Broadway To Vegas


Copyright July 6, 1998
By: Laura Deni



Veteran Broadway composer Jerry Herman makes his Broadway debut as a performer in An Evening With Jerry Herman, beginning July 15 at the Booth Theater. The revue also features Lee Roy Reams and Florence Lacey performing highlights from Herman's career.

Jerry Herman
Although he is HIV positive, first hit with that diagnosis almost 12 years ago, and recently underwent major heart surgery, the composer noted for his optimistic, toe tapping tunes, is in excellent health.

Herman's seemingly charmed life tarnished when his companion of seven-and-a-half years, Marty Finkelstein, died of AIDS at the age of 36. Devastated, Herman retreated into himself, admitting he felt lost - empty. As a composer of happy tunes, there wasn't a lot of joy in his life. On the heels of Marty's death came Herman's own HIV positive diagnosis. The composer's plate was too full and he needed to emotionally regroup and concentrate on his own health before returning to composing.

He took protease inhibitors twice a day, which increased his T-cell count and gave him renewed energy. Almost two years ago he even became a guinea pig in an experimental drug trial. Herman was in the placebo group. When the health of those taking the placebo deteriorated and continued that downward spiral, after a certain point, they were given the real McCoy. Three days after he was switched to the real thing his health improved. The handsome 5'8" New Jersey native writes in detail about those experiences in his autobiography Showtime, published by Donald I. Fine.

His father, Harry, who died in 1983, was a teacher and owner of a children's camp. His mother, Ruth, was a big, full of life, glamorous and pizzazzy woman who was a singer. During the 30s she had her own radio show. Jerry was just 21 when she died of cancer at the age of 44. She never lived to see any of his shows. It is reported that there is a lot of his beloved mother in the characters of Mame and Dolly. An only child, Jerry has said that on opening nights he stands in the theater and wishes his mother could see his work.

I first interviewed Jerry Herman for a Jan. 29, 1983 Billboard magazine special on Broadway. Herman reflected on the state of Broadway and told me; "Broadway producers have to have guts." What Herman stated 15 years ago sounds like it could have been said yesterday. "In 1961 Milk and Honey cost $300,000. That was a fortune. Now it's $4 million. You have to have wild wealth or go to corporate wealth." He also felt that the economy was a reason for the popularity in revivals. "The reason The King and I succeeds is that the public knows what they are getting. In order for it to make money in Tulsa it has to have the approval on Broadway."

Original cast albums used to be bread and butter income for record labels. Up until l972 one third of the top 20 albums were musicals. On that score the times have changed.

What hasn't changed is how Herman approaches music. He's the only composer to have had three musicals which ran over 1,500 consecutive performances on Broadway, each of them featuring the kind of music he believes can have lives of their own outside the show.

Elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame his works include; "Milk and Honey, Dear World, Mack and Mable, The Grand Tour. La Cage Aux Follies, Hello Dolly!, and his $10 million television Christmas classic Mrs. Santa Claus starring Angela Lansbury. Shot on the back lot of Universal Studios, Herman penned a ten song score.

It's hasn't be the gravy train express. His first New York show, I Feel Wonderful , opened Oct. 18, 1954, and ran only 49 performances. Angela Lansbury couldn't save Dear World, a musical adaptation of A Mad Woman of Chaillot, which closed after 132 performances. Talented Joel Grey was a disaster in Grand Tour which closed up shop after 61 shows in 1979. There were major revivals of Dear World and Mack and Mable before the shows caught on.

On the upside, in addition to his mega hits Mame, Dolly and La Cage, the members of the La Cage chorus are the ones who initiated the backstage fundraisers that became the backbone of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a $6 million-a-year theatrical fundraising accomplishment.

Before the parade passes you by, it only takes a moment to put on your Sunday clothes, open a new window and head over to the Booth theater. Enjoy the show. Jerry will tune the grand up. Performing one's own songs is every songwriter's dream, and possibly ... revenge. Don't be surprised if all the rumors come true and Carol Channing pops in now and then to warble Hello Jerry!.


Nathan Lane and Faith Prince Photo by: Laura Deni
After achieving super stardom on the stage and then spreading his wings onto the movie screen, it was a shoo-in that Tony Award winner Nathan Lane might just as well conquer television. His pilot of choice was Encore! which cast Lane as a retired opera singer who returns home to help his family run their California vineyard. All of the roles were cast and the pilot sold to NBC.

Lane enjoyed perfect harmony with Faith Prince when the two overwhelmed Broadway co-starring in Guys and Dolls. Lane and Robin Williams had brilliant chemistry in the movie Birdcage.

Apparently the same couldn't be said for Encore!Two key roles are not only being re-cast, but totally rewritten. In the pilot's version, Lane's character had a teen-age nephew who was a nerd awestruck that his uncle was an opera singer who knew famous people. Lane's character also had a sister who wasn't known for her sex appeal.

In the encore casting of Encore! the key role of the teen-age nephew will have a smart-aleck edge, while the sister is getting a glam job.


Orson Bean
Orson Bean, who co-starred as shopkeeper Loren on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, hasn't spoken to Jane Seymour since the series was cancelled. Orson and Jane "live in two different social strata." Although they got along while doing the series, they have found no particular need to now speak to each other.

Orson has returned to his first love, the theater. Married to actress Alley Mills, who played Fred Savage's mother on Wonder Years, the couple is starring in Candida,which George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1895. The production marks the first time Bean and Mills have co-starred on stage. The couple has a 50 seat Los Angeles area theater, Pacific Resident Theater. They not only perform gratis, but on the 4th of July gave away every seat in the house on a first come first serve basis The production is only slated through July 12th.


Tony Danza has been signed to step into the lead in Arthur Miller's revival of A View From The Bridge replacing Anthony LaPaglia, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Eddie Carbone.
The show was scheduled to shutter when LaPaglia left on July 19th. The contract with Danza permits the show to remain open until Sept. 6th.

This will be Danza's Broadway debut, although he starred off-Broadway in Wrong Turn At Lungfish. He called that "the artistic experience of my life." His acting ability earned him an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination.

Danza will step into the role of Eddie, an emotionally tormented longshoreman who lusts after his niece. He's blue-collar, a product of the times and neighborhood. Bravado masks his insecurity. While he honestly means well, he's thick-headed and stubborn. Eddie doesn't have the coping skills necessary to deal with change or challenge - be it what life throws at him or of his own making.

This is a meaty role that actors pray to get, while fantasizing how their career will be catapulted into a more exalted plateau.

Danza is a good choice. Of Italian heritage and from a blue-collar background, he's naturally intense. He's had his own share of bar brawls including one that took place after a performance of Lungfish when Danza went to Marylou's on West Ninth Street for a drink. A guy who had had a few too many picked a fight. In explaining the problem the club owner said: "Tony had no choice but to threaten to rip their heads off." Danza's complaint about the situation was that he never got to finish his drink.

Then there was the 1984 Mayflower Hotel brawl in which he dusted off a hotel guard. Danza served 300 hours of community service working in an old folks home. "That experience smartened me up," he said.

The personable Danza is a former boxer-turned actor-turned song and dance man. He's a charmer who put together a tap dance-singing-piano- playing nightclub act. He carted his tux and tap shoes across the country performing in 11 cities, from the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, to Atlantic City to Carnegie Hall and Rainbow and Stars.

He's also a survivor. When he mother, Anne, developed cancer Tony insisted upon moving back home to Malverne, N.Y. For six moths in 1993 he cared for her. When she died he was devastated.

That Christmas he went skiing with his family and collided with a tree on a Deer Valley Utah ski slope. He suffered multiple injuries, including a broken back, dislocated and damaged spine, eight broken ribs, internal bleeding, collapsed lung, bruised kidney, broken leg and a torn knee. He spent months in physical therapy. Three rods, five screws and a bone fusion were need to repair his broken back.

Two weeks after being discharged from the hospital, the Northridge earthquake totally destroyed the home where he lived with his wife, Tracy, and their two daughters. Danza also has a grown son from a previous marriage.

On second thought this part could be a cake walk for Danza. If the audience accepts him as Eddie Carbone, this will be the role that breaks his sitcom stereotype. Seven years ago in referring to being typecast as an affable sitcom father, Danza acknowledged the problem but said; "I just think that someday I'll do a part that'll make it sink in that I can do other things. Just because you ham it up (on a weekly sitcom) doesn't mean you can't do something else." With the acceptance of this role, Tony's wish has been answered. How he handles the challenge is up to him.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to the legendary Lena Horne, who turned 81 last week. On Monday, July 6th, she will be in New York City, at J&B Music World, signing copies of her latest CD, Being Myself. She'll also participate in the store's free concert series, which will be recorded by Black Entertainment Television.

ON SATURDAY TITANIC STAR GLORIA STUART will receive the 1998 Legend Award from the video Software Dealer's Association as part of their three day convention being held in Las Vegas. Other VSDA honorees include; Lost In Space stars Matt LeBlanc and Heather Graham, who take home Rising Star Awards.


The Fairbanks Concert Association is celebrating their Golden Anniversary. The 50th year celebration was kicked off with a Judy Collins concert. The festivities continue as Fairbanks heads towards their golden centennial in 2003. The city was named for Indiana Senator Charles W. Fairbanks, who later became vice president of the United States under Teddy Roosevelt.

July 16th kicks off Golden Days, the annual celebration of the discovery of gold in Fairbanks in l902 with music, comedy and saloon shows, such as the one Malemute Saloon offers. The parades, races and contests continue through July 26. Dovetailing that, beginning July 24 through Aug. 9, is the Fairbank Summer Arts Festival with workshops and concerts featuring performing and visual arts, with guest artists from around the country.

Actress Irene Bedard, daughter of Eskimo and Cree-French parents, lived in Anchorage before heading off to college in Philadelphia. Bedard is the voice of Pocahontas in the animated movie of the same name. Her new movie is "Smoke Signals," reported to be the first feature film written and directed by American Indians. NYU graduate Chris Eyre heads up the project about a young man coming to terms with his father's legacy. Bedard plays the father's lover, Suzy Song.

When the Alaskan native first migrated to New York she paid her dues as an East Village waitress. It was while taking orders that she fell in love with co-worker Denny Wilson, whom she married in 1993.

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BARRY MANILOW getting his musical Harmony ready for Broadway.

IN LOS ANGELES Tuesday is the day Chicago changes theaters - from the Ahmanson to the Shubert.

THE LOS ANGELES PREMIERE of the award-winning play, inspired by the life of Tennessee Williams, Tennessee in the Summer is housed at the Egyptian Arena Theatre. The production stars Kay Lenz. She was married to David Cassidy from 1977-82. Kay's introduction to show business was on The Andy Griffin Show at the age of 13. When she was 19 she starred in a movie called Breezy opposite William Holden and directed by Clint Eastwood.

LAS VEGAS RESIDENT BUDDY GRECO opens a two week engagement Tuesday at the Oak room of New York's Algonquin Hotel. He started working with Benny Goodman at 16, and hasn't stopped performing. He's recorded 66 albums and more than 100 singles. His current release Like Young, is dedicated to Frank Sinatra.

SPEAKING OF OL' BLUE EYES don't call Stewart Lane - he'll call you. The guy who co-produced 1776 and Wait Until Dark is planning to bring Frank Sinatra - The Musical to Broadway. The poor fella has been so besieged with phone calls from people who want to play Sinatra that he's had his phone number changed. On Lane's short list of possibilities, Harry Connick, Jr. Cy Coleman, who penned the Sinatra hit, Witchcraft is a show consultant and will help with the music. Larry Gelbart is being wooed to write the show's book.


On Sunday July 12, at Caroline's Comedy Club, New York, there will be a memorial tribute to entertainment writer and reviewer Donna Coe, who died June 13, after a prolonged illness. Ms. Coe was the comedy and cabaret reviewer at the New York Post from 1991 through 1995 and was the comedy columnist for the N.Y. Daily News from 1995 through March of this year.

She sold a sitcom pilot It's Beverly to the FOX network and was a writer for Comedy Buzz on Showtime.

She is survived by her husband Jim Tatum, whom she married in her hospital room two days before her death, and by a half brother, Arthur Schaefer of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Copyright: July 6, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Original Photographs from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit Next column July 13, 1998

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Laura Deni

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