Then there was the Canadian contingent—Letterman band-leader Paul Shaffer, Tony-winner Andrea Martin and character comic Eugene Levy, all of whom had known Short since 1972 when they were all tadpole disciples together in the Toronto company of Godspell .
These were enough to send Jiminy Glick over the moon with giddy anticipation. Who, of this distinguished assemblage, would the clueless celebrity interrogator drag on stage and subject to his own highly eccentric line of nonsensical pneumatic drilling (“If Lincoln were alive today, would he be pleased with his tunnel?” or, perchance, “Where were you when the Queen had Diana killed?”). The whole house was fraught with knotted dread.
And there were back-up red herrings by the bushelful, likewise twitching nervously till a victim could be determined for glib Mr. Glick: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Kurt Russell, Bernadette Peters (Short’s Goodbye Girl), Alec Baldwin, Lily Rabe, Michael McGrath (Short’s talk-show sidekick and Little Me understudy, enjoying “Patsy’s Night Off” from Spamalot), Rita Wilson (not enjoying her night off from Chicago when her gown snap broke on entering the theatre—“first time I’ve worn it!”), Lauren Bacall, Phyllis Newman, Legally Blonde director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell with his dance partner from Michael Bennett days, Jodi Muccio, CBS’s Harry Smith dressing up the press-receiving line, Michael Feinstein (who actually volunteered for the Glick once-over), Matthew Morrison of Hairspray and The Light in the Piazza, Christine Ebersole who’s bound for the Broadway Grey Gardens Nov. 2 and Craig Bierko.
I won’t prolong the suspense: Seinfeld was the audience sacrifice, plucked from his aisle seat and escorted to the stage. He took it like an Everyman, with a jaunty surrender that didn’t rule out a few jabs of his own, but mostly he wryly let the tacky questions roll by.
“So when did your series get canceled?” asked Glick with an airy abandon Dame Edna might have admired. Seinfeld grinned and said he was a family man now and moved to a different drummer. “I’ve tried to relax and go to shows, but it hasn’t worked out.” Fast, funny, frenetic, one perpetual bounce off the rubber-room walls, Glick may well be Short’s most inspired comic creation (I prefer the one he took no screen credit for at all: Kevin Bacon’s coked-out-of-his-gord, Hollywood power agent in "The Big Picture" of 1989)—but both are done in double-ditz italics. Short is the comedy world’s fast ball, and he seems to be in there pitching constantly in this show of his own design. Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me purports to be the story of his life, or at least the “Hard Copy” rendition. Daniel Goldfarb shares book credit, with additional material by Alan Zweibel, who wrote Bunny Bunny and 700 Sundays—oh, and it’s an original musical, too (the second Broadway score from composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman).
Counting his Tony-nominated turn in The Goodbye Girl and his Tony-winning turn in Little Me, this is Short’s third Broadway outing. “Fourth!,” he was fast to correct soon after he arrived at Tavern on the Green for some glad-handing R&R. “I count Encores!’”
As well he should. In 1997, for five performances (March 20-23), he headed up a superb revival of Promises, Promises that should have run, not walked, directly to Broadway. Kerry O’Malley, Terrence Mann, Eugene Levy, Samuel E. Wright, Dick Latessa, Joe Grifasi and the brilliantly brittle Christine Baranski were in fine form as well. But his kids were in school in Los Angeles at the time, and that effectively scuttled the transfer.
Which just goes to show you the kind of pinhead we’re dealing with here—the kind who puts home and hearth ahead of fame and glory. "The Happiest Millionaire" has been done as a musical, and not very excitingly, so Short & Co. have opted to round off his four-square corners with flamboyant frictions (i.e., lie). By any other name, Fame Becomes Me is Tall Tales of a Short Life, and it ticks off in take-offs of previous one-person shows (Crystal’s, Dame Edna’s, Elaine Stritch’s—Tony winners all, by the way, so he’s ribbing the best of the breed).
The format is a throwback to the anything-goes scatter-gun sketches practiced in the comedy colleges where Short learned his stuff—”SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live”—and even some of his old ghosts created in those early days prance and shuffle by on stage here (Ed Grimley, the pointy-haired nerd, and Irving Cohen, the crusty old songsmith).
“It’s easier not to be a writer,” Short can now admit. “Before, if something wasn’t working, you could go to Angus’ and have a beer and say, ‘Oh, God! I hope they figure it out.’ You can’t do that when you’re one of the writers. You have to figure it out.”
One of the things he figured out was to cut the intermission—never mind the much-needed breather it would give him doing this incredible comic marathon. “We did a workshop last November, and it was always ‘Should it be one act or two?’ We started out with two acts, but most of us thought it should be one act, and that’s what it eventually became.”
So when does he get a chance to rest? One moment is while he is being padded up for his roly-poly Glick backstage and the supporting cast of his “one-man show” is running around the theatre singing and soliciting (“Would Ya Like to Star in Our Show?”). “I drink my Gatorade, and I sit there. When I do changes, I just sorta Zen out.”
He downplayed the obviously physical demands of the show, but it is a pretty conspicuous workout any way you look at it. One producer said it was especially difficult for him during the recent heat crisis when it was 89 degrees backstage—but he trouped on.
“Eight shows a week, and he’s 56,” Zweibel said, turning the possibilities over in his head, then managed a morose smile. “We’ll see.” Cavalier black-comedy, a specialty.
He also enjoys working with friends. “I had as much fun with this as I’ve had with anything,” he admitted. “It’s fun when it’s people you like. It’s chemistry. It’s social.”
A supporting cast of five (counting Shaiman at the piano) precedes Short on stage singing the virtues of one-person shows. During the course of the show, each gets a spot to shine.
Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker serve up a host of jokey impersonations in their Broadway debuts— Ellen DeGeneres, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Britney Spears, Celine Dion—but, arguably, their wickedest is done in tandem: Birdsong gives Jodie Foster the voice of sheer slate, and Parker gives Renee Zellweger a distorted smirk.
“A lot of the characters we did just came about haphazardly," chirped Birdsong. "Like, ‘we need somebody to play off of Renee here.’ It was going to be Salma Hayek for a second. I’d never done Salma Hayek so I said, ‘Oh, we can drum up something for this.’ You throw it up there, and you see what sticks. We knew we wanted to do Renee presenting this award and we needed somebody to be at her side so I said, ‘Let’s try this,’ and it just came alive, in a fun way. Marty sets the tone. The tone is irreverent, and anything is game. Nobody’s off limits. No subjects are off limit. It just makes everything easy because we can all relax.
“Joan Rivers was not originally in the script. So much of the bits and the character stuff were written for Nicole and me, were written for Brooks Ashmanskas around his talents. He’s an amazing tap dancer so they wanted to do something that way. And I feel that’s such a rarity in this day and age. I think it’s an unusual show for Broadway, and I think it will appeal to a lot of people who don’t think they necessarily like musical theatre. It’s fun to do shows like this and know you’re attracting a whole new group of people to the theatre. My little sister is a total convert. She’s like a rock ‘n’ roll metal head, and she now goes to the theatre all the time just from having had this particular exposure.”
Capathia Jenkins is a sparingly, and smartly, used member of the ensemble: “I sing the opening number with the rest the cast. I do the nurse scene with Jiminy Glick. And then I stop the show.” Simple as one two three. Three is a gospel-flavored roof-raiser called “Stop the Show,” in which she socks across one particular line of choice Wittman wit: “something that Stephen Sondheim doesn’t know: Let the big black lady stop the show.”
Yes, she has heard from The Sisterhood: “I got a great fruit basket from Felicia Fields , who plays Sofia in The Color Purple. She told me, ‘Knock ‘em dead. Go get ‘em.’”
Jenkins also sang the praises of her peerless leader. “Martin Short is incredible. He is so generous and kind. He gives me the 11 o’clock number. Now, that's generous.”
Ashmanskas insisted fun is happening on both sides of the footlights. “He’s a wild man. It keeps you on your toes and in the moment. Well, you have to be in the moment to make it funny. You have to be, somewhat, honest. This is, literally, the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Director-lyricist Wittman departs Sunday for Toronto for the filming of his and Shaiman’s first Broadway musical, Hairspray. The next day, in New York, begins a workshop on their third Broadway musical, Catch Me If You Can, based on the Steven Spielberg thriller. Jack O’Brien will direct, and Jerry Mitchell will choreograph. Nathan Lane will have the Tom Hanks role. “We’ve written a lot of new Hairspray songs,” said Shaiman, “but I think three will wind up being in the movie. It’s just like the play. You write a lot of things, and you realize, ‘No, that’s not quite right,’ or ‘Oh, we didn’t quite need that.’ The usual spots you’d imagine. We gave Link a more energetic rock and roll number. In the original movie it was a kind of iconic moment where they all did the Madison and we recreated that in the musical—but we realized we didn't need to repeat that because they did it so great in the movie. So we created a whole new song and kind of dance for that moment that Link sings and Tracy dances. Also, Tracy now has her own ballad.”
For the Short show, Shaiman and Wittman went with the skit-and-run flow. “That was our plan," Shaiman said. "Sometimes, Marty would say, ‘Oh, God! That’s such a great song. Write another verse.’ And I’d say, ‘No. Nothing more than 45 seconds.’ There’s only one song that goes on for three verses, and the truth is we should have cut it to two, but I won’t say what it is. There are probably 20 songs now [Marty said 18], and we probably wrote 40.”
Director Gordon Greenberg, the zesty resurrector of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, now in its sixth month at the Zipper, said he’s changing his tune—to Gilbert and Sullivan, of all surprising things, modifying that with a modern-day dash of Johnny Depp. In an adaptation he worked out with Neil Benjamin, book writer of the Broadway-bound Legally Blonde, and John McDaniel, late of Brooklyn: The Musical and “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” The Pirates of Penzance crosses concepts with "Pirates of the Caribbean."
“Neil has written a new book and lyrics; John has done new arrangements; I’m directing; Warren Carlyle is choreographing, and Rick Sordelet is doing the fights. It’s all silly and buoyant and full of fantastic sword-fighting. We’ll open at Goodspeed this fall—first preview is Oct. 5, and it will run through Christmas—then we go to the Paper Mill in the spring.” The cast: Farah Alvin (Mabel), Ed Dixon (The Major General), Joanna Glushak, who followed Bernadette Peters into Sunday in the Park with George (Ruth), Andrew Varela (The Pirate King) and Jason Snow (Frederick).
Meanwhile back at the Zipper, said Greenberg, things couldn’t be more Francophile. In fact, to celebrate (if not solidify) the Brel spell over the French community in New York, there’ll be a one-time-only performance of the show at Jean-Claude Baker’s Chez Josephine Aug. 23 at 8 PM by the regular Brel-ringers (Robert Cuccioli, Tamra Hayden, Gay Marshall and Drew Sarich). Three just renewed their contracts, but Sarich, who joined this four-sided fold when Lestat folded its wings, will flap away soon to Les Miserables. His replacement, Greenberg promised, will be announced next week.
Gary Beach is also listing toward Les Miz. He’ll assume “Master of the House” duties as Thenardier in its upcoming Broadway revival (a chore he first undertook in 1989 in the original Los Angeles company), but first he has to be pried loose from his Tony-winning role of Roger De Bris, the transvestite theatre director and, in a pinch, Garlandesque Hitler of The Producers. Richard Frankel, one of the producers of The Producers, admitted the Beach hold is weakening, one finger at a time, and Lee Roy Reams has been flagged in from the road to take over the Broadway Roger. “God is finally going to let me wear a dress on Broadway,” beamed Reams, who was less than a week away from becoming Zaza/Albin when the original La Cage aux Folles folded. “I go in on Aug. 29, and my birthday is Aug. 23, so it will be a nice birthday present. I’ve got the same day as Gene Kelly, y’know—and Marian Seldes and Charles Busch.” He is signed through the end of January. Next, director-choreographer Susan Stroman wants him for a company she's putting together for Vegas after the first of the year.
When Beach did the La Cage revival last year, Reams was on the road with Roger De Bris. And it has always both a major career disappointment that he came so close to do La Cage on Broadway. “What they were going to do was put me on for the show’s last week at the Palace, and then they were going to transfer the whole production to the Mark Hellinger. But then they posted the closing notice, and the Mark Hellinger became a church, and I was on a street corner in a boa and a pair of high heels, going ‘Hey, sailor.’”