Last night was the final preview of Broadway’s Bye Bye Birdie before tonight’s opening, and for a production that hasn’t gotten very good advance buzz, things couldn’t have gone worse. About 30 minutes into the first act, with four musical numbers down, one of the moving panels at the rear of the set became audibly and visibly unhinged. From where we were sitting, it was pretty clear that someone (an actor? a stagehand?) had to hold the panel up to prevent it from collapsing. When the moving set failed to change after the start of the next scene, leading man John Stamos came out to rescue some chorus girls, ad-libbing, “Girls, I’ll be out to cheer you up as soon as we fix this mess,” to much laughter and applause from the audience.
The curtain then fell and the house lights came up, but a moment later Stamos reappeared. “I was just ready to sing ‘Happy Face’ and everything went to shit,” he cracked, reminding the audience that the show was about to open. But he ran out of material pretty quickly, and had to turn to some notable audience members for help. Seated in the row behind us was 83-year-old comedy legend Don Rickles.
“Don, save me baby,” Stamos called out. “I need you, baby.” “Get a haircut, John!” Rickles called back from his seat, later asking, “Are they gonna fix it or is this going to be a weekend?”
Stamos also turned to his Full House co-star Bob Saget for assistance, calling him onto the stage for an impromptu comedy session. Since there was only one microphone, Stamos instructed Saget to talk “into my head.” “Like that’s the first time that’s happened,” Saget shot back. “I’m really glad your crotch is not miked.”
The laughs, such as they were, kept coming. After a few minutes, Birdie co-star Gina Gershon appeared in front of the curtain with a poster of Stamos from his teen idol days. Saget: “Gina, do something from Showgirls!” She briefly feathered her hands in front of her face — then encouraged the actors to keep going because the set was still broken.
The crowd was getting restless. “Uncle Jesse!” some cried out. Others raised their hands. “I’m not taking questions,” Stamos smirked.
Gershon reappeared, and asked Saget what it was like to work on Full House with Stamos. “It was really special — kind of like Brokeback Mountain, but a sitcom,” he replied.
“Don?” Stamos called out again, looking defeated. “I’m too old for this!” Rickles cried back.
“This is a Twitter moment,” Saget quipped. “It’s a career-ending moment,” Stamos replied. After roughly twenty minutes, the show went on. (There were no further incidents, though the intermission stretched to a full half-hour.)
Later, Stamos did indeed tweet about the incident: “CRAZY NIGHT IN THE THEATRE TONIGHT. set broke- had to entertain the troops-thank god for @bobsaget and don rickles.” And on his account earlier today, Saget wrote: “@JohnStamos Break a leg opening night of BBB. What time do you want me to cause the malfunction tonight?”