As first reported by Playbill On-Line in November 1997, former Miss America Lee Meriwether will become a cast-member of the campy Off Broadway hit, Grandma Sylvia's Funeral. She'll play Elsie, a messy but benevolent alcoholic, starting May 29.
Meriwether, of "Barnaby Jones" TV fame, had been mulling the role for months but couldn't jump in because she was on tour with her husband in Neil Simon's Plaza Suite. It's been a good month for former beauty pageant winners, what with Meriwether in Grandma Sylvia, and Vanessa Williams and Helen Goldsby (Miss NY) in Encores!' recent St. Louis Woman.
Jaid Barrymore, actress Drew's mom, currently plays Natalie. Glenn Wein, the original co-creator and director, plays the Gary Grossman character, while fellow original cast-member David Eric Rosenberg continues as "Skyboy."
There have been regional stagings of Sylvia in Philadelphia and Florida, but currently the show is only playing in New York, according to spokesperson Beck Lee. The producers are contemplating a production in Jerusalem, Israel, however; and the Samuel French edition of the play is being published imminently.
Grandma Sylvia's Funeral remains in an open run (five shows a week) and celebrated its third anniversary Oct. 4, 1997. The show reached 1,000 performances, July 16, 1997. In the interactive comedy, members of the audience take part in what purports to be a real New York Jewish funeral, complete with wacky family members, food, dancing and luxuriant weeping.
The show started at the Playhouse on Vandam -- now called Soho Playhouse -- Oct. 4, 1994. Producer Dana Matthow (Walter Matthau's nephew) took a long-term lease on the space, and instead of doing the usual eight-shows-a-week, started with three shows and built up from there. "I think it's important to control the supply of tickets at the beginning of a show's run," Matthow explained. "Mass-market advertising, which is needed to fill seats early on, is so expensive, the risks are sometimes too much to bear. I wanted to give myself as much time as possible."
The show bears similarities to its still-running predecessor, Tony `n Tina's Wedding, but also tries to be darker. To that end, co-creator and director Wein made sure that most of Grandma Sylvia's Funeral was scripted rather than improvised. The show was conceived by Wein and Amy Lord Blumsack.
Grandma Sylvia's Funeral is playing at the Soho Playhouse in Manhattan. For tickets or information: (212) 691-1555.
On the Wednesday off-night, local deejay Ken Dashow's one-act, Rock Is Dead, Trust Me, runs at the Soho Playhouse.
-- By David Lefkowitz