I want to begin this column by sending my condolences to Nick Cordero’s family. There are so many beautiful tributes to Nick online and I will simply add my admiration for his incredible talent. He was so fantastic in every show I saw him in, starting with The Toxic Avenger. I remember loving his big tap number in Bullets Over Broadway and then being so crazily impressed that he wasn’t a tap dancer beforehand. He learned how to tap for the show! So much talent.
Please watch his Tony Awards performance and remember him and keep his family in your heart.
We had an incredible Stars In The House episode on Friday, June 26, and the great news is you can watch it and all previous episodes at StarsInTheHouse.com.
Let me go back: Back in September 2019, James and I were doing Concert For America to help the National Immigration Law Center. He really wanted to do a remake of the song “Free To Be…You And Me” by Stephen Lawrence and Bruce Hart, but we got overwhelmed with putting the concert together and we never reached out to the Free to Be…You and Me organization. In March, we started Stars In The House and its subsidiary Plays In The House (which began with The Heidi Chronicles with the entire original cast!). Soon, we got a call from Marlo Thomas’ agent telling us that she’d like to act in one of the plays. We were so excited because we’re both huge fans of Marlo and we immediately set up a conference call with her.
Well, soon the conversation shifted from the plays to how much we love Free To Be…You And Me (which Marlo conceived, created, and produced) and James asked if we could do a remake of the song. Even though Marlo didn’t really know us, she was very enthusiastic and even moreso when we pitched the idea of Sara Bareilles singing it. We also mentioned the song “Sisters And Brothers” (also by Lawrence and Hart) and James thought it would be great for the Broadway Inspirational Voices to do it and Marlo agreed. The whole thing was so easy. We didn’t find out until later that people had wanted to do covers of the those songs before and Marlo had never agreed.
We still don’t understand why she was so trusting of us, but we’re not going to question it!
We asked Sara Bareilles who said YES right away. She wound up coming up with such a great arrangement! It still sounds like the original, but it also sounds totally like her. She does her own harmony and got her boyfriend, Joe Tippett, to play banjo and the Waitress percussionist, Rich Mercurio, to add some percussion. There were only two big changes: because we were releasing this during the pandemic and we’re all in some form of quarantine, Marlo felt it should be for everyone and not just children, so she changed “There’s a land that I see where the children are free…” to “There’s a land that I see where the people are free.” Marlo soon felt those lyrics were even more appropriate when the current civil rights protests began and she quoted Martin Luther King who said “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
In other lyric changes, when James and I were first thinking of doing a remake of the song back in 2019, James wanted to change the lyric about every boy grows to be his own man and every girl grows to be her own woman because there’s much more awareness about trans and non-binary people since the song was written in the early ’70s. Marlo completely agreed and so did the composer, Stephen Lawrence. However, the original lyricist, Bruce Hart, has passed away, so Marlo’s friend Bruce Klugar wrote a new one!
“Every child in the land
may you all understand,
that you’re proud and you’re strong
and you are right where you belong!”
Marlo’s creative partner Dan Sallack put together the video with photos by Matt Mendelssohn of seniors from Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia. Watch this beautiful video and then please buy the song because all the proceeds go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund! You can buy it here.
The whole episode was so incredible and the highlight was probably during the segment when we had Free To Be (grown) kids talk about how much the show meant to them; James and I were joined by Benj Pasek, Debra Messing, and Audra McDonald. They all talked about how the show was their obsession. Then, we surprised Marlo with a video I received a few nights before:
When we announced we were doing a remake of “Free To Be…You And Me” Marlee Matlin sent me a video of herself in her house and told me it was the very first song she ever learned to sign. She then proceeded to play the song and sign the whole thing. It was so fantastic and showed what an impact that show had on so many people. Watch!
THANK YOU @SethRudetsky @JamesWesleyNYC for letting me perform (without makeup!) one the first songs I ever learned as a kid in sign language, “Free to Be You And Me” - for @MarloThomas!! OMG!
All benefitting @NAACP_LDF pic.twitter.com/aDe6cQYKwf
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) June 27, 2020
As for “Sisters and Brothers,” Tony honoree Michael McElroy came up with an amazing arrangement with Joseph Joubert and Shelbie Rassler put together an amazing video (with Michael and Schele Williams directing).
Two things to note: When they were practicing the video, Allyson Kate Daniel told everyone it was really hot where she was and to ignore her fan because she wouldn’t use it for the actual filming. Everyone told her to use that fan! It’s so much fun to watch her werk it! And also note Laura Dean (who’s in red coming down her stairs in the middle of the video). First of all, you will remember that she was fantastic in the film Fame. She was the dancer who was kicked out of the dance program for not showing enough sweat and then sounds amazing on the first solo of “I Sing The Body Electric.”
Well, when Laura was listening to “Sisters and Brothers” to learn it, the song sounded so familiar to her. Suddenly, Laura remembered she was involved with the original recording of Free To Be…You And Me! She can’t remember if she did extra vocals in the studio or if she filmed it (she was really young) but she remembers working on it and her sister confirmed it! So now Laura has worked on both the original “Sisters and Brothers” and the new version.
Here’s the fabulous new video:
And, because the money goes to NAACP Legal Defense Fund, buy or gift it here.
Here are two fabulous outakes from the filming: Jesse Warren Nager was filming his part while in Mexico and the wind was NOT having it. His camera went a-flyin’!
And here was his creative idea that was deemed less Free To Be…You And Me and more Chippendales. It wound up on the cutting room floor.