Friday, June 8, 2007

"Oh, it will happen some day..."

Thursday in the city in the summertime (at lunchtime in midtown) is a magical thing.

From 12:30 to 2:00, the casts of all the different Broadway shows perform in Bryant Park, and our story takes place on such a Thursday.

Four years ago, I was an intern for a Broadway Public Relations firm. I wasn't paid. (I think I got $5 a day for transportation, but considering I was coming in from NJ, my transportation was $18 a day. That internship didn't even count for college credits, so it actually ended up costing me! I am pretty sure that it is considered slave labor somewhere.)

I did what I was told, was yelled at frequently, and some days came home disgruntled and crying, with my mother telling me, "This is a no-brainer. QUIT! You're not even getting PAID."

However, one thing got me through those three months.

That entire summer, I kept dreaming about the afternoon that the show my office represented (a little thing called Chicago) performed, and how I would get to stand under the tent with the stars of four of Broadway's biggest shows. I would attend these concerts in the park every year, and sit on the grass sweating with the other folks on their lunch breaks.

This year would be different. This year, I was on the other end!

On that magical Thursday, I helped carry feathers over to the park (for Billy Flynn to sing "All
I Care About" with, obviously) and tried to surppress my giddiness. I knew my constant enthusiasm and fascination for Broadway grated on my bosses' nerves, and I honestly can't say that I blamed them...I was pretty obsessed, and my bosses were rather jaded. (In fact, that summer I ended up in the hospital when I fell down a flight of steps after my eyes swell shut due to allergies when I attended a Broadway adoption fair for animals. My boss told me that I was finally being punished for my fascination with Broadway.)

But now, now THIS is why I had slaved and suffered all summer long...to stand under an air-conditioned tent...an air conditioned tent!!! AN AIR-CONDITIONED TENT!!!!! with the stars of four of Broadway's biggest shows. (Chicago, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Aida and Rent, if you want specifics.)

When my boss told me to take some Vitamin Water from the bin (it was roughly 300 degrees that day and I probably looked like I was about to pass out) I looked up at him in awe and wondered if I really could just take this sacred Vitamin Water from the same bin that the Broadway stars were reaching into. To this day, red Vitamin Water will always be special to me, even though I have long-traded it for sugar-free Salada strawberry-orange green tea.

Thoroughly Modern Millie was one of my favorite shows running at the time. It was bright and fun and happy. I connected so much with Millie...she was just a simple young girl, but when she started singing and dancing on that stage, all I could think was, "What I wouldn't give to be her." I cried every time I saw that show. (Which made no sense, I know, since it was billed as the "feel-good" hit of the year.) And, it ended with Millie finding out that she really did love Jimmy, even though he didn't have any money...only to learn that Jimmy actually, like, OWNED New York City. What girl doesn't dream of that?

That afternoon, the star (well, actually it was her lovely understudy) of Millie sang "Gimme, Gimme", the show's 11o'clock power ballad. (Millie would wear a sparkly red dress when she sang that song, and ended it with her hands thrown into the air. Ah. That's what life was all about.)

Today, she didn't wear a sparkly red dress, just a t-shirt with her show's logo and jeans. Still, I watched in awe, and said out loud to myself (or to anybody who might listen, as I tend to do), "Every time I see that number performed, I just get so upset because I know I will never be up there!"

Because, of course, I couldn't sing to save my life...or dance...and I wasn't taking lessons or auditioning anyway. Yes, it was a pretty safe bet that it really never was going to happen to me, and I had to accept that...sort of...

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice say, "Oh, it will happen some day! It will happen!"

I looked up (far far up, as the owner of the voice was over a foot taller than I) to see an impossibly attractive young man with impossibly blue eyes and an incredibly warm smile. He wore a Thoroughly Modern Millie t-shirt. (I fought back the urge to laugh in his face and go, "Nope, it really isn't going to happen, but thanks for the encouragement, kind sir!")
He was a chorus boy and an understudy, and that day, he was performing in place of the male lead. We spoke for a few minutes...he really was as kind as his smile implied, and as I walked away that afternoon, I introduced myself and told him it was really nice to talk to him. He said, "It was nice talking to you, too, Diana...I'm Cheyenne!"

(Yes, I did have a brief, "No, really, what's your real name?" thought.)

Thank goodness for google. Back at the office, I looked up this fellow, who I learned was Cheyenne Jackson, and Thoroughly Modern Millie was his Broawday debut. I was able to send him a message through his official website. Within a day, he responded (actually, that was the day of the Blackout of 2003, so it was delayed a bit, because, you know...the entire city didn't have electricity) and, for some really odd reason that I will never quite understand but am eternally grateful for, that tall good-looking boy in the Thoroughly Modern Millie t-shirt and I struck up a bond via email over the next year.

A year and a half later, I watched and cried (once again, I was crying at a very, very happy show) as he performed the lead in the new musical All Shook Up. It was his first original role, and the audience fell in love with him. His picture was soon on a 30-foot billboard in Times Square and the reviews raved, "A Star is Born!" I couldn't have been prouder of him if he had been my own brother. Just a small-town boy with a dream! I'll always remember that afternoon in Bryant Park and smile.

You just never know who is going to (literally) tapdance into your life.

When that summer ended, I was terribly sad to leave my internship. (Despite, you know...the tears, the frustration, the lack of salary and that whole slavery factor). I would no longer be a member of the Broadway community. However, I had something very special to always remind me of this experience...a Playbill from the show Chicago which had my name listed next to "Press Intern." I handed out copies of it to all of my friends and relatives (including my aunt, who is a Trappestine nun in Virginia and doesn't get out much.)

My name was in a real Broadway Playbill! (I later learned that you cannot eat or pay the rent with a Broadway Playbill with your name listed after "Press Intern." )

However, I still stare at that page at least once a day (no, I really don't, but it was on my fridge for a while) and think back to that summer when it really seemed like anything was possible (I have always wanted to say that!) and even though I was going home sweaty and frustrated and in tears many days, I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Diana Rissetto