Nightlife » Special Events

Broadway’s Legends Illuminate Ptown at the Crown

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 3, 2014

Early in her career, Donna McKechnie had the opportunity to work with the musical theatre legend Ethel Merman. "Every night she had people on their feet," said McKechnie of the infamous woman, though she herself had come to New York to be part of a more serious art, ballet. "She was really strict, standoffish. She'd go from the stage to the dressing room and not socialize."*

During one singular performance, the great Broadway diva decided to pay the newbie an extraordinary complement "by trying to break me up onstage." According to McKechnie, making a fellow actor lose her concentration, and laugh on stage is a theatrical tradition in a farewell performance, but nothing that you would ever see Merman doing on any other night.

Up to this point Merman had barely spoken to McKechnie, and upon their first meeting, Merman just glared at the beginner and asked the director, "Who did she f**K to get two dance numbers?"

This night Merman acted differently. The great Broadway star made faces, created strange sounds in her throat and crossed her eyes while addressing McKechnie. The young dancer was horrified. "I didn't know what was wrong. I thought she was having a stroke!"

The musical is America's only original performance art form, and nowhere on earth swells with the melodies and mythology of the musical like Broadway. But this summer, Provincetown will surge with the tunes and the folklore of some of Broadway's most shimmering personalities as the Crown and Anchor brings the cape its spectacular "Broadway Series," featuring 8 legendary stars and a total of 19 Tony Awards between the combined artists. This seems fitting since the historic Crown & Anchor has been the epicenter of entertainment in Provincetown since 1826.

Carol Channing has stories about Ethel Merman as well.

"I never saw anybody like that. The thrill of her voice," said Channing, the little woman with the enormous smile who instructs, "As long as you are sweet you can do anything you want."

"[Merman was] the toughest broad that ever walked the boards. And tender, if you knew her... But I can’t tell you the filthy thing she called me!"

When they were doing an episode of "The Love Boat" together, Merman couldn’t remember the name of Channing’s character, Sylvia, "so she said, ’Come here Sybil. No, Sarah...’" Just "get your ass over here you dumb c**t."

"Carol Channing & Tommy Tune" need no introduction as they make their Provincetown debut for an evening of conversation and stories. This show on August 7 at the Town Hall Auditorium, 260 Commercial Street, is sure to be unforgettable.

Nine-time Tony Award-winning song and dance man Tommy Tune will chronicle Ms. Channing’s phenomenal career, a woman who absolutely defined one of the greatest musical characters of the 20th Century, Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly!" But when Hollywood made the show into a movie, her friend Tune was cast and she was not. The role of Dolly was given to Barbra Streisand.

"The year she did "Funny Girl" [on Broadway, Streisand] was fabulous!" Said Channing who has watched many of the roles she originated go to "movie actresses" when it came time to make a film. "We used to be good friends. We would eat dinner between shows at Sardi’s... and we’d say, ’You’re gonna get the Tony Award.’ ’No you’re gonna get it,’"

"By the way," added the little spitfire (who only missed half a show, once in her career, because of food poisoning) "I got the award."

Broadway babies better start pounding Commercial Street if they want to find tickets to "Liza & Alan" at the Paramount August 4, because this rare one-night-only live event is sold out.

Not only will Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming be singing familiar songs from "Cabaret" together, but Alan will be doing his own renditions of songs by everyone from Cold Play to Annie Lennox as well as getting laughs for the witty lyrics in his own original tunes.

Liza, of course, will dip into her repertoire of songs that made her famous and songs that she made famous both on screen and at her most recent hit Broadway show "Liza’s at the Palace." Sharing stories, songs, and quippy banter, these two old friends captivate audiences and bring the stage to life. Partial proceeds of the performance will be donated to the Trevor Project as part of the entertainment series, "Turn Up the Volume."

The crowds were on their feet after every song, chanting both Liza and Alan’s names, when the two appeared at the historic Ice Palace nightclub, and the New York Times called it "arguably the biggest cultural event on Fire Island this summer."

Tickets are still available for "Linda Eder," one of the greatest contemporary voices of our time and whose diverse repertoire spans Broadway, standards, pop, country and jazz, at the Paramount Aug 18 and 19.

As the tragic character "Lucy" in the musical "Jekyll & Hyde," her Broadway debut, Eder blew the roof off New York’s Plymouth Theatre each night as she belted out signature songs "Someone Like You" and "A New Life." She was nominated for a Drama Desk award for that performance, and it secured her spot as one of America’s most beloved singers and dynamic live performers.

Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, "What do we mean when we use the word perfection? The question arises every time I watch the pop singer Linda Eder."

In addition to the "Broadway Series," and this is somewhat of an aside, the Crown and Anchor will host the brilliant recording artist Helen Reddy at the Paramount July 21 and 22. Still, this is a woman who knows her way around a show tune as well. Her rendition of "I Don’t Know How to Love Him" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" is probably one of the most famous recordings of the song.

Reddy had more than a dozen Top 40 hits in the United States. She was the first Australian to win a Grammy Award and to have three #1 hits in the same year. In television, Helen was the first Australian to host her own one-hour weekly primetime variety show on an American network, along with several specials that were seen in over 40 countries.

And she had a tulip named after her in Holland.

Broadway lovers will know they’ve hit the jackpot when Donna McKechnie and her friends Andrea McArdle and Faith Prince hit the Paramount stage August 24 and 25 in "The Leading Ladies of Broadway" with Musical Director John McDaniel, the final event in the "Broadway Series."

Andrea McArdle was the youngest Tony Award nominee ever when she charmed audiences as that lovable orphan in "Annie", beginning a fabled career. Donna McKechnie’s "bright and brassy" voice (The New York Times) lit up the stage in "Promises, Promises" and "Sweet Charity." And Faith Prince breathed new life into Broadway revivals of "Guys & Dolls" and "Bells Are Ringing" with "sublime vocal virtuosity" (Newsday). Pianist and musical director John McDaniel (from the "Rosie O’Donnell Show") accompanies at the piano.

Yes, the cape will look like Times Square this summer (just with fewer Disney characters) because the stories of the Great White Way and the musical theatre powerhouses will be in Provincetown.

"When I came to New York," said Donna McKechnie, "musical theatre wasn’t... artistic in my mind." Her mind changed after her first Broadway show. After that she went on to create the role of Cassie in the one of the musical’s most tenacious masterpieces, "A Chorus Line."

"I knew that I was into something wonderful," she added. "That’s when I turned around and went, ’I have to really learn how to do this well, because this is great work.’"

(* Quotes from Donna McKechnie and Carol Channing from "Nothing Like a Dame" by Eddie Shapiro.)


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