Hello from Logan Airport! I’m on my final summer-of-2016 trip to the Cape and it’s a doozy: first Provincetown with Audra MacDonald and Will Swenson, then a concert with them in Martha’s Vineyard, then one day off for fun in the sun, then Wednesday in Cotuit (I’m pretending I’ve heard of that town, but I haven’t), then two days off in Provincetown, then two concerts with Gavin Creel. I’m sitting in the Cape Air area waiting with Judy Gold, who’s also flying to Ptown. She was at a wedding last night and told me she mentioned to another guest that she was a comic and the woman asked if she was able to “make a living.” Judy is still in a rage. Speaking of which, I just checked me email and saw one from Audra sent to me and our producer, Mark Cortale. There was no subject or message. Just a PDF of the sheet music to “Some Days” by Steve Marzullo. She obviously wanted it printed so she could sing it tonight. I decided to do the same thing to get a reaction: I sent an email to both of them, no message but simply an attached song like she just did. However, the song I attached was “The Wizard and I.” Within one minute I got a text from Audra asking me why I thought she’d be singing that and asking if I was “high.” Still got it!
Oh! I forgot to write about the amazing experience going to the apartment of Dr. Jonathan LaPook, who is the chief medical correspondent for CBS. James and I went to the stunning apartment that he and his wife live in, and he interviewed us about doing our Broadway For Orlando recording of “What The World Needs Now Is Love.”
Anyhoo, afterwards we all started chatting and his wife mentioned to us that she saw Disaster! Why? Because her father-in-law told her she had to go. Who is her father-in-law? Norman Lear! AH! James and I are so obsessed with him! I was so happy he really liked it as much as he said he did. When someone’s very effusive you never know if they’re telling the truth or using all the acting skills of Lorette Taylor. Norman told his daughter it added “six months to his life” and that she had to see it. YAY! Anyhoo, she and Dr. LaPook loved “What the World Needs Now” and after our interview, they decided to call Norman Lear and play it for him! They face-timed him, and he answered! They played him the whole thing and after it ended he said, “The only thing missing…” I thought “Oh, no! He’s going to give me a note! I can’t change anything now!” He continued “…is Ethel Merman.” I love it!
I had Gretchen Cryer, who co-wrote I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road at Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM show, and she had so many great stories!
She met her co-writer Nancy Ford while they were both in college and they started writing together. Their lives also mirrored each others: They got married, moved east and got divorced around the same time. Gretchen pursued performing and was in the chorus of some great ’60s shows like 110 In The Shade, 1776 and Little Me, but she kept up her writing. She and her husband, David Cryer, wrote Now Is The Time and during rehearsals, the leading lady dropped out. Gretchen took over the role but didn’t want it to seem like a vanity project so she decided to use a different name. The Playbill listed the show being written by Gretchen Cryer but starring “Sally Niven.” Unfortunately, the show got terrible reviews…but Sally Niven got great ones! One of them lamented the fact that the very talented Sally had to sing the horrible material written by Gretchen Cryer. Gretchen is devastated she didn’t reverse the names so Sally (the writer) would have been decimated and Gretchen (the actress) would have been lauded. Regardless, she and Nancy then wrote The Last Sweet Days Of Issac, and it got great reviews. As the decade progresses, Gretchen wanted to write a show that explored what it was like growing up in the ’50s and the expectations women had (marriage, beauty etc) and then how it changed in the ’70s.
She was doing a concert appearance with Nancy, and, while they were both in the middle of singing, she suddenly knew what it would be: a pop singer who was turning 40 and wanting to sing new songs instead of the songs her manager wanted her to do. The songs wouldn’t be sung dialogue…they would be songs performed during a rehearsal for an upcoming concert. Gretchen said she finished the song with Nancy, and after their first bow she was able to turn to Nancy and whisper, “I have the idea for our new show! And it’s going to be called I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road.” And then they turned around for their second bow. Brava!
They wrote the show, and Joe Papp was their producer at the Public Theater. He came to see a run-through near the end of their rehearsal period…and hated it! He didn’t like the show, and he especially didn’t like the lack of humor. Of course, they were devastated but thankfully, they soon spoke to his assistant…Craig Zadan (Yes, the Craig Zadan)! He told them that Joe really responds to strength, and they should go to him, firmly tell him they need three days and that he should come again. Joe agreed and, this time when he showed up, they had invited 100 of their friends to watch. It went amazingly, and Joe Papp signed off on the production opening. What was the difference, I asked? Well, Gretchen said first of all, they had three more days to really become comfortable with the material. Secondly, the first time he came, they were playing for laughs to an audience of one person! It’s impossible to make one person laugh compared to making an entire audience. I loved hearing this story because Joe Papp was such a genius producer behind such shows as Hair and A Chorus Line. If he had told me that my show clunked, it would have been very hard for me not to believe him. I find it very inspiring to know that even great people of the theatre can be wrong, and sometimes it just takes becoming comfortable with the material to make something play better. That’s why it infuriates me when people come see a very early preview of something, or worse, the first performance of something, and give a scathing review. It shows such a lack of understanding of how theatre works.
Anyhoo, their show opened up to much success and then transferred to Circle in the Square Theatre...as well as all over the world. Here’s a clip of the L.A. star of Getting My Act Together…Betty Buckley (whom Gretchen understudied in 1776!)
OK, everyone…there is a video series called “Bad Lipreading” where they take the sound out of something and then dub in completely inappropriate things. Their latest one is about the Democratic National Convention and they highlight our performance of “What The World Needs Now”! It features Brian Stokes Mitchell, Stephanie J. Block and James!. It’s so hilarious!
OK…back to the Cape! If you’re around this Friday and Saturday, come see me and Gavin Creel in Provincetown! Here is us rehearsing the last time we our show together, where he added an amazing B flat to his song from Thoroughly Modern Mille.
And if you’re a West Coaster, I just booked Deconstructing Broadway at Largo in Los Angeles for Saturday, October 29!
Speaking of deconstructing and Gavin, here’s my deconstruction of Gavin.