What a week!
Here’s the background: The Entertainment Community fund is needing a cash infusion. Since the WGA and SAF/AFTRA strikes began, they’ve given $6 million in direct aid. Meaning actual cash to help people pay rent, buy groceries, pay medical bills etc. Annette Bening, who is now the chair of the fund, told us that union members are starting to lose their apartments and houses. Soon they will lose their health insurance. So, James and I decided to do a Labor Day Telethon! #NewSchoolJerryLewis.
We’re friends with Marco Pennette and his husband Steve Rabiner, who offered their fabulous house to use for our livestream. It went so great! We had a ton of stars come over, chat, read donations and sing! So many!—like Sarah Silverman, D'Arcy Carden, Jack Plotnick, Marilu Henner, Caroline Rhea, Donna Mills, Jean Smart, Henry Winkler, Noah Wylie, Cameron Crowe, Tom Kitt, Lena Hall. The list goes on! Amazingly, Tom Viola from BCEFA offered a $25,000 matching donation and Jon Cryer and his wife Lisa Joyner offered a $50,000 matching donation! The livestream is still up to watch! You can donate and watch at StarsInTheHouse.com.
Speaking of raising money for The Entertainment Community Fund, we had a Stars in the House show dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the film Camp. We had so many of the stars crammed into our apartment. They sang songs from the film, still nailing their amazing harmony. There were also some great stories told.
If you don’t know, the film is about a musical theatre summer camp, very similar to Stage Door Manor, where writer/director Todd Graff went when he was a young theatre kid and then became a counselor. At the beginning of the film, you see a busload of kids driving up to the camp. They’re all singing a loud, unison version of “Losing My Mind.” It’s hilarious because that song is so not age appropriate and it’s so not a singalong. Todd said he based it on his first day of camp when he was young, and he walked into to a room with tons of campers singing all the counterparts and all the harmony to the opening number from Company. He knew he was in a magical place!
Speaking of which, Donna McKechnie told me that when they first learned that song at rehearsals for the original run of Company, they were all having a breakdown because it’s so complicated. The cast joked about all the future regional productions that would happen and said, “I pity the actors who have to learn these parts 20 years from now!” Cut to, the original cast did a reunion concert in the early 90s and had to relearn all their parts. They looked at each other and said, “OMG! We are those performers!” Watch here.
Camp is very ahead of its time—there is a character (played by a very young Robin De Jesús) who goes to his prom in a dress (pre-Billy Porter on the red carpet) and there are a lot of gay kids throughout the film who are comfortable being gay. Todd said that when he was pitching it to major studios, one of them told him that they really enjoyed it, but there were a lot of gay characters. They suggested that perhaps he change the gay characters and, instead, make them…Trekkies. They told him that Trekkies are similar to gay kids because, like gay kids, they too are often made fun of and not popular. And that’s when he realized he had to make the film independently!
Here’s the segment where one group of campers is doing “Turkey Lurkey” from Promises, Promises, another group is doing a play that is staged inside a dumpster, and another is doing the non-age appropriate Follies. I love it!
Here is the whole reunion:
We had a Stars in the House the night after our Camp reunion, but instead of raising money for the Entertainment Community Fund, we raised it for the people and animals of Maui. This livestream featured the cast of Avenue Q. Original Christmas Eve Ann Harada’s father was from Lahaina, a town that the fires destroyed. We had almost the whole original cast except Natalie Belcon, who couldn’t make it, so original amazing understudy Carmen Ruby Floyd joined. And John Tartaglia, who instead did our Labor Day Telethon, was replaced by Ben Durocher who played Princeton/Rod in NYC more than anyone ever—1300 performances. All these amazing people did a sing-through of the score to Avenue Q and it was so fantastic. I thought it was fantastic—not just because we raised so much money, but also because I have listened to that CD so many times and suddenly I was surrounded by those voices. It was like I was inside the actual chords. Heaven. Watch here:
P.S. If you don’t know, Avenue Q was originally going to be a TV show. When the original company were doing a presentation of the show in development, there wasn’t enough money to build full sets to hide the puppeteers, so the puppeteers were exposed while they spoke and sang. Apparently, the audience was riveted watching the performers and the puppets, and people told the creators (Jeff Marx, Robert Lopez, and Jeff Whitty) that, even though it was written as a TV show, it would work as a live musical! With the puppeteers exposed. When we did the sing-through for Stars in the House, no one used puppets—it was all about the amazing songs. Ann pointed out the evolution. First, it was supposed to be just puppets, then it was puppets and people, and now it was just people!
When I was playing the finale, “For Now,” I realized for the first time that it’s the same melody/chords as “It Sucks To Be Me!” It’s so obvious, but it never hit me! The cast told me that the finale was written first, and then Jeff and Robert decided to write the opening based on the finale so the songs became bookends.
Here's the opening:
And here's the finale:
Speaking of same songs, Christine Pedi, my co-host on SiriusXM, helped me to realize that the song “Funny Honey” from Chicago is the same melody/chords as the “Hot Honey Rag,” the finale dance that Velma and Roxie do. And I thought I had a “good ear.” Have a listen yourself!
Here’s “Funny Honey":
Coming up on September 18, my husband James and I are putting on our 9th annual Voices: Stars for Foster Kids. We help the organization called You Gotta Believe, which is the only group in NYC that is solely dedicated to helping older foster youth find families. We have stories from adoptive parents and former foster kids and lots and lots of performances!
This year, we’re going to open the whole show with Patina Miller recreating her Tony Award winning role from Pippin and performing “Magic to Do” with the whole cast! We’re also going to have two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy talk about being an adoptive mom and sing! Plus, Sharon Catherine Brown will talk about adopting from foster care and, because she is also one of my favorite Effies, we’re going to perform the whole end-of-act-one fight scene into “And I Am Telling You.” Sharon specifically requested that Norm Lewis be her Curtis and he said yes!
If you’ve never seen Sharon as Effie, watch this ASAP!
Get tickets at YouGottaBelieve.org and peace out!