Sunday, April 21, 2013

Unexpected Magic

I am a planner. Most of my trips follow a carefully premeditated play-by-play. (Ask any of my friends; I'm sure they can produce ten-page copies of my itineraries!) Sometimes, though, the less you plan, the better things turn out.

Take, for example, the time my friend Michelle and I were backpacking through Europe and decided, on a whim, to travel late at night to a town we'd never heard of. That little town--Perugia--turned out to be the best hidden gem of our entire trip! (Think underground tunnels, sprawling vistas, medieval architecture, delicious pastries. . .)

Or take the time my friend Liz and I were standing in front of the Metropolitan Opera House with nothing to do but take pictures and a gentleman walked by and offered us two $150 tickets to "Il Trittico" for free.

Or the time I threw caution to the wind and mixed cookie dough instead of brownies with my ice-cream at Cold Stone. (I've never looked back since.)

Or take last week. . .

POP QUIZ: Which of the following am I MOST likely to have experienced within the past few days?
  1. Deciding to visit NYC. . .and ending up on a Manhattan-bound Megabus that same night
  2. The delicious indulgence of a burger and red velvet concrete at SHAKE SHACK
  3. [Briefly] playing the keyboard for a Broadway performance of CINDERELLA
  4. Attending the Manhattan LDS temple and chatting at length with the temple president
  5. Running into some friends from Franklin, MA in the middle of 57th Street, Manhattan
  6. Scoring a $27 rush ticket to the darkly-quirky but weirdly-infectious MATILDA, third row, center.  (Thanks, Minchin. I've had your songs stuck in my head all weekend. . .)
  7. Cracking up after being chased down by a woman on the street who told me that my aura had "grabbed" her. “You have the vibrancy of youth, the wisdom of years, and the courage of a soldier," she said. ?!?
  8. Attending a soul-soothing Juilliard Lab Orchestra concert at Alice Tulley Hall
  9. Spending two concurrent nights sleeping on a bus
  10. ALL of the above in a one-day trip
  11. NONE of the above. (Any given item is totally improbable.)
K. I'll stop there before I use up the whole alphabet. :-) Do you have your final answer?

Aaaaand the correct answer issssssss. . .(drum roll). . ."K!"

[End of blog post.]

JK! The correct answer is "J," of course. And yes, I was exhausted when I finally dropped into bed for a quick nap at 10 AM on Thursday after a solid 37 hours on the go.

How did all of these events fall into place within a single day, you wonder? Here's the general timeline:

(As you read each of these time stamps, please imagine them popping up on a screen, accompanied by dramatic music. Okay, okay--my 84-year-old roommate, Kay, has been watching a lot of NCIS lately. . .)
  • 9:30 PM, Tues: I'm sitting, in my pajamas, at home in Franklin. I decide I want to go to NY, so I hop online and buy cheap tickets.
  • 11 PM, Tues: I inform the world of facebook that I am stepping onto a NY-bound Megabus.
  • 11:15 PM, Tues: A fellow composer responds to my post and suggests that I sit in an orchestra pit. I think, "What the heck?" and contact the music director of CINDERELLA, explaining that I am orchestrating my own "legit" musical and would love to listen "up close."
  • 11:30 PM, Tues: The music director responds a few minutes later with a friendly, "Sure!" and reminds me that I'll need concert black.
  • 11:35 PM, Tues: I inform the world of facebook that I did not bring any concert black with me. Bummer! (I didn't bring anything, in fact, besides a purse and a book.)
  • 12-2 AM, Wed: I do some quick research on my phone and decide to rush MATILDA and drop by Juilliard for a free afternoon orchestra concert.
  • 5:00 AM, Wed: A friend from Franklin messages, "Hey! We're driving to NYC this morning. Can we bring you some concert black?" I accept their kind offer, and the pit experience is ON. (This also means I'll be able to visit the Manhattan temple since I'll have a skirt to wear!)
  • 5:30 AM, Wed: I stake out under an awning in the rain at the MATILDA threater with other die-hards. We wait four and a half hours for the box office to open, bonding over crazy music theatre stories. I read three-quarters of an Anne Tyler book.
  • 10:30 AM, Wed: I take a nap on a couch at the LDS meetinghouse. :-)
  • 11:30 AM, Wed: I retrieve my concert black and change.
  • 12:30 PM, Wed: I attend a beautiful concert at Juilliard featuring Mozart and Strauss. Music was exactly the balm I needed after an emotional week in Boston post-marathon.
Now here's where it gets really good:

At about 1:45 PM, I walked downtown to the theater on 54th where CINDERELLA is playing and approached the stage door. 

 A man stuck his head out. “Are you Erica?” After guiding me through the inner sanctum (where I had several near-collisions with shoulder-padded princes!), he introduced me to the musicians in the orchestra. (I will admit that I slipped away and wandered off by myself for awhile to “explore.”  It was quite the maze back there.) The assistant conductor was particularly friendly. After stashing my things in his locker, he set up a chair for me in the pit and handed me a copy of the pre-preview orchestral reduction for the show.

I was thrilled! I got to follow along and note exactly which lines of dialogue had changed during previews, which songs had been cut, which sections of underscoring had been re-arranged. What could be more useful for a playwright and composer? And I got to fall in love all over again with the score itself, thanks to the brilliant orchestrations of Danny Troob (orchestrator of Beauty and the Beast). In one rather embarassing moment, as the orchestra swelled, I felt a tear escape down my cheek. (I blame it on the fact that the show contains two string players above the technical maximum.)  ;-)   CINDERELLA doesn't claim to be anything but confectionary, and I've never been very moved by the story, but that afternoon, something about the whole experience was magical. And the music was creating that magic. (You have to love a musical that is underscored almost non-stop from start to finish.)

And if the experience was already surreal, it was about to become even more so. About three-quarters of the way throught he show, the keyboardist turned to me and whispered, "Have you ever played on Broadway?"

I smiled and shook my head, “no.”

He grinned. “Well, that's about to change.”

Then, my friends, he lifted his hands OFF that keyboard and STOPPED PLAYING!

Before you got your driver's license, were you ever cruising down a freeway in the passenger seat when a mean-spirited driver took his hands off the wheel and ordered you to take over? Didn't your life flash before you for a second as your gripped the wheel? Well, in this case, my “freeway” was an in-session Broadway musical, my “wheel” was an amplified keyboard, my “driver” was the keyboardist sitting next to me (although he certainly wasn't mean-spirited!), and I was the teenager in the passenger seat. Can you guess how I felt?!

I nearly had a heart attack, but yes, I can now say that I've played in a Broadway pit orchestra (if only for a couple of pages!). :-)

I came away from the experience with lots of interesting trivia: Did you know, for example, that some of the vocal tracks for CINDERELLA are pre-recorded and that the conductor controls the sound effect cues? Did you know that the show is considered a “revival” even though it's never technically played on Broadway before? And did you know that pit members spend a good chunk of their time making faces at each other, texting, and engaging in secret “play off”s? I have a sneaking suspicion that sitting in the pit may have made for a more entertaining experience than watching the actual show from the house.

This whole trip was just the spring break vacation I needed. I'd been considering visiting my friend Mara in Sweden this week and hopping over to St. Petersburg for a day or two. Well, Sweden and Russia would've been great, but New York wasn't too shabby either.  And for well under $100, it was a good trade-off.

Thanks, NYC! You continue to be the city where unexpected magic happens.


Sharlee said...

Only in New York, and only to my daughter! Love you, sweetheart.

Sharlee said...

P.S. That Cold Stone picture is making me crave ice cream. And I don't even like ice cream!

Kati said...

So amazing!!! Such an awesome trip!!!