I survived a close encounter of the Jason Bateman kind last Monday at the opening night of Good Night, Oscar on Broadway. If you followed my Instagram stories that day, you watched it all unfold in real time at the Belasco (Tabasco?) Theatre. For the rest of you, I’ll recap here and share some photos and videos I captured over the course of what turned out to be some enchanted evening.
If you’re not familiar with the world of Broadway theater or the SmartLess podcast (we obviously could never be besties), let me bring you up to speed on the basics. A new play written by Doug Wright, Good Night, Oscar tells the story of one especially stressful night at the Tonight Show with Jack Paar, where famous pianist Oscar Levant is scheduled to appear…but remains MIA as the live late-night show’s start time approaches.
When Oscar finally arrives on the scene after being granted a 4-hour pass from the facility where his wife recently had him committed, Sean Hayes portrays the talented yet tortured entertainer to complete perfection. Not only does Sean manage to convey such sadness and extreme mental illness while simultaneously making you laugh until you cry, his piano playing skills bring down the house.
While you probably know Sean from his time as Jack McFarland on Will & Grace, he currently shares SmartLess podcast hosting duties with the Arrested Development brotherly duo of Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. So, it only makes sense that Jason and Will would come out to support their friend and co-host at Good Night, Oscar’s opening performance. And as we witnessed first-hand, Jason, Will and droves of other celebrities from stage and screen hit the red carpet to cheer on Sean and the rest of the cast and crew as they officially opened on Broadway.
Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s get into the details of the main event.
Opening night tickets don’t typically go on sale to the general public with the rest of the show’s performances. As the date gets closer (and I assume, those close to the show determine exactly how many tickets will be needed for friends and family), the occasional ticket will pop up online for purchase. My best advice if you want to attend opening night of a particular show is to keep checking and keep the faith. I was on Telecharge randomly for months and finally a ticket showed up in the nosebleeds two days before the big night. Ticket pricing was in line with the other performance dates, not that I wouldn’t have paid a premium to have been in the audience that night.
If you’re still ticketless the day before, most shows conduct their ticket lottery as usual for opening night. Good Night, Oscar held its digital lottery for opening night – and the lucky winners were able to attend the exclusive performance for a mere $40 per ticket.
As you’re preparing the day of, know that curtain time on opening night is earlier than usual. Good Night, Oscar was supposed to start at 6:30 pm, although the hoopla of it all kept things from kicking off right on time. Even if you don’t end up scoring a ticket, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from heading to the theater to be a part of the red carpet, pre-show experience.
I arrived at the Belasco around 5:45 pm and had plenty of time to take in the festivities. The red carpet was of course already in full swing, with barricades along both sides of the street and a stream of black SUVs pulling up and popping out famous people like Pez.
It was such madness — a rather unsettling combination of anxious energy among the gathered crowd waiting eagerly to see who would be next to emerge and a sense of apathy bordering on confusion as people walking down the street had to navigate the obstacles and extra crowds while simultaneously realizing they were passing celebrities among us. As someone who remains enthralled with many aspects of the entertainment industry, it can still be hard for me to remember that this sort of thing happens so often in cities like NYC and LA that locals have become almost immune and are barely phased walking past a red carpet erected on a sidewalk on a Monday night.
In looking through the press photos from the event, I realized there were so many celebrities with whom I rubbed elbows and honestly didn’t even recognize in the moment. I mean, Justin Theroux was standing directly behind Jason on the red carpet, and I was so laser focused, I had no clue until later. The same phenomenon as not being able to place your teacher or doctor out and about at the grocery store or having dinner at a restaurant, our minds clearly aren’t equipped to make those connections immediately.
Another thing that stood out to me was just how small and unassuming the red carpet set up was in person. Through the magic of Hollywood, maybe 8 feet of sidewalk in front of the theater in the middle of Times Square looks like a glamorous expanse on camera and film. I’m not overly surprised, given that I had the same reaction the first time I walked into a show taping, as those studios are also shockingly small in real life when you’re used to seeing them on screen.
Upon gathering myself and finding my seat, the usher handed me the night’s special Playbill, with a sticker commemorating opening night on the front. The sticker addition seems to be common practice, as the Playbill for A Doll’s House opening night was exactly the same. I’ve even gotten a special sticker for being at the 1-year anniversary performance of MJ and the first preview of Almost Famous.
Speaking of previews, we should cover that important distinction. Opening night is pretty much never the first performance in front of a Broadway audience. Shows start in previews, which can last for a number of weeks. Previews allow the cast and crew to gauge the audience’s reactions and make any adjustments prior to opening night, when the show is locked and critics attend.
As I write this, I’m wondering if the reason opening night shows start earlier may have originated back in the days when critics would’ve needed the additional time to get their reviews submitted for the next day’s newspaper. I can’t find anything on the Internet to confirm this, but I think it’s a solid theory and realize I just made made myself sound super old.
Many shows also spend time off-Broadway or in another city prior to coming to Broadway and can make refinements during that period. Good Night, Oscar had a 6-week run in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre almost exactly a year ago. They had a couple of weeks of Broadway previews, with the first one being Good Friday, April 7. I don’t personally recall any major differences between the two performances, though.
When the show ended, the curtain call was obviously enthusiastically positive…so much love for everyone in the cast and crew.
The walk down from the balcony was slow, but it allowed me to pay attention to the crowd and notice how genuinely joyful and congratulatory everyone was.
I literally walked out of the theater with Lea DeLaria from Orange is the New Black and POTUS having a group conversation to my left. And I turned to my right to see an enamored fan asking Shoshana Bean from Mr. Saturday Night for a photo before she headed into a restaurant next door. From there, I was rushed out of the way by security to make room for the black SUVs lining up to retrieve their high-profile passengers.
Jason Bateman bias aside, the energy of opening night on Broadway simply cannot be beat. The red carpet, the media, the crowd, the general excitement of the evening…it’s all electric. And the cast feeds off of it, creating the opposite of a vicious cycle – it’s a cycle of brilliance, and everyone in the theater that night wins.
I still truly can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to wrap up work on a Monday and head over to a Broadway theater for such an unforgettable night. A 15-minute walk from my apartment to a Broadway red carpet Jason Bateman sighting? What is this life?
It was all around a very, very Good Night, Oscar. I wish Sean and everyone involved the most successful Broadway run. Catch it if you can, Good Night, Oscar is currently scheduled to play at the Belasco Theatre through August 27.