This was one of my most treasured photos for a long time. I’d say it’s about 1999 and that’s me and Toni Collette. My mother and I had just seen Wild Party on Broadway. For the second time. Because the first time, her crush, Mandy Patinkin, had an understudy. The show was one of my favorites. Toni Collette was a crush for me since I saw Muriel’s Wedding in a Chevy Chase, Maryland movie theatre a decade earlier with my friend Alison. We loved it so much and laughed so hard, we went back again the very next night instead of seeing The Madness of King George like we’d planned.
Her character, Muriel, made me laugh and cry and feel every feeling like nothing I’d ever seen before. A silly movie for many. But for many reasons, Muriel reached deep inside my chubby, lonely, quirky soul and made me happy. Because Muriel was like me. And if her character existed, that meant someone wrote it because they were also like Muriel. Or knew someone who was. Toni Collette played her so perfectly that I knew she must relate somehow too. That’s what actors do, right? Relate. Interpret. Become.
So I crushed on her and wanted to see what she would do next. There were more movies that I enjoyed. But nothing like the experience of Muriel’s Wedding. Now she was on Broadway. Co-starring with one of my mother’s favorites, Mandy Patinkin. It was a bonding moment for us. Two celeb crushes highlighting a rare mother/daughter night out. She loved Mandy Patinkin for three reasons.
- He was good looking
- He had a beautiful singing voice
- He’s Jewish
The second time we saw the show, Mandy was there. And so was Toni. The show had gotten even better in the few months since we’d seen it. We were having so much fun. I cried when Toni Collette came on stage. I always do that. I love a good show. If I had to guess, my mother teared up a little from excitement when Mandy first appeared on stage, too.
Afterwards, we waited at the stage door. I knew it was hard for my mother to stand for that long. But she did. Because if there was one thing we had in common, it was celebrity gawking. It was just me and her. My father wasn’t there to make her feel like she needed to leave right away. My brother didn’t need her to bring food to him at home. There was no rush. So we waited.
Eartha Kitt came out first. She was awesome and gracious. She signed autographs and meowed like a cat. Next, other actors whose names I didn’t know but I told them how great they were in the show. Then a whirlwind worthy of the Beatles, Mandy Patinkin was rushed out the door. No eye contact. No smiles. No waves. Just right into his waiting car. The crowd screaming his name. And then he was gone. And the wave of disappointment washed over. I felt so bad for my mother. I really wanted her to have that moment with Mandy. I’m sure she wanted to tell him that his step-brother, Robert, was our rabbi. And that she remembers sending an invitation to Mandy Patinkin and Family at an Upper West Side address to come to a special service to welcome Rabbi Ruben. Because she was the Sisterhood president at that time and getting a new rabbi was exciting enough but he was related to Mandy Patinkin! But she didn’t get the chance.
“I’m sure he’s tired after a show like that. I’m sure he just wants to go home. It’s ok. It was still fun!” said my ever gracious mother. And she was right about it all.
So now we waited for Toni Collette. The stage door guys said she was definitely still in the theatre. And we waited. And waited. I know my mother was tired but she wanted to wait. She found a little wall to sit on. She was having fun talking with the few others waiting. This was a side of her I didn’t get to see much. It was her.
And then she came out. Scrubbed clean without the platinum blonde wig she wore in the show or the makeup or confident stage walk. She just came out, carrying her bicycle on her shoulder in a rainbow windbreaker and backpack. “Hello everyone!” she said sincerely with her big toothy smile like mine. It was before camera phones and we didn’t have a camera but this one older man my mother had been talking to did.
“Go ahead. Ask her for a picture before she gets on her bike!” he said. “I’ll take it and mail it to you.”
So I did. All goofy 32 years old me, crushing on this actress. She was lovely. As we took this picture, I had just said to her, “I just love you. I love you so much I named my cat Muriel after you.”
Flashbulb flashed. A hug and tears of happiness all around. For my mother, for me, and hopefully for Toni Collette.
Mandy Patinkin, you missed it. But we still love you anyway.