A Lucy Lawless Musical Theatre Subsite - GREASE!
A New York Adventure
by Maggie (Copyright Sept/1997)
This past weekend, I had the unbelievable opportunity to fulfill two of my most heartfelt fantasies; one was to see a live Broadway show performed on a Broadway stage and the other was to see Lucy Lawless in person. As it happened, the Broadway show featured Lucy, so it was really a double 'dream come true' for me. I'm still recovering from those exciting 28 hours!!
Another Xenite, LindaMac, and I took a whirlwind two-day trip to New York City to see the September 27th performance of GREASE and stayed to attend the Xena Convention on the following day where Lucy appeared on stage, again in person. Needless to say, she was more gloriously entrancing and incredibly beautiful than any human being has a right to be, but as we all know, she's no ordinary person, so I guess it wasn't all that unusual, after all. But, more about that in a minute, because it was an incredible day and a half, and I want to share it all with all of you!
New York City is an extraordinary experience in and of itself, especially if you're two 'newbies' like we were who'd never been there before. And Manhattan is truly, as the song says, 'The City That Never Sleeps'. Although LindaMac and I arrived at LaGuardia Airport on different flights, since she's from Ontario, Canada and I'm from Des Moines, Iowa, as The Fates would have it, we didn't lose much time 'hooking up'; we were in a cab on our way to enjoy 'The Big Apple' by noon, Saturday. And then the fun began!
The first 'NYC' experience was the cab ride from the airport. Geesh! I don't know about where you live, but I didn't know that many cars could fit on what is actually an island. And they all drive very fast and very aggressively. Our driver was very competent, but I kept expecting to hear squealing tires and a loud crash any minute. But he got us to our destination in a mere twenty-five minutes. I'm told that's really very quick, considering it was noon on a Saturday in New York and there were cars around us as far as the eye could see.
Oh, there is one rather entertaining thing that happens in respect to riding in a New York cab; as soon as you sit down, a recording comes on telling you, 'You're very important to us, so please fasten your seat belt.' The fun thing about these little ditties is they're all done by various Broadway celebrities, such as Eartha Kitt, Placido Domingo, and Carol Channing. So, before one ride Eartha might purrrr at you, then the next time, you hear Placido's Italian accent. Neat, huh? After the second ride, LindaMac and I tried to guess who would 'speak to us' next.
Next stop, The Algonquin Hotel, a lovely old-fashioned, old-world establishment that had been recommended by a friend who used to live in NYC. It's the kind of place where they actually turn down the bed for you, bring you an ice bucket if you ask, and they serve an 'American' breakfast - that's eggs, bacon or sausage, toast and/or muffins and/or bagels, fruit, orange juice, coffee and/or tea - FOR FREE! It comes with the room, believe it or not! We were sooo 'catered to', we thought we'd won a Lottery of some kind. The only problem was, we couldn't check in until 3PM, so we dropped our bags off, thanked the concierge for the map she provided, told her we'd see her later and hit the pavement, mad money in hand, to explore the sights.
If you live in New York, you'd better like to walk, because that's how you get around .... you walk. EVERYONE walks, and it seems they all walk at the same time. If there are truly six million people in New York, at least five million of them use the sidewalks and the crosswalks. We, of course, joined right in, walking and gawking, blithely accepting our status as tourists, heading down 'The Avenue of the Americas' to experience The City.
We spent a few minutes taking goofy pictures of the various well-known landmarks we saw, like Radio City Music Hall and the NBC Studios building, then taking pictures of each other with the Radio City marquee in the background and the zillions of people walking by challenging the bazillion cars that were speeding down the one-way streets (all the streets in New York are one-way, we discovered). Eventually, we decided we were hungry and maybe a little planning of the next few hours might be in order. So, after buying a hot dog from a street vendor -- another of my all-time 'I've always wanted to do that' fantasies -- we sat down next to a burbling fountain to plot our journey.
After studying the map during a scrumptious lunch of sloppy, onion-buried and unusually satisfying hot dogs (somehow, they tasted better enjoyed out there on the sidewalk)and pop (soda, if you're from anywhere besides the Midwest), we decided to take a giant leap of faith and ask someone how to get to where we had decided we wanted to go next ... Central Park. Our vendor informed us that all we had to do was walk a scant nine blocks, straight up the street we were on. We thanked him and started walking and before we knew it, voila! We were there! (Actually, we knew we were getting close before that because, as Lucy said in "The Price", there is a way of detecting horses without seeing them - well, not the horses, themselves, if you catch my 'drift'.)
Since we were a little pressed for time, and also because this was a 'what-the-heck' kind of trip, we splurged and took a ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the Park, enjoying the entertainment provided by our driver and his horse, Waldo, as well as taking more pictures of all the 'only-in-New-York' sights around us -- like the man asleep on one of the long park benches whose dog was pulling guard duty, wearing sunglasses and a kerchief, lying halfway across the man's chest right next to the new bride who stood patiently while three ladies spread her lovely, beaded train out on the sidewalk so the photographer could get a picture for her wedding album. Our driver obliged us by snapping a picture of the two of us in his carriage before continuing on the path.
Twenty-five minutes later, we were deposited back at the entrance, feeding a carrot to Waldo and bidding out driver a 'good day' and 'thanks for the tour'. We started back up Eighth Avenue and headed for the Eugene O'Neill Theater to pick up the tickets for that night's performance of GREASE.
On the way to the theater, we took a short detour through Rockefeller Center Plaza, checking out the Louis J. Something-or-Other collection of rare, antique cars and took some more pictures of the giant statue of Prometheus and the outside of the Museum of Television and Radio, stopped and got a snack at Slotsky's Deli and turned west on West 49th Street to find the 'Theater District' and our tickets.
Fifteen minutes later, we discovered that, all of a sudden, we were now on EAST 49th Street and therefore headed in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go. We reversed our steps, went back to Sixth Avenue/Avenue of the Americas and tried again to find the Eugene O'Neill. This time we were successful. LindaMac went in to the lobby to the Box Office for the tickets and I stayed outside and took pictures of the marquee with Lucy's picture in it and the little pink sign over the sidewalk that says, 'Lucy Lawless'.
By now, it was 3:30PM and time for us to go back to The Algonquin and unpack our nifty duds for the play that night and plot the rest of the time left before the show. On the way , we found the huge billboard for the show that has a twenty-foot high picture of Lucy on one end, so of course, we had to take pictures of that.
When we had checked in and got to our room -- on the 11th floor -- we thought there had been some mix-up in our reservation. The room was not the two-double-bed variety that the travel agent had confirmed it would be. The room only had one bed, but it also had another room, with a sofa, two high-backed chairs, a desk, a console TV... and a bar... a completely stocked bar.
When LindaMac called down to the desk to ask about the two beds, she was told that, when our reservation was confirmed, the travel agent didn't realize that The Algonquin doesn't offer rooms with two double beds, so he had arranged a suite for us, but for the regular room price! After the bellman explained that the bottle of wine on the side table and the two bottles of 'specialty' water on top of the TV were "complimentary", we agreed we could rough it with only one double bed for one night. We tipped him, told him thanks, closed the door behind him and nearly fell onto the floor laughing in head-spinning glee.
When we finally got hold of ourselves, we both phoned home to tell our respective interested parties that we had arrived safe and sound, then spent a little time exploring our 'regular room', admiring the cherrywood furniture, the pictures of various icons of the American Theater on the walls, the second TV in the bedroom, the bathroom (with it's own wall phone) big enough to have a party in and the walk-in closet which, among other things, provided an iron and ironing board, a privacy-guaranteed personal safe built into the wall and two terrycloth robes inscribed with the hotel logo each of which sported a sign that told us we could take the robes home with us for a mere $65.00 apiece. We returned to the living room, cracked open two of the "complimentary" chilled bottles of Coke, kicked off our shoes, put our aching feet up for a respite and relaxed.
We decided to have supper at the hotel and reserve our visit to Sardi's (another of my 'always wanted to go there' yearnings) for after the performance. We took turns in the bathroom, getting 'spiffy' for our rendezvous with Lucy, then trooped downstairs for our meal. We were seated in the 'Blue Ridge Room', under a Hirshfield drawing of the infamous 'Round Table Discussion' for which the Algonquin is famous and sipped White Zinfandel while we consulted the menu. We both selected the cold salmon, although we didn't know it was served cold until it arrived, and discussed our plans for after the play.
Just a little side-tracking here; although we both agreed that the cold salmon selection did have a very interesting taste and did arrive at our table a mere twelve minutes after we ordered it, we also agreed, if given the choice again, it would not make our Top Ten List any time in the near future. It is definitely an 'acquired taste' kind of thing.
It was now 7PM and time to make our way to the theater for THE SHOW!!! We paid for our supper and told the doorman we needed a cab. He summoned one, we jumped inside and LindaMac told the driver we wanted to go to the Eugene O'Neill Theater. He hesitated a moment, then turned around and asked her where that was. Of course, she had the envelope with the tickets in her purse, so she fished them out, read the address and the cabbie took off, after Placido Domingo told us to "Buckle Up!". It was a good thing he did.
Of the half dozen rides we took in various taxi cabs during our short stay in New York, this one was certainly the most memorable, primarily due to the fact that we were convinced, if we did make it to the Eugene O'Neill in one piece, it would surely be as a result of The Fates giving us their undivided attention for the next thirty minutes. We also agreed that we both might need the attention of a chiropractor even if we did make it.
We arrived at the theater about 7:30PM and joined the throng of people filing through the open doors to be met by an ear-splitting, decibel-smashing level of noise. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of this 'live theater' experience, let me share this event with you.
Before the show starts, the actor who plays 'Vince Fontaine' in the play, one Brian Bradley, conducts an 'audience warm-up' kind of activity, actually pulling members of the audience onto stage with him, to become part of a lively, spirit-freeing salute to the music of the era and the attitude of the time of the play. He is exceptionally gifted at this, very quick on the 'ad-libbed response', as he interacts with those chosen to help him in this endeavor, scampering up and down the aisles, pumping up the audience in the seats, wise-cracking and kidding around with his 'helpers', naturally all done in fun and guaranteed to put everyone 'in the mood'. This rampage lasts for nearly 35 minutes, or until the show starts. On Saturday, Mr. Bradley had the place jumpin' within the first ten minutes of the start of his gig.
Of course, it was a full house, every seat that I could see was filled and it was a very happy crowd by the time 'Vince' got through with us. We were all grinning and ready to enjoy ourselves. About a minute later, the show started.
I'm sure you've all read the other accounts of the actual play, so I won't spend too much time on the particulars. By now, everyone knows the plot, knows that the play takes place in 1959, that it's a gentle parody of those 'I Like Ike' days, with all the stereotypes and clichés of that era and the 'greaser' jokes that identified the teenagers of the time. It's a two-and-a-half hour "Happy Days" episode set to music.
Suffice it to say it is a high-energy, high-tech, glittering, fast-paced collection of songs, flashy production numbers and wise cracks epitomizing that period in our country's history. Sometime during the first act it occurred to me that, ironically, most of the performers giving their all for the glorification of those days, including our Lucy, were not even born during the time when those jokes made sense and the hilarious references weren't 'historic'. Such wool-gathering only occurs when one has arrived at the age for whom 1959 is 'early childhood' and not just 'the time of the play'.
Of course, Lucy is recognizable from the moment the lights come up on the opening ensemble number, even though only her face is visible. The song is performed behind a series of cutouts, like the ones featured in old movies showing some goofy, cartoonish body and costumes above which there sits a round hole where only the person's, in this case the actor's, face is seen. As usual, once your eyes locate those recognizable features, the rest of the company becomes invisible.
She makes her first 'solo' entrance soon afterwards and from that moment on, it becomes clear that even without the spotlight, and her repeated 'center stage' placement, she becomes the center of your attention, one of those gifted performers who captures and holds the audience's eyes, almost without meaning to or trying to garner that concentration. Even when she is not part of the immediate action, when she's simply 'part of the ensemble', you look at her, you follow her movements on stage, you wait for her to return after she exits. You do that not just because she's taller than nearly everyone else on stage or because her costumes seem to fit better and she looks better in them. You do that because she has a presence, a commanding captivation of the audience's focus.
You also notice that, there in 'the flesh', she is much more slender and svelte than she appears when wearing her 'armor', her face is even more sculpted and more mobile, her eyes are even softer and bluer and they sparkle even brighter under the dazzle of the stage lighting. Even when she is a victim of the proverbial 'loss of concentration' and succumbs to a fit of giggles, or she nearly gives you heart failure when she gets the heel of her shoe caught and trips awkwardly on her way down the stairs of the set, Lucy remains the classy, talented gifted performer we admire so much on our TV screen every week and fantasize about during our private moments, an entity that raises the level of whatever medium in which she is gracing our lives.
What you also notice is that she is not a prima donna, not the brand of selfish performer who continually snatches the focus of a scene for her own gratification. She is a 'team player', a member of the cast, who uses her talents, as powerful and astounding as they are, to the communal success of the production, and not to her own ego's satisfaction. In short, she's a professional, an adult and a nearly-perfect specimen of the best work The Power That Is has produced in a long, long time.
As a former drama teacher and community theater director, I always view a play from a position of reference; it's a 'been there, done that' kind of experience. I find myself spending lots of time studying the scenery, trying to determine how something on stage may have been rigged or constructed, considering how cleverly the various set pieces work, how consistent the customer's thread of design is presented ... all kinds of technical stuff that most folks don't notice or, more often, could care less about.
I also find myself judging, and sort of grading, performers and their bottom-line contributions to the production as a whole. There are many very talented performers in this cast, not the least of which is a gal named Jennifer Cody whose 'Cha Cha Digregorio' is a brilliant takeoff on the personality of 'Charo', complete with high-pitched scream and jiggling, almost convulsive body. She's hysterically funny, and nearly steals the scene ... until Lucy gives her famous 'warrior yell' and brings the house down with understated aplomb.
I'm a very hard 'sell' for most theatrical productions. This form of entertainment holds a very special place in my own history and, next to writing fan fiction for the Xena pages, it is the form of art I hold most dear and for which I have the greatest passion in my being. So it is with a heartfelt wish to be as honest and as sincere as I can that I make the following statement; Lucy Lawless is very, very good in her role as Rizzo. She gives an exceptional depth to the character, a 'pizzazz', a special quality and, above all, a humanity that could have easily been lost in the brashness and the familiar 'bad ass' feature for which the character has become known.
The scene between Rizzo (Lucy) and the 'sweet, young thing' character, Sandy, shows how well this lady of ours can act and how many levels she can draw out of herself; it puts one in mind of the many scenes which give insight into the tender, compassionate side of Xena that have so moved us during those wonderful episodes we all remember so lovingly from our weekly homage to this great talent. The song in this same scene is a throaty, gut-wrenching ballad designed to show the more 'human' side of Rizzo and Lucy tearfully makes the simple melody, as well as the exchange and the acceptance at the end of the scene by the two girls, memorable and very touching. Like I said, the lady has class, and an innate, almost instinctive capacity to make any portrayal she attempts very real, very mortal, very believable.
But the most applaudable, and resoundingly successful, aspect of Lucy's GREASE performance is, when you watch her, you know that throughout the play, she's having a whale of a good time doing it. As you see her stretching herself and trying something she's never done before, you recognize the pure, openly abundant joy she's feeling just 'giving it a shot' and doing a darn fine job of it.
That's what makes her so fun to watch and makes the audience enjoy themselves as much as Lucy is enjoying herself doing it. She mugs, she chomps on her gum, she swaggers about, she snaps out the 'Brooklynese' dialogue, even creating a wildly funny moment with just one word, "Duh!" She tackles some tricky dance steps with her normal grace and poise, she gives the scene just mentioned precisely the right amount of pathos and decency. You see her eyes sparkling with the excitement of letting herself really 'cut loose' with it and you feel as good about it as she does. That's what makes a 'really good' performance float into the 'really special' category; she takes the audience with her and makes them feel the triumph she feels when she 'does it right'.
It wouldn't be totally fair to say that Lucy is the 'star' of the production; her role is a 'supporting character', even though the part is often said to be the 'best part', because it affords the actress who takes it so much more 'meat' than the ingenue roles ever do. But of course, to the Xenites in the audience, who I would guess comprise the majority of the numbers in attendance, she is certainly the most important reason to see the show. And she does an unqualified terrific job in this, her first 'live theater' endeavor.
There's no doubt that this lady has a long future ahead of her, no matter which medium she chooses to pursue as time goes on. Whatever 'rookie' qualms she may have had going in, she has certainly proven herself more than a little worthy of all the hoopla that has been assigned to her presence in the show. Oh yeah, this gal is going to go a loooong way in the years to come.
She gives a short speech during the curtain call, humbly thanks everyone in the production for being so 'patient' with her 'amateur antics', then thanks everyone in the audience for coming. Afterwards, she promptly hands the microphone back to the fellow who has been directed to bring the show to its prescribed end and takes her curtain call with the rest of the cast, like a pro', like a grown-up, like the decent, gracious, modest individual that she is. And we leave the theater thinking even more of her than we did when we sat down two and a half hours ago. She is even more heroic because she is so sincerely unimpressed with herself.
The thundering applause finally ended and we left the auditorium, making our way, or rather being propelled toward the door by the surging crowd. Once outside, we debated whether or not we wanted to risk life and limb by becoming part of the excited throng of humanity that had collected around the three red sawhorses erected in front of the Stage Door. There were people of all ages, shapes, gender and level of intention in the 100-plus crowd. (I know there were at least that many; I counted them. I stopped when I got to one hundred.)
We decided seeking an autograph was out of the question, so we opted for a good picture or two instead. LindaMac bravely climbed onto a giant, cement tree planter with her camera poised and ready while I stayed on the ground to lend moral support and balance. (Sorry, I don't do 'heights', not even for a look at Lucy.)
About fifteen minutes later, Lucy emerged through the Stage Door and the mad flurry began. People were shoving every manner of thing in her face for a signature; programs, posters, newspapers, napkins. I even saw a man with a $100 bill spread over his palm! I wonder which he thought would be more valuable, Lucy's signature or the money. There were all kinds of cameras being pointed at the lady and flashes of all sizes and strength going off. At one point, some people walking by looked quizzically at the pulsing, screaming crowd and had the temerity to ask, 'Who's over there? Anyone important?' One of the Xenites near me answered, 'Lucy Lawless!' and one of the women passing said, 'Oh! Xena!'. They smiled and moved on.
From my vantage point beyond the crowd, all I could see of this event was the top of Lucy's head with an occasional glimpse of her forehead as she proceeded around the circle of barricades holding back the crowd. But I could tell, by watching the dark head travel along, she did her very best to address as many people as she could, quickly signing whatever was thrust under her hand, smiling graciously and openly responding to every face that she came to. She walked slowly down one side of the circle, then turned and went down the other side, signing and smiling as she went.
At one point, a little girl, probably about six or seven, stumbled back from the crowd, clinging to her mother's leg, heartbroken and in tears because the crowd had proven too intimidating for her and she had not been able to get close to Lucy. My heart went out to the little blonde darling. I turned to her mother and volunteered to take her back into the crowd, if the woman decided it was too much for her. Instead, she handed me the stuff she had in her arms, picked up her daughter and started back into the crowd with a determined look in her eye. A few minutes later, they returned to retrieve the bundle she'd left with me and the little girl was beaming. She had Lucy's autographed picture clutched in her little hand.
Finally Lucy approached the people at the front of the circle, signing her name (mostly, her initials, we learned later) on various items until she had reached the limousine waiting for her. Someone handed her the "American Library Poster" of her holding the scroll that says 'Fight Ignorance. Read'. She laughed outloud as she unrolled it, then laid it down on the top of the car, signed it and gave it back to the owner. She waved at the crowd and ducked inside and the car sped away ... with all of us waving back at her.
I helped LindaMac down off the planter, along with another Xenite who was also perched up there. As the crowd disbursed, another Xenite asked if I would take a picture of her next to the Theater's marquee, holding her autographed picture of Lucy with the bubble-gum bubble. I did, then she took one of me next to the marquee.
We spent a few minutes doing that with a number of other Xenites, before wrapping it up and heading down West 44th Street toward Sardi's, to fulfill my 'after-the-show' fantasy. On the way, we experienced Times Square at midnight ... where it's as light as daytime and the teaming, milling, shifting mass of people continually moves and shifts and teams. It is truly exhilarating; the city has a constant pulse, it seems, and there is a vibrant, pounding 'aliveness' about it, whether it's three in the afternoon or ten after twelve in the morning.
We proceeded up West 45th, only absently aware of the scurrying peddlers who were playing a kind of 'catch me if you can' game with the members of the NYPD who were in attendance. From what we could gather, there are strict rules about when and where these 'merchants' can display and sell their wares, and midnight in Times Square isn't on the list of 'OK' places and times. We skipped along, inspired by the vision of Lucy 'in the flesh' and still enjoying the glow of the performance. Well, I guess I shouldn't say 'skipped'; I personally had a problem with the shoes I'd elected to wear to the play. I'd forgotten since that last time I'd worn them why it had been so long since I'd worn them. They are not the most comfortable shoes I own, but, I already had them in my closet and, hey, they matched my new outfit.
We found Sardi's eventually, thanked the doorman for holding the door and swept inside, ready to enjoy our final refreshment of the night. LindaMac went to the bar for the drinks and I found us a table. A few minutes later, she returned with the drinks and excused herself to go to the rest room, or to quote her Canadian expression, the 'washroom'. I sipped my Bloody Mary and sat, happily gawking at the rows and rows of caricatures of famous people lining the walls of the bar ... everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Nelson Rockefeller, Lee Remick to Carl Sagen, a young Betty Davis to an even younger Mickey Rooney. Row after row of artist's renderings, almost all signed by the subject with a personal note of some kind. I was reveling in the tradition and the history of the place. Only in New York .....
LindaMac returned to the table, somewhat awed by her encounter with the attendant in the Ladies Room. It seems this person not only turns on the water for you to wash your hands, she even taps the soap dispenser for you, to make sure you get them very clean. After you rinse the soap off, she hands you a small towel, turns off the water and waits for you to dry your hands. She asks if there's anything else for you, and, if not, moves on to the next patron. It made me almost want to go to the Ladies Room just to have her 'attend' to me.
We sat enjoying our drinks for a while, then admitted that we really were pretty tired, so we gathered up a handful of cocktail napkins with the Sardi's logo on them, proceeded downstairs, asked the doorman get us a cab (which he did with a very loud referee's whistle. BOY, did it sound extremely shrill in the breezeway at two o'clock in the morning!) and returned to The Algonquin, after following Carol Channing's advice about the seat belts.
It occurred to us, as we were comparing notes about this 'review' of our trip, that there has been quite a bit made of late concerning the 'character' of New York City. From everything we had heard, the residents there were supposedly not the most friendly people and that NYC was not a safe city to be walking around in. Someone always seems to be knocking The City and The Natives. I don't know how any of you who have visited this great metropolis have found the atmosphere there, but both LindaMac and I agreed that even in the short time we spent there, we found New Yorkers to be helpful and friendly and we never had the impression of being unsafe at any time. Anyone we asked for directions was more than cordial, even eager to help us find our way.
If someone like my Canadian Xenite friend is willing to go out alone at 1:30AM in New York to go around the block to a Deli to find 'munchies' for our late night snack, she must have been feeling very safe especially, as she herself will admit, she is not one to take 'unnecessary chances'. We decided, like many others who only have the headlines and the tabloids to consult, we had unfairly given NYC a 'bad rap'.
The next morning - or rather the time for us to get up - came very soon. We had to check out of our room by 1PM and since we had planned to be at the Convention at the Marriott Marquis at 8:30AM, the buzzing alarm woke us up a skimpy five hours after we'd finally fallen into bed around 2AM Sunday morning. We struggled into our 'Convention' togs and went down to the Lobby to enjoy our 'American' breakfast, a grand and tempting buffet assortment of anything and everything you'd ever wanted to try for breakfast but couldn't imagine having available all at the same time.
LindaMac settled for a sensible toasted bagel and some hot tea, since the 'cold salmon' entree from the night before had come back to haunt her rather nastily. I, however, threw caution to the winds and scooped up scrambled eggs mixed with pimento and green peppers, hash browns, bacon, a muffin and decaf coffee. I figured it would be a long time before I would have this opportunity again.
While LindaMac was toasting her bagel, I met the Algonquin's resident cat ... yes Cat. He's (or could be, 'she's', I couldn't tell.) a gray and white striped tabby, who wanders about in the Lobby, apparently very at home and totally unconcerned, and unimpressed, by the humans who also occupy his sun-bathing area. The kitty is a 'NYC' cat; has an attitude, but doesn't need to flaunt it.
A short time later, we repacked out bags, checked out of our room, left our luggage at the desk for safekeeping and started toward the Marriott Marquis.
Outside the hotel, we came upon three cab drivers who happened to be involved in a loud, very animated discussion in a language we didn't recognize. After we realized they weren't aware that we needed their services, I excused myself and requested their attention. They all turned to us and asked what we needed. We told them where we wanted to go and waited to see which one would accept our fare.
After a moment, the one closest to me gave me a kind of odd look, then favored his fellow cabbies with an ironic grin. He calmly informed us that, if we walked "two block that way and then two blocks up that way, you'll be there." We thanked them quietly and turned in the direction they had suggested and, sure enough, very soon, we found the Marriott Marquis ... four blocks from The Algonquin Hotel. We took the elevator to the 5th floor, Convention tickets in our hot little fists.
There were about two dozen tables set up around the Mezzanine, just outside the large ballroom on the 6th floor. There you could buy everything from Xena mugs, hats and T-shirts, new 8x10's of everyone on the series to the new comic books and a new magazine called 'The Legendary Heroes: Xena and Hercules Epic Adventures!" with foldout, poster-sized pictures of Lucy, Kevin, both as Hercules and as Kull the Conqueror, Zorro, (I didn't ask) and Sinbad. (Oh well, it came in the book, already.)
LindaMac found an autographed picture of Lucy for herself and I picked up some of the freebie copies of the promo poster for the animated video due out in January. After we visited all the tables we liked, we walked into the ballroom where they had a huge screen set up and were showing clips about "The Top Five Hercules and Xena Villains". We found our seats in Row 'G', sat down and settled in for the show. A little while later, I exchanged name and address slips with a Xenite sitting next to me named Michelle who lives in New Jersey who said she was going to see GREASE for the fourth time that night, this time with her three children. We talked about things in the show we liked most and tried to stay patient while waiting for Lucy.
Lucy was scheduled for 10AM, but we soon learned that she was 'on her way' and would be there shortly. To keep things rolling, the people in charge moved up the presentation by Robert Field, the film editor for Xena and Hercules to 10AM with Lucy now scheduled 'as soon as she gets here'. Mr. Field had a funny and interesting delivery as he let us in on some of the secrets of film editing and how much fun it is to work on 'the best series on television'. He shared some hilarious bloopers with us, and showed how his different choices as an editor make a definite difference in the way the episodes eventually look.
When it became obvious that Lucy was still 'on her way', those in charge shuffled the schedule again and showed a another video showing the 'Top TEN Villains of Hercules and Xena", followed by a kind of music-video offering called "Sisters are Doing It For Themselves", a really clever montage of Lucy and Renee, as well as other 'guest heroines' from the show 'doing in' the bad guys, in a musical salute to the 'ladies who can handle themselves.' It was cute, but we were ready for Lucy.
She finally arrived around 10:55AM, they introduced her and the roof almost came off the building. Dressed in a simple, short, black skirt and white, long-sleeved mock turtleneck, her face clean and with very little makeup, she took the microphone and apologized profusely for being late, then shook out the looong cord on the mic' and said, "OK, let's get started, shall we?" And the questions started coming and she fielded each and every one of them like the gracious, charming pro that she is.
For nearly an hour, Lucy answered every kind of question imaginable; good questions, not so good questions, stupid questions, interesting questions. She threw kisses at the littlest fans who told her they 'wuuved' her, she gave a high five to a four-year-old boy who told her his 'favwite' part of Xena was the 'warrior cry', which he demonstrated for her and promptly cracked her up. Even when people asked her the same questions over and over, she never lost her charm, never got impatient, always responded with courtesy and gracious warmth, always said, "Thank you" to anyone who only wanted to say, "We love your show and we love you in it."
When one of the first people to talk to her said we appreciated her taking time out of her busy schedule to be there, she answered, showing that wide, wonderful smile: "OK, that's the last time anyone has to say that today. This is my pleasure and I love being here with you. So, let's get that straight, all right?" At which point, the applause raised the roof again and didn't quiet down for at least two whole minutes. Then the questions resumed.
One young lady said she had been inspired by Lucy's valiant recovery when she, herself, had been injured in a gymnastics accident. She said she thought about how bravely Lucy had handled her injury and it gave her the courage to stick to the physical therapy that she had to endure. Lucy lowered the microphone and said some private, personal words to this young woman and then started the applause from the crowd as the girl made her way, still obviously not quite 'back to first rate', to her seat.
The highlight of the Q&A session was when Tom Simpson told Lucy that he and his fiancee, Betsy Book, had met as a result of Tom's Xena Page and had, only a week ago, become engaged. The crowd went crazy, clapping and whistling, and again, Lucy crossed the entire width of the stage to say some private things to this couple before giving them each a kiss on the cheek, that gorgeous smile and waving good-bye to them. The place exploded with applause again and she went back to answering questions.
Lucy spent nearly an hour walking back and forth across the very wide stage, alternating answering questions from people at both sides, giving bits of information, laughing heartily at the stories of her own 'goof-ups', sharing her smile and herself with everyone in the room. In between trips to the sides of the stage, she would pause in the middle, take a 'dramatic pose' or two, to let the cameras flash away, then continue to the other side to answer more questions and respond to more fans.
When it was finally time for her to leave in order to make her 1PM matinee performance at the Eugene O'Neill, she thanked us all for coming and said she would give all the 'photogs' a shot at her as she crossed the stage again. She threw us all a kiss and laid the microphone down on the table behind her. Then she walked across the stage, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, stopping every few feet to wave and smile and strike a 'sexy' pose and cross a few more steps. This process took another five minutes and it's a wonder she could see at all when she reached the side of the stage, after all the flashes that had gone off in her face. She turned, waved one more time and was gone. And the applause continued for another couple of minutes. Finally, we gathered up our personal memorabilia and left the ballroom.
On the way out, LindaMac ran into another Xenite she knew from The Pub, a New York native named Rinah. As they talked, I caught sight of the same Hard Core Nut Ball who had been perched on the cement tree planter outside the Eugene O'Neill the night before with LindaMac. We chatted for a few minutes before she and her friend said good-bye. Then it was time for us to make our way to The Algonquin, claim our bags and start for the airport. We took the elevator to the ground floor and started walking.
The last stop we made was a shop called "The Phantom of Broadway" where we each acquired a GREASE poster of Lucy, in the sequined jacket, looking back over her shoulder with her pinkie raised in the air. We paid for the posters and left the shop, extremely pleased that we had finally found this jewel, to walk back to the hotel.
As we made our way down West 44th Street, I looked up from organizing the merchandise in my new 'Broadway in New York' canvas bag and nearly came face to face with Robert Trebor (Salmoneous). He was casually walking toward the Marriott Marquis, wearing a beige windbreaker and slacks, hands in his pockets, his gray hair and full beard very handsome, all by himself and totally relaxed. I changed my path to come around in front of him and said, "Can I have your autograph, please?" He looked up at me and smiled very warmly and said, "Sure. Do you have a pen?" I did, I handed it to him and as he got ready to sign the side of the sack with my Convention purchases in it, he looked up, smiled again and said, "How do you spell your name?" I told him and he signed the sack.
About then, a half dozen other people had gathered around us and they began asking him for autographs, too. I stepped out of the way to let them get closer. He offered to give me back my pen and I told him to keep it, he obviously needed it. He winked at me, told me thanks, gave me a little salute and shook my hand. I got out of the path of the others, and LindaMac and I continued on our way toward The Algonquin.
The friendly bellman who had 'stowed' our bags for us retrieved them and told us to have a nice trip home. We each shuffled some things in our bags, divided the stuff we had found for each other, told the doorman to 'shag us a cab', bid 'Adieu' to The Algonquin and took our last NY cabbie ride to the airport. Appropriately, Eartha Kitt's purrs sounded one last time.
LindaMac and I said good-bye to each other at her terminal, since I was leaving from one on the other side of the airport. We talk on the Net regularly, so we knew we'd be 'in touch' soon. Still, it was kind of a sad moment; I think we both realized that our wonderful trip to 'The City By the Bay' was over and it was time for us to go back to our respective 'real worlds'.
But we knew we would remember the sights and the sounds, the smells and the magic of those short, but very special, hours. And of course, we would both remember seeing, in person and in 'the flesh' the lovely and gracious Lucy Lawless, a young woman who wears celebrity and her well-deserved fame more gracefully than anyone has in a long, long time.
My favorite moment of the entire weekend was listening to Lucy answer one of the many questions at the Convention. She was explaining how her relationship with Renee parallels the relationship between Xena & Gabrielle and how there are days when the weather and the various aspects of the 'daily grind' make it difficult to maintain one's perspective and 'cool'. She turned shyly to the audience and said, "I always figure there are a lot of people working on our show who make a heck of a lot less money than I do. And if they can come to work everyday and do good work cheerfully, working hard to make our show the best it can be, it makes things much more pleasant if I'm not a hag."
The audience, of course, got a big kick out of her choice of words and they applauded wildly at her usual generous attitude. She smiled that wonderful smile and said, "I always try to find the thread of love in the scene and hold on to it ... that way you can always return there, if things get too beastly. It's an acting technique, but it didn't originate with me, so I can't take credit for it."
Maybe not, Lucy, but that 'thread of love' is something that you maintain with your fans, and we will forever give you credit for 'always returning there' ... and bringing us with you.
P.S. Whoops! In all my excitement, I guess my memory got a little muddled. Actually, Mr. Field's presentation came AFTER Lucy's appearance, not before. Sorry, like I said, there was so much wonderful stuff to remember, I got a little 'blinded by the light'. Either way, it was a glorious experience!
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