How Len Cariou’s A Little Night Music Solo Became Sondheim’s Famous ‘Send in the Clowns’ Instead

Seth Rudetsky   How Len Cariou’s A Little Night Music Solo Became Sondheim’s Famous ‘Send in the Clowns’ Instead
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth gets the origin story of Glynis Johns’ famous Broadway ballad, plus audition stories from Jeremy Jordan, Patina Miller, and more.
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Glynis Johns and Len Cariou Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Holy cow, it’s cold! Thankfully, I’ll be in the delicious weather of Scottsdale, Arizona, this Friday night for my show with Laura Osnes. Ah! Dry heat. Come see us together!

And let’s not forget this memory of us:

I was in San Francisco on Sunday to do a concert with Jeremy Jordan and, man, his voice is so stunning. However, his dancing is not. We were talking about dance auditions and he remembered being in the final callback for the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening where all the young men had to learn the choreography to “Totally F*cked,” which involved a lot of picking up/laying down of chairs. Jeremy decided to fully commit to all the moves and, at the end, he slammed down the chair on the final button. And he completely broke it. That could either be considered a power move or a sign of severe anger issues. Andy Mientus was in the audience and completely impressed. He remembers thinking, “Well, that guy definitely got cast.” In a surprise twist ending, Jeremy was not cast and Andy was!

Jeremy was on the TV series Supergirl for a few seasons and left, but his character is coming back for three episodes starting Sunday so set that betamax! Sneak peek here!

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Seth Rudetsky and Jeremy Jordan

Back in NYC, I had Craig Bierko and Len Cariou on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. They’re both starring Off-Broadway in Harry Townsend’s Last Stand. I asked Len about his first Broadway musical, Applause (the musical version of All About Eve, which starred Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing), and he told me that when he was auditioning for it, he was also getting ready to star in King Henry V.

Len was at the callback and, after singing and reading, Applause’s director-choreographer Ron Field asked Len what play he was about to do. Instead of answering, Len asked Ron to follow him outside the theatre, which also happened to be right across the street from the ANTA Playhouse (now the August Wilson Theatre). Right in front of the ANTA were giant pictures of Len as King Henry V. Len pointed and said, “That play!”

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Len Cariou in King Henry V ©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Len got the role—he wrapped 1969 with Henry V and starred in Applause in the spring of 1970—and, at the final dress rehearsal (which was done in the afternoon for the Broadway community) the audience came onstage to schmooze. Len chatted to various people and one of his cast members came over to him and asked, "So, what did Hal think?" Len responded, "Who's Hal?" His castmate said, "That guy who was talking to you." Len asked, "You mean the guy with the glasses on his head?" His friend, annoyed, said, "Yes! Hal Prince!" (Len is Canadian and Applause was his first major show so he hadn't met any Broadway bigwigs yet.) He freaked out when he realized that Hal Prince was the guy who came over and told him that he was one of the “best leading men he'd seen in years”! Not surprisingly, a few years later, Hal sent Len the script of A Little Night Music (the lyrics weren’t included yet) and asked him to audition. However, it was for the pompous cheat, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Len felt he had played that type of part many times and wasn't interested in doing it again. But, he wanted to read and sing for Hal and Stephen Sondheim, so he went to the audition anyway.

Afterwards, Hal gave him a new script that now had lyrics. There was no sheet music, but there were lyrics and Len was obsessed with the opening ones for Fredrik. “Now…as the sweet imbecilities tumble so lavishly onto her lap. Now…there are two possibilities: A. I could ravish her; B. I could nap.” P.S. He recited these verbatim on my show. He’s 80 but, boy, his memory has #StillGotIt!

Len loved all the lyrics in the show and now he extra-dreaded telling Hal he didn't want to play Carl-Magnus. Hal called the next day and Len got ready to drop the bomb about his lack of interest when, instead, Hal dropped his own bomb: He offered Len the role of Fredrik! Len told Hal, "The script says that Fredrik is supposed to be 50! I'm 34! " Hal dismissed his concern with, "Meh! It's a period piece." Yes! Sadly, there’s not much footage of him as Fredrik, but here he is in the film version a few years later!

Glynis Johns and Len Cariou in A Little Night Music.
Glynis Johns and Len Cariou in A Little Night Music. Martha Swope / The New York Public Library

And, for those that don't know, here's the classic Night Music story: Even though rehearsals were well underway, Len’s big 11-o'clock number hadn't been written yet. It was to take place during the second act scene between Fredrik and Desiree—played by Len and Glynis Johns. Well, the show had evolved and Len and Glynis felt that their characters would act differently than what was in the original script, so Hal suggested that they improvise a scene and have Sondheim watch it so he could finally write Len's big number. Len called Sondheim and he came and watched them do a scene they made up. The next day, Sondheim came in and gave good news and bad news: The good news was he finally wrote the big 11-o'clock number. The bad news (for Len) was that the song was now for Glynis. Ouch! Yes, it was “Send in the Clowns,” and became Sondheim’s most well-known song. Here's Len and Glynis, 10 years later, recreating the whole scene and song.

In other news, I’ve been rehearsing with Patina Miller for our NYC concert that’s happening February 3 at Town Hall. Holy cow, she can sing up a storm! We were rehearsing “I Love You, I Do” from the film version of Dreamgirls and I told her how great she sounded on it. She then told me that when she was still a student at Carnegie Mellon University, she heard they were looking for an Effie for the film. She and her friends filmed themselves doing the end of Act 1 fight scene (“It’s All Over”) and then she launched into “And I Am Telling You.” She sent in the video to the casting office and forgot about it. Three months later the school called her into the office to tell her that she had an big audition…in L.A. Yes, she was being flown there (picked up in a limo!) and Patina wound up doing a full hair/makeup screen test for Effie! As far as I know, it was between Patina, Capathia Jenkins, and Jennifer Hudson! Well, I’m sure you know that someone can’t tell me a story like that and expect me not to want to hear that person sing Effie! So come to our concert and I will surely be making her haul out some sassy Effie songs. And speaking of sass, here she is in Hair before it came to Broadway where she belted high Fs in “White Boys”! Watch!

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Patina Miller and Tribe in HAIR Michal Daniel

And come see us in concert February 3rd! Tickets here!

And finally, Obsessed! is BACK! I filmed my first one of the series (since 2015!) with Bonnie Milligan and she is so funny/high-belty/rifftastic. Watch here, then peace out!

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