Throwback Thursday: Backstage At Broadway’s FOLLIES

My dear friend and former castmate Joey Sorge (currently killing it in the hit Bway production, A Bronx Tale) recently sent me this pic from my first performance in what was arguably one of my happiest experiences on Broadway from the 2001 Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant FOLLIES.

This was taken as I was getting “mic-ed up” for the show.

Wow, time flies. Who is that guy?

I’ve written before about this incredible experience and the ensuing reunions of this amazing cast here.

If you’re a Broadway fan you may be interested in the backstory here 🙂

The Artist’s Challenge – Day Three

Day Three of the Artist’s Challenge (For 5 days, 1 post each day, 1pic or several pics or video of your artistic journey so far. Each day nominate 2 people to join).

I had auditioned for the 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES (choreographed by Kathleen Marshall), but after a few cuts, it was clear it wasn’t my day. It happens. Not meant to be, right?

A few months later, I was working at Walnut Street Theatre dance captaining A Chorus Line. The Friday before we were to open, another Kathleen Marshall show on Bway – SEUSSICAL – offered me a contract to replace Darren Lee who was leaving. I knew the show wasn’t doing great at the box office, so I asked how long the powers that be thought the show would run. The answer – “we wouldn’t be hiring you if we didn’t know the show was going to run.”

So for the first time in my career, I gave notice at Walnut Street. Five days later, the closing notice went up at SEUSSICAL. My replacement had been hired already at Walnut Street and so I headed back to NYC unemployed and despondent.

A week after getting back to NYC, I received a call from folks in casting at the Roundabout Theatre Company. Out of the blue. One of the guys in FOLLIES had given his notice and Kathleen Marshall had told them (knowing I got the short end over at SEUSSICAL) that if the costumes fit, the job was mine. I was two blocks from the Belasco Theater. I RAN straight there. And the costumes fit. Squeeee!!!

And so, I ended up in a beautiful, magnificent show with a cast that was equally special. And they took me in as if I’d been there all along. My run was only 2 months with the show, but the experience and the cast have stayed close to my heart.

We closed on my birthday which I shared with the fabulous (and Tony Award-nominated) Polly Bergen. Her performance of “I’m Still Here” KILLED. My work in Act One was done by the time her number came, and I would work through the basement and stand in the back of the house several times each week to watch her powerhouse performance.

So, there you go. I was wrong. FOLLIES was meant to be. I just took a while to get there.

My FOLLIES family gathers again this week to honor dear Polly, who we lost last year. I love this cast. They always feel like family to me.

No pics of me in the show since I replaced. But you have to watch Polly knock it out of the park with her number below.

Closing night of FOLLIES on Broadway with Polly Bergen

FOLLIES Broadway revival 2011 and the fab Elaine Paige

Brunch with Elaine Paige and Michael

 This afternoon Michael and I had the great fun of having brunch with the fab Elaine Paige before attending the matinee performance of the new revival of FOLLIES on Broadway.

Elaine is much fun and couldn’t be more charming.  We caught up and laughed for about two hours before we walked her over to the Marquis Theatre for her matinee where she stopped the show with her performance of “I’m Still Here.”

Elaine was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in awe of the rich material that is FOLLIES again. Having been a part of the first Broadway revival ten years ago, I am very familiar with the material and sitting in a dark Broadway theater again in the presence of this powerful show about midlife regrets and chances missed was a very emotional theatrical journey all over again.

I loved seeing the show again.  And I also loved seeing dear, wonderful Flo Lacey on a Broadway stage again – right where she belongs.

After the show we went to dinner with Elaine to talk more theater and laugh a lot more.

A very, very cool day.  If you have a chance to see Elaine and company in FOLLIES I highly recommend you do.  The Broadway production closes January 22nd I believe, but it will travel to Los Angeles in May to play 6 weeks at the Ahmanson Theater.

Backstage with Elaine Paige and Michael

Elaine Paige’s small rewrite of “I’m Still Here” from FOLLIES

Michael, Elaine Paige and I at a party in Palm Springs, CA

A few years ago, Michael and  I had a fantastic time spending the evening with the first lady of London theater, Elaine Paige.  We were at a great party in Palm Springs and, thrillingly for me, we found ourselves chatting for much of the evening.  She couldn’t have been more fun and sassy.  Having had a career in the theater myself, I enjoyed every minute.  My first big show was CATS, and of course Elaine had created the role of Grizabella singing the haunting “Memory.”

In addition to a shared history of wearing yak hair, we have a few other things in common.  We are both cancer survivors, have fairly short “blond” hair, enjoy an occasional glass of wine and we both have a history with a certain Stephen Sondheim musical.

Elaine is currently stopping the show on Broadway in FOLLIES at the Marquis Theatre.  I’m seeing Elaine and company  in a few weeks and can’t wait.  My last Broadway show was the first revival of FOLLIES over ten years ago, which I was very proud to be a part of.  We closed that production on my birthday, which I share with Polly Bergen, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in the same role Elaine is performing today.  So there are many threads that weave in and around our meeting and enjoying each other’s company.

From the NY Times: Ms. Paige is happy to discuss: “Follies,” the 1971 James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim musical that many critics viewed as ailing when it opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington in May, but which, after coming to New York this fall, has been hailed as a miracle of reincarnation. Ms. Paige, in the role of the actress Carlotta Campion, sings “I’m Still Here,” an anthem of showbiz survival, “with a galvanizing fierceness that makes this much-performed song sound fresh and stinging,” Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times.

The song includes the lines to which few mature actresses do not relate: “First you’re another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone’s mother, then you’re camp. Then you career from career to career.”

When asked if she were to rewrite a few lines of “I’m Still Here” for her own life, how would it go?

Sing along with Elaine:

“Sunset” and “Sweeney,”

“Chess,” “Piaf,” “Anything Goes”

And I’m here!

Cat costume sometimes.

Naked in “Hair”… goodness knows!

But I’m here!

“Follies” on Broadway

So sublime

Due to the talent of

Steve Sondheim

Queues ’round the block

So get in line, while we’re here

Lord knows it’s great to be back

And I’m here!

Look who’s here!

I’m still here!

New Broadway “Follies” building box office

The new revival of “Follies” grossed more than $1.12 million last week at the box office. This represents the highest one week box office gross ever for a Broadway production with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

From NYTimes: Last week, with no more complimentary tickets to give away to theater critics and other media (as is customarily done before and soon after opening night), the “Follies” producers were able to sell their best orchestra seats at full price. They also had a batch of superlatives from critics to highlight, particularly for the performances of Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, and Ron Raines.

The producers of “Follies” have already announced a three-week extension for the limited engagement, which is now scheduled to close on Jan. 22, 2012, and which they hope will give the show enough performances to make money on Broadway for the first time.

Even more, the gorgeous production is going to be available on CD soon. It’s now available on pre-order from Amazon now! Click here for more info.

FOLLIES: a reunion of a “reunion”

In 2001, I was cast in the Broadway musical “Seussical” before it closed.

I had been working in Philadelphia at the Walnut Street Theater assisting a director and acting as dance captain for a production of “A Chorus Line.” Shortly before opening in Philly, “Seussical” called and, having previously auditioned for the choreographer Kathleen Marshall, offered me a job. I knew “Seussical” wasn’t doing well in terms of ticket sales, but it was limping along. And I had recently returned to NYC from the West Coast with the intention of performing on Broadway again. But before I said yes, my agent asked about the show possibly closing and the casting director said “we wouldn’t be hiring Randy if we were closing.”

So for the first time in my life, on a Sunday night, I gave my notice. The next day Walnut Street Theater found my replacement and sent out contracts. The next day, my replacement signed the contracts and sent them back. And on Wednesday, as Walnut Street received my replacement’s contracts, I got word – three days after I had given my notice – “Seussical” posted it’s notice. No way out – I was out of both jobs. I had to leave four days later.

For a week and a half I wandered around NYC depressed that this “thing” had happened to me. I whined in my head as I walked the streets of the upper west side – “but I’m a good person… woe is me…”

Then, as I was leaving an audition for Susan Stroman’s “Thou Shalt Not” (the casting folks seemed to like me, then they did not) I got a call from the Roundabout Theatre Company. Aldrin Gonzalez had given his notice to leave “FOLLIES” and when asked, Kathleen Marshall remembered me getting the short end of things said “Call Randy Slovacek” (I had auditioned for “FOLLIES” back in the original auditions). They called, said if I fit the costumes the job was mine. I quickly – and hopefully – asked ‘who is leaving?’ (Please please please let me fit the costumes…)

Upon hearing Aldrin’s name, I literally ran that minute the two blocks from the audition from which I had just been cut to the Belasco Theater on 44th Street to try on the costumes, knowing they would fit.  (Thank you Aldrin, thank you Aldrin, thank you Aldrin…)

Not only did the costumes fit, but the show was a great fit for me. I LOVED joining such a wonderful company. I had replaced in Broadway shows before and it’s not always the case that you are so warmly welcomed into an already running show. Everyone was so supportive and friendly. I thoroughly enjoyed doing “FOLLIES” – the material was intoxicating just to be a part of. But more than that, I loved the company.

For one week, I rehearsed during the day and watched the show at night from the back of the house. And then it was show-time.

A funny story about my first performance: Rehearsals had been very low-key as I was only in three numbers in Act Two and had about six slow crosses through the “party” as a waiter in Act One. So the stage manager would walk me through my crosses and directed my moments of interacting with the other actors. Easy-breezy.

One more thing: I would be one of the first actors to enter at the top of the show after a brief prologue featuring Judith Ivey. After her short first scene, a door would open and I was to lead the “party-goers” onto stage as I carried a 40 pound party table that was awkward due to a car battery underneath it’s table cloth that powered the lamp on the table.

So, on my first night in the show, as Judith gave the cue and the huge upstage door slid open, I took a deep breath and stepped forward with my table – thrilled to be back on Broadway. HOWEVER, one thing we had failed to make note of during those low-key rehearsals: there was a step up of a few inches as you stepped onto ‘the deck’ of the stage. I missed that. And as I missed it, I tripped, and fell forward. For the longest 8 seconds of my life I did an heart stopping impersonation of Jerry Lewis as I lurched and slipped and saw my life flash before my eyes. All in front of a Broadway audience. With the entire cast behind me. As I lurched practically alone on center stage, I finally – miraculously – found my balance and snapped to upright posture dead center stage, and continued as if nothing had happened. In the back of the theater I saw Rod McCune, our dance captain, toss his notepad in the air and fall out of sight to the floor. Ah, well. Life. Welcome back to Broadway. 🙂

Throughout the run, I took every chance to watch the cast’s beautiful performances from the wings. Magic. The words, the music and the crush of youthful memories.

And, because I was finished for Act One before Polly Bergen’s “I’m Still Here,” I would head to the back of the house via the basement and watch her at least six times a week. I never got tired of watching her show-stopping anthem to survivorship. We closed on my birthday, btw, which I share with Polly Bergen.

From the Tony Awards that year (Polly and Blythe were nominated, as well as Theoni Aldredge for costumes, Jonathan Tunick for orchestrations and also for Best Revival):

This past Monday, the cast gathered together for a 10th Anniversary reunion, prompted in part by the passing of our dear cast member Betty Garrett.

I flew across the country purely to attend what would be a genuinely warm, comfortable and loving gathering of a cast; while we may have only spent about five months together in 2001, you’d never know it from the energy at Judith Ivey’s home. Just as “FOLLIES” explores, this production represented special memories for the performers who lived it, and we were coming back to “glamorize the old days, stumble through a song or two, and lie about ourselves… a little.” Except there were no lies, only love.

Within seconds of walking into the party I saw beautiful Blythe Danner, who caught my eyes, immediately took my hand and hugged me. I was in heaven. I’ve loved Blythe’s work for so long – Will & Grace, Huff, Streetcar Named Desire – but this was a moment made of friendship.

Years fell away and I felt family around me.

As I moved through Judith Ivey’s wonderful home, I was greeted by smiles and “hellos” and hugs. Everyone in the room was beaming wherever they looked.

Seeing Gregory Harrison was a special smile to share as not only had we done “FOLLIES” together but we played in the musical “CHICAGO” together for a year soon after the “FOLLIES” run. I had seen “FOLLIES” many times before I joined the Broadway revival but never really understood the open truth and honesty of the song “The Road You Didn’t Take” until I saw him in our show.

Judith Ivey, besides being the picture of talent, was the most wonderful hostess. I have indelible theatrical memories of Judith from her recent triumph of “Glass Menagerie” to our run of “FOLLIES” and going back to her moving yet funny turn in “Precious Sons” on Broadway with Ed Harris in the 1980s. (Actually the first time I introduced myself to Judith backstage at “FOLLIES” I recalled to her one of the funniest moments I’d ever seen on Broadway from her performance in “Precious Sons.” She squealed that I remember it.)

Then there’s Treat Williams. What a great star, but moreso, what a great actor. I knew of his work as a strong Hollywood leading man. Handsome, sometimes quirky. But in “FOLLIES” he brought not only his leading man qualities, but a “hang-dog” vulnerability that was disarming. And then getting to know him backstage, he was and is approachable, smiling and open to getting to know everyone.

Not only did the cast come together but our director – Matthew Warchus – and choreographer – the fantastic Kathleen Marshall – came to celebrate this theatrical family.

I caught up with so many people I loved working with: Alison Tucker, Joey Sorge, Richard Roland, Sally Mae Dunn, Joe Langworth, my dear T. Oliver Reid,…

I could honestly go on and on and on.

I thought I would be at the party for a few hours, but at 1AM I started following folks out as the party wound down. Much like the party-goers from our show, except in this instance at the end of the evening there were no regrets. Just joy.

And we headed out into the night floating on the gift that was “FOLLIES.”

In my mind I always think of them as “the Follies fab four” – Gregory Harrison, Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey and Treat Williams
With Blythe Danner.  Words won’t do justice to how happy I am in this photo.
With Gregory Harrison.  I also played in CHICAGO for a year with Greg.
Judith Ivey in a dramatic pose.
With Treat Williams.  What more do I need to say?
With the wonderful Polly Bergen.  We share the same birthday!
Me with Blythe and Gregory
Blythe, me, Gregory, Dorothy, Richard, Treat, Nancy, Matt, Joey and Alison

I think you can get the sense we all like each other, no?

Blythe, me, Dorothy, Nancy, Richard, Matt, Joey and Alison
The ladies of FOLLIES