For the Drama League Benefit Monday Night at the Rainbow Room, high above Rockefeller Center, the main draws were the reunions of the original Broadway casts of La Cage Aux Folles and The Will Rogers Follies. There were Broadway legends and other worthy performers and performances (Jackie Hoffman and Donna Murphy entertainingly performed a duet including almost all of the lyrics to the song they were singing and Chita Rivera busted out the Cole Porter along with other highlights), but the main buzz had to do with old friends reuniting for some Broadway swank.
I got to sit in on the rehearsals for the few days before the performance, as I was asked to sketch the studio energy and donate the finished drawings to an auction to raise money for The Drama League, so I got a front row seat for the whole thing.
The overall show was co-directed by Johanna McKeown, an old friend from grad-school, but the rehearsals were mostly run and staged by (from the original choreography) Cady Huffman who was Tony-nominated for Will Rogers and served as a replacement in the original cast of La Cage. There is nothing quite so magic as watching show-biz veterans summoning the submerged memories of old bits, phrasings and choreography and I was privileged to have a front row seat.
It was a festive week, with old friends gathering from all over the country, drag-queens from Las Vegas, San Francisco, Florida and all points in between, recollecting and reconnecting. The rehearsals were focused but full of laughs and the show came off with good-cheer and aplomb. What it lacked in polish, was more than made up for by the sheer, infectious fun of lives reconnecting and years fading away. The rough economic times were plain to see in the slow-ticket sales, but a last-minute surge of generosity guaranteed a sell-out for the show itself.
At one point, earlier in the week, during a run off the song, "We Are What We Are," one of the original Cagelles had rolled his eyes, tucked his left arm across his chest and tucked his right hand under his cheek like he was trying to win the Jack Benny look-alike contest. "We Were What We Were, darling," he sighed with a smile.
Immediately before the event itself, the men from La Cage, put on their makeup, donned their dresses and went out to mingle with the press. I ended up in a conversation with Kate Mulgrew and a six foot five man in high heels, a pink gown and a blond wig. "Do you prefer men or women?" Ms. Mulgrew asked him with polite curiosity and a glass of champagne in hand. "Men, dear, but I'm old and single and it may be time to be less picky," came the reply.
As the patrons sat down to their dinner, the cast was called backstage for a quick run-through of the finale. Legends and former show-girls and guys huddled around the piano in the greenroom and ran through "The Best of Times" together as around them, the view from the 64th floor of Rockefeller Center stretched out in every direction, as if these really were the best of times.