PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Eddie Shapiro, Author of "Nothing Like A Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater"

By Ben Rimalower
07 Feb 2014

What did they say that most surprised you?

ES: I was so surprised by how insecure they still are, across the board. I mean, we're all insecure, but it's like, "You have three Oscar nominations — what do you mean you never made it?!" Or to hear Audra McDonald say, "I still wake up every day wondering if today's the day they're gonna think I'm a fraud." That's really eye-opening — or to hear Patti LuPone say, "— if I ever do another Broadway musical!" As if there's a chance she's never going to get cast again. It's all insecurity, and it's all very human.

Would you say the book changed your perception of these women?

ES: Absolutely. Individually, I would say, my perceptions changed in the way your perception changes when you actually get to know someone. People always surprise you. I was especially surprised by Bebe Neuwirth, when we did the edit, she wanted to do some changes, but she wanted to do it together. So, we sat down with my laptop and she was being incredibly, incredibly careful with me. She kept asking me permission to cut things and I said, "Bebe, these are your words — you can cut anything you want!" But she said, "No, I still want to ask." It was incredibly considerate. By that point, I knew Bebe well enough to not be surprised by that, but it's not necessarily what you think of, when you think of Bebe Neuwirth.

Were there women you wanted but who refused?

ES: There was another woman who pulled out, who actually did a chapter, and then pulled out because she thought that she didn't come off as intelligently as she wanted to, so that was a disappointment. And then there is one obvious glaring omission in the book, and she's not there because she first said that she would do it and then when it came to time for the deadline, she said, "Yeah, no, this is not really me. I don't love talking about myself." So she's not in there too and that was a big disappointment. And you know I get asked a lot, like, "What about Julie Andrews? And what about Liza Minnelli?" And I obviously would have loved to sit down with Julie Andrews or sit down with Liza Minnelli, but the criteria for the book, as I say in the introduction, is a career in musical theatre, so that's why I made the selections that I did.

Did it whet your appetite to do a second volume, maybe with different criteria?

ES: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there are so many people, I mean somebody like Andrea McArdle, who you know has the very rare perspective of having been on "The Tonight Show" multiple times as a child. Or the people who are the real journeymen of the theatre, who aren't necessarily the real superstars, the Beth Leavels or...

Mary Testa?

ES: Absolutely. What I really, really do hope for the book, and this is going to sound totally cheeseball and Hallmarky, but people like you and me, we grew up pouring over the backs of record albums and liner notes. And these kinds of books were like f*cking Manna from Heaven. You know it's not like I want to teach them, like I want them to learn how to be Audra McDonald. I want to feed them, with the exact same things that fed me. And I felt so fed by Martin Gottfried's "Broadway Musicals" and by Craig Zadan's "Sondheim & Company." And I want to help add [to that collection] for the next generation.