I’m back from the Playbill Cruise and boy are my arms tired...from clapping so much!
I’m traveling tomorrow (February 28) to Las Vegas introduce the new season at the Smith Center and then I’m home for most of March. And while I’m here in New York, I’ll be doing a big, fat comedy/music show March 27 and 30 with my Disaster! co-stars: Roger Bart, Kerry Butler, and Kevin Chamberlin. Come see us!
Back to the cruise: Not only were there amazing shows every night (with John McDaniel playing every style of piano music possible) but I did four chatterboxes (a.k.a. talk shows with music) during the afternoon. There were so many performances and stories that I can’t write about them all, but I’ll give ya highlights:
-Turns out, Karen Mason was originally cast as the torch singer in the Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy….but she was already in rehearsal for the Broadway musical Play Me A Country Song. She really wanted to do Torch Song but the Play Me A Country Song team wouldn’t let her out of her contract. I’m not saying Play Me A Country Song wound up not being a hit, but when you look it up on the International Broadway Data Base it says it ran from June 27, 1982 to…June 27, 1982. I guess they really needed her there that night. She wound up becoming the standby in Torch Song and going on many times so it (sort of) worked out.
-Judy Kuhn remembered doing Rags with opera diva Teresa Stratas. By the end of the opening number, all the people that lived in the same tenement would stand and the giant structure would lower from above them so they’d be inside it on the last beat. There was a line drawn on the stage that you had to make sure you were standing behind so the building wouldn’t hit you. Well, during one performance, Judy saw Teresa with her suitcase beside her, standing on the line! Judy ran forward as the giant building was lowering and pulled Teresa back. Teresa then ran forward to pick up the suitcase that was still on the line but Judy pulled her away before she got there just as the suitcase was completely flattened by the set!!!! AH! The next day Teresa ran up to Judy and thanked her for saving her life. “All night I kept thinking of that suitcase…that could have been me!” I know some singers are flat…but this is ridiculous! (Anybody? Nobody.)
Highlights From the "Broadway on the High Seas" Cruise
-Lorna Luft talked about growing up surrounded by stars who would casually fill the living room of her mom, Judy Garland, and her dad, Syd Luft. And, speaking of Judy etc, Lorna told us that when her son was eight years old, they took him to the Halloween parade in West Hollywood. She felt that he was old enough to have “the talk” with him. She sat him down, but paused…not quite knowing how to say it. Finally, she said, tentatively, “Honey, while we’re at the parade, you might possibly see some people…”
He then interrupted: “…who are dressed up as members of our family?”
Lorna said: “You’re gonna be just fine.”
-Virginia Woodruff was on the cruise and I first met her in 1989, right when I got out of college. I had just done Dreamgirls with Billy Porter and he was doing it again in Pittsburgh while he was still going to Carnegie Mellon. The music director wasn’t teaching people how to sass up the score, so he asked Danny Herman, the director, to fly me down to teach people the proper sass. Virginia was Effie White (her first professional job) and since then, she’s been working on Broadway. She told a hilarious story about doing the national tour of The Color Purple. One of the understudies was young and—as young people do—she decided to change her name. To “Phyre.” Well, one night Virigina was stage right and about to go on as one of the church ladies. The understudy was on as one of the other church ladies, but was nowhere to be found. Thus followed the most bizarre way of finding someone backstage: Instead of yelling her name, Virginia had to energetically whisper it. Why? Because no one cares whether or not a name starts with a P-H-, you can’t stand backstage and yell “FIRE!” It would literally clear the theatre. Virginia did an amazing imitation of herself looking for the understudy by frantically whispering “Phyre! Phyre!”
-Virginia was on the boat with her good friend Lillias White and I told everyone that the whole reason I asked the Actors Fund to do Dreamgirls back in 2001 was so I could hear Lillias sing Effie with a full orchestra. I’m so obsessed with her! We did the concert...and raised almost $1,000,000! For the cruise, we did the end of Act 1 fight scene: Lillias was Effie, I was all of the men and Virginia was all of the women. It was so much fun! Speaking of Lillias and Dreamgirls, click here to watch the middle of the Act 1 fight scene from our Actors Fund concert with Audra McDonald, Heather Headley, and Norm Lewis.
The day after we got off the cruise, James and I (and many others) did our second Concert For America at Town Hall. It wound up being so good! We’re going to re-air the entire thing again this coming Sunday at 9PM at ConcertsForAmerica.com.
It started with Orfeh singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” Will Chase singing the haunting “It Goes Like it Goes,” Rema Webb doing a powerhouse version of “Change” from A New Brain, Martha Wash (from The Weather Girls) bringing down the house with “It’s Raining Men,” Ramin Karimloo sounding (and looking) stunning on “Bring Him Home,” Christine Pedi doing her brilliant imitations for “I Will Survive,” Beth Malone getting cheers throughout for “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home, and the 11 o’clock number was Keala Settle’s stop-the-show version of “Impossible Dream.” We closed with everyone coming out to sing “Let The Sunshine In” and the whole audience joined in.
One of the first people we booked was Ingrid Michaelson. I’m obsessed with her song “The Way I Am.” Here is the “meant to be” part of this week’s column:
A few days before the concert, when we saw all the issues with allowing transgender kids to use the bathroom of their gender, James and I decided we wanted someone transgender to talk. Tony Yazbeck came up to us on the cruise and, even though I hadn’t mentioned that we were looking for someone trans, told us that we should ask his good friend Shakina Nayfack to speak. I agreed but didn’t have time to get a contact. Then James and I called our producing partners Joey Monda and Frankie Dailey. We asked if they knew anyone who knew Shakina; turns out, they share an office with her! We booked her to speak and thought it would be great for her to introduce “The Way I Am” since it’s about acceptance. On the way home from the airport, we called her to talk about what she’d say because I didn’t know if she knew Ingrid Michaelson’s music. Before I descried the song she’d be introducing, she told us that when she decided to transition, she used music to give her strength. And the song that meant the most to her was… “The Way I Am”! Isn’t that amazing! Here she is talking followed by Ingrid’s beautiful version of the song:
A few weeks before the concert, I told James we should do “Enough Is Enough” to help the people who are feeling frustrated by what’s going on with the government. I saw opening night of Spamilton Off-Broadway and was blown away by the singing of Juwan Crawley and Nora Schell. I asked them both to sing, and they were AMAZING. Their voices are crazy! Juwan is up the octave and Nora has the most stunning placement. Listen how fantastic they are!
Watch the concert again this Sunday at 9PM and get tickets for the Chicago concert (March 20) and the next NYC concert (April 18) at ConcertsForAmerica.
And finally, the Oscars. So happy for Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who won for La La Land and who are represented on Broadway by Dear Evan Hansen. A few years ago, after their first Broadway show, A Christmas Story, opened, I wrote how Jeff Marx (who co-wrote AvenueQ) was an early mentor to them. It’s such a fantastic story, you must read it (scroll down to the italics in the link below):
Isn’t that great?!!!! (Did you read it? You should have.)
Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas 8 to the Caribbean set sail on February 17, with 19 Broadway favorites aboard in our most star-studded cruise to date. Playbill’s inaugural river cruise along the Rhône River in May 2017 is sold out, but cabins are available for the Rhine River cruise in August 2017, featuring Seth Rudetsky, Andréa Burns, Faith Prince, Terrence Mann, Charlotte d’Amboise, and more exciting talent to be announced. Visit PlaybillTravel.com for booking and information.