Hello from a high speed train! I’m going from Paris to Avignon ready to start our fabulous Playbill cruise. James is next to me, and Rebecca Luker is sitting across going over the French lyrics to the Lachme duet, which she’s planning on singing with Melissa Ericco. Across the aisle is Marc Kudisch and his wife, Shannon Lewis, and we are discussing the upcoming Fosse/Verdon TV show because Shannon was one of the stars of Fosse. She has amazing stories about Gwen Verdon from working together so closely during the nine months the show was out-of-town.
First of all, Shannon said that they were all obsessed with whatever she wore (which reminds me of Betty Buckley, who was also obsessed with Gwen, and when Betty moved to New York she got her shoes made at the same place that Gwen used) and the Fosse dancers especially loved Gwen’s beautiful bright blue earrings. However, they could not figure out what kind of jewel the earrings were. Finally, they got up the nerve to ask: Was it a sapphire? Some kind of sea glass? Gwen’s response: “They’re diamonds!” Wait…no one had ever seen a diamond like that. Are blue diamonds some kind of rare gem? Gwen’s response: “Oh! They’re regular diamonds but I don’t like diamonds… so I just color them in with a blue magic marker!” Brava DIY jewelry!
I had Andréa Burns (currently starring in Smart Blonde) and Lin-Manuel Miranda co-hosted with me on my “Dueling Divas” Saturday radio show and had the best time! Then I interviewed Lin for Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. He’s producing Fosse/Verdon on FX and told me that he read the book Fosse by Sam Wasson because they were classmates at Wesleyan, loved the book, and thought the story about Fosse’s relationship with Gwen (both personal and professional) would be good for TV. He got his signature posse involved: Alex Lacamoire for the music aspect and Tommy Kail for direction, and FX is now running the series every Tuesday. I already saw the first episode in advance and it’s so fun to find the Broadway people hidden throughout. The character of Paddy Chayevsky looked like someone I had never seen before…but I recognized the signature speaking voice of Norbert Leo Butz!
I also had a great time chatting with Lin about the upcoming film version of In The Heights. There was lots of info “off the record” but I will say that I’m very happy this version is happening and not the one that was optioned years ago. Back then, the studio said something to the effect of “unless you can get so-and-so to be one of the stars, the film won’t be made.” They couldn’t get so-and-so… and the film wasn’t made! This new version is a more egalitarian mix of Hollywood stars, Latin stars, and Broadway peeps.
I also asked Lin about doing his “Hamildrop” with President Obama and he told me that as he was asking Obama if he’d be willing to do the spoken section of the song, Obama heard the words “record” and “song” and interrupted with “You want me to sing? I’ll sing!” Lin told him that he actually wanted him to do the speech in the middle of the song, and there was a full 30 minutes reserved in the studio. Obama said yes but they wouldn’t need the full 30 minutes because they called him “One take Obama”! I love that he claimed he had a sassy nickname!
We also talked about Lin doing Mary Poppins Returns, and I told him that I loved the opening number where you saw so much of beautiful London. Lin said that they wanted him to sing some of those sections live instead of using a pre-record…but the part they chose was when he was riding his bike on cobblestone! In terms of how his voice sounded with his body being bumped constantly, let’s just say not since Gwen Verdon.
Last Sunday, I did a wonderful event for the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative that honored Kaytie O’Hara, a great singer I met through Kelli O’Hara (no relation). Kaytie is dealing with her third bout of cancer and Kelli wanted to do something to help. We rounded up a bunch of amazing singers, got The Actors Fund involved through Lee Perlman, and had a bunch of people donate money to have brunch and listen to amazing singing. Look at these fabulous photos!
Speaking of fabulous photos, James and I spent one day in Paris before the start of the cruise. The last time I was here was in 1991 when I was in my early 20s playing piano for the European Tour of A Chorus Line. I took photos in front of the Eiffel Tower doing the opening combination plus my own signature dance moves and I decided to try to recreate this one.
Though it was only one (1) photo, it took a full 45 minutes because it was a lot of “How does an iPhone work?” from me and James. Yes, we know how to take a basic picture, but every time he said “1, 2, 3 JUMP” the photo that would come out was either me preparing to jump or me landing from the jump. Then I got a good one but my shirt was riding up and it made me look like I was wearing a halter top a là a advertising a school fundraising car wash. Then we changed location to another part of the Eiffel Tower for a better angle. My point is: The entire day was basically footage from Amercia’s Next Top Model that had been edited out due to boredom. End of story: Here’s the shot!
I went to the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, to introduce the upcoming national tours that will be part of their Broadway series. One of the tours will be The Band’s Visit and I shared the stage with its producer, Orin Wolf. Orin used to be my manager before he became a head honcho for Networks. He was telling me how the show came to be and it was all because he saw the film and thought it would be a great musical. He contacted a bunch of composer-lyricists and asked them to watch the film and musicalize one section. David Yazbek chose the moment where one of the characters is simply waiting for the phone to ring. Orin loved that he chose such a small, still moment and that’s why he asked David to write the score. The song is called “Answer Me” and it was sung by Adam Kantor in the show. Here’s my favorite version: It was during the Humane Society Benefit that I do every year. Adam sang the song but used one of the adoptable doggies as his scene partner. It totally works!
After my week on the cruise, James and I head to London where I’ll be doing Deconstructing Broadway April 15, 16, and April 19.
Then I get home and immediately go to Pittsburgh to do Rhapsody in Seth April 22 and 23 and then I hightail it to L.A. to Rhapsody in Seth at Largo. Rhapsody In Seth goes is my play all about my childhood (my horrific school experience that ended with me suing my high school), but also how my Broadway obsession began super early. I do a section of the show where I deconstruct all the shows I loved since first becoming obsessed The Most Happy Fella when I was 2. It was definitely difficult to be so crazily into Broadway and not have other Broadway fans with which to share my obsessions. I remember calling my friend Michael Smith on the phone in fifth grade, putting the phone next to the record player and blasting Nell Carter’s “Cash For Your Trash,” yelling that she just “belted an E.” I never got the reaction I wanted. (AKA: Holy cow! She’s belting as high as Patti LuPone in “A New Argentina”!) I usually got silence and the distinct feeling of being stared at with a blank face through the phone. Regardless, I would appreciate if all of you obsess about Nell like I did:
I deconstruct a lot of amazing in singing in Rhapsody In Seth and show video clips of myself jazz-dancing. I also use audio tapes of myself “riffing” at the age of 11. I think people think I’m exaggerating when I talk about how obsessed I was with Broadway at a young age, but I recently found this essay I wrote when I was ten years old:
The good news is, some if it came true!!!! And though I’m not “moving to California,” I’m going to be there on April 29 doing Rhapsody In Seth. And as for playing at Carnegie Hall, I did indeed play there! (Note: Once. And 20 years ago).
Here’s my deconstruction of that performance (starring Audra McDonald)!
And finally, speaking of L.A., I will also be there May 3 at the Wallis with Sarah Silverman! YES, she loves Broadway.
Here we are on SiriusXM back in 2011!
And now, from France, au revoir!