Hello from somewhere in the Caribbean! I’m on a fabulous cruise and having a great time by gaining an undisclosed amount of weight at the relentless buffets. I’m just assuming that what happens in the Caribbean, stays in the Caribbean. It also stays, as Rhoda Morgenstern would say, on my thighs.
Anyhoo, before we got on the cruise, James and I headed south to see a production of his play Unbroken Circle at the Old Opera House in Charlestown, West Virginia. We live outside NYC, so we decided to save time by taking Amtrak from Newark, New Jersey. Well, as we were driving to the train, we could not find an exact address to put in our GPS. We soon found out that’s because there is no address! Turns out, you have to go to Newark airport and then take a shuttle, so our version of “saving time” was completely missing our train. End of story: We left our house at 11:30AM and got to the theatre by 7:30PM. #NeverAgain. The good part is, The Old Opera House is a beautiful theatre and the production of Unbroken Circle was so good! It’s running through this weekend and then they happen to also be doing Disaster!. Brava on their taste! Tickets here!
Anika Larsen recently told me about doing Unbroken Circle Off-Broadway back in 2013. It was the first straight play she’d ever done in New York (she’d only been cast in musicals) so she was happy to finally get a job based on her acting, but it was Off-Broadway so she was making no money.
Meanwhile, Anika had done workshops of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, but she wasn’t cast in the final workshop before Broadway. They called her in to audition, but she had decided (not really based on any evidence) that only one person wanted her to audition and the rest of the creative team/producers were just doing it as a courtesy call. She went to the audition in a depression, and when she came home she started searching on the internet for what kind of career she should transition to. She just knew she wasn’t cast in Beautiful and was completely done with performing. The next day her agent called and said, “You got it!” She had so completely moved on that she replied “Got what?” He told her that she was cast as Cynthia Weil in Beautiful. She still was feeling negative and assumed that it was for the out-of-town San Francisco company and then she’d have to audition again for Broadway. He told her that it was one contract and she was cast in the Broadway company, as well. At that point, she started crying and immediately called her parents. Anika said that those phone calls were crazy because it was her saying ‘I got cast in a new Broadway show!” while sobbing non-stop. Her father was confused with her verbiage combined with her weeping and responded “…that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Anyhoo…it was indeed a good thing and she wound up winning the Drama Desk award and being nominated for a Tony Award, as well!
Anika told us the story of her first song in the show which is “Happy Days Are Here Again.” It’s when Cynthia arrives at the Brill Building and presents herself as a lyricist to Carole King and a big music publisher. In the scene, Cynthia needs to take a popular song and change the lyrics to highlight her lyric writing skills. Well, first it was going to be to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” but the song rights belonged to a different company than the one that had all the Carole King songs so it got changed to “Happy Days Are Here Again.” The book writer, Doug McGrath, wrote new lyrics and presented them to Anika. Then Cynthia Weil told them that she wanted to write the lyrics since it was her literally her being portrayed! Anika got both sets of lyrics and they allowed her to combine some of Doug’s and some of Cynthia’s to form this fun ditty!
Well, one night, early in the run, Anika went onstage and suddenly couldn’t remember the upcoming verse! The whole point of the song is how amazing her lyrics are and she couldn’t remember her lyrics! What to do? She decided it would make sense for her character to stop the song and she did. She announced loudly, “Let’s start this again from the top!” Suddenly, she thought…why do I think I will remember the lyrics now when I didn’t two minutes ago? She then decided that it was muscle memory and if she just relaxed, the lyrics would come out. And, magically, they did!
But, she then panicked that she must have lost the audience because she stopped her number mid-song and began worrying they would be nervous for her from then on. But one minute later she got a laugh and she knew that if an audience if nervous for a performer they won’t laugh. She realized that her stopping the song made sense to the audience because it seemed in character. Offstage everyone congratulated her for handling it so well, and she uses the story to illustrate to young performers that being a professional doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes, it means you know how to handle mistakes! After telling that story, she proceeded to sing the song…and forgot the lyrics!!!! However, it’s been three years since she sang it on Broadway so all was forgiven!
I first met Anika when she was starring in the amazing Zanna, Don’t! and I was performing Rhapsody in Seth. She told me that she really identified with my show and being a kid who didn’t fit in—whose childhood obsession was also high belting. She then decided to add extra high notes to the Zanna, Don’t! recording based on the knowledge that there would probably be a Broadway fanatic kid who would listen to the CD and be obsessed with belting like teenaged Seth. She actually calls her extra belted G “the Rudetsky”! Here’s my deconstruction of her amazing added high notes. Watch!
Speaking of Rhapsody In Seth, I’m doing it again at Largo in Los Angeles! April 29! Join us!
And before that, I’m doing two performances of it in Pittsburgh! On April 22 and 23!
Back to Anika, she grew up with nine brothers and sisters…some biological and others that are all different colors and adopted from all over the world. Her mom was with us and told us great stories about being part of the “adoption movement” in the ’70s. Her kids were totally used to families that were all adopted. In fact, one day, Anika’s brother went to his friend’s house for a visit. He came back and told his mom that they were the “strangest family.” Why? Because they all looked alike!
Andrea McArdle has also been regaling us with amazing stories. When I played Les Miz on Broadway she was my Fantine. I loved her voice, but didn’t know she had a tooth issue. During “I Dreamed A Dream” she started to feel pain on her tooth every time she inhaled. So, she sang her song, died and then she hightailed it to her dentist in the West 50s. Andrea told us that she was able to get a root canal (!) and, because Les Miz is so long, she still made it back for her entrance as a ghost singing “Come to me where pain will never bind you..”! Brava mid-show root canal!
P.S. I did a whole evening during out trip deconstructing ’70s Variety Shows and brought Andrea onstage to discuss her many TV variety show appearances. She finally said “I’m glad you never found my ’80s variety show where I was 20 years old and Doug Henning made me disappear in a tube and then Alison Smith came out the other end as the younger Annie.” And that was literally the clip I played! It totally wasn’t planned! Here ‘tis.
This Sunday I dock in Fort Lauderdale and then immediately go to the Parker Playhouse to do a show with Adam Pascal. Come join us!
Here he is with Daphne Rubin-Vega singing “Light My Candle” to raise money for BC/EFA right after the curtain call for Disaster!.
20 years after they first shared the Nederlander stage, Adam Pascal and Daphne Rubin-Vega reunited last night to sing "Light My Candle" for our #DisasterRelief fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tonight, catch Max Crumm and Laura Osnes bringing you some "Summer Nights"! DisasterMusical.comPosted by Disaster - On Broadway on Wednesday, April 6, 2016