Broadway To Vegas
SHOW REVIEWS CELEBRITY INTERVIEWS GOSSIP NEWS
Copyright: October 21, 2001
By: Laura Deni
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A CHEDDAR HEAD FOR A
The loyal Wisconsinite sacrificed her prized Cheddar Head in order to produce a show. But,
we've gotten ahead of ourselves.
Amy Pietz became a household fixture in the hit television series Caroline in the City. For
the entire four seasons that the sitcom aired Amy played Caroline's neighbor, Annie Spidaro, an
actress who was a feline in the Broadway production of Cats.
Prior to landing the role the singer/actress turned producer hadn't seen Cats. "I did in
doing my research for Caroline in the City. I hadn't seen it before that. And, I thought
the performers were wonderful, but I think it's a really stupid show."
So did a lot of people, but those cats a had more than nine lives, in a show that became
Broadway's longest running show, finally hanging up the whiskers on Sunday, September 10,
2000, after nearly 18 years and a record 7,485 performances.
Caroline in the City didn't run that long but it enabled Pietz to squirrel away enough have
the luxury of living out her I Want To Be A Producer dream. She's the brains and bank
account behind Xanadu Live currently running in Los Angeles at the Gascon
She spoke with Broadway To Vegas about her transformation.
Amy and her husband Kenneth Alan Williams
"I thought I wanted to be a producer," laughed Pietz."It's hard. I live for theater
and so does my husband," she said referring to Kenneth Alan Williams, whom she met when they
were acting in Chicago. They married in May of 1997, in her hometown of Milwaukee.
"We saw this production of Xanadu at the Williamstown Theater Festival last summer
while I was doing a play there. It was a one night only showcase. And, I really had one of the best
audience experiences in the theater that I had ever had. It was just so joyful. It was the
antithesis of New York and Los Angeles theater in that it took itself seriously -
"I thought that I wanted to bring it to Los Angeles and so did my husband. We got the same
director and the same person to play Olivia Newton-John. The director also adapted the piece,"
related Amy referring to Yale School of Drama graduate Annie Dorsen. "It has been
really hard to produce this thing, but after we opened, it is so worth it."
In the movie a young album-painter learns a lesson about daring to dream when he is kissed by a
muse. Throwing caution to the wind, he partners up with a wealthy former jazz musician to
start-up a roller
disco nightclub, but finds that one of his dreams might be too lofty--even for the powers that be.
"I went to the movie in Wisconsin," exclaimed Amy, who was raised in the Milwaukee suburb of
Creek and doesn't look old enough to have been alive when the film was released.
"I was a big fan of Olivia Newton-John," explained Pietz. "I used to sing her records on my little
plastic record player. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life and I
wanted to be her. I saw Xanadu with my cousin, who also used to sing along with me and
Olivia's records. I thought it was a fabulous movie, but then I didn't think anything more about it,
The critics didn't share Pietz's enthusiasm and Xanadu joined the ranks of cult
"We have received E-mails from fans all over the world," stressed Amy. "There are people in
San Francisco, D.C. and Vegas who want to produce this show. It does have a huge
following, although the following is underground. And, those underground fans are waving to
surface. They are very happy that we are giving them the opportunity to surface.
"My husband and I are the sole investors," Amy explained. " We own the show. There are 24
cast members and 75 costume changes. Our entire budget was doubled."
"The numbers have been crunched to do it in some sort of New York off Broadway 250-seat
theater. But, it is a tricky, tricky thing. Because I think it has to be done in a particular way for it
to make any money."
"We have faith and that faith is in two areas. In the pure entertainment value of the show itself
and also - even though we are novice producers - we have faith that we well surround ourselves
with people who know more than us. Then the pure joy of it will bring other investors on board.
And, we will figure out a way for it to make some money."
"On this production we are completely in the red and we are going to be donating money to
Breast Cancer," said Amy referring to the production donating a portion of the proceeds to the
American Cancer Society's breast cancer programs.
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN circa 1970s
"We did this because of Olivia Newton John. It is her disease. We wanted to make this
completely a tribute to her. We don't feel right about making money in the theater right now.
Instead of going on a trip to Europe we put up a show. This is our way of having fun"
The production is both the movie Xanadu turned into a stage production as well as "a
loving parody," continued Pietz. "Having seen the movie is not necessary to enjoy the stage
"I thought it would help if people were familiar with the movie, but when I saw it I was
surrounded by people who were 20 years old and they didn't even know there was a movie
And, they had a blast," exclaimed Amy.
"They rushed the stage dancing at the end of the show. There was a party afterwards and I was
very curious as to their responsiveness. I wanted to find out if this struck them as deeply
as it struck me - and it indeed did. They really enjoyed themselves. So, it helps to have seen the
movie because it increases your familiarity. However, it is not necessary. The production stands
Amy Pietz and husband Kenneth Williams. Instead of
going to Europe they produced a play
This isn't the first cult movie to have a stage version - Rocky Horror for
"The story in more linear than Rocky Horror she answered. "The story line is quite
simple and is easy to follow on stage, as opposed to having to just appreciate the eccentricities of
the characters. It is easier to follow than Rocky Horror."
The artists are on roller skates. This is not the first production to require artists to roller skate.
Andrew Lloyd Webber did it with Starlight Express. "Somebody told me they did the
Marriage of Figaro on skates," injected Amy who wasn't kidding about the Mozart opera,
first performed in Vienna, Austria in 1786.
"Safety, of course, is our biggest concern, because we have ramps and inexperienced roller
skaters," admitted Pietz. "Part of the fun of watching the production is watching their
inexperience and watching them fall and trip. We have a lot of ice packs. We have
insurance, of course. We have tried to safety proof the stage as much as possible
"If they do wobble around it's not dangerous looking. You're not supposed to be scared for their
safety. We are insured and we have taken every precaution to make sure they don't fall and
twist or break an ankle," she repeated.
"We purchased roller skates. A lot of people hadn't even been on roller skates. They had been on
roller blades but quads are different."
Amie Barsky well-known competitor on CBS' The Amazing Race not only appears in the
Olivia Newton-John role, but co-choreographed the production.
"She's fantastic!" exclaimed Pietz. "She's a phenomenal dancer. And, you know, you were
taking about the safety concern of roller skaters. We have a lot of swing dancing in the show and
the swing dancing is actually more dangerous than the roller skating because Annie is
lifted eight to nine feet in the air. She is really a highlight of the swing numbers"
"And, it's a tight stage. It's only a 99-seat theater. The stage is 16-feet across with four couples
doing swing dancing. There are a lot of close calls - heads swinging toward the ground, and
leaps in the air. Dancing is the highlight of the show. The choreography with the dance numbers
is quite intense."
All of the participants are lip syncing to the actual movie track.
"It is obvious that they are lip syncing because the soundtrack has ELO which is like a 30-piece
orchestra, which we obviously don't have," Pietz continued. "What is wonderful about it is that
the audience can suspend their disbelief's enough in the performances. That's what is so magical
about it. We have a lot of little tricks and surprises. It does take some pointers in lip syncing but it
doesn't take great technique," admitted Amy who graduated from Milwaukee High School of the
Arts and received a B.F.A. degree in acting from DePaul University (Chicago), and is herself an
"But, it is really fun to watch because you begin to imagine that there really is a 30-piece
orchestra on the stage. That is part of the fun. You're sort of transported. It's like watching drag
queens lip sync. There is something so great about it you actually start to believe that it is Barbra
Streisand or Patti Labelle."
Performing the Gene Kelly part is Amy's husband. Does he dance?
"He does now!" laughed Amy. "He didn't before this. And, this is one of the elements we wanted
to keep from the Williamstown production. We have incredible professional dancers. But the
whole theme of the show is that the ordinary person can be lifted to extraordinary places. Kenny
an ordinary guy. He actually pulls off a charming, and Irish looking Gene Kelly
even though he is a Russian Jew and he is tall and gangly. But, there is something about the
essence of it that is captured."
"The Williamstown production had a Hispanic Gene Kelly. It was fabulous. It makes you
appreciate Gene Kelly even more - his charm and his warmth in addition to his dancing ability that
made it work."
"That is the charm that we wanted to keep from the Williamstown production. That is what
makes people feel comfortable and included."
As a native of the Dairy State Pietz is proud of what has made Wisconsin famous.
"Cheese in Wisconsin is quite a delicacy. They are experts at it. I think the original immigrants
that settled in Wisconsin had it down pat and knew what they were doing and passed it along to
their other relatives.
Amy, however, can't cook - not even a grilled cheese sandwich. Of course, when you're as good
looking as Amy, cooking may not be a requirement. Wisconsin loyalists will be relieved to know
that Amy does eat cheese - and then there is that Cheddar Head.
"I have a favorite cheese store, which is called Mars Cheese Castle," divulged Amy. "It's on I-94.
between Chicago and Milwaukee. It's fabulous. The exterior is built like a castle. It's nice
out front. They sell gourmet cheeses, crackers and great beer and wine selection. They
serve bratwurst at their counter and you can get great Danish kugel, great Wisconsin things
that we used to eat on Sundays while watching football games."
Two Wisconsin football fans wearing
required head gear
"And, you can get all kinds of goofy cheese paraphernalia there - the cheddar head thing," she
referring to the foam rubber headgear that looks like a wedge of cheddar cheese, worn by loyal
Wisconsin football fans.
"In fact, the Cheddar Head we've had was sitting around in our garage. The first day the set
was built we were looking for foam to put on the corners of this platform, so that the people
didn't bang their knees on it." Amy confessed, "We sacrificed our Cheddar Head by cutting it up
and taping it on our stage so people wouldn't injure themselves. So, it did go for a worthwhile
"It is really necessary right now to have distraction from war. So far this production has brought
a lot of joy to a few people. So, we hope to bring a little bit of joy to even more people. It seems
to be a surprise to the audience how much fun they have. It is great - just wonderful. It's a
lot more fun than war."
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BOBBY SHORT who began his
34th year at the Cafe Carlyle on Oct. 16 will be feted tomorrow with the first Louis Armstrong
Award at The Pierre Hotel in New York City. Atlantic Records is reissuing on CD the
incomparable circa 1967 Bobby at Town Hall with the late Mabel Mercer. Buy. Enjoy.
NEWES DESIGN AWARD WINNERS for
2001 have been announced. The recipients are: John Moran received the Scenic Design Award for
Book of the Dead (Second Avenue). There was a tie in the Costume Design Category.
David C. Woolard for The Rocky Horror Show and Roger Kirk for 42nd Street
are the winners. The Lighting Design Award went to Brian MacDevitt for The Invention of
Love. Rudi Stern for Theater of Light was signaled out for Noteworthy Unusual
Established in 1964 as the Maharams and later the American Theatre Wing Design Awards they
were renamed a year ago after their founder.
The Hewes Design Awards are in their 37th year and were the first scenic, costume and lighting
design award which allowed Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway to compete
JAMIE DEROY & FRIENDS shine in
cabaret spotlight and support World Trade Center Rescue Workers with concerts at the West
Bank Cafe in NYC. The six time MAC award winner will be joined by Law and Order's
Jerry Orbach in a special Benefit Performance on November 1 For The New York City Police
Foundation's Heroes Fund, which was established to help provide the resources to meet the needs
of police personnel injured or killed in the World Trade Center relief effort,
their families, and emergency needs of the New York Police Department.
Administrative costs will be absorbed by the Foundation so that all proceeds
from this concert will directly benefit the relief effort.
performance, featuring an eclectic list of entertainers ranging from Law and
Order's Jerry Orbach to New York City police officer Daniel Rodriguez, will
take place Thursdays, November 1.
Joining deRoy in this very special concert are Law and Order's Jerry Orbach,
Tony-nominated actress Penny Fuller of Neil Simon's The Dinner Party, Lanny Meyers,
M.D., comedian Larry Amoros, singer-actress Judith Cohen, MAC Award-winning vocalist Jeff
Harnar, legendary singer Marni Nixon, Celtic singer-harpist Kitty Sullivan, and MAC
Award-winning comedienne Adrianne Tolsch, and magician Benjamin Levy. The concert also
boasts the talents of New York City police officer Daniel Rodriguez, who was scheduled
to sing at this year's Emmy Awards and recently appeared on The David Letterman
Jamie deRoy & friends is directed by Barry Kleinbort. Rod Hausen and
Lanny Meyers are the musical directors.
MAMMA MIA! opened last
Thursday at the Wintergarden Theatre in New York City. If you are a rabid ABBA fan you'll
love this show. If you think ABBA is the name of a monkey as in Abba, Dabba Do, then stay
home. For those who have a hundred dollars to throw away on an evening out and don't expect
a lot for their money, this show is for you.
Perhaps our expectations were too high. But, we had over the top expectations
in seeing The Producers last Spring, which were not only met but
On April 6, 1999, 25 years to the day of winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Benny Andersson
and Bjorn Ulvaeus' new musical, Mamma Mia! received its world premiere in London. It
was a smash hit as it has been everywhere including Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles. The
move to New York was eagerily anticipated as this year's major Broadway hot ticket.
Mamma Mia! is a vehicle for the songs made famous by ABBA. They could have just
staged An Evening of ABBA Songs and ABBA fans would have turned out. It wasn't necessary
to contrive a story line - if that is what it can be called.
The actual plot line was done considerably better in the 1969 movie Buona Sera, Mrs.
Campbell, in which an Italian woman has convinced three American fliers that they each
fathered her daughter during World War II. Their support checks have kept coming since the war,
but then she panics when she learns they're all coming back to her town for the squadron's
reunion. The Alan Jay Lerner/Burton Lane Broadway musical, Carmelina, wasn't a
big hit, but better than this.
The best part of Mamma Mia! was experiencing a new talent to us, Louise Pitre, a French
Canadian who plays Donna Sheridan, a single mother who once had a singing group called
Donna and the Dynamos and three boyfriends, each of whom could have been her child's father.
The Dynamos are Judy Kaye and Karen Mason whom we have throughly enjoyed in other
productions. They have tremendous talents that are wasted in this show.
If an influx of tourists hits New York from now through New Years, this is an enjoyable show for
mothers and daughters - providing you don't object to sound that is way too loud. Then again,
they could just go shopping, buy all of the ABBA records, take them home and dance around the
Mamma Mia! has music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig
Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. The production stars Louise Pitre, Tina Maddigan, Judy
Kaye, Karen Mason, and Joe Machota. Also in the cast are Dean Nolen, Ken Marks and David
W. Keeley. Sets and costumes by Mark Thompson. Anthony Van Laast did the choreography.
The score of 22 songs is arranged by Martin Koch. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
Seen in previews the week prior to opening, I didn't want my money back - I just wanted a better
HAPPY DAYS a stage take on the
television series, will have its first invite only reading for potential financial backers in Los
Angeles Oct. 21-23 at the Falcon Theatre.
The musical is written and directed by Garry
Marshall who created the
television series, a household main stay from 1974 to 1984 and made Henry Winkler a superstar.
Grossman is the choreographer. Musical direction is by Michael Roth. Ronny Hallin is
Located in Burbank's media district near Disney Studios, NBC, Warner Brothers and Universal
Studios The 99-seat Falcon Theatre. opened its doors in November, 1997. The performing arts center was
built by Marshall who, when he isn't playing softball, is a theatre buff.
WAR BRIDES a romantic
musical about British women who fight to be reunited with the U.S. soldiers they met during World War II,
received a New York City reading Oct. 22 at the Century Center Theatre, with Adinah Alexander, Valerie Fagan,
Lynne Halliday, Cindy Marchionda and Bethany Smith as the title brides.
War Brides has a book by Ron Sproat, music by Christopher Berg and lyrics by Frank
Evans. Bick Goss directs. Alan Gilbert, Fredric Marco and Jay Montgomery play their lovers, and
other roles. The focus is on the British two women, Mo played by Smith and Ivy played by
Marchionda. A full production of this project was seen in 1994 under the title Back Home
at the New Hope Performing Arts Festival in Bucks County, PA, and has had readings at Paper
Mill Playhouse and National Musical Theatre Network. Smith and Halliday are recreating their
Bucks County performances. The War Brides reading Oct. 22 is part the Musical
Mondays series at Century Center.
TWO ROOMS by Leo Blessings
will open the 14th season of the Blue Heron Theatre in NYC. This revival will be directed by
Roger Danforth. In Two Rooms the set represents a windowless cubicle in Beirut where
an American hostage is being held by Arab terrorists, and a room in his home in America, which
his wife has stripped of furniture so that symbolically, she can share in his ordeal. Visitng the wife
periodically are an ambitious reporter and an efficient State Department official. Two
Rooms was first produced in 1988.
TWO ROOMS at the Blue Heron Theatre,
NYC. Photo By: Richard Termine
Thomas James O'Leary and Monica Koskey portray Michael and Lainie Wells, the hostage and his
wife. Beth Dixon portrays the State Department official, Ellen Van Oss, and Steve Cell is cast as
the reporter Walker Harris. The set and lighting design will be by Roman Tatarowicg, the
costume design by Theresa Squire, and the sound design by Antonio Garfias. Paula Wilson is the
Blue Heron Theatre was founded in 1987 as a production organization that defines its work as a
thinking person's theater. It produces contemporary plays, classics and performance pieces that
bear witness to the human values of thought, feeling and imagination. The company believes that
through art, it can illuminate the world's diversity.
Two Rooms opens Nov. 1 and runs
through Nov. 23.
BY JEEVES by composer
Andrew Lloyd Webber and librettist-lyricist-director Alan Ayckbourn began previews at
Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre on October 16.
The characters are based on the popular comic novels by P.G. Wodehouse, a British chap who
specialized in writing about the leisure class between the world wars, the 1920s and '30s. One of
Wodehouse's New Year Resolutions in 1905, when he was a 23 year old, was to learn to play the
banjo, an ambition which he sought to achieve while living at the relatively isolated house in
Emsworth, Hampshire, which was called Threepwood. One of his less reliable friends, Herbert
Westbrook, was staying with him at the time, and took
the opportunity to borrow and pawn the banjo. Who is to say whether it was musical or financial
considerations which caused him to lose the pawn ticket?
By Jeeves takes place in a church hall where Bertie Wooster is scheduled to give a banjo
recital. His faithful manservant, Jeeves, a lover of music, steals the banjo, forcing Bertie to
improvise with a dizzying tale full of romantic entanglements and mistaken identities involving his
friends and their love interests. The church hall later represents a London flat and the house and
grounds of Totleigh Towers.
John Scherer and Martin Jarvis star as the famed Wodehouse characters, Bertie Wooster and loyal
By Jeeves is a totally rewritten version of a 1975 production. The North American
Premier of By Jeeves was at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT in
December 1996. Goodspeed Musicals is producer of this production jazz infused musical
comedy, which has an official opening of October 28.
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN does a two
nighter Oct. 26-27 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville.
TONY BENNETT performs Oct. 25
through Oct. 28 at Caesars Palace in Atlantic City.
TORI AMOS takes center stage
Tuesday in Chicago, IL at the Arie Crown Theater. On Wednesday the performs is in Cleveland,
OH for a show at the Palace Theatre. Thursday finds her in the spotlight in
Indianapolis, IN at the Murat Centre and on
Saturday she stars on St. Louis, Mo at the Fox Theatre.
tonight is in
front of the mike
in Verona New York at the Turning Stone Casino.
STEVE & EYDIE tonight appear at
Resorts International in Atlantic City, N.J.
NEIL DIAMOND on
Tuesday is in Rockford, Ill. at the Rockford MetroCentre.
Wednesday finds the show in Moline, IL at the Mark Of The Quad Cities. Friday and Saturday
Neil is in St. Paul, MN at the Xcel Energy Center.
performs Friday in York, PA at the Living Word Church. On Saturday Larry is in Manitowoc, WI
at the Capitol Civic Centre.
appears Oct. 24 at the NJPAC in Newark, N.J. On Oct. 26 the multi-talented beauty
is at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto,
performs October 22 in
Escondido, CA at the California Center for the Arts.
On Saturday she is in the spotlight in
Atlanta, GA at
the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts.
performs in Boston, MA at the Wang Center. Tomorrow he's in
Buffalo, NY at the Kleinhans
Music Hall and Wednesday finds him in Toronto,
ON at the Hummingbird Centre. The following night, Thursday, he entertains in Newark, NJ
New Jersey at the Performing Arts Center.
SMOTHERS BROTHERS appear
with the Utah Symphony Orchestra Friday and Saturday Oct. 26 and 27. Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City.
THE GREAT AMERICAN WILD WEST SHOW ( See Broadway To Vegas column of July 22, 2001 )
recently provided live entertainment for the How the West Was Won themed BlackJack tournament at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. This
included riding a white stallion into the banquet room and onto the stage, complete with their very
own Robert Redford i.e. The Electric Horseman. People were so
surprised they had lettuce dangling from their mouths. The gamblers were seated at their tables,
eating their salad, when without warning, the lights went out and a large horse with a cowboy
dressed in a lighted suit came through the door and reared high in the air like the Lone Ranger,
next to the banquet table Once the cowboy was in position on stage he performed his World
Championship trick roping act. The audience loved every second of it.
PIFFLE AND PROFUNDITIES
THE LOCUSTS ARE COMING if
you don't have enough to think about - dwell on this - the Locusts are coming.
Well, sort of. Actually, it's the Magicicada that is on the march. Both Locusts and Magicicada
emerge in periodic swarms. Locusts are far more destructive, destroying all plant life in their path.
The Magicicada are more selective, just killing trees - including those bearing fruit.
According to scientists the emergence of Magicicada Brood XXIII is due in America in 2002. Brood X shows up in 2004; and Brood XIV,
stakes it's claim in 2008.
Next Column: October 28, 2001
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