He’s the one who put together dozens of interviews for his previous tomes.
One was called A Wonderful Guy: Conversations with the Great Men of Musical Theater.
Before that, though, he provided Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater.
So, what can Eddie Shapiro do for an encore? Here’s to the Ladies: Conversations with More of the Great Women of Musical Theater.
It’s recently been released by Oxford University Press.
And here are, to use a term that movie theaters once employed, “previews of coming attractions.”
Barbara Cook related that before she had any theatrical success, she worked in a post office in Flushing – and that Jack Cassidy got her the job.
That she maneuvered no fewer than 21 high Cs in “Glitter and Be Gay” might not surprise us, but her reporting that Lillian Hellman, the bookwriter for CANDIDE, took over its direction might.
Cook claimed Richard Rodgers believed that she and Farley Granger performed THE KING AND I better that Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner did.
A favorite song of hers? “Oh, to Be a Movie Star” from THE APPLE TREE.
Last but probably least, Cook had two parakeets that she’d named George and Ira.
Tonya Pinkins auditioned for MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG during her Christmas break from Carnegie Mellon. When its cast was invited to Sondheim’s townhouse, she liked seeing his workroom where shelves were filled with his scores, yes, but what really impressed her was that there were empty shelves for the scores to come. And when she went to at Hal Prince’s house, she enjoyed seeing the rotunda where his Tonys were spotlighted.
Faith Prince started out waitressing – and enjoyed one part of it: “People would leave me money and I couldn’t wait to see how much they’d left me.” And never mind what she’d heard about Jerome Robbins’ terrible temper; see how she talked back to him when rehearsing JEROME ROBBINS’ BROADWAY. You might also be surprised to hear what song Prince chose to audition for GUYS AND DOLLS: “Something Wonderful.”
Karen Olivo told what Arthur Laurents said about Stephen Sondheim during her WEST SIDE STORY stint. It wasn’t pretty.
Charlotte D’Amboise recalled what she learned from Bernadette Peters while both did SONG & DANCE. She noted that she’s been lucky to come and go two dozen times as Roxie in CHICAGO because – has this ever occurred to you? – the character’s age isn’t specified.
Best of all, though, D’Amboise recalled that, as a child, she watched so many old musical movies with long-deceased stars that when she saw HELLO, DOLLY! she assumed that Barbra Streisand was dead, too.
(Only to Broadway, Charlotte, only to Broadway …)
Mary Beth Peil was told to only wear black and white when auditioning for Anna in THE KING AND I because “Yul Brynner doesn’t care for colors.” She got the job and heard from him a fascinating story of how “Shall We Dance?” came to be written.
Judy Kuhn endured much chaos when preparing to sing the title song to RAGS at the Tony Awards. Worse, though, was how she learned that CHESS was closing – people associated with the incoming JEROME ROBBINS’ BROADWAY were suddenly coming in with measuring tapes to see the width and breadth of dressing rooms in the theater they’d soon be occupying.
Beth Leavel admitted, “There’s no scenery left when I do Miss Hannigan.” But she made the book’s funniest but all-too-true observation: “In high school, you rehearse for six months before you actually do four shows over a weekend.”
Carolee Carmello said that one of her fondest memories was performing “Tom” in HELLO, AGAIN. But what really astonished her was hearing the score for PARADE for the first time.
“Jason Robert Brown was 25 or something,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘How is this music coming out of this kid?’ Where is this coming from? It was so deep, so soulful, so powerful.”
Melissa Errico said that at French Woods, the famous performing arts camp for teens, Jason Robert Brown played Che to her Evita. She believes that one reason that she was accepted to Yale was because she made her application look like a Playbill.
She came out with a startling opinion: “The amount of shame associated with vocal injuries is crazy,” she said, attributing quite a bit of it to a cyst that develops. “It’s a small injury with a large impact on your singing.” She told Shapiro, “All the women you’ve talked to have it. They’re never going to tell you, trust me.”
Errico has also coined a word to describe a young actress who’s willing to go nude on stage: “ingénuedity.”
Sherie Rene Scott said that a producer of THE WHO’S TOMMY told her that if she left the show (which she did) she’d never work again.
(It hasn’t turned out to be true.)
Similarly speaking, Lynn Ahrens related how RAGTIME producer Garth Drabinsky didn’t want Marin Mazzie for Mother simply because she’d left a previous production of his. But when no one better auditioned, it was a case of case closed: Mazzie opened the show.
Heather Headley understudied in RAGTIME and, like so many others, received good advice from Mazzie, which you’ll want to learn, too. Headley also said that if she had to name the top five musicals of all time, INTO THE WOODS would be high on the list.
Kerry Butler has done 11 Broadway shows, but she reported that when fans approach her at the stage door, the one musical they want to discuss above all others is BAT BOY.
Butler’s lucky that she wound up in HAIRSPRAY. Although she was originally cast as Penny Pingleton, the character was cut – until John Waters, who created the original film on which the musical was based, said “You can’t cut Penny!” And to mollify Waters, without whom they wouldn’t have a musical, Butler still had a job.
Kelli O’Hara told of the different takes Harry Connick Jr. would do each night during “Hernando’s Hideaway.” She was responsible, though, for he’d ask her each night what approach she’d like for that particular performance. She also related how much she loves the art form that musical theater is: “When the curtain goes up on 42ND STREET, I’m a mess.”
Alice Ripley said that “The ensemble is a really powerful place to be. You learn so much more about yourself because of the things demanded of you.” Karen Olivo described being a swing in a show as making “you become a little bit of a magician and a shape shifter.”
Lest we forget that actors have feelings, too, Ripley notes that there was a downside to doing the audience-participatory THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW: “Hearing somebody call you ‘slut’ for a year starts to wear on you.”
Although SIDE SHOW didn’t last long on Broadway, Ripley really bonded with it. So, once productions sprung up around the country, she likened it to the sad situation where “your lover is gone, and you hear that he’s screwing everybody all over the world.”
And which of us who ever dealt with Elaine Stritch doesn’t have a seemingly unbelievable story about her? Ripley reported what might be the most startling of all: Stritch abruptly barged into her dressing room – not that she knew Ripley – and said, “Do you mind if I use your bathroom?” before adding, “Oh, what the hell, I’ll do it right here.”
If the way THAT story turned out doesn’t get you to read Eddie Shapiro’s Here’s to the Ladies: Conversations with More of the Great Women of Musical Theater, nothing will.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.