What Not to Do When You Play Board Games With Mary Poppins Returns’ Marc Shaiman

Seth Rudetsky   What Not to Do When You Play Board Games With Mary Poppins Returns’ Marc Shaiman
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from a New Year’s Eve with Tony winner Marc Shaiman, an interview with The Cher Show writer Rick Elice, and more.
Peter Pan, Seth Rudetsky, Trixie, and Marc Shaiman Genevieve Rafter Keddy

Happy New Year! I have so many fun gigs this month, including an appearance right here in New York at The Town Hall! I’ll be there Monday January 14 with Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara (who’s about to star on Broadway in Kiss Me, Kate). Here she is performing a hi-larious song that we will be doing in our concert (I’m playing the piano in this clip). Listen to her range…it’s full-on coloratura!

On a related note, I just went Off-Broadway to the Westside Theater and saw The Other Josh Cohen (Holy cow! So much talent on that stage!) and the co-writer/co-star of that show, David Rossmer, is the co-writer of this song as well. Watch it above and then get tickets to see me and Kelli!

As for New Year’s Eve, James and I visited Marc Shaiman and his husband Lou (Mirabal) that afternoon. Turns out, they have a house less than 30 minutes from our house! We played TABOO, one of my favorite games. The teams were James and Lou against me and Marc. Marc wound up being outraged during one round and here’s why:

If you don’t know, one player has a word in his hand he has to describe to his teammate. He also has a list of words that he can’t use to while he’s describing said word. Anyhoo, I gave these clues to Marc; “This is a food that people eat in Japan. It’s from the ocean. It’s a plant that floats on top.” This went on for almost the entire round with Marc having no idea of the answer, which was seaweed. He was up in arms because he felt my clue should have referenced Hairspray, for which he wrote the score and co-wrote the lyrics…which has a main character named Seaweed. Hmph. I stand by my clues because I wasn’t thinking of it as a proper name. I was describing the noun…and quite well! The end of the story is that both teams tied so “it’s all good.”

Speaking of Seaweed, here’s a song he appears in opposite Tracey, Link, and Penny. And here is 3/4 of the original cast singing the song after a performance of Disaster! on Broadway! During BC/EFA fundraising time, we would auction off a chance to hear live performances of classic Broadway songs with original cast members. Usually, I would accompany, but in this one, Marc played his own song. Also, note that Marissa Jaret Winokur literally brought her original costume!

I had writer Rick Elice on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, and we talked about how he came to write the script for The Cher Show.

Around two years ago, Flody Suarez (who’s been a producer of lots of hit shows on TV) asked head of Disney Theatrical Tom Schumacher to recommend someone to write the show and Tom recommended Rick (who co-wrote Jersey Boys, a musical bio of The Four Seasons, and Disney’s Peter and the Starcatcher). Flody invited Rick to lunch and when he mentioned the idea of a musical about Cher Rick told him he was not right for the job. He felt that even though he was a Cher fan, he wasn’t a fanatic. Furthermore, Cher’s life has been an open book so he didn’t know what an audience could learn that they didn’t already know. And he felt he didn’t write “camp” well.

Rick Elice
Rick Elice Marc J. Franklin

Flody then did that old chestnut of “Well, if you were to write the show, how would you do it?” Basically, “if you had killed your wife, how would you have done it?” Rick immediately told him that he would use three different women to play Cher. He felt that Cher was iconic and it would be too much pressure for one person to encapsulate all of that onstage. Everyone know how she looks, talks, walks, etc. and it’s too much for one person to replicate that and make the audience forget it isn’t Cher. He mentioned Jersey Boys and told me that even though we all know how Frankie Valli sings, that’s about all we know about him. It’s much easier for an audience to accept that it’s Frankie Valli as long as the actor can do a reasonable facsimile of his voice. Also, Rick loved the idea of three different Chers because Freud said that we are all the different iterations of ourselves at all times…meaning that as an adult we are simultaneously ourselves as a baby, toddler, 5-year-old, teenager etc. So, he thought it would be fun to use that age-old technique of various people of different ages playing one person.


He explained using the term “age old” by mentioning the fact that Aeschylus had three people play the title role in Oedipus and I nodded sagely, implying that I had stayed awake during A.P. English. Anyhoo, the lunch ended with Rick politely declining the project. A while later, Rick got a call from Jeffrey Seller (Broadway producer of Hamilton), who told him “Flody told me you’d write that show about Cher if I produced it.” Yes, that ol’ trick was employed as well. They both thought the other was an interesting choice to work on the show since it was outside their regular style. Jeffrey told Rick to think about it, but Rick told him that he couldn’t focus on anything since, sadly, his husband, the great actor Roger Rees, had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Teal Wicks, Jarrod Spector, Stephanie J. Block, Jason Moore, Micaela Diamond, and Rick Elice Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

A month later, the phone rang and after Rick answered, he assumed it was his friend Christian Borle doing his usual comedy. Yes, he thought Christian had called him claiming to be Cher. I’m sure you’re not surprised to find out, it was indeed Cher herself who called and simply said “Hi, it’s Cher.” After he realized it wasn’t Christian, he listened to Cher ask him why he didn’t want to write the show and he told her that his life was in turmoil. She told him that she wanted him to do it and he told her that not only was not available because of what was happening with Roger, but he also felt he was wrong for it. Because he was adamantly saying no, Cher really wanted him to write it. He assured her that it wasn’t a negotiating tactic, he really was saying no… and that was that. A few months later Roger was miraculously starring in The Visit, opposite Chita Rivera, even though he had brain cancer. Finally, in May, Roger had to leave the show and Rick was staying at home, taking care of him. Again, Cher called him, but this time she said she was in NYC and they should get together. Rick told her that he couldn’t meet because he was homebound, taking care of Roger. The next thing he knew, Cher was sitting in his living room.

She was with a few of her people and stayed for four hours. As she left, her manager told Rick that he had never seen her talk that long to anyone since he had known her…for 30 years! On the way out, she asked when he could get started and he again told that he was caring for Roger and it was impossible. In July, Roger passed away and Rick went into deep mourning. At the beginning of October, Cher called him (“Hi, it’s Cher!”). She told him that she had read about Roger passing away and she thought it was time that he got on a plane to California and for them to get to know each other. Specifically, she told him that it was time for him to “rejoin the human race.” He said “Cher! You’re quoting Thorton Wilder?” and she said, “No! I’m quoting Hello, Dolly!”. They both laughed and Rick realized that it was the first time he had laughed in months. They met in California and they talked about loss…Roger Rees and Sonny Bono. He had thought they had nothing in common: “What do I know about being a diva? An Oscar-winning actress?” but realized they did indeed connect. Specifically (and as he told me he added “please forgive me”), they connected about: How do you find “life after love”?

Finally, after a week, he told her he would attempt to write the script. He told me he agreed because she was so kind and thoughtful at a very vulnerable period of his life. If you haven’t seen any clips from it, here ya go:

The Cher Show opened month ago and James and I loved it! I cannot wait for the CD! because Rick’s idea of three different Chers means that those three ladies are now singing what are normally Cher’s solo songs in incredible three-part harmonies brilliantly arranged by Daryl Waters. And I hate saying that someone should win a Tony award for a performance because it puts so much pressure on the person, but let me just say that Stephanie J. Block is brilliant (and should win a Tony Award).

And finally, speaking of “rejoining the human race,” here is one of my favorite performances of “Before the Parade Passes By.” It’s Norm Lewis (!) on his first solo CD. So incredible!

Happy New Year!

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