ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: You There in the Front Row

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: You There in the Front Row Whew! I'm exhausted from running the marathon.
Front-row Ritz audience members.
Front-row Ritz audience members.

Actually, the first part of that sentence is correct, but there's no factual basis for the second part. I was just to embarrassed to write that I have the nerve to be exhausted when we've all been given the gift of a Daylight Savings Time extra hour. I do have the right to be a little tired. My boyfriend James had to go to Houston, so I've been taking care of his daughter, Juli. But, essentially, she's in school til 3 PM, then she has afterschool programs til 6 when the babysitter picks her up, and by the time I'm home from the show, she's asleep. So, Hollywood-celebrity-style, my version of "taking care of her" is not 24 hours of parenting, but 45 minutes in the morning when I get her ready for school.

Actually, I love getting her ready in the morning because all she wants to do is sleep in and only be woken up for something fun. So, I've found the best way to get her awake is to fully lip-synch something sassy. We both get what we want: She gets a show to wake up to, and I get to play Effie. On Friday, I did the Dreamgirls fight scene that happens right before "And I Am Telling You," and she was rapt! Thursday I was blasting Neil Sedaka (whom I love!), and she asked if that was a boy or a girl. I told her that Neil is a great male singer with an amazingly high voice. The song changed and I said, "I love his voice!" She whirled around and said, in shock, "That's a boy?!?!" I guess she bought it for "Calendar Girl," but "Laughter in the Rain' was pushing it.

Last Monday I performed in a salon for BC/EFA. That's right, a salon. No, I didn't travel back in time, I went to a very swanky apartment building located on Central Park South and took the elevator to the 26th floor. The apartment was loaned to BC/EFA, and people paid cash to hang out in the gorgeous living room with a full terrace overlooking the park and see a performance every ten minutes. It was so fun! Joy Behar was there and hilarious as usual. She commented on the Bush twins being named Jenna and Barbara, as in "J and B." Paul Shaffer played and sang and told us that he got his green card when Stephen Schwartz invited him from Canada to be the pianist for Broadway's The Magic Show! Who knew? Chris Sieber was the host and said he just got back from filming "Pushing Daisies." Who is the casting director for that show? Talkin'Broadway.com? Every scene consistently features an Equity member. Chris said he's getting ready to do Shrek where he gonna play the character that's super short. I wondered how they're going to create the illusion, and he said he's doing it old school: He's going to walk on his knees! It's nice to know that technology hasn't replaced the technique I perfected in seventh grade when I would entertain my friends imitating that woman from "Poltergeist" ("Go into the light…there is peace in the light!")

I chatted up Norm Lewis, my favorite male Broadway singer. He's shirtless as King Triton in The Little Mermaid, so he had to get his body back into the shape it was when he did Wild Party on Broadway, aka, woof! He looks great! Also, I'm kvelling because he said he's halfway through with his first CD. Finally! I've always said that he should have one of those Andrea Bocelli/Josh Groban careers, without the sappy ballads. When I play the recording of him singing "We Live On Borrowed Time" by David Friedman on my SIRIUS radio show, I am always deluged with letters, more than for any other artist. I'm so excited because his CD will be a trip down memory lane for me. We first met when I cast him (non-Equity) in a production of Joseph. . . at the Candlewood Playhouse. His audition song was from Hello, Dolly! … and it was sung by Dolly. He did "Before the Parade Passes By," and he was amazing! He told me it's going on the CD. Brava! Hopefully, he won't begin it with her monologue ("Ephram…lemme go").

I also saw the gorgeous Sara Gettelfinger, who was performing with her new group The Three Graces. They have a major record deal, and they were created sort of as the female version of Il Divo. They sounded great! Sara made me laugh so hard a while ago. We were seeing a Broadway show together, and we were both outraged at one of the actors holding notes way too long. The song was supposed to be chatty, yet all we heard were whole notes, vocal placement and vibrato. Sara said that his subtext was : "Time out from the show everyone. Just so you all know…I have an amazing voice." Sara gets a brava on nailing it! Tuesday I interviewed the brilliant composer/lyricist Maury Yeston for my SIRIUS radio show. First of all, I was shocked that he went to Yeshiva! Who knew he was Jewish? I guess "Maury" should have been a tip-off, but the Yeston always through me. He said that his grandparents' last name was Yes, and they emigrated through England. The English knew that they would get whiplash from constantly swerving their heads every time someone said "Yes," so they added an English suffix (i.e. Wellington, Harrington etc.)

He was a Professor at Yale, and some of his students are now part of what's called "The Yale Mafia". David Loud (who left mid-term to be in Merrily We Roll Along), Scott Frankel (composer of Grey Gardens) and Ted Sperling, (Tony Award winner for orchestrating The Light in the Piazza).

In the beginning of the eighties, Maury had written a musical version of one of his favorite Fellini movies "8 1/2" and, because he added music, upped the number in the title to Nine. He did a reading at Yale but didn't have the rights to the film. Someone who saw it loved it and thought Fellini should give Maury the rights, so she wrote Fellini a letter. That someone was Katharine Hepburn! I love that she had his address (Fellini, Villa #5, Italy).

Maury won an award that gave him money to do it Off-Broadway, and someone who knew Tommy Tune gave Tommy a copy of the show. Tommy called Maury and said that he should give back the award money. "What?" said Maury, "The Simpsons"-style. Tommy felt the show shouldn't play Off-Broadway, but should go right to Broadway!

During auditions, Maury said that all the women had such a European look/attitude, but all the guys had a "I just got back from dinner theatre in Indiana" look. They couldn't find any men who were right for the show (besides the lead, Raul Julia). Tommy asked Maury if he could write out all the male roles except for the lead, and Maury loved the idea! First of all, it made Raul seem much more like a powerful movie director because he was the only man on that stage, and secondly, Maury loved the vocal stuff he could do with so many women. That's how he decided to have them all sing the overture. I asked about the song "A Call From The Vatican" where one of Guido's girlfriends calls him and says very suggestive things and Maury said that people think that he invented phone sex! Hmm…I've never had phone sex where the person on the other end hits a high C. Then again, Beverly Sills never returned my phone calls.

After Nine won the Tony Award for Best Musical, a producer suggested that Maury do a musical version of The Phantom of the Opera. He completed it, and it was headed for Broadway. Then there was a little announcement in the paper saying that Andrew Lloyd Webber was considering doing a musical about The Phantom. Maury said that even though it wasn't definite, just a possibility, all the funding dried up immediately. People knew that Lloyd Webber's show would be a hit in London (if it happened) and then come to Broadway (PS, where it's now the longest-running show). So, Maury's show lives on regionally and in Europe (it's now at the Westchester Broadway Theater).

Tommy Tune called him in the late eighties and said that Grand Hotel (a musical composed by Wright/Forrest, who wrote Kismet) had opened in Boston, and the review said, "They might have saved My One and Only, but they can't save this one. Tommy asked Maury to come and help. Maury went out to eat with Wright and Forrest and said that he was mortified to be there because he knew that it was every composer's nightmare. Turns out, Wright and Forrest couldn't have been more gracious and said that they wanted him to help because they wouldn't dream of putting all these people out of work. They just wanted credit given for whatever song they wrote and vice versa. Maury realized that Wright/Forrest wrote a very old-school linear show, and Tommy was doing a non-linear/no-set show that needed a different type of music. Maury wrote an opening number (there wasn't one when the show started in Boston!) and many other songs, and Grand Hotel wound up being nominated for many Tony Awards (including Best Musical and Score). It also wound up running for more than 1,000 performances. Take that, Boston critic! Unfortunately, it also gave us that commercial where we found out that woman's husband "worked in the area." Anybody?

I brought up the brilliant performance by David Carroll, who played the Baron. I was so blown away by his performance and was so frustrated that he didn't sing the Baron on the CD. Turns out, Wright/Forrest were holding out on allowing a CD because they wanted a recording of the show they originally wrote, and not the Broadway version(!). So, it took a long time for them to come around and agree to a CD with a combo of Forrest/Wright and Yeston music. Well, by that point, David Carroll was very sick with AIDS, but the powers that be were going to record him singing to just a piano track and then add the orchestra later. David apparently was much sicker than anyone thought because he arrived at the studio, told everyone he needed to go to the bathroom, and died while he was in there. The beautiful part is that there's an added track at the end of the CD, which is David singing "Love Can't Happen" during his cabaret act at Steve McGraw's. The ending of that song is one of the most thrilling moments I remember experiencing in the theatre. He got the end of the song and sang, "When love comes, you'll know…" on an E flat. I remember thinking, "Surely, he's not going to go any higher," and then he sang "And… I… kno-o-o-o-o-o-ow!" on an A flat, and I almost fell out of my seat. It was unbelievable. And, even though he had to physically climb all around the set because his character was also a thief, he said that hitting that last note was the hardest thing he ever had to do onstage. You must listen to it and hear that man's voice!

This week during a performance of The Ritz, shockingly, I started laughing onstage yet again. But this time, I will not take the blame for it! I blame All Hallows Eve. Two guys showed up to see The Ritz and thought that it was a Broadway tradition to dress up in the audience. It isn't. They were the only ones in costume, and they were dressed as bacon and eggs. They looked adorable, but they were sitting in the front row! How can I pretend to be scared of Carmine Vespucci brandishing a gun when I see a delicious breakfast order inches away. And, it was even more bizarre because they weren't commenting on their costumes…they were just sitting there watching the show. An enormous fried egg and a side of bacon with Playbills in their laps. Normally, at the end of Act One, Rosie Perez shakes hands with someone in the front row, and during intermission we told her that we loved that she shook the hands of the bacon. She was shocked when we told her that he was bacon. She assumed he was a Rabbi! She thought the strips were his tallis. I politely informed her that there's a big difference between a Rabbi and bacon.

Here's some exciting news: Since my novel, "Broadway Nights," was just published, I've decided to do a book release party/show/Actors Fund benefit. I'm gonna read some chapters as the lead character and have some actors join me to be the other characters. I'm so excited that I got my comedy idol, Andrea Martin, to play the crazy governess! Plus, there's a whole chapter about the lead seeing Annie, and which makes him decide to ixnay opera for musical theatre, so I'm gonna cap that off by having Annie sing! That's right, I booked Shelly Bruce! Just kidding, Annie fanatics, I got Andrea McArdle! It's gonna be on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 7 PM at the Ars Nova.

Oh, yeah, speaking of "Broadway Nights," of course I keep obsessively checking to see my Amazon reviews. They've been going amazingly…every customer reviewer gave me five stars! until….I checked last night and saw that I got two stars (!) from a woman who flat out admitted to just skimming it! I was devastated! It pulled my whole ranking down. I decided to investigate and see what other books she's reviewed. Suffice it to say, she gave five stars to a book about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome because she's had it for 15 years…and she's also 82! An 82- year-old with chronic fatigue? I wasn't aiming for that demographic! All right, I'm excited because this is a Joe's Pub week. I'm going Monday night (the 5th) to see the sweet-voiced and hilarious Andrea Burns (In the Heights) celebrate her newly released CD ("A Darker Shade of Red"), and then next Sunday I'm seeing another Diva whose hair is a lighter shade of red: Miss Coco. If you don't know who that is, get thee to YouTube and/or rent "Girls Will Be Girls." She's hysterical! Oh, and you can still use my Ritz discount code (RISETH) to get 30% off tickets at www.roundabouttheatre.org. If you come to the show, please leave your breakfast at home!