A song of Bernadette (Peters, of course)

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Buckle up, Broadway Babies. It’s time to revel in all things Bernadette. The loveable diva Bernadette Peters, she of the curls, the va-va-voom figure and the knockout voice, will return to the concert stage in Davies Hall to perform with the San Francisco Symphony on Tuesday, July 23 (for ticket info, click here). This is a re-scheduled concert after the pesky musicians’ strike scrapped Peters’ previous plans to dazzle us with her latest concert.

Most recently, Peters popped up on NBC’s love-to-hate musical TV show “Smash,” and she was one of the best things about the show (along with the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman). The 65-year-old beauty’s last turn on Broadway was in the stunning revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, and she proved she’s lost nothing in the dramatic department.

The most astonishing thing about Peters is the duration and diversity of her career. She has done it all. And now, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, let’s revisit some highlights, shall we?

In 1979, Peters starred in The Jerk with then-love Steve Martin. She’s hilarious, but this duet on “Tonight You Belong to Me” is sincerely sweet.

One of the greatest things about the ’70s was the last hurrah of the variety show. Peters was such a versatile and appealing performer that she fit right in to the long-gone format. Here she is on the best of the ’70s variety shows, “The Carol Burnett Show,” singing “All That Jazz” from March, 1975.

More proof that Peters is a superb comedienne, this comedy number by Marilyn Miller and Sheryl Hardwick from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

All that wonderfully gooey ’70s cheesiness spilled over into the ’80s. Need proof? Look no further than Peters performing with Peter Allen at the 1982 Academy Awards in a tribute to Irving Berlin.

Peters is a two-time Tony Award winner (with seven nominations) and a force of musical theater nature. Here’s Sondheim’s “Broadway Baby” performed with John Williams and the Boston Pops.

This is one of my favorite Peters performances: “I’m Flying” from Peter Pan from an appearance on Carol Burnett’s “Carol and Company” in 1991.

My favorite Peters Broadway show is Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, in which she played Dot, muse to painter Georges Seurat (played by Mandy Patinkin). This is “Move On” from 1984.

Let’s end this musical melange with the Muppets and Peters singing “Just One Person” from a 1977 appearance on “The Muppet Show.”

A funny Megan Cavanagh happened on the way to this Forum

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(from left) Megan Cavanagh, Bob Greene, Michael Rhone and Rudy Guerrero don togas for the 42nd Street Moon production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Photo by www.davidallenstudio.com


Anybody’s enjoyment of the 1962 Stephen Sondheim/Burt Shevelove/Larry Gelbart musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum depends largely on the actor playing Pseudolus, the lie-spouting slave and comedy motor at the center of the show.

Zero Mostel originated the role – did anyone have a bigger comic motor than Zero? – Phil Silvers played it in 1972 and Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg took turns in the most recent Broadway revival in 1996. I’ve seen several productions of Forum and experienced what the Romans used to call Pseudolus annoyaolus, which is to say, the actors in the role were working so laboriously to be funny that I never laughed. It’s not surprising that Pseudolus breaks a sweat, but I really don’t want to.

The 42nd Street Moon production of Forum now at the Eureka Theatre is the first where I didn’t grow to dread the ever-expanding machinations of Pseudolus, who never met a lie he couldn’t enlarge. The reason is simple: Megan Cavanagh. She’s doing a little gender bending to play the scheming slave, and she’s marvelous. The old vaudevillian aspect of the role doesn’t escape her, nor does she belabor it. She’s a natural comic, so she doesn’t have to force the laughs. And she’s absolutely charming. She has grace where other Psuedolii have goals. She makes you laugh while they want to make you laugh.

To paraphrase Dinah Washington, what a difference a dame makes.

In this new era of 42nd Street Moon shows that are not staged concerts and not elaborate productions, the key to a successful production is a performer on which to hang the show, and in this case, it’s Cavanagh. Other cast members offer pleasures, and the show itself, though never my favorite Sondheim, has its fair share of laughs and musical delights. Any show that contains “Comedy Tonight” is going to be assured of at least one legendary show tune.

Director Greg MacKellan knows exactly how the show should go, and though he’s somewhat limited for space on the Eureka stage –farce requires a certain amount of running room – he and choreographer Tom Segal manage plenty of lively action. Some of Segal’s dance moves are especially funny in an acrobatic cartoon kind of way.

Cavanagh shines in her every scene, and she gets some spirited assists from Rob Hatzenbeller as Miles Gloriosus, a vain soldier whose charm doesn’t extend beyond his own face reflected in his breast plate, and Michael Rhone as Hysterium, whose ironically titled “I’m Calm” is amusing.

The Forum second act, though long on farcical chases, complications and resolutions, is lacking great musical moments, save for reprises of “Lovely” and “Comedy Tonight.” But it’s a nice touch that the short re-cap at the top of the act is underscored by “Love Is in the Air,” the original opening number that was ever so wisely replaced out of town by the show-defining “Comedy Tonight.” Kudos to musical director/pianist Dave Dobrusky and reeds player Nick Di Scala. They sound great and they’re lovely in togas.


42nd Street Moon’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues through Oct. 24 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $24-$44. Call 415 255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org for information.


Here’s Ruthie Henshall and Carol Burnett singing “Lovely” from Forum (the clip is from the 1999 Broadway Sondheim revue Putting It Together).

And here’s Burnett with Bronson Pinchot putting a twist on “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” also from Forum (and also from Putting It Together).


My fair Julie: Ms. Andrews recalls `Home’

I share the above photo not because I have a huge ego and want the world to know I had a few quality moments with Dame Julie Andrews, one of my favorite people on the planet. Wait – that’s exactly what I wanted by sharing the photo, which was taken at a stem cell research benefit in San Francisco that Andrews spoke at.

The first movie I ever saw was Mary Poppins (actually the very first movie I “saw” as a babe in arms was when my parents, in their VW bug took me to a drive-in showing of Barbarella, and apparently I cried all the way through and they left early). Andrews as the practically perfect nanny made quite an impression on my 4-year-old brain, and from then on, my world revolved around Julie Andrews, who had a TV variety show on then (this was the early ’70s), and then my mom and grandma took me to see The Sound of Music. Well, that was it. I’ve been a Banks-VonTrapp child in her charge ever since.

I reveal these personal details as a form of memoir and to introduce my thoughts on Andrews’ memoir Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (Hyperion, $26.95). The book takes us from her childhood in Walton-on-Thames, her career in the dying days of vaudeville as a child performer with a freakishly adult operatic range, and then on to New York and her Broadway stints in The Boyfriend, My Fair Lady and Camelot.

The book ends right as Andrews and her infant daughter are heading for Hollywood, the open arms of Walt Disney and the filming of Mary Poppins.

One thing you notice right away about the book is Andrews’ distinctive voice. You can hear her crisp pronunciation in every sentence. It’s also clear that she’s a writer – no surprise to those of us who have enjoyed her children’s books such as The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and the more recent The Great American Mousical.

That said, there’s still an element of distance between Andrews and the reader. She’s happy to tell us a few things – even unpleasant things from her childhood (like a stepfather who had designs on his pretty stepdaughter and the revelation that she was a product of a one-night stand) – but she won’t tell us everything. Andrews reveals just enough to protect her privacy, and that’s respectable (though not as juicy as some folks might want).

The closest the book comes to scandal is Andrews’ revelation that during the run of Camelot, Richard Burton made advances toward her, which she basically laughed off, and then he became cold and distant – even onstage, which seems highly unprofessional, even for a Welshman. Eventually he got over himself and reverted back to the warm and wonderful (if slightly sozzled) co-star Andrews adored.

One of the book’s nicest surprises is the deep friendship Andrews and her husband, Tony Walton (an esteemed Broadway designer), developed with T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, the source material for Camelot. Tim, as Andrews called him, comes across as quite a character, especially when he tricks Andrews and Walton into buying a little house on his home island of Alderney.

Andrews admits that her account of My Fair Lady’s birth isn’t as thorough as Alan Jay Lerner’s On the Street Where You Live or Moss Hart’s Act One (one of the best theater books ever), but it’s fascinating to hear about it from her perspective as a young performer who feels she’s in way over her head.

My favorite passage in the book about what the theater means to Andrews. Here’s a taste:

Once in a while I experience an emotion onstage that is so gut-wrenching, so heart-stopping, that I could weep with gratitude and joy. The feeling catches and magnifies so rapidly that it threatens to engulf me.
It starts as a bass note, resonating deep in my system. Literally. It’s like the warmest, lowest sound from a contrabass. There is a sudden thrill of connection and an awareness of size – the theater itself, more the height of the great stage housing behind and above me, where history has been absorbed, where darkness contains mystery and meaning.

Reading her book made me adore Andrews even more – if that’s even possible. Now I’m anxious for the next volumes. I envision the second book concentrating on the ’60s, from Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music up through Darling Lili. This would, of course, take us through her divorce and her marriage to Blake Edwards. Volume 3 would deal with her TV work, her taking a break to concentrate on family, her reemergence in 10 and SOB and Victor/Victoria, her return to Broadway and the loss of her singing voice.

There’s still so much to tell. I hope she’s busy writing.

Here’s a treat: Carol Burnett, a great chum of Julie Andrews’, recalls her 1962 Carnegie Hall concert with Andrews and their spoof of The Sound of Music.

Thank you, Harvey Korman

Growing up, watching “The Carol Burnett Show” on Saturday nights was a highlight of the week. As far back as I can remember, I was a Saturday night TV junkie, with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Carol Burnett” as my earliest and still most cherished entertainment experiences. Those actors became, as silly as it sounds, like family — reliable, hilarious, touching, surprising.

Harvey Korman’s death Thursday at age 81 wasn’t exactly a surprise. Anyone who had seen him in recent years saw age dimming his light a little. In his appearances with old cohort Tim Conway, Korman seemed to be feeling the years.

Korman is the first of the Burnett crew to go, and it’s such a loss. The good news is that all of his best TV and movie work (he was so great in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety) continue.

When I think of him on “The Carol Burnett Show” I think of him padded up with boobs and hips as Mother Marcus on the soap opera spoof “As the Stomach Turns.” And he and Carol as the old folks in the rockers singing songs and making sexual innuendo. I also recall the sort of sitcom-within-the show in which Carol and Harvey were a married couple (I think his name was Roger), and Vicki Lawrence was Carol’s little sister.

Of course, my favorite Korman character was Ed Higgins, Eunice’s belligerent and none-too-bright hardware-store-owning husband. Korman could do dramatic work — look no further than these family sketches as proof.

Korman’s other claim to fame on the “Burnett” show — other than the ease with which he cracked up during a sketch, especially opposite Conway — is that he could neither sing nor dance terribly well, so during those splashy musical finales, he was always pretending to shuffle along as best he could.

The best way to honor Korman is to laugh at him. Here’s a classic “Carol Burnett Show” sketch involving Harvey as the patient and Tim as the bumbling dentist.

And here’s a snippet from “As the Stomach Turns” with Korman in full comic drag as Mother Marcus, Canoga Falls’ resident yenta.

Happy Birthday, Carol Burnett

One of my favorite people in the world, Carol Burnett, turns 73 today.

I think one of the reasons I love theater so much was that growing up, my favorite show was “The Carol Burnett Show.” From as early as I can remember, Saturday nights were my haven because of two women: Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett. Mary (via Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) showed me the kind of grown-up life I wanted to have (and did sort of end up having). And Carol, along with her crew that included Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence, showed me the joys of music and comedy and, blessed be, musical comedy. “The Carol Burnett Show” was like a new Broadway show every week with the sketches, the singing, the dancing, the groovy ’70s sets and the wild Bob Mackie costumes. Oh, and the guest stars — hard to complain with a heaping helping of Steve and Eydie, Jim Nabors, Alan Alda, Ken Berry and the like. God, how I miss variety shows!

I got to see Carol live on stage in 1999 when she was in the Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together alongside George Hearn, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman and Bronson Pinchot. Wish I could have seen her in her Broadway debut in 1959’s Once Upon a Mattress. The cast album from that show has long been a favorite (as have Carol’s solo albums — not exactly chart-toppers but charming). She’s such a pro. I hope I get to see her perform again. And I really hope I get to sit down and interview her (came close with the made-for-TV Mattress with Burnett and another of my favorites, Tracey Ullman).

A Web site called Complete Series TV offers the complete DVD set of “The Carol Burnett Show,” which was originally sold through Columbia House. It’s two complete episodes per disc (12 discs), which is not the complete series by any means, but it’s the best we can do for now, and it’s a whole lot better than those truncated, 30-minute versions that went into syndication in the ’80s (hey, they were better than nothing, but I sure missed the lavish production numbers and the cheesy musical guest spots).

I’m still completely fascinated by the “Family” sketches (which later evolved into the mostly lame “Mama’s Family” TV series). Burnett played Eunice Higgins, a shrill harpie desperate to leave her small town existence for the bright lights of Hollywood fame. Korman was Eunice’s hardware store-owning husband, Ed. Lawrence played mama Thelma Harper (the crankiest beer-swilling matriarch of all time), and various guest stars played Eunice’s sister (Betty White) and brothers (Alan Alda, Roddy McDowell, etc.). After Burnett stopped doing her show in 1978, she appeared in a three-act made-for-TV play called “Eunice,” which I remember being extraordinary when I saw it as a kid. Many years later, I watched it again at the Museum of TV and Radio in New York, and it was every bit as good as I remembered it, and there I sat in my viewing booth, bawling my eyes out in the third act (after Mama’s death and Ed leaves Eunice). If there’s anyone out there who knows how I can get my hands on a copy of “Eunice,” please let me know! (P.S. — Theater Dog Michael wrote in to say he watched “Eunice” in its entirety on YouTube in 9 parts!). Also, due credit should be given to writers Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon (and co-director Harvey Korman!).

In tribute to Carol Burnett, here’s one of my favorite clips from “The Carol Burnett Show.” It’s one of the “Family” sketches, and Tim Conway is on a roll telling elephant stories. Burnett, Lawrence and guest star Dick Van Dyke are in hysterics.

Here’s another one with Lawrence on a tear as Mama:

And finally, here’s Burnett singing the goodbye song: