Tuesday, 8 December 2009
A Whitehouse Whirlwind
I can't say I know how to begin processing the whirlwind that has been the past few days. Our trip to DC for the grand weekend was quite simply breathtaking. I mean that literally. Its not every day one drops ones clutch BANG on the marble floor of the Whitehouse not only to feel the surge of panic from fellow revellers (it sounded remarkably like a shot gun) but also to have a small man rush over to help me with its spewed contents taking but a second to clock his bright blue eyes squatted down level with mine and realise it was none other than Barishnikov. I managed a gaspy "Thank you Sir". I was Carrie for one fleeting hapless hopeless romantic moment. Its not every day that I have sat 7 chairs away from Scorsese or two chairs away from the President in all his eloquent statesmanship, or swapped seats with De Niro's daughter so she could sit next to her fella at the show. I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should start at the beginning of the adventure. The organisers of the show who had been sending daily emails of constantly changing schedules to Cory over the week before we left had decided to have us sleep at an airport hotel the night before. I left our apartment having tucked in our tyke and hugged my ma tarah. Clocking my reflection outside the lift I decided I looked a little too much like a lady of the night for my liking. A lady posing as a hairdresser had attacked my hair at Macy's a few hours earlier and emptied a 25 gallon can of hairspray onto my head so that I left looking like a spoof of Jackie O. Match this with a carry on and a fox coat and I looked like I had just left a client upstairs with an array of costumes in tow. We were taken after Cory's performance, in a 4x4 darkened window number to the Hilton Garden Hotel, looking very much closed for the night but for the solitary silhouette of a hunched bar man clearing up for the night. We checked in but the actor types were still up and at' em and wanting pizza before bed. Our now friendly bar man from Bromley, Kent looked after us and Roger Bart, his girlfriend, Cory and I chinwagged till around 1ish, during which time Mr Bart had briefed me on the star studded day ahead of us, including a scheduled appearance from Sting. You must understand that for some time now, Sting has ranked as definate number two husband material after Cory. Cory has negotiated a similar position for Penelope Cruz after he argued that Audrey Hepburn was not an equal being of the spirit world as she is. I argued that the first was probably just as likely to become his wife but that did not make any of us the happier so I relinquished my stance. To me, then you see, such news caused the first of many border line hyper ventilating moments. I caught my breath and we went to sleep for about 3 hours before another darkened glass lorry number whisked us off to the airport. By 10am we had entered the world of wonderland aka the wings of the Kennedy centre during rehearsal for the evening honours show. Cory and I followed our escort (the night is manned by a host of loyal volunteers) up a warren of stairs with an army of men and women scurrying around be-headphoned and mic'd moving with terryfying PURPOSE. In the rehearsal room where we ended up I was hugged by Susan Stroman before the three fellas began their rehearsal - an abridged version of their song in the show with comedy cameo by Shuler Hensley as the monster at the end. It lasted all of half an hour. Afterwards we popped down to the green room. A black curtained off area lit with table lamps and fairy lights huddled towards the back of the wings. A table was strewn with fresh fruits and mini pastries and two silver urns of "proudly" brewed Starbucks coffee. I was introduced to Harry (connick junior - hyper ventilation number two) and quickly recognised the voice coming through the TV screens (it was a camera rehearsal you see) as being that of Meryl Streep. I catch her in her civvies practicing her piece of homage to De Niro during her rehearsal and am as spellbound as when she is doing her thing in character. Our escort and I move out towards the wings and in the shadows I catch a familiar silhouette. The woman is talking earnestly to a man with his back to me and as our escort signals me towards him I realise it is Sharon Stone talking to Herby Hancock. We pass on through a small meeting room (hang on, that's Ben Stiller sat there!!!!!) and out into the auditorium where we catch the end of Mr Hancock's rehearsal. It's like having a private concert. The enormous auditorium is filled with about 150 people (later that night it was more like 2000) but the musicians are playing full out on account of the cameras getting some of their solos onto tape to save time during the actual show. The music was electrifying. Harvey Keitel walks past me with a polite nod of the head and then Cory's mob began their routine. Martin Short, Jack Black, Jane Krakowski and Matthew Broderick amongst the merry band. By this time the utter surreality of where we are and what is happening matched with a caffeine drop and genral sugar low is making me quiver. It is compounded by the fact that volunteers are wearing signs of various mega stars for the purposes of the camera rehearsals. For that morning De Niro looked more like a portly blond woman and Springstein was sporting a mean hairpiece. I never knew Mel Brooks looked so good in a form fitting pink sweater either. We get back to our hotel in all its grandeur, dump our bags and try and catch the tail end of a brunch we had been invited to, imagining it to be almost completely over. The host misunderstood us and we almost got sent to another cafe. I suppose we weren't dressed all super star to be honest and she mistook us for guests and not invitees. Expecting to find a few stale rolls we were left open mouthed at the gargatuan array of deliciousness that greeted us. Prawns, oysters and crab piled high on ice sculptures, eggs benedict, lamb cutlets, grilled chicken and risottos in large baine maries, salads, roasted vegetables, breads, sushi is just some of the delights that tempted us. Around the corner, laden on delicate glass shelving was a plethora of dainty cream cakes cut into 1 1/2 inch squares and all utterly irresistible. I have to say my fella and I did not give in totally to gluttony, we knew what we had to wear later. Towards the end of the brunch one Martin Lewis handed us invites to the after show party thrown in honour of Sting and Springstein, on the 8th floor of the hotel. We did that thing of recognising a homelander and his unchanged north west london accent led us quickly to find out that he had grown up round the corner from me and his school had played mine at football. "From Cricklewood to Hollywood!" he told me he had written on his website, "from Childs Hill to Beverley Hills!" Brilliant. We determined to nap after our feast and friend finding managing to squeeze in an hour or so before it all began. No-one wants to go to the Whitehouse bedraggled. Two hours later we had gone through 4 security seraches and checklists and one xray machine and were being greeted by the social secretary at the entrance hall of the Whitehouse. Guests were invited to write out a wish for the upcoming year, roll them up and place them into the corrogated card christmas tree. It was quite moving. Around us oil portraits of important men and women looked down as stars and civilians scribbled their hopes into little pieces of coloured paper. After checking my fox we went on into the christmas tree decorated ladies room where Jackie O posed in oil perfection half smiling down at all of us and then on up towards the state room where strings and grand piano serenaded the hors d'oervres chomping crowd. The first person I caught eyes with was Scorsese. I flashed him a smile. He returned with a confused but polite half nod. Soon people started to move towards the heavy wooden doors towards the end of the room. It was not long before we were all herding together en masse and the doors were opened the crowd filing into the room. You know, the one you see on the news. Gold chairs were laid out before a small raised stage area and we took our seats on the second row. An expectant half hour followed as a who's who of people came through to sit down. Just when we thought our little people watching brains could take no more the honorees were announced and in, to rapturous applause, came De Niro, David Brubeck, Springstein, Mel Brooks and Grace Bumbry. Oh and The President and Mrs Obama. He gave a beautiful introduction on the importance of the arts to the understanding of the American spirit and the success of countries being dependant on the freedom and voice it allows its artists. I found his sentiments deeply moving and some mascara was wasted. One by one he spoke of each honoree with a priceless banter between he and Mel Brooks, (it was real, I checked the auto cue, the man has timing) which ended in the president telling him, "I'm trying to say something nice about you Mel. You have got to stop upstaging me here." The laughter was hearty. And priceless. Then the crwods moved through to look at the main tree and eventually on out to the coaches that waited for us just outside the grounds ready to take us to the theatre. Cory, true to form, cut it fine and managed to loose his place in his delegated car. After a scramble he was told to bundle himself into the jump seat of another 4x4 only to find himself squashed behind Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his wife. On arrival at the theatre they were denied entry (the president was arriving so everything was cordoned off) the producer in the front seat joked, "Don't they know we have Cory English in the car!" The same man left a basket of goodies in our room for our return after the marathon that was the party. The show, after a brief strut down the civvie end of the red carpet (thats red carpet without cameras) was absolutely wonderful especially the musical tribute to Sprinstein that had the audience jumping up in their seats and boogying to the Stingmeister in all his Dickensian glory (he was sporting a fetching beard and old world styley tails and all). A supper extravaganza followed in the foyer and Cory and I danced our steak into digestion by swinging around the dance floor to the fabulous brass of a big, big band. Fighting a deep urge for sleep we made our way back to the hotel and decided to at least take a peek at the after show party we had so zestfully accepted an invitation to. The doors of Tai Pan on the 8th floor were opened to us and the first person we walk by was Mr. De Niro. Starstruck, we shimmyed to the bar where, after ordering our drinks we felt a cheery huggy hand on our backs. We turned, expecting to find one of Cory's colleagues only to find the twinkly eyes of none other than Sing himself smiling down at the two of us. A split second is all it took for me to find my breath and determine not to hurry the moment. "this is Cory! He was the hump earlier!" I announce and we introduce ourselves. We talk about London, where we live, where he lives, I tell him I had worked in his home town, he offered his condolences. As his red wine was served I also tell him how addicted I was to his poetry album just before and during labour. This tickled him. Not as much as I had been having met the man himself and managing somehow to appear delighted but still functioning. I have replayed this moment every five minutes since that night and will do until some other unearthly encounter can top it. Sad, on some level perhaps but to me it is a showreel of deep joy. The next morning as we sat sipping coffee in our fluffy pillowed amazingly comfortable Mandarin Oriental bed we tried to process what we had experienced. Having watched the life and achievements and passions of the legends that were honoured played before us you couldn't fail to question your own passions and reason for being on the planet. At once inspired and overawed by their paths. We flew back the following afternoon and are still on a Kennedy high. Not so that we couldn't find the energy to get ourselves to our Sinatra haunt with a former collegue of Cory's from one of his first ever jobs, or to catch up with a former student of his whose 4 year old son and Sam made a happy friendship this afternoon after his morning session at the commune. The house is a happy one and despite the painful sleet/hail/snow gusts that Mum, Sam and I braved on our block long walk from the train to our apartment (which by the way has made Chicago a little less appealing a place for year round living), and the overwhelming task of packing on the near horizon. The mum and dad of this household still have a party-lagged spring in their step. I just hope I won't have to wait another 33 years to get to wear me a chocolate ball gown again.