NON FICTION ~ Bebe’s Back

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It was June 19, 1997 and I had just arrived in New York City from Los Angeles with one goal in mind, to see Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking in the Broadway musical, Chicago. I took a cab from the airport to the Shubert theater and asked for two tickets to that night’s performance. It was Ann Reinking’s last week after a year’s run and the show had been sold out for months. The only tickets available, I was informed, were twenty “unobstructed views” sold the day of the show at 10am. The line started forming at six o’clock every morning. What?

The next morning I was up wide awake at five thirty. I got dressed, grabbed some coffee and hailed a cab to 44th St. and Broadway. There was already a line leading down the block from the box office beginning with a family of four, mom dad and two kids with sleeping bags and lawn chairs. I learned they had been there since 11pm the night before. I joined the back of line which was about thirty people deep. As the morning progressed, another forty lined up behind me.

After waiting in line for four and a half hours and reaching the box office just after 10am, I didn’t get a ticket. But I had made some friends. Four from Texas, one from Chicago and one from Queens. We spent the early morning hours bonding over our love of theater, the shows we’d seen the shows we’d been in. We talked about the other people in line and speculated where they had come from. We learned the family of four were scalpers and showed up every night. This was not the first morning that my new friends had stood in line for this particular show.

For the next day, we vowed to start earlier. And because it was Saturday we had double the chances. It was matinee day.

Saturday morning, I found myself in an even longer line at five in the morning. This time arm bands were handed out by security guards. I got one of the last yellow bands, securing my spot in line, but there was no telling how many tickets the people in front of me were buying. There was no guarantee I’d get a ticket.

Victorious after five hours, I came away with one standing room ticket to the matinee show. It was the last sold that day. Queens was the only one in our group who wasn’t so lucky. He decided to wait in the cancellation line until 2pm. He waited in line that day from 5am-2pm and scored one producer’s seat ticket.

I barely recognized my new friends all cleaned up as we regrouped before the show. Queens was lamenting that he had paid full price for the expensive producer’s seat he couldn’t afford. He asked if I wanted to buy it from him, so I gave him my standing room ticket and paid him the difference.  After waiting in line for a total of nine and a half hours, I would be seated sixth row center.

I convinced myself my seat was reserved for Mr. Shubert. It was perfect. I was about to see Ann Reinking’s third to last performance with Bebe Neuwirth, and the audience was buzzing with excitement.

The show was remarkable from the sixth row, but the highlight of the performance was, I Just Can’t Do It Alone. A musical number where Velma Kelly (Bebe Neuwirth) performs her old Vaudeville Act for Roxy Hart (Ann Reinking). Velma performs the song to a sitting Roxy, trying to convince her to join the act.

At the end of the song Bebe sings, “But I simply can not do it alone,”  then does a cartwheel into a split landing at Ann’s feet. The audience went wild, cheering and screaming. Ann, who had choreographed the show in the style of Bob Fosse, was about the leave the show and this audience knew it. To us, Bebe was speaking directly to Ann. “Don’t leave me, I can’t do it alone.”

After what seemed to be about five minutes of continuous laughter and cheering, Ann broke character and addressed the audience saying, “There is no way I can say this next line.” The audience LOVED it. Then Bebe broke character and said, “Well what should I do?” Ann said, “I think you should do it again.” So Bebe repeated the last section again right down to the cartwheel and split landing at Ann’s feet which caused the audience to leap to their feet. Bebe tells Ann to take a bow. Ann stands up, bows and then delivers her line, “They don’t make Vaudeville acts like they used to.” Explosive laughter, huge applause. And this was the matinee.

I saw the show two more times with Ann’s replacement Marilu Henner. I Just Can’t Do It Alone received plenty of applause but the number would never be the same. Next month, Bebe Neuwirth is coming back to the show, though this time as the battle-axe warden of the prison, Matron “Mama” Morton. What should I do? Should I see it?

My seat won’t be the perfect seat. And it won’t be a hot summer afternoon after two sleep deprived nights. Afterwards, there will be no new-found early morning friends to celebrate with. It will be different. Even so, I’ll do it again.

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