I am currently on the American side of the pond, where they do things a little differently than back home. They don’t put kettles in your hotel room for a start, which has made writing this blog slightly more challenging than usual. Cars turn on red lights, even if the red is lit to allow pedestrians to cross the cars’ path. Television programmes interrupt adverts. The doughnut is considered a legitimate breakfast option.
And most shocking of all, people do not dress up for the theatre. Which was only one of many differences I observed between the theatre cultures of Britain and the USA when this week, for the first time in my life, I saw a play on Broadway.
The play was Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy staring Hollywood’s indisputably-a-superstar Tom Hanks as the late Mike McAlary, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist. It’s the story of McAlary’s rise, fall and rise again to become the most famous and fun-loving of a posse of perennially drunk reporters in 1980s New York: a city of drugs, corruption and police brutality. The play was smart, funny, disturbing and moving, and the whole cast put in effective performances, though Hanks stood out from the moment he first stepped on to the stage to a round of spontaneous applause.
My abiding memory of the evening will be, however, not the play, but the experience of seeing the play on Broadway, and how this experience differs in manifold odd little ways from seeing a play in London’s West End.
For a start, as I’ve already intimated, the audience were a bunch of scruffbags. Women in jeans, men in trainers. Back home, mater empties her jewellery box for a night of amateur dramatics. But here on Broadway, I saw one woman in the royal box (or do they call it the presidential box?) wearing a polo-shirt. I mean, really. Women can wear polo shirts when gardening, sailing or modelling for a Brooks Brothers’ catalogue. Not when going to the theatre. Thankfully, I’d made a last-minute decision to don only my second-best dress for the evening rather than my very best, so there’s a fashion faux-pas narrowly side-stepped on my part.
Seats are grouped by odds and evens rather than running sequentially. This could be potentially disturbing to individuals with compulsive tendencies and has undoubtedly provoked an argument or two between box-office attendants and un-inducted foreigners outraged by the prospect of a smelly stranger being seated between them and their theatre companion.
The seat numbering certainly momentarily flummoxed my party, but fortunately there were numerous helpful ushers on hand to guide us to our seats. ‘Helpful’ is, as my last sentence indeed proves, the first adjective I would use to describe the ushers. The next however would be ‘unsettling’. Whereas a majority of West End ushers appear to be aspiring actors, their Broadway counterparts appear to be failed ones. Judging by the two bony, scraggly, wild-eyed creatures who stalked my side of the circle, they are actors who failed because the only role they are fit for is as the last surviving henchman in Dracula’s castle, a role for which there are evidently far too many suitable applicants.
I am perhaps being a little harsh, but maybe I would be a little less so if these ushers had fulfilled their one vital duty: the serving of ice cream. But it transpires they don’t serve ice cream at intermission on Broadway. This was particularly disappointing, as my party were conveniently seated – at the front of the circle and the end of the row – to leap up as soon as the curtain dropped and be first in the ice cream queue. But as none of Dracula’s henchmen seemed predisposed to don a tray, we instead had to clamber back up to the top of the circle and join the end of a long queue for the bar, where they did not serve tea or coffee or ice cream, and where my friend was charged the exorbitant sum of $18 for a glass of wine and a packet of M&Ms.
There are of course many things which Broadway does better. For one thing, I was relieved that the company did not indulge in endless curtain calls – they made one quick bow to a fully deserved standing ovation, and were satisfied. I fear though that this noble sacrifice of self-gratification was but an exceptional case. For after the play the company remained on the stage to tell the audience, before too many left, about the ‘Equity for Aids’ campaign, to beg for donations for it, and to auction off Tom Hanks. Yes indeed, Tom Hanks, or rather five minutes and a photo with Tom Hanks, was on offer to the highest bidder.
A photo with Tom Hanks would have been the perfect conclusion to my first Broadway play, and the perfect conclusion to this blog. But my dear readers, although there are many things and many expenses I will bear to entertain you, I will not do this: I refuse to spend $2,000 to meet an actor.
But, I thought I owed my loyal readers something. So instead of emptying my bank account, I did what all true Broadway fans do: I lurked outside the stage door for a good half hour, in the rain and cold, being elbowed and pushed by anxious moaning women, to await the fleeting appearance of a middle-aged, slightly pot-bellied man who no longer passes as the type of guy Meg Ryan would conceivably go for, and snap a blurry photograph. Please enjoy.