Kravis Center — where the audience is the show

Comedian Billy Crystal wondered why the applause was so tepid at the Kravis Center.
Comedian Billy Crystal wondered why the applause was so tepid at the Kravis Center.

I think there’s enough material for a book or documentary film titled Stuff That Happens at the Kravis Center.

And I’m not talking about the stage performances at the West Palm Beach concert hall. They’re certainly entertaining, but not as illuminating to students of the human condition as what goes on elsewhere in the building and parking garage.

I’d imagine all you’d need to do is to sit down the long line of performers who’ve entertained at the Kravis Center and ask them, “So what was different about playing the Kravis?”

Comedian Billy Crystal wrote about the Kravis Center in his new memoir, Still Foolin ’Em. Crystal took his one-man autobiographical Broadway show, 700 Sundays, on the road four years ago and had sold out a four-day run at the Kravis.

“On opening night, I was really excited because I knew that a lot of New Yorkers, including family and friends, were down in Florida and would be in the crowd,” Crystal wrote in his memoir. “So as I made my entrance onstage at 8 o’clock, I was really looking forward to a great reception.”

Crystal writes that in other cities, his first appearance onstage would be met with loud applause. But when he first walked onto the stage of the Kravis he got a meager smattering of applause.

“Nothing. Crickets,” he wrote.

He looked out at the audience, which he described as “an ocean of seniors” and took in the sight for the first time.

“From the stage, their hair colors looked like Vermont in the fall. There was every shade of brown and orange and yellow, plus a bluish color that can best be described as ‘old.’

“Meanwhile, in the second row, maybe 10 feet from me, a guy with binoculars was staring at me like he was bird-watching,” Crystal wrote. “I had to keep telling myself, ‘Don’t look at him or you’ll laugh.’ ”

Crystal said he struggled through the first act, working harder for laughs than he’d ever had to. At intermission, he asked the stage manager to tell him what was wrong.

“He said, ‘Billy, you woke them up — they were stunned. The show starts at 8; they got here at six so they could get first crack at the hearing devices. We open the house at 6 because they can’t stand around for too long, and they come into the theater and fall asleep. You got the best reception any show has gotten here.’ ”

During another Kravis show, Crystal said he noticed a red blinking light in the back of the orchestra section, a sign that somebody was illegally recording his show. At intermission, Crystal dispatched the stage manager and a security guard to stop the man in the audience from pirating the performance.

But when the stage manager returned, Crystal was surprised to find out what was going on.

“Billy, that blinking red light is part of his life-support system in his wheelchair. That’s how the nurse knows he’s breathing.”

“Can they put some black tape over the light?” Crystal asked.“It’s distracting.”

“No, if the nurse doesn’t see the blinking light, she’ll think he’s dead,” the stage manager told him.

Crystal’s memories of the Kravis are more humorous than those of actor Hal Holbrook, who wrote me a lengthy email earlier this year on why he will never play the Kravis Center again.

Holbrook performed a one-man Mark Twain show there 18 years ago. And even after all this time, he’s still worked up about how the audience members raced each other to the exits at the end of his show rather than staying in their seats to applaud.

“The people around Palm Beach are living well,” he wrote.

“Their behavior at that theater is an uncomfortable message of disrespect toward anyone they feel is subservient to them, including the artists they invite to perform.”

And why restrict the stories to the performers?

I still remember the valet parker who told me that he went to fetch a white Lincoln, only to find out that he brought back the wrong white Lincoln — a mistake that wasn’t discovered until the people who drove off with the wrong car noticed an oxygen tank in the back seat.

Fortunately, the bewildered couple in need of the oxygen was still waiting at the curb.

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post.

© 2013 Cox Newspapers

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