Hello from the country! Some of you may know that, three years ago, we moved to a place about an hour outside the city. Then starting last August, we began spending a few days a week at a fabulous apartment on the Upper West Side, which was perfect. But with COVID-19 being so prevalent in the city, we didn’t feel it was safe for Juli to be there because she has asthma so we let the apartment go. Wah! Over the last two weeks, we had been seeing protests in NYC and wishing there would be one near us…and suddenly we got a text from Stephen Oremus!
Stephen is a great music director/vocal arranger who helmed shows like Wicked, Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Frozen, and Dear Evan Hansen, and he just so happens to live a mile away! He told us there was a protest the next day in nearby Warwick, New York, and we decided to meet there. Turns out, there are lATSE other Broadway folk who live up here! We met up with Jen Bender, who’s worked as a resident/associate director on shows like Honeymoon in Vegas and The Lion King and has now switched to producing, as well as the hilarious Chris Sieber and his husband, triple-threat Kevin Burrows, and choreographer Josh Rhodes (Cinderella) and his husband Lee Wilkins, who often works as his associate!
The “fun” part for me was not being able to recognize anyone. I already have a problem with facial recognition and then I had to add in trying to figure out who the hell everyone was while they’re donning face masks. My initial reaction to each friend coming over was a combo platter of fear/panic with a hefty dose of Downtown Abbey haughtiness because a “stranger” dared approached me in such a familial way. My recoiling was then met with “Seth! It’s me!” It was relentless. Regardless, I was so happy to be part of a protest and I was so happy that everyone, and I mean everyone, was wearing a mask. COVID-19 ain’t gone people! Keep up the protesting and keep up the masking!
Anyhoo, I mentioned in my other column that Leslie Uggams came back for a second full-hour interview because we couldn’t cover her career in the first one. And, P.S., even after her second hour we didn’t get to her stint replacing Patti LuPone in Anything Goes or her current work on Empire and Deadpool. She did, however, tell us about Roots, which was an amazing 1970s mini-series. After her initial audition, they told her to read the script and tell them what role she was interested in! How cool is that? She got to pick! After reading everything, she knew she wanted to play Kizzy. However, Kizzy starts young and ends as an old woman, so they told her they had to do an old-age makeup test. She showed up for the screen test but the makeup people didn't know what to do because Leslie didn't have any wrinkles. Poor thing? They tried putting tons of latex and glue on her face and she wound up doing the screen test looking like a mummy. She left the studio knowing she didn’t get it. She came home and told her husband/manager and he said “Let me find the person who did Cicely!” (He was referring to Cicely Tyson who had age to an incredibly old woman in the great TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.) He tracked down make-up artist Stan Winston, who told Leslie to come over to his house. He experimented, it worked, and then he told he would come for her next screen test! Well, not only did she book the job, but they hired Stan for the whole series!
After it was filmed, apparently, the head of the network thought it would tank. The story goes that he thought no one would be interested enough to watch it over a few weeks (like all miniseries ran back in those days) so his solution was to air all the episodes over one week to get them over with before Sweeps. Turns out, people loved it! And, it also didn’t hurt that there was a huge snowstorm that stopped everything in the Northeast. Ratings really went through the roof.
Regardless, everyone was watching across the nation and, as a matter of fact, Leslie was in Vegas when it started airing. On her third night, Ann-Margret called her and said she had to change the time of her show. Why? Because Ann-Margaret’s live show was scheduled at the same time as Roots and no one was showing up!
On last Saturday night’s Stars In The House, we had a Phantastic Phantom Phest! Ramin Karimloo, Howard McGillin, Hugh Panaro, and Norm Lewis spent a fun-filled hour plus telling us all what it was like playing the Phantom. Howard said (and everyone agreed) it was the most physically draining show he’s ever done…the Phantom is constantly climbing, gondola-rowing, crouching, hiding, etc. And Hugh talked about how having all that Phantom makeup with glue would immobilize his face so much that he lost some muscle. When his doctor saw him, he thought Hugh had had a mini-stroke!
Halfway through, I had a surprise guest for them: Sierra Boggess! She had played Christine opposite Hugh, Norm, and Ramin. She talked about the final scene where the Phantom is always sweaty and she mentioned how she had to gear herself up for the big kiss: She’d be looking at the Phantom’s face—covered in glue, prosthetics, a bald cap, and covered in sweat—and then she’d have to be go in for a kiss. Talk about acting!
Speaking of a face covered in prosthetics, Hugh told me my favorite Phantom story of the evening: He was finishing his Broadway run and Norm was about to take over the role. On Hugh’s final performance, he found a really cute photo of Norm and clipped it out. He told us that there’s a dimple (the size of a quarter) in the makeup under the mask the Phantom wears. What did he do with that dimple? He filled it in…with the photo! He literally laid the photo of Norm in the dimple! Then, in Act 2, when he and Christine return to his lair and he sings “An eternity of this before your eyes!”, he put his face right next to hers and pointed to Norm’s face right on “An eternity of THIS before your eyes!” Brava!!!!
James and I are taking off Sunday nights from Stars In The House so I can do The Seth Concert Series. This Sunday June 14 at 8PM ET join me and Jeremy Jordan live! Yes, I’ll be playing the piano in my house as Jeremy sings live in his house! We’ll then air the concert the next day at 3PM for people who can’t watch on Sunday. These concerts are in the style of the ones I do all over the place (Provincetown, Ft Lauderdale, Scottsdale, L.A., San Francisco, London etc)…meaning I chat with the star between songs and we don’t know what we’re going to chat about. And I often surprise the star with a song they don’t expect (i.e. I had Kelli O’Hara launch into “Think Of Me”). Anyhoo, I love Jeremy’s voice so much. Here he is without a mic (!) during our concert at The Town Hall in NYC last year. Listen to how beautiful he sounds!
You can get tickets to Sunday’s concert at TheSethConcertSeries.com and then peace out!