I’m finally back in NYC for more than a few days! I was in San Francisco doing my 70s Variety Show and then I went to Provincetown with Chita Rivera, Donna McKechnie, Rachel Bay Jones and Lillias White. I’m here for another week and then I'll be headed back to Provincetown with Audra McDonald. In a few weeks, I’m going to be doing my concert series with Jane Krakowski at The Town Hall on Monday September 12th. Come see us!
I mentioned Jane to my trainer at the gym and he thought my concert was going to be all-comedy. He thought Jane was a comedic actress from 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and had no idea she’s a triple threat Tony-winning musical theater star!
Just in case he reads my column (he doesn’t), I will say that she’s been in musical theater since she was a kid and she won a Tony Award for the 2003 Nine revival. In fact, Jane was actually was almost part of the original production back in the 80's.
Turns out, Tommy Tune’s original concept was for the “Lady of the Spa” to be a young girl on the verge of womanhood to be consistent with the spa symbolizing eternal youth. So Jane was brought in when she was 12. She worked with him on the set, featuring all of those boxes, but he wound up casting an adult woman in the part. Five years later, Jane got another call from Tommy to see if she was right for a workshop he was doing. Jane came in and worked with him again and, after a few hours, he opened a bottle of champagne and said, "Congratulations! You're our new Flaemmchen!"
I loved the story, but then I pointed out that he was offering her champagne when she was only 17. Just like Liesel in The Sound of Music who'd "like to stay and taste [her] first champagne!”
The first time I saw Jane on Broadway was in Grand Hotel, and I was obsessed with her performance. She had such incredible body awareness. I can’t stop watching this clip. The men sound so good, and her dancing is so simply amazing. I love the button where she puts her hand forward and then back against the wall.
Jane said the workshop for Grand Hotel took place in an actual dilapidated hotel in the West 40s. It looked just like the set that would eventually be used in the Broadway show. The company would meet every day, and Tommy would assign them chapters to read from original novel. Then they would improvise those chapters as their characters. The writers would go home, take what they improv'd, and add to it until the script. Tada! That's how they wrote the songs.
Jane said that what makes Tommy so unique is his collaborative spirit. He would not only listen to everyone's ideas while he was creating the show, but he would also take people's everyday behavior and put it in the show. For instance, Jane said that the hotel, which she thinks was condemned, had rodents in the bathroom. Yay? She was too horrified to change there, yet every day she had to change out of her jeans and winter boots into her Flaemmchen short skirt and heels. So, she would change in public. Yep, Jane perfected a way of changing her entire outfit without ever showing any skin.
Tommy was so obsessed her amazing maneuvering that he kept trying to put that into the show. Sadly, it never happened. Maybe I can incorporate it into our Town Hall concert!?
Speaking of incorporating behavior from rehearsal, most Broadway fans know there is a number in the show called "We'll Take a Glass Together." The song itself was great, but the dance changed many times. It incorporated many styles of dance, including tap, but never really worked. Tommy told me that his Mom was very sick when he was working on the show, and he would fly home to see her very often. He told her that he was having problems with the number, and she suggested that, since it takes place in the 1920s, he should do a signature 1920s dance. She got out of her bed and demonstrated a Charleston. Well, Tommy then made that the basis of the number.
Jane told me that one day during a break, Michael Jeter went over to the hotel bar and made his legs rubbery to make everyone laugh. Then he leapt over the bar. As soon as he did that leap, Tommy told everyone to go home except Michael and David Carroll. That day, Tommy created the brilliant number that was featured on the Tony Awards. It's a Charleston featuring Michael's rubber legs. The number builds to the moment when he leaps over the bar. Watch!
Most people consider it one of the best Tony Awards numbers ever.
Sadly, in that Tony Award clip, you don't see the brilliant David Carroll, who had to leave the show after contracting AIDS. The adorable Brent Barrett took over after David's departure, but David was still featured on the recording singing his heart-stopping rendition of "Love Can't Happen." I still remember my stunned reaction when I saw him sing the final note of this song live. It was one of my favorite moments in the theatre. Here's my deconstruction:
Speaking of David Carroll, he and Jane were very close. When the show was leaving for its out-of-town tryout in Boston, he wanted to take Amtrak instead of flying. Jane was the only other cast member who volunteered to go with him, and he was so excited! Jane went down to 14th St and got one of those new-fangled suitcases that had just came out in the 80s, a suitcase with wheels. Of course, since it was one of the first, it immediately broke. David felt bad for her and carried her overstuffed suitcase all the way through Penn Station and then through the streets of Boston to their hotel. She remembered that it weighed a ton and was horrific for him to have to carry.
Later that year, he celebrated his 40th birthday and she was struggling to pick out a gift for him. She finally decided on a present, but the special part was going to be its presentation. She went back to 14th St, got the exact same suitcase and put the present inside it. When he saw it at his party, he exclaimed, "Ah! Not this effing suitcase again!"
Such a hilarious way to wrap his present.
Jumping back to the 2003 production of Nine for a moment, Jane was nervous when she was cast because the role she played was originated by Anita Morris. Anita was known for her brilliantly sexy rendition of "A Call From The Vatican." The number featured Anita doing all these contortions while on a box. See for yourself!
Jane had no idea how she could make the number her own.
One day she was sharing a cab with the director David Leveaux and he said, "I think we're going to fly you in for your number."
Jane was so excited that she climbed across the back seat and hugged him. She knew that was the concept they needed.
Jane trained in "anti-gravity" for weeks, but the contraption that flew her in wasn't ready to use until the first preview! I don’t mean during rehearsal that day, either. I mean it wasn’t ready until the night of the first preview. They told her that she could wait and do the song without it, but she didn't want people to see the number and spread the word that it didn't have a special feature. Jane went up to the ceiling of the theatre, wrapped herself in a sheet, and tried it for the first time during the first preview. It was so scary. The move wound up being a huge hit. The audience loved it.
Jane remembers being hoisted up at the end and the crowd going wild. But, instead of running offstage immediately and sharing in her triumph with the rest of the cast, she had to hang upside down above the stage by herself because she was attached to what was essentially a clothesline. So, after the number, she was pulled slowly across the entire stage to the wings. By the time she got down, she had to rush into a quick change way after the applause had ended. She and her dresser did get to hug and have a little freak out that the number went so well. Here she is flying in, having phone sex, and flying out!
Of course, for the people who only know her from comedy television, we will definitely be discussing 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I know we’ll be doing some of her classic numbers like: