When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher would mark the end of every test by bellowing out, "Time waits for no one and neither does Mrs. Daruba!" Well, Mrs. Daruba was right again. As much as I would have loved to dress in the equivalent of a black leather slingshot and dance around on a boat overflowing with horny sailors, neither Cher nor I could turn back time. January 22, the closing date of Follies, had finally arrived.
I woke up that morning thinking things would feel different. It was going to be the last day we did this production, with this cast, in this Broadway theater. It was the end of a whirlwind, magical era.
When I walked through the stage door for the last time I thought, Take it all in. Every second. I was trying to force myself to feel something. To feel nostalgic, to feel sad or emotional. Yet that morning, I felt like Diana Morales in A Chorus Line. I felt nothing. (That's not entirely true. I did feel a little gassy.)
At the top of the show, when I was waiting in line with the other cast members for my entrance, I looked around to get a sense of things. Sure, some people were sad and even a little emotional but, for a lot of us, it seemed like a normal Sunday. Elaine Paige said she was fine. Jan Maxwell was behind me wishing everyone a good show and being her usual witty self. I figured, maybe you get to a certain point where it is just another closing of another show. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Business as usual. That is, until we heard the audience.
It was like a rock concert. Every time someone walked through the door and onto the stage, the audience went crazy. When it came time for Elaine and me to enter, I grabbed her hand and off we went. The crowd went wild. Normally, as we walk downstage toward the audience, I talk to her and keep my focus on her. But for some reason I looked out over the crowd and took it all in. Actually, I know very well what the reason was ... for the audience to see me!
It was unbelievable. To hear that kind of response and feel that kind of energy is literally breathtaking. However, it wasn't until Elaine turned to look at me and I saw those huge tears in her eyes that it hit me like a ton of bricks. Finally, I felt something!
I looked around and noticed the majority of people on stage were teary-eyed, myself included. I started thinking of all the things I was going to miss. I'll miss Elaine telling a joke every night onstage to get everyone in a good mood. I'll miss Elaine's character Carlotta introducing me to the other party guests and my saying, "My name is Peter. Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater," while gesturing toward Elaine and saying, "Have you met my date 'Pumpkin'?"
I'll miss being in the dressing room with the other guys in the male ensemble, laughing our asses off. God, the fun we had! I'll miss sitting in the stage manager's office, bingeing on candy and chatting away. I'll miss wearing the "Loveland" cavalier costume and looking like a drag queen version of a musketeer in the biggest hat I have ever seen, full of feathers, beads, and baubles while stuffed like a sausage into a hideous pair of white tights ... on second thought, scratch that. I'll miss the guys who work the stage door, the dressers, the crew, our creative team and producers. I'll miss the legends I got to share the stage with, the performers I have looked up to for years and was blessed enough to get to know and to learn from. All these people have been my surrogate family for months now. Heck, we even spent the holidays together when I couldn't see my own family. I will miss them all with all my heart.
Now on to more celebratory things: the closing night party. It was stupid ... kidding ... it was the cat's pajamas! The whole cast was there and the wizard himself, Stephen Sondheim. The event was given by our gift-from-God-producer, Michael Kaiser, and the Kennedy Center. I won't go into much detail so as to leave all incriminating evidence out of print, but I will give you two very important words: open bar. So there I was, celebrating with friends and minding my own business as usual, when it happened. Bernadette Peters looked at me. It was like the "Dance at the Gym" from West Side Story. The room went all blurry, but the two of us were as bright and vibrant as a Technicolor dream. Our eyes met from across the room (OK, maybe just 10 feet). She came over to me, said my name, "John" (at which I nearly soiled my suit pants), and stretched out her arms for a hug. I was drawn into her and closed my eyes. When I opened them, all I could see were red ringlets. I was nesting in one of the most famous heads of curly hair since Shirley Temple's. It was so soft and smelled so beautiful. I remember thinking, This is what heaven must feel like. I wanted to stay there forever, to become a squatter and occupy Bernadette's hair.
My arms were wrapped around her and, let me tell you, Ms. Peters's physique is the eighth world wonder. Her body is nothing short of phenomenal. I'm always expecting to see a small flower pin on her dress strap, you know, the same one Isabella Rossellini gave Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in the movie Death Becomes Her. If that's what comes from staying out of the sun, I am starting to dig a tunnel underground tonight. I will now get from point A to point Z here in New York City like one of the infamous mole people.
She then pulled out of our embrace first (as if I would ever let go first) and she started to speak. In my head she was finally telling me stories of what it was like to play Dot in Sunday in the Park With George and how she wanted to adopt me like one of her shelter dogs and we would all live happily ever after and she would sing "Being Alive" to me every night at bedtime. However, this was not what she was saying. She was actually saying something very different.
I finally said, "I'm sorry, excuse me," and, as the record needle came to a screeching halt in my head, I was brought back to reality as she said, "I just ran into one of your first boyfriends from when you were 20. He's in Wicked." Now, I have my moments of being a prime candidate for ginkgo biloba; however, I never dated a guy in Wicked. (There's a sentence you don't read every day.)
So my last chance to have a brief one-on-one conversation with one of my idols and to show her that I'm not just the idiot who tripped her onstage (yes, I actually tripped Bernadette Peters on a Broadway stage, but that's a whole other story) and it's spent nodding my head and acting like I knew what was going on. What pisses me off is that some tired queen (who wasn't even in the roped-off section of our party) got to talk with her, dropped my name, and made up some bogus story that took up my final moments with Bernadette. This is like the procession of the pope, people. You only have but so much time. Every second counts, and mine was not going as planned.
The only saving grace is that I got to introduce her to my dear friend and wingman for the evening, choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who like the rest of us is a huge fan of hers. I was hoping said introduction would be collateral for a featured dance role in any and all future shows of his. However, considering his next show is Newsies and apparently there isn't a role for an aged, full-bosomed, overly muscular newspaperman, I think I'm shit out of luck.
I look at these crazy stories I get to tell and oftentimes stand in awe of my life. As a kid I was bullied so badly, I had to change high schools. I now see that it hasn't just gotten better, it's gotten mind-bogglingly amazing! I can honestly say I am living my dream.
The life of Follies is not completely over -- we will play the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles May 3 to June 9. However, this fantastical chapter has come to an end. What's next for me? Who knows? I do know one thing: God is good and in the unknowing, something even more magical than I ever expected could happen. Hey, it's happened before.
For more information on John Carroll, visit TheJohnCarroll.com