Although it was nearly a decade ago and although my memory for dates and events is deeply flawed, to put it mildly, I do remember that. I remember because I was swinging “Fiddler” and we were still in previews. I had no costumes ~ only shoes and skins ~ and one of our bottle dancers was deathly ill with the flu. Pasty, cold, sweaty, shaky and barely able to keep his head up. Management told him we weren’t yet in a position to put on a swing and he, somehow, white knuckled his way through the first show, sleeping in the green room during every break. It was clear, however, that a second show that day was not in his future. There was no way he could perform that evening. As the curtain came down on the matinee (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that we didn’t have an act curtain for the production. In this case, it’s just an expression. If I were being literal, I would have written, “As the house lights came up and we walked offstage discussing our dinner plans in full view of the audience…,” but that doesn’t read well.), I was called to meet him in wardrobe where they proceeded to free him from his his hot-cold, sweated-through costume made of 27,000 layers of wool and put it on me in one fluid, cartoon-like motion. Once they saw that it fit they told me to take it off so they could disinfect it. I thought perhaps we might have done that before trying it on me, but what did I know. It was my Broadway debut.
Fast forward four hours. Act I was going swimmingly. I hadn’t injured anyone and my greatest fear that I would get my first Broadway gig and somehow never go on had evaporated and been replaced by my second greatest fear ~ that I would go on and suck. I was on for the first bottle dancer ~ the guy who starts the whole shibang. Me. Dancing iconic choreography. Alone. In a spotlight. With what I’m told was a hundred year old, very fragile bottle on my head. On a deck made of uneven planks of wood. Unrehearsed. On Broadway. Faaaaaabulous!
I didn’t drop the bottle. Second greatest fear met and conquered ~ I didn’t suck.
Then came the end of Act I. The moment in the show when the men and women of Anatevka dance together instead of remaining separate, thus tossing another one of the traditions they’ve been singing about since 1964 onto the heap of yesterday’s old-fashioned, old-world hang-ups. We were doing a Jewish-Russian musical theatre version of a square dance and the entire company was onstage in four lines, each line with slightly different choreography. I managed to find the correct spot but then became overwhelmed with all the movement around me. I had never rehearsed it with the cast, only by myself off in some unobtrusive corner somewhere. Yet there I was, in the middle of this throng of people who all knew what they were doing and where they were supposed to be doing it. All of them comfortable. All of them dancing. Laughing. Twirling. Yelling. Celebrating. Changing partners. Curtseying. Do-si-do’ing. I lost the choreography. I lost my partner. I lost all sense of direction. I was center stage ~ on Broadway ~ spinning in circles like an unmoored dreidel. I finally discovered downstage only to discover that that was stage right.
Then it happened. I looked up and saw Alfred Molina. Had I been thinking more clearly I would have looked for him sooner since he was basically a Freedom Tower on a stage full of walk-ups. He was my beacon. My hero. My true north and anchor. I looked to him for guidance because I knew he could right me. And this is what I saw: stage, tv and movie star Alfred Molina, Doc fucking Ock!, Tevye, leading man and father of the fictional bride ~ arm extended, pointer finger pointed, mouth gaping, and laughing. Laughing! At me!!! Hysterically, and openly.
Ummmmm….what????? Do you know how hard it is to swing 13 ~ 13! ~ people? Do you know that I have never, until tonight, set foot upon this deck to dance one. single. step? Do you know the balls it takes to come out here and slip into this show like it’s nothing ~ how much work that takes? Do you know how fucking amazing it is that I got through L’Chaim? Didn’t just get through it, actually, but danced the shit out of it???
That would have been my reaction had the person laughing at me been anyone other than Fred. But it was Fred. And perhaps you would have to know him to understand this, but his laughter was filled with support. With love. With a celebration of my hilariously human moment. I could see it in his eyes and I could feel it emanating from his heart. Only someone with a heart as big as Fred’s can help you to celebrate your own drowning even as you’re gasping for air. He wasn’t laughing at me. He was celebrating with me. Like a big kid. How could I do anything but laugh with him?
And not for nothing, he was still working perfectly within the framework of the show. A proud Papa, celebrating his daughter’s wedding with all the members of his tight knit community ~ even those who are choreographically challenged or who just plain didn’t know the steps because how can anyone possibly know a dance they’ve never seen before? (Ahhh, gotta love the magic of musical theatre.)