We are happy to welcome guest celebrity blogger Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her Broadway debut in the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q. The singing actress, who will be seen in the Off-Broadway premiere of the new comedy with music, It Must Be Him, will blog for Playbill.com all week; her fourth entry follows.
GOOD MORNING. You do know Orson Welles is dead, right? You do know he can’t actually tweet, right? You do know who he was, right? No?
Yesterday, I made a joke about Orson Welles and Twitter. I thought it was hilarious. So did my husband. I imagined if Twitter had existed in Orson Welles’ day. He’d no doubt tweet nonstop about how horrible that voiceover for frozen peas went! (@CFKane: “Saying ‘IN July’ sucks, IMHO! Ridiculous! Why must my genius suffer these fools?”) Funny, right?
And today I realize that there are probably a lot of people who had no idea whom I was talking about. That’s happening quite a bit here at It Must Be Him.
Since our playwright Kenny Solms was a writer on variety shows such as “The Carol Burnett Show,” he makes lots of references to all sorts of late 20th century performers, both in the rehearsal room and in the script. He’s not alone. Peter Scolari and John Treacy Egan, in particular, can go toe to toe for hours rattling off names, and in some cases, imitating them: Lola Falana, Bert Convy, Paul Lynde, Charo, the Smothers Brothers, Woody Allen, Flip Wilson, Sammy and Dean, Hope and Benny. And there are other folks in the cast who play along, too, fondly remembering the famous and infamous, the well-known and once-known. Donny Most, anyone?
In the play, the younger characters in Louie Wexler’s life don’t get the references to films like “Funny Face” or to personalities like Kay Thompson or Audrey Hepburn.
And in real life, there’s Harris Doran, whose only exposure to “The Carol Burnett Show” has been recent searches on YouTube. He still can’t remember the name Lola Falana. He thinks it’s “La La Fontana.” Patrick Cummings had never heard of her either. So sweet. So young.
But did nobody watch “The Muppet Show?” That’s the first time I saw Lola Falana, singing “a wa tu wow...he’s the greatest dancer... a wa tu wow... that I’ve ever see-een...” You do know what a Muppet is, yes?
It’s the same thing with the great old song standards. I remember doing “Broadway on Broadway” back in 2005, where the whole shebang ends with everyone singing “Give My Regards To Broadway.” And there were actually some performers in the event (and not necessarily younger than I) who were, incredibly, unfamiliar with the song.
What? They’ve never seen “Yankee Doodle Dandy?” They never watched those Follow the Bouncing Ball songs that ran with “Casper the Friendly Ghost” cartoons?
You don’t know who Casper is? Sigh again.
I know. I’m no spring chicken. But the funny thing is that we now live in this incredible age of content. Classic movies and TV shows are just a click or a Netflix away. You don’t have to wait for a film to air on TV or be screened in a revival house like you used to (though I grant you that there are still many things that are out of print, much to my husband’s despair). Anyway, my point is that young or old, it’s so easy to become a student of film and TV history and to see fantastic entertainment by barely lifting a finger. In that sense, we truly do live in a Jetsons era.
Wait, don’t tell me you don’t know who they are either. Good gravy Marie.
I don’t mean to sound condescending. There are a lot of things I’ve never seen either. But there are so many incredible performances we can learn from on the so-called “idiot box.” We may not be able to travel back in time to see Merman in Gypsy (though I’d love to see Jack Klugman in it), but we can attend the schools of Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Rip Torn, Phil Silvers, Tony Randall, Alan Alda, and countless other brilliant performers via our TV and computer screens. I’ve learned from all sorts of greats, from Spencer Tracy to the Little Rascals. Next time they show “A Christmas Story” for 24 hours, spend one viewing just watching Darren McGavin and no one else. Or catch an early episode of “M*A*S*H” and just watch McLean Stevenson. You won’t be sorry, especially if you’re an actor.
There is even much to be learned from bad TV and film. Even “Skidoo.” I know you don’t know what that is, and this time that’s perfectly okay.
It’s a pricelessly awful film that Turner Classic Movies rarely shows, and from it you can learn that Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney and a young Austin Pendleton should have all said “no” to Otto Preminger.
Those names mean nothing to you, don’t they?
Have a swell day, kids.
P.S. Go to YouTube right now, and search “Orson Welles Frozen Peas.” You’re welcome.