So there we stood, at the back of the theatre, on the opening night of Hello, Dolly, with Michael Stewart, our very good friend, who had written the book. Don was on one side, I on the other, and each of us had a hand driving nails into our flesh, as Mike, suffering, waited for the curtain to come down, and the bad news to come in. There had been so much change and tumult as the musical moved towards Opening night, that Mike had been filled with despair.
Mike and his partner, Tony Manzy, were close, good friends, and as it was my greatest, most passionate ambition to write musical comedy-- I was basically a lyricist, and songs were my heart-- the relationship with Mike was more than prized. He was the smartest, most tuned-in writer of stage comedy, an elegant, highly educated and creative Gay--I capitalize it because in another century he would have been a fop when the word was not a putdown but a colorful description. The director of the show was Gower Champion, a name that well described him.
The producer, when being a producer meant being a producer, when there weren't fifty names associated with the event, but one man, usually a titan like David Merrick, mad as a well-coiffed hatter when he still had hair, had an iron hand at the helm. And it was Merrick in charge of this one. But there were terrible problems, as there usually are in the pulling together of a show, and Mike was suffering. Nobody knew how it would turn out, and the vista was bleak.
We had opening night tickets, but because Mike was suffering so, we stood with him at the back of the theatre, so he could dig his nails into our arms. And from time to time, he would murmur, "that goddamned Gower," as he watched what he thought, and said from time to time, was the joke that director had made out of his work. Love in the theatre was an easily won emotion, but really difficult to sustain. Too many things went wrong, and the ups and downs were dizzying.
So though the night seemed to be going well, the truth about theatre, especially a musical, was you just never knew. The digging into our arms went deeper and deeper, and when the curtain came down, you just didn't know. And Mike, from all indications, was heartbroken-- heartsick at the least. Murmuring words of hurt, and borderline despise.
Mike's sister had a boyfriend who was a journalist, so as Mike continued to murmur under his quaking breath, "that goddamned Gower," the newsman went to call his newsroom. We were at the top of the stairs in Sardi's, when the answer came in: a smash. And Mike almost literally flew down the stairs, his arms waving as he joyfully cried out: "Gower! Gower!" and went to tell him the good news.
I am sad that it has been such a long time that Mike is gone. But I am happy to note that even as the new production of Dolly is announced in today's New York Times, there is plenty of space given to Michael Stewart. Maybe there is a newsstand in the afterlife, in the unlikely event there should be one, where Mike can see he is truly an Immortal.