Alan Cumming, Chita Rivera, and More Pay Tribute to Florence Henderson

News   Alan Cumming, Chita Rivera, and More Pay Tribute to Florence Henderson
 
The stage and screen favorite's friends convened to celebrate her life and career, from impressive high notes to inappropriate nicknames.
Florence Henderson
Florence Henderson

When the late Florence Henderson toured her one-woman show All the Lives of Me in 2008, she insisted her entrance not follow a grand announcement, but rather her music director Glen Roven coming out and telling a simple story about their relationship. It was only appropriate, then, that Roven opened the February 21 memorial celebration for Henderson at the Music Box Theatre by telling a story about his connection to the beloved performer.

“I realized that woman who was the mother on that wonderful show was also on half a dozen of my favorite Broadway cast albums,” Roven said as he recalled seeing Henderson on The Brady Bunch at the same age he would listen to her voice on his record player. “After the show on Friday nights, I would pretend that she came over to my house to do a private concert for me. So I would put on her records and after the half-hour show instead of watching The Partridge Family, and this woman would give me a concert. That was my childhood.”

Read Playbill.com's obituary of Henderson here.

The event, titled The Life & Talent of Florence Henderson and produced by Roven, longtime manager and publicist Kayla Pressman, and Rich Aronstein, played like a private concert of Henderson’s greatest hits. The roster included In Transit's James Snyder, who performed the title song from Fanny (which Henderson headlined in 1954), comedian Bruce Vilanch delivering the comedic opening number to All the Lives of Me that he co-wrote with Roven, and Barry Williams—the Greg Brady to Henderson’s Carol—who crooned Michael Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon.” In an especially poignant moment, Michael Feinstein sang the title song from Wish You Were Here as Tony winner Phyllis Newman wistfully nodded along from the fifth row; both Henderson and Newman made their Broadway debuts in the 1952 musical comedy.

To pay further tribute to Henderson's classical timbre, Roven welcomed to the stage South African soprano Pretty Yende, returning to the Metropolitan Opera later this season in Roméo et Juliette, to perform the Carousel anthem “You'll Never Walk Alone.” The number echoed the music that played as attendees filled the house: Florence lending her vocals to various Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, including “My Favorite Things,” “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and “I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”

Whoopi Goldberg and Alan Cumming
Whoopi Goldberg and Alan Cumming Rich Aronstein

Like Henderson herself, the event was a balance of soaring melodies and bawdy tales. Host Judy Gold revealed their nicknames for each other: Gold was Big C, and Henderson was Little C (the “C” stood in for a four-letter word). “I cannot tell you how much I miss Little C,” Gold said. Alan Cumming shared that he only truly connected with Henderson for the first time last year, but it was a lasting impression: the two were both at Carol Channing’s 95th birthday celebration, and Henderson sneaked vodka into the wine-only event. “I never take chances with vodka,” Cumming recalled her deadpanning to him. Whoopi Goldberg remembered her fondly, saying, “She was the realest and had the filthiest mouth, but she understood who she was and what she meant to people.”

Chita Rivera cleaned up the act during her time at the podium, choosing to remember the softer side of Henderson that so many grew up seeing in her performance as Mrs. Brady. “It follows that someone as sweet as Florence would be born on Valentine’s Day,” the Tony winner said. “She became the mother of not only her own children, but to millions of others. That was easy for Florence.”

To conclude the ceremony, Williams and Gold returned to the stage with Christopher Knight, who played the Brady clan's middle son Peter. The emcee and two on-screen brothers led the crowd in a sing-along rendition of the Brady Bunch theme song. On the final button, the trio looked up and waved to the rafters—it was as if Henderson was not only up above, but also in her top center light blue square of the Brady grid, beaming down on two of her honorary sons and her Big C.

Today’s Most Popular News: