Let’s first talk Tony Awards. SO…I got hired by IBM to do a promo for their new thingy called “Watson.” I don’t necessarily understand what it is but it can basically do anything. I just saw an article showing how it can detect skin cancer. Seriously! I used it for something more shallow: showtunes! They asked me to do something featuring a song from each Tony-nominated musical and I asked if I could input them all into Watson and then have Watson combine all four into one song. I would then add a melody and (idiotic) lyrics. Anyhoo, they went along with it and I wound up having a great time! They totally got my sense of humor and even kept in one of the Bea Arthur’s glares I gave to the IBM researcher. WATCH!
Anyhoo, because I did the IBM thing (which was in partnership with the Broadway League), I got two delicious tickets to the Tony Awards. The only times I’ve gone to the Tony Awards was when I wrote the opening numbers in 1998 and 2000. What were they, you ask? Well; In 2000, Rosie wanted to highlight Broadway people who had gone on to TV fame. Jesus Christ Superstar had just come back to Broadway so I thought we’d do the title song and The Broadway Inspirational Voices agreed to back it up. We got Broadway-turned-TV-stars Megan Mullally (Will And Grace), Jesse L. Martin (Law And Order), and Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal) to perform their signature Broadway songs. Click here to watch.
My first Tony opening number was in 1998. Rosie wanted to do a song featuring three “divas” and I suggested Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, and Betty Buckley. Jerry Mitchell choreographed it, John McDaniel conducted, and it was so much fun! Click here to watch.
Anyhoo, I was very excited to go back and see it from the audience. On the way into Radio City, James and I were thrilled to run into Jennifer Simard. Jennifer is currently playing Ernestina Money (hilariously) in Hello, Dolly! and last year she was nominated for playing Sister Mary Downy (with the gambling addiction) in my show Disaster!. It was so perfect to walk into the Tonys with her! Then, we all saw Don Pippin in line. Don was the last music director to win a Tony Award (for Oliver!) before that category was dropped, and he’s conducted/arranged the vocals for such amazing shows as La Cage Aux Folles, Chorus Line, and Mame and he wrote the vocal arrangements for Hello, Dolly! He recreated them again for this current version and got to attend the Tony Awards because Scott Rudin bought tickets for everyone involved with the show. Don is 90 (!) and he said he’s never had a producer buy him a ticket for the Tony Awards!!
Well, it was a long wait to get into Radio City and Don was remembering back in the early ’60s when he was doing Oliver!. He ran into producer David Merrick who had just come back from seeing the pre-Broadway tour of Hello, Dolly!. Don asked him how the show was and David said it was terrible and he was embarrassed to have his name associated with it! Well, if you’ve read the biography of director/choreographer Gower Champion, you know that Gower knew the show needed to be fixed and he spent the next nine weeks fixing it. At that point, the Act 1 finale was about Horace Vandegelder; Don told me that Charles Strouse suggested to Jerry Herman it should be about Dolly. That’s when Herman wrote “Before The Parade Passes By.” There were always rumors that Jerry Herman didn’t write the song, but Don assured me he did.
More about Don: He was the music director at Radio City Music Hall for many years. He told Alexander Cohen, this Tony Awards producer back then, that the Tony Awards should be held at Radio City Music Hall. Alexander said absolutely not because it’s not a Broadway house. Don told him that Radio City is known across the country and it would make the Tony Awards have more importance to people watching nationally. Cohen stood his ground and said NEVER! Don told me the Tony Awards finally came to Radio City…the year after he left his Radio City job! ARGH!
Back to Hello, Dolly!. Most people know that Jerry Herman wrote the show hoping that Ethel Merman would do it, but Ethel told him that she didn’t want to do the daily grind of theatre anymore and passed on the part. She did however wind up playing the role years later and, P.S., here she is in her mid-70s singing the Act 1 finale.
Yes, the vibrato’s a tad wide but the lady could still BELT!
And to connect Ethel and Don Pippin, Don was conducting Woman Of The Year when Ethel Merman came to see it and sat right in back of him. Don said that Lauren Bacall came out onstage, sang in her smoky low baritone and after just three measures Ethel exclaimed—at full volume—“Jesus CHRIST!”
Before this year’s Tony Awards, I got to sit on a panel for NY-1 Onstage and discuss the season and make predictions. I was going to the gym after so I was wearing old sneakers and I assumed it didn’t matter because when I’ve done it before, I’ve been behind a desk. Turns out, we were on stools and fully exposed. I therefore told the camera people to make sure to only film my upper half and I got a lot of nods. Well, I guess it was Opposite Day or they thought I said to only feature full body shots where you could see my horrific sneakers and white socks. Perfect! Click here to watch.
During one of the commercial breaks from the Tony Awards, they showed the Radio City audience the Broadway for Orlando “What The World Needs Now” video. If you don’t know, June 12 is the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Here’s the video and if you buy the song (or any of the dance remixes) half of the money goes towards the people in Orlando who were affected by the shooting (because many can’t work, or have PTSD) and the other half goes The Trevor Project, which is a suicide prevention hotline for GLBTQ youth. Since the election in November, calls to the hotline have tripled.
We went to the official Tony after-party which was in The Plaza and fabulous and then we got invited to the Dear Evan Hansen party! It was at the Empire Hotel on 63rd Street and Broadway and there was an ice cream truck parked in front. How random, I thought. No…it was Evan Hansen-themed ice cream and it was FREE! You didn’t have to show your party invite! However, I decided yesterday that I was “off sugar” and completely resisted the ice cream truck. Then I walked into the party. There was an entire table filled with candy. All blue (the Evan Hansen color) and I went from five modest chocolate almonds…. to several handfuls of M&M’s, multiple glasses of blue lemonade, and some delicious pudding covered in whipped cream. The temptation was TOO MUCH! I was furious and filled with deliciousness.
See Tony-winning best musical Dear Evan Hansen yourself! Join Playbill Club before noon ET June 30 and you’ll have the chance to win two tickets. For more details, click here.
The parting gift was the shirt Ben Platt wears in the show and when I checked the label inside I saw it said “YOU WILL BE FOUND.” Wow, that is some serious party planning!
Looking towards the future: Our June 24 San Francisco Concert For America at the Curran just added San Francisco Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin and Wicked alum Shoshana Bean, and our July 6 Seattle concert at the 5th Avenue Theater coincidentally just added Wicked alum Megan Hilty!
Get tix for either one at ConcertsForAmerica.com
This Saturday, I’m appearing with some fabulous lady singers: Liz Callaway, Capathia Jenkins, Christine Pedi, Lindsay Mendez and host Julie Halston to help out the Hudson Theater. It’s being held at a stunning house near the Hudson River. Come watch the sunset and listen to Broadway! Get tickets here.
And finally, my friend Jack Plotnick was visiting and we continued his video series about choreographers. The previous ones were “When the Choreographer Doesn’t Remember the Steps,” “When the choreographer is trying to hide the fact that he hasn't been able to come up with anything for the number...”. This one is called “When The Choreographer Is Secretly Trying To Decide Whether To Fire You.”