The Line: A test of showbiz faith

Waiting for 12 hours to get tickets to the Broadway hit 'The Producers' requires stamina, sociability, a high tolerance for frustration, and a folding chair


November 04, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun Staff

NEW YORK -- It was 45 minutes before the show, and I was beginning to think I had wasted my time.

Thirty-four of my comrades in The Line had gotten into the matinee performance and were long gone. Another 18 had taken the standing-room tickets for the 8 p.m. show and were probably off enjoying a quick dinner or a coffee somewhere warm.

I was holding out for the good tickets -- the same-day cancellation seats that the production holds onto for that famous someone who decides at the last minute to see the show. And after 12 hours outside the St. James Theatre, having outlasted the rain, the curious passers-by, the noxious bus fumes, there was only one man left between me and my plum seats to The Producers.

But that was still no guarantee.

These days, anyone with an extra $480 to burn can get a ticket to this perpetually sold-out musical comedy starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. (The production will set aside 50 seats every performance for the well-heeled theater patron who just can't bear to miss this show.)

But until last week, the only way to get into The Producers anytime before mid-April and before Lane and Broderick's contracts expire was to join The Line.

For months, I had wanted to see this show. When Mayor Rudolph Giuliani encouraged visitors to come to New York as a way of helping the city recover from the terrorist attacks, I had another reason: It was good for the Big Apple.

So I called an accountant friend who lives in Manhattan. He was more than willing to see the show with me, but he balked at the prospect of standing in line all day and he didn't hide the fact that he thought I was a little nuts to think nothing of it.

6:45 on a Saturday morning: I am what my family and former roommates generously describe as "not a morning person." Nevertheless, I cheerfully set out from my friend's apartment with a portable chair, two books, a few magazines, a bottle of water and two granola bars. Having headed out before any of New York's gazillion Starbucks had opened, I settle for bottled Frappuccino from the 24-hour pharmacy down the street.

7:15 a.m.: Rounding the corner onto 44th Street, my heart sinks. The Line outside the St. James Theatre is already 20 deep. Knowing there are only 18 standing-room tickets and an average of eight to 12 cancellation house seats for each performance, I figure my chances of actually snagging a pair of these coveted tickets are slim to none.

Nonetheless, I take my place in The Line behind the college kids and young professionals, the out-of-work New Yorkers and middle-aged mothers from New Jersey, all of whom would become my new friends as the day wore on.

7:35 a.m.: The first small victory comes quickly. Someone gets in line behind me. My decision to stay couldn't be completely unreasonable, right?

Noon: Things start moving.

The first to take the standing-room tickets for the matinee are Stephanie and Lindsay Burlton. The sisters are hard-core theater fans. On a trip to New York two years ago, they saw 22 shows in 16 days.

This time, they flew from Vancouver to Boston, took a bus to New York and came straight to the theater, suitcases and all, arriving at 3:30 a.m. Huddled on the cold steps of the box office in blankets, the girls catch the attention of several passers-by, who offer them money to find a place to stay or something to eat.

"We're not homeless," Lindsay, 21, explains. "We just want to see The Producers."

1 p.m.: My friend arrives with lunch. Expecting to find me bedraggled, bored and lonely, he is shocked to discover people got up even earlier than I did to get in line. He is even more surprised to find that this punchy group of perfect strangers is actually having fun.

We hold each other's place in line for quick bathroom breaks. We cheer the departure of those who give up and leave The Line (especially if they have been in front of us). We feign close friendships to ward off weirdos. We do the wave. We crowd together when it begins to rain to get as many people as possible under the marquee. And as the morning turns to afternoon -- and afternoon melts into evening -- we are no longer individuals. We are The Line.

1:45 p.m.: We all cheer when Geoffrey Booth of Branford, Conn., and Alejandro Paredes of Monterrey, Mexico, 20-year-old students on their fall break from Cornell University, get 12th-row seats with 15 minutes before show time. The guys have been among the most popular in line, having let others borrow their top-of-the-line fold-up chairs, complete with arm rests 2 / 3 cup holders and foot stools.

1:58 p.m.: Just minutes before curtain time, the nice man with the Producers cap and a clipboard, whom we have affectionately been calling Mr. Line Man, comes out one last time. He ushers the three women right in front of me and one man farther back in line who wants a single seat into the lobby to buy the last of the afternoon's cancellation tickets. They are in the fifth row, center section.

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