New York's theater hangouts are the lynchpins of the theater community. They provide a place where actors and other showmakers can see one another, relax over a drink or hatch a new project. They offer jobs with flexible work hours and a network of contacts for kids breaking into the business. They give theater lovers like me a chance to be part of the scene. Plus, they serve comfort food at comfortable prices (even before I sit down at a table I know I want the meatloaf sandwich when I go to Joe Allen) and no one hurries you along when you linger over a drink. In the old days, Sardi's was the primary hangout; older actors still tell stories of being allowed to run tabs there when they were between jobs. Nowadays, the action has moved to Angus McIndoe, Orso and Joe Allen. Or, if you're seeing a show at Lincoln Center, O'Neals', which goes a step further than its brethren by running showcases in its backroom where undiscovered talents can actually perform. This summer, O'Neals' has been running an opera series and last week, our friend Judd, who sometimes works as a vocal coach, invited my husband K and me to come and hear one of his students.
Judd, who broke into the business as a replacement chorus boy in the original production of West Side Story, loves theater, music and people and so he reserved three big round tables at O'Neals' and there still wasn't enough sitting room for all the friends who turned out; the SRO overflow spilled out into the bar area. But K and I got there early enough to get prime seats and our tablemates included a former board member of the Manhattan Theater Club; a young documentary filmmaker, who as a child had been imprisoned in Liberia; and a first-time theater producer who invited us to a reading for a show she plans to bring to Broadway next year. The talk was lively, the food was tasty, and it was the kind of New York evening I used to fantasize about when I was a kid. But best of all was the singing. Judd’s protégé Ta'u Pupu'a, a native of Tonga who used to be a NFL player and is now a lyric tenor, was a standout [click here to hear his "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca]. But nearly everyone was sensational, including the singers who came up during the open mike portion of the evening.
I keep so busy trying to see as much theater as I can and opera tickets have gotten so ridiculously expensive that we rarely go. But the evening at O'Neals' made me want to run across the street and sign up for a season's ticket at the Met or City Opera which usually includes a Broadway show and in April will do a Hal Prince production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. But until the opera season starts, you can enjoy some glorious voices for just the price of a burger at O'Neals'. The conviviality that is the hallmark of a true theater hangout is available there year-round.