Hello from a 6:25 AM flight from LAX to JFK. I did Deconstructing Broadway at Largo last night and it was so much fun. I’m leaving super early because I want to spend time today in NYC, since I only have a week left until I leave for London to start rehearsals for Disaster! . This week I had the amazing Chita Rivera on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. She is gearing up to do her own show at Carnegie Hall. Her debut! She feels she is finally “ready.” She told me she felt like that way about Spider Woman. If she had been handed that role ten years earlier, she said it wouldn’t have felt right. But when she got cast, it felt like the perfect time. Here is a great special all about opening night with fantastic clips.
You may not know, but originally the titular Spider Woman was the great belter Lauren Mitchell. The show was first done at Purchase, a university near NYC but far enough away to be out of the limelight. The purpose of an out-of-town tryout is to perfect the show before the New York critics see it, and the Spider Woman people wanted to have the benefits of an out-of-town tryout without incurring the great expenses of taking a cast on the road. Harold Prince had asked the press not to come to the show, but they came anyway and gave it mixed to bad reviews. I remember talking to John Kander, and he told me it was like your beloved pet suddenly being hit by a car. And then he clarified that it was like your pet being hit by a car when you didn’t even know your pet was in the street! The producer Garth Drabinsky decided to do the production in Toronto before NYC, and the role of the Spider Woman was rethought. Chita was, of course, great friends with Kander and Ebb, and she told them she knew the perfect person to play the spider woman…herself! Actually, not at all. Instead of pitching herself, she took them to a downtown theatre to see an Off-Broadway sensation who Chita thought would be amazing in the role. Thankfully, the Spider Woman turned into a major dance role, and Chita’s discovery didn’t have the dance chops. P.S. The show she took them to was Song of Singapore, and the actor she recommended for the role was future two-time Tony Award winner Donny Murphy. Interestingly, years later, when Chita was getting her Kennedy Center honor, the title song from Kiss of the Spider Woman was sung to her by Donna Murphy!
Chita will be hauling out all of her amazingness at Carnegie Hall…and she’s being joined by amazing performers like the current Hamilton Javier Muñoz and multi-talented Andy Karl! Get your tickets here.
I told Chita that when I was growing up, there was no YouTube, so I couldn’t obsess about her dancing. Instead, there were record players and I obsessed about her singing. She’s always been one of my absolute favorites. Watch my deconstruction on how amazing she is on this song:
I also had R&B sensation Sarah Dash on the show, who was one of the original members of the three member group “LaBelle”…as in Patti LaBelle. I asked her about one of my favorite songs “Lady Marmalade.” She said that the song was pitched to them by co-writer Bob Crewe…as in Bob Crewe from the Four Seasons. All the ladies were on their way to record an album with Allen Toussaint in New Orleans, and the song was perfect because it takes place in New Orleans and features lyrics in Creole (“Git ya Git ya ya ya da da”). I mentioned the remake from the film Moulin Rouge and Sarah nodded and politely noted, “Yes…it took four of them, right?” Werk!
Here is LaBelle singing it LIVE on Soul Train.
Sarah is doing a solo show this Tuesday at Iridium. Git ya git ya tickets here.
I also had so-called “insult comic” Lisa Lampanelli on Seth Speaks. Right now, she’s one of the four woman starring in a play she wrote called Stuffed, which deals with eating issues in a hilarious manner. There’s an overeater, an anorexic, a woman who can’t gain weight, and an overweight woman who loves her body (Ann Harada, who is too skinny for the gig, but fabulous). So many great moments in it but I’m a sucker for over-the-top cursing when it comes out of nowhere and I loved the last line of the show: After all four ladies spent the last 90 minutes opening up the hearts and bonding, Lisa looks around and says, “Well, I don’t know about you three c***faces, but I could s*** a d*** for a cupcake!” Blackout.
I loved it! The show just got extended and you can get tix here.
In terms of being an “insult comic,” one of my favorite jokes of hers was during a roast of Jerry Lewis she hosted. Of course, the jokes were on the mean side, and Lisa looked at Jerry comfortingly and told him “Don’t worry. It’ll be over soon.” Then added, “I don’t mean the roast.” Hi-lar!
Last Monday was super exciting for me: Cynthia Erivo was asked to do “Battle Hymn of The Republic” at Hillary Clinton’s birthday party. We closed the Broadway for Hillary event with my arrangement of the Whitney Houston version of that song, and I was asked again to get a choir together and play piano for this party. Before the party, we hobnobbed with stars like Michael Kors of Project Runway fame (“That dress looks like mother-of-the-bride”) and Billie Jean King, who saw me once in Provincetown and immediately asked me “Haven’t we met before!” Wow! Guess who does not have face blindness. I was impressed!
James, Juli, and I got to meet Hillary (!), and Hillary totally knew who we were (!!!) because we had sung “What the World Needs Now” at the DNC. We asked her if she knew about the original “Broadway For Orlando” video and she nodded and told us she did and that she had first seen it on YouTube. Actually, what she said was “Yes! I first saw it on Youtube.” Emphasis on the second syllable. Twice. I was obsessed that she doesn’t really know the pronunciation of that word, probably because it’s “what the kids watch.” It totally reminds me of Faith Prince on the CD of Falsettoland (which takes place in the early ’80s) when she doesn’t want her son listening to a private conversation. She tells him “Jason, put your walkerman on and hum.” Obsessed! Watch:
Hillary gave an amazing speech where she talked about what she wants to do if she’s elected. One of the things that really resonated with me was giving people hope for the future. The room was filled with high donors and high achievers, and she told us, “Yes, we’ve all worked hard to get where we are,” but she reminded us that we did it because we knew it would lead to something good. We knew something better awaited us. She told us that there are a great many Americans who don’t believe there is anything good out there for them. They think their lives can never get better. And she believes it’s our responsibility to help them. If you want to be devastated but also see what that’s like, read the brilliant book Random Family.
Writer Adrian Nicole LeBlanc spent around ten years researching and basically living with families in the Bronx and you can’t believe there are communities like this so close to us in NYC; almost every girl was sexually abused, some as young as babies…the goal of many girls is to get pregnant as young as possible so they can have something that loves them, anytime anyone gets money it’s spent immediately, and a major and viable career choice is dealing drugs. It’s so devastating. But this kind of thing happens because there’s a very limited world view and no one is showing these communities the possibilities that are available. I was so inspired listening to Hillary because she gets it, and it really got me excited for the future of America. Please vote. And if you can, vote early! So many states have early voting right now!
In terms of the show that night, of course, Cynthia sounded amazing and right after her was one of my all-time favorite singers ever…Stevie Wonder. He sang so many of his hits…in the original key. Which is basically a woman’s key. His voice is so crazily high! He asked the men to sing along with a phrase from “You Are the Sunshine of my Life,” and it was such a set-up to feel horrible about yourself because the notes were so beyond the range of a normal man. I tried it once and immediately felt the beginning of severe vocal damage. Here’s James Corden singing along with Stevie and you can hear how effing high it is. On that note, watch a little Stevie and peace out!