Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"There's AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH place for us...""

I have been cursed/blessed with a very very sick memory. When I worked at Barnes and Noble, I would remember every book a regular costumer would buy. I remember conversations, I remember random songs, I remember pages of dialogue from movies I've only seen once. I often bring-up insignificant things that others have mentioned in passing, and they get scared and assume I've been following them around with a notepad, writing down everything they've said.

(This spectacular photographic memory probably should have been a great service to me in school...but it wasn't.)

When I was in the 5th grade, I went to see a high school (the high school I would go on to attend) production of West Side Story.

I had never seen the show on stage before, but I did already know the movie by heart…(and felt incredibly betrayed when I learned most of the cast wasn’t really singing!) I was so excited to see this show. I didn’t know anybody in it, but that doesn’t matter when you’re in the 5th grade…high school productions are as good as professional. (I mean this in the kindest way...I have found that sitting through a middle school or high school musical when you don't know any of the kids in it can sometimes be just slightly difficult.)

My theatre exposure was still quite limited at that point. (I had seen my first Broadway show only two three earlier.) I saw the show that night, and remembered Riff and Bernardo coming into the audience when they sing “Tonight”, standing right in front of me.

I also oddly remembered the guy who played Tony.

I'm pretty sure I could fall over the girl who played Maria in the street, and not recognize her...but for some reason...I do remember Tony.

When I was working at Barnes and Noble, I noticed him browsing…and recognized him right away. (Even though I hadn’t seen him since that day onstage in 1992, about ten years earlier.)

“I know that guy,” I told my coworker, Danny. “I think I saw him in West Side Story. But it was a really long time ago. And he’d probably be freaked out if I said something to him about it.”

Danny: Hmm. You know what we can do? You can put on that showtunes album they play here…and then try to catch him singing along to a West Side Story song…and then you can snap your fingers and go, “THAT’s where I know you from!” Then you won’t look that weird.

I didn’t do that…instead, I waited until the boy was paying, and casually said:

Me: You’re going to think I’m really really weird.

(Boy realizes I am taking to him.)

Me: But weren’t you Tony in West Side Story?

(Boy stares at me blankly, slightly confused.)

Boy: Yeah…a really long time ago…like…ten years ago…if we’re talking about the same production…OTHS?

Me: Yeah. I was there!

Boy: Oh. You have…a very good memory.

Me: I know! I can’t help it! I remember everything. It’s scary. And weird. But I remember you!

Boy: Oh…well, I’m like that too, I’ll remember random people I see on the subway and stuff.

Me: You were really great!

Boy: ...thanks...

We’re going to be the best of friends now, I thought, imagining us on a road trip, singing showtunes as we rode down Route 66.

He started to leave, and I called out, “Goodbye!” He turned around and went, “…Bye-bye…”

I felt like I definitely freaked-out Boy Who Had Played Tony in My High School’s Production of West Side Story. In fact, I bet he was going home to call his old high school friends, telling them about the little curly-haired freak in Barnes and Noble who had been following his career for the past ten years.

However, since New York City really IS the smallest town in the world, and the New York City theatre community is especially tiny and everybody knows everybody else (and, I have learned, most of the time genuinely cares about and likes everybody else...which I find especially inspiring), our paths have crossed several times over the past few years.

In fact, he has since introduced me to his friends as, “His friend from West Side Story.”

(I think he thinks he was in the show? I would have made a knock-out Graziella, I’ll tell you that much. I think he's very confused and has no idea who I am, and went through his high school yearbooks trying to figure out who on earth I am. However, he will not find me in his high school yearbooks, since by the time I was in high school, he was already out of college.)

Anyway, he is a very nice guy.

This is a (somewhat) timely story, since West Side Story will be returning to Broadway in just a few months, and although I am nervous, I also cannot wait. It will be playing at the Palace Theatre, which is one of my special houses, since it's where one of my special shows, Aida , played for several years. (It was also the theatre where one of my most favorite guys on earth, Cheyenne Jackson, starred in his first original show, All Shook Up.) The Palace is the first Broadway stage I ever stood on, and that theatre is very high in sentimental value and full of memories.

The revival will feature Matt Cavenaugh as Tony, and a newcomer from Argentina, Josefina Scaglione as Maria. Karen Olivo of In the Heights will be playing Anita.

I would have been even happier, though, if ANOTHER In the Heights girl was in the show...



...because then somebody might come-up to me with a West Side Story playbill and asked me to sign it.

And that would make me pathetically happy.

Diana Rissetto