Jonny's Broadway Christmas

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Once upon a time, there was a magical street called Broadway. It was a place where talented people from all over the world came with a dream of showcasing their abilities to sophisticated audiences who were hungry for the finest live entertainment in the world, and would lavish fame and fortune on the best of the best who trod its fabled boards. It was a place where – well, if you could make it there, you could pretty much make it anywhere.

Everyone who worked there hated the dump. The Broadway of legend - where names like Lunt & Fontanne, Mary Martin and Gwenn Verdon performed original masterpieces by Noël Coward and Rogers & Hammerstein - had long since passed, and now it was a multi-billion dollar conglomerate whose shaky financial foundation was supported by musicals adapted from old Walt Disney movies. And the well was running dry of those, with the best of the lot: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins having already been recycled into the dirt. The Powers That Be were running low on material to rehash into super-productions to ram down the public’s throats and were desperate for
anything marketable that they could rip off.

“We’re in big trouble!” screamed Lee Sherbet, the top producer on the Great White Way whose multi-million dollar musical adaptations of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, Pete’s Dragon and 101 Dalmatians had each run over 20,000 performances in New York and swept the Tony Awards (having been the only original musicals produced on Broadway those years). “We’ve run out of animated movies to rehash into musicals... Miss Friday!”

Simone Friday, Sherbet’s haggard assistance who had a Ph.D. in Theatre from Yale and studied ritual for two years with Peter Brooks’ International Centre for Theatre Research before coming to New York (where Sherbet had discovered her as she was serving him a pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli), trudged into the room carrying an armful of spreadsheets and computer print-outs.

Sherbet’s assistant trudged into the room carrying an armful of spreadsheets and computer print-outs.

“I need market research,” said Sherbet as Miss Friday sighed the sigh of someone whose soul had died two weeks previously. “What can we recycle as our next musical extravaganza?”

“I’ve always thought that Marcel Proust’s masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu would make a fascinating musical adaptation. I wrote may Masters Thesis on...”

Sherbet’s blank stare made her realize that she was talking to a wall.

“…I mean, what about those lame Dean Jones comedies that Disney made during the 60’s?” mumbled the assistant lifelessly. “They weren’t animated, but they have the Disney brand to bring family audiences in.”

“Brilliant!” screamed the producer. “I have the inspired idea to adapt a Dean Jones Disney comedy into a smash musical. What do our marketing surveys tell us is the most hilarious title to musicalize so that we can squeeze some laughs out of this year’s idiotic card?”

“That would be That Darn Cat!” moaned Simone as she pulled out one of the countless focus group polls that Sherbet culled his shows from. “Made in 1965, it is the story of…”

“Don’t bother me with the story!” screamed Sherbet as he set fire to a copy of Death of a Salesman to light his fifty dollar cigar with. “All I need is the title, and we’ll come up with the show based on that! That Darn Cat! – It will be a smash! And so that this idiotic story has a loose connection to the holidays, we’ll open on Christmas Day! That will bring the family audiences into the theatre in truckloads!”

“Do you really think family audiences can afford to pay $150 for a Broadway ticket?” asked Miss Friday, fully aware that the producer was on a roll and she might as well not even be in the room.

“Spectacle!” exclaimed Sherbet, “That’s what audiences today want. Spectacle! Give them a chandelier crashing to the ground or a helicopter landing onstage and they won’t notice that the score is the same song played over and in with different lyrics. Just get me a bland pretty actress for the ingénue, a bland handsome actor for the leading man, and an adorable character actor to play the kitty…”

“Actually, chief,” interrupted Miss Friday, “our research indicates that cynical, Gen-X audiences don’t want their fuzzy leading character to be adorable and lovable any more. They say they want the part to be enacted by a figure that represents the sick and twisted state that society has descended to.”

“The focus groups said that, eh?” replied Sherbet from the private bathroom adjacent to his office as he wiped his ass with a copy of Hamlet. “Well, marketing research like that made Broadway what it is today! If audiences want a repulsive, hideous character actor to play the cat, I’ll give them the most heinous member of Actors Equity Association that can be found! Who can I get who’s that revolting?”

At about this time, a young muse named Jonny M. was being fired from a bus-and-truck company of the musical The Apple Tree for using the green makeup that he wore for his brilliant performance as the Snake to scrawl pro-Church of Scientology graffiti on the stage door. After the producers threw the muse into a dumpster, Jonny picked up the most recent edition of Backstage from the refuse and saw a casting notice of interest:

“Character actor with freakish appearance and dicey personal hygiene wanted for Broadway musical to open on Christmas Day. Must have no cat hair allergies and possess his own leash. Nudity required. Interested parties should attend the audition at the Sherbet Theatre.”

Jonny knew in an instant that he was perfect for the part. His years of refereeing catfights in Tijuana had proved that he could withstand fistfuls of feline dander up his nose for hours at a time, and his experimental phase within he BDSM
community had netted him over a dozen high-quality leather leashes, including one that came with a matching riding crop and ball gag. With his credentials in order, the noble muse high-tailed it to Broadway’s Sherbet Theatre.

When Jonny arrived at the destination, he was in shock: the throng that circled around the theatre was the oddest collection of actors that the muse had ever seen. Each one looked more like a freak from a Federico Fellini movie than the previous actor in line. And as they stretched and did their vocal warm-ups before auditioning, they all seemed to move like Barishnikov and sing like Caruso. The muse looked uncertainly at his two left feet (the result of a botched ingrown toenail extraction from his teenage years), pulled the ever-present flask of grain alcohol from out of his back pocket, and took his place at the end of the line.

The oddest collection of actors that Jonny had ever seen was waiting to audition.

“No, no, no!” screamed the harried choreographer as he beheld yet another awkward applicant who was trying to follow his complicated moves. “It’s step-step-twirl-kick, not twirl-step-kick-twirl! Why can’t anyone get it right?”

“It’s worse than that,” responded Sherbet as the aspirant actor ran out of the theatre in tears. “We’ve been seeing people for twelve hours, and we have yet to come across an actor who is remotely freakish enough. Every person who’s auditioned looks like, well, a person. The focus groups have made it clear that they want the cat played by someone lower on the evolutionary scale than a three-toed sloth, at least. I don’t see how we have any choice but to…”

Just as the producer was about to finish his sentence, the drunken figure of Jonny M. came bursting onto the stage. The noble muse had guzzled entire flask of grain alcohol and then managed to sneak some Oozo out of the theatre bar when no one was looking. Without even realizing where he was, the plastered muse began howling 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall as the confused accompanist tried to keep up on the piano.

“My god, make him stop!” screamed the choreographer as he tried to plug his ears with a discarded soiled dance belt. “I’ve never heard such awful screaming in my life. It sounds exactly like…”

“…Like two cats having sex in an alley!” exclaimed Sherbet. The producer climbed on stage to get a closer look at Jonny, but by now the muse had collapsed in a pool of his own vomit and was lying in a semi-conscious state, vainly trying to lick the final remnants of alcohol from his soiled hands. Sherbet looked down at Jonny moving his tongue from his unkempt whiskers to his razor sharp nails and then burying his head in his crotch to try and clean out the ungodly mess that had accumulated there. A sinister smile suddenly crossed the producer’s face.

“I think we’ve found our cat.”

Jonny had rehearsed many theatre productions in the past, but never one with such a massive budget. And never one where everyone connected with it seemed so unhappy. The choreographer hated the needy diva leading lady, who despised the egotistic leading man, who loathed the bureaucratic stage manager. The only person who seemed genuinely happy to be there was Jonny M., who skipped into the rehearsal room with a smile on his face in the morning and never lost it
throughout the ordeals and arguments of the day. Miss Friday was intrigued by the muse’s optimism, and sidled up to him one day during a break in rehearsal when the leading lady, the choreographer and the producer were screaming at each other.

Miss Friday sidled up to Jonny when the leading lady, the choreographer and the producer were screaming at each other.

“What gives, Jonny?” asked the assistant as she held her breath so as not to take in too much of the muse’s gamey aroma. “What we’re doing here is the death of art – theatre by a corporate conglomerate thrown together from a diagram created from focus groups and market research. What’s to be happy about?”

The muse glanced at the argument exploding behind him and realized that it would be going on for a while, so he motioned Miss Friday over to the stage door and stepped out onto Broadway. Late November had arrived, and with it the bright lights and holly that came with the season. The passersby seemed to lose a shade or two of their New York cynicism, and a smile could be seen on even the most hardened face as a recording of Jingle Bells swelled from a nearby shop.

“With all this holiday cheer surrounding us,” said Jonny with a smile, “it’s hard not to have joy in my heart. Not only are there Christmas parties and Christmas caroling and all manner of Christmas festivities going on, but it’s almost my birthday on December 15th, in which gifts of alcohol are gratefully accepted (although if somebody tries to pull a fast one and give me a bottle of rubbing alcohol like Kelie McIver did last year, there’s going to be hell to pay). It’s the great lesson of the Christmas season to make the most of your surroundings in this special time of year, and when you encounter adversity and negativity, to confront it with a smile and a helping hand.”

Miss Friday gave Jonny a look like he had just escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane, and shuffled sadly back into the theatre.

“What an asshole,” she whispered to herself, and made a mental note to keep away from Jonny in case he turned out to be a psychopath who killed women and made suits out of their skin. “Talking about Christmas spirit in the middle of rehearsals for this disaster? He must have just fallen off the turnip truck and cracked his skull open when he landed, suffering inoperable brain damage.”

The show was finally ready for its out-of-town tryout, and the opening in Boston was everything Miss Friday feared. The house was packed, but the audience was unenthusiastic about the overstuffed spectacle and was particularly derisive towards Jonny, pelting rotten vegetables and fecal matter at the muse during his would-be touching ballad I’m Just a Pussy Looking for Love. But if the noble muse was upset about the audience reaction (one patron jumped on stage during the curtain call and beat Jonny with a rolled-up souvenir program until the muse suffered cranial bruises and brain swelling), he didn’t show it and happily bounded up to Miss Friday with a small child on his back. “I’d like you to meet Tiny Tom,” said Jonny as the boy beamed a great smile at the assistant, who awkwardly looked at the floor. “He’s a cripple from the orphanage next door (the Boston theatre district being strangely adjacent to the orphanage district) who’s not long for this world, so the Make a Wish Foundation is fulfilling his dream of seeing a lavish Broadway musical before he kicks it.”

Jonny happily bounded up to Miss Friday with a small child on his back.

“The show was actually my second wish,” said Tom with a plucky smile. “My first wish was to live to see Christmas this year, but my doctors tell me that there’s no way that’s going to happen – they said that it would be a miracle if I even survived the performance tonight. I only hope that my being dragged to the men’s room during the big second act dance number to violently puke my guts out inspired the people who saw me as a reminder of who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Miss Friday’s eyes finally met the child, and tears began streaming down her face. “Is there no hope for the boy?” she asked.

“Are you kidding?” laughed Jonny. “Tom’s got phase seven rectal cancer and a tumor the size of a volleyball at the base of his brain. The only reason that he’s alive now is because they sewed a new pancreas into him this morning so he could make the show this evening. No; he’ll probably be dead in his sleep tonight, so we have to show him as good time as we can while he’s still around.”

With that, the muse carried Tiny Tom off to the paint storage room to show him the fun that could be had from inhaling the fumes while Miss Friday stayed behind, stunned at the fearless optimism of the child. She awoke the next morning and called the orphanage to see if Tom had lived through the night, and the nurse told her that not only had the boy stunned everyone by waking up alive, but he was so excited by his theatrical adventure that his condition had slightly – although undeniably temporarily – improved. The hardened assistant was so relieved to hear that the boy was still among the living that she arranged a ticket for him for every performance of the Boston tryout.

When Miss Friday arrived at the orphanage in a taxi to take the lad to the performance, she was surprised to see Jonny M. was already there and had spent the day tending to his new young friend, reading Tom Christmas stories and holding his hair as he vomited blood into his nearby bedpan. Simone favored Tom with a rare smile as she led him into the cab to shuttle him to the theatre; and because she was beginning to find Jonny a little less freaky than she originally thought, rewarded the muse with a glowing beam as well. And her smiles continued as she regularly showed up in a cab to take the pair to the theatre, to days in the park, and to the show’s continuing rehearsals where Tom’s hopefulness and Jonny’s wide-eyed optimism started melting the assistant’s hard shell. Simone was surprised to find herself standing in line at Starbuck’s to pick up a caffé latte with double foam and a shot of chocolate for the show’s leading lady, tapping her toes in time to the recording of Carol of the Bells playing over the coffee shop’s loudspeaker.

Tiny Tom’s spunk had also become an inspiration to the company. who adopted the lad as a mascot. The lad’s courage at having to receive a complete blood transfusion in the wings or in steadfastly holding back his screams of agony so as not to interrupt the leading lady’s big solo The Little Shitter Missed The Kitty Litter and Now I’m Alone with the Mop (the melody of which was almost identical to I’m Just a Pussy Looking for Love, and both of them sounded almost exactly like The Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera, which itself sounds like every other song from Phantom of the Opera) made the petty bickering that had made rehearsals such a nightmare now seem trivial compared to what Tom was going through. The plucky lad’s presence raised the morale of the company so highly that they even forgave Jonny the unanimously terrible reviews that he had received (one critic said that the muse’s singing sounded like an alley cat coughing up a fur ball, which Jonny didn’t know was good or bad because that was the effect that his method-acting had striven for), and they threw the noble muse a surprise party on his birthday on December 15th in which everyone gave him traditional gifts of high-end booze (but no smart-assed bottles of rubbing alcohol like a certain wisenheimer named McIver got him the previous year). But as That Darn Cat! continued its out-of-town tryout, there was no denying that it was improving, if only because the cast and crew had stopped bickering and were beginning to enjoy being around each other, onstage and off, and their camaraderie showed in their performances.

But it was soon time to fold up the tents and take the production to New York for its Broadway opening on Christmas Day. Miss Friday tried to get the orphanage to let Tiny Tom join them, but his doctors had decreed that his condition had worsened and there was no way that he could make the journey. There was an air of sadness as the company disembarked the plane that had taken them to JFK, a heaviness that was eased by the bright lights and yuletide music that filled the terminal; holiday cheer that they had overlooked when they departed for Boston. In the days prior to the opening, both Jonny and Miss Friday called the boy several times a day to describe the show’s progress, but by the final dress rehearsal on Christmas Eve, young Tom’s condition was too dire for him to answer the phone.

Christmas Morning had at last arrived and the company gathered to celebrate together and exchange gifts, but there was a terrible gloom in the room that made this year’s idiotic story far more depressing than previous ones. Lee Sherbet finally walked in with a morose look on his face.

“Tiny Tom died last night,” said the producer, choking back tears. “The nurse asked him what his Christmas prayer was, he looked at her and said that he wanted his friends in That Darn Cat! to have the best opening night ever. Then he spent four hours vomiting in agonizing pain, and he was gone.”

The company sat in stunned silence for a moment, until the choreographer leapt to his feet and screamed “What does opening night matter now? What does Christmas matter? Tiny Tom is dead. Dead, I tells ya! What’s the point in going on?”

Jonny M. nearly choked on a gingerbread man at the statement, and had to be given the Heimlich maneuver by the Wardrobe Mistress before he could stand and address the assemblage.

“Christmas, not matter?” asked the muse. “Is that what you think? Is that what you think Tiny Tom thought? Christmas isn’t just a day to celebrate because everything is going well in our lives. Christmas is a celebration of being alive as a member of the human family. And not just the people who are walking amongst us; but those who are alive in our hearts even if they’re thousands of miles away, separated from us by time when they were part of our lives in the distant past but the lessons that they taught us resonate with us to this day, or if they have croaked and gone to meet their maker. Tom may have ascended to he is now having sex with thirty virgins – which frankly makes no sense to me he was a virgin himself and since he wouldn’t know what to do with those girls and they wouldn’t know what to do with him, what’s the point? But I digress. Tiny Tom’s spirit lives in our hearts, especially on this day of days. Christmas,not matter? It will matter as long as we can be together, in body or in spirit, and have breath in our bodies to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to Tom and all the other beloved spirits in our lives.”

With that, the muse picked up the piece of gingerbread that had cannon-balled out of his sternum and bounced off the green room couch, and popped it back in his mouth. The company collapsed into tears.

“I think we know what to do,” sniffled Sherbet. “We need to go out there and have the best opening night ever. For Tiny Tom!”

The SRO audience had no idea about the tragedy that devastated the cast that morning, but Tiny Tom’s spirit was in the theatre as each actor and technician seemed to be touched by the lad’s angelic hand, giving a performance of inspired magnificence. Even Jonny M.’s amateurish depiction of the cat seemed to find a sublime artistry, and by the time of the show’s show-stopping finale, uninspiringly titled The Show-Stopping Finale (which sounded strangely like every other song in the show except played at a faster tempo with a little more brass thrown into the orchestration), the audience was electrified and rose to their feet in a standing ovation.

The audience was electrified.

“Great job!” exclaimed Sherbet as the actors finally escaped into the wings after taking twenty curtain calls. “The show’s a smash, which means I won’t have to default on the mortgage on my house in The Hamptons.”

“And most importantly,” said Miss Friday, “we didn’t let down the memory of Tiny Tom on Christmas.”

“Tiny Tom?” asked the producer. “Oh, that! He’s fine. His miserly uncle had a dream last night where he was visited by three spirits that made him see the error of his ways, and he’s agreed to pay for the boy’s operation that will make him well again. I only told you he died to light a fire under your asses for opening night.”

Sherbet’s announcement was met with stunned silence, as this little tidbit seemed to come from out of nowhere and was only inserted into the story to give it an artificial happy ending. Still, the news that Tom would live lifted the spirits of the company even higher than before as they launched into an impromptu arrangement of O Holy Night while Jonny and Miss Friday exchanged meaningful looks.

“You know,” said the muse while shyly taking her hand, “I’ve never gotten the girl at the end of one of these stories before.”

“And you won’t this time,” responded the assistant, pulling her hand back. “I don’t date actors, alcoholics, or unemployable losers, and you fall into all three categories. But you did a nice thing today in reminding everyone what the holiday is about. I got two wonderful presents today in finding something meaningful in the loss of Tiny Tom, and then getting him back again without losing the meaning. Those are better gifts than all the fur coats and convertibles that Mr. Sherbet – who I’ve been sleeping with since rehearsals started, and you are the only moron in the company not to pick up on that – gave me this morning. Thank you for that, and Merry Christmas.”

So all was happiness within the company of That Darn Cat! The show became the biggest hit on Broadway, running over 15,000 performances even though it never saw a profit because of the complicated royalty agreement with the Walt Disney Company. Tiny Tom got his operation and survived, growing up to be a brutal South American dictator responsible for the genocide of millions of people. And Miss Friday and Lee Sherbet were married in a union that lasted eighteen months and netted her a $47 million alimony settlement which she used to set up an aboriginal theatre in company in the Australian outback. And everyone connected with the show, from the chorus to the people who worked in the box office, had the best Christmas ever.

And happiest of all was young Jonny M. As he looked around at the smiling faces around him, he felt warmth in his soul in knowing that he has contributed to the merriment. So with a song in his heart, he continued with the show for twenty
more months and was nominated for a Tony Award, losing out to Tom Wopat in a Broadway revival of Oh, Calcutta!

And happiness to you, dear friend. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Jonny’s birthday on December 15th in which bottles of real alcohol are an appropriate gift and not wise-ass bottles of rubbing alcohol from CVS Pharmacy, remember that you surrounded by love – not only of the people that you see every day, but of those whose souls have mingled with yours throughout the course of your lifetime. And know that you always have a loving friend in Jonny M.



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