As of June 19, Off-Broadway's long-running Grandma Sylvia's Funeral was still scheduled to close June 20, barring a last-minute miracle -- and a dash of spice. Spokesperson Beck Lee is currently in London trying to convince Geri Halliwell -- formerly known as Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls -- to come to NY and play Dori Gussman, Grandma's nymphomaniacal granddaughter.
Reached late in the day June 19, a spokesperson from producer Dana Matthow's office told Playbill On-Line the fate of Grandma Sylvia was being decided hour-to-hour, and Monday morning would tell the final story.
Lee had told Playbill On-Line (June 15), "We want to entice the Spice. Honestly, we do have a spot for her that would be very funny, if she'd be willing to try it. In all our stunt casting, we've exploited the very specific attributes of the performer and incorporated them, believably, into the character. I've spoken with Geri Halliwell's executive assistant to see if there's any way to make it happen. If it doesn't, barring any eleventh-hour miracles, we'll close on Saturday. We have a lot of group advances in September, but summer is like a chasm, with a significant drop-off of sales after Father's Day. And it's unlikely the producer, Dana Matthow, can scale that chasm."
That said, Lee notes the show could also take the summer off and then come back in the fall. "We're hoping to avoid burying Grandma permanently."
Since May 29, former Miss America Lee Meriwether has been a cast member of the campy Off-Broadway hit. She's been play Elsie, a messy but benevolent alcoholic. Meriwether, of "Barnaby Jones" TV fame, had been mulling the role for months but couldn't jump in because she was on tour with her husband in Neil Simon's Plaza Suite. Jaid Barrymore, actress Drew's mom, currently plays Natalie. Glenn Wein, the original co-creator and director, plays the Gary Grossman character.
There have been regional stagings of Sylvia in Philadelphia and Florida, but currently the show is only playing in New York, according to spokesperson Lee. The producers are contemplating a production in Jerusalem, Israel, however; and the Samuel French edition of the play is being published imminently.
Grandma Sylvia's Funeralcelebrated its third anniversary at the Playhouse on Vandam (now called Soho Playhouse) Oct. 4, 1997. The show had advertised "Final Weeks" for a while last summer, but then business picked up and the Funeral continued on. In the interactive comedy, members of the audience take part in what purports to be a real New York Jewish funeral, complete with wacky family members, food, dancing and luxuriant weeping.
Producer Matthow (Walter Matthau's nephew) took a long-term lease on the space, and instead of doing the usual eight-shows-a-week, started with three shows and built up from there. "I think it's important to control the supply of tickets at the beginning of a show's run," Matthow explained. "Mass-market advertising, which is needed to fill seats early on, is so expensive, the risks are sometimes too much to bear. I wanted to give myself as much time as possible."
The show bears similarities to its still-running predecessor, Tony `n Tina's Wedding, but also tries to be darker. To that end, co-creator and director Wein made sure that most of Grandma Sylvia's Funeral was scripted rather than improvised. The show was conceived by Wein and Amy Lord Blumsack.
For tickets and information on Grandma Sylvia's Funeral at the Soho Playhouse in Manhattan call (212) 691-1555.
-- By David Lefkowitz