Friday, November 13, 2015

Broadway 2015 Part 1

This year marked my 4th visit to the Big Apple, and since sightseeing was no longer on my to-do list, I fully concentrated on catching shows, managing to squeeze in 3 musicals and 6 plays in 7 days.

I also made sure to be at the stage door every single time, and had the most unbelievable experiences!

Another amazing addition to my 40th birthday celebration ( I'm only 5 months into it )! Once again, I'm grateful for God's many blessings, which made so many wonderful events possible.

My first entry is about Al Pacino and the play he stars in, David Mamet's new work, China Doll.

Mr. Pacino is a Broadway veteran, having appeared on the Great White Way more than 10 times in the past 4 decades, and won 2 Tony Awards.

China Doll is his 3rd Broadway show in 5 years. And although I was in New York in 2011 and 2014, my timing was never quite right. So when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn't believe my good fortune and bought tickets!

I've known about Mr. Pacino since I was a kid, but became a huge fan when I was 17, after watching Scent Of A Woman. I fell in love with the film immediately, and jumped for joy when he finally won an Oscar - the only one in his long career - for the role. That speech his character makes at the end still makes me tear up after more than 20 years. And the tango he does with Gabrielle Anwar is a classic!

As expected, China Doll's ticket sales have been through the roof since previews began on October 21, generating more than a million dollars per week. I attended the November 5 performance, and the theatre was packed to capacity.

The play itself isn't fantastic, but I also admit to having a much stronger preference for musicals. Mamet structures this script primarily as a monologue, with Mr. Pacino delivering almost all the dialogue, which spans a whopping 2 hours. Aside from him, there's only one other character - an assistant, who stays silent 90 per cent of the time.

When the lights came on and Mr. Pacino appeared on stage, the audience erupted in applause and cheers, and I was awestruck. He turned 75 in April, but remains alert and fit. And his stage presence is nothing short of staggering. It was commanding, effortless, mind-blowing. My heart almost stopped!

( I saw Bruce Willis in Misery the day before, and sat in the 3rd or 4th row, compared to the 7th / 8th row for China Doll. Willis can't hold a candle to Mr. P in terms of charisma and acting ability. More on that in a later entry. )

There's been speculation about difficulties brewing in China Doll - Mr. Pacino not being able to remember his lines and being fed these via teleprompters, Bluetooth devices and a laptop embedded in the set; conflict between Mr. P and the director; Mr. P observed looking despondent in his dressing room.
I don't know how accurate these reports are, but his November 5 performance was great. He stammered on and off but the overall delivery was smooth and he appeared comfortable and confident.

Personally, I think Mamet's script isn't well-written. He focuses too much on an issue involving a private jet purchased by Mr. P's character ( Mickey Ross ), which went right over me ( something about a sales tax, which depends on the aircraft's tail number, etc. ). Ross is supposed to be a billionaire with a shady past, who's also under the spell of a much younger woman. We never see this woman, of course, which is why I wish Mamet could've included much more information about her. How did she and Ross meet? Why is he so enamoured of her? I would've liked to hear about these instead of boring stuff about a plane.

There were people around me who didn't come back after the intermission. That's their loss. At the end of the show, everyone gave Mr. Pacino a standing ovation. Not for the play itself, but for the man - a true Hollywood and Broadway legend.

There was a huge crowd at the stage door, and I was swallowed by a sea of tall people. My optimism was non-existent at that point, then I suddenly felt an urge to pray. I'm not kidding. I really started to pray quietly, asking for a miracle to happen so I could get closer. So here's what happened:

Huge crowds on both sides of the stage door and even across the road. Lots of security and I think a couple of police officers on hand.
I hardly saw anything 'cos everyone around me was a head taller.
After about 15 minutes, security moved 2 of the barricades and I managed to inch closer.
However, I was still 3rd row from the front, with hardly any space to take a photo of him.
5 minutes later, Mr. Pacino emerged, to loud cheers from the fans.
He flashed a big smile and came to my side first, signing playbills and other items proffered.
I couldn't see him but gently pushed my playbill through a space between the people in front of me.
He saw it and instead of just signing it while it was in my hand, he actually took it from me, scribbled his signature, then pushed it back through the same space so I could grab it!
( I thought that was really nice of him. :))
After a few minutes, he moved to the other side.
The crowd in front of me dispersed - a few people left, but others stayed.
A space at the front became available so I quickly moved forward.
( A big thank you to the other fans around me, who remained orderly throughout and never squashed me, then later moved aside so I could squeeze to the front. I think God put angels around me that night! )
While Mr. P walked around on the other side, I recorded a short video clip of him. Later, I realized I captured a fan shouting, "Hoo-ah!" at him, which amused everyone immensely, 'cos it's a famous quote from Scent Of A Woman. :)
He spent a long time signing, 'cos the crowd kept moving and like me, people from the back came to the front and new items were presented.
He was very patient and obliging, and never said no to anyone.

After about 5-10 minutes of signing, fans started asking him for photos, and he agreed.
He didn't take pics with everyone though, only a few here and there. I don't know whether he did this deliberately or if fans were too scared to ask?
After he was done with the other side, he came back to us! But he only went to each end of our group, and walked right past me twice.
He thought that was it, then stepped back to scan the crowd on my side again. He never stopped smiling, and looked really happy.
That's when I plucked up the courage to call out to him.
"Mr. Pacino!" He heard me and made eye contact immediately.
( I remember thinking OMG, Al Pacino - THE Al Pacino - is looking at me! This is surreal! )
"Can I please get a photo? Please please please?"
I was holding the playbill in my hands and waving it up and down. I vaguely recall hopping as well. I can't imagine how I appeared to him. I guess he could tell I was freaking out!
He stood there smiling at me for a split second, then came over.

I tend to blank out when I'm super-excited, but thank goodness this moment turned into a slo-mo sequence, and I actually remember everything.
He positioned himself right next to me on my left. We were separated by the barricade but other than that, our upper bodies were in direct contact.
My hands were shaking so badly! I've met many famous people but this was a clear indication that Mr. Pacino was the biggest star of them all, 'cos I'd never been this nervous before.
I couldn't focus properly and it took me a few seconds to frame the shot correctly.
I worried that Mr. P would change his mind and leave, but he never once complained, and patiently waited as I adjusted my phone.
( Why was I worried? 'Cos back in April 2014, I met Chris O'Dowd at the stage door after Of Mice And Men, and also had difficulty focusing. Not because I was nervous, but 'cos I was doing a selfie for the first time and wasn't used to the camera angle. Instead of waiting or helping me, he walked off after 1-2 seconds, never to return! He didn't leave a good impression. )

Another interesting point to note: I've seen a number of YouTube videos of Mr. P at the stage door. When he takes photos with fans, he moves their arms to help them focus. So why didn't he do the same with me hmm... I'm happy he didn't - gave me extra time with him haha. :)

After I finally got the shot, I said, "Thank you so much!" and he smiled and nodded.
He walked back to stand next to his car, then a lady behind me called his name, also asking for a photo.
He didn't hear her though, and I moved so she could go in front of me, in case he spotted her.
No luck. He threw his marker pen into the crowd ( you should've seen the major scramble behind me haha ), got into the SUV and left.

The photo I took with him was the last one for the night.
And on later review, it turns out not only were our arms and sides touching, our heads were too!

Judging from the other videos I've seen, I got really lucky that night. He usually goes round only once on each side, signing and taking photos at the same time before heading out, staying 5 minutes tops. On November 5, I think he hung around for 10-15 minutes, 'cos he kept going back and forth a few times. What're the odds! :)

Celebrities are very unpredictable creatures, but Mr. Pacino is such a sweetheart, and made my entire life with his kind gesture.
Thank you, sir! I will always be a loyal fan, and wish you and the China Doll team all the best for opening night.