It’s Tony time! This is the exciting month leading up to the Tony Awards and I’m extra happy that the nominations were split amongst so many different shows.
Speaking of Tony Awards, I interviewed Ken Waissman who produced the original Grease. His friend, who hated everything, told him he should fly to Chicago to see a new show. It was more of a play with some songs. The “theater” was so bare bones, there were no seats. The audience sat on newspapers, but Ken liked what he saw. He felt he knew every character onstage from his high school. He asked Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs if they wanted to develop it and they said yes. Then he went to Pat Birch and asked her to choreograph. He had seen her work and felt she was fantastic at getting people who weren’t dancers to dance. She was confused, though, when he asked her. She wanted to know why he didn’t go to a director first. Ken told her that he was certain she was right for the show, and he wanted to make sure that any director he hired wanted to work with her. Here’s the original Danny and Sandy (Barry Bostwick and Carole Demas) recreating her fantastic staging of “Summer Nights.”
When Grease first opened in NY, it was downtown at the Eden (where Once Upon A Mattress had played), which had over 1,000 seats. Well, most people know that the rule to make a theater a “Broadway” theater is that it must have 500 seats or more. Turns out, right before the nominations, the rules changed that Broadway theaters had to be in a specific midtown area.
Ken knew that being nominated would garner amazing publicity for the show and he called the Tony Award producer, Alexander Cohen, to discuss it. Unfortunately, Alexander didn’t take his call. Well, Ken and his team came up with an idea. They decided to send a press release saying they were suing the Broadway powers-that-be. Suddenly, Alexander Cohen called him. Cohen berated him for “airing their dirty laundry in public,” but Ken reminded him that Cohen hadn’t taken his call. Cohen asked Ken to put off the press release for an hour and then called him back and told him that Grease would now be eligible for nominations. However, Cohen all but assured Ken that the show wouldn’t get any nominations. Cut to Grease receiving seven Tony Award nominations and winding up becoming the longest running musical on Broadway (until it was usurped by A Chorus Line)!
There are so many people who got nominations this year for whom I’m so excited! First, my ol’ pal Jennifer Simard. I met Jennifer in the very early 90s when she was doing an out-of-town production of Forbidden Broadway and I started coaching her. I thought she was hilarious and had a fantastic voice. In 1991, I coached Jack Plotnick, whom I met through Billy Porter and Eric Woodall, for his audition for Pageant. He wound up being cast as a swing. We became good friends and soon began doing comedy together. We cast Jennifer in our comedy show and she was hi-larious! She not only played Janet in our musical version of “Three’s Company,” but also performed her brilliant “Have A Penny, Need A Penny…” which you can see on my Playbill Obsessed video.
More than 20 years later, Jennifer received her first Tony Nomination for playing Sister Mary Downy in Disaster!, the musical Jack and I wrote together. Here is my deconstruction of her brilliant performance:
Now Jennifer is nominated for playing Sarah in Company and, need I remind you, the character Sarah doesn’t even have a song. Brava! Jennifer can finally re-think her hilarious Shrek headline story. If you don’t know, years ago, she played a featured ensemble part in Shrek. When the cast was flying on a plane for its out-of-town tryout, the plane ran into turbulence. Jenn wasn’t only scared of dying, she was also mortified because she knew the headline would read “Sutton Foster and others die in plane crash.” Now it will say, “Sutton Foster and two-time Tony nominee Jennifer Simard...” Yes, to better billing!
I also love that the hilarious Julie White got nominated too. I remember interviewing her and she was talking about meeting a guy she was dating who was much younger than her. They were chatting at a BBQ and he asked, “What are you? Like 30?” She said yes. She then explained to me that she was 35 which is “like 30.” Yes!
Of course, I’m thrilled for Mr. Saturday Night’s Shoshana Bean! I first saw her in Godspell in 2000 and flipped out. I then put her in my ensemble for my Dreamgirls Actors Fund Concert and I was so happy when she eventually took over the role of Elphaba. She did my livestream concert a few months ago and I begged her to come back to Broadway. Well, she did and now she has a Tony nomination! I’ll never forget her amazing rendition of “I Believe in Love” for my Actors Fund Hair concert. I had a different singer do each song and, of course, almost all the songs in that show are show-stoppers, but “I Believe in Love” is a quick rock/folk song. I didn’t know how it could be exciting, but I knew who could make it exciting. I asked Shoshana to sass it up and, with a combination of heart, soul, belting, riffs and whistle tones, the song was amazing! Here’s my deconstruction:
Shoshana is one of those rare singers who can sing soprano and belt.
I’m doing a livestream concert with one of my favorites: Judy Kuhn. Here is one of my absolute favorite belted performances. Stunning!
And here is her clear-as-a-bell perfect soprano. Amazing!
Come see us this Sunday at 8PM ET in the comfort of your own home! Livestream tickets are available at TheSethConcertSeries.com