Hello from New York!
I’ve been travelin’, but I’m back here for a delicious week. As a matter of fact, I’m doing a show in ye olde tristate area this Saturday night. I'll be performing with Chita Rivera at NJPAC where she will be singing songs from so many of the Broadway musicals. The amount of hit shows she’s done is incredible. In fact, Chita was once walking around the theatre district and passed posters for the revivals of Chicago, West Side Story, and Bye Bye Birdie, all playing at the same time that season. As she walked by, she couldn't help but ask herself, "Am I supposed to be performing tonight?"
Her impact on American musical theatre is so incredible to me. This is the woman who originated Rosie Alvarez in both Bye Bye Birdie and the sequel Bring Back Birdie, which, by the way, I have to discuss with her. Instead of running a few months, it ran for just a few performances. While we are the topic of Rosie Alvarez, Chita was not able to do the film version, but she did get to perform one of her big songs on television. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times, Chita is so great.
After Saturday, I fly to Los Angeles for a concert with Lillias White at the Wallis on Thursday March 30. That very night, I'll take the redeye home so I can perform in a concert with Brian Stokes Mitchell at Molloy College on Friday March 31.
On Saturday April 1, I hightail it up to Foxborough, MA to do my comedy show deconstructing Broadway performances. If you want to know what Deconstructing is and how amazing Lillias White is when she performs, watch this video!
In the last few weeks, I've had two shows in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first was with Ramin Karimloo and Jessie Mueller.
A few years ago, I had a show with Ramin and Sierra Boggess. Richard Jay-Alexander came to see it. A few weeks later, Richard was directing Barbra Streisand’s concert in London. When they became in need of a male singer, Richard thought Ramin would be perfect. He called Ramin and asked if he wanted to sing with Barbra. Foolishly, Ramin replied, “Barbra who?”
As Ramin recounted this to me, I nearly passed out from disbelief. Once I was revived, Ramin explained that he wasn’t aware that Richard worked with Streisand, so he didn’t know the Barbra that Richard was referencing was the Barbra! Ramin told us that when Barbra came onstage, he was scripted to say, “Hello, gorgeous." The second he said it, the crowd laughed, leaving Ramin miffed. He thought to himself, “Oh, that must be a famous line." That’s right, Ramin Karimloo didn’t know Funny Girl. Ugh.
Okay, I get it, Ramin. You grew up playing hockey in Canada, and didn’t sit at home in your room listening to Broadway show albums over and over because you loved them (and had no friends) like some of us.
As we all know, in an ironic twist, Ramin was cast in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl as Nicky Arnstein. Ramin told me that when they gathered to do the first read-through of the script and the revival's then-Fanny Brice, Beanie Feldstein, read the line, “Hello, gorgeous." Upon hearing it, Ramin was momentarily confused, thinking, “Wait, I thought that was my line.”
In conclusion, and in a plug for myself, Ramin needs to get his hands on my brand new book, Musical Theatre For Dummies. Yes, this is the perfect time to segue to the news that my book has finally been released and already went into its second printing. #StillGotIt
So, I’m Jewish, and I'm always dreading or stressed about something. In this book-writing process, I went from thinking the book was so hard to write to thinking the book was so hard to record. Yes, it's true. I was hired to record the audio book for my over 400-page guide to musical theatre. I know it sounds cool to record an audio book, but the reality of it is that you’re in a booth by yourself speaking slowly with nobody laughing at your asides. Speaking slowly is completely against my natural rhythm which, for you classical music buffs, is vivace a la presto. While this is the tempo that works for me, my SiriusXM listeners struggle to keep up. I can't tell you how much fan mail I've received that reads, "I cannot understand a word you're saying."
My husband James and I just celebrated the third anniversary of Stars in the House and broadcast it from the fabulous Drama Book Shop. We’ve now raised around $1.2 million for the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly The Actors Fund) and thousands upon thousands of dollars for other charities we’ve featured like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, The Waterkeepers Project, The Trevor Project, The Humane Society of NY, Bet Simchat Torah, The NYC Gay Men’s Chorus and many more.
One of my idols, Charles Busch, made a guest appearance at the anniversary broadcast. He spoke about writing his soon-to-be-released autobiography and about interviews he had conducted with collaborators from his career. He’s been working with Julie Halston ever since his first play, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, so he brought her to his apartment and interviewed her at length. Charles purchased a recorder that can both record the entire session and transcribe when plugged into a computer. Charles told us that between Julie's strong Commack, Long Island accent, and what he calls his “rather grand” way of speaking with the vowels of a 1940s MGM contract player, the computer had a breakdown. It literally couldn’t transcribe anything they were saying because it had no reference for either accent!
If you haven’t heard Charles’ movie star way of talking, watch this video!
Here is Julie Halston telling a hilarious story. Her accent is in full bloom!
Charles’ book is called Leading Lady: A Memoir Of A Most Unusual Boy and is available now. Go forth and get it!
The Stars in the House anniversary show also featured the triple-threat Brenda Braxton, who was an indirect part of the excerpt I read below from my book. Here’s the first section I read from Musical Theatre For Dummies, which details how producers jockey to put actors in various Tony Award categories.
"The hilarious and high-belting Megan Mullally was starring as Rosemary opposite Matthew Broderick in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Now, one could opine that How to Succeed is a show with a leading man and two featured actresses, but, in my opinion, Rosemary is the leading lady. She’s the romantic interest of the leading man leaving Smitty, her sassy best friend, squarely in the featured actress category.
See, this is where producers jockeying for a Tony Award can get in the way. Why? My understanding of what happened is thus
You see, 1995 was also the season of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s giant Sunset Boulevard. After that show opened, everyone knew that Glenn Close would win Best Actress in a Musical. She had a string of wonderful reviews from each and every critic. On top of which, audiences were going crazy for her.
How to Succeed's producers thought Megan was fabulous in her role and deserved a chance to win a Tony Award. They figured if she were nominated as Best Actress, she wouldn’t win because Glenn had that award in the bag. Instead, they asked the Tony nominating committee to consider Megan in the Best Featured Actress category, which would mean she’d actually have a chance of winning. Luckily for them, and for Megan, the Tony committee agreed. She was put in the Best Featured Actress category.
Smokey Joe’s Café, an ensemble musical opened that same season as well. Instead of submitting all four Smokey Joe’s female actresses in the Best Actress category, the producers submitted them to be considered in the Best Featured Actress category. Guess what? Three of the four were nominated with the fourth slot going to Gretha Boston for Showboat. Sadly, that meant there was no room for Megan! #Backfire
Glenn did indeed win Best Actress, but that category only had two nominees, Glenn and the late, great Rebecca Luker. Of course, this meant there would have been room for two more nominations. If the meddling producers of How to Succeed had left Megan in the Best Actress category, she wouldn’t have won, but she no doubt would have been nominated.
As Max Bialystock yells at Leo in The Producers, “Don’t help me!”
Before you shed a tear for Megan, let me tell you it all worked out for her in the end. She soon had two Emmy Award wins for her amazing and hilarious portrayal of Karen Walker on the television show Will and Grace."
Then I introduced Brenda…one of the women who got that Tony Award nomination! She surprised me with a story I hadn't heard before.
Smokey Joe’s Café was nominated for Best Musical that year. All the women from the show were scheduled to sing “I’m a Woman" at the awards ceremony. Well, right before they were about to perform, they were told that the show was running long and they had decided to cut the number.
Brenda, DeLee Lively, Patti d’Arcy, and B.J. Crosby were all offstage in their costumes waiting to go on when that bomb dropped. Talk about being all dressed up and having no place to belt!
Well, while they did not get to perform that song at the Tonys, they did get to perform it elsewhere! Here is a great video of that performance. I love it, especially the incredible arrangement by the late, great Louis St. Louis.
Before leaving Stars in the House, Brenda read from her fabulous book The Little Black Book of Backstage Etiquette.
This book is so perfect for anyone in theatre, those studying it and those performing it. Truly. Put it on your wishlist!
Also part of the Stars in the House bookclub was Rupert Holmes, who read from his amazing new bestselling book, Murder Your Employer, but I’m going to write about that next week.
Until then, here’s a great Rupert Holmes song sung by the amazing Liz Callaway who is performing concerts absolutely everywhere. Some of her shows even feature her brilliant sister, Ann. Go to LizCallaway.com to see where they'll be singing next!
Enjoy and peace out!