OK! In honor of the end of 2016, I’ve compiled some of my favorite moments from the last year.
FYI, looking ahead I’ve got a ton of upcoming shows, including my own show at Largo on Thursday, January 26, my show with Gavin Creel this Friday at the Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale, and an upcoming show in Scottsdale, AZ with Audra MacDonald and her husband, Will Swenson. That leads me to start my favorite moments with Will’s hilarious comment from a past column:
FAVORITE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF LACK OF TONY AWARDS
I was chatting with Will Swenson (who replaced Roger Bart for a week in Disaster! while Roger was filming Episodes), and I mentioned to him how he and Audra got married the same time James and I did and how Juli and Zoe (Audra’s daughter) are the same age. I summed up by commenting that Audra and I were extremely similar…except in the Tony Awards department. Will told me I should do what he does which is tell people “Between Audra and me, we have six Tony Awards!”
FAVORITE EXAMPLE OF LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA’S BRILLIANCE
I was at my SiriusXM radio show and was about to play a song from Hamilton. I suddenly wondered what it would be like if someone saw the title and thought it wasn’t about Alexander Hamilton, but a full musical about Margaret Hamilton. I immediately texted Lin-Manuel Miranda and told him to start writing lyrics ASAP. Within two minutes he sent me back amazing opening number lyrics!
“Alexander Hamilton… We are waiting in the wings for you.”
He changed it to:
“Margaret Freakin’ Hamilton… We are monkeys wearing wings for you!”
OK…can we first discuss how quick he is!?! Can we then marvel at how he took the word “wings” as in the wings of a stage and changed the meaning to mean wings that fly? And adds an amazing specific Wicked Witch of the West reference? Talk about a brava! I assume the next verse would focus on her signature coffee commercial from the mid-’70s. Lin, get back to me. Here’s a commercial for reference:
FAVORITE STAND-UP COMEDY MOMENTS (Linda Smith, Lisa Lampanelli, Judy Gold)
Juli has started taking a stand-up comedy class and loves it! It’s being taught by my friend Linda Smith who is an amazing stand-up. We met when we were both comedy writers on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. I was watching some of her stuff on YouTube and laughing so hard. She talks about being Italian and getting big hair over the summer. She said the humidity can change it overnight. She’ll go to bed with her hair looking good and, suddenly, in the morning, it’s enormous. She then says, “The same thing happens with my ass. I go to bed and it’s normal. Wake up…it’s huge!” She adds “…pretty sure it’s the humidity.” You can make it to her next show! Register here.
Lisa Lampanelli completely surprised me by telling me that she stopped cursing. Really! She had a total foul mouth in her day, but her dad always wanted her to act more lady-like and never liked when she used bad words. He passed away a few years ago and, in honor of him, she hasn’t cursed since then. This part of the interview sounds totally dark but it was hilarious:
Me: You know, James never likes it when I curse. Maybe I’ll stop, too!
Lisa: And maybe James will die!
When Billy Porter left Kinky Boots, Max Crumm put up a ludicrous Facebook comment proudly announcing he would be taking over the role of Lola. P.S. If you don’t know, Max is not black. Well, Judy Gold saw the announcement and thought it was real! She wrote him the most supportive letter ever telling him what an amazing time this is for him that he needed to “take it all in.” He wrote her a sweet email thanking her for being so kind but that he had posted the status update as a joke. She simply wrote back, “F--- you, C---.” And there you have it.
FAVORITE EARLY ENTRANCE STORY
Jennifer Simard and I were talking about doing a show and making a wrong entrance, so she told me about her time in Sister Act. The big climax of the show happens when the villain came out brandishing a gun. He confronts Patina Miller (the Whoopi Goldberg part) and Victoria Clark who played Mother Superior. After they triumph over him, all the nuns run out and celebrate. Well, during previews, Jennifer was backstage waiting for her cue and she saw a nun go onstage. She panicked that she was late for the “all the nuns running out” cue and frantically entered, center stage. Well, the “nun” she saw run out was actually Victoria Clark. But by the time she realized it, it was too late. Jennifer was forced to stand onstage during the whole final confrontation scene. She committed to “looking tough” while the Mother Superior and Patina won the fight with the villain. In other words, there were three leading characters onstage…and a random nun. Did the audience know why she was standing there? No. Did they even know who she was? No. As a matter of fact, her character name in the show was not even a name. It was “Female 11”…. or as she was known in the script “F11.” The performance this happened was one of the very important nights when the critics are there reviewing the show. She was terrified Jerry Zaks, the director, saw her bizarre entrance and was going to fire her. Thankfully, right after the show, she ran into someone from the creative team who told her that Jerry happened to go outside right before her bizarre entrance. Phew! “F11” kept her gig…and is now living comfortable on my computer keyboard as a function button.
FAVORITE FILM AUDITION STORY
In the ’80s, the hilarious film Airplane was written which parodied the Airport films, but the creators couldn’t have a nun playing the guitar and singing because it was too much like the real Airport films. They decided the stewardess would borrow a guitar from the nun and sing instead. Lorna Lembeck’s agents called her for the film audition so she rushed to the studio and when she got there, they asked her if she could sing. Well, she could…but they had no pianists available to play for he. BUT, she happened to have a tape of accompaniment from her voice lesson with her. BUT, there was no tape deck on which to play it. So, she took Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers (all of whom wrote and directed the film) into the parking lot. No, not to rob them at gunpoint. Instead, the three guys got into the backseat of her car (!), she put her tape into the car’s cassette player and sang for them…and got the part! And she sounds amazing in the film! What a voice! P.S. It’s the scene where she sings to Jill Whelan, who the played the sick little girl. I interviewed Jill last year and she told me her audition for the film was to simply “make a funny face.” And boy, that face is highlighted in this scene!
Attention southern Californians: Get thee to Temple Isaiah where she’s now an associate cantor. L’Chaim belting!
FAVORITE KRISTIN CHENOWETH SASS
We were talking about her pageant days when she was in a desperate bid to win Miss America. First, of course, you have to win the state title. Well, she didn’t win Miss Oklahoma, so she literally moved to Pennsylvania for a second chance. And… lost again. Talk about a lateral move! However, doing those pageants taught her to deal with passive/aggressive sabotage. She recalled that at one pageant, when she picked up swimsuit up in the girls dressing room, she saw it had been ripped! And, she pointed out, it wasn’t ripped on a seam where it could have possibly happened naturally, it was literally cut. She defiantly held it up and announced to the other ladies, “Thank you to whoever cut my swimsuit. I actually brought another that I like better!” She also “fondly” recalled a fellow contestant looking her up and down backstage and asking, “Did you gain weight?” Kristin immediately replied, “They told me to.” BRAVA!
I’ll leave ya with this clip from the 2002 Actors Fund concert I produced and conducted. It’s Jason Danieley (sounding amazing!) and Kristin Chenoweth as the pregnant Fanny Brice…joined by some wonderful actors in drag. WATCH!