Jerry Mitchell Recalls the Origin Story of Broadway Bares

Seth Rudetsky   Jerry Mitchell Recalls the Origin Story of Broadway Bares
 
This week in the life of Seth, Lauren Bacall issues a challenge backstage and the cast of Girls5Eva drops by Stars in the House.
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Splash Bar Michael Luongo

Happy heat index! Hoo boy, it’s hot outside in NYC this week. Or as Abuela Claudia says “Ay, carajo, it’s hot!” Speaking of that character, I’m so happy Olga Merediz is reprising her role from Off-Broadway and Broadway in the new In The Heights film. I was always stunned by her emotional and brilliantly performed number, “Paciencia Y Fé.” However, she told me she used to feel sometimes like she was about to pass out after the final note and I don’t blame her.

I was remembering recently that there are stories I’ve heard on Stars in the House that I haven’t put in my column because I’ve run out of space. One was during a game night featuring Chris Sieber. We were discussing his hilarious scene in Sex and the City when Samantha (played by Kim Cattrall) is told by a friend that the massage therapist Kevin (played by Sieber) will have sex with her during her session. She decides to move things along by putting her hand on his crotch…and he rejects her. Chris told me that they kept re-doing the shot so she wound up putting hand on his crotch numerous times. Watch how great he is in the scene. There’s so much silent movie acting…all in his face!

And during our Godspell reunion on Stars in the House, I asked Stephen Schwartz about “Bless the Lord,” which completely changes tempo/feel in the middle. He said he learned that from listening to Laura Nyro—pop songs can suddenly have a different feel and still be cohesive! Be sure to seek out the amazing version featuring future Tony Award winner, Lindsay Mendez.

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Broadway Bares 1992 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

On my SiriusXM talk show Seth Speaks, I interviewed Jerry Mitchell who’s quarantining in London. He’s there to work on Hairspray and Pretty Woman. We talked about this year’s Broadway Bares which streams June 20 at 9 PM ET. It all began in 1992 when Jerry was in Will Rogers Follies wearing barley anything. He walked into his group dressing room and the late, great Jason Opsahl jokingly said, “why don’t you go dance on the bar at Splash?!” P.S. Splash was a fun gay bar in Chelsea. This was around the time the cast was raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, leading up to the Easter Bonnet Competition and Jerry thought it would be a great way to get some funds raised.

READ: Taking a Hard Look at the Figures for Broadway Bares

He called a bunch of guys with “great bodies” and choreographed some sexy numbers. When they got to the bar, there was a line out the door! They wound up doing two shows and raising $10,000 and that was the beginning. Broadway Bares has gotten bigger and bigger and has now raised millions of dollars. One of the other reasons he did the show was to show people that he could choreograph and we began discussing how the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefits are such great showcases for up-and-coming choreographers. I wrote my first Easter Bonnet Competition opening number and it was choreographed by newcomer Kathleen Marshall, and a few years later, I teamed up with newbie Chris Gattelli. Both now have Tony Awards (side note: I don’t).

PHOTOS: Check Out These Photos Celebrating 3 Decades of Broadway Bares

In terms of upcoming musicals, Jerry talked about three new ones he’s working on for Broadway: Becoming Nancy, another inspired by Betty Boop (with Bob Martin writing the book, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, and music by David Foster), and finally an adaptation of Jeffrey Self’s YA novel Drag Teen. The creative team for that one includes book writer Troy Johnson, with a score by Stephen Oremus and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters. Fun!

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Lauren Bacall and cast Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

I asked Jerry about his early experiences on Broadway and he told me about being a swing in Woman of the Year with Lauren Bacall. She was very intimidating and one day while he was getting ready to go on, he was warming up and hit one of the pre-set mannequins that was behind the scrim. Lauren whirled around and yelled, “Be careful with the dummies, be careful with the lifts and be careful with me!” Well, instead of cowering, he yelled back “I am careful with the dummies, I am careful with the lifts, and I am careful with you!” The next day she came in, gave him a big smile and told him “Great job last night!” He feels she had been testing him and appreciated that he stood up to her. A few months later, he was doing Night of a Thousand Stars, a giant fundraiser for the Actors Fund. On one of his arms was Ethel Merman and on the other, Carol Channing. Ann Miller saw him, ran up, and told him, “You’re so tall and such a great dancer! I want you in my Broadway show.” Lauren pushed Ann aside and told her “You can’t have him! He’s in my Broadway show.” She went from starting up with him to hoarding him!

As we discussed his own work, Jerry said one of the biggest lessons he’s learned is to not have everything planned out. He still comes prepared to rehearsal, but he’s much more open to hearing ideas from everyone and creating during the rehearsal process. We agreed that when you first start out, you want to show that you are completely on your gig and you feel like you have to prove you know everything. More experience makes you more confident and allows you to not have to prove anything. Jerry and I worked together for a long time putting together production numbers on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Here’s one of the most dance-y ones…a tribute to Dick Van Dyke, who makes an amazing surprise appearance.

Paula Pell, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Busy Philipps in <i>Girls5Eva</i>
Paula Pell, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Busy Philipps in Girls5Eva Heidi Gutman/Peacock

Stars in the House also had the hilarious and musically talented cast of the TV show Girls 5Eva. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s about a marginally successful ‘90s group (thing Spice Girls) who have all (except one) left the business. Flash forward to today, and one of their songs is sampled by a popular artist. The 4 women who are still alive (the fifth, played by Ashley Park, died swimming off an infinity pool) try to get the group back together again and on the radio. Cast mates Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, Busy Phillips, and Sara Bareilles, creator Meredith Scardino, and producers Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond all dropped by for a chat. James asked Tina why she thought of Sara Bareilles for a sitcom lead and Tina started to say she had seen Sara perform and then Sara joked that it was in the live version of Jesus Christ Superstar. (Mary Magdalene is not a role that can land you a sitcom.) However, Tina did see Sara in Waitress and thought she was loveable, quirky, and comedic and she’d be perfect to play Dawn. And she was right! Watch highlights of the fabulous cast

James and I were also so happy to see our pal Jennifer Simard in an episode where she plays a bizarre woman who rents her house as an Airbnb but, while she has guests, secretly lives in a locked closet. Tina told us she cast her because she’s been a fan ever since she saw her in Disaster! playing the nun with the gambling addiction. Tina added that it was the funniest performance she’d ever seen on Broadway. And, I might add, brilliantly sung! Here’s my deconstruction.

Busy Phillips is the group member who can’t really sing but can nail the final spoken line in songs. However, in real life, she loves singing. Check this out! And Paula Pell plays the group member who becomes a dentist. She was so hilarious as the character based on Elaine Stritch in the mockumentary called Co-op. Here she is doing “I Gotta Go.” (The actual version of Elaine recording “The Ladies Who Lunch” is also worth checking out). And finally, here’s the title track of “Girls5Eva” written by Jeff Richmond and Meredith Scardino.

In live concert news, I’ll be doing one with Matthew Morrison on Sunday at 3 PM ET (and repeated at 8 PM). We’ll be doing tons of songs from his career including Hairspray, Light in The Piazza, South Pacific, and much more! Get ye olde tix at TheSethConcertSeries.com. What many people may not remember is Matt was one of the boys in Fresh Step—the fake boy band that David Letterman would trick audiences with. Watch the video here—he’s in the red outfit with his shirt wide open. Peace out!

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