Monday, October 27, 2014

Closing in on Opening Night

Here’s the latest installment of the mounting of my play, A or B? now playing at the Falcon Theatre.

Everything was geared towards Opening Night, which was last Friday. We had seven previews to tinker. Thanks to all the guinea pigs who attended one of those shows. Come back. It’s different now.

The Saturday night before Opening we had a great crowd. I told the cast I really got the chance to hear what jokes worked and didn’t so to expect a blizzard of new jokes tomorrow. I wasn’t going to do that to them every day, and they’d have several days to learn them, but I warned them they were coming. I then went home and rewrote until 4:30.

Sure enough the new jokes helped. Most worked. I felt I was plugging up holes.

The somewhat major changes I had proposed the week before we put in on Wednesday. This required new blocking, light and sound cues, and the actors getting comfortable with a new scene (which was really the intercutting of two previous scenes). Oh… and then performing it later that night. Three hours of rehearsal were all they required to pull it off. Jules Willcox and Jason Dechert are amazing. Hey, it turns out years of classical training comes in handy.  Who knew?   (Unless you want to be a sitcom star and then just be a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.)

The Wednesday and Thursday previews played okay. The actors were still feeling their way a little. I told them I was not going to give them any more lines this week and they could just learn what they had. Of course I lied and gave them a couple.

Hey, I’m so neurotic I rewrote the pre-show turn-off-your-cellphones announcement. Why not get a few chuckles even before the show and send the message to the audience that it's okay to laugh.  (Preferred even.)

Friday was Opening Night. What they don’t tell you is that opening day of opening night is murder. I kind of walked around in a daze, just looking for things to do, but I’ll be honest, I was in a constant state of anxiety. I don’t wonder how Neil Simon wrote so many plays. I wonder how he survived so many opening days.

I picked up some Opening Night gifts for the cast and some crew members. That killed a little time. I stopped off at nearby Vendome Liquor and bumped into my radio friend, Rick Dees. He had this bottle of bourbon and invited me to take a sip. I did. It was good. He then told me the bottle cost $2000. Wow. It’s a good thing I didn’t ask for some ginger ale to go with it. We made plans to get lunch and I’ll return the favor by offering a sip of some vintage Mogan David’s.

At 7:30 the theatre started filling up. Garry Marshall, who had been in New York directing a play, flew back for this. I love the fact that he did, but no additional pressure there. My son Matt and his wife came down from Silicon Valley. A few other familiar faces including my writing partner David Isaacs and Treva Silverman who is my unofficial dramaturge. Lots of others streamed in who I didn’t know. Which ones were critics?

Some playwrights like to pace in the back during the show but there’s no space to pace. So I sat in the last row with my family and the Marshalls two seats over.

Boy, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear the first big laugh. And the second. And that they came within the first couple of minutes not hours. Garry was even laughing. I still couldn’t breathe because at any moment the laughs could stop. But thankfully they continued, the cast rose to new heights, and everything finally came together. I was able to exhale for the first time in two days. Seriously, how does Neil Simon do it?

The Falcon always has a great reception in the lobby after the Opening. Fantastic meatballs. I was able to eat everything AND keep it all down.

Now the show is in its run. Five performances a week. Come see it. I’m there every night. How often do I have a play in production? Am I still giving them new lines? Only a few. And not every day. Honest. Like today. No new lines today. Okay, today is a day off. But still.

Hope you enjoyed this series on the making of my play. If I ever become a Benihana chef I will chronicle that journey too, assuming I still have any fingers.

28 comments:

PNW Corey said...

Ken, I wish I could have been there. I'm so proud of my big brother.....
Corey

Chester said...

Ken, I'd be interested to know more about your process for rewriting and inserting new jokes.

I suspect it's a lot more difficult than just coming up with a funnier punchline. Wouldn't you have to go back and rework the set-up, alter references, perhaps even adjust the overall plot of the play? I imagine the ripple effect of any small change could possibly affect other things somewhere else in the script. Love to hear more.

Congratulations on the success of your play. Wish I could get to California to see it.

Hollywoodaholic said...

Congratulations! and best wishes for many successful runs (or as long and far as you want it to go). And my stomach sympathizes. You got strong guts.

Scooter Schechtman said...

Vintage Mogen David? In the classy part of the shelter we call it "Chien Fou".

Jim Saturno said...

Congratulations. I wish I would have the chance to see it, but I won't be back in LA until after the 16th. Is there any chance that its run will be extended?

Jerry Krull said...

Congrats Ken! Nice review too. Thanks for sharing this journey with your blog crowd. So when do you start "The Playwrights Room"?

MikeK.Pa. said...

After years of having a writing partner, I'm curious of how you adapted to writing on your own (did you have David Isaacs on speed dial?). It's always good to have someone on site to bounce a joke or idea against, which you have with a partner. A recommended book on the writing process, as well as directing, is Cameron Crowe's "Conversations with Wilder." Billy Wilder had two of the best writing partners in Charlie Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond.

Canda said...

Your descriptions were great, and reminded me of what Moss Hart went through on the first play he wrote with George S. Kaufman. He was throwing up every night before the curtain went up. It's beautifully described in his book, ACT ONE.

I think, Ken, you would also enjoy Meredith Willson's book on the years he spent writing THE MUSIC MAN.
It's called, "But He Doesn't Know the Territory".

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Mazel Tov!!!!

Congratulations Ken, cast and staff!
Great review too.

When you take it on the road to Off-Broadway or somewhere in the local NY area I'm eager to take it in.

Hamid said...

I just read the very sad news of the passing of Marcia Strassman. I knew of her from Honey I Shrunk The Kids but I read she was also in the first season of MASH. My condolences to her family and friends. Rest in peace.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I suspect Neil Simon does it by spending opening night writing his *next* play.

Cornelia Otis Skinner had a wonderfully funny and awful description of opening day in one of her books - Nuts in May, I think.

I'd still really like to read the script since I can't see it...

wg

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Ken. Wish I lived anywhere close so I could be able to see your play. If it ever goes on the road, come to St. Louis. THEN I'll be able to see it!

Pam, St. Louis

Carson said...

Ken, if I wasn't working on a show that's produced in Atlanta, I would have gone to opening night. I was looking forward to your play and hoped I would be back in town, but I'm going to miss your entire run - and I'm bummed. It sounds like a hit and the review I read was great.

Congratulations to and everyone in A or B!

Scooter Schechtman said...

Sad news that Mrs Kotter passed. Since she was also a TV MASH nurse maybe we'll get some thoughts from Ken.

Candy Cummings said...

Neil probably spends opening night sitting w/Rick Dees and between sips keeps asking him, "who are you?"

Continued success, Shakespeare!

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, I can only imagine. I wanted bore a hole to the center of the Earth just watching our scene play back in the Sitcom Room.

Putting on a play must be like queuing to ride a roller coaster that has a 50% chance of crashing. You'll either have the time or your life, or you'll get horribly mangled.

Congrats on surviving, and also on it going so well!

Mike in Seattle said...

As I read the Rick Dees paragraph, I knew the Mogen David line, or something like it, was coming. I laughed anyway. Couldn't help it. Hook, line and sinker, you got me. Congratulations and here's hoping for a great run.

Steve Peresman said...

Got my tickets today for Nov 8th. I take it as a good sign that the theater is virtually filled this Saturday. I haven't seen a play outside of New York in years, but this blog really piqued my interest. Best of luck - Would really like to shake your hand since I've admired your work in both television and baseball.

Frank Paradise said...

Cheers Ken for the play insight. All the best for a long run.

mdv1959 said...

Congratulations, I hope the play is a big success. I can't imagine a more gratifying and nerve racking experience for a writer. You're account reminded me of the scenes in Moneyball where Billy Beane can't bare the stress of watching his team play and hides in the gym.

Rod said...

Hi Ken--Congrats on the play!

I just finished watching "True Detective" and was wondering if, when "Cheers" wrapped up, you could have predicted that 20 years later, Woody Harrelson would have been the cast member with the most diverse and distinguished film career that includes 2 Academy Award Nominations?

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the play Ken, read the review, that's a great one!
Dave

The Mutt said...

No wonder I prefer doing Shakespeare. The writer doesn't show up every night with rewrites. ;)

The Mutt said...

What are people saying about the title? I'm not a fan myself. A bit on the nose.

emily said...

Did you get notes from David or Garry?

Ken Levine said...

Emily,

Along the way, yes. I asked for notes from David and Garry. And their suggestions were both very helpful.

IanJ said...

Ken
You have been doing a lot of work punching up the play. Do you think that the play would work elsewhere (or in 10 years time) or that it benefits from topical / local references.
Interested because some comedies we see in the UK seem not to keep well whereas others seem more timeless.
I guess the historic reference would be something like Gilbert and Sullivan operettas where some songs were changed even on a daily basis for topicality.

Ted said...

Happy to hear it's going so well. We're on for Nov. 9th - see you there!