On Monday, Covenant House is going to do their amazing yearly event where stars from Broadway (and TV and film) will sleep on the streets for one night to help out the homeless youth that are housed at Covenant House. I had Kevin Ryan on my SiriusXM radio show this week and he talked about the amazing work they do: not just housing the youth, but giving them life education! How to apply for a job, do an interview, handle finances, get an apartment…everything they need to have happy lives. Stephanie J. Block joined Kevin and I was told her I was amazed she was going to sleep on the street while starring in The Cher Show. She told me she also did when she was six months pregnant. Brava! So many great friends are doing the Sleep Out and you can donate to their individual campaigns here. Besides Stephanie, there is my SiriusXM co-host Christine Pedi (her page here) and my Playbill editor herself, Ruthie Fierberg (her page here)
If you can’t donate, there are so many ways you can help because there are Covenant Houses all over the world! Stop by and volunteer to be a mentor to these kids. Or, when you go to a hotel and collect shampoos/soaps, drop them off at a nearby Covenant House. The kids could use them!
So, I wanted to do something different this week for my column, so I randomly came up with the idea of telling some of my favorite Broadway stories according to the letters in August. Here we go!
A is for Annie: So many Broadway actresses I know were dying to be in Annie as a child (including the person writing this column). And there were so many horrible stories connected to that desire. Here’s one: Ana Gasteyer loved the Annie cast album, but her mother was completely against belting. Whenever she’d hear it, she’d comment “That girl is going to ruin her voice!” Regardless, Ana was thrilled when she found out they were going to have Annie auditions in her hometown of D.C.! Oddly, her mother, who disapproved of the Broadway belt, agreed to let her audition on the following Monday. At school that Monday, Ana told her friends she was going to go to the Annie audition, only to be told by those same friends that the audition had happened the week before! That’s right, her mother readily agreed to take Ana to the auditions on a day she knew wouldn’t have auditions! Devastating but, in her mind, she did what she needed to do. The good news is, Ana has been able to embrace her belt in her adulthood and sounds amazing! Here she is with Kate Reinders when they were both starring in Wicked.
U is for upstage: Vicki Clark starred as Smitty opposite Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. One day, she decided her toddler was old enough to sit through the show. He was sitting in a box seat with his dad, and when Vicki began a scene with Matthew, she suddenly heard, "Hi, Mommy!" The audience started laughing, but Vicki tried to stay in character. The scene continued and so did another "Hi-i-i-i-i-i, Mommy!" Finally, she heard the sound of a muffled "Hi, Mommy" as her son was obviously taken out of the box seats and brought to the lobby by his dad. Her son came back right as the scene was finishing and Vicki was exiting through the big double doors onstage. As she was walking out she heard, "Bye-e-e-e-e, Mommy." That's what I call a shout-out! (Anybody?)
G is for Grease: I was a sub piano player for Grease and eventually played steadily in the band for around three years. Megan Mullally was the original Marty in the 1994 revival and, a few months in, was asked to understudy Rosie O’Donnell, who was playing Rizzo. They assured her she would never go on. Around one week later, they told her she was on. Unfortunately, she left on the “squawk box” or speaker in her dressing room. Why unfortunately? Well it was on as she was putting on her final touches of makeup and she heard the announcement: “At this performance, the role usually played by Rosie O’Donnell will be played by Megan Mullally.” Megan claims she heard a mélange of “Motherf*cker!!!!!” and the sound of Playbills being thrown on the floor as people stormed up the aisle. She turned off her dressing room squawk box after that performance.
U is understudy: This is one of my favorite stories and it features the late, great Marin Mazzie. Back in the ‘90s, she went on the national tour of And the World Goes ‘Round with Kander and Ebb. They were playing in the city where Marin’s understudy was from, so Marin (graciously) planned on letting her go on for a performance. Her understudy invited everyone she knew from her hometown, and Marin made plans for a delicious dinner. Cut to: An hour into her dinner, Marin got a phone call at the restaurant (this was before cell phones). The other actress in the show had sprained her ankle and couldn’t continue with the show. That meant that Marin’s understudy had to take over the other role and Marin had to come back and finish out the show. Unfortunately, Marin was enjoying her night off from the show, and her way of enjoying was drinking a glass of wine. Or more. Before you judge, there was no reason she shouldn’t drink because she didn’t have a show! Cut to: Not only did she have to rush back to the theatre and go on while slightly (or more) tipsy, she had to start from the part of the show where she was on roller skates! And, she had to do a cartwheel! I’m obsessed with the announcement that was made when the show started up again. Because Marin was returning after her understudy was on for her, the announcement was “Ladies and Gentleman, the role usually played by Marin Mazzie will be played by… Marin Mazzie.” What? The sweet and mystical part of the story is that after it ended she was approached by someone at the stage door. He was very sickly looking, but she soon recognized him as one of her old college friends. He had advanced AIDS and had planned on coming to the show just to see Marin. Naturally, he was very upset when she was out but then elated when she came back! He was so sick that, sadly, he died shortly afterwards, but it was as if he was meant to see Marin perform no matter what, and the universe conspired to make it happen.
S is for Seesaw :The musical Seesaw had an out-of-town tryout in Detroit and it was in trouble. The producers brought in Michael Bennett to take over as director-choreographer and that meant he wanted to bring in some of his favorite performers. That also meant firing many of the people already in the show! First of all, he brought in Tommy Tune to choreograph some numbers and when Tommy demonstrated how the number would go, Michael decided he like him better than the man playing the role and gave Tommy the part! Horrifically, Tommy Tune had just been a guest at that actor’s wedding. Nonetheless, the director has final say, Tommy took the role…and won a Tony Award. Here he is doing his big number featuring a pre-Chorus Line Baayork Lee as the featured balloon girl!
In other casting news, Lainie Kazan was playing the lead and Michael decided he wanted Michele Lee instead. I found this fabulous video of Lainie right after she understudied Barbra in Funny Girl—about five years before Seesaw.
One of the horrible things about the whole nachtmare is that Lainie was required to finish out the Seesaw run in Detroit—even though she wasn’t going to Broadway! It was horrible for her because she kept hoping that her performance would make Michael change him mind, but it didn’t. Ken Howard, who played her love interest, kept his role. Michele said it was terrible for him because he would rehearse Michael’s all-new version of the show during the day, but at night he'd have to do the same show, but with the old lines and songs. Michele said it was also difficult emotionally for her and Lainie. They had been friends since they both did Bravo Giovanni together and then they lived down the hall from one another! After the Seesaw debacle, they became estranged for many years, and then, around 15 years ago, they were both at a New Year's Eve party at Lee Grant's house. (OK, get that old-school Hollywood image in your head…isn’t it fabulous!?) Michele said that she and Lainie were standing on opposite sides of a buffet table when “Auld Lang Syne” began to play. Suddenly, they both burst into tears and ran to hug each other. Now, they're best friends again!
Michele was fantastic in the show. Here she is on the Tony Awards with the late (and super good-looking) Ken Howard introducing her.
Finally, T is Tituss Burgess: Watch this story of his bizarre wandering through a neighborhood in Queens and ending with his incredible rendition of “Meadowlark”!
Lots of these stories and more can be found in my books Seth’s Broadway Diary Volumes 1-3.
Buy some beach reading and see you next week!