Well, we just did our fifth Concert For America and we have less than a month until our sixth one! Exhausting, but yay!
Yes, the L.A. concert was May 24 and the San Francisco concert (at the Curran) is June 24. I’m very excited that the cast (so far) includes Alan Cumming, Jane Lynch, Kate Flannery, Kevin Chamberlin, and Faith Prince! With many more to come. Tickets at ConcertsForAmerica.com.
Speaking of Faith, here she is talking about being cast as the original Audrey in Little Shop Of Horrors and then having to turn it down. Oy! It ends with us singing “Suddenly Seymor,” the song she almost originated:
OK…here is last week’s recap. I began the week in Chicago doing two concerts with Audra McDonald and Will Swenson at Steppenwolf. Will is playing Earl in Waitress and he told me he was freaked out at first because he’s a super Sara Bareilles fan. He kept trying to act like he wasn’t a superfan, but that made him act crazier. If you don’t know, Sara has a song called “Basket Case” and one day early in rehearsal, Sara asked Will how he was coping with learning the whole show. He responded that “it’s so much to learn so quickly that it’s turning me into a total basket- (uh-oh!…she’s going to think I’m referencing her…but I’m not… but I can’t explain that because it would make me sound crazier…AH! Must finish phrase…) ...(sotto voce) -case.” Anyhoo…he’s playing the bad guy but he’s loving it.
During the concert, I asked Audra about her early days at Juilliard and she ‘fessed up that when she got to New York, she still spoke the way she spoke in Fresno (where she grew up). And, she was very, very friendly to everybody. Apparently, her big smile, non-stop peppiness and her relentless California accent (which also included making every sentence sound like a question) earned her a nickname. No, not “Diva.” Her nickname was… “Muffy.” That’s right! From now on, whenever you see her at the stage door, be sure to address her as Muffy. I’m sure she’ll love it.
I asked Audra when Manhattan began to rub off on her and she told me that she visited back home after she had been at Juilliard for a while. She and her Dad were doing some shopping and suddenly he asked her, exasperated, “Why are you walking so fast?” That’s when she knew she had become a New Yorker!
After our Chicago concert, I headed to L.A. for Concert For America. I met my six back-up singers at the Rockwell, which is a great cabaret space run by my New York belter friend, Kate Pazakis. They all learned tons of harmony in two-and-a-half hours and were ready to go for the next day. Brava! James and I got to Royce Hall around 12:30 on the day of the show, sound-checked the band with our two co-producers, Joey Monday and Frankie Dailey, and started to tech everyone’s number. I asked Melissa Manchester to sing the song that was her first hit: “Midnight Blue.” I thought the words could inspire those who are feeling hopeless: “And I think we can make it…one more time…if we try.” She came onstage at rehearsal to sing and offered to play a little piano to show me the feel. I immediately told her she needed to accompany herself on the entire song! It was so cool to have the actual composer play for herself. Man, that song is so incredibly beautiful. While she was sound checking, I did a Facebook Live video…watch!
That night, we opened with “What The World Needs Now Is Love” with the entire concert’s cast (see fabulous photo) and then went into “Magic to Do” sung by Ben Vereen… in the original key!
During rehearsal, he was hauling out some Fosse moves and Lisa Mordente (Chita Rivera’s daughter and our director) told Ben he’s one of the best Fosse dancers. He replied that her mom is also one of the best. I couldn’t believe we had two original Fosse dancers in our show. Not people who learned the style of Fosse, I mean people who were choreographed and directed literally by Bob Fosse! AH!
Speaking of originals, Helen Reddy came out and sang “I Am Woman” and brilliantly sounded the same way she did in the ’70s! Unbelievable! Look at this wonderful shot of Helen and Chita backstage:
Other highlights included Juana Torres from the Sierra Club talking about how, after much work, the San Gabriel mountains in L.A. were finally declared a national monument by Obama. Well, she then told us that they are “up for review.” That means that they might be drilled, destroyed, or fracked. How is that possible you may ask? Well, this administration has issued an executive order declaring that 20 years of national monuments are “up for review.” I thought maybe this is something that happens once in a while. No. It is completely unprecedented.
The whole point of national monument status is when something is declared a national monument, it means that it’s always a national monument. Never, in the history of the United States, has anything like this happened. If you want to have your voice heard saying that these monuments should continue to be protected, which is literally what being a national monument means, please CLICK HERE. It takes two minutes!
Other highlights included TWO songs from Hairspray with original cast members. Marissa Jaret Winokor did the fabulous opener “Good Morning Baltimore” and Mary Bond Davis, the original Motor Mouth, was joined by the original Amber, Laura Bell Bundy, and MadTV’s Paul Vogt, as Edna, to bring down the house with “Big Blond and Beautiful.” When Laura realized the bulk of her performance would be “Go! Away! This isn’t Negro Day!” she asked me offstage, “You brought me here just to be a racist!” As she exited the stage after the song, she told the audience “Well, there always has to be a villain.” True ‘dat! Watch!
OK, peeps more details next week. Until then, peace out!!!!
Flip through photos from the concert below: