YOU’RE GONNA LOVE TOMORROW!!
It’s Thursday, January 4th. Only nine days to go before hundreds of enthusiastic theatregoers, subscribers and Shirlington neighbors come to see what all the fuss is about. Will they be ready?
Wearing hard hats with the word “SIGNATURE” on it,and surrounded by drywallers, carpet layers, chandelier installers and carpenters, Lorraine Treanor and I and members of the press stepped into the new unfinished Signature for a tour lead by a very well-informed, enthusiastic and confident Director of PR and Marketing Olivia Haas and Marketing/Sales Manager Rachel Applegate.
We were about to view Co-founders Eric Schaeffer and Donna Migliaccio’s dream – a new, improved Signature (they dropped the “Theatre”) with comfortable seats, state of the art technology, huge rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms and two state-of-the-art black box theatres. It was jaw dropping. I saw critics speechless – a minor miracle.
And when we ended our tour in the new Zickler rehearsal room and saw the beaming faces of Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and Managing Director Sam Sweet. I asked the first question, “Can you tell us about the sound?”Eric explained that they had spent numerous hours and lots of money on ensuring that the sound was fantastic in both the 299 seat black box MAX and 99 seat ARK theatres. And then as questions were asked and answered, all of us who were fortunate to be there that day realized that this new complex would and could be a center of endless production possibilities.
And don’t faint readers, even I was speechless and overcome with emotion when I entered Rachel Applegate’s new office space. I knew how cramped everyone was in the old garage, with boxes piled up everywhere and little room to maneuver, and to see Rachel and her hard-working co-workers with some space to work in, and loving it,made my heart leap. And here was Rachel, with her bubbly and enthusiastic personality and the patience of Job, making sure that I left with my tickets for the Sunday, January 21st 7:00 PM performance of Into The Woods, which will be the first Ushers’ visit to the new space. Rachel has bailed me out of many tight situations in the past when I needed an extra ticket at the last moment. Thanks Rachel. By the way, you think you can find me another ticket for next Sunday? Just kidding!
BY GOD, THEY GOT IT!
It’s Saturday, January 13th and my friend Doug Poms picks me up for the 15 minute drive to the new Signature. It’s the first day of the two day open house. We can’t wait to get there. When we arrive around 10:20 am, the line is already forming outside the door to get tickets for Euan Morton’s concert in the MAX. I was first introduced to the beauty of Euan’s voice when I saw him in his Tony Award nominated performance as Boy George in the critically panned NYC Rosie O’Donnell production of the London hit Taboo. I saw the show in previews when only 30 people showed up and at the end of the run, when less than thirty people joined me. It was the great performances of Euan and Raul Esparza (now appearing in the revival of Company in NYC) that lured me back. I went backstage to tell both of them that better experiences lay ahead, and I’m so glad to see that I was right.
AAH!! THE BEAUTY OF THAT VOICE!!EUAN WOWS THEM!
And here I was sitting in the MAX with theatre friends, subscribers and families with young children enjoying their first theatre experience. Eric Schaeffer walked up to the microphone, and with that same beaming and confident face I saw 10 days earlier on our tour, welcomed the crowd and Euan Morton, who inaugurated the MAX theatre with his gorgeous beautifully timbered voice.
And what did Euan sing first? It was Superstar, a song I listened to over and over when I was a teenager in snowy Buffalo, New York, because I was a Karen Carpenter fan also. Here was Euan, this superstar, basking in the glow of a simple spotlight, holding a microphone – yes, the first microphone I have ever seen on a Signature stage – sharing his shimmering heartfelt rendition with a most appreciative audience. Sitting in a comfortable seat, I looked around and three words repeated over and over in my mind- “the endless possibilities.”
I ran and got my credit run through one of their new fancy computers to purchase Euan’s new CD called Newclear which he shamelessly and humorously promoted all through his performance. I wanted to thank him not only for his wonderful cabaret, but also for the joy he brought me at those two performances of Taboo in NYC. I introduced myself, and he autographed my CD with, “To Joel. All my love Euan Morton.”
We then talked about his Taboo run, I told him that his Taboo co-star Raul Esparza asked me to send him his regards when I interviewed Raul in November at Company.
We then chatted about the two rude audience members who slid out of his performance while he was singing, “I always find that when you give them people free stuff they always leave. That’s why I will start charging them $165 a seat and no one will leave.” You should have seen Euan. He became the Irish Don Rickles, going after them. Come back again soon, Euan. In the meantime, Newclear will be played over and over again on my CD player.
SCHMOOZING WITH SUBSCRIBERS, DONORS, AND THE CHOCOLATE TOFFEE KID
I had the pleasure of speaking to many of my friends, Ushers’ members, subscribers and a special kid at the Signature Open House that wonderful first day of the open house.
Waiting in line to snare a Euan Morton ticket, Janet Y related how she though she had to pay to pee when she went to the garage ladies room before a performance of Urinetown,
“There was a box on the toilet seat that said you have to pay to pee and I put in some coins- it didn’t specify any the amount. And then when I went out to tell people that it was a good idea to collect money to pay for toilet paper, etc., they laughed at me and told me it was just a joke.” What a pisser!
Twelve year Signature subscriber Betty Borgan, wearing a beautiful turquoise outfit, said she had been a long-term supporter and subscriber of Signature because “they do such wonderful productions – you can’t beat them. One of the most unusual one’s was The Rink. I loved The Rink and all the people skating around you in the theatre – that was a one-time in a lifetime event.”
Jan Barry loved Angels In America, “It was breathtaking. It was absolutely brilliant and affordable.”
Signature subscriber and local theatre lover and Ushers’ member Steven McKnight spoke about the quality of Signature’s musicals. “They are as close to NYC as you can get in the area. The quality of the musicals is just outstanding and I’m so glad that they will have a NYC type professional venue to put these shows on, and I heard the acoustics are outstanding.”
Donors and subscribers John and Gail Morfit remembered a special meeting with donors where Eric Schaeffer first spoke of his dream to build the new complex., “My favorite Signature moment was watching Eric’s face as he described to us what his goal was – what his dream was. We sat in his living room and he talked to a few folks who had been supporters since the beginning way back at Gunston. He had that spark, that enthusiastic dream. And look – it’s here. We are standing in the middle of his dream. And it’s truly amazing. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about all the things that we can bring to the Arlington community and the greater community of Metro Washington. It will be a destination.” John related that the original Signature production of Sweeney Todd was his favorite Signature memory, “It was a great barbershop. And the victims slid out of the chair into the lower level.”
My friend Richie Wu participated in choreographer Karma Camp’s master class.
“I enjoyed the class and enjoyed Karma. It was fun. She taught some basic steps from “A Little Bit Of Luck” from the recent and the final garage production of My Fair Lady.” His friend Michael Haungs chimed in, “It was very interesting. Karma got about a dozen people up there. Someone like Richie stood out because he has some dance training, but just wanted to give it a try. She got everyone moving together and made it a very presentable dance out of working with them for about a half hour.”
Twenty year-old Kate Kramer enthusiastically recounted coming to see the great Steve Cupo in Cabaret when she was 12. ”I was a Signature subscriber from age 8 until I went to college. One of our first shows was Cabaret and so we were in the first rows with my best friends. It was a wonderful introduction to the sensuality of theatre. The building is a new birth. It’s a beautiful building.”
Kate’s Mom Patty Joffrey added, “We have been subscribers for most of the last 13 years with my daughter and a friend and her son. We have had a lot of terrific memories of the old space, and I began ushering the last few years. The first Into The Woods was so magical and so intimate and so I was concerned if it was going to be as intimate in the new space, but I saw a preview and it’s spectacular They’ve managed to get the best of both worlds. It’s bigger, better and more lush, and yet it is so personal. An incredible amount of thought has gone into this building.”
Natalie Goldring recounted how taking their children to a Signature performance turned their children into regular theatre goers, “I have been a Signature subscriber for about 13 years. As for my favorite Signature show, it’s gotta be The Gospel According to Fishman. My husband and I saw it and we brought our kids back to see it. At the time they were three and six, and it helped them get hooked on theatre since.”
Gary Fontaine, Signature theatre goer and one of my friends loved Side Show, “It was amazing.I also loved The Gospel According to Fishman and The Rhythm Club, “Which should have gone to Broadway. It had a great cast but never got the financing. I also remember more vividly the cabarets which were in the lobby, which was not the best suitable place. It’s where I saw Judy Simmons, Tommy Femia, and Richard Skipper. They had people from out of town but also had local folks like Beverly Cosham, and also Will Gartshore was sort of a guest with Tracey Lynn Olivera. I was very impressed going to see Euan Morton in The Max and although you could see the bigger space you still were very close to the stage.”
Young theatre-fan Ben Roberts raved that, “I really like this place because it’sreally kid-friendly. They have this great story telling every 15 minutes and they have free snacks. Chocolate Toffees was my favorite snacks. There are also arts and crafts for kids. You can color pictures of the people from the shows – I didn’t do that. There was another one where you got to – I colored a mask. (that was the mask made out of the paper plate that he was wearing around his neck). I really love this place and I think the whole state of Virginia should come and see this place, and same thing with them (Maryland and DC).”
And he loved the Euan Morton concert, but disapproved of Euan’s mocking the two guests who walked out the concert, “I would have inviting them back or ignored them.” Here that Euan!I promised Ben that I would give a plug for Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre (“MVCCT”). Ben was the lead in their production of Seussical.
There you go Ben!
LOSING MY MIND WITH JUDY SIMMONS
I am probably the biggest Judy Simmons fan in this area. I have had the honor of seeing her in Signature productions of Sweeney Todd, Assassins, Company, and A Stephen Sondheim Evening at Signature Theatre, at Signature and numerous cabarets. And, oh that voice! That stage presence!
Forgive me, Stritch.
For me, the best ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ I ever heard was Judy Simmons’ fiery rendition last night when she not only sang it and acted it but phrased it so memorably. The audience packed the intimate ARK space, many gladly sitting on the unfinished floor, for the chance to hear Sondheim classics sung by this brilliant singer and accompanied by the talented and one helluva nice guy Alex Tang.
Judy gazed directly into my eyes and sang,” Hey, Mr. Producer” from her opening number ‘Broadway Baby’ from Follies.She can sell, act and phrase a lyric like no one else I know and gave new meaning to every familiar song in her 45 minute performance. Lorraine and I were in Sondheim heaven.
So it becomes the stuff that legends are made of that her voice inaugurated the ARK last night. How lucky I was to be there.Unfortunately, many were turned away because there weren’t enough seats – or floor space. They missed Judy’s extraordinary renditions of ‘Not A Day Goes By’ and ‘I Remember You’ which simply melted my heart.Let’s do it again, Eric.
Judy repeats her Sondheim Tonight cabaret at Theater Alliance on April 21st at 8 pm. For tickets go to
Theater Alliance Box Office
DONNA PAINTS FACES AND HANDS
Signature’s lobby offers so many comforts – a pianist playing beautifully rendered show tunes, a handsome store, a gorgeous view of the Shirlington shops. The kiddies are not forgotten. Yesterday, they had their own play space and my favorite memory was watching Signature co-founder Donna Migliaccio painting cute designs on the faces and hands on many young visitors. And to watch her beaming as she greeted her Sleeping Beauties as they walked by her table was a memory I won’t forget.
A TOAST TO MY SIGNATURE FRIENDS:
Stephen Sondheim from Merrily We Roll Along
“Just roll …
Some roads are easy …
Some rides are breezy …
Always roll …
Some roads are all uphill,
Everybody roll … Some roads are full of
Know what you want to do,
Where you’re willing to go,
Keep an eye on your dream What you really want to see
While you’re traveling! While you’re traveling!”
Good luck on your new journeys. Travel on!
The new Signature theatre complex is beautiful. Joel is right about the excellent bus service to Shirlington Village, the 28th St & S Quincy St stop. Their website still shows the bus information to the old location, so it’s not surprising that so few people are aware of the bus option. The number 7 bus rocks, but there are several other buses that stop there as well. I urge anyone who doesn’t want to or can’t drive there to pick up or print out the bus scheduled for the #7 (A, C, E, F), #10, #22A and #23 routes and plan carefully. Not all "letters" stop in Shirlington. And, Joel, GREAT ARTICLE!
Getting to Signature is very easy by car and by bus. During the week, the 7A bus leaves the Pentagon station to Shirlington during the week until 11:50 PM. It’s only a 6 minute ride from The Pentagon Metro to Shirlington, and the bus leaves Shirlington until l 12:11 AM and returns to the Pentagon Metro, plenty of time to get to the Metro after a Signature show during the week. On weekends, the last bus to leave the Pentagon Metro to get to Shirlington is 11:00 PM, and leaving Shirlington to The Pentagon Metro is 11:03 PM, lots of time after a Signature performance to get to the Pentagon Metro. On Sunday, the last bus from Pentagon to Shirlington is 12:10 AM, and from Shirlington to Pentagon is 11:57 PM. You can find the schedule at http://www.commuterpage.com/ART/metrobus/07.htm. But you have a car and a free parking lot to park your car in. Go to http://www.signature-theatre.org and you’ll find directions or go to http://www.mapquest.com to get door-to-door directions from where you live. Frankly, I don’t care what the parking lot looks like. I’m very grateful it’s there. Joel
Wendy Leibowitz says
Thanks for the detailed write-up, Joel. I managed to get there on Sunday, to the master class in voice, which was wonderful, instructive and lively. The atmosphere was wonderful (music and mingling and free cookies from Target, o my!) Since I only recently acquired a vehicle, I don’t really know the Signature, but have heard and read wonderful things, and look forward to getting to know it in its new, vast space. Two whiney questions: 1. What’s with the parking lot look? Woolly Mammoth did this, too–opened a beautiful new space whose corridors are ugly gray granite. Is this the new artsy Urinetown look? It is just cheap? In Signature’s case, is it supposed to evoke their old space? Why evoke the old in the new space? 2. WHY isn’t it metro-accessible? Sigh. What’s the best way to get there via public transportation, for those of us who can’t make the Ushers outing and who are wary of driving at night? Thanks again for your enthusiasm, Joel. can’t wait to see you there! –Wendy
Thanks Jeffrey. Since you moved to Portland, the DC/MD/VA theatre community has grown by leaps and bounds. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s not difficult to be enthusiastic about our fabulous theatre community. Joel
Jeffrey Lachman says
This is a heartfelt article. As a resident of Arlington for many years, I enjoyed a number of shows at Signature. I look forward to visiting the new spaces when I return to the Washington area for a visit. Joel, you do a tremendous job of compiling various impressions, always showing your genuine love for theatre.