Below is the full text of Paul Rudnick’s “Playbills,” the first play presented on a Broadway stage in more than a year – in a one-time-only socially-distanced matinee on Saturday at the St. James Theater. (And below the script is a video of a brief scene from the performance.) In the play, Nathan Lane portrayed a theater-obsessed fan who tells the story of the visit by Hugh Jackman, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald to his rent controlled apartment, all of them desperately competing to perform for him. I found everything about the show so hilarious — including the jokes about life during the pandemic, and living without physical theaters, and being obsessed with theater — that I asked Paul whether I could post excerpts; he generously gave me permission to post the whole monologue
“Playbills” was on a double bill with a thrilling song-and-dance routine by tap dance savant Savion Glover that seemed to sample every quintessential Broadway musical you can think of, with a few improvised contemporary lyric changes : “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line, There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun; There were a few improvised contemporary lyric changes: “I Want To Live in America,” from West Side Story with the added line: “knee-on-your-neck America”
The matinee was part of New York Pops Up, which promises nine other programs in Broadway theaters over the next 10 weeks.
The production was presented on Instagram Live as well, but (so far) has not been put on their permanent Instagram account.
What was it like to attend in person?
“It was so exciting to be with a live audience again, even with necessary precautions in place,” Paul Rudnick told me. “Having Nathan in this piece was a complete gift..”
He elaborated to his Twitter followers:
by Paul Rudnick
Okay, okay. First off, you’re not going to believe a word of this, but please, please trust me: this really happened. It’s totally true.
Okay, okay. So, like so many people, I’ve been sitting at home, in
my apartment, for an entire year now. And for a while, I was working
from home, which I’m sorry, but that always sounds like something a
serial killer would say. But look at me, from the waist up: my hair is combed, I’m wearing adult clothing, I brushed my teeth, I’m all like, hi, welcome to me pretending I didn’t just binge-watch anything with Nicole Kidman wearing three wigs. But below the waist: Armageddon.
I can’t even call them sweatpants, not anymore. They’re like – old skin. They’re welded to me, like Old Navy barnacles. At first I ordered, you know, the fancy versions, athleisure, tapered, with a waistband. Yeah, that
lasted a week. Until the waistband got a little snug, and I just thought, I don’t need a waistband judging me. So I went one-size-fits-all. Which means literally everyone in the world can fit into my
sweatpants, at the same time. And here’s the true meaning of the pandemic: online, no one can smell the Doritos.
(an evil laugh)
And then I got laid off. Furloughed. “Furloughed” is the new “But I do
love you, I’m just not in love with you, do you see the difference?” But hey, it happens. To so many people. It’s no one’s fault.
Although I blame that graphic of the coronavirus, the one they use on every news show, that little adobe tennis ball, with the red darts sticking all over it. It’s like a dog toy that can kill you. I hate that graphic, not just because it’s a virus, but because it’s always there, like some vicious cartoon character, like Spongebob’s idiot cousin, or like what Pac Man would look like with bad skin in high school. I just want to squish that graphic, to hear the sound it would make under my foot.
Okay, I know, cabin fever. Covid brain. Whatever. But here’s the thing:
I remember the exact first day of the lockdown, because I had tickets for a show. And I was debating with myself, should I go, because I love the theater so much, and I wanted to show my support, but was it too dangerous, but then I got a text: the performance had been canceled. And the show was postponed, indefinitely. No shows. No theater. No TKTS. No Playbills. No singing, no dancing, no anything, not until further notice. Boom. Curtain.
And I know, theater is a luxury. Except it’s not. I live on Ramen so I can buy half-price tickets. I alphabetize my Playbills and I get upset if someone touches them with food on their fingers.
(They pause, pulling themselves together from the horror of this)
I go on every theater website and defend every version of Merrily We Roll Along because at least it’s an attempt. Someday Merrily will work, I have to believe that. Or I can’t move my head.
(pulling themselves together)
I’m sorry. And fuck you, Anyone Can Whistle was ahead of its time, and we are not going to talk about casting the movie version of Follies, because, fine, there’s a restraining order. But Meryl is Phyllis! Fuck Cate Blanchett!
I love theater. I can’t explain it, it’s just, when I have tickets to a show, it lifts my whole day. It’s like a date, with someone who might be wonderful, or might be boring, or might change my life forever. You know?
Except for this past year, and I’ve been watching Zoom readings and old Tony Award numbers on Youtube and movies of great plays, but it’s not the same. Especially Zoom, with everyone in their little squares, it’s like watching Streetcar performed by the Brady Bunch. I mean, I appreciate all of those things, but there’s just not the same tingle of being right there, in a theater, with a live audience, with real live actors, and we’re all in it together, waiting to see what’s going to happen, and jumping to our feet screaming because we loved it so much and then looking under our seats afterwards to find that lady’s inhaler. Although this one time, this lady said she didn’t need her inhaler, not anymore. Because that really long award-winning Irish play had healed her. Sleep can do that.
And I know, be patient, one vaccination at a time, there are lives at stake, but then – okay, okay. Bear with me. Because it happened last night at 7 PM when in the olden days, I’d be heading into the subway, on my way to a show, or just to wait in line for cancellations. But instead I’m sitting here, wondering if there are any more episodes of that Norwegian detective show on Netflix, or if that last episode was actually the ending – I mean, he killed twelve people because they wouldn’t use solar panels? But there’s a knock on my door, except I haven’t ordered takeout or anything from Amazon, you know, the new sex, so I put on my mask and I open the door and right there, standing in my hallway – it’s Hugh Jackman.
I know. I know!
And at first I think, no, it’s just the hottest UPS guy ever, or I’m hallucinating, from too much Ramen, but it’s really him and he does the elbow thing and he says, “Hi, I’m Hugh Jackman, may I come in? Mate?”
(Hugh’s “mate” is especially thrilling)
And he says, “I’ve been vaccinated” and I say, but you’re too young, and he says, “Broadway stars have just been classified as essential workers” and I say duh, come right in. And he looks so grateful and he looks around my one bedroom apartment, fine, it’s a studio with an alcove, and he says, “This is lovely.” And I realize – Hugh Jackman’s been cooped up too. He’s lonely. He’s needy. And he wants to be back in a theater as much as I want
to see him in one, because he asks me, “Can I sing Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man for you?” And I’m dumbstruck, I’m floored, and I say, but I don’t even have a piano and he says, “It’s fine, I brought my boombox” and he puts the boombox on my couch, right next to the five almost-empty cereal boxes and the towel which is covering the duct tape which is holding the cushion together, and he asks, “Do you know the show?” And I try not to
act offended, I just find my Playbill from the Craig Bierko revival and my Playbill from when Robert Sean Leonard took over, and my original cast CD with Robert Preston and my DVD of the movie and my other DVD of the Matthew Broderick/Kristin Chenowith TV version, and my high school yearbook with the photo of me in the drama club waiting for the Wells Fargo wagon and Hugh says, “I get it.” And he’s smiling but
a little like, sure, but you haven’t seen The Music Man with Hugh Jackman, so I ask, where should I sit, and he points to a folding chair and just as he’s about to push Play on his boombox – don’t you love that Hugh Jackman has a boombox – there’s another knock on my door. So I say, Hugh, I’m so sorry, I don’t know who that could be but I’ll get rid of them and I open the door and – it’s Patti LuPone.
Yes. I’m not kidding. She’s tiny. But fierce. And she’s got that look
on her face, that Patti LuPone look, like, am I going to hug you or treat you like someone using their cell phone during Rose’s Turn? But she’s totally mesmerizing and she says, “Hi. Patti LuPone.” And I try to say something, to tell her I worship her, but my throat is dry and she’s already pushing past me into the apartment and she says. “Oh. Hugh Jackman. So that’s how it is.” And he says, “Patti, darling” and I assume they know each other from, like, the Tony Awards or doing benefits, and Patti says, “Right before the shutdown I was in previews with
the gender-swapped version of Company with a female Bobbie. So I’d really like to sing Ladies Who Lunch for you.” And I’m thrilled, I’m dying, but I want to be fair, so I gesture and I say, “I would love that, but Hugh was here first.” And Hugh and I both, like, duck, but Patti stays calm and she says, “But Hugh wasn’t even in rehearsal and I was gearing up for an opening night so I’ve got Stephen Sondheim blueballs.” But I say, Hugh brought a boombox and Patti says, “I have a full orchestra on my phone and have you ever heard of a little show called Evita?” And Hugh says, “I loved the movie with Madonna” and Patti grabs a steak knife and Hugh says, “I’m kidding!” And I take the knife and Hugh says to Patti, “Ladies first” and Patti says, “Thank you, Ironman” and just as Hugh’s saying “Wolverine” he gets it and Patti points to the folding chair and tells me, “Sit.” And she points to the couch and tells Hugh, “You too, Batman. Learn something.” And she stands right near my refrigerator, right in front of my Patti LuPone refrigerator magnet, and I’m hoping she doesn’t notice my Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard mug, and I’m so excited and so scared and just as Patti opens her mouth to sing there’s a
knock on the door and Patti asks, “Are you expecting anyone else?
Carol Channing?” And I say, no, of course not, although Hugh and I
exchange a glance like, wouldn’t that be fabulous, but then I open the door and – Audra McDonald. Oh my God. But it’s true! Everyone has Lockdown Fever!
And the three of them look at each other and they go, “Audra”, “Patti”, “Hugh” and I’m terrified that they’re all going to leave so I say, “Isn’t this amazing! So many legends in one rent-controlled apartment!” And I point to all of their bobbleheads lined up on the microwave and Patti puts the Andrew Lloyd Weber bobblehead in the microwave
and Audra says, “I don’t have a show coming up so I was going to perform one of my sold-out concerts, but if you’re busy…” and Patti says, “Audra, I love you, but wait your turn” and Hugh says, “What
if we all sing You Could Drive A Person Crazy together?” And Audra says, “I love that idea, but first let me ask you, which person in this room has six Tony Awards?” And under his breath I hear Hugh say, “But which person has a film career?” And under her breath I hear Patti ask, “But which person has an assault weapon in her shoulderbag?” And I’m thinking, I wish Kristin Chenowith was here because she’s so sweet and sunshiney and maybe that would calm everyone down but then I thought, or maybe they would pull off her head and eat her.
But instead Audra takes a deep breath and she says, “I’m sorry, I was just surprised to see everyone here, and Patti, as you may have heard, I’m going to play Mama Rose, but out of respect for your incredible, definitive performance, I’m going to wait until after you’re dead” and Patti says, “I appreciate that” and Audra says, “Ballpark?” And Hugh says, “Oh, snap” and there’s a knock on the door, no, a ton of knocks, like a hailstorm, and I open it, and there’s Donna Murphy, Danny Burstein, Sutton Foster, the entire cast of Hamilton and Judi Dench and everyone’s all like, “Um, does Judi have a work visa?” And Judi says, “Of course I do” and Patti says, “Even after the Cats movie?” And they’re all starting to sing and dance at once, and then all of these other, younger people flood in behind them
and one of them says, “We’re from off-broadway which is even more exciting and inclusive and innovative” and Patti says, “Fuck you, motherfuckers” and I go, “Patti!” and she says, “No, that’s how you
say I love you off-broadway” and then Nathan Lane climbs in the window and asks, “And what am I, chopped liver?” and it happens: I faint.
The lights go out. Just like last March. And when I come to… they’re gone. All of them. And I wonder, was it just a lockdown-induced fantasy? Some impossible dream of things opening back up? Maybe it’s never going to happen. Maybe theater is just – gone. But then I notice something – there’s a note stuck to my refrigerator, with my 42nd Street magnet – from London – and the note says, “You’re out of Ramen. Love, Hugh.”