ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Lane and Len

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Lane and Len
 
Last Thursday, Feb. 28, was a big day of birthdays on Broadway: A Chorus Line's Tony Award-winning Kelly Bishop ("Daddy always thought that he married beneath him…), Tony Award-winning composer William Finn, Tony Award-winning beltress Bernadette Peters, Tony Award-winning actor-director Tommy Tune and Tony Award-watching…me.

Nathan Lane and Seth Rudetsky at the Chatterbox.
Nathan Lane and Seth Rudetsky at the Chatterbox. Photo by Christie Ford

My friend Tim emailed me a link saying, "Did you see the stuff about your birthday on TalkinBroadway?" I was so excited, and when I clicked the link it went to a post where someone had written, "Wow! The sexiest sixty-year-old I've ever seen." Ha ha. Tim had "hilariously" sent me to a link about Bernadette.

I decided to have a little get-together on Saturday night. Friday night at 11 PM, my buzzer sounded. Juli had gone to bed two hours before so I tiptoed through the dark living room to the intercom. "Hello?" I whispered. "Seth Rudetsky!" I heard from downstairs. "It's Norm Lewis! Happy Birthday!" I buzzed him and confronted him on the staircase, me in my pajamas, him covered in snow. "Uh…the party is tomorrow." Norm claimed his email said it was tonight. What? I guess I could have told him that he was right and invited him in to sit with me in a depressing, dark living room and talk nonsense…but I already saw The Homecoming and had no intention of re-creating it in my own apartment. He went home and then I checked my email. I found one from Cheyenne Jackson saying, "Sorry I missed your party last night." What is it with Broadway stars and the calendar!? Anyhoo, it wound up being a great little soiree, and I felt so highfalutin' because I ordered a big plate of sushi. Around 11, my boyfriend James asked if I would order a pizza. He's from Texas and did not ever grow into enjoying the big city taste of sushi. I rolled my eyes and asked what I was gonna do with all the leftover pieces of pizza, and he assured me we could eat it for dinner the next night. Cut to, I ordered the pizza begrudgingly — it was gone in two minutes flat, and I'm writing this column surrounded by an almost full platter of negihamachi and salmon skin rolls. Turns out, Broadway don't go for highfalutin'!

Now, that last story brings me to last week's Chatterbox. Around two weeks ago, I did a performance of Celebrity Autobiography with Matthew Broderick and asked him to do my Chatterbox on the 28th. He was very sweet and agreed readily. He told me to check in beforehand to double confirm. Of course, I waited 'til the night before and left a perfunctory message on his assistant's voice mail. She called me back in a panic. Matthew had to go to L.A. at the last minute and couldn't make it back to N.Y. to do my show. Ah! It was sold out, and I didn't want BC/EFA to lose out on all that money. I had to get a replacement whom the crowd would adore just as much. I thought of The Producers and remembered how much fun I had with Nathan Lane at my Sirius interview recently. I called his assistant, Andrea, and she told me that he's doing a reading all day long and starring in November at night. In other words, he's too busy/tired to do anything extracurricular. She said she'd ask him anyway, and 20 minutes later called me back in shock and said "He'll do it!" How amazing is that!?! I showed up at Don't Tell Mama's and Nathan immediately said, "I don't wanna talk about the stuff we did before. Ask me other stuff." Uh-oh. I'm old school. I thought the show was frozen. I'm used to going through a celeb's career from start to finish, but he said we should do it differently...and go backwards. Didn't he know Merrily We Roll Along flopped? I was panicked…but it wound up being an amazing/hilarious show.

First we talked about the Marc Shaiman/Scott Whitman/Terrence McNally musical, Catch Me If You Can, which is the reading he's doing right now. He said he's done so many readings of it that he now feels like he's doing a revival, but he thinks the show's gonna be great. He's playing the Tom Hanks character from the movie, and hopefully he's ixnaying the "I'm not Tom Hanks because I'm doing a Boston Accent" Boston accent. Which now leads me to the first section of this article. At one point, I had my cell phone onstage to check the time and I said, "Do you want to see a picture of my boyfriend James?" Well. He went on a five-minute tear about how every week I have to mention "my boyfriend James this" and "my boyfriend James that" and how I always pepper it with "his daughter Juli." Nathan made it clear that yes, he's got it: I have a boyfriend. Then he asked if James is the first boyfriend I've ever had. Hmph. I wanted to tell him that he was exaggerating and that no one else is bothered by it until I saw the entire audience nodding in unison. Well. I will simply say that sometimes James comes up as part of a story I'm telling and I don't want new readers to look at it and say, "Who is this random James person that Seth is talking about?" Hence the moniker, "my boyfriend James." But, I know that when the public speaks (or in this case, yells at you), you must listen. So from now on I will simply write James' name without a precursor or simply list him as my BF.

Nathan also told me a Doug Henning debacle that he hadn't told me before. They both did the musical Merlin, and one night Doug was regaling him with magic-gone-awry stories. Doug was doing a Vegas show, and the final act was turning his wife into a tiger. Doug finished the trick, but noticed that the chain attached to the tiger…was broken! He said that the rest happened in slow motion. The tiger started prowling towards the audience, who then began screaming. Also, since it was a New Year's Eve show, it was packed with celebrities. This took place in the seventies, so I'm imagining an audience filled with hysterical Loni Andersons, Bonnie Franklins and Gabe Kaplans. Doug grabbed onto the tiger's chain and started yanking the tiger backwards. The tiger turned and started to advance on Doug. Suddenly, the tiger leapt on top of him…and licked his face. I, of course, thought that was adorable, 'til Nathan explained that tigers clean their food before they eat it. The tiger then put Doug Henning's entire head inside his mouth!!!!! Doug was so petrified that he fainted and because what the tiger considered prey suddenly seemed so limp and odd, it let go of his head. Doug told Nathan that the next thing he remembers is waking up in his dressing with Bob Hope standing above him saying, "That's the best finale I've ever seen!" Also this week, I interviewed Len Cariou on my Sirius radio show. Len is from Canada and in 1969 made his Broadway starring debut in Henry the Fifth (King Henry V) … or as he called it, show biz-style, "Hank Cinq." He said that right before he opened in that show, he was called in to audition for Applause to play Lauren Bacall's love interest. He was a fan of her work...which is weird because usually actors can be competitive if they both have the same vocal range. He got the role of Bill Sampson and remembers that when they did the gypsy run-thru of Applause, a nice man with glasses perched on his head approached Len after the show and said, "I think you're one of the best leading men I've ever seen in my life." Ron Field, the choreographer, ran over to Len and told him that pleasant gentleman was…. Hal Prince!!! That compliment would pay off later. Len was nominated for a Tony Award for his part in Applause but said that he would have been embarrassed if he had won because he didn't have that much to do in the show. Attention, Tony voters: Let me say for the record, I will not be embarrassed if I am nominated and/or win a Tony for my four lines in The Ritz. I hope I've made myself clear.

He then went on to become the associate artistic director at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and while he was there, the pleasant gentleman called him and asked him to audition for A Little Night Music. Len read the script (no music or lyrics yet), loved it and wanted the part of Frederik…but they asked him to audition for Carl-Magnus. Even though Len didn't want that part, he was dying for a chance to sing for Sondheim and Prince. He flew to New York and auditioned, but remembers he had to hold onto the upright piano that was onstage to stop from shaking! Still, it went well, and Hal gave him an updated script to look over and said they'd probably ask him to come back at the beginning of the week before Len went back to Minneapolis. This time the script still didn't have any music attached, but now it had lyrics. Len thought it was now even more brilliant, and when Hal called a day later, told him so. Hal said, "Good, we want you to play Frederik!" Brava! Frederick was supposed to be in his mid-fifties, and Len was only 34, but they figured that as long as he was fairly older than his wife, it would work.

Len went back to the Guthrie and told the artistic director the good news. Unfortunately, he reminded Len that he was supposed to star as Oedipus in rep when rehearsals began, and it wouldn't be right for Len to leave to do a Broadway show because he was the associate artistic director. Shockingly, Len agreed! He called Hal who was vacationing in Majorca (huh?) and told him that he had to pass. Hal was in shock. Not because he was angry, but because he couldn't believe how much integrity Len had. A month later Len's agent called, asked him if he was sitting down and said that Night Music had moved all of their dates later so that Len could do the show! Len approached the head of the Guthrie and asked if he could perform his rep shows in a clump each week so he could rehearse in New York but come back to the Guthrie to do Oedipus, and the Guthrie said yes. So, Len would do a matinee on Sunday, fly back to New York to rehearse Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, fly back Wednesday night and perform, fly back to rehearse Thursday morning, rehearse again Friday, Saturday and fly back to perform Saturday night and Sunday. Sorry, Elaine Stritch, that trumps your train trips to Connecticut. Len Cariou is at liberty!

He went back to Canada and became the artistic director of the Manitoba Theater Center (the original MTC, as he likes to say) and while he was there, Hal told him that Sondheim had written a show for him! Len was thrilled…'til he read the script. He thought Sweeney Todd was really bizarre. He read it again, and although he couldn't figure out how they were going to do all the killings, etc., he knew that if the score was very romantic, it could work.

Len moved back to New York, and one night at 3 AM Hal called and asked him to fly to Europe to play Frederik in the movie of A Little Night Music! The first two actors didn't work out, and finally Len was offered the gig! I love it when the Broadway original gets the film. I wish they'd film Wicked soon, so Idina is still young enough to be Elphaba and not have to play the goat mid-wife ("I see a nose…").

I asked Len if he ever missed a show when he played Sweeney Todd, and he said an emphatic, "No." I asked why and he said, "It was my part." He's old school! My favorite Len story was told to me by his former voice teacher, Paul Gavert. During previews Hal asked the sound designer to turn down Len's body mic because he was louder than the other singers onstage. Hal was told that Len was the only one not wearing a body mic! Brava!

This week I also saw Next to Normal. Shout out to the band for sounding excellent (brava Mary Mitchell Campbell on the crazy sixteenth-note runs on the piano!), and I hope there's a cast recording so I can hear some of the sassy belting in the privacy of my own home. I also saw my friend Jason Little at the Zipper Theater (his alter ego is called Tits Fisher), and he was amazing. The crowd was crazy and so was I…especially when he launched into that Jodie Foster classic "My Name is Tallulah" from "Bugsy Malone." That was my generation's "High School Musical," and it stands the test of time. The brilliance of Jason's show came not only from his high-octane performance but from his eclectic song choices and how they would segue within songs. My favorite was when he suddenly went into the theme from Streisand's boxing movie "The Main Event" and then name-dropped the marketing catch phrase, "A Glove Story." Eww! All right, I have tons to tell you about the Legally Blonde reality show on MTV and would love to, if I hadn't gotten what amounts to a cease and desist from MTV last week. Essentially, I can't reveal anything until the episodes start airing, so my trap is now officially shut. This week is Celebrity Autobiography, rehearsal for the Rosie Cruise, the MTV Legally Blonde show (aka cease and desist) and the finale of "Project Runway." Can't wait!

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(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel is titled "Broadway Nights.")

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