July 6 was James’ birthday and it definitely accelerated my quarantine weight gain. Amazing for my tastebuds but sad for my elastic waistband, Andrea Martin had a box of Levain cookies delivered to us upstate! If you’ve never had a Levain cookie, it may not be a good idea to start. They are so delicious and addictive. If you have had one, I beg you not to look up the calorie count. It’s a number you don’t learn how to count up to until seventh grade. Regardless, they were delicious and I put together a Stars In The House episode that night for James with a bunch of his pals surprising him!
He had amazing visits with Chita Rivera and her daughter Lisa Mordente, Audra McDonald and Will Swenson, Jennifer Simard, Andrea Martin, and Jack Plotnick. Speaking of Jack, he made a hilarious video “exposing” all the secrets behind Stars In The House. The shock-umentary claims that James and I aren’t married, we film the show in two different houses using a green screen and Juli is a British actress we hired to play our daughter! It is SO funny. Watch here:
Judy Kuhn was another guest and she sang a stunning version of “Someone Else’s Story,” her song from Chess. Sounding like she did on the album! You can watch the whole show here:
Amazingly, one of the fans of Stars In The House offered to match any donation that night, so The Actors Fund made $8,000 in donations from that one show! We’ve now raised around $360,000 for The Actors Fund since we began in mid-March…all thanks to donations from viewers!
The other great news is, we’re now being considered for an Emmy nomination in the field of Outstanding Variety Talk Series. Just considered, mind you. Now is the time that the TV academy members vote on which ones shows will make the final nominations ballot. We put out a compilation reel to show members what we do, because we don’t have exactly the same name recognition as others being considered: Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, and Andy Cohen. Seriously!
P.S. When I posted the video and told people that we were being considered for an Emmy nomination, a lot of people misread it and thought we had an Emmy nomination and we were flooded with congratulation messages. We appreciated the positive thoughts, but want to remind people that we are basically what couples call being “pre-engaged.” We hope to be nominated and the voting is happening until July 13 at 10PM! But we need the academy to watch and know what our show is so that they can love it and (hopefully) nominate us. Here’s our reel, spread the word!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Avian for Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. He has a brand new book out called Dancing Man and it’s a fascinating look at what it’s like going from chorus dancer to working side-by-side with Michael Bennett on all of his greatest hits, and then eventually becoming a Broadway choreographer on his own.
READ: Broadway Choreographer Bob Avian Reveals 5 Secrets From the Making of A Chorus Line and More
Here are some quick hits on the shows he did:
Back in the mid-60s, he was in Funny Girl as a swing (or “swing boy” as he calls it) meaning he covered all the male dancers and singers in the ensemble (it was an old school production with a chorus of dancers and a chorus of singers). He said that Barbra Streisand was incredible, but in order to preserve her voice/energy, she would do an “A” version of the show, a “B” version and a “C” version. Meaning she would modify the songs. He remembers hearing the announcement backstage that would signal it was going to be the “C” version, aka, most extreme version: “Attention cast. At this performance, Barbra will not be performing ‘Who Are You Now?’” Yes, she would cut the entire song during certain performances!
His famed collaboration with director-choreographer Michael Bennett began with Coco, which was a musical about Coco Chanel. He told me that the creative team went to Paris to meet with Ms. Chanel, and they asked who she wanted to play her in the musical. She told them she wanted Hepburn so Katharine Hepburn was cast as the title role…and then they found out she meant Audrey Hepburn! #Busted!
Bob talked about Promises, Promises and the finale of Act 1 called “Turkey Lurkey.” Michael wanted the number to be realistic…like an office party where people (who aren’t really dancers) dance around. Well, it was too realistic. It was just non-dancers non-dancing and it laid a big egg at the first preview. Michael and Bob got together and re-choreographed it, putting three amazing dancers in the front: Margo Sappington, Baayork Lee and, in the center, Donna McKechnie. The result was this amazingness.
Bob and I also discussed his doing Company and the terrifying first preview out-of-town. Apparently, all was going well until Elaine Stritch started her classic song “The Ladies Who Lunch”…. and soon forgot the lyrics. All of them! She then started to put her fist in her mouth! It was devastating. Afterwards, they saw her and told her they understood forgetting what to sing, but why was her hand in her mouth?!? She responded, “I was trying to find the lyrics!!!”
I asked Bob about Follies and the staging of “Who’s That Woman,” otherwise known as “the mirror song.” In the song, the showgirls from the present, who are 40-years-old and up, dance with the ghosts of their former selves. This way everyone has a counterpart dancing next to and near them so, at times, it looks like they’re dance partners. The original idea was that one of the Follies women had died, so there would be a space on stage representing her. But Bob said that having this gaping hole just made the number look bizarre and uneven so that idea was scrapped. He also said that many of the women weren’t tap dancers, so the tap sounds were made by people offstage, tapping into a microphone. Since all the women in the show were onstage, the tap sounds were actual made by the male dancers! Here is the original choreo and, boy, the tapping is loud.
Of course, we talked about A Chorus Line and I’m always fascinated with how directors solve problems, and how the solution seems so obvious to us when we see it, but it was a big deal before it was solved.
Bob said that they wanted the characters to talk about their personal lives in A Chorus Line, which is supposed to replicate an audition for a Broadway show…. but everyone in the business knew that no one ever does that at an audition! You’re given scenes to read, not asked to reveal yourself. So, Michael came up with the conceit that the director-choreographer Zach would tell everyone that there were some small parts in the show he’d have to assign but he didn’t want them to read lines like a regular audition, he wanted to hear them talk instead…get to know their personalities. It seems so basic, but that premise was needed to make the rest of the show work.
We also touched on Dreamgirls and I asked him if the story Brenda Braxton, who was in the original production, told me was true. Apparently, Michael (who directed and choreographed) and Bob and co-choreographer Michael Peters were staging a number and the three female leads were saying it was impossible to do it in heels. Well, Bob said he and Michael Bennett had been told by Michael Peters to have heels with them to help with staging, so all three of them had their own (larger size) heels within reach. Bob, Michael Peters, and Michael Bennett plunked on a pair of heels and, as the kids today say, slayed the choreography! I guess it wasn’t impossible to do in heels!
Bob also recalled the time Michael (Bennett) was working with costume designer Theoni Aldredge and described the scene where Effie is kicked out of the group and sings “And I Am Telling You.” He wanted to make sure that Effie was sympathetic to the audience. Theoni announced she would therefore dress her like Pagliacci! And she did! Remember that flouncy collar and long top! Here’s some amazing footage of the L.A. company with Jennifer Holliday reprising her role as Effie and you get to see some choreography in heels and the Pagliacci top!
And, finally, speaking of Dreamgirls, Deena from my 2001 Actors Fund concert will be in concert with me this Sunday. Yes, I will join Audra McDonald on Sunday at 8PM for a live concert (repeated Monday at 3pm ET). I put live in italics because a lot of things are called live nowadays that aren’t! My concerts are totally live…meaning I’m playing the piano at the exact same time the singer is a-singin’! There is nothing pre-recorded. It’s so thrilling to perform again at the same time as another person! After Audra, I have upcoming live concerts with Norm Lewis, Megan Hilty, and Cheyenne Jackson. All tickets and info at TheSethConcertSeries.com. If you’ve never seen me and Audra in action, watch this then peace out!! #SurpriseModulation #MiddleFinger
Also for a Funny Girl song meets a Dreamgirls actor: