It’s time for the Broadway community to start respecting Vanessa Hudgens

On the morning of January 31, 2016, Vanessa Hudgens arrived on the set of FOX’s Grease: Live! ready to star as Rizzo in a live telecast of the classic musical comedy. She was at work rehearsing when media outlets began announcing that her father had passed away the prior evening after a several-month battle with stage 4 cancer.

That night, Ms. Hudgens performed for a television audience of 12.2 million viewers, and it’s safe to say her rendition of There Are Worse Things I Could Do was a highlight of the event.

Flashback to September 2014, when producers announced Ms. Hudgens would star in an upcoming Broadway revival of the musical Gigi. Broadway fans quickly took to social media, denouncing Ms. Hudgens’ anticipated performance with comments that ranged from, “Could we please find talented people instead of these temporary ex teenage Disney types?” to, “That whore.” As this was to be Ms. Hudgens’ Broadway debut, these remarks were coming from people who had never even seen what she could do onstage.

Gigi opened to mixed reviews, and despite some critics complimenting Ms. Hudgens’ “rousing performance,” Broadway fans were still on social media writing things like, “I’m looking forward to this. And by looking forward to this I mean watching all the people give her s*** about her performance.”

The message from Broadway fans was clear: this teeny bopper hack was not welcome on the Great White Way. But why? Because her breakout role happened to be in a Disney Channel TV movie? Because she was a young Hollywood celeb with a non-Broadway fanbase? What valid reason did the Broadway community have to be so brutal to an actress who was displaying nothing but enthusiasm for her upcoming Broadway debut?

Gigi closed on Broadway less than three months after opening as a result of low ticket sales. Members of the Broadway community who were gleefully tearing Ms. Hudgens apart weren’t even attending the show to witness the performance first-hand.

Before Gigi, I admittedly knew little of Ms. Hudgens’ work outside of the High School Musical franchise (in which I thought she was delightful), but I was impressed by both her onstage energy and her eagerness to embrace a community that was so forcefully pushing her away.

I met Ms. Hudgens after a performance of Gigi. The stage door was one of the most crowded I have ever seen with hordes of young girls eager to meet their idol. Ms. Hudgens greeted every fan. She signed every autograph. She posed for every picture. Not wanting to be trampled by a tween (or her mother), I waited until the crowd had dispersed to ask for a photo. Ms. Hudgens was walking towards her car when I approached, and even though she’d been signing autographs in the cold long after the other performers had gone home, she turned to me with a warm smile and posed for a selfie.

I’m told Ms. Hudgens had the same smile while rehearsing for Grease: Live! despite her father’s terminal illness. (My brother was in the ensemble of the telecast and noted that most cast members did not even know Ms. Hudgens’ father was sick until he passed away.) This young actress was dealing with an incredibly sad circumstance while displaying a constant professionalism on the job.

So I say to my fellow Broadway fans, here we have an actress who has been criticized and mocked by a community that knew nothing of her skillset other than what she displayed in her Disney Channel past. She was not greeted like a professional during her Broadway run.

But the day after her father passed away, Vanessa Hudgens showed up to work with a “the show must go on” attitude. She did what most Broadway stars don’t do if they have a slight cold.

The next time half a dozen understudy slips fall out of your Playbill, think of Vanessa Hudgens. She doesn’t have to be your favorite performer, but she deserves respect.

With Vanessa Hudgens after a performance of Gigi

With Vanessa Hudgens after a performance of Gigi

That time I got locked inside Broadway’s Majestic Theatre

Here’s a fun little story I never got around to posting about when it happened back at the end of January…

The Phantom of the Opera was set to celebrate its 27th anniversary on Broadway on January 26, with a big celebration after the show for the cast, crew, and staff, but with the impending Winter Storm Juno, all Broadway performances were canceled for the evening.  Well, the blizzard (which was supposed to be the worst NJ and NYC had ever seen in this lifetime) fooled everyone and dropped only a few inches of snow on the city.  Regardless, Phantom’s anniversary performance had been canceled.

A friend of mine runs the social networking accounts for Phantom, and he needed to photograph the (postponed) anniversary party after the show that Saturday evening.  Since he’d now have to work on a weekend, his company arranged for him to receive two comp tickets to the performance rather than just show up at curtain call.

And that’s how I ended up sitting right under the glorious chandelier that falls onto the stage.

I had seen the show twice before from the nosebleeds of the balcony on high school field trips, but the seats we had for this anniversary performance were center orchestra, and the show is a lot more fun when you can actually see the stage without binoculars.

After the performance, we were ushered backstage where my friend photographed Norm Lewis and the other performers in costume.  Then, everyone got out of costume and makeup, and dozens of pizzas were stacked onto tables stretching across the stage for a big party.  There were speeches and toasts, and I ate a few slices of pizza (or maybe more than a few).  At one point, I was chatting with a girl I thought must be someone’s daughter only to learn that she was the actress who plays Christine during the matinee performances…and then I cried in the corner because I realized I’m older than the star of the show.

Onstage at the Majestic Theatre

Onstage at the Majestic Theatre in front of the infamous chandelier. (No, I didn’t airbrush the photo; that’s how youthful I look under stage lights.)

When the party was over, my friend and I exited the theatre by walking off the stage and through the house while the rest of the partygoers (cast, crew, and staff) exited through the stage door.  We walked from the lobby into the foyer, and realized that the doors leading to the street were dead-bolted shut, as it was now several hours after the performance had  ended.  When we turned around to go back into the theatre, we found that the doors leading to the lobby had locked behind us.

We were trapped in the foyer of the Majestic Theatre.

We waited.  And waited.  And several minutes went by.

I thought surely we must be on camera and some security guard would come find us and set us free.  But we continued to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Literally, moments before we were about to call the police, a security guard for the theatre came strolling down the sidewalk.  He looked just as surprised to see us trapped in the foyer as we felt to be trapped.

And with a turn of his key, we were set free.

I bought a soft pretzel (I guess the pizza didn’t fill me up) and headed home.

What a fun night.

Happy anniversary, Phantom!

A trip to the Tony Awards

When someone asks, “Do you want a comp to the Tony Awards dress rehearsal?” there’s only one way to respond, and that’s with a resounding, “YES!” And that’s exactly how I responded!

The Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal

The Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal

On Sunday, I was up at the crack of dawn (and anyone who knows me knows just how rare it is to find me awake when there’s still dew on the grass) to get my butt to Radio City Music Hall by 9 AM. Basically, the rehearsal was like watching the actual ceremony, except no real winners were announced.  In fact, Karen Ziemba and Billy Porter (who were the hosts of the non-televised awards) kept getting yelled at by the director for forgetting to say, “For rehearsal purposes only” before saying, “The Tony Awards goes to…” I was surprised to see all of the performers in full costume and makeup.  I know this was supposed to run like the actual televised event, but I figured some of the stars might not want to get into the face paint so early in the morning.  Let’s face it, most of them performed a matinee and an evening performance of their own Broadway show on Saturday, and then performed at the Tony rehearsal on Sunday morning, performed their Sunday afternoon show, and then had to give their best performances for television that night.  I just thought that maybe Neil Patrick Harris wouldn’t have to get in and out of his Hedwig makeup half a dozen times in a 24 hour timeframe. I was also surprised to see almost all of the celebrity presenters at the dress rehearsal.  Clint Eastwood was not present at all (and he sure could have used the rehearsal if you saw all his flubs during the telecast) and two or three celebrities were late, forcing production to re-rehearse their segments (I’m looking at you RuPaul and Orlando Bloom).  Pretty much everyone else was there, though.  Unlike the performers, the presenters were able to wear their sweatpants and jeans. Another thing that surprised me was how little the performers moved during the musical numbers.  The staging was designed much more for television than I had imagined it would be.  The camera work makes the performers (even the fast-paced tap dancers) look as if they’re moving across the entire stage, when they barely leave a few-foot radius.  In the theatre it looked awkward, but on television it looked natural. Watching the actual telecast later that night, it was interesting to see the same jokes repeated.  Basically, any bit that seemed improvised or organic during the telecast was actually scripted and rehearsed.  Most of the jokes weren’t as funny the second time around.  Maybe it’s just because they felt less authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a little behind-the-scenes taste of the Tony Awards at the dress rehearsal and then enjoyed watching the actual ceremony on television.  Based on the performances, there are a few shows I’d like to see, and there are a few shows I’d never willingly purchase a ticket for.  …But why get into that?