I just got back from Los Angeles where I did a show with the amazing Kelli O'Hara. We were at The Wallis and performed to a sold-out audience. Kelli did so many of the songs she’s done on Broadway, from shows like South Pacific, King and I, Light in the Piazza, Bridges of Madison County, and Kiss Me Kate. She also shared with us that she got her Equity Card playing Christine in Phantom. No, not Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom, though Kelli did indeed try out many times for that show. But she was told she was too “zaftig.” Regardless, she performed Christine in the Downtown Cabaret Theater’s production of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s Phantom of The Opera. She mentioned she would use the song “Home” from that show in auditions. Well, I just happened to have a copy of it in my music and I had her sing it. She was totally in shock, but then the ol’ muscle memory kicked in and she sounded amazing! It’s such a gorgeous song. Here’s another amazing Broadway soprano Laura Benanti:
Kelli and I also talked about her doing The Pajama Game. That show is so special to me. Back in the 1970s, when I was really young (or, if you’re a casting director, when I wasn’t born yet), my parents decided to take the money they’d spend on going away for December break and spend it on seeing three Broadway shows. Even though we saw Pippin and Grease, two shows I would later love, the show that I became obsessed with was the short-lived revival of The Pajama Game. I flipped out over the opening number… various people in a pajama factory singing different lines in counter point. I went home and obsessively listened to the original cast album. It's so good! Here’s the film version:
Sadly, there was no cast album of the revival, but, holy cow, I loved that cast. Sid was Hal Linden, Babe was Barbara McNair, and Hinsey was Cab Calloway. Well, during my show with Kelli, I mentioned how much that revival meant to me. Cut to after the show and who comes backstage? Hal Linden! The very star I was talking about, I couldn’t believe it. I loved that he was there when I mentioned how much that revival meant to me. As I mentioned, it only ran a few months and Hal told me that one of the reasons why they couldn’t last was it was severely underfunded. His example was that at the end of “There Once Was A Man,” he would do a knee-slide. Well, they had him cut the move because he could scuff up the pants – and they couldn’t afford a new pair.
Hal did a lot of Broadway musicals, but he’s best known for his TV career. Which came to be because of Broadway! In the early 70s, Hal told me that TV producer Danny Arnold was doing a film in Manhattan and brought his family with him. Every day, he'd be on set and send his family on New York excursions. One day, Arnold’s family rebelled and told him that they were sick of going off by themselves and wanted to be with him. It turned out to be a day where he didn't have to be on the set, so he joined them on their afternoon activity which happened to be a matinee of The Rothschilds.A few years went by, and he went on to create Barney Miller. The network executives sent him a list of actors who had high so-called TVQ, but he told them that he already had an actor in mind... someone he had seen at a matinee performance a few years back. Hal told us that Danny hadn't come backstage after he saw the show or sent a letter or contacted him in any way. Simply out of the blue, two years later, Hal was offered the title role in a new television show that lasted for eight seasons! So, to all of you actors out there, no marking. You never know who's in the crowd that might change your career one day.
Before the show, James and I went out to dinner with Ruthie Ann Miles, who played Lady Thiang in The King And I, and MaryAnn Hu, my old friend and neighbor from around the corner on the Upper West Side who also happened to be Ruthie Ann’s understudy. Later, Ruthie Ann came onstage as a guest star during the show. I naturally asked where she kept her Tony Award. Interestingly, it’s not prominently displayed because she doesn’t like to give it a lot of power. She says it’s “an opinion.” And she feels if she gives that opinion power, then all opinions have power. Of course, Ruthie Ann is so hilarious that her way of not dealing with the actual physical Tony Award was to give it to her agent. Her request? That he attach it to the bathroom key! So, when someone comes to the office and asks for the bathroom key, she wanted them handed a Tony Award… with a key attached. He opted out and now she keeps it somewhere in her house.
Kelli keeps hers on a shelf in her house, but she thinks she wants to do what Kate Winslet does and keep it in the bathroom. Kate does that because she knows that whenever she has guests visit and use the bathroom, they undoubtedly hold it up in front of the mirror and practice their acceptance speech. I want to see a hidden camera from Kate’s powder room!
Kelli said she was known as the Susan Lucci of the Tony Awards because she was nominated six times until she won. She truly didn’t expect to win because, that year, Kristin won the Outer Critic’s and the Drama Desk. Kelli not only didn’t win the Drama Desk, she wasn’t even nominated. She was so shocked when she won the Tony… and now she feels she doesn’t need to win again. She feels that when you’re nominated and don’t win people are like, “Oh no, you should have won” and when you win, people are like “Yay, you deserved it.” But when you win more than once, Kelli thinks people wind up being annoyed. She said the only exception to the rule is Audra. Whenever she wins, people say “Yep. She deserved it.”
Speaking of Tony Awards and Kelli O’Hara, Kelli is surrounded by Tony winners on The Gilded Age. James and I love that show so much! A fan named Dan Dowling wrote to me with a new drinking game. It’s not really for me because I hate the taste of alcohol, but I’m sure many people would enjoy this. To prepare, he says to get a timer and plenty of alcohol. Set the timer for three minutes and when it goes off, freeze the TV. You must have a drink for as many Tony Awards are represented onscreen. He added, “Woe to the person who lands on Audra McDonald!”
Ruthie Ann and Kelli sang together so beautifully, and after the show, Kelli was complimenting Ruthie Ann on her spontaneous harmony. Ruthie told us that her mom is a musician and, when she was young and they were driving, her mom would tell Ruthie to think of a song they both knew. Let’s say “Silent Night.” Then, they both had to think of the melody while they were singing a harmony line. And if they sang the same harmony note as the other person, they had to stop. That sounds so difficult! The melody isn’t being sung… only two harmony lines. Brava on the creativity.
This weekend I’m playing Max Von Essen and Eden Espinosa at the Steve Chase Awards in Palm Desert and then next Wednesday night at 8 PM ET, I have a livestream concert with Adrianna Hicks from Six. Here she is with her cast on The View:
Tickets available at TheSethConcertSeries.com.