Hi from Storrs, Connecticut! I’m starting my second week of Disaster! rehearsals at the Connecticut Repertory Theater and it’s going so great. It’s so great to do the show again with Jack and the cast is so fantastic. (Get your tickets here.) Here's a "scary" photo from the shoot we did with some of the cast:
And, wowza, I forgot how amazing all those songs are. Anne L. Nathan, who plays Shirley, told me that we picked the best songs from the ’70s. I agree!!! Here’s the original Broadway cast during the recording session:
I asked how the musical began and they said they both worked together on 30 Rock for seven years and were trying to think of a project to do when the TV show ended (and they finally had more time to do other projects). They liked the idea of musicalizing Mean Girls and when they started, everyone said it would take five years to get to Broadway. Tina thought that because they came from the improv world and Saturday Night Live they would be able to do it much faster. Cut to: Five years later it’s on Broadway. Turns out, everyone is Jeanne Dixon.
Jeff wrote all the music on 30 Rock and here’s a compilation of some of his hits including “Muffin Top.” I’m obsessed with musicalizing the lyric “You’re weirding me out.”
Jeff teamed up with Nell Benjamin (who wrote lyrics) and he said that when thinking about the style of music for the show, they realized it should be disparate, like the different groups in high school. Therefore, Damian (the gay best friend) is old school musical theatre, Janis (the anarchist best friend) would sing alternative rock and the Regina George (the queen of the school) has a James Bond villain song. Jeff loves that instead of belting like Ethel Merman, Regina makes her first appearance singing almost in a stage whisper. Everyone is rapt and hypnotized, which shows her power! Listen:
Of course, it completely reminds me of this.
I was complimenting them on the hilarious song “Stop” which features Damian giving relationship advice which amounts to stop obsessing. I told them I loved the specificity of his jealousy: The lyrics state that he’s angry that a guy he fooled around with at musical theatre camp does Anything Goes and starts dating a “pasty Catholic girl” who played Hope Harcout (“because basic”) and he comments on YouTube as four different people that her “De’Lovely” is pitchy.
Here’s the song:
When I asked Tina if she identified with Damian’s acting out, she admitted that if social media had been around when she was young, that would have been her “180 percent.” Jeff made her admit that when she was a kid, one of her (self-perceived) archrivals was Shirley Temple. Seriously! She would not enter a room if Shirley Temple was on TV. And Danielle Brisebois (Molly from Annie who then went onto star on All In The Family)!
I asked Tina if she gets freaked out when she has to change something (writing-wise) and she said that SNL and half-hour television are really good training grounds for being comfortable making changes. She said sometimes people would feel bad that she’d have to lose a joke but her theory is there are always more jokes in the world and she always focuses on the story.
I was complimenting her on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and remembered back when she was first casting the show and she mentioned Tituss Burgess to me. I told her what an amazing singer he was. Turns out, she only knew him from when he played “D’fwan” on the reality show within 30 Rock. Here are hilarious highlights (P.S. Randi in this clip is played brilliantly by Broadway vet Paula Leggett Chase. “I didn’t say it!” )
Anyhoo, Tina only knew him from that and didn’t know what a fantastic musician he is. I sent an emergency email with this video in it:
I also had Mean Girls director-choreographer Casey Nicolaw on Seth Speaks and I asked him about his big break on Broadway (after being in the ensemble of more than a dozen shows). Back in 2005, he was recommended for a job choreographing with Mike Nichols. (He later found out it was Jerry Mitchell who recommended him). He was asked to go to a meeting and not tell anyone! He got to Mike Nichols apartment which, of course, had an elevator that opened into his apartment, which, of course, had a white couch, which, of course, had Diane Sawyer sitting on it, who was, of course, dressed in white and she was, of course, drinking white wine! He had brought his resume and video highlight reel with him but never showed it. They just chatted for an hour and then Mike offered him Spamalot! It was Casey’s first Broadway show as a choreographer and he told me that he cried the whole elevator ride down and the entire cab ride home!
I also had Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle on the show. She has an act called “Frances Ruffelle LIVEs in NY” that’s gotten raves and plays at the Green Room 42 every month. Next performance June 23rd. (Get tickets here.)
She told us that before she played Eponine, she was the original Dinah, the dining car, in Starlight Express on the West End. If you don’t know, that’s a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber where everyone played a train and roller-skated. The set wrapped all around the audience and was like a rollercoaster. Frances was just a teenager and didn’t have the skating skills of the other cast members. But she thought she was amazing. As a matter of fact, when they first built the set, she was the first cast member they asked to try it out! Frances was so proud. She knew they asked her because she was the best! She later found out, they asked her because she was the worst: Basically, they reasoned that if she could skate the whole thing without breaking any bones then it was safe for anyone. Here she is singing Les Miz back in the day. She sounds great and such a great actress. Watch her here.
On Monday, Idina Menzel hosted a fundraiser for her organization “A Broader Way,” which brings arts to young girls in underserved urban areas. It was a karaoke night with Broadway peeps and Rosie O’Donnell hosted. Right before the show, some of us hung out in Rosie’s dressing room and I got to see her sassy new hair color up close. Silver fox! Idina sang and sounded am-ah-zing.
Alice Ripley and I opened the show with “Suddenly Seymour” and it was so fun to sing with her.
Right afterwards, Idina ran out onstage and demanded I remain while she “deconstructed” my performance. She turned ye old tables on me and hauled out my signature phrases like complimenting my “straight tone to vibrato,” but the end of story is I can post my signature deconstruction of her here because it’s my column. Peace out!