Lovely Rita

Happy Memorial Day weekend, Dogs.

A family member in Reno tipped me off to the following column by Reno-Gazette Journal columnist Siobhan McAndrew that ran in today’s paper.

The gist of it is that after a speaking engagement, Moreno — the Bay Area’s own diva — reportedly dropped a casual invitation to the writer and her entourage to join Moreno for dinner.

Here’s a sample from the column:

We trick ourselves into believing how nice and sweet movie stars must be because reporters, like me, interview them and make them seem refreshingly real.

We grasp for any bit of ordinary, like whether they ordered soup and crackers during the interview, and we present it to the world as proof of regularness.

I learned the hard way how stupid that is when I almost had dinner with actress Rita Moreno.

Now, I’ve interviewed Moreno on numerous occasions. I’ve dined with her. I’ve watched her in the rehearsal hall, and I’ve always been impressed by a) how smart and sharp she is and b) how approachable she is. I’ve never seen her throw her diva weight around, which is not to say she never does, but the column surprised me, and I feel like we haven’t quite heard the whole story.

Here’s another bit of the column:

Occasionally, Moreno glanced at us, but most of the conversation was about how talented she was and how she should do a one woman show. We chimed in that she was great when we could, but we gave up quickly and sat silently in awkward misery.

We here at Theater Dogs will attempt to round out the story and see if there are perhaps any other perspectives.

Wonder Woman sings!

Lynda Carter and I are bonding over the phone.

I tell her that for my 11th birthday, my parents took me to the Sahara Reno (no longer there) for a big show. The maitre d’, knowing it was a big day, took us to a table right next to the stage, and we settled in for the headliner: Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter.

Though she wore glittery gowns with nary a tiara or red-white-and-blue bustier in sight, I was dazzled, all the more so when the gorgeous brunette leaned down and shook my hand, which I tried not to wash ever again (which lasted about two days).

“Wow. It never ceases to amaze me — the smallest, kindest gesture can end up being a moment in another person’s life that is not even momentous, just a lifting kind of think,” Carter says from her home in Washington, D.C. “That so strengthens my feeling and belief — I know this is trite — that what goes around comes around. It’s also about how we affect each other. I’m sure that evening seeing your sweet little face did something for me. It never just goes one way. It always goes both ways.”

We’re having this conversation because Carter, 54, is about to make her Bay Area debut as a cabaret singer. Actually, it’s more than that. Though she started out as a singer, she’s only just getting back to singing after nearly two decades of dedicating most of her time to her husband, a D.C. lawyer, and her two kids.

“I didn’t really stop singing,” she says. “I just stopped singing publicly. I still worked on music myself.”

We’ll all get to hear Carter Tuesday when she opens her new act at San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room.

Back in her early days Carter, born Linda Jean Cordova Carter (part Irish, part Mexican), performed in a string of bands. First, there was Just Us, then the Relatives and then The Garfin Gathering with Lynda Carter. That last group made its debut at a new Holiday Inn in San Francisco.

“That was the first big city I ever played in,” Carter says.

But that was before her success on “Wonder Woman,” which ran from 1975 to 1979 and firmly etched images of the beautifully built Carter into the pop psyche.

Though she has popped up in a “Law and Order” here or a contact lens commercial there, Carter has kept a fairly low profile.

The offer to create a cabaret act in San Francisco hit her just at the right time. She says the spark to sing was relit when she played Matron “Mama” Morton in the London production of Chicago.

“It’s an exciting time for me to contemplate singing again,” she says. “It was such a big part of my career before I had children. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to get back to it now.”

In selecting songs to sing, she’s been going back through her variety specials from the late’70s and early’80s, as well as her Reno and Vegas nightclub acts.

“I’ll probably do ‘Cry Me a River,’ ‘Blues in the Night’ and a song called ‘Cloudburst’ from one of my specials,” she says. “I may also do ‘Put the Blame on Mame,’ which I sang when I played Rita Hayworth in a TV movie. I’ll bring that out of the mothballs.”

She probably won’t sing her big Chicago number, “When You’re Good to Mama,” nor will she sing the theme song from “Wonder Woman” (though, when challenged, she does indeed know the lyrics).

Obviously, her audiences will want her to address Wonder Woman in some way, but Carter hasn’t quite figured out how she’ll do that.

“I’ll most likely mention her throughout,” Carter says. “I’d like to talk about her in an intimate way, like what I thought of her. I’d like to offer a part of myself I don’t normally give, and that will involve insights into what she was like and how I might relate that to something I’m singing.”

Though she wouldn’t balk at another TV show, Carter says her biggest goal is to be a good parent and “pass as little baggage to my children as possible. They’ll create their own.”

And she’s trying to keep a flexible, tolerant, open-minded, forgiving view of the world and herself.

“I can’t make any plans past right now,” she says. “I love this song by James Taylor, ‘Secret o’ Life,’ and like he says, I’m going to try and keep doing what I’m doing now, enjoying the ride.”

For ticket information visit

Oh, joy — it’s JudyCast!

The stage isn’t the only place for theater these days. And as a wise man named Peter Allen once said, “Everything old is new again.”

It seems radio has been reborn in the form of podcasts, and no one is exploiting the form quite as brilliantly as 25-year-old New Yorker Bill Phair, the one-man wonder behind “The Entertainment Beat with Frances Gumm,” a spectacular bit of computer engineering.

Each episode features Phair’s spot-on Judy Garland impersonation as Judy muddles her way through the modern world (for some reason she didn’t actually die in 1967 — or maybe she did — it doesn’t matter). Judy relies heavily on her manager, Roger Darling, and her covey of chums: Bernadette Peters (a devastating portrayal), Carol Channing (“Razzzzzberries!”), Gwen Verdon, Pia Zadora (represented by a little cough) and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.

Phair plays everybody and also crafts a soundscape that works in show tunes (Audra McDonald makes frequent, often hilarious appearances) and the occasional hip-hop number (Judy singing “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” has to be heard to be believed).

Though campy and funny, Phair’s podcast is so much more. This is real radio theater (real bizarre, but still) and deserves the biggest possible audience.

Phair is currently working on what he promises will be the JudyCast’s “most ambitious episode to date.” The podcast is available to downolad via iTunes or at Phair’s Web site.

Like buttah

Read our music critic Jim Harrington’s excellent review of the Streisand concert here.

At first, Barbra Streisand was the kooky kid with the voice. Then she was an Academy Award winner and a box-office sensation. By the time she was a mother, feminist, activist and superstar, Streisand was already a legend.

But what does a legend do to remain legendary? In Streisand’s case, you pull away from the limelight. You still crank out albums to meet your recording obligations. You make (or direct) the occasional movie. And you raise money for the Democrats.

And then, if you’re really lucky (and want to work your butt off), you decide to make sure they know you’ve still got it. You go on tour — maybe two or three times because saying goodbye takes a long time — and you blow people’s minds.

That’s what Streisand did Monday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. As she nears the end of her farewell tour, her voice is a little ragged, but such an extraordinary instrument can stand a few rough spots and still soar.

Monday’s show was, like all the others before it, very nearly Barbra unplugged — just her and a 54-piece orchestra. No video montages, no fancy sets. There was a guest (the operatic quartet Il Divo), but they were basically back-up boys.

Barbra fans such as myself were in heaven. The only downside was toward the beginning of the show when Streisand came out singing “Starting Here, Starting Now.” I whooped and hollered to make sure Barbra knew I was there (after spending $350 she perhaps should have tossed me one of her earrings). And the older lady sitting in front of me, apparently not at all pleased by my volume, turned around with her pinched little face and actually wagged her finger at me.

But nothing could dim my enthusiasm. This was relaxed Barbra, happy Barbra (her men and women took the House and the Senate last week, and she’s positively aglow). And most importantly from the Theater Dogs point of view, this was show tune Barbra.

Here are the theater songs she performed in San Jose: “Starting Here, Starting Now” (Starting Here, Starting Now Maltby/Shire), “Come Rain or Come Shine” (St. Louis Woman Arlen/Mercer), “The Music of the Night” (The Phantom of the Opera, Lloyd Webber/Hart), “Unusual Way” (Nine Yeston), “Carefully Taught” and “Cockeyed Optimist” (South Pacific, Rodgers/Hammerstein), “Children Will Listen” (Into the Woods, Sondheim), “Somewhere” (West Side Story, Berstein/Sondheim) and a whole heap of songs from Funny Girl (Styne/Merrill): “The Music that Makes Me Dance,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People” from the Broadway show and “Funny Girl” and “My Man” from the movie.

In the Q&A when she read from notecards submitted by audience members, Streisand was prompted to say, “Shoot the swans? Dese lovelies?” from Funny Girl, and she recalled getting a voice lesson in San Francisco after losing her voice during a gig at the hungry i. She said the voice loss was psychological prompted by someone asking her how she held her notes so long. “I don’t know,” she answered the person. “Because I want to?”

My favorite songs of the evening: “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?,” “Down with Love,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” “The Woman in the Moon,” “Cockeyed Optimist,” “My Shining Hour” and “Happy Days Are Here Again” (performed with such glee you knew she meant every word).

And yes, the George W. Bush impersonator Steve Bridges showed up and was hilarious. He said last Tuesday had given him a good “Texas thumpin’.” “What’s that?” Streisand asked. “It’s when your butt stays blue for two years. He he he he.” He and Barbra sang a new duet on “Side by Side” with newly re-written lyrics about Madame Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (to whom Streisand dedicated “The Woman in the Moon” along with the 71 women in the House andthe 16 in the Senate).

Streisand recited a long quote by William Saroyan from the preface to his play The Time of Your Life, and it captures beautifully the spirit of the evening (especially considering she cut out the part about killing):

In the time of your life, live…Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed…Be inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself…In the time of your life, live — so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the mystery and sorrow of the word, but shall smile to the infite delight and mystery of it.

More Barbra love

While I’m at it, I thought I’d share with you this treat from the folks at and

It’s a live recording session of La Streisand singing “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.

I have no idea why this beauty has never been released. And there are others on YouTube. Look for Streisand singing “Moonfall” from The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Full-on Barbra love

On Monday (Nov. 13) I will be one of thousands making the trek to San Jose’s HP Pavilion to see Barbra Streisand say farewell to live performance (again).

I’m admitting it here, in public, amidst my Dogs, that I am a lifelong lover of BS. I’ve been with her through it all, including good taste and bad taste (hers and mine), good movies and bad (hers), good songs and bad (hers again). I saw her say farewell six years ago in Los Angeles, and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to see her in my own backyard (so to speak).

In our Nov. 12 paper we ran a Barbra extravaganza penned by yours truly. You can read it here, but you’ll miss the brilliant graphics by Greg Traverso of our graphics department.

One of the things I included was something I called The Perfect Streisand Mix, which is really just a compliaton of some of favorite BS tunes that you might not necesarily know. I re-print the list below with a few additions because in cyberspace, there are no space limitations.

Oh, and Rosie O’Donnell, if you’re reading (and of course she is — Lily Tomlin told her to never miss a Theater Dogs blog entry), I want to be in your Barbra Streisand fan documentary. Rosie, you and I speak each other’s sentences when it comes to Barbra and Broadway.

The perfect Streisand playlist
In this world of online music downloading and portable playlists, we offer the following (highly subjective but based on decades of research) menu of Streisand delicacies. These aren’t necessarily the hits, but they’re great.

“Down with Love” (from “The Second Barbra Streisand Album,” 1963)
“If I Could” (from “Higher Ground,” 1997)
“Jingle Bells?” (from “A Christmas Album,” 1967)
“Where or When” (from “Color Me Barbra,” 1966)
“Since I Fell for You” (from “Barbra Joan Streisand,” 1971)
“Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” (from “Harold Sings Arlen with Friend,” 1966)
“My Man” (from “Funny Girl,” the original motion picture soundtrack, 1968)
“Pavane (Vocalise)” (from “Classical Barbra,” 1976)
“Love with All the Trimmings” (from “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1970)
“Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead” (from “Live Concert at the Forum,” 1972)
“Clear Sailing” (from “Emotion,” 1984)
“Yentl Medley” (from “Barbra: The Concert,” 1984)
“I’ll Be Home” (from “Stoney End,” 1971)
“Somewhere” (from “The Broadway Album,” 1985)

I’d also add: “More In Love with You” (from “The Movie Album,” 2003); “Letting Go” (from “Guilty Pleasures,” 2005); “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” (from “Duets,” 2002);
“Places That Belong to You” (from “The Prince of Tides,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1991); “Pretty Women/The Ladies Who Lunch” (from “The Broadway Album,” 1985); “One More Night” (from “Songbird,” 1978); “The Woman in the Moon” (from“A Star Is Born,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1976); “There’s Gonna Be A Great Day” (from “Funny Lady,” original motion picture soundtrack, 1975); “Pieces of Dreams” (from “The Way We Were,” 1974); “I Never Has Seen Snow” (from “Barbra Streisand…and Other Musical Instruments,” 1973).

I’ll blog about the concert after I catch my breath.

Visiting Tennessee

This weekend, the Castro Theatre in San Francisco opens a Tennessee Williams film festival sure to excite cats on hot tin roofs everywhere.

The fest begins Sunday (Nov. 12) with Marlon Brando in a tight T-shirt (wouldn’t he have looked good in a forthcoming Theater Dogs T-shirt?) in A Streetcar Named Desire, probably the best stage-to-screen adaptation of any Williams work. Streetcar is in a double feature with The Fugitive Kind starring Brando, Joanne Woodward and Anna Magnani.

The bill for Monday (Nov. 13) includes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Paul Newman in pajama bottoms and Elizabeth Taylor in a slip — see how discussion of Williams devolves into things of a more erotic nature?) featured with Sweet Bird of Youth starring Newman and Geraldine Page.

The lineup on Tuesday (Nov. 14) is Suddenly Last Summer with Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift chewing up the high-calorie scenery, and The Rose Tattoo with Magnani and Burt Lancaster.

Wednesday (Nov. 15) sees Night of the Iguana paired with Boom! (a disaster only worth seeing for Noel Coward’s grace under pressure); and Thursday (Nov. 16, the final day of the fest) offers This Property Is Condemned with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood and Baby Doll with Carroll Baker.

The Castro Theatre (if you haven’t been, it’s one of the last gorgeous movie palaces in the Bay Area) is at 429 Castro St., San Francisco. Call (415) 621-6120 or visit for information.

Cherry bare-y

The great Cherry Jones is coming to the Bay Area at long last!

The two-time Tony Award-winner makes her Bay Area performance debut at the Golden Gate Theatre when Best of Broadway hosts the national tour of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Doubt. The show opens Nov. 7 and continues through Dec. 3. Check out for information.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Cherry Jones (alas, no relation, but our monograms are nearly the same). You can read all about her Tony-winning take on playing Sister Aloyisus in my Nov. 3 Jones for Theater column here.

The demands of a juicy blog require that I provide additional, somewhat more salacious information than appears in our newspaper, so let me warn you: the following information deals with Cherry Jones, one of our finest actors in any medium, NAKED.

When he was in town to promote his ucpoming show Legally Blonde, director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell happened to mention that he had been skinny-dipping with Jones while they were working on Nora Ephron’s Imaginary Friends: A Play with Music in which Jones starred as Mary McCarthy and Swoosie Kurtz played Lillian Hellman.

Mitchell said that during a lifetime of seeing beautiful dancers’ bodies, he thinks Jones’ is even more beautiful.

I mentioned this to Jones, and she just laughed.

“I’m a skinny-dipper from way back and proud of it,” she said. “Maybe I’ll put that on my gravestone.”

I told her I wasn’t much for going full monty in public (or in private for that matter).

“Well, you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures,” she said.

I didn’t talk to Cherry Jones only about the joys of jaybird nakedness. We talked about serious things, too, like how important the play Doubt is because it challenges the way people think about their perception of the truth.

We all sit, many of us, in our homes watching mindless, violent entertainment. I think we have to figure out how we can start spiralling up and not keep spiralling down. We have to challenge ourselves. Nobody wants to do that anymore. I don’t know how you get people to leave what is comfortable and easy. We’ve gotten so brilliant at pandering in this country, making sure we have everything to feel comfortable and easy. God forbid anyone should have to think or feel challenged. That’s capitalism: make people safe, comfortable and fat — and there’s no truth to any of it.

On the subject of being openly gay in show business, which is something that seems to have had no effect on the upward trajectory of her career, Jones said:

I came along in the gay rights movement at the right time. It was effortless for me. My parents had prepared me beautifully to be who I am. They let me know that no matter who or what I was, they would love me unconditionally. I’m a product of unconditional love. That makes it possible to be who you are because you know you have the support of the people who matter most to you. That’s the big lesson to parents. We all ask: what are the answers to the world’s problems? Well, let children know they’re loved. That’ll take care of 500 problems right there.

No doubt about it. Cherry Jones is one of the greats.

Legally Sedaris?

I’ve been reading Amy Sedaris’ I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, her hilarious guide to home entertaining, and that started me thinking.

I adore Amy Sedaris (and I hear her recent appearance at San Francisco’s City Arts & Lectures was a hoot) and crave her kooky sense of humor. I’ve memorized the entire “Strangers with Candy” series (and though I liked the movie, I prefer the TV show). My TiVo captures Amy’s every appearance on Letterman, and her recent apperances on Martha Stewart’s talk show (they made a Lady Baltimore cake from a recipe in Amy’s book) and on “The Colbert Report” where she tumbled with Colbert and Paul Dinello were priceless (check out the tumbling video here).

So what’s next for the beautiful and talented Ms. Sedaris? Well, Legally Blonde: The Musical is coming to SF in January before heading to New York. Wouldn’t it be inspired casting to put Amy Sedaris in the Jennifer Coolidge role of hairdresser Paulette Bonafante?

Last I heard, the role hadn’t been cast, and Coolidge probably doesn’t want to do it, so why not let the brilliant Amy Sedaris make the role her own? Not sure, though if Amy’s talents tend toward singing.

Frankly, this woman can do anything. She’s done plenty of theater. It’s time for her to embrace her inner show queen.

Kathy & Mo & Escape

The thought of a theater blog seems frivolous to me sometimes, especially on days when crazy men take hostages in a school. Or bombs fall in the Middle East. Or homicide rates ratchet up to 112 in cities where life should be better.

I guess it seems frivolous a lot of the time in this world. But when there’s stress and darkness outside, I retreat inside, and withthe help of TiVo and Netflix, I attempt escape.

One recent escape was quite successful because it involves two of my favorite funny women: Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, better known as Kathy & Mo.

Occasionally the gods of DVD smile, and some treasure is rescued from obscurity.

Just such a treasure is the newly released The Complete Kathy & Mo Show, a two-disc collection from Image Entertainment of the duo’s two HBO shows, Parallel Lives from 1991 and The Dark Side from 1995.

Parallel Lives was filmed at San Francisco’s Theatre on the Square and serves as a record of a brilliant show. I had just moved to the Bay Area and ended up seeing the show four times (I was there for the HBO filming). I remember thinking to myself while I soaked up Najimy and Gaffney’s comic brilliance: “This is exactly why I moved here.”

To my mind, Najimy and Gaffney are continuing the legacy of women in comedy pioneered by the likes of Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett. Their sketch comedy (performed with few or no props and minimal costuming) is pointed and funny, compassionate and extremely human. Two of my favorite characters of theirs are the old ladies with a passion for continuing education, Madeline and Sylvia (Mad ‘n’ Syvvie, pictured below).

The two-disc set features the two shows on one disc and then a bonus disc with vintage footage of the duo’s early work stretching back to some 1983 show captured on someone’s home video camera.

One of the more recent sketches is from Kathy & Mo’s greatest hits show, which I saw in Los Angeles in 2004. It involves a support group for all the dead or missing moms from Disney animated films. Priceless.

There’s also commentary from Kathy and Mo, which begs the question: When can we see some new Kathy and Mo material? I need — and the world needs — some intelligent, emotional escape.