Ghost's Final Performance: Or, Caissie Levy Belts Her Face Off

Hillary and I spent more than one night during Ghost's final week on Broadway attempting to win lottery tickets for the show, which we'd already seen twice. Our first time was early in the spring, for free, and while we completely understood why the show received mostly mixed-to-negative reviews, we had a really fun time (shocker: it felt like watching a chick flick!), and agreed afterwards that we'd enjoy going back if given the chance. Cut to a few weekends ago, when we lost the lottery for another show, finally ended up at Ghost for the second time, and had an absolute blast. From a standpoint of Good Theatre, I know I should have hated this show, but we couldn't help but find it wildly entertaining. What's not to like about a show that never tries to be anything more than an enjoyable night out, features actors who sing the crap out of their songs, and involves some truly mind-boggling illusions? (Ghost-Sam, played by the lovely and British Richard Fleeshman, literally walked right through a door on stage, and for the life of me, I still cannot figure out how it was done.)

What followed was the epitome of what can happen when anxieties are abandoned and fate is accepted; with each concurrent lotto loss, I'd grown more and more resigned to the fact that I wouldn't have the chance to see the show from up close again. By the time the lottery for the show's final performance last evening rolled around, we was well prepared to head off the mad dash to the box office after the lottery winners had been picked and purchase up a discounted ticket in the rear of the theater so that we'd at least be able to enjoy the show one last time. After all, lotto tickets for the final performance were being given away to the winners for free, so naturally upwards of 400 people showed up to try their luck.

Of course, Hillary's name was pulled, and we ended up sitting front row, dead center, on closing night. I think we're both still shaking like leaves.

Ghost's final performance was the fourth Broadway closing night I'd been privileged to attend, and the premise of this post is to try and convey what exactly that means and why it's so unique. In addition to Ghost, we both made crazy, crazy travel plans to attend the closing performance of Bonnie and Clyde last December, and we were also present for the last performance of Catch Me If You Can on Broadway just about a year ago. Combined, these shows ran for an average of 110 performances and won a single Tony Award. The longest played for almost six months (not considered anywhere close to a success unless the production was billed as a limited run from the beginning, which it was not), and the shortest for just two months.

The fourth closing night I attended was also my first. Next to Normal was a huge part of my theater-going life for over two years. Unlike the other shows discussed in this post, Next to Normal played to audiences for nearly 750 performances on Broadway and recouped its capitalization costs. It won several Tony Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize and the hearts and minds of critics everywhere.
The morning after seeing Ghost's closing performance, I couldn't stop meditating on why I felt the need to see each of these four shows off as they concluded their journeys on the Great White Way - and more specifically, how Ghost fit into this special category. I don't think I'd ever make (and would definitely never win) the argument that Ghost is one of the best shows I've ever seen. Prior to closing night, I'd only seen it twice, which pales in comparison to my totals for Next to Normal, Catch Me If You Can, and Bonnie and Clyde. All of these shows built up core groups of fans, people who you'd get to recognize from their constant presence in the rush line or at lotto, who fell so hard for the show that they just couldn't stay away for long. For better or worse, I've been that fan before, but not for Ghost.

I returned to each of these shows because something about them grabbed me. With Ghost, it was the opening chords to "Suspend My Disbelief/I Had A Life," "With You," and "Rain/Hold On" that made something in my brain click and say, "Yes, I've seen this before, and I know exactly what's going to happen, what this song's going to sound like, but I cannot wait to see it again." Maybe it was the chemistry between the actors that made their onstage relationship so dynamic, so electric, so believable. Maybe it was the opportunity to watch characters go through devastating and complex developments, and to trace the parallels and consistencies among the steps in their onstage growth. Maybe it was simply because the show was fun. (Note: this also includes the "crying your eyes out," cathartic kind of "fun.")

I think the thing about closing nights is that there's no holding back. There's no need for the actors to conserve their emotions or save their voices for the next show, no need to dwell on the smallest of mistakes or the what-ifs of making a particular acting choice. (See: Caissie Levy's insane riffs during "Rain/Hold On." Literally insane.) Sure, there's the danger of being swept too far into a moment in the show that takes on extra poignance in the waning moments of a production's life - Sam's "See ya" as he bids farewell to Molly, Bonnie's "It's death for Bonnie and Clyde" poetry as she comforts Clyde before they drive off to their inevitable ends - but if that should happen, it's okay, just this once. There's the heartache of seeing an actor walk onstage with a few extra tears in his eyes, or watching two onstage lovers linger just a few moments longer, knowing that the memory of this creation and these relationships will remain, but soon take on a different dynamic, or watching an actress, like Da'Vine Joy Randolph, come on stage for her final curtain call bow in her Tony-nominated Broadway debut with tears in her eyes. There will be a surprise riff here and there (Bryce Pinkham definitely checked these off on closing night, sounding the best I'd ever heard him), maybe an extra comedic ad-lib, and a few special moments shared between cast members, only visible to the few audience members who have seen the show enough times to notice the smallest changes. There's an edge in the air that makes closing night definitively different from every other performance.

I also think that Ghost, just like Bonnie and Clyde and Catch Me, had a cast that was not only talented, but cared deeply about the work they were doing. Despite being slammed by the critics, dismissed by awards committees, and playing to houses that weren't always full, I never had anything but respect for the actors who put their souls on display every night because it was obvious that they believed in themselves when no one else did. There will always be the argument that talented cast members are "too good" for a show that lacks creative complexity, but I'm not sure I buy into that. I think that commitment is one of the most important qualities that any production can claim, and trust me when I say that each member of these productions committed completely to their characters and to the integrity and rules of their particular show. So to allow the cast to perform one final time for an audience that stands on the same page as them creates an electricity that is unique and unforgettable. It's a way of expressing a sense of gratitude for hours of enjoyment in the theater - not to mention that the inevitable presence of the show's creative team presents another opportunity to say thank you to the minds who invented the show in the first place.

I cannot describe waking up the morning after a closing show as anything else but weird. And yes, I realize that that in itself is weird, because I have not had a professional attachment to any of the shows I've talked about, or personal relationships with the people involved in them. It's just such a sense of finality. I've always been one for nostalgia, I suppose, and nothing feeds that monster like watching a show that is being performed for the last time, by these actors for the last time, on this stage for the last time, after months and months, and in many cases, years, were spent bringing this thing to life. I wonder what it will feel like when the day arrives that I'm working on a show that closes. I wonder if it hurts more if the show is forced to end before its time, or if it's had a long and respectable run. Since not every show can be your favorite, I wonder what it's like when you've had an up-and-down relationship with a show you've worked on from the beginning. I wonder if it's looked down upon to become emotionally invested in your own show, and to be crushed when it "fails." I wonder if it's possible to work on a show and NOT become invested in its success. I hope that I'll never become jaded enough to lose investment in the shows I'll work on one day, and truly don't believe I will; the cyclical nature of the theater industry has proven time and time again that, for every closed show I hold close to my heart, there's another show just around the corner that I'll cultivate a new love for, and the heartbreak of watching shows close is a necessary part of the cycle.

I can't remember the last time I attended a show in New York that didn't receive a standing ovation at the end, and I don't believe that every performance deserves one. The lack of a standing ovation shouldn't detract from the value of a performance; rather, the presence of one should add to its value. Regardless, I strongly believe that every show does deserve a standing ovation on its closing night, in a show of respect, solidarity, amazement, and appreciation, and I was so happy to be a part of that for the cast and crew of Ghost.

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