Saturday, April 2, 2016

Look at all the things you've done for me

In March of 2005, I was a new gay in the city. I was working at the now-defunct (like so many things) Borders in the Time Warner Center, and my coworker Vinnie invited me to join him for an evening at the Duplex, a piano bar in the Village which I'd heard of but never been to. Behind the bar was the hilarious Poppi Kramer, our beautifully belting waitress was Kate Pazakis, and musical prodigy Brian Nash was on the keys. They all sang, and they all had us in stitches. I was amazed by the talent in the room and I was having the time of my life.

Shortly after my introduction to the Duplex, Vinnie brought me to the Friday night open mic show in the upstairs cabaret theater, called "Mostly Sondheim." The format was two hosts plus a pianist, usually Brian, who took turns singing and calling audience members from a list on a clipboard to come up and sing as well. It went from midnight to 4 which occasionally fit in with my erratic retail schedule. It quickly became my favorite thing to do in New York City.

Over the years I brought many friends with me to Mostly Sondheim, and it became their favorite thing as well. I got up the courage to sing once ("Someone to Fall Back On," awkwardly, reading the lyrics off of my phone). Most of the time I just sat and enjoyed the show, usually leaving at around 2, but lately being unable to tear myself away until the end.

And speaking of the end, last night was the final Mostly Sondheim. We managed to get seats right up front. The stage was full of current and former hosts, with Brian at the piano. At the start of the night, each of them presented their favorite "Sondheim ending," in which you finish your song with a visual or vocal flourish, usually mimicking or mocking a Broadway diva, or sometimes just being plain ridiculous. Over the course of the night, each of the hosts on stage sang. They were interspersed with Mostly Sondheim regulars, most of whom had a story about how they were shy when they first started coming to the show, but now they can belt with the best of them, some of them even having performing careers. The hosts also shared their favorite memories, occasionally making us cry, and the closing number was "What I Did For Love," which had many of the hosts themselves weeping as they sang.

Favorite NYC places closing and long-running events ending is a fact of life, but when it's something like Mostly Sondheim, that's been around since I first moved here, it's hard to see it go. It makes me regret all the Fridays I didn't go, but the regret is far outweighed by my gratitude for all the Mostly Sondheims I did attend, making me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe, knocking my socks off, and inspiring me. I wish all the best to the hosts as they go on to bigger and better things, whose shows I hope to track down to ease my Mostly Sondheim withdrawal.

I'll close with this. One regular Sondheim-goer composed a song about Mostly Sondheim and performed it last night (and last week). The tune has been floating around in my head since, particularly the refrain which ends, "I'll meet you there at Mostly Sondheim." The lyric isn't just nostalgic, but also an indication of a bright future, that this tradition of musical theater lovers gathering in bars to hear each other sing will continue. And even when we're not together, we have what Sondheim, and Mostly Sondheim, gave us to bring a smile to our faces.