May 03 2020
I didn't get to see Madonna on the street, but I do now own that signage, inset. I guess this is a good example of why collecting ephemera has so much power — it's a substitute for, or reinforcement of, memories.
Thirty-two years ago today, on May 3, 1988, Madonna made her Broadway debut as David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow officially opened. Jennifer Grey, Billy Joel, Jennifer Beals and others showed up that night, and such luminaries as Jackie Onassis watched during the run.
The play received solid reviews (it was Tony-nominated for Best Play and Best Direction of a Play, and the late Ron Silver won the Tony for Best Actor), but Madonna was mostly panned. Frank Rich, in an outlier New York Times, review, controversially wrote:
Although her role is the smallest, Madonna is the axis on which the play turns — an enigma within an enigma, in the manner of the Lindsay Crouse heroine in House of Games. It's a relief to report that this rock star's performance is safely removed from her own Hollywood persona. Madonna serves Mr. Mamet's play much as she did the Susan Seidelman film Desperately Seeking Susan, with intelligent, scrupulously disciplined comic acting. She delivers the shocking transitions essential to the action and needs only more confidence to relax a bit and fully command her speaking voice.
I made my first trip to NYC in order to see my idol late in the run of Speed-the-Plow, even though money was hard to come by. With $110 in my pocket, I landed in a thunderstorm on August 25, 1988, and told my cab driver, “Take me to the — “ well, to my friend's apartment building. Cost $18.
I saw Madonna & Co. on the day before the original cast ended its run. Imagine having so much invested in the belief that Madonna, who had loudly proclaimed she was over the play by then, would show up for her second to last matinee! But she did.
Quoting from my diary: I sat with my college friends Jung-Soo and Zafar “only 8 rows back, directly in the center of the main floor. The seats were ungodly terrific, as we could see as soon as we sat down.” I wrote that my thoughts were not “so consolidated (like, 'Madonna! Madonna! Madonna!')” because even though I was seeing “the most enigmatic human being under the age of 31,” I was also excited to be seeing a Broadway show.
“The second act was Madonna's turn in the spotlight,” I wrote, completely objectively, and she definitely did a good job of it. She had to let her character step out of her restrictive nature long enough to convince her boss of her newfound convictions.”
I was wowed by Madonna's line reading of, “I'm weak, too.” I noted the crowd gave the show a standing O and was “satisfied to know that Madonna can, indeed, act.”
“Madonna was radiant and her curtain-call expression one of sincere appreciation for our appreciation for her performance,” I concluded.
I was annoyed that four people who came along with us — and sat in the mezz — had hated the play. “Why would anyone spend $125+ to see someone they hate?” I wondered. (I'm shocked the tickets were that expensive 32 years ago!)
Matt at 19 (Images by Matthew Rettenmund)
The weirdest part was reading about this trip in my diary because I have dozens of diaries with long-winded observations, but my entire New York trip, perhaps because I didn't write about it while I was actually on it, only took up a few pages and contained memories I no longer have, like being disgusted by the city's dirtiness (“I felt scuzzed out at the end of each day, like my face could be scraped for toxic minerals” ... I called NYCers vermin?!) and oppressive heat, and talking with a cute boy at the Royale who told me he had met Madonna many times, eaten dinner at her table, had contributed to an upcoming book about her and dished that she had recorded a song for Bloodhounds of Broadway called “Remembering Your Touch.” (Wrong. But interestingly wrong.)
Looking at my photos from my trip — I somehow only took like eight pictures! and I went to MoMA! — ln the back of my pic of the theater, I wrote, “Crowds foolishly await Madonna's exit at the wrong door - Royale Theatre, NYC, 4pm after Speed-the-Plow matinee. 8/27/88.” This is funny because my diary confirms I spent a long time waiting for Madonna at the right door, chatting with a few fans, but she never emerged. (Nor did she ever, to my knowledge, between shows.)
I didn't write about it, but I remember my roomie and bestie Zafar bought this painting in SoHo. The artist is probably knowable; I saw work in his style when I returned in the '90s. Funny part was we had this in our dorm room and Zafar adored it until someone walked in and was like, “Oh. Gorbachev.” We'd had no idea.
The rest of my trip was damaged by my lack of cash (I had no credit card at 19) and my spending all my time with much wealthier pals, who kept forcing cappuccino and expensive-dinner stops. I did write that I loved the Village, and seeing all the gay men holding hands, even if I noted it was terrifying knowing that “AIDS has them cornered.” (Not “us.”)
I think I loved the Village mostly because I got to visit Record Runner, the ultimate place from which to buy Madonna and other artists' goodies. It was frustrating being there with no bread. I didn't get anything Madonna, but did lug a subway poster of Eurythmics home on the plane. I later sold it to my roommate, Tony, when I left school.
And then I flew home and plotted my return. I didn't get back to NYC until the summer of 1992. And I haven't left.