My dear Carol Channing celebrates her 90th birthday today.
I recently performed with her again last month (picture above) in the opening number of the Gypsy of the Year competition, which is a major charity event for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She brought the house down as only she can.
For those that don’t know, I spent two and a half incredible years performing with Carol in the last Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!. I eventually became the production supervisor where she would ask me for notes – on how to perform the role of Dolly Levi! As if I could tell her anything she didn’t already know.
A quick Carol story: when I was supervising Dolly on tour, one day we had a particularly long and dreadful travel day – two planes, a bus, a train and a donkey or two – to get to what Carol called “a soccer arena” where we would perform the show that night.
In the sound check Carol looked down and realized that the musician’s pit was 25 feet beneath us. This was the pit that I had to leap over every night in the middle of the Hello, Dolly! number. For the first time in 30 years of doing the show she decided this was dangerous.
After the sound check she came looking for me to ask if someone could put a net or something between the pit and the stage in case those of us who jumped over the pit happened to fall into it.
At this point, I had 30 minutes before the performance and was taking a long shower to rid myself of the long travel day. This being a “soccer arena” the showers where open showers in a locker room.
Covered in soap and standing under the water I suddenly heard a very low baritone voice say “Randy.”
I turned and there was Carol, in the open showers with me, smiling.
She waited for me to turn and went into her concerns about the pit, a net and all sorts of other things as I stood there completely naked. When she finished expressing her concerns I said, “Absolutely Carol. But right now I’m soaking wet, taking a shower.”
She looked me up and down, smiled and said “Oh! Yes, of course. Well, you know – we’re all just show folk,” and then turned and left me to finish my shower. Nudity was nothing to this old pro who had changed costumes in the wings for decades.
Carol recently gave an interview about her 90th birthday and her thoughts on stage fright, losing the movie role of Dolly Levi to Streisand and getting the arts back into public schools. She is truly a national treasure.
Celebrate our fabulous Carol Channing today. As she likes to say – the first 90 years are the hardest…