Last week was the Gypsy of the Year competition for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and I got to host again. It is one of my absolute favorite things that I do every year and Tom Viola, executive director of BC/EFA, just wrote on my Facebook wall that I’m like the pope… the host for life! Yay! This year, one of my deconstructions was dedicated to the late, great Florence Henderson. It was when she was a guest star on the Tony Awards in the early ’70s and sang an amazing version of “The Sound of Music.” Watch my deconstruction:
Wasn’t she amazing? Speaking of Florence Henderson and the 1970s, I will be doing my show, ’70s Variety Shows Deconstructed! at Largo in on Thursday, January 26. I’ll be featuring Florence Henderson because I do a large section on the short-lived but seared-into-my-brain variety show called The Brady Bunch Hour. Here is a clip for your “enjoyment:” It features the kind of ’70s dialogue I’m obsessed with—containing the rhythm of comedy with no actual lines that are comedic.
Listen how Carol Brady, referring to the upcoming disco medley, jauntily says, “The kids think if we can have six of them, there’s no end to our energy!” Mike then replies “Maybe they’re right!” Then Carol, with lots of mysterious subtext, zings him with “Maybe they’re wrong!” All the sass of a joke… without the actual joke.
Directly following that is five minutes of disco dancing culminating in Alice (as well as Rip Taylor) busting a move while dressed as ducks.
This year, my favorite part of Gypsy of the Year was the appearance by the stars of Oh, Hello on Broadway. I cannot tell you how much I loved that show! I went to see it when Andrea Martin was the guest star. I literally had tears in my eyes from laughing so much. If you don’t know, the show consists of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney playing two very elderly, very unsuccessful writer/actors. They always have a celebrity guest star in the middle of the show who they bring up from the audience and then “prank” with a large plate of tuna…which is not a prank at all but they think really get ’em.
When Andrea was interviewed by them, they mentioned Oklahoma!, which Andrea starred in as Aunt Eller on Broadway. They then said that they also wrote a musical about Oklahoma… but it was about the Oklahoma city bombing. “We called it Oy Vey, McVey. It closed…in the middle of Act I during a reading in my apartment. We lost 11 million dollars!” Click here to watch a whole slew of their celeb interviews.
On their way offstage from the Gypsies, I told them I was a super fan and John told me he had loved my “Turkey Lurkey” deconstruction I did downtown.
I couldn’t believe he had seen it… it was ten years ago! I performed it in this small venue at a show called Obsessed, hosted by Julie Klausner (Difficult People) and the hilarious Jackie Clarke. Coincidently, the Gypsy opening number this year was a reunion of the three ladies from “Turkey Lurkey”! Here’s a video of me doing the deconstruction John saw ten years ago.
Last week, I had Sheryl Lee Ralph on Seth Speaks. She is currently starring as Madame Morrible in Wicked. Her first big show was called Swing and never made it to New York. But, on the night it closed, she got a call from a friend who told her if she could get to New York ASAP, he thought she could get the lead in a new musical on Broadway called Reggae because they were about to fire the leading lady. She took a bus from the Kennedy Center, showed up at the stage door, sang one song and ten days later was playing the lead on Broadway holding the script. That show lasted for two weeks… but at the last performance someone came backstage and said “I have your next show.” It was Tom Eyen and the next day, she was at the workshop of Dreamgirls playing Deena Jones.
At that point, it was a star vehicle for Nell Carter (who was Effie) and Tom was also directing (as well as writing script and lyrics). It wasn’t gelling and Joseph Papp, the producer from The Public Theater, lost faith in the show. Sheryl Lee went out on the road, but Tom called her after a few months and said she had to hightail it back to NYC and meet the new director: Michael Bennett. Of course, it went on to become a tremendous hit. As amazing as it was for her, it was also very difficult. She remembers Michael Bennett helping Jennifer Holliday (who ended up originating Effie) with her acting by basically pointing to Sheryl and saying “You hate her.” He was, of course, referring to Sheryl’s character, but real life began to mirror the show (P.S. Now she and Jennifer are great friends.)
Annoyingly, Michael Bennett continually fueled the competition: For opening night he got Jennifer a pair of diamond earrings and for Sheryl Lee? A brass belt buckle! Not surprisingly, Sheryl Lee said her favorite moment was when she got to yell at Effie “Who you calling common, you self-indulgent, self-absorbed non-professional? Now you listen to me Miss Blame-it-on-the-world, I have put up with you for much too long! I have put up with your bitchin’, I’ve put up with your naggin’ and all your screamin’, too!” Here’s the phenomenal Tony Awards performance! Watch Sheryl Lee fabulously act out her frustration…and Jennifer’s brilliance!
And for you peeps who love live singing, come see me and Matt Morrison this Saturday at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and me with Gavin Creel this Thursday, December 15 in New Orleans or December 30 at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, FL! For details/tix click here.
COULDN’T GO TO THE GYPSY OF THE YEAR BUT WANT TO SUPPORT BC/EFA? CHECK OUT PLAYBILL STORE FOR MERCHANDISE SUPPORTING BROADWAY CARES AND OTHER THEATRE-RELATED GIFTS!