I was only nine when I saw Loudon perform for the first time — in 1977 as the scheming, evil yet uproariously funny Miss Hannigan in the original production of Annie. Loudon, of course, won a Tony Award for her performance in the Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin- Thomas Meehan musical, and if my memories of the show are a bit sketchy, I do remember three moments clearly: Andrea McArdle's show-stopping "Tomorrow"; a then-unknown chorus girl named Laurie Beechman belting out "N.Y.C."; and Loudon and co-stars Robert Fitch and Barbara Erwin bringing down the house with "Easy Street." I also remember waiting by the stage door with my sister for autographs, and a glamorous looking Loudon was more than gracious as she signed our Playbills.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Andrea McArdle about her memories of Loudon, who joined Annie after its Goodspeed Opera House world premiere. McArdle jokingly likens Loudon's arrival to the company as "before Christ and after Christ. We all knew that she was the ingredient that was missing [in the show]." McArdle also vividly remembers the day creators Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse created Loudon's show stopping number. "I was playing jacks in the Kennedy Center green room. They didn't realize we were there because there was a carpet, and we were playing jacks on the carpet. We got quite good at this, so we didn't interrupt anything. I was sitting in there when they wrote 'Easy Street.'"
Loudon, McArdle says, "had a very similar look to my mother. She and my mother favor each other a great deal, and my mother used to always get asked, 'Are you Miss Hannigan?'" McArdle says that Loudon was "the most amazing person. Three people [who I've worked with] stand out in my mind — Liberace, Carol Channing and Dorothy Loudon, and not in that order." McArdle adds that life often imitated art backstage at the Alvin Theatre: McArdle's dressing room, complete with a pinball machine from Bally's and a puppy given to her by Barry Manilow, was on the third floor with Loudon's directly below on the second. "The kids drove her absolutely crazy, and she loved it! [Dorothy] used to just hit [on the ceiling] with a broom in between shows! 'You're so loud.' And, we'd be like, 'This is just like it is on the stage. Isn't this funny?' She never got mad though."
McArdle was also impressed by Loudon's quick wit on stage. "Just to be able to see how she could change things was incredible. It's very rare that they would give that artistic freedom to somebody, but her taste was just impeccable." She also says that she and Loudon had a rare relationship for an adult and child. "If I got a really funny laugh, she would squeeze me extra hard," McArdle chuckles. "We could speak to each other without even speaking — it was just Comedy 101. Once she said, 'If you ever move when I'm saying something funny, you will not get to take a bow at the end of the show!' And I thought that was hysterical. It may have scared some other kids, but I was a real scrappy type, so I just howled, loved it."
McArdle remembers a prank she pulled on Loudon on April Fool's Day. It was during the pre-Broadway run and Loudon — who had appeared in numerous Broadway flops — had recently told the young actress, "I'm so close to getting on to Broadway in a show that's not a piece of shit, don't do anything [that might get you injured]!" On April 1, McArdle explains, "I came in with a cast on my arm. I got it at a high-end magic store, and it looked totally real. [Dorothy] was screaming, and then when she found out that it was a joke, she chased me all the way up two flights of stairs! Every time I go back [to the Kennedy Center], I just howl because I remember her chasing me and me running!" Although Loudon was "a very private and reclusive person," she and McArdle did see each other occasionally throughout the years. "We did the 'Leading Ladies of Broadway' together, and I saw her in Sweeney Todd and Ballroom, and I saw her in West Side Waltz. I used to go see her whenever she was on Broadway. And we did that Annie Christmas special together. She did a version of 'Broadway Baby' on there that just slays you. . . She was just like a Carol Burnett, but I think Dorothy had it going on three times as much as anyone. She had this killer acerbic wit and sense of humor. . . She made [everything] work for her in a brilliant way."
Dorothy Loudon's Broadway work included Nowhere to Go But Up, Noël Coward's Sweet Potato, The Fig Leaves Are Falling, Three Men On a Horse, The Women, Annie, Ballroom, Sweeney Todd, The West Side Waltz, Noises Off, Jerry's Girls, Comedy Tonight and, briefly, Dinner at Eight.
PHYLLIS NEWMAN and A Wonderful Town
What may be the surprise hit of the season opens this Sunday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, the Kathleen Marshall-directed revival of Wonderful Town starring two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy as Ruth Sherwood, the role created on stage and later preserved on television by Rosalind Russell. Wonderful Town, of course, features a book by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov — based on their novel "My Sister Eileen" — and a score by Leonard Bernstein (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics). The theatre lost the multi-talented Green last year, but I thought it would be a great time to catch up with Green's widow, actress-singer-fundraiser Phyllis Newman, who has been an integral part of the Wonderful Town rehearsal process.
The late Green, Newman explains, "wrote a letter saying that he passed on creative control [of his works to me]. So, since we had 43 years of talking about every aspect of both of our works . . . [I] attended [Wonderful Town] auditions, some rehearsals, run-throughs, many performances [and] offered suggestions and consulted with Betty [Comden], of course. We agreed on all the notes." Newman says that Green was thrilled with this production of Town, which he saw at its birth as part of the acclaimed City Center Encores! series. "Both [producer] Fran Weissler and Donna Murphy told me he'd call them fairly often and ask, 'What's new?' and tried to push [the production] along. Unfortunately, he wasn't sure it would happen, [but] Donna dedicates her performance to Adolph, and that makes us very happy."
About the star of the show, Newman has nothing but praise: "[Donna] is such a consummate actress and singer and wildly funny! Nobody has had that combination, especially the powerful and satisfying singing. She also brings a contemporary reality to the part." And, what's Newman's favorite moment in the show? "I think 'Conversation Piece,'" she says. "It makes me laugh every time. The music and the dialogue are witty and silly — a great combo!"
Never one to stand still, the Tony-winning Newman is also busily preparing for Nothing Like a Dame 2004, the annual fundraiser to benefit The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of The Actors' Fund of America. The one-night-only events are always a highlight of the theatre season, drawing some of the top performers around. "It will take place March 1 at the St. James Theatre," says Newman. "It's bigger and better than ever, and we're helping so many more women in the theatre." On another front, Newman is also at work on "a small musical play." "Changes in my life have influenced its story," she admits, "but I will finish it. And, we'll see . . ."
(By the way, you can catch Newman this weekend in the 24-hour reading of "The Day Kennedy Was Shot." Newman as well as Joel Grey, Kitty Carlisle Hart and many other celebs will read portions of Jim Bishop's 678-page tome at the Great Hall of Cooper Union. The day long event begins at 7 AM Nov. 22 and continues through Sunday morning, Nov. 23. The free reading commemorates the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Great Hall at Cooper Union is located at 7 East Seventh Street at Third Avenue. Call 212-353 4120 for more information.)
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Tony Award winner Betty Buckley will bring her new concert act — Journey — to Los Angeles' Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in December. From Dec. 9-20, the award-winning actress-singer will offer her contemporary Journey, which she recently debuted to rave reviews at Feinstein's at the Regency in Manhattan. Her evening features a mix of traditional and new standards by an eclectic mix of songwriters: Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Michel Legrand, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Michael McDonald and Bob Seger. Song titles include "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," "Where Do You Start?," "Hallelujah," "Stormy Blues," "Till It Shines," "Blue Skies" and "Like a Lover." Buckley will play Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM with late shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 PM. There is a $35 cover charge and a $30 food/beverage minimum. There is no reserved seating at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, which is located within the Roosevelt Hotel at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard. Call (800) 950-7667 for reservations. . . . Recent Chess star Julia Murney and Hairspray's Shoshana Bean will join Andrew Lippa for a concert of Lippa's tunes at the King Kong Room Nov. 24; show time is 9 PM. The King Kong Room is located within the Supper Club at 240 West 47th Street. There is a $15 cover and a $15 food-drink minimum for the concert; call (212) 921-1904 for reservations. . . . Two Broadway veterans — Eartha Kitt and John Lithgow — will light the Broadway Holiday Tree Dec. 10. The ceremony, which begins at 5:15 PM, will kick off with a performance by Hairspray's Kathy Brier and "The Dynamites" — Tracee Beazer, Judine Richard and Shayna Steele — who will offer a holiday reworking of "Welcome to the Sixties." The event, which is expected to draw performers from nearly all Broadway and Off Broadway shows, will also include the presentation of a $5,000 gift to the Professional Performing Arts School. The New York City public school, grades 6-12, provides "performing arts instruction in an academically rigorous school setting." Twenty-five students from the school will close the Holiday Tree ceremony with a performance of "Christmas in About Three Minutes." The annual ceremony — held in Duffy Square — is free and open to the public. . . . Stephen Sondheim, Barbara Cook and Producers' co-stars Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are just a few of the theatre celebrities lined up for Times Talks: Special Edition, part of the third annual Arts & Leisure Weekend. Hosted by The New York Times, the star-studded conversations will be held Jan. 10 and 11 at the CUNY Graduate Center, Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. The Times Talks discussions are all moderated by New York Times critics, reporters or editors. The weekend kicks off Jan. 10 from 10-11:15 AM with Singing Out. Moderated by the Times' chief music critic, Anthony Tommasini, the morning will address whether audiences are willing to accept gay performers. Panelists will include Rent's Anthony Rapp, On the Town's Lea DeLaria as well as David Daniels and Caushun. New York Times associate editor John Darnton will moderate Celebrating Sondheim, Jan. 10 from 6-7:15 PM. The panelists for that evening will include, appropriately, composer Stephen Sondheim and singer Barbara Cook. Nilo Cruz, Tony Kushner, Neil LaBute and Terrence McNally will all take part in Masters of the Stage on Jan. 11, from noon-1:15 PM. Moderated by cultural reporter Mel Gussow, the afternoon will answer the questions, "What does it take to write a new play and get it produced? And, where does the playwright's inspiration come from?" The final offering will be held from 8-9:15 PM on Jan. 11. Award-winning actors Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, who will soon return to the Broadway production of The Producers, will discuss their creative collaboration. Cabaret critic Stephen Holden moderates. Tickets for the discussions are $25 each. Call (888) NYT-1870 or visit www.nytimes.com/alweekend. . . . More DeLaria: the performer returns to the stage next month with a new holiday concert. Entitled Virgin Mary, Make Mine a Double — A Very Lea Christmas, the limited engagement will be held at The Belt on West 37th Street. From Dec. 4-20, theatregoers can hear DeLaria offer tunes from her new recording, "Double Standards," as well as several holiday classics. The Belt is located at 336 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues. Tickets, priced $15-$35, are available by calling (212) 563 0485. . . . It seems appropriate that the star of a Broadway musical that was titled Amour should offer a concert on Valentine's Day. And, that's exactly what Tony-nominated actress Melissa Errico will do. Errico is scheduled to perform songs from her new CD, "Blue Like That," on Feb. 14 at the Westport Arts Center in Norwalk, CT. Errico will be backed by her band, and concertgoers can expect to hear tunes by Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Joel, Rodgers and Hart and Mike Errico, the actress' brother who will also accompany her on guitar. Show time is 9 PM. Tickets for the concert are $55 and include a champagne and chocolate reception. The Westport Arts Center is located in Norwalk, CT, at 18 Leonard Street. Call (203) 222-7070 or visit www.westportartscenter.org. . . . And, finally, Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone may head the cast of the Encores! production of Can-Can. On her official website, La LuPone writes, "I'll be back on stage in February, I think. I've been offered La Mome Pistache in Encores! production of Can-Can." Encores! will present the Cole Porter musical in February 2004. This would mark LuPone's second appearance in the acclaimed concert series; she previously played Vera Simpson in Pal Joey. And, LuPone will star as Yvonne in the Ravinia Theatre Festival's mounting of Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George in Sept. 2004. Three-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will play Dot in that production; the role of George has yet to be cast.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL
Dec. 9-20 at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in Los Angeles, CA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Nov. 22 in Mostly Sondheim Revisited at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Nov. 29 in Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Theatre in Peeksill, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Louise Pitre in Concert:
Jan. 31, 2004-Feb. 8 in Sweeney Todd with the Calgary Opera Company at the Jubilee Auditorium in Canada
Feb. 13 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor, Ontario
Feb. 28 at the Sanderson Performing Arts Centre in Brantford, Ontario
Feb. 29 at the Silverthorn C.I. Auditorium in Toronto, Ontario
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!