ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Burns, Jenkins, Shindle and the Strike

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Burns, Jenkins, Shindle and the Strike
 
Oy! The strike! It's so bizarre that I'm in one of the few shows running. It's not like I chose to do The Ritz because I knew it would be immune from the strike, it just arbitrarily worked out that way.

Capathia Jenkins
Capathia Jenkins

I'm hoping by the time you read this, all the Broadway shows will be back on. Actually, why don't I add more to that wish. I hope all the Broadway shows will be back on, including some that have closed. That's right. Not only Rent, Hairspray and Drowsy Chaperone, I want to see Evita with Patti LuPone and Drood with Betty Buckley ASAP. Local One, that's what you need to focus on while negotiating.

This week began with a benefit for Only Make Believe, a great organization founded by Dena Hammerstein (Jamie's widow) that brings theatre to hospitalized children. It was great to see Julia Murney again, fresh off of Wicked. She sang "Life of the Party" from Wild Party, which was Idina Menzel's song in the final version of the show, but was Julia's song at one point. Most people associate "Raise the Roof" with Julia's character, but when I first saw it, Idina's character sang it, and she was played by Sara Ramirez. That show had more swapping than the movie "The Ice Storm."

Oh, yeah, speaking of Sara, she's the guest on my televised Chatterbox this week (Tuesday at 12:30 on channel 56). Okay, back to the benefit. Capathia Jenkins sang "Stop The Show." If you haven't downloaded that song from iTunes, stop reading now and get thee! It is so hilarious and she sounds amazing! She full-out hits an F sharp (with vibrato) and holds it forever! No wonder she almost got Effie in the film. She told me that when she went in for her screen test, they had her do the whole fight scene into "And I Am Telling You." And not lip-synched, totally live. She said that she gave it all she had, and when she finished, she was completely exhausted. Then Bill Condon (the director) came over to her and congratulated her. Following that with "Okay, we're gonna take it again from the top and this time try to blah blah blah." Again!!?!?!? She thought that was it! I should have warned her. Whenever I screen test, I always mark the first time. I remember back in the forties, I was testing with a young Lana Turner… Anybody? Nobody.

At the benefit, Capathia's back up was sung by the hilarious Jill Abramovitz, Mary Ann Hu (who just got the Bloody Mary understudy in South Pacific!) and Jason Michael Snow. I recently sent him a congratulatory text message because I saw his name on The Little Mermaid cast list. He sadly informed me that I was mixing him up with Jason (no middle name) Snow. He's Jason Michael Snow. Ouch. There are two Snow's on Broadway? Wait, what about Jessica Snow Wilson? How does she feel about all of this? And what if she got married to Jason? Would she be Jessica Snow Snow? And didn't this kind of humor go out in the seventies?

Anyhoo, right after the benefit, I hightailed it to see Andrea Burns' CD release show. Her new CD "A Deeper Shade of Red" just came out, and it's fabulous! And her act was amazing! She did a long version of "I Feel Pretty" interspersed with stories about all the different times she's played Maria. From when she was first 15 years old (she sang the first verse sprightly and joyous) to years later (done à la Karen Morrow) to mere months after giving birth (sung through exhausted tears). She ended it by saying she'd play the role into her eighties and then proceeded to sing it Stritch-style (AKA, throatily spoken: "I feel pretty….A-a-a-and entrancing"). The next day I interviewed Andrea on my Sirius radio show. She talked about being a sophomore at NYU and, for fun, going to an audition for the European tour of West Side Story just to experience a real New York audition. They needed a Shark girl who could understudy Anita. The girls all had to learn a section from "America," which also happened to be the section she had learned in her Performing Arts High School in Miami. That didn't stop her from pretending to slowly learn it and then being able to suddenly nail it. She got through the dance call, and they asked her to sing. She washed off all of her Anita make-up, wore a simple top and sang the high C at the end of the "Tonight Quintet." They told her that the tour left in three days for Berlin, and they wanted her to be on it. Suffice it to say, her parents were not pleased that her tuition that semester was for naught. But Andrea felt she had no choice. She'd be performing all over Europe with a full orchestra and tons of dancers that worked with Jerome Robbins — including Nicole Fosse. As a matter of fact, Nicole said that her mom would be visiting at the end of November and wanted to cook for the cast. So Andrea spent Thanksgiving eating a turkey cooked by Gwen Verdon!

The sad part was that she was told the woman playing Maria never missed, so there was no way she'd ever go on for the role. And, therefore, they gave her no rehearsal for the role. And, of course, she had to go on for Maria right after she got there, with only a few hours' notice and no rehearsal. Haven't people learned their lesson after Shirley MacLaine was told that Carol Haney "never missed" and the world was told that the Titanic would never sink? Stop making absolute statements!

Later on, she took over the role of Maria and developed a major crush on her Tony…and wound up marrying him! She's been married to the brilliant (now director) Peter Flynn for ten years, and they have an adorable three-year-old son, Hudson.

Andrea then told me about her first big New York break. When she came back to New York, she ran into someone she went to musical theatre summer camp with (French Woods). PS, French Woods is the name of the camp, not someone's drag name. Anyhoo, her friend was getting a show produced featuring his music, and he asked her to come over to sing through stuff, just so he could hear it out loud. Turns out, he thought she sounded amazing doing his songs, and he (and director Daisy Prince) put her in the show. Her friend was, of course, Jason Robert Brown, and the show was Songs for a New World. The hilarious part is that Billy Porter couldn't do the recording because he was under contract with another label, so they had to take Billy out of the cover photo and change everyone else's photo to take up the lost space. It's crazy. Look at the cover of the CD, and you'll see "Andrea" sitting on a stool. And by "Andrea," I mean Andrea through a funhouse mirror manipulated by the 1.0 version of Photoshop.

Right now she's the standby for Rosie Perez in The Ritz, and in the spring she'll open on Broadway in In the Heights. The last time she covered a role was when she was the Belle understudy in Beauty and the Beast, and she prides herself on not being one of the many utensils in the ensemble but "the" broom. There was only one, and she was it. The devastating story is that she was asked to play Belle for ten performances so Kerry Butler could go on vacation. Her whole family came up from Florida, but she didn't want them to see her first show, so they all bought tickets for the following night. During "Be Our Guest" her heel got caught in one of the tracks on the stage that are used to bring scenery on and off. She fell and knew that something was wrong with her foot. She found out later that she broke it! She got up but didn't know how she was going to finish the number. Suddenly, her hands were grabbed by Lumiere, so he could spin her around. The late, great Patrick Quinn was playing Lumiere, and Andrea started whispering to him, "Don't spin me! I hurt myself!" Unfortunately, he couldn't hear her and assumed she was telling him how excited she was that she was on, so he gave her an extra-vigorous spin! Yay! I'm sure the children loved seeing Belle being spun while her face registered blinding pain. Later on, Patrick was mortified, and he and Andrea always laughed about it. After she was put down, she staggered to the center of the stage to start the signature "Be Our Guest" kick line. Could she do it? She thought, "Well, I am the lead in this number, right in the center. It would sorta make sense if everyone kicks but me." But the trouper in her came out, and she did the full can-can high kicks with a broken foot. She got offstage and within two seconds her wig and costume was pulled off and she was rushed to the ER. Her mother had decided to come after all because "I'm not going to have my daughter playing a lead on Broadway while I'm at dinner!" No one knew where her mom was sitting in the audience, so an assistant stage manager was sent to the audience to watch for the woman who jumped up after the "The role of Belle will no longer be played by Andrea Burns" announcement was made. The other headache was that Andrea was getting married in a few weeks. She healed well enough to be able to walk down the aisle without her cast…very carefully. After the wedding, Vicki Clark (who had no idea about the foot) told her, "That was the best walking down the aisle I've seen. I've never seen someone comfortable enough to just take their time."

Andrea's gotten great reviews for her CD, and I think the break -out song is gonna be "BTW, Write Back" by In the Heights composer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's about a devoted musical theatre fan who keeps writing to the myspace page of her favorite Broadway star. AKA, me at age 12 if myspace and/or the internet existed back then. Or, quite frankly, computers.

At Andrea's show I ran into Ted Sperling, who's getting ready to music direct the Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific. I am always devastated to see revivals because usually they shrink the orchestra, and it sounds like a synthesizer face-off. But he told me the revival is gonna have the same instruments as the original production in the 1940's! Brava! Speaking of running into people, I also saw Legally Blonde director Jerry Mitchell on Broadway and 51st street right after my show. He said he's in the middle of filming the new Bravo TV dance series "Step It Up" It sounds like another version of "So You Think You Can Dance," which I love. I asked Jerry if he's one of the nice or mean judges, and he said he wouldn't be a judge. Instead he's the Tim Gunn of the show! He's hosting it with Elizabeth Berkley from "Showgirls." I have so many jokes I could make now, I'm going to leave them to your imagination…suffice it to say, they could include any and all of the following: a lap dance, a pre-meditated fall down the stairs and Joe Eszterhas's hairstyle.

Friday I did an interview with Legally Blonde's Kate Shindle for a bunch of theatregoers from the Carolinas. Kate talked about being crowned Miss America 1998 and how she caused an uproar by wearing boy's shorts in the swimsuit category. The only uproar I caused by wearing shorts as a swimsuit was because of the love handles sitting brazenly above said shorts. I asked her about the beginning of the pageant when all 50 girls are onstage, and it's suddenly whittled down to 15. I assumed that the girls know who's being ixnayed, and she said that they don't know until that moment. Unfortunately, the losing girls have to come back throughout the pageant and perform back-up, and Kate said we should watch closely because there are always a couple of girls missing 'cause they're too traumatized/raccoon-eyed to continue. The cool thing about her winning is that Kate's platform was AIDS education, and she toured all over the country talking about it. She said she would visit schools in the Midwest and Deep South where they would normally never discuss such things, but because she was Miss America, they would let her come to the school and educate the kids.

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara saw the Saturday matinee of The Ritz, which was super cool. First, because I love them both, and secondly because Jerry was the original gangster, Carmine Vespucci, in the Broadway and film of The Ritz. After the show they met the cast, and our current Carmine, Lenny Venito, got to meet Jerry. Jerry told us that during the original run of the show, someone broke into the dressing room of the theatre and stole the mink coat and gun that's featured heavily in Act Two. Jerry ran to the stage manager freaking out because the second act couldn't happen without those props. The stage manager said he'd handle it and left Jerry there. Ten minutes later, he came back with a gun and a coat. "Where'd you get them?" asked Jerry. The stage manager explained, "I got the gun from a cop outside, and I got the mink from a lady in the fourteenth row!" Brava!

Oh, yeah, I finally got my video blogs working again (go to my website to see), and if I could deal with being on the phone with Mac and going to the store to have it looked at by the computer "geniuses" who work there (that's literally what they're called), then the Broadway folk can all come to an agreement. When I come back next, I want to hear that they kissed and made up. Producers and Local One: Start making out! So go to my website for some new ones and hopefully, by the time this column comes back, Broadway will be back to business!

Kevin Chamberlin and Jerry Stiller chat after a <i>Ritz</i> performance.
Kevin Chamberlin and Jerry Stiller chat after a Ritz performance.
Today’s Most Popular News: