Godspell – the back stories
Oh please, take me with you
Let me skip the road with you
I can dare myself
I can dare myself
I’ll put a pebble in my shoe
And watch me walk (watch me walk)
I can walk
~ By My Side
I’m pretty secure in my writing. I really am. In the three years that I have been writing the blog, I have grown to believe that I have the ability to convey a story – to share with you the emotion therein, to bring you along on the journey. And yet, this morning as I sit down to write this one, I am steeped in insecurity. I honestly don’t know if I have the tools to deliver this in all of its grandeur. How do you describe magic? How do you find words for the kind of joy and pride and excitement and energy that flowed through the theater that night? I don’t know if I can. But damn it, I’m gonna try.
While we waited for the show to begin, Brooke bounced in her seat. She folded herself into it, then popped back out. She curled into my arm, then propelled herself away. She kicked at the stage, not two feet in front of her front-row seat.
“Where are they?” she asked.
“The Jesus friends.”
I explained that they all would be coming soon.
We ran through the drill yet again.
We don’t sing along.
Unless they say, “Audience, please sing!” Um, right, baby. Unless they say that.
We use full body listening.
Closed mouth, listening ears.
We remember that we are AT the play, not IN the play.
We don’t go on the stage. It’s only for the grown-ups.
A man in a red Godspell cap approached our seats. I thought (hoped) that perhaps he was a member of the crew with word on how to find Danny, the director.
He leaned over and very gently asked, “Is this Brooke?”
I had to laugh as I said, “Well, sort of.” I introduced him to my daughter and told him her real name.
“I’m Ken Davenport,” he said with an outstretched hand, “The producer.”
I knew who Ken Davenport was, but even as I shook his hand, I couldn’t believe that ten minutes before curtain, he was standing there talking to us.
He handed Brooke a teddy bear wearing a t-shirt that said, “See, Love, Follow” and a red Godspell baseball cap that matched the one on his head.
“Oh, Ken, thank you so much,” I said, a little overly gushy. “You really didn’t have to do that.” (Which loosely translated meant, “Holy crap, I really can’t believe that you are standing here and Ooooh, a baseball cap! Now we have something for the actors to sign. Suh-weet!”)
Ken told us to stay put after the show and he would send someone for us.
If it had been even remotely socially acceptable, I would have knocked him down in a bear hug.
Moments later, my phone buzzed with an incoming message from Nick Blaemire, the actor who we had originally planned to meet.
so sorry for my tardiness in getting back to you! i’ll meet you guys downstairs in the lobby after the show, and i’ll bring some of the cast! cant wait to see you guys – and hopefully we can go on a little walk around the theatre.
hope you enjoy the show!
Once again, I was amazed and overwhelmed with gratitude. I could only imagine what life was like backstage, thirteen minutes to curtain, and yet that was when he had written the e-mail. So many people were looking out for my girl.
I wrote back to tell him that Ken had asked us to stay put, but we’d surely see him after the show. I told him how excited we were and used an inordinate amount of exclamation points just in case he wasn’t sure.
As the show began, Brooke was rapt. She wiggled and writhed in her seat, her body in constant motion. But her eyes never left the stage. She snuggled in against me, much as she had the night before in the hotel. She’d twist and turn, but always return to my side. She moved my arm around her, put it on top of her head, wrapped it around her shoulder and pushed it in for a squeeze – wherever she needed it to be to find momentary comfort. I was thrilled to oblige.
Here’s what I will say about the show. From as objective a place as I am able to muster, it was simply incredible.
The level of talent gathered on that stage was of a caliber that I haven’t seen in years. (And I’ve seen a fair amount of shows – both on Broadway and ‘Broadway in Boston’.) I was in awe.
The voices – my God, the voices. They were tender, strong, pure and beautiful. And the performances that accompanied them left me realizing I’d been holding my breath for full scores. I wiped back tears again and again, then laughed out loud with everyone around me at the hilarious and irreverent references to pop culture. It was current and silly and funny and moving and thought-provoking and inspiring. In short, it was delightfully true to its core.
The stage itself was a wonder of creativity and ingenuity. It turned from a stage to a pool of water (literally), to a pit and then to a bed of trampolines. One of Brooke’s only outbursts was to say, “Look, they’re bouncing!”
The show felt less like a show than an experience in which we all took part. We, the audience, were drawn in at every turn and I honestly felt like the show couldn’t have happened without us. The stage, the actors, the music, the electricity – it was all accessible. It wasn’t one step removed by an orchestra pit or by stuffy convention. WE were a part of the show. And I’m pretty sure that the little girl in the front row, more than anyone, felt it.
During one scene, the actors tossed necklaces into the audience. After they’d all been thrown, Nick scooped one up and ever so gently handed it to Brooke.
During intermission, Lindsay Mendez (who sings a rendition of Bless the Lord My Soul that has officially ruined me for any other version forever), came and sat by the edge of the stage to talk with Brooke. “Hey,” she said, “I like your boots. They’re kinda like mine.” Brooke looked right at her (you got that, right? She LOOKED. RIGHT. AT. HER. and said, “Beautiful singing.” Lindsay was gracious and sweet and I dare say touched.
But there was one moment that nearly did me in. The ridiculously talented (and um, well, exceedingly hot in a young, before-he-got-so-looney-that-he-wasn’t-hot-anymore Tom Cruise kinda way) Hunter Parrish stood right in front of us during a song. And he sang that song TO my girl. And he pointed at her as he sang the words. And my kid, the one who can’t really report what just happened to save her life totally took it in and later, when I asked her, “Baby, what did Hunter sing to you?” answered with a huge grin and told me EXACTLY what he sang to her. And the tears well up behind my eyes when I think about it because the words were, “You are the light of the world.” Ad well, it just doesn’t get any better than that, now does it?
I wiped tears again and again. When Uzo Aduba sang “By My Side” it was all I could do to hold it together. When Brooke added a tiny echo, the way she knows the song from the CD, and sang, “By my side” in that angelic little voice, it was all I could do not to let it all go.
By the time that they carried Jesus up the stairs singing Beautiful City, I was toast. I wept openly. It was no longer a choice.
When the cast came back to the stage, the standing ovation was as real and spontaneous as any I’d ever seen. My girl was standing clapping as hard as anyone around her. “They carried him,” she said. “Yes, baby,” I answered. “They did.”
As the theater emptied out, we waited in our seats, as per Ken’s instructions. Within short order, we were the only ones left. Just us and the electricity that still flowed through the empty space. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Eventually, the stage manager came to bring us to the stage door. We waited for a just a few minutes and then out they came. There was no one in the theater but us and them. It was heaven.
Nick was the first out the door. Without thinking, I ran to him and hugged him. Neither of us let go even as I said, “Um, I know I don’t know you, but, well … ” Still hugging like long-lost family, Nick said, “Oh, Jess, we know each other!”
And then they spoke to Brooke. Nick told her how wonderful it was to see her there in the front row throughout the show. Telly said it was so great to meet her. George told her he was so happy she could come. Uzo admired the feathers in her hair. Julia took the Jesus doll for the picture. It was all a delirious blur.
I asked if the cast if would mind posing for a photo with Brooke. As you can see, they were all miserable and stuck up and wanted no part of it. You know, except not.
Below is Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, who Brooke had singled out among her favorites. She called her ‘the girl in the blue princess dress’ because well, I don’t really have to explain that, do I?
And then there was Hunter.
My voice cracked with barely held tears as I tried to tell him how incredible his performance as Jesus had been and to explain to him why it all mattered so much to us. He squatted down to Brooke. He asked her old she is. “I’m eight,” she said, “How old are you?” He laughed and told her he was very old at twenty-four. I refrained from hitting him cause he was, ya know, being really nice and talking to my kid. He asked her for a hug. He may have been Jesus, but she has her limits. “A pinky one!” she said.
And so they did.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Hunter, still squatting down to Brooke, looked at me. “My mom is an OT,” he said. “Most of the kids she works with have autism. I totally get it.”
And this girl, who was raised Jewish, never believed in God, somewhere along the way found some twisted sort of faith and whose daughter has given her the gift of Jesus’s teachings through a 1970s movie, suddenly believed that there was no way that God didn’t have a hand in bringing her little girl to meet the actor playing Jesus whose mom is an OT. (If you followed that, give yourself a prize.)
We walked out of the theater floating on air. My heart was full with the joy of the moment, the energy of the show, the pride in my girl and damn it, myself – I had been able to deliver this experience to my girl. But more than anything, with gratitude. Gratitude for all the people who made it possible, both overtly and otherwise. Those who wrote to Ken to tell him our story, those who connected us with the people who could connect us with other people, those who responded to our last minute pleas. And you – you who supported us throughout, thought of us that day and sent along your good wishes for my girl. Every one of you was there with us as we exited the theater and stepped out into the street.
We stopped for a moment on Eighth Avenue. I grabbed my phone, determined to capture the moment.
In seventeen seconds, she said it all.