‘Allo from England. Or actually, goodbye to England. I’m on my way home to the USA after doing two shows on Sunday at the Leicester Square Theatre; a matinée with British star Jenna Russell and a night show with Judy Kuhn, who’s currently starring in London’s Fiddler On The Roof. Turns out, Jenna began as a soprano and, back in the ’80s, she was touring with a small show where they didn’t use mics. They were in a rehearsal and the director was all the way in the back of the theatre. She started singing and he yelled, “I can’t hear you!” She sang louder and, again, he yelled that he could not hear her! Finally, she sang as loud as she could…and that’s when she discovered that she could belt! She had no idea that she had a chest voice! It sounds like a fake story, but I’ve heard the exact same story with slight variations from these three women: They all started as sopranos and had no idea they could belt til they were in their 20s.
Jenna told us about starring in Guys and Dolls in London with Jane Krakowski as Adelaide and Ewan McGregor as Sky. She began previews and asked her longtime partner, Ray Coulthard, for any notes. He told her that he loved her performance and there was only one moment that he thought could improve; In the middle of Act 1, free-wheeling Sky suddenly kisses uptight Sarah. Ray thought that Sarah should be shocked by the kiss and immediately push Sky away. Instead, Ray noticed that Jenna seemed to let the kiss linger for quite a while. It didn’t make sense for the character. Jenna totally agreed and felt that, indeed, Sarah Brown would be furious that Sky is taking such a liberty and that she would end the kiss in two seconds flat. Well, the next night before the show, Ewan walked by her and asked if she wanted to change anything in that night’s performance. She was about to tell him about cutting off the kiss as he turned to face her. She then took in his extremely handsome face. The next thing she knew she was saying, “Nope! Nothing’s changing,” and the lengthy kiss remained for the run of the show.
Jenna also talked about the moment she found out that Grey Gardens was coming to London. She was offered the lead but was shocked at how low budget it was. Jenna hilariously recreated the phone call for us:
PRODUCER: Jenna! We got the rights to Grey Gardens and want you to play Edie!
JENNA: Great! How much?
PRODUCER: 100 pounds a week.
JENNA: F*** off! (hangs up)
Of course, she wound up doing it for that salary and loved it!
Watch her in it here!
Staunch! See the First Pics of Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell in the U.K. Premiere of Grey Gardens
Jenna also talked about being obsessed with Sunday In The Park With George. When she was doing Guys and Dolls, her friend Graham MacDuff was on his way to see it because his wife, Anna-Jane Casey, was starring as Dot. Jenna told Graham how much she loved the record but had never seen it onstage so she immediately got a ticket and joined him that night. Well, it was the third preview at the Menier Chocolate Factory and there were a multitude of tech problems during that evening’s performance, but that didn’t stop Jenna from weeping throughout the evening. She loved it! The production was announced to transfer to the West End right when Anna-Jane Casey found out she was pregnant. She and Graham had been trying for years so it was a joyous moment for them. But it also meant that she couldn’t play the role. In stepped Jenna!
Jenna opened the show on the West End and was especially moved singing the song “Children and Art,” which basically says the most important things you leave behind are children and art. However, during the run, she went to the doctor and found out that she would never become pregnant unless she tried IVF. She remembers riding home on the tube and trying to wrap her head about the fact that pregnancy would not come easily to her, if at all. She and Ray then tried IVF…but it didn’t work. She wound up winning the Olivier Award and soon the production transferred to Broadway. During the run on Broadway they tried IVF one more time… and Jenna became pregnant! How amazing that both stars were having difficulty becoming pregnant while starring in a show that talked about the legacy of children…and then both stars became pregnant! Jenna told everyone that her daughter Betsy was now ten years old. She then stepped up to the mic to sing “Children And Art” and right before she did, Betsy called out from the audience “I love you, Mommy.” And thus concludes Hallmark’s Movie of the Week.
Our show ended around 6PM and I had to be back at the theatre by 7 for a sound check with Judy Kuhn. Well, turns out, a day before, Judy had tweeted that she came down with a cold but still felt she could get through the concert. That morning she was sounding fine… but then she made a cardinal mistake: She took a Sudafed. Because Judy rarely gets sick she didn’t know that taking cold medicine can help dry out a runny nose but that’s not all it dries out. It winds up getting rid of so much moisture that you can’t make much of a sound! When I got to sound check, Judy didn’t know if she could sing at all! What to do? An evening of monologues?
Luckily, she decided to just go for it and the audience loved it. She told me after, instead of focusing on her sound, she just concentrated on the acting. The combination of her genetically amazing voice, even being dried out, plus her acting made it an amazing show. And there’s such a thrill from an audience when a star sings a classic song they recorded. There was crazy applause after “Someone Else’s Story” from Chess and, at the end of Act 2, “Colors of The Wind” from Pocahontas. I then took out “Ice Cream” from She Loves Me to close the show. I immediately regretted it because “Colors of the Wind” was so great and it had already been two hours. I realized that the show could have ended on that song. But it was too late to back down. Both Judy and the audience were nervous wrecks when I started vamping the song because it’s so hard to sing. As we approached the end, I started to panic because I knew the second-to-last note was a high B. Would she go down the octave? Would she pull and Orfeh and simply point to it? (See video.)
Well, lo and behold, Judy got to the very end, and despite the cold and the Sudafed, she magically let out an amazing high B and the concert ended with crazy cheers and screaming! Brava!
As for me, I’m in NYC for two days and then I come right back to the airport and fly to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for a Friday concert with Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo at the Parker Playhouse. We paired them together because they played the Phantom and Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and in the original cast of the sequel, Love Never Dies! Plus, they’re both so funny. Get your tickets here and come see us.
And, for my L.A. readers, I’m doing Rhapsody In Seth on Monday, February 18 at Largo!
I was searching through my file cabinets and found all my old materials from when the show ran Off-Broadway in 2003. I posted the old poster which features my head in various boxes and a Twitter follower made me realize that it’s basically an homage (rip-off?) to one of my idols: Barbra Streisand. Who knew? And I love it!
And, while I was looking through my old material, I found my old review quotes about the show. Even though I’m constantly telling people how I never read reviews, I never said I don’t post reviews!
“Freshly funny...and includes a spectacular rendition of Rhapsody in Blue!” – NY TIMES
“Heartbreaking and hilarious!’ – The Advocate
“You probably won’t find a funnier evening in town” – Time OUT NY
Come see me in L.A.!