Greetings from Delta’s Phoenix-to-NYC flight. I spent Saturday night at the Scottsdale Performing Arts Center doing a show with Audra McDonald and Will Swenson, and it was fabulous. This was Audra’s first weekend singing since she gave birth, and I have to say, her voice sounds…exactly the same. She’s still got it! When Will and I were chatting onstage, I asked him what it was like getting a Tony nomination for Hair. He remembered that it coincided with the same day his son’s school had a “Bring Your Dad To School Day.” Will came to talk about being an actor and brought all these different hats and mustaches to demonstrate being different characters. He was feeling especially confident, since he had just been Tony-nominated that morning. Right in the middle of one of his various diverse characters, a classmate of his son yelled out, “BOR-ING!!!!!” And that sums up being an actor: From Tony-nominated…to heckled by a nine-year-old.
I’m very excited to be doing four shows with Audra and Will in London from April 12–15 at the Leicester Square Theatre in London! Cross the pond, and get tickets here.
There was a lot of traveling last week! On Tuesday, producer Garth Drabinsky (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime) invited me to Toronto to see a rehearsal of Sousatzka, his new musical with a book by Craig Lucas and score by Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire. It was so amazing being in a rehearsal room and seeing such an unadorned performance; fantastic actors and singers right in front of me with no costumes or mics, singing up a storm! Below is a rehearsal clip from press day.
The show features Montego Glover, whom I first met when she was starring in a production of The Pirates of Penzance that was on a ship in the Hudson River! I thought she was great, and I cast her in the chorus of my Actors Fund Dreamgirls concert. Around ten years later, she starred in Memphis and got a Tony nomination. She’s singing with Fuschia Walker, whom I met through Harold Perrineau (the guy in the wheelchair on Oz, who narrates every episode). Harold was starring in the first big show I music directed after college (called Midsummer Nights), and he knew I was obsessed with Dreamgirls. He had done the tour with Fuschia, who played Effie, and every time I’d run into her, I’d launch into the end of the Act 1 fight scene. I’m not saying I was annoying, but notice how she had to move to Toronto to escape me. Watch Montego and Fuschia together.
I interviewed Victoria Clark, who’s playing the title role. She told me that after The Light in the Piazza she never thought she’d have another role like that again (dramatic, yet comedic, yet vocally sweeping, etc.). But now she has one again! Brava, lightening striking twice! Judy Kaye is also in the cast, and in honor of the 29th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera, I asked her about her Tony Award-winning performance as Carlotta. She remembers her audition was mainly about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s insistence that she be able to sing a High E. If you don’t know, there is a High E in “Prima Donna,” but what drives me up the wall is that it’s not even featured. It’s at the end of the opening segment that leads into the song. WHY!?!?! I love a delicious high note, but it’s such a waste! It’s so unimportant, it’s not even on the CD! Argh! Anyhoo, Judy was able to haul it out and got the gig. I did tell her that I thought it was strange she was nervous about that note considering she herself not only hit a High D in On the Twentieth Century, but she actually added it herself! After she took over for Madeline Kahn, she added an obligato at the end of the title song with a sustained C# and a D. She said that there is a huge difference between hitting a High D and a High E. If you’ve never heard her amazing High D, watch this Tony Awards performance. She sustains the C# at 3:42 then goes up to the D at 3:47.
Speaking of the Phantom’s anniversary and High E, here’s my Obsessed with my favorite Phantom violin solo, played by Jan Mullen, and the High E sung by my favorite Christine Daaé, Gay Willis. This is the High E that gets all the attention, but as most people know, it’s pre-recorded for the show. However, when Gay did the tour of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, she sang it live every show! Watch!
After Toronto, James and I flew to L.A. to do my Deconstructing ’70s Variety Show at Largo. James had meetings with the NAACP and the National Immigration Law Center about our upcoming performances of Concert For America. The next concert will be in NYC at Town Hall February 25 and then in Chicago March 20. You can get tix at Concert4America2016.org. I’m so excited the first concert got photos in People Magazine. Look!
My Largo show was all about the ’70s, and I had two of my fave ’70s stars there: belty pop star Melissa Manchester, and Quinn Cummings from Goodbye Girl and Family! Melissa is going to be in one of our upcoming showings of Concert For America (details soon), and here are some classic Quinn scenes.
Quinn now writes political humor, and she told me that she’s been very depressed since the inauguration, and my show made her laugh for the first time. Speaking of laughing, one of my favorite comics came to my show as well, Wendy Liebman! I’ve been such a fan of hers for so long! Watch her hilariousness below.
James and I hung out a lot with Sean Hayes and his husband Scotty Icenogle. We were all talking about high school, and Sean said he was on the stage crew when he was an underclassman. He was in charge of pulling the rope to raise the curtain, but the curtain somehow got hooked on a prop, which raised all the way off the ground during a show. What was the prop, you ask? Well, the character, who is supposed to spend his entire first scene in a wheelchair, and comment on being in said wheelchair, had to stand for the scene because his wheelchair was hanging from the curtain Sean raised. Sean wound up getting the yearly award his school theatre group would give out to the person who messed up the most. At the awards ceremony, Sean thought it would be hilarious to continue his “messing up” by tripping as he got to the stage. Well, he got up onstage and did a big physical comedy trip. While he was tripping, he fell into the fellow student who was handing him his award…and knocked her tooth out. Literally, an entire front-tooth knockout. He then had to make a speech thanking everyone while she stood next to him, in a state of shock, with her hand over her mouth to stem the blood flow. Horrifying. Relax, everyone! It all worked out…for him. Here’s one of the wonderful lip-sync videos he and his husband have done.
Peace out, everyone!