Ruthie Henshall
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Ruthie Henshall
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Some weeks ago, I wrote of the joys of sitting in the front row, where you can see, hear, and enjoy everything without any heads or distractions in front of you. Many of you had a few things to say, such as Jonathan Giggs, who wrote: "In Toronto, Barbara Fingerote, an avid theatergoer, always sits in the front row because she is about 4'5". She sees about 150 plays a year, so the actors recognize her and give her a special bow at the curtain."

Actor Jere Williams had two observations: "Peter, you said, 'The first row is the closest that many of us will ever get to being on stage,' but you could have bought an on-stage seat for the Broadway production of Copenhagen. I did it twice -- the second time with my parents. When my mother asked me if our tickets were close to the stage, I told her that I didn't think she'd have any trouble seeing. Imagine their shock when the usher led us right up onto the stage. They loved the play and agreed that being onstage added an excitement that it wouldn't otherwise have had. Mom also said, 'I had no idea the actors could see the audience so clearly. I always assumed that the lights would blind them.' "

Williams also fondly remembered, "When Chicago was at the Shubert, I often got front-row rush tickets, and now I have a vase of roses that various ladies tossed me over the years. There was one performance where Sandy Duncan and Ruthie Henshall played the entire show right to me at front row center. I've never felt anything like it. People around me were pointing and whispering and wondering just who exactly I was -- it was that obvious."

Many people like the front row because of the connection with the performers that it gives them. Fred Aronowitz wrote, "Sitting in the first row three nights after the opening of the original La Cage aux Folles made me feel as if I didn't have to share this with anyone else. Even at the curtain calls, it was just me and the cast." Rich Smreker related, "When I attended my first Broadway show, I was lucky enough to sit in the front row. (How many first-timers can make that claim?) While I know that this particular revival of Oklahoma! was not greeted with much acclaim, I found it continually fascinating -- especially because I could see how much more make-up Ado Annie was wearing compared to the other, 'nice' girls. But the high point happened during curtain calls. Andrea Martin has always been one of my favorites, and because she was right in front of me, I cheered a little louder for her benefit -- and she looked down and gave me a surreptitious wink."

Andy LeClerc had a similar experience, though not with a performer: "Being in the front row of Mamma Mia! allowed me to be seated right behind conductor David Holcenberg, who struck up a conversation with me as though we were old friends." Steve Lieberman remembered two such experiences: "First, when Faye Dunaway finished her final curtain call in Master Class, I was still screaming 'Brava, Faye!' and she turned and gave me a smile. Second, at Barbra Streisand's last farewell concert, I yelled, 'Sing, "Miss Marmelstein!' and she looked straight in my eyes and said, 'With that accent, you must be from Brooklyn.' " On a less lofty note, Lieberman also remembered, "When I was in the first row for Chicago in 1975, I flirted with a gypsy. Luckily, my partner wasn't aware of what I was doing, but the chorus boy with whom I was playing this game of eye contact got so involved in it that, at one point, he almost fell into the pit."

Of course, there are hazards to sitting in front row. I mentioned Peter Bull's spitting a drink on me in Black Comedy, but Jason Flum felt that I didn't address "one of the biggest hazards of all, the real spitter! Some actors really project when they sing, and I've gotten more than one shower that way." Ann Miner had a different perspective: "At the new Sweeney Todd, I liked feeling that I might get splashed with fake blood as Patti LuPone ladled out the goop." Susabela mentioned a different liability: "If the front row is below the level of the stage, you can get a stiff neck."

Donald Butchko mentioned a hazard I'd never thought of: "During opening night of a show I was assistant directing, I was in the front row, and my cell phone -- which was on vibrate -- went off. Afterwards, an actress came up to me and said, 'Was that your cell that went off in the middle of my song?' It was a blessing in disguise, for when I did the pre-curtain speech at following performances, I made a point of saying that vibrate mode is not silent."

Aviva Rothschild brought up a painful first-row experience that her parents had: "At a ballet, as the dancers whirled to the edge of the stage, my mom started to giggle uncontrollably because she saw a huge pimple on a ballerina's butt. My father had to pinch her to settle her down." But Guy Sterling wins the humiliation prize: "When a friend and I had front-row seats to the Mabou Mines' Lear, we were actually closer than we expected to be -- right on the auditorium floor, which was being used as the stage. Unfortunately, my friend showed up drunk, fell asleep, and started snoring. When Ruth Maleczech as Lear started wailing into the night, she did so right in front of my slumbering friend, and she looked down to see where this ungodly sound was coming from. I gave my pal a sharp elbow in the ribs, so he woke up, startled, and began howling until he got his bearings. Not long afterward, I got dropped from the company's mailing list. Goes to show, you must be very careful in picking your front-row partners."

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]