THEATREGOERS NOTEBOOK -- February
Joe Piscopo's impressions of Frank Sinatra, David Letterman and Ted Koppel helped make him a popular star of "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1980's. Piscopo went on to star in HBO comedy specials and a few movies, but then he seemed to drop out of sight.
"I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and then I took some time off to raise my 16-year-old son, Joey, as a single dad," says Piscopo, currently making his Broadway debut as deejay Vince Fontaine in "Grease!"
"When you don't think you'll live past 35, it really makes you change your priorities. I'm 100 percent cured now, but I neglected my career for several years. As corny as it sounds, all I ever wanted to do was have a family and make a living as an entertainer. There's no greater thrill than performing live."
Piscopo's recent professional credits include everything from a CD-ROM game called "Multimedia Celebrity Poker" to health club commercials featuring his own well-sculpted torso. He added several favorite songs ("Shout," "Get a Job") to Vince Fontaine's repertoire in Grease! and confesses a longing to return to television as the host of an old-fashioned variety show.
"So much of TV now is vicious and offensive," Piscopo says. "I'd love to do a show like Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan did, something families could watch together." MASTER PIANIST:
One of the subtle pleasures of the hit play "Master Class" is David Loud's witty performance as Manny, accompanist to the young opera singers performing for Maria Callas. Sharing the stage with Zoe Caldwell's powerful Callas, Loud never calls attention to himself, but his reactions add a believably human touch to the drama swirling around him.
"I've lived this character," says Loud, a musical director and arranger who conducted the recent revivals of "Company" and "She Loves Me." "One of my first jobs in New York was playing the piano for rehearsals and classes. I took a lot of my own mannerisms and habits as an accompanist and used them in the play."
Loud praises Caldwell as "incredibly generous, supportive and inspiring." He notes, "I find that in any production, the tone for how people are going to behave is set at the top, and she creates an atmosphere where people want to do their best every minute. My job is to concentrate on her, which is an easy thing to do."
Acting may be good for the ego, but Loud insists he isn't tempted to give up his behind-the-scenes jobs. "The conductor of a Broadway musical has the best spot you could possibly imagine," he points out. "You've got the orchestra below you, the audience behind you and an incredible story happening in front of you. You're the heartbeat of the whole thing. It's a thrilling position to be in, and I love it."
-- By Kathy Henderson