Hola from España!
I’m on a fabulous cruise with Emily Skinner and Broadway married couple Stephanie J. Block and Sebastian Arcelus, fresh off their tour of Into The Woods. Right now, I’m sitting in the pool area on my fourth chocolate chip cookie. I’m converting calories into the metric system, which I never actually learned, so I’m guesstimating that a 100-calorie cookie in America is a 10-calorie cookie in Europe. Note to math nerds: please don’t educate me.
Anyhoo, I began the week in concert with Emily Skinner, and we told everyone how we met right when she graduated Carnegie-Mellon University. I had just moved to NYC after Oberlin and started vocal coaching. My friend Jack Plotnick (who I knew through CMU alumni Billy Porter and Eric Woodall) suggested I coach Emily because she was the “most talented person he knew.” And, boy, she is mega-talented! I was just watching the opening number from the concert version of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas that I put together for The Actors Fund back in 2006. Holy cow!
Despite the performance being one-night-only with just two weeks of rehearsal, she performs so confidently and her acting is so fantastic. Watch how great she is in this number. All of the ladies are doing wonderful choreography by Denis Jones. It’s so good!
On the night of the concert, the famous columnist (and Texan) Liz Smith introduced our company. She told our audience that, back in the 1970s when she would talk about theatre on the TV news, she wasn’t allowed to say the title. She had to call it “The Best Little Hoo-House in Texas.” That’s better?
During the concert, Emily also confirmed that a story I had heard about the Broadway musical Jekyll And Hyde was true. It was Emily’s first Broadway show and she was Linda Eder’s understudy. Well, early on in the preview period, poor Linda lost her voice and couldn’t sing, but Emily wasn’t ready to go on because she hadn’t had any rehearsal. She knew her lines and all the songs, but she hadn’t learned any of the many fight scenes, which can be dangerous to perform if not rehearsed. Emily also didn’t have any costumes yet. So, it was decided that Linda would go on and speak her lines, but when she got to the songs, Emily would stand in the wings, sing into a microphone and Linda would lip synch. For real!
The audience came to the show and watched, but they weren’t told what was happening. How bizarre it must have been to see Linda moving her mouth and not understand why the sound sometimes didn’t match. The nice part is, at the end of the show, Linda Eder went to the wings and brought Emily out for a well-deserved bow. The other option would have been what happened during Thoroughly Modern Millie when Sutton Foster got sick and Catherine Brunell had no rehearsal time or costumes fit—they cancelled that night’s performance (!) and rehearsed her in the role.
The next day, the wardrobe team did an emergency shop at Daffy’s. Gavin Creel told me they were like, “Well, she has a yellow dress in Act Two and this dress is yellow. Perfect!” Gavin said that the show began with the curtain going up on Millie standing center stage. So, Catherine set herself to start the show before the overture, and that’s when the understudy announcement happened. “At this performance, the role usually played by Sutton Foster will be played by Catherine Brunell.” Of course, because she was on stage, she got to hear all of the wonderful boos emanating from the audience.
P.S. She was then fabulous! Watch how amazing she is in the big Act Two opening song!
Speaking of costumes, Sebastian Arcelus told us about the time he was playing Roger in Rent and, on the last pose of the opening number, when he crouched down, the entire seam of his pants split. I mean, they split to the point where they literally fell down. But, he couldn’t go off stage to fix them because he had to stay on stage performing for another 10 minutes! So, he pulled up his pants, which now had no waistband, and secured them by tying his sweatshirt around his waist. I told him that was the look my Mom rocked in the 1970s when she went to the beach club, the ol’ fabric-wrapped-around-the-waist look. That night he was less Roger and more Sally Rudetsky. Less East Village and more Lido Beach Ocean and Beach Club. Less “We’re not gonna pay rent!” and more “Seth! Do not go in the water right after eating that fluffernutter!”
Sebastian also spoke about the prejudice some actors have towards actors that do musicals. That prejudice drives me crazy! Sebastian was in a Shakespeare play, and some of the other actors were making fun of him for doing musicals, implying how easy they are. Sebastian was not having it. Calmly, he looked at his watch, remarked that it was 10:30 AM, and told them if they were rehearsing a musical, they would have run the opening number at least two times at this point and they all would have been covered in sweat. So cut on saying that doing a play is as hard or harder than doing a musical. Brava!
I forgot to write about the following fun stories I heard recently during various interviews and want to put them in the column! One was during Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. I was talking to one of my favorite TV stars from Succession, asking this particular star about her stage name. She told me that it all began when she was in college. Throughout her young life, she was always known as Jean Smith. One day, however, she was auditioning for a school show and, just to be concise, she signed in as J. Smith. When they called her name for the audition, the monitor yelled out “J. Smith!” She felt that the people who heard it in the waiting area thought it was cool. Soon, she started to go as J. Smith. However, when she joined Equity, “J. Smith” could have been confused with any person whose last name was Smith and started with J. To solve that problem, she added a family name, Cameron. Hence, J. Smith Cameron was born!
The other fun story I want to share with you was from Andrea McArdle. Andrea called me because she saw that James and I had just done a Stars In The House with Henry Winkler. Andrea recalled the time that Henry came to see her in Annie. She told me that they had a “spy” in the audience who would tell the orphans when someone famous was in attendance. (The spy was Molly’s, a.k.a. Danielle Brisbois’s, mother!).
One night, during the height of Happy Days, Henry came to the show. During intermission, Andrea gathered the orphans together and told them that during the song “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” they had to change part of the choreography. At the end, when they do repeated turns with their arms outstretched, she insisted they change their forward hand position with wide-spread fingers into a thumbs-up “AY” Fonzie pose. When I say that Andrea insisted they do it, I mean it. She threatened to never speak to them again if they didn’t! Well, the orphans complied, and not surprisingly, Andrea got into a whole lot of trouble. But, she feels it was worth it because they got to honor The Fonz! And, for clarity’s sake, the moment where they changed the choreo happens at 4:42.
Coming up, James and I are hosting the 15th anniversary of the Broadway Green Alliance on Stars In The House! It’s tonight, Monday October 23, at 6:30 PM ET.
There will be so many cool performances. My pal Adam Pascal will be there and we will celebrate a reunion of one of our favorite shows, Xanadu! Our good pal Anika Larsen asked us to host and, speaking of Xanadu, here's the Obsessed video I did with her where she recreates one of my favorite moments she did when she was starring in the national tour.
You can watch and donate here.
After that, I head to Palm Springs for an event featuring my book Musical Theatre For Dummies, which will happen October 26. Tickets are available here.
On November 10, I’m going to be at Molloy University with this amazing cast: Justin Guarini, Ali Ewoldt, Charlotte d’Amboise, Christy Altomare, and Andrea Martin! We’ll be doing some of my favorite performances. Buy tickets here.
Here is the song Justin sang with Brian Stokes Mitchell in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown that I demand get more attention. They both sound amazing!
See you in person soon and peace out!