Next week my “theatre” stories will be filled with lots of “humour.” That’s right, all spelling will be slightly annoying because I’ll be in London! I’m doing four shows at the Leicester Square Theatre with Audra McDonald and hubby Will Swenson and, because it’s spring break, Juli and James are coming, too! Get tickets and info here and watch my Audra deconstruction:
But first, last week: We finally saw Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Such a multi-talented cast and such amazing staging! For instance, Lucas Steele had incredible high notes and also had the nerve to play the violin! And Josh Groban not only sounded amazing, had beautiful acting moments, and he also had the nerve to also play the piano! And as for the staging, if you don’t know, the entire interior of the Imperial Theatre (where I played Les Miz 20 years ago) was gutted. They changed it so the actors could perform all over the space, in the balcony, in the orchestra section, and lots of the audience could sit on the stage as well. You’re literally surrounded by the show. At one point, Josh was running around singing and Josh hit a great high note. I leaned over to James and asked, “What note do you think that was?” And James slightly pointed and whispered, “Ask him yourself.” Huh? I slightly turned my head in the direction of James’ finger and Josh was literally one inch behind me! It was hilarious/terrifying. Afterwards, we went backstage to visit/take a photo and he re-tweeted the pic and wrote: “For a real treat, zoom in to see my toothpaste stain.” Hi-lar!
Last week, I also did a super fun show with Kevin Chamberlin, Kerry Butler, and Roger Bart. Turns out, both Kevin and I played the Cowardly Lion when we were kids. The sad part is, the published script doesn’t have the Lion’s song included so when I played the role (yes, at the Hillel Jewish Summer Day Camp), I had no song at all. But Kevin claims that he told his school they would have to add the song or he’d “walk.” I’m very jealous that he got to do it as a kid and he recreated it for our show. It was so fantastic I can’t tell you! He also recounted that right before he played the role as a kid he got a horrific case of poison ivy all over his body. His mom had made his costume and he wound up doing the entire show, covered in poison ivy while wearing a costume made of carpets! I’m sure it felt amazing.
Roger Bart told a story that he wasn’t sure was necessarily true, but it’s become theatre lore. Apparently, the original understudy for Laurey in Oklahoma! would sit backstage and constantly judge the women playing the role (AKA A lot of eye rolling on the high notes). Well, one day the understudy showed up at the stage door to sign in for half hour and the stage manager gave her the news that she was finally going on! The understudy was very excited and told him, “Wow! Let me just run to the corner for a box of tissues and I’ll be right back!” And she never came back. Who knows if it’s true, but we love it! Roger said he and Gary Beach would always recount that story and during The Producers when they’d get to a show where they were extremely tired they would say “Let me just run to the corner for a box of tissues” as code for they didn’t want to go on. Perfect!
I told that story to my friend Mark Cortale, who produces the concert series I do around the country, and he revealed that when he was singing opera, he was cast as a swing in an operetta here in New York City. One day, he heard the person he was covering was out of the show but Mark hadn’t had any rehearsal yet, nor had he worked on the music. Basically, he didn’t know the role at all. The stage manager called to tell him he was on…and he simply didn’t answer the phone. For the entire day! I said “But wasn’t it your job to know the role no matter what?” and he replied, “Yes, it was.” I guess that was his version of a box of tissues.
Mark is producing our upcoming London show and just produced the one Audra and I did in New Orleans last week. Audra plays the wardrobe in the new Beauty and the Beast film and told us that she was at the premiere and saw a little girl go running by. She then realized it was Blue Ivy. She was waiting for the nanny to go walk by…but instead it was Beyoncé. Audra said she flipped out. Beyoncé nodded and said, “It’s good to see you.” Audra said she was dumbfounded. Finally, she was able to speak but the only thing that came out was “….Queen!” Period.
After my Audra show, I flew to Ft. Lauderdale to do a show with Andrea Martin and it was amazing. Man, she is funny. The audience went crazy for her. It’s so fun now to tell the audience who co-wrote her Edith Prickley rap (her character on SCTV) that she performs. When she first did it in her show, her co-writer’s name would draw blank stares. Now, people flip out because it was Lin-Manuel Miranda! Pre-Hamilton. Here is a sample:
Our next Concert For America is April 18 in NYC and we’re about to announce some more stars to the already am-ah-zing lineup that includes Barry Manilow, LaChanze, and Vanessa Williams. Tickets (and the livestream!) atConcertsForAmerica.com.
Here’s one of my favorite Barry Manilow performances…his “Very Strange Medley.” Watch this blast from the past:
This Wednesday and Thursday, Varla Jean Merman, one of the most hilarious performers ever, is at Feinstein’s/54 Below! Buy tickets at 54Below.com.
And watch this video, which busts the original singer for always singing “You Don't Know My Name” like “Jew Don't Know My Name.” So fantastic!