Disaster! is a-comin’! Yes, it’s playing all over the place and, quite frankly, I’m sick of sitting on the sidelines. My point is, I’m playing Professor Ted Scheider again in the upcoming production of Disaster! at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre! Terrence Mann is the artistic director and the show is going to start performances June 7. Get tickets here!
Jack (Plotnick) is going to direct again and some of the fabulous people doing it with me are Angie Schworer (as Jackie), with whom I did The Producers on Broadway for a lo-o-o-o-ong time, Maggie McDowell (as the nun), who first did Disaster! Off-Broadway and then was part of the original Broadway cast, and Ann L. Nathan as Shirley, to whom I first offered the role when the show was a one-day benefit for Only Make Believe back in 2011! The character of Shirley has a big tap dance in Act 2 and I knew Ann could do it because I did Thoroughly Modern Millie with her on Broadway where she was the crabby office manager who tapped up a storm. I’m so excited for her to finally play this role! Here is our Obsessed! where I show the world her multi talents and make her do them simultaneously:
Right now, I’m on my way to Toronto to do a show with the hi-larious Andrea Martin. Andrea just hosted a benefit for ASTEP, which stands for Artists Striving To End Poverty, the wonderful organization run by Broadway music director extraordinaire Mary-Mitchell Campbell. I helped her write all her intros for the guest and had the best time collaborating with her. The event took place at Feinstein’s/54 Below and here’s one of my favorites intros she did for Mean Girls’ Erika Henningsen:
“Our next performer is one of the brightest lights on Broadway. As someone who’s been in the business for a long time, I know that careers have ups and downs. But right now, Erika’s career has no where to go but up! Then down… a little up again…possibly rehab, two failed marriages, then finally…hosting at 54 Below.” Hilarious bust on herself!
This week on Seth Speaks I had Todd Purdum, the author of Something Wonderful a new book about Rodgers and Hammerstein. He did tons of research and found out great info I never knew like: two of the people up for the role of Curly in the film of Oklahoma! were James Dean and Paul Newman! And, along that same line, up for the role of Laurey was Joanne Woodward! Three of the actors being considered for Ali Hakim were Eli Wallach, Ray Bolger, and Frank Sinatra. I asked if they could all sing and he said it was assumed back then that their singing would be dubbed. What’s great is that all of the leads that wound up getting cast actually did their own singing. He told us that Ado Annie (the role at one point considered for Rosemary Clooney) was a big departure for Gloria Grahame, who was known for doing noir films. I think she is so fantastic! If you don’t know, right now Annette Benning is playing her in the film Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool.
I’m so obsessed with Hammerstein’s lyrics of “All ‘er Nothing” in terms of the relentless qualifications:
I only did the kinda thing I ‘orta (…sorta)
To you I was as faithful as can be (…for me)”
It so reminds me of the great comedienne Wendy Liebman.
When I was a secretary I ran that company! (…into the ground).
I recently took a flight and the guy next to me really wanted me! (…to shut up.)
Click here to watch Gloria Grahame with Gene Nelson.
Todd told us that on the opening night of Oklahoma!, March 31, 1943, a few chorus people gave their free tickets to three of their (then unknown) friends. Who were those unknown folks who were comp’d into the audience and got to be at the historic opening? Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Judy Holliday! I love that one year later Comden and Green were making history with On The Town.
Todd was giving me a list of all different well-respected critics who gave (now) classic shows terrible reviews, like Brooks Atkinson hating Pal Joey. And, if you don’t know, critics also hated The Sound of Music on Broadway (called “conventional” and “hackneyed”), and they hated the film version even more (“a sugarcoated lie that people seem to want to eat”). Speaking of The Sound of Music and Oklahoma!, Florence Henderson was playing Laurey on the national tour (at one point her Ado Annie was Barbara Cook). They wanted Florence to re-sign for another year of touring and she said she would—if they would let her audition for the screen version. I asked her what happened and she said (jokingly), “The role went to that bitch, Shirley Jones!” Florence not only toured with Oklahoma! she also toured as Maria in The Sound of Music and she was asked to perform on the Tony Awards! Holy cow she sounded great. Here’s my deconstruction of her amazing singing!
Back to horrific reactions from critics: They also called the score of one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s flops “perfectly ordinary.” Oh, I’m sorry. They said that about the score of The King and I! Stop already!
As we all know, “Carefully Taught” from 1949’s South Pacific is a brilliant song about how racism is passed from generation to generation. Instead of lauding it’s brilliance, The New Yorker called it “embarrassing,” The Saturday Review of Literature said it “smacks of dragged in didacticism,” and when South Pacific went on national tour and passed through Georgia, the state senate condemned “Carefully Taught” as communist propaganda. Two lessons I would appreciate people take away from this: Stop looking to critics to decide what is good and what is not, and stop dishing musical theatre as something trivial.
Sometimes musical theatre is pure entertainment, but often it’s entertaining and helps us feel, helps us heal, and helps us change our thinking. Listen to the fantastic message of this song that was so forward thinking it got condemned. (P.S. This is Billy Porter and india.arie doing a version that came out last year on Billy new album… The Soul of Richard Rodgers.)
I also had the fantastic Barrett Wilbert Weed, who’s playing Janis in Mean Girls, on Seth Speaks. I immediately confronted her on the use of her middle name. Normally, when you join Equity, if someone has your name, you have to change it. That’s why, when Billy Porter joined Equity, he had to have a different stage name. There was already a Billy Porter in Equity, so the Miss Saigon original Broadway cast Playbill has him listed as W. Ellis Porter. Finally, the other Billy Porter, who wasn’t acting anymore, left Equity (after our friend Stephan Spadaro convinced him) and Billy got his name back. However, I doubted there was another Barrett Weed so I asked what was up. Barrett said that when she signed up for a Facebook account in High School, she thought it was owned by the government (!) so you had to give your full official name. So, her profile name was Barrett Wilbert Weed. People began to know her as that, so it stayed. It’s sort of the same thing that happened to Audra. When she joined Equity, she thought you had to give your full official name. That’s why when she won her first Tony Award she was “Audra Ann McDonald.”
Barrett had the lead Off-Broadway in Heathers, but this is her first big Broadway lead role. Not surprisingly, her mom has seen it three times already. Actually, the truth is, her mom has seen it 30 times and she lives in Massachusetts! Brava Amtrak!
Here’s Barrett’s duet in Mean Girls where she and Cady Heron (played by Erika Henningsen) analyze the control Regina George (played by Tony nominee Taylor Louderman) has over the school by comparing everyone to wild animals and labeling Regina the apex predator.
And finally, if you’re on the West Coast, come see me and Chita Rivera this Thursday at The Wallis!
We have two shows that night and we’re hauling out the hits from all of her Broadway shows. I just found this clip from The Rosie O’Donnell Show where she and Chita do a medley from The Rink and it’s so fun! Peace out!