by Marcina Zaccaria
Shakespeare in the Park was typically always about Shakespeare, but when George C. Wolfe was the Artistic Director of the Public Theater in the late 90s, it was announced that “On The Town,” (Music by Leonard Bernstein and Book/ Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) with cast including Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lea DeLaria, Mary Testa, Annie Golden, would be performed at the Delacorte. Of course, there had been a famous movie of the same musical with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and just about everybody knows the title lyrics, “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town, the Bronx is up but the Battery’s Down…”
I remember 1997 when the performance “On the Town” began in Central Park. I remember the Navy men with their bell bottomed pants, jumping on to the stage – the exuberance of the dancing, the strength of the singers, particularly the cartoonish genius of the Taxi Cab driver. Back then, I’d heard “I Can Cook Too” so consistently as an audition song at rehearsal studios, that finally hearing it sung live onstage at the Delacorte was nothing short of astonishing.
New York is and, has always been, a great City, maybe the best City in the world, and being somewhere like at the Delacorte asks you to re-frame your experience. Huge green trees surround – A large lake is in the background. Juxtapose this to the interior of a Broadway theater, contained by walls and floor and ceiling – the expanse is in our imagination. Outside at the Delacorte, the beauty and splendor of the Park leaves us in awe while the breezes and crisp night air bring the elements to you in a remarkable way.
The Second Act began. After a short period of time, the drizzle of rain began to fall. Audience put up umbrellas. Crew quickly put plastic over the lights. I had never experienced Shakespeare in the Park coming to a halt before the end of the show. Sometimes in NYC, when so much is routine, we have the strange feeling of not knowing what to do, particularly when we compare it to everything going on prior. I felt paralyzed for a minute.
Suddenly the Stage Manager’s VOG (Voice of God) came over the microphone announcing “We will be continuing.” The audience was riveted. With only about ten minutes left of the show, the players danced back on stage. I was so relieved, because I thought I would have to sheepishly walk away saying “that was fine enough for now.” At a time like this, when the theaters have been shut and we’re not certain which spaces we will be able to inhabit when, it’s alarming. As an Actor, Stage Manager, Director, or a Producer, or a Critic, we’ve memorized codes and followed procedures so often, that we’re certain we must follow through. But it takes great courage to continue. When you decide to move forward, you have to look around and see with whom you’re moving forward.
Finally, during the last number “New York, New York (it’s a helluva town),” the audience spontaneously burst out into song, singing toward the actors onstage. The actors looked surprised, but almost gladdened. It seemed as though they felt an incredible sense of relief that we could all get through it together not unlike how we now feel – we can get through the rain, or wind, or anything else that would present to us.
At the theater, I think we’ll find some of that uplifting spirit again, in time. Don’t you?