A few years ago, outside the stage door of a Broadway theater, I found myself herded into a cattle holding pen along with about 200 other people. My friends Michael and Kim and I were waiting for Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth to come out and greet us after a performance of the show she was starring in at the time, Promises, Promises. And yes, this is the same Michael who often thoughtfully, eloquently, guest blogs here.
Michael and Kristin Chenoweth grew up in the same town and attended the same high school. They walked the same halls, performed on the same stages, learned from the same teachers. In fact, one such teacher, whom Michael is still close to, was the reason we were ushered into the front of the holding pen. There had been the possibility that we would get to go backstage, but it didn’t pan out.
It’s a humbling experience to be packed with hundreds of other people like that. There were security people yelling at us about where to stand, what to do. “No flash photography!”
To her credit, Kristin was gracious when she came out. Michael teased her by calling her Kristie Dawn, the name she went by when she was just a young Oklahoma girl with a big voice and a dream. She good-naturedly dead-panned, “Don’t call me that.” She and Michael talked Broken Arrow for a few moments, then she signed our programs, said hi to a few others and then climbed into a waiting SUV and was whisked away.
And I was both exhilarated and depressed by the experience. It made me us feel both special and insignificant. But while she and Michael stood talking, I felt an odd resentment boiling beneath the surface. I thought, Kristie Dawn, you really don’t know who you are talking to. Talk about a legend.
I met Michael several years ago when we did Party together. He was, even then, an available, funny, skilled actor. And through the years, I’ve been lucky to see him in many roles and he continues to expand himself. The last thing I saw him in was a production of Greater Tuna where he expertly and seemingly effortlessly became 20 different characters, 20 inhabited lives. And if Michael were only an actor, that would be enough to make him the kind of star around which the world orbits. (Full confession, I’m no Isaac Asimov.) But, I think the thing that makes Michael truly a legend is that he’s the best friend anyone could ever have. I know a lot of people, but I don’t think I know anyone as beloved as Michael Patrick Gaffney. And if you’re reading this and you know him, you know what I’m talking about. He remembers the details of your life, he reminds you of memories that you’ve shared, he does not pontificate, but always makes you feel he’s rooting for you. And I can never see Lucille Ball or peanut butter or a lady bug without thinking of him.
I don’t know if MPG will ever be as famous or as rich as the little one (his name for her, not mine.) If we lived in a world that made sense, he’d have Tonys and Emmys and 912,398 Twitter followers, too. But I actually think, in many ways, Michael’s life is richer than, well, richer than most. He is loved and he knows how much he is loved. And we’re just lucky to have him in our lives. Because I knew him, because I know him, I have been changed for good.