A week ago, I got a Facebook message from my friend Sasha telling me she saw a video of me online from the 1980s, when there was a kids club act called “Beginnings.” If you were a kid and had been in a Broadway show, you could be in it. If you hadn’t, you had to audition. I had decidedly not been in a Broadway show, so I auditioned… and got in! We were at a place called Something Different, which was a dessert nightclub. The show was seen as a showcase to have producers and directors see us…and we were paid in free desserts. As far as I remember, we had four-show-weekends. We did a group opening and closing number, and then we all had our own songs. It was the coolest thing in the world to me, because I was surrounded by kids who had been in (or were still in) shows like Peter Pan, Evita, I Remember Mama, and, of course, Annie. Some of those kids stayed in show business, like me, Gordon Greenberg, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kerry Butler, but many didn’t (Sasha is in fashion). Speaking of Gordon, he was at an as a teenager and heard the casting person yelling for the next kid to audition, who obviously hadn’t shown up. Soon, however, Gordon was mortified to find out that his manager had taken his middle name, made it his first name, made his first name his last name and turned them both into his professional name…without telling him. So poor Gordon sat unawares and non-responsive as the casting director got more and more frustrated, shouting, “Lee Gordon?” Silence . “LEE GORDON!” Silence.
Back to “Beginnings”; I did an Obsessed video with Kerry Butler where we reminisced about performing together as kids, and you can see what we remember of the big opening number.
Now back to Sasha: She messaged me and told me there was a video online from when a TV show did a segment on “Beginnings” and I was in it. I told her I had no memory of filming anything for TV and it couldn’t have been me. She then sent me a screen shot and wrote, “That’s not you? Then I need new glasses.”
Well, she was right! It was me! I’d know that hairstyle anywhere...it required a hair dryer and a round brush. I was so happy watching the video. I don’t remember any cameras ever being there so it was really weird... watching yourself unaware that you’re being filmed. And I love that my opinion as a kid of Sasha Charnin and Sarah Jessica Parker being super-talented still stands. They still sound amazing to my adult ears! I hung out with another former child performer this weekend: Jane Krakowski. We watched the video and she was lamenting that she tried out for “Beginnings” numerous times when she was a kid but was never cast. I felt conceited for one minute and then remembered the end result is she now has a Tony Award and I have a video of myself at 13 sporting severe wings. Here it is!
Last week we saw Grand Horizons (especially great to see the wonderful Michael Urie and one of my childhood idols, Priscilla Lopez), and the opening night of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Holy cow, Beth Malone is such a star. So comfortable, funny, relaxed and high-belting! I had my old pal, Dick Scanlan, the bookwriter (and co-lyricist) of Molly Brown on “Seth Speaks.” Dick and I first met doing the show Pageant Off-Broadway. It was a spoof of beauty pageants and, because the audience actually voted, there was a different winner every night. I had graduated college only a few years before and was so excited to take over as music director/conductor. All the contestants were hilariously named after the area of the country they hailed from: Miss Deep South, Miss West Coast, Miss Bible Belt, Miss Industrial Northeast, and Dick played Miss Great Plains: Bonnie Louise Cutlet. Everyone was so glamorous except Miss Great Plains. I remember during the get-to-know-the-contestants segments, the emcee would try for a positive spin when he told everyone, “Her favorite color…is beige!”. Bonnie’s talent segment was a dramatic poem that I still remember. She began proudly, “I… am a handful of dirt!” The poem was called “I Am The Land” and at one point earnestly asked, “When you pierce me with you tools, do you hear me cry?”
The actors backstage would always do improvs with each other as their characters…and soon I was part of one that consisted of the fact that Bonnie Louise thought we were engaged and had no idea we weren’t and I was gay. Someone took this photo of me and “Bonnie Louise” where she is filled with joy and I am mortified. Dick just sent it to me and told me it’s been on his fridge since 1992!
Dick and I became very close and soon our fold was joined by new understudy Jack Plotnick (whom I later wrote Disaster! with). The three of us wound up putting together a comedy show called “An Evening With Joyce DeWitt,” which started my writing career with Jack. Here’s the opening number.
There were so many fun bits and I loooooved Dick’s hilarious sketch where he played an extremely by-the-books stage manager. I remember I entered the scene and immediately Dick approached me and told me I wasn’t there.
ME: What? I’m talking to you. Of course, I’m here.
DICK: No, you’re not here. [Then the reveal] You didn’t sign in!
I rolled me eyes and walked away but he’d suddenly yell, “You just fell five feet!” Huh? I decidedly had not fallen…I was still standing on the stage, but he’d run over and point to the floor. “See…I taped out this area. This is where there’s a five-foot drop.” I’d ignore him and walk away, but trip a little bit. He’d immediately rush over and thrust something in my hand. Despite the fact that I wasn’t not hurt at all, he’d insist I fill out an accident report.
I’m telling you it was hilarious and the entire sketch was Dick’s revenge on stage managers who are extremely literal. The show ended with a musical version of “Three’s Company” and here’s one of our costars (who also went on to Disaster!), Jennifer Simard, as Joyce DeWitt’s character Janet singing her second act solo “I’m Not The Pretty One.”
Dick told my audience that he had always wanted to turn Thoroughly Modern Millie into a musical, so, in the mid-'90s, he tracked down the writer of the film, Richard Morris, and called him. After telling Richard that he wanted to make it a musical, Richard was thrilled and said yes right away. Actually, quite the opposite. Richard hung up the phone. Seriously! This went on around once a month. Dick would call, try to engage Richard and Richard would hang up. Dick finally found out that Richard was testy because he was also trying to turn the film into a musical. Dick had the thought that they could collaborate. He called Richard again, and asked if they could meet, since he had to come to L.A. “on business.” What he neglected to mention was the “business” was simply hoping to meet Richard! Richard agreed and, once they met, they hit it off and that story ends with the show winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. However, Richard would often say to Dick, “First we’ll do Millie, then we’ll fix Molly Brown.” Richard wrote that show also and knew it needed work. Dick read it…and wasn’t interested. At all.
Well, Richard passed away and Dick always had a photo Richard had given him displayed in his office. It was Richard with his arms splayed in front of the Winter Garden Theater with the marquee for The Unsinkable Molly Brown in the background. A few years after Millie, Freddie Gershon and Drew Cohen from MTI told Dick that there would be a lot of interest in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but then people would read the script and fade out. They asked him to consider doing a rewrite. He explained that he knew the show and wasn’t interested. After that conversation, he told his friend that for some reason The Unsinkable Molly Brown was always hanging over his head. She then pointed to the photo of Richard that was literally hanging over Dick’s writing desk and said, “It looks like you are the one who made it hang it over your head.” It was very Oprah and/or the last line before a movie-of-the-week goes to a commercial break. Dick read the script again and decided to fly to Denver to research Molly Brown. He soon found out the amazing things Molly Brown did in real life weren’t in the musical! Turns out, she was a suffragette, ran for Senate, fought for labor rights, started an animal shelter, started a soup kitchen…she was a major social activist! He started fiddling with the script and, by the time the show opened last week, he re-wrote everything except for two lines! Also, there are different Meredith Wilson songs added to the score and new lyrics by Dick as well! It’s a brand new show. End of story: it’s being produced by The Transport Group and playing through March 22!
I’ll leave you with this hilarious Keala video, featuring some crazy high notes!