At Sunday’s matinee performance of “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” there was, as cast member Rafael DeMussa put it, “Sand-ticipation” in the air. Michael Mulheren, the actor who plays the surly editor-in-chief at the fictional Daily Bugle, took a chance. Instead of shaking a prop paper and demanding to know who this Spider-Man feller was, he went with, “What is this headline? ‘Hurricane Sandy Rocks New York’? Who is this Sandy?”
When an ad-lib works well, it isn't always noticed. Mulheren's, though, drew cheers.
“The audience loved being in on the joke,” “Spider-Man” actress Isabel Keating told The Huffington Post, speaking by cell phone from her Upper West Side apartment on Monday. Outside, Hurricane Sandy was in fact rocking New York, while Keating watched from her window. “The fact that we’re in this huge theater, and yet everybody felt we’re in on something. It’s that Cro-Magnon thing. We were all suddenly just around the campfire telling stories.”
Emergencies aren’t always what they seem in New York City. Those with adequate shelter and comfortably busy lives may feel a complex sensation take hold as the clouds darken and the lights go out. Even if a crisis is behind it, they may welcome the chance to break routine.
On Sunday, Keating, DeMussa and Mulheren joined the exodus home as soon as the curtain fell (word that their evening show was scrapped came during intermission). When the Broadway League said Monday's shows too would not go on, Keating started her rare day off working on a side project: a play about her parents’ childhood in Georgia. Hers is a family with connections, of a sort. Her parents grew up down the street from Johnny Mercer, the future Broadway lyricist and founder of Capitol Records, and her father’s cousin was the author Flannery O’Connor.
Keating’s boyfriend, the composer Mark Berman, sat at the piano to write some “Sandy songs.” They decided to invite some of the people in their building -- their neighbors and the elderly residents -- for a night of spaghetti, meatballs and singing around the piano, as winds blew 80 miles an hour outside.
“It’s so rare for us to feel threatened like this," Keating said.
A stage regular since the mid-80s, Keating plays three roles in “Spider-Man”: Mrs. Gribrock, Maxie, and Aunt May. To her, a Broadway show is “an athletic event.” The hours are relentless, the work demanding. When unexpected breaks descend -- even for disastrous reasons, as it happened last year during Hurricane Irene -- there is a sense, she says, of finally being able to “get into our epsom salts bath.”
In Philadelphia, Rob McClure, star of the Broadway musical “Chaplin,” lounged in his version of a spa treatment, which meant simply being home. Since 2006, when a replacement role in Avenue Q opened up and he stepped in, McClure has rounded back and forth between his home in Philadelphia and his job in New York dozens of times. Back then he made the hour and a half trip home to his wife every night, catching the 11:04 out of Penn Station and pulling in after midnight.
This past Sunday, McClure, who has been tapped as the musical’s breakout star, roller skated backward and sprinted on a spinning wooden wheel, as he does eight times a week, before racing to Penn Station. He thought he’d missed the last train to Philadelphia. But then, miraculously, he hadn’t.
At home, he did the tasks his wife would have done alone had he not made it back. “I brought all the air conditioners down to the basement, put the storm windows down, put weather stripping on the windows.”
When he spoke to The Huffington Post by phone, it was Monday night, a time he would have had off anyway. Now Sandy threatened to erase Tuesday’s shows (she eventually did). McClure sounded cautiously optimistic, and happily domestic. It would not be a wild two-day break.
“If I get an extra day, I’m not going to do anything. It'll be nice to recoup. This show takes a toll on me, physically.” He mentioned pumpkins needing carving, “a chicken pot pie in the oven and a Walking Dead marathon on the DVR."
Unlike Keating's, his campfire guest list is short. “I’ll be here,” he said, “with my wife and my cats.”
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, we referred to the newspaper referred to in "“Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" as the Daily Bulge, not the Daily Bugle. We apologize for the hilarious error.