How I Tried to Get Close to Nathan Lane

I made Broadway history recently. No, I didn’t win the

Pulitzer Prize in drama for Proof ;

that was somebody else. Like a schmuck, I stood in line for two hours to get

tickets to The Producers the day

after it opened to the best reviews since Oedipus

Rex .

 But I was performing

something akin to community service. My mother-who once saw virtually every

play that came to Broadway, but seems to have lost some of her motivation of

late and prefers reading Harlequin Romance novels in bed to just about anything

else-agreed to go to a few Broadway plays if I got the tickets.

What complicated the process is that she insists on sitting

in rows 1 through 5; row 6 and she’d rather stay in bed reading bodice-rippers.

The reason I found myself on this line, which stretched under the marquis of

the St. James Theatre halfway up 44th Street, is that it’s impossible to

purchase seats by location through Tele-charge.

Normally, I start experiencing heart palpitations after five

or 10 minutes on line. But I surprised myself by my good cheer: I felt part of

something larger than myself. Broadway was back. The curse of Andrew Lloyd

Webber was finally being lifted from the stage. I was doing my part for the


And the Producers

staff couldn’t have been more helpful. They supplied each of us with a seating

plan so that we needn’t waste time once we reached the box office. Just so I

wouldn’t clutch when my turn came, I circled rows 1 through 5, center


I’m not unrealistic; I didn’t expect seats for the following

week. But my mother didn’t care when she got seats-six months or a year from

now would have been fine with her. As I think I’ve already mentioned, they just

had to be in the first five rows.

Considering the show’s buzz, $17 million in advance sales

and rave reviews, another person might have been willing to compromise. Not my

mother; she’s a woman of conviction. Let me give you an example. On one

occasion, not that many years ago, I looked up at the sky and was struck by how

bright the full moon was shining, even though it was broad daylight.

I tried to draw my mother’s attention to this celestial

phenomenon, but she refused to look. “The sun and the moon are never out at the

same time,” she told me flatly. We went back and forth like this for several

minutes-me claiming the sun and moon could share the sky simultaneously, she

insisting it was impossible-until I finally got her to look.

“That’s not the moon,” she stated confidently. “That’s a

round cloud.”

Because we never, ever sit behind row 5, my family’s

experience of the theater-not to mention the ballet and the opera-is somewhat

different from most. Apart from the fact that we’re so close you often can’t

hear the actors over the orchestra, we run the risk of contacting infectious

diseases from the cast. My wife remembers attending Starlight Express with my mother and getting soaked every time the

profusely sweating roller-skaters careened past their seats.

My brother doesn’t remember much about Piaf , including who played the cabaret singer, except that he spent

the whole show looking up her skirt and getting spit on every time she belted

out “La Vie en Rose.”

I don’t mind my mom’s second-row seats at the ballet. I have

a certain weakness for ballerinas and rather enjoy being really near them. My

brother, on the other hand-not the one who saw Piaf , a different brother-is more of a purist. “The best thing for

dance, which is a visual medium, is to sit in row O,” he fumes. “It’s like

trying to view The Night Watch or Guernica from three inches away.”

Our seats at the opera, also row B, really ought to come

with a chiropractor. After spending three hours looking up-straight up-at the

surtitles, suspended over the stage of the New York State Theater, you feel

like checking into the Rusk Institute. When we had a subscription to the New

York Philharmonic for more than a decade-again, row B-I never once saw the

brass or the woodwinds, but my familiarity with the string section was so

complete I swear I could detect the musicians’ mood swings.

I finally made it to The

Producers ‘ ticket window and told the agent I needed three seats, rows 1

through 5, center orchestra, didn’t matter when. She shook her head glumly.

There were no orchestra seats. Period. For the next year. By that point, Nathan

Lane and Matthew Broderick weren’t even guaranteed to be in the cast.

I realized it would be foolish, especially given the

thousand or so people waiting in line behind me, to try and convince the ticket

lady that the living would envy the dead were I forced to return to my mother

bearing mezzanine seats. Instead, I told her my mom was handicapped and hard of

hearing. Both of which are somewhat true; she can’t hear well and does have

trouble walking.

The ticket seller, while reminding me that free headphones

were available, apparently took pity on me and returned to her computer

console. She found three seats on the side in row O of the orchestra for early

October. I didn’t know what to do. The only time my mother ever sat in row O

may have been on an airplane. But I’d stood in line for two hours. These were

the hottest tickets on Broadway. I didn’t want to wait to see the show until

Nathan Lane had been replaced by Regis Philbin and Matthew Broderick by

Macaulay Culkin. So I took them.

My mother’s reaction when

I called with the good news was swift, predictable and brutal. She was pissed.

“I’ll give them to you,” she snapped. “I don’t have to go someplace just

because it’s the thing to do.”

The inference, of course,

was that I was one of those trendies who did. “If I don’t see it and enjoy

it”-meaning from Row 5 forward-“I’ll get furious.”

The next day, I called The

Producers ‘ press office to see if I

could redeem myself. “If you’re calling for house seats,” a recording

stated, “there are none.”

Things could be worse, I thought. I was sorry my mother

wouldn’t get to see the show until 2012-she told me she’d write away for tickets

herself-but I was getting to go and she was paying for the tickets.

However, she called me back the following day. She wanted to

know whether to return the tickets or not. I thought the matter was settled-I

was taking them-but now she wanted to give them to me for my birthday.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. The tickets are a $300

value. But she usually gives me cash, and I had my heart set on buying a pair

of high-powered German binoculars to go bird-watching. Were seats in row O

preferable? Did I want to see The

Producers that much? How good could it be?

I discussed the situation with my wife, and we’re going. And

we’re taking our 12-year-old daughter. I’m sure we’ll have a great time, but I

still have mixed feelings. The fact is that sitting in row B your whole life,

you get spoiled-the spittle and stiff necks notwithstanding. How I Tried to Get Close to Nathan Lane