ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Patti LuPone Saves the Day, Striking a Pose in St. Petersburg and Donald Trump's a Phantom Fan

By Seth Rudetsky
12 Aug 2013

Howard McGillin

The favor was returned in Howard's show a few nights later; Patti joined him onstage and they sang their first act duet from Anything Goes: "You're The Top"! I saw that show twice back in the '80's and it was so moving and wonderful to see them sing it again. Howard revealed during his show that he was offered the role of Billy Crocker in Anything Goes at the same time he was offered a show by a famous composer. He turned down the famous composer with a letter that stated, "I've decided to take Anything Goes because of 'career considerations.'" Well, the so-called famous/cantankerous composer called him up the next day and said, "Howard! Make sure you don't use the phrase 'career considerations'again. You're going to turn into a cliché!" I assumed Howard was talking about Sondheim, but he kept it vague about the composer and the show, until Patti came onstage and started chatting with him. "Howard! You were offered Into the Woods!" Well, there went his non-specific patter. And the answer is yes, by the way. Turns out, he was offered Cinderella's Prince/The Wolf and he turned it down for Anything Goes. I'm happy he did, because I got to enjoy this

Howard was such a fun Chatterbox guest. He's done the role of the Phantom more than anyone else, and he told us that one night, he was greeted by a fan backstage: Donald Trump. That's right, "the Donald" told Howard he loved him in the show and he wanted him to perform at his luxurious Palm Beach estate in Florida. This estate has weekly gatherings of crazily wealthy people who have dinner and see a performance. Well, suddenly Howard and his partner Richard were on a private plane with Donald. Howard said Donald was very gracious and offered them snacks and drinks, walking around the plane. As the plane took off. Terrifying. Howard and Richard tightened their seatbelts and declined.

They were then picked up by a Rolls Royce limousine (seriously) and brought to the Trump estate. Donald told Howard, "Everyone in the audience is loaded. One guy lost $80 million to Madoff and he's still incredibly rich." Howard stood backstage, waiting to go on as Donald made his introduction. First he told the audience, "Next week we're going to have...world-famous singer, Andrea Bocelli!" Howard was mortified in the wings. He then told the audience that this week, they had the lead from Phantom Of The Opera. He added that, out of all the Phantoms, "this guy was rated number one." Before Howard could try to figure where and/or how he was rated number one, Donald went on to explain, "They rate these guys. Like golf courses." They do? "And he was rated...number one over Michael Crawford!" Interesting. Then, Donald proudly announced, "So here he is." Pause for effect. "Harold McKellam!" And then Howard/Harold entered. That's where the expression "Take the money and run" comes from.

Joe Thalken is also on this cruise (he played for Patti and Howard's show) and we were reminiscing about our early years. Joe is now also known as a composer (Harold and Maude and Was) but when I met him, he was a pit pianist. As a matter of fact, he got me my very first subbing job for My Favorite Year. I was his sub and got to play for him until the show closed. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very long run and that's why I nicknamed it My Favorite Week. I was also Joe's sub in Victor/Victoria and we were laughing about the time I took a lot of time off and then came back to sub. Julie Andrews was having vocal problems in the middle of the run, so Anne Runnolfsson took over for a while and the keys were changed for her. I played throughout that time and then became a full-time pianist for Grease.