelt, deserving of a reply. During that tenure, I amassed more than my fair share of paper cuts, sliding autographed 8x10 glossy black and white photographs into manila envelopes, including a brief note typed on an IBM Selectric typewriter, sealing the heavily-gummed flap, safely clasping them shut.
Today, 10” kraft paper window boxes and shards of caramelized sugar afford me all of the paper cuts I need. Over-zealous pie fans are their own unique breed, particularly during the month of November, or on Fridays, and surely most Saturdays.
In recounting the story to Blondilocks, we both agreed that fans have a tendency to edge in a little too closely, crossing the lines of personal space. But the fact remains that on Wednesday evening, I did nothing to fulfill my unofficial role as Stageland Security. As Blondilocks reiterated, “Mom, if you happen to see Hal Prince and you see something, DO something.” Her message resonated as loudly as any 500-pound chandelier crossing the footlights of the Majestic Theatre.