Birmingham, Alabama: Day 3

October 2, 2009

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I’m sitting at the airport in Birmingham waiting to board the first of my two flights back to Los Angeles. I left Nicci in the care of Ben and Casey earlier this afternoon, and I’m sure my presence will be forgotten in no time! Those three have formed quite the bond. I hate feeling like an outsider in a very close group of friends, but I tried about as hard as I could to not sit there like a voiceless lump when we were all together.

Last night was opening night for the show, and I could not be more proud of Nicci and all the people involved in the production. Before the premiere, the “out-of-towners” (Nicci, Michael, Ben, Casey) and I had lunch with the show’s director, Ron. He is a very bright and worldly man, and I really liked sitting around listening to the four actors speak with their director. Their respect for each other — and especially for Ron — was palpable. I contributed what little I could to the conversation, but preferred to stay in the margins to let the professionals talk about their careers and lives. I enjoyed a half of a hand-pulled pork sandwich and half of Nicci’s barbecued spare ribs sandwich at the BBQ joint we went to. A pint of Good People Oatmeal Stout washed it down nicely.

Back at the hotel, Nicci launched into her hair routine. She’s an expert now, with all the teasing and curling and brushing and combing. She frantically tried to finish as the group convened to drive to the theater for their call time. I left twenty or thirty minutes later following a stop at Wal-Mart for flowers. Before leaving I thought I lost my rental car keys and had a mini-freak out. I tore through all my bags and clothes, eventually finding the keys underneath the blanket at the foot of the bed. Oops.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t the first person at the theater. Doors were supposed to open at 7, but when I strolled in a few minutes before, there were already a handful of people seated at the small tables that make up the seating area. I sat with an older, red-headed woman whose name began with a “P”. I think it was Pamela? She was sweet. We spoke for five or ten minutes about her life before she asked about mine. I told her about Nicci. She immediately reached for her Playbill and began reading her biography. “She’s gorgeous,” the lady said. “I know,” I said. “I’m very lucky.” Her son soon joined as at the table. I think his name was Michael? He works in some field that combines lighting with interior design. He was there to see the show with his mom and a male friend of his. Joe. I don’t remember exactly. The mom, Pamela, she immediately began gushing to Michael about how I flew across the country for opening night, and showed him Nicci’s picture. He read her bio aloud and said something about my receiving special thanks from her. The theater started to fill up fast. The performance was sold-out. I turned my phone off, so I don’t remember when exactly the house lights dimmed, but after a short announcement by the show’s producer, it began.

I don’t think I have to explain RENT to anyone who is reading this. It’s well-known enough that it’d be foolish to try. Instead, I’ll just boast about how wonderful everybody was, and how amazing and locked-in the performers were. Dylan, the guy who plays one of the main characters Mark, was phenomenal. Very, very talented, that guy is. Ben, who played Angel, was probably the most-adored character in the show by the audience. He elicited the most laughs and some of the loudest applause. Casey as Roger was — judging by appearance only — quite different from the Roger I saw when Nicci took me to the Pantages last year, but he was just as good. The ensemble was ridiculous. I’d say the best three songs of the night were the reprise of “I’ll Cover You,” “Will I” and “Seasons Of Love”. The latter tune received a huge ovation from the crowd. The harmonies were (to my ears) perfect. I don’t think I really have to describe Nicci’s performance in too many words. Brilliant. I was beaming and proud every time I saw her on stage. After “Light My Candle,” both mother and son seated at the table with me leaned over to tell me that she was stunning. Honestly, it was hard not to be overcome by emotion. I’ve heard her sing almost every day for whatever it’s been now — almost two years. She has never sounded so confident and amazing. It was hard to conceal my grin as I watched the show.

During intermission, Ron spotted me from across the room and offered a friendly wave. I was so consumed by joy that I wasn’t sure how to respond to his gesture, so I blew him a kiss. His lack of confusion at my response hinted that maybe he understood my amazement.

The second act moves very quickly. There are many plot lines in need of climaxes and resolutions. Upon completion, of course, the cast received a large standing ovation from the entire audience. One man seated near me exclaimed, “Holy shit! That was opening night? I can’t wait to see where they are in two weeks!” When I went to use the restroom before meeting up with Nicci, the two guys standing at the urinals were talking about how professional the cast was. I heard a lot of comments about Dylan, Nicci and Ben as I waited for her after the show. When she appeared from backstage she was glowing. It was cute.

There was an afterparty for the cast and crew a few blocks away at a bar called the Rogue Tavern. Since I don’t really have any other way of expressing joy towards others accomplishments — especially when I don’t possess a theater vocabulary — I bought the “out-of-towners” their first round of drinks. I think that was my way of saying, “Bravo” or whatever you’re supposed to tell actors and actresses when they succeed even beyond your highest expectations. It was a really good time. I drank a lot. I met a lot of super-nice people. The entire cast and crew are all so warm and welcoming. I am sure that is one ingredient to their success as a unit.

We got home, somehow, and fell asleep quickly. I awoke at 6am and had a hard time returning to sleep. Breakfast at IHOP before the boys came over to plan their day with Nicci. I packed my bags and left. I’ll be back in LA tonight.

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