As Bright Star is a Tony nominee for Best Musical this season, we are gearing up to perform on the telecast this Sunday! This will be my fourth Tony appearance, having performed with the casts of Damn Yankees (’94), How to Succeed…(’95), and A Class Act (’01). Well, fifth: I also waved from my seat as a nominee for Best Score of Urban Cowboy in ’03.
Of course, it’s thrilling to be a part of The Tonys, Broadway’s biggest night. Everyone gets very dressed up, the stars come out, lots of people are watching (we hope)….
But it’s Live TV! Aaaargh!
In the continuum of performing stress, Theatre is at one end and Live TV is at the other.
Here’s how I see it:
As a theatre actor (and perfectionist), I’ve learned to embrace the idea of the imperfect performance. We all know that theatre is a living, breathing thing – sometimes there’s this amazing alchemy, and it really is (or feels) all “perfect.” And other times there’s a glitch, you stumble over a word, you miss your partner’s hand, you speak over a laugh, your voice cracks on that big high note, and it’s… less than perfect. And really, the only sane option is to let it go. The good news is, it’s a single performance, maybe a thousand or so people were there. Your gaffe might even have gone unnoticed, and even if it was noticed, it will probably be forgotten hours/days/weeks from now. So in the scheme of things, Live Theatre is a low-stress equation.
Then there’s the Taped Live But Edited performance. Two that I’ve been a part of are the Candide and Sweeney Todd concerts with the NY Philharmonic. Nerve-wracking to have all those cameras poised on you for several days of performances, and terrifying to mess anything up, but there’s solace in knowing that the director is going to piece together a beautiful final product with everyone’s best takes.
Then there’s the Taped Unedited Performance known as the Lincoln Center Archival recording. Perhaps it’s my reverence for Lincoln Center and research libraries in general, but I always get terribly psyched out when they’re there. In fact, when A Class Act was recorded for the Lincoln Center Archives, I literally forgot the melody of my ONE SOLO SINGING LINE in the show. I have no idea what I sang that day, but it was definitely not what Ed Kleban wrote. It was better when they came to tape Bright Star– at least I remembered all my lines and melodies. But I can also tell you exactly which joke I blew that night. Oy.
Finally, there’s Live TV, the most stomach-churning of them all. Absolutely no take-backs, no edits, no do-overs, no disappearing into the recesses of memory. Whatever mistakes are made, however badly you tank, the lyrics you mangle, the notes you miss, they’re all there, in HD close up, for everyone to watch. Forever.
I’m going to say that again.
(Leslie Uggams, you feel me, right?)
Thankfully, I have very little responsibility in this Tony performance, so I don’t imagine I’ll be too stressed out. But I have the utmost respect for those of you who are doing heavy lifting on Sunday night (or on any other Live TV show). Break legs all!
Special Mention: The unfortunate phenomenon known as the Bootleg Theatre Video. As if it isn’t bad enough to be captured on a potentially off day, the quality is typically terrible, and it will probably end up on YouTube for all time. The only good thing about these is, we actors don’t know they’re happening, so there’s nothing to get freaked out about. Until we see them….