It wasn’t the first time we’d eaten pizza with friends in a food court. But doing it while wearing a custom-made sequined gown and suit? At the Grammys? Definitely a first.
We were at Madison Square Garden, husband-and-wife nominees for the cast album of our Broadway musical “Come From Away” — a story about strangers landing somewhere they never expected to be. Which was pretty much us that night.
Together with our co-nominees and guests (our director and choreographer), we passed metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and a giant golden gramophone to the entrance to the Garden, where a million photographers begged us to stand still. On our right a small bleacher of extras were there to cheer for whoever hit the carpet. Though they had no idea who we were, they were remarkably convincing.
It’s not that long ago that we worked as extras on films shot in our home, Toronto; it’s not that long ago that we were between day jobs and hoping we could afford decent clothes. Now Irene was in a beaded Este & Chlo, designed by Henry Picado, with spectacular Gurhan earrings — on loan for the night and generally making us nervous. David was wearing a Shinesty red-and-plaid suit — a shout-out to Canada and a fashion declaration that we were there to have fun. Somehow, we kind of matched.
There are actually two Grammys ceremonies: the televised one in the evening with the pop stars and pyro, and an afternoon event in an adjacent smaller theater for the presentation of awards in 75 other categories, from best spoken word to best liner notes to best Latin jazz to … best music theater album! The 75 awards go fast — they are on a schedule. One moment we’re realizing that we forgot to write a speech, and the next moment it doesn’t matter, as we cheered for our neighbor on 45th Street, “Dear Evan Hansen.” Then we went to get food.
But the Grammys take security very seriously. We’d been warned sternly that nominees and guests weren’t allowed to leave, or we wouldn’t be readmitted. Until 5:15 we couldn’t even leave our theater’s lobby, where there was nothing to eat or drink, except water. By 5 p.m. the crowd was going squirrelly, packed by the doors. Finally we were released and ushered up to the sixth-floor concession stands in the big arena.
That’s where we found ourselves, scrounging for dinner in a “Come From Away” cluster for the next three hours. There were no chairs and only a few food vendors, serving sushi, hot dogs and pizza. The bar had the longest line, and we all took turns getting cocktails. We kept our eye out for celebrities, but suspected they were somewhere with chairs.
Nearby, a woman tripped on her sequins and/or stilettos and/or the slippery floor and landed with an audible thud. Irene reminded herself to walk very, very carefully, and maybe cool it on the cocktails.
For the first time in the six years of working on “Come From Away,” we were all together with nowhere to go, no rewrites to make, no scenes to restage. Somewhat like the airline passengers described in our show, who were diverted to Newfoundland after 9/11, we couldn’t leave. So we did what they did. Enjoyed each other’s company. Made each other laugh.
We are practically family — these people have been with us through five productions and on Sunday we’re celebrating our first anniversary on Broadway and the opening night of our second production in Toronto. Later this year, we’re starting a tour, and a film is in the works.
Anybody who has made an album or a musical knows that it can break up the best of friends — or, you know, a married writing team. So the fact that we still actually love each other? That’s worth celebrating.
When it was time for the concert, we sneaked drinks past the ushers and took our seats — way up in the 100s, far away from the stars but still with a great view. Confession time: We are not up-to-date on the latest pop music. Maybe it’s because we have a 4-year-old. Maybe it’s because we are theater nerds. Maybe we just work a lot. But that didn’t stop it from being a crazy awesome concert.
Kendrick Lamar’s opening was amazing theater. Pyro. Smoke. Dave Chappelle. While it was happening, in another direction we could see Lady Gaga being led out to her piano. Throughout the night, we watched artists and techs setting up a show bigger than anything on Broadway. Massive props (theater pun!) to everyone backstage pulling off this magic.
We were thrilled to see our fellow Canadian Alessia Cara get a win, and it was incredible to see all the white roses and to cheer for Janelle Monáe’s and Kesha’s #TimesUp messages. But you could actually feel the lack of female representation among the winners. Normally we’d be thrilled to find something in common with our theatrical world, but in 2018, the lack of equity unfortunately seems to be across the board.
We were out of vodka and water when Bruno Mars gave his final acceptance speech, about the tourist-aimed variety show he worked on in Hawaii before he became a pop star. “I remember seeing it firsthand,” he says. “People dancing that had never met each other. From two sides of the globe, dancing with each other, toasting with each other. Celebrating together.”
I don’t think we could have better described our album. That’s what got us here tonight.
We didn’t meet any celebrities at the after parties at the Marriott Marquis, though we did pass Neil deGrasse Tyson. A bartender on the third party floor told us that if we see Usher we should send him her way. She asked us if we were famous. We told her we wrote the musical playing across the street and she smiled politely. Then she reminded us to send Usher her way.
By 2:30 a.m., we were at the after-after party, exhausted and having worn our shoes for way too long. Some of our friends were still with us. We realized that the best part of the night wasn’t the pyro or the people watching — it was eating pizza in a food court all together, enjoying the craziness. As Bruno Mars said at the end of his speech, “Hopefully I can feel that again.”