The Theatre: First-Night Fever

For actors, opening night means excitement and strain under the cold, fishy stare of critics. For the critics, opening night means running, sometimes before the show is over, back to their typewriters. For authors, after squirming in a seat at the rear of the house or wandering backstage with a brandy bottle, it means keeping a death watch until 4 a.m., when the papers come out.

But for audiences, an important first night is a combination of theatrical gamble and social sure thing. Cafe Society, theatre people, Bohemians, middle-class Johnny-on-the-spots—the toughest theatre crowd in the world to please—are the backbone of every...

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