Next week’s column’s going to be coming to you from a river in France on the Playbill cruise! (If you’ve never been, join us on the next one! Audra and Will are performing on one in 2020!) Until then, I’m with Mandy, Mateo and Bagel for just a few more days.
We leave for France on Friday, do the Playbill cruise for a week, and then we go to London for fancy meetings and for me to do Deconstructing Broadway. How did I start doing that show, you ask? Are you asking? Well, let’s say you are. If so, I would answer that I owe my show’s inspiration to a lot of people. Ever since I was a kid, I would play records for my friends and point out amazing aspects and aspects that gave me a headache. I remember standing in my dorm room at Oberlin and playing parts of The Second Barbra Streisand Album for my friend Ben to demonstrate how brilliant Barbra is. Here she is doing one of those songs live back in the ’60s!
Then, in the ’90s, I started doing stand-up comedy around NYC and would always have a section where I’d play a recording of some musical moment and comment on it. My “go-to’s” were Aretha Franklin’s version of “I Dreamed a Dream” where she adds the lyrics “What in the hell is going on?” (those lyrics were not on the original London Cast Album or the Broadway recording), Liza Minnelli’s unexpected Leontyne Price-esque high B flat in “Dancing in the Moonlight,” and Bea Arthur’s shocking spoken-word ending to “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” But they were just a soupcon in my act…only a few minutes.
In the early 2000s, Jackie Hoffman asked me to do a Hanukkah comedy show at Ars Nova and I needed something Jewish-themed, so I decided to show the audience how Barbra Streisand sings a completely different consonant in the words “apart” (changing the T to a D) and “mute” (changing the T to an L). Sometimes I would show video clips of moments I was obsessed with and I would sometimes do a segment on the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Here’s me doing some Brady Bunch at a fundraiser for marriage equality on the stage of Wicked.
I did a deconstruction during a benefit for Only Make Believe (a great charity organization run by Dena Hammerstein that brings theatre to hospitalized children) and, after the show, I was at the party and someone from Brad Oscar's family came up to me. (Nota bene: It was years ago, but I think it was his mom because I remember his sister was playing Miss Hannigan somewhere). She told me that she loved how I “deconstructed” the Brady Bunch. I thought it was hilarious to put such an academic word on what I was doing and I began calling these bits “deconstructing.” Then Tom Viola of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS asked me to a segment for Gypsy Of The Year (now called the Red Bucket Follies). I combined my signature Bea Arthur bit with the Barbra Streisand bit I had put together for Jackie Hoffman’s show and it went great.
Here it is:
After the show, I ran into Rosie O’Donnell and she told me I should do an entire show of just what I did that day. Really? All “deconstructing”? I had never thought of that. Those bits had always been the spice of my comedy show, not the actual show. But I decided to try it! I put together deconstructions of everything I wanted people to know about Broadway: amazing things like why vibrato is amazing, specifically why audiences are thrilled by the voices of Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley, why the fluidity in Billy Porter’s riffs make him so unique…as well as horrific things like why the Osmonds should have simply said “NO” to performing a medley from Fiddler on the Roof. I did it at Ars Nova around 2004 and it was a hit, which led to my first out-of-town booking in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Yes, Amish country loved the contrast between Patti LuPone’s “Rainbow High” versus Madonna’s. Since then I’ve done them all over the country (and won the IRNE award in Boston) and I’m coming back to London! I’ll be at Crazy Coqs on Monday and Tuesday April 15 and 16 and, because it’s selling so well, I just added Friday April 19! Come see me!
I asked him about his worst onstage mishap and he told me that while in Godspell his face started sweating and it made his body mic not work. Well, he was suddenly given a hand mic onstage to use and it threw him. He was about to do a parable with one of the other actresses and there was a lot of physicality he realized he’d have to change it since he was holding a mic. The weirdness of having a mic handed to him and having to think about changing some blocking combined into one panic that made him forget all of his lines. He couldn’t remember a thing. He didn’t know what to do, so …he faked his own heart attack. Seriously! He bent over onstage, started huffing and puffing and gasped (into his microphone) “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Beverly Jenkins, the stage manager, was in a glass booth above the stage and George could see her. First, he saw her extremely concerned face as she started to get up..and then he saw her realize that he was faking it and she basically sat back down with a one-eyebrow-raised “Let’s see where you take this” look. The other actress that did the parable with him would echo whatever he said so he realized she knew the lines as well! Yay! Someone could feed him his lines! He looked at her, imploring her to give him at least her first line, but instead she “helped” him by asking leading questions. “Where are you thinking of going? What are you thinking of doing there?” After that weird version of Password, he finally remembered and did the parable. But he was devastated from the whole experience.
At intermission, he told Beverly he was way too mortified to go back onstage and he wanted his understudy to finish the show. She told him “Oh, please! This has happened to everyone! Get back out there and finish the show!” which he did. After he told me the story, I pointedly reminded him that it actually doesn’t happen to everyone and he is the very first person I’ve ever of that faked a heart attack onstage. He took my note and moved on.
Joe Iconis, the composer-lyricist of Be More Chill joined George at the interview, and at the end I asked them to do a song from the show. I filmed it and, man, I was blown away from watching George. The acting and the singing was so fantastic! Watch:
James and I went down to Dallas to see the Uptown Players’ (sold-out!) production of Disaster!. It was g-r-e-a-t!
We were especially obsessed with Cara Statham Serber who played Jackie. So extremely hilarious! Amazing choices that made us laugh so hard. The show has gotten so many amazing reviews and this is the last week of their run so get thee!
The next day, I flew to New Orleans to do a (sold-out!) show with Jeremy Jordan. Of course, he sounded fantastic. I was asking him about early jobs, and he told me he worked for an organization where he would do concerts for infants and toddlers. He was given tons of material to learn each week and then do a performance for a very young audience and their parents. Well, one week he decided to go off script and add some sass for the parents. He was supposed to introduce an object and he decided to make it a guessing game: “Hey, kids! What do I have behind my back? It’s hot! It’s hard! And you lick it!” Pause. “That’s right…a lollipop!” Well, the powers-that-be were not amused by his new script work and he was summarily fired. He tried to explain that the kids didn’t know his double-entendres…it was for the parents! Hmm. I decided his verbiage was confusing. I asked him why he described an lollipop as “hot.” He admitted that, indeed, it had been a misfire. He was thinking of ice cream…and how it’s hot out when you eat it. What? Ice cream is not a lollipop and the weather does not describe an object. I decided that I wouldn’t have fired him for racy language…but, instead, for terrible prose work.
James and I went to see Andréa Burns in Smart Blonde at 59 E 59 and we can see why she got incredible reviews. It’s such a tour-de-force performance! So amazing that Rex Reed wrote that she gives a “command performance in every way”. However, James and I thought it was hilarious that he told everyone to keep an eye on “newcomer” Andréa Burns because she is “going places.” Wait, what? She’s done five Broadway shows and made her first big splash in New York when she was one of the stars of Songs For A New World. Newcomer? This is from 1995!