I mean, he thinks you're special, but you fall within a bell curve.
By Alisha Giampola (Actor)
In case you missed my first post here on Crazytown, you may not be aware that I think Tim Minchin is the bee's knees. He is hilarious. He is smart and funny and wonderful and some amazing hybrid comedian life form of Eddie Izzard and Michael Palin by way of Victor Borge, with influences of Samuel Beckett and Lewis Carroll. Yes. He really is that fantastic. Watch this. And this. And this, this and this.
A little over five years ago, I met one of my dearest friends while being delightfully miscast in a production of West Side Story in North Carolina. I was miscast as a dancer, she was miscast as a Puerto Rican. We discovered a mutual interest in Regency Period literature and uncomfortable humor. Fast forward to this past Saturday: Alesia is now the sales manager at 54 Below (Broadway's Nightclub!!). Therefore, I am happy to report that I was able to purchase tickets to see Tim Minchin's essentially unpublicized, press very much UNinvited cabaret show at 54 Below about thirty seconds after they went on sale. I'm now here with the full scoop on how utterly brilliant it was.
Tim Minchin, in the words of my husband, is "about to blow up in America". Basically, he's quite famous in both his native Australia, and chosen home of Great Britain, but is still very much "Tim who again?" here in the New World. He's about to be known as the composer/lyricist of Matilda, and he was in some recent episodes of Californication (playing a character visibly, but not emotionally, similar to his on-stage persona and wonderfuly named Atticus Fetch) but currently he has a fairly modest, yet vigilint fan base here in the colonies. This was just demonstrated in the fact that although he only had one night booked for his cabaret at 54 Below, mere days before the opening of Matilda, it sold out so quickly that demand ensured a second night was needed.
My experience attending his show on Saturday night was one of those quintissential New York evenings, the kind that make all those MTA fare hikes and outrageous rent payments worthwhile. Alesia and I have been looking forward to this show for a while, and our respective gentlemen were equally ready for a night out when we arrived at 54 Below, bypassing the excited line that already extended down the block, more than an hour before the late night (11pm) show was scheduled to start. Inside, we ordered drinks and sat in the comfortable reddish glow as Tim (!!!!!) fooled around on the piano and finished up a sound check. He was surprisingly wearing shoes, and was visibly jetlagged: uncharacteristically bespectacled and be-shod.
After running through a few bars of his music and vocalizing a bit tiredly, someone asked if the house could be opened, and Tim dutifully ducked offstage and the room began swarming with fans, skeptical yet willing old people, excited young people and Broadway recognizables (Caissie Levy, Will Swenson and Audra McDonald among them). 54 Below is a warm and intimate place to see a performance, feeling more like a comfortably expensive living room than a nightclub, and after a couple martinis I was far from annoyed that there were other excited people in my living room. Had I invited them? Probably. Who cares. What a great party. Tim returned to the stage double fisting an enormous glass of red wine and a Red Bull. He announced that he was still currently on London time, and he hoped everyone was prepared for an interesting show.
Needless to say, jetlag does not dull Minchin's fingers or his wits. His piano playing, erratic and jazzy, with a hint of Amadeus-like showmanship (he KNOWS there are too many notes: he wrote it that way), is perfectly matched with his lyrics which, as his Twitter profile states, show that he is "a musician with a swollen sense of my ability to articulate my insignificance." One of the first songs he played was one that I was pleasantly unfamiliar with, and one he pretended to be unfamiliar with as well. He said, as he pulled out wrinkled sheet music, that it appeared to be titled "Cont", which, he insisted was not a trick of his accent, but was in fact spelled "C-O-N-T". Three minutes, and an entire roomful of hysterical laughter later, it was revealed that the song was actually called "Context" and he had accidentally-on-purpose covered up half of the lyrics and had to start completely over.
During one of his two standing ovations he confided that he had planned on doing an elaborate exit before returning to perform an encore (Matilda's "When I Grow Up"), but during the applause had decided it was just easier to stay onstage. He seemed genuinely excited about the audience's warmth, reminding us that he had almost forgotten that he wasn't really in America- he was in New York City (it's a fair assessment that Tim Minchin's popularity in the flyover states is a long way away.)
However, the truly only-in-New-York moment of our night hadn't even happened at that point. That happened later, when we, led by Alesia, headed up to Tim's dressing room with a bottle of wine and proceeded to do our best to seem like we were really supposed to be there. Gracious and genuinely tired (also, he had announced it was his 11th wedding anniversary, and surely he was ready to get out of there), Tim Minchin not only found time to say hi to us, (and seriously, who are we?) but also to Caissie Levy, Will Swenson and, as they parted before the elevator doors to reveal her in an unintentionally choreographed dramatic moment for me: AUDRA. It is unnerving to suddenly be hanging out with a glass of wine and AUDRA MCDONALD. At least, I found it to be a bit star-striking. The first Broadway show I ever saw was at age nine, when she was in her Tony Award-winning turn at Carousel. Her line upon shaking hands? "Hi, I'm Audra." AHHHH, WE KNOW, AUDRA, WE KNOW! YOU ARE MAGIC!
Caissie, Will, Audra and several other 54 Below regulars who had by now arrived upstairs by the dressing room door were not there to shmooze with ex-nine-year old musical theatre geeks. They too, were there to bask in the brilliance that was the comedian we had all come to see: Mr. Minchin, who at this point was probably so done in by the time difference to be ready for breakfast. It actually didn't completely occur to me until we were all standing around with our wine glasses that this man had flown across the pond the day before, immediately done a show, slept for several hours, sat in on Matilda preview rehearsals, come in to the club for sound check and then did another show on his wedding anniversary. Talk about hi-ho, the glamorous life (sandwiches only, but you eat what you want when you want).
After collecting our coats, and agreeing that we had earned the right to share a cab, the four of us giggled about the evening in the way you only can after spending a significant enough time in NYC to forget the little gifts the city can suddenly bestow upon you.
Although I have been to 54 Below before (to see Michael Cerveris and his band Loose Cattle), this was the first "after hours" show that I attended, and these late night offerings are only getting better. Following the success of their fun, no-cover, see-Broadway-stars-sing-from-their-books Backstage series, there is the brand-new 54 Piano Bar. Just like any good NYC piano bar, you choose from their songbook and take a turn on stage. Alesia also informed me that the Late Night series is geared toward giving new and up-coming artists a place to showcase their talents (hellooooo songwriters, one-man/woman shows, new plays, cabaret acts, and comedians!) The Late Night series will also feature "The Callback" on Monday nights - a vocal competition judged by casting directors, producers and other industry professionals - and the grand prize is a prime time slot at 54 Below. So show up Mondays through Thursdays for crazy-good new talent, late night Happy Hour specials including $5 beer, $8 specialty cocktails, no cover charge and a new late night menu. Doors open at 11pm.
A good place to check out everything is right here. If you are excited about auditioning to be a part of "The Callback" competition, you can send an email to TheCallback@54below.com (for submission guidelines: click.) This should be way more fun than the current season of American Idol, you guys, so let's get on this. Also, where in Manhattan (let alone midtown) can you get a $5 beer these days?!