September 19, 2005

My family and I got up at six a.m. on Sunday and drove into Manhattan. I'd been scheduled for a television interview with a local station for the morning news. Before we went on the air, the reporter asked me, "What's Broadway like?"

I thought for a second and then replied, "It's like being in this dream state; you know how sometimes you're having a dream and suddenly you wake up and realize you were dreaming, then you fall back asleep and the dream picks up again, right where you left off, and it keeps on doing that."

That was what it was like for the first half of the day. I was in the middle of Times Square with the whole area blocked off, preparing for the annual presentation of Broadway On Broadway. Each year, participants in Broadway's biggest musicals gather and perform a number from their show on a large stage erected on the spot where Broadway and 7th Avenue cross, facing north. About 50,000 people usually show up for this free event, in which the hosts encourage the patrons to give to charitable causes, in this case Hurricane relief. Chuck, Michael and Marcy were unavailable today, so Mark, Nicole and I stepped in.

After the brief thirty-second interview, we went over to the talent check-in area at the ABC studios. We were a couple of hours ahead of our call, so we hung out, had a little breakfast and watched the show's hosts, Christina Applegate and John Lithgow, as they went over their script. Gradually the performers started trickling in. As I milled around, smelling the coffee and looking at the fruit, bagel and pastry layout, I flashed back to the first day of rehearsals for Lennon on 42nd st. It was the exact same setup as then and I had the same feeling I had then, nervous and surrounded by strangers in show biz. This was different, though. Everyone else was in a show that was running, and I was on my way out. Before it was exciting, now it was dreadful.

By 11:30 the show was underway, and Lithgow and Applegate delivered their scripted lines and introduced each musical segment one at a time. No costumes and props were used, only jeans and t-shirts, but you got the point. As each cast took the stage and did their numbers, it occurred to me how cocooned I've been this whole time. The other shows were nothing like ours. They were all, y'know, musicals, like you'd expect to see on Broadway, or even Vegas. Ours was something else entirely (I imagine this was probably how Beatlemania must've felt, except that show was a hit). The one I felt the worst for, though, was Mark, who was briefly reunited with his friends from the cast of RENT and watched them perform. He had been a lead in this legendary show for seven years before leaving it to join Lennon as an understudy. You couldn't blame him. We all thought it was a good move, every one of us.

Lennon was scheduled last in the lineup, the final performance of the day in a show that boasted "the biggest songs from Broadway's biggest shows." Irony with a capital "I". As I climbed the stairs to the stage, I was greeted at the top by John Lithgow, who gave me a warm conciliatory hug and said how happy and sad he was for all of us. He is one of the nicest people in show business, if not humanity itself. We sang "Imagine" as I watched tens of thousands of arms swaying in time as far as I could see. If only this had happened a week ago, I thought, things might be different. As soon as we were done, the rest of the performers and the hosts all took the stage and began singing "Give My Regards To Broadway" by George M. Cohan (whose statue was visible just two blocks up on the north end of the square). And thus commenced the most surreal moment of my life. I was on a high stage looking out at the cross section of the world, with confetti falling from the tallest rooftops against a clear blue sky over a sea of faces, with John Lithgow a few feet to my right. I was sure it was an out-of-body experience.

When the show was over, The cast and I were escorted by our PR team over to a spot where the photographers were and posed for group pictures. After we finished and everyone was leaving, one photographer stopped me.

"Are you the one that plays John Lennon?" she asked. "Yeah, I'm one of 'em," I said. Then she took my picture.

So that hasn't changed.