Sunday, March 07, 2004 | NEW YORK – Have you ever wondered who gets front row center seats to a major theatrical event? Thursday night’s gala Broadway opening of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which had its world premiere at the Old Globe, is a case in point.

Seated in the first row, just behind the conductor, were San Diegans Sheryl and Harvey White and Ellen and Tom Zinn. Behind them, sprinkled throughout the theatre, were celebrities including actor Jeff Goldblum, former Texas governor Ann Richards, actresses Joan Collins and Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”), author Dominick Dunne and TV host Joan Rivers.

The Old Globe was well represented at the performance and party with over 40 board members, spouses and staff members in attendance. It was quite an evening. You could feel the electricity on the sidewalk, where a mob scene of photographers, stars, theatre folks, well-wishers and family members gathered.

The curtain went up 25 minutes late – not unusual on a Broadway opening night because there is so much socializing to do – and within seconds the audience was laughing frequently and applauding loudly. Stars John Lithgow, Norbert Leo Butz and Joanna Gleason garnered thunderous applause on their first entrances, and song after song were greeted with wild enthusiasm.

During the curtain calls, Jack O’Brien, the Old Globe’s artistic director and director of “D.R.S.,” was called on stage, as were his collaborators: David Yazbek (music and lyrics), Jeffrey Lane (book) and Jerry Mitchell (choreographer). The audience’s cheering was then elevated to a mass roar of approval. Jack just missed being hit by the falling curtain, but stepped back just in time to avoid an accident.

The Old Globe chartered a bus to take their gang to the opening night party at the Copacabana, at 11th Avenue and 34th Street. The official dress code was “Black Tie and Bling,” and big jewelry – real and fake – was order of the night. “Big” also describes the party: over 1,000 people, tons of food, more celebrities and continuous dance music (enjoyed by many, a bit too loud for many others). Particularly delighted to be there were Noni and Drew Senyei (venture capitalist with Enterprise Partners), who bid for and won tickets to attend the Broadway opening at the Old Globe’s 2005 Gala last September. The Senyeis had to wait six months, but Drew said it was the best birthday gift he ever got. His birthday and the opening were the same: March 3.

So much for the “show” part of show business. On Friday the issue at hand was the “business” of show business: the reviews.

Funny, when some people say, “How were the reviews?” they mean, “How was the New York Times review? The Times review was “dismissive,” to quote someone involved in the show. The other reviews ranged from out-and-out raves to soft-pedaled disappointment. If you read The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Post or the Chicago Tribune, you would think “D.R.S.” is one of the biggest and funniest musicals to hit Broadway in ages. If you read the New York Daily News, you wouldn’t be so sure.

The opinions are all over the map, but here’s one prediction from The Wall Street Journal that I would like to share with you: “I could all but smell the self-assurance of a castful of happy actors who know they’ll be pulling down paychecks for a long, long time to come.”

As “D.R.S.” advertises itself, “The con is on!”

Josh Ellis was communications director at the La Jolla Playhouse for nine years after a 20-year career as one of Broadway’s top press agents. Now back in New York, he’s writing a play and studying to be an interfaith minister.

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