Hello from onboard my flight between San Francisco and New York- JFK. I travel all the time but these past few days were a lot, even for me. I traveled to Boston on Thursday, back to NYC on Friday, flew to Florida on Saturday, then to San Francisco on Sunday and back today. And they were all early morning trips. The good news is: The shows were great!
On Thursday, I did a Leonard Bernstein salute sponsored by the Jewish Arts Collaborative and Andréa Burns was my co-host. (We performed together, as well.) We both flipped out that Jamie and Nina Bernstein were at the show (Bernstein’s daughters). And afterwards, they asked us to meet them for drinks!
We were talking about the song “I Am So Easily Assimilated” sung by the character of the Old Lady in Candide. The sisters told us that while the show was being written, their dad (or “LB” as they call him) was in bed and telling his wife they didn’t have a rhyme for where the Old Lady was from…a place called Rovno Gubernya. His wife’s first language was Spanish (she was from Argentina) and suggested the Spanish word for “hernia”...which was a perfect rhyme! That led to the men in the song, who are flocking the Old Lady, singing that they’re dying as well as getting a hernia:
“Me muero! My sale una hernia!”
And the Old Lady sings: “A long way from Ruvno Gubernya!”
Here’s Patti LuPone singing it.
On Saturday morning I flew to Florida, and that night I did a show at the Parker Playhouse with Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo. They first met years ago at Sydmonton, which is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s house (a.k.a. massive estate), where he will do workshops of upcoming musicals. They were there to workshop the sequel to The Phantom Of The Opera called Love Never Dies. Ramin had learned the music beforehand and told us that he was feeling very confident...or, in his words, he had a bit of a swagger. When Sierra walked in, he thought “Poor thing. She just got here and is going to have to learn this duet from scratch.” Cut to: Sierra’s an amazing musician and when she started sight-reading/singing her part flawlessly, it threw Ramin so much that he forgot how his part went! #Busted
Here’s Ramin and Sierra rehearsing the Phantom title song sounding great/acting stoopid with a bizarre guest crossover at the end.
We did tons of music in the show, like a full Phantom medley that included Ramin taking Sierra to his lair and using the mic stand to row his imaginary boat. They were both so funny in their various stories, but I realized that Sierra has had a string of showbiz disappointments. Holy cow!
Turns out, she had the lead in Rebecca! She was in London and found out the show was canceled the day before she was flying to NYC to begin rehearsals. Then, she was cast as Christine in the all-French version of Phantom set to debut in Paris. That show got canceled during tech rehearsals because the theatre burned down. Then both she and Ramin were supposed to do Love Never Dies in London, Australia, and then on Broadway…but they only did London. And they were both set to take over as Evita and Che in the Broadway production of Evita, but, because it conflicted with her playing Christine in the Phantom anniversary production, Evita closed instead. And yet, she is such a positive person.
And hilarious! For the big finale of the show, she recreated her performance as Fantine in Les Miz while Ramin recreated his Valjean. But after Fantine died, she got up and sang the Valjean/Javert confrontation…playing Javert. How did she know all the words? As Richard-Jay Alexander pointed out, the person playing Fantine always has it memorized because they have to lay there, dead, eight times a week through that entire song.
Speaking of Fantine’s Death (and the aforementioned Patti), here I am with Patti in London with special guest star Gavin Creel joining in (and sight-reading Valjean’s part) in Fantine’s Death.
Then in San Francisco, I had my show with Sarah Silverman. Wow, she is funny. And so smart. She is truly amazing at disarming people. We talked about the time someone angrily tweeted her (calling her the C word) and instead of attacking back, she checked his timeline and saw he had chronic pain. She tweeted to him that she also had back pain…and suddenly they became extremely close! Sadly, she lost touch with him recently and actually sent someone to his house to check on him (or as she put it “I sent a priest I’ve been sexting with to check up on him”).
But the bigger point is, she easily gets people to drop their armor. She told me that instead of yelling back her contrarian points, she’ll smile and say, “Aw…I disagree with you!” and it starts conversations. Here she is with a hardline pro-life group called “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.” When the head of the group denies that the difference between a person and an embryo is consciousness, she asks, “Oh! Then what is your favorite memory in utero?”
We also had a great time with the music in the show. She and I sang the Daddy Warbucks/Annie duet while she wore a red afro wig I got from Amazon.
Sarah told us that when she played Annie as a kid, she traded off the role with another girl. When they both did the photo shoot, Sarah said she thought “the biggest smile was the best smile” and she demonstrated how crazy she looked. When the theatre company did the print ad, they only used the other girl’s photos. Sarah said that the guy in charge showed Sarah her super-smiling photos and said, “I mean…you can see why.”
I also played one of Sarah’s Crank Yankers, which was the TV show where comics dialed prank phone calls. The one I used for this show is so brilliant/hilarious.
In sad news, the world lost the wonderful Tim Conway last week. I was one of those kids in the ’70s who grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show every Saturday night at 10PM and loving him. I was once able to interview Carol, Vicki Lawrence, and Tim Conway on my SiriusXM radio show and it was fantastic. As soon as I started talking, Tim immediately asked if they were all required to talk that fast. #Sass!
When I had Vicki Lawrence on recently, I asked about the famous “Elephant Story” blooper (see below). Vicki told me that it was the result of filming two performances in front of their live audience.
They had recently added the character of Mickey Hart to the Family (Eunice) sketches and, before rehearsal, Carol took everyone aside and told them how important these sketches were and how meaningful the characters were to her. She implored them that no matter what Tim Conway did, they should not break. They had to remain in character no matter what. Tim had a monologue about an elephant and, naturally, embellished it. After a while, despite the warning, there was laughter from the cast. Actually, that’s not true; there was laughter from Carol! The one person who begged them not to laugh!
Anyhoo, for the second show, Vicki got quick notes from the director and was also told that the Elephant monologue Tim did in the first show would be different and “Good luck.” Vicki asked her husband, “How does Tim get away with it all the time?” Her husband looked at her and said, “Get him.” That’s right, he told her to turn the tables on Tim! So…
The scene began, Tim Conway’s monologue was indeed different—and funnier—Carol indeed did break as before, but this time, Vicki ended it all by getting back at Tim. She stayed in character and it is hilarious. Watch:
Farewell to the man who gave so many joy!