Happy Hanukkah! We’re going to do a fundraiser on Stars In The House December 15th for Beth Simchat Torah, one of the first gay/lesbian synagogues. I’m so impressed by them because they don’t charge any money for the High Holy Days. Synagogues know that those days are the ones that Jewish people feel compelled to go to shul, so they usually charge admission to raise money.
Beth Simchat Torah rents out the Jacob Javitz Center and it is filled every year…and oftentimes with tons of straight people. I did my first benefit for them in 1997 when I celebrated gay/Jewish composers and did the whole end-of-act-one fight scene from Dreamgirls. Lillias White was in tech rehearsal for The Life at the time and came by to sing Effie. After her performance, I decided I had to do the show on Broadway with a full orchestra—and that’s how the 2001 Dreamgirls concert happened. You can see footage from the first benefit with Lillias right here at the beginning of this behind-the-scenes Dreamgirls video I posted.
Watch the Beth Simchat Torah fundraiser and past episodes at StarsInTheHouse.com.
I am loving doing my new podcast Seth Rudetsky’s Back To School, where I interview celebs about their high school years. I interviewed Camryn Manheim this week. As you can see from the photos, she was a hippie-renaissance fair clown-teenager. She once had a fight with her teacher and told him that she needed to leave the classroom, and he wouldn’t let her go. So, she jumped out the window. She got suspended for it, and on the back of the slip her teacher had checked that it was repeated defiance.
Well, her father went to the school board and argued that it was not repeated. She had only jumped out of a window once, so the suspension got overturned. Camryn said her dad loved to fight for things; he was constantly in small claims court. When she was a teen, Camryn borrowed her dad’s camera. She remembered returning it, but he claimed she never did. He told her that the right thing to do would be to pay for it. It was a fancy Canon and cost $200 (a lot of money in the '70s), and it took Camryn an entire year of working in a pizza joint to pay it back.
Cut to her senior year, and she’s doing a school play and needs a man’s shirt. She’s looking for one in her dad's closet and suddenly sees the original camera. She had returned it, and he misplaced it. She was livid. Lamenting to her brother, who happened to be at Harvard Law School, he told her that her dad owed the $200, plus interest and money for all the “pain and suffering” she had to endure to pay it back. Her father offered to give her the camera, but she “wanted that year back.” He refused to Camryn give any more money to compensate. So, she took her dad to small claims court. The limit was $1,000, so she asked for $999 and was represented by her brother. She remembers it was “Manheim Vs. Manheim by Manheim and Manheim.” Lo and behold, Harvard paid off and the judge ruled in Camryn’s favor. Her father told Camryn he was very proud of her for fighting for what she believed in. But, he still didn’t pay her—at first. He had 30 days to pay. Camryn said he waited until the final day and at 11:59 PM, he slipped the check under her bedroom door. Listen to the whole podcast (and previous episodes with Tina Fey, Vanessa Williams, Martin Short, etc.) here.
When I had Camryn on Seth Speaks a few years ago, I asked her about her big break, and she told us that back in the '90s she had written a one-person show called Wake up! I'm Fat! and felt she had hit her theatrical pinnacle because it got produced at the Public Theater. A manager saw it, loved her, and wanted to recommend her to David E. Kelly, who was writing a new TV show. Camryn had to get a reel together, which basically consisted of her one appearance on Law & Order. David watched it in L.A. and put the kibosh on Camryn being on his show. The role called for somebody who was streetwise, and it wasn’t her. The manager cajoled him to at least take a meeting with her. He reluctantly agreed. Camryn could not believe she was going to L.A. to meet with a big-time TV writer/producer. She knew people who tested for TV shows, and it always included an amazing first class ticket to L.A. and a luxury hotel.
Cut to the manager telling her she’d have to cover all of her expenses. Camryn was working Off-Broadway and taking home around $300 per week. She said she couldn't afford it, but all of her friends told her she had to do it. She flew there for her big meeting, and it lasted around five uncomfortable minutes. Camryn was on her way out of the office, devastated she wasted $1,000 on a total bust. As she was about to exit, she saw that he had a cribbage game. She asked if he played. He reluctantly admitted he did, but he basically implied that he was so amazing she shouldn't be thinking about ever playing against him. She countered by telling him that she could smell his fear. He told her that he played for money, and she told him she would play him for the part. After much sass back and forth, he told her the script wasn't finished yet, but when it was, she would be the first to see it.
A few weeks later it was delivered to her apartment, and the role that had been described as “streetwise” was now changed to someone “ballsy.” It had been re-written to suit her. She still had to audition, but she got the part. Did she ever play cribbage with him, you ask? The answer is yes. Who won, you ask? Well, before they played they agreed never to reveal the winner. However, after they played, David sent a note to the entire cast stating, “No one in the cast is allowed to play cribbage. Gambling is illegal in the state of California.” So, as Camryn told me, “You do the math!”
Coming up this month on The Seth Concert Series I have Adam Pascal December 20 and Kerry Butler December 27. All of us were in Disaster! together on Broadway. I just saw this video online and it brought back such great memories. You can see my past concerts with Jessie Mueller, Audra McDonald, Cheyenne Jackson, Beth Leavel, and more at TheSethConcertSeries.com.
Speaking of Audra, here’s a deconstruction I did that features her. Enjoy, then peace out!