I am not sentimental when it comes to my work. I have been star struck twice: once meeting Lauren Bacall (who I would meet again several years later and even receive a call from…awkward) and meeting the great Angela Lansbury, who I had the pleasure of later working with on the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music‘. A Little Night Music was work that came with a wealth of legends; Stephen Sondheim, Trevor Nunn, The great Angela Landsbury, Bernadette Peters and of course the classic, Ms Elaine Stritch. Working with Elaine was to have a triumphant tale to wield at many a cocktail party. Like driving up in a Rolls Royce with a VW engine. Broadway royalty with a mid western core.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to work with her. Her reputation for Stage Manager abuse arrived long before she did and I had just worked with Angela who was the classiest woman in show business. However, Elaine and Bernadette pulled our little revival out of the dumpster so three kids and a bump to PSM are you kidding me, “I always wanted to work with Stritch!”
I did not take over as the PSM for ALNM until Stritch and Bernadette had gone into the show. I got to watch the reigning PSM, Ira Mont, get shouted after all the time. Berated for his timing as Frid, the butler, who was not available to be at our re-mounting rehearsal. Sent all over town in search of the perfect non-alchohlic beer and an english muffin with egg and cheese. Breakfast of champions at 2:00 in the afternoon. I am here to tell you that getting an english muffin at two o’clock in the afternoon was no easy feat in Manhattan. I watched the associate director, the talented Seth Sklar-Heyn and Ira try every tactic in the nursery school hand book to control our little octogenarian. I was finally sent in the front line on my day off to run lines with Elaine. I arrived at the Hotel Carlyle right on time prepared for the worse and ended up having an amazing time complete with being sent home with a bag of stolen jars of jam from the Carlyle to take home to my kids. Elaine made a point of telling me how her Mom and Dad would always come back from their trip into NYC with these small jars of jam and how she loved them. I was set, she liked me what could possibly go wrong?
Shortly after Stitch & Bernadette went in Ira left the show to do a play that he booked upon our closing notice being posted and damn Seth went off to tend to the Billy Elliot garden. I was there in the basement bunker of the Walter Kerr with the smell of fear pulsing from every pour. It was as bad as you can imagine. New leading man for Bernadette, New other leading man for Bernadette and a new butler for Elaine. We muddled through and Bernadette embraced her new co-stars, the handsome and talented Stephen Buntrock as FREDRICK and the craft master Bradley Dean as Carl Magnus. These two men made friends of all with their talent including huge kudos from Steve regarding Bradley’s rendition of ‘In Praise Of Women’ . Okay breathe Julia, clearly it’s going to be fine… maybe Elaine has mellowed. Nope! I was given the nick name “Jonesy” and was on call as soon as Elaine arrived, which was overwhelmingly early. Most of her requests had little or nothing to do with me but I was her most familiar conduit in the early hours at the theatre.
Diet Quinine with just a tablespoon of gin to kill the flavor of the quinine… that’s how we rolled! Notes from Stephen Sondheim that he would e-mail were received with shouts of “Jonesy, you don’t know Steve how I know Steve…” I would come up with some witty retort like, “you’re right Elaine, I don’t, but I’m going to give you the note anyway.” She would throw me out and later send someone to fetch me so I could then listen to the most fascinating stories about how “Judy wouldn’t leave until four in the morning. We all knew she was going to go early.” Come on, who talks about Judy Garland this way. Or she would read me a funny note from Woody Allen ribbing Elaine Kaufman of the NYC restaurant Elaine’s. She would scream at me in her undergarments that she wanted her regular hair person back or she wasn’t getting dressed so I did in fact have to ask a fellow SM to loan me their hair person (previously our hair person) to come calm our girl down. So many conversations half dressed or from the toilet, too many to count. Elaine went up terribly on her lines during her first several weeks at ‘ALNM’ so the shows ASM, Mary MacLeod, would stay close by in the wings during the danger points. Once during the song ‘Liaisons’ Elaine went up badly and yelled “Mary” looking for a prompt. Mary, the steadfast soldier, was right there with the words but all I could think about were all of those Musical Theatre Queens that thought Elaine was giving them a shout out, “Mary.”
The stories are endless from every Stage Manager who ever worked with Stritch and without even knowing them I can tell you they are true! Every wonderful tale added texture to our lives. I would say Rest In Peace Elaine but there are two things that I believe our givens, Elaine Stritch will never be completely at peace, there will always be something and a good catholic girl like Elaine (please note: she was a catholic values prude in her own way), God will give her whatever she wants.
Elaine all I can say is, once I join you in heaven I sure do hope you already have a stage manager! Broadway already misses you… and I guess I do too.