ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Gypsy, The Ritz and P-Town

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Gypsy, The Ritz and P-Town
Greetings from Provincetown, or as it's also called, P-town (tip o' the hat to Urinetown?). I'm here because a gay parenting organization called "Family Pride" and the Rosie cruise people are running Family Week. There's a circus night, a Luau, great lectures and I'm doing my deconstructing show on Thursday at the Provincetown Playhouse.

Laura Benanti and Patti LuPone in Gypsy.
Laura Benanti and Patti LuPone in Gypsy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Speaking of deconstructing, people are always writing to me and saying that they watched my "Deconstructing Barbra Streisand" on youtube (which makes me happy), but I still don't know whether Barbra has seen it. I assume she logs on at least once a day (FannyBrice1@yahoo? MainEvent@ Mac? EstherHoffmanHoward@Verizon?) and immediately Googles herself and I'm dying to know whether my clip with her and Bea Arthur has come up on her screen. I'm gonna assume it hasn't since I'm not writing this from court.

All right, let's go back a week. Last Sunday night I saw Frost/Nixon. My boyfriend and I sat right behind Charles Busch director Carl Andres in the upper right box seats and we all felt like a combination of Glenn Close from "Les Liasons Dangereuses," Raoul from Phantom and the "Let's go flying" guest star spot from Will Rogers Follies. By the way, the night I saw Will Rogers, the guest star was David Dinkins. and the star was Marla Maples. I'm still devastated that they both got into Equity before I did.

After seeing Frost/Nixon, all I dream about is being a swinger in the '70s. I don't even smoke, but all I want to do is book a flight on TWA or Pan Am and light up a Newport. The performance was an Actors Fund Special Performance and if you don't know what that is, it's an added ninth show where the all the ticket money goes to the Actors Fund of America. It's on a dark night for most shows, so the audience is filled with Broadway performers. They're always so exciting because, even though they take place in the middle of a run, having all those Gypsies in the audience gives the actors so much energy it's like seeing an Opening Night performance.

Monday night I played piano in the pit of Phantom and had one of my signature debacles. During "The Music of the Night," I was counting the measures I had to rest until I played, and suddenly the bass player in front of me turned around and scared me because she was wearing a crazy mask that covered three quarters of her face. Musicians are often trying to lighten up the repetition of playing in a pit by doing something "wacky," so I assumed she was trying to parallel the Phantom's mask with her own version. I sort of laughed and was still counting measures and noticed that she refused to turn around. I sort of indicated that I got her Phantom mask reference by covering my face with my hand and pointing to her mask. Still, she continued playing while facing me. Finally, I looked beyond her and saw the conductor also looking at me. I suddenly realized that we were at the bridge of the song and I hadn't yet played note one. I later found out that the bass player was wearing the mask because she doesn't want to breathe in the Phantom fog that flows down from the stage. Turns out, I had miscounted and missed my first cue and she turned around to try to get me to play. Unfortunately, because she was wearing a mask, I couldn't hear what she was saying, which was essentially, "PLAY!" So the whole time I was supposed to be playing my beautiful piano arpeggios, the conductor was watching me stare at the bass player and imitate the Phantom's mask by putting my hand over my face. For therapeutic reasons, I recreated the whole thing on my video blog (www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com). Not to worry, I'm sure I'll be at Phantom again…in the audience.

Wednesday I saw Gypsy. First of all, it was phenomenal to hear that delicious Overture with a full Broadway orchestra! Nowadays, the overture is often when people read their Playbills and chat up their neighbors. But because it was an actual full orchestra, and not four synthesizers with a drummer, the audience was riveted. The difference in sound changes the whole attitude of the crowd. I actually saw a harp player! I thought they had been outlawed from Broadway in '97.

I have to talk about Laura Benanti as Louise. She made "Little Lamb" devastating! And I don't mean the kind of devastation I felt in the past when I would hear it (as in "Quick! Go to the next track, go to the next track!"). Plus her comedy was brilliant. The splitting headache she got in Act Two when Mama Rose hauled out yet another "I had a dream" literally made me LOL. Speaking of laughs, Marilyn Caskey as Electra! She took the stripper that has the least material to work with, honed in one lyric ("I'm electrifying and I ain't even trying") and hilariously based her whole character on it. Was she on Valium? In a coma? Post-Lobotomy? It was a brilliant comic turn.

And of course, there's Patti. First of all, the voice. She's been starring on Broadway since the '70s and she still sounds the same! Is there a larynx aging in an attic somewhere? I watched her during the bows and thought that she is truly a gift to Broadway. Often times I get depressed that I wasn't alive to see Angela in Mame or Barbra in Funny Girl, but I was so thankful on Wednesday that I've been able to see Patti through the years. Why isn't she in a musical every year!?!?!! If she's gonna do The Old Neighborhood again, they'd better add some belting. The nicest thing was that during Patti's solo bow, the whole cast stood in the wings applauding her. Usually, the cast rushes back to their dressing rooms to get their wigs/costumes off, and the fact that they wanted to give Patti riotous applause, says a lot for her and the company.

Thursday, I did my Chatterbox with Martin Vidnovic. If you haven't heard him sing, I demand you itune Baby. Better yet, go see him at The Metropolitan Room. He has one of the most glorious male voices ever! And he's easy on ye olde eyes.

Now, a The Ritz update. I not only have a (little) part in the show, but I'm also putting together the number that Rosie Perez is performing in the show as Googie Gomez. The super-talented Chris Gattelli is choreographing the show and he and I have been creating the number for the past week. Friday, we presented it to Joe Mantello and Rosie Perez in my apartment. Rosie was adorable. She was mortified that she was late but I totally understood because she did something that everyone does at least once. She wanted to get off at 72nd Street, but by accident got on the A which goes from 59th to 125th Street! It's so shocking when that happens. You're so close to your destination and suddenly you're in Albany.

I was nervous presenting the stuff to Rosie but she was super nice and laughed right away. If you don't know the plot, Googie is a minimally talented songstress who is performing in a gay bathhouse to further her non-existent Broadway career. Chris and I tried to make a medley of the most inappropriate material possible, and while I don't want to give anything away, suffice it to say that there's a section featuring her singing "Sabbath Prayer."

I'm writing this all in my charming Provincetown one-bedroom apartment, feeling an actual breeze from the bay. James and I drove up on Saturday with Maggie, my lab mix, in the back seat. His daughter Juli is in Texas with her Gran and arrives Tuesday. Sunday was the Rfamily sponsored "Broadway Brunch" where the high belting Farah Alvin sang "Meadowlark." I first met Farah when she was around 20 and joined the Grease! revival to understudy Jan. I was teaching her the back up to "Freddy My Love" and noticed she had incredible vocal placement. I casually asked her if she knew Evita and when she said that she did, I immediately launched into the vamp for "A New Argentina" and forced her to sing "He supports you…" on non-stop E's. After that delicious diversion, I was forced to go back to plunking out the notes to "so-o-o blue…". Sunday night we all went to see Varla Jean Merman Loves a Foreign Tongue. Varla is really Jeffrey Roberson and he always puts together an amazing evening. The show celebrates foreign cultures and has my kind of chestnuts like Varla bragging that "I've performed in 15 foreign countries…and I've done shows in three of them." She also proudly demonstrates that she's learned how to say "this sore is not contagious" in ten different languages.

Alright, time to continue enjoying "Family Week." And by enjoying, I mean having homemade Cape Cod Ice Cream, fish and chips and clam chowder. At this rate, I should be comfortably fit in during "Bear Week."

Howard McGillin and Jennifer Hope Wills in <i>The Phantom of the Opera</i>.
Howard McGillin and Jennifer Hope Wills in The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Joan Marcus
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