Hello from L.A.!
Let me first start by announcing that on Saturday, September 21, James and I are going to put up our 13th Concert For America in Los Angeles (and live-streamed). This time, it’s solely for the National Immigration Law Center because they’re the only national organization that helps low-income immigrant families. And, boy, do they have their work cut out for them.
We just started lining up stars to perform in the concert, and already we have Cheyenne Jackson, Keala Settle, Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery, Marcia Cross, Wayne Brady, and Rachel Bay Jones. We’re co-producing with Greg Berlanti, the amazing TV producer behind Supergirl and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and his husband, Robbie Rogers. Naturally, we needed some stars from Greg’s shows. SO! We just learned Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist (who also starred on Broadway in Beautiful) is flying in to do it. Listen how great she sounds!
And, turns out, Grant Gustin (a.k.a. The Flash) was a musical theatre major!
Get tickets at ConcertForAmerica.com.
It is h-o-t out here but I feel very lucky because I’m here filming an episode of Will & Grace (for Season 3 of the reboot). I don’t think I can tell you any details about the plot, but I’ll tell you what it’s like doing the show. I got the script emailed to me a few weeks ago, but Sean Hayes (a.k.a. Jack) told me not to memorize anything because it would definitely change (which it has). On Thursday morning I showed up at the Universal lot and was taken in an L.A.-style golf cart to the set. The first thing you notice when you do any TV/film is the delicious and well-stocked craft service area. It’s basically everything I love: every type of coffee, so many types of nuts (including honey cashews!), muffins, donuts, eggs, bagels…I was awestruck. Anyhoo, I was taken upstairs and met up with the other guest stars and the cast. Thankfully, I know the four leads: I’ve had Eric McCormack (a.k.a. Will) on my SiriusXM show a few times; I’ve done a ton of two-person concerts with Megan Mullally (a.k.a. Karen), including working on Grease and How To Succeed with her on Broadway; and Debra Messing (a.k. Grace) has connected with me and my husband, James, on social justice projects. As a matter of fact, when we did the dance version of “What The World Needs Now Is Love” Debra was heavily featured. Watch!
Whenever James and I come to L.A., we usually stay with Sean and his husband, Scott. And, finally, the co-creator of the show, Max Mutchnick, is the one who told me he’s been wanting to have a role written for me for years. I felt extremely welcome by everyone. I bring this up because if I didn’t know people working on the show so well, I would have been even more nervous than I was. And I was indeed nervous. I mean, when you guest star on a hit show, it’s scary!
Basically, their grouping has made the show a success and you are the unknown that can ruin an episode. Anyhoo, once we all said hello, the cast and the guest stars sat around a table with the creators of the show (Max and David Kohan) as well as the (famous) director, Jimmy Burrows. If you don’t know who he is, he’s known as the most amazing sitcom director…and played a version of himself on one of my favorite shows, The Comeback. (AND is the son of Abe Burrows, who wrote the books to shows like Can-Can and Guys and Dolls and more! Just today he was regaling me with tales of being at rehearsals for hits like the original Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed..., and the mega-flop Breakfast At Tiffany’s).
His dad was writing and directing Breakfast at Tiffany’s and they fired him and brought in—who Jimmy hilariously called a “classic musical theatre writer”—Edward Albee! Jimmy’s going to come on my SiriusXM show for non-stop old-skool Broadway dishing!
Back to Will & Grace. On one side of the room were the writers and the producers were on the other. We proceeded to read the first episode. Thankfully, I didn’t come on until page 12. Why thankfully? Because I didn’t realize, people were really going to act. I mean, it was like watching an actual episode of the show…just with no blocking. The four of them were nailing every laugh. There was no “I’ll figure out how to make this work later.” I realized I better do whatever the hell I was going to do with the character full out. James warned me that the most important thing was to get a laugh on my first line. It was horrific pressure to put on me, but he had a point; I knew I had to say the line clearly and make a clear and strong choice. We got to my first line and…YES. Huge laugh. Such an effing relief!
After the read-through, Sean came up to me because he knew I was nervous. He asked if I had ever done a multi-camera show and the answer was a solid “no.” The only TV I had ever done were shows like All My Children and Law & Order—decidedly not in front of a live audience. Sometimes, while filming, we wouldn’t run the whole scene,…sometimes we’d film just a few lines in a row and then they’d shoot those same lines from all different angles. Sean explained that filming Will & Grace is very much like doing theatre. He then took to me to the set so I could get used to it because he knew that being comfortable in the space would relax me when we started staging it. He explained that, when filming, you “cheat out” to the audience like when you’re doing a play. Who knew!?!? Anyhoo, the next day, we got new scripts (thankfully, I didn’t have many changes) and we read the whole thing again.
Then we “put it on it’s feet” as the say in show biz. Everything is such a well-oiled machine at this show; we blocked it once, ran it so we knew it and then immediately presented to Max and David for approval. We started staging around 11 AM and we were done for the day at around 1:30. It’s one of those things where everyone is at the top of their game so nothing takes a long time. Then I went to my wardrobe fitting. As soon as they laid out some options, I asked them if they had looked me up online. They indeed had. I’m basically wearing a replica of how I dress for almost every concert I do. But, not surprisingly, better quality than what I usually buy! All I want to do is “forget” to give back my clothes after we film. I guess I shouldn’t have printed that in my column...
I’ll write about the last three days of my Will & Grace experience next week (we tape this Wednesday night).
WAIT! I was just told I can talk about the plot!!! It is so up my alley. Get this: Jack and Grace attend “AnnieCon”…a convention for anyone who ever played Annie. That’s something I would attend in real life, just to stalk. In the show, I play Jerry Sussman, a music director who is now super successful and is also enemies with Jack. I get some amazing mean lines to say to him. When Max asked me what kind of character I wanted to play, I sent him this video and told him it was my fave; blank-faced and mean.
What’s also amazing about this episode is that there are two former Annies in the scene (!) Allison Smith, who played the role for three years on Broadway and Aileen Quinn, who starred in the film. I interviewed them both for my SiriusXM show and got great info. Turns out, before Aileen did the film, she was on Broadway. She auditioned when she was seven-and-a-half and was cast as the swing! That is so crazy for me. If you don’t know, a swing is an understudy for multiple roles. How the hell can a seven-year-old do that!?!? I guess you can if you’re talented!
Allison Smith was Annie while Aileen was the swing. Soon, Aileen auditioned for the film and was down to the final three. They told her that she’d be Annie or one of the orphans and also told her she’d have to leave the Broadway show. She told me she “called a meeting with Martin Charnin.” Again, a hilarious thing for a child to do . She told him she had news, and he told her that he had news. She went first by telling him that she had to leave the show to do Annie. He then told her that Allison was leaving and he wanted her to take over Annie! So, she basically had the choice of being Annie on Broadway or the film…and she took the film. She had mentioned to me that she was a dancer when she was a kid, and James and I were watching “A Hard-Knock Life” and you can see at the end that she does amazing split-leg leaps on the bed. Watch! https://youtu.be/-0bOH8ABpco
I have so many more stories, but must wait until next week.
P.S. Come see me and Audra McDonald starting this weekend on the Cape! Sunday in Ptown, Monday in Cotuit, Tuesday in Nantucket!