The Time Seth Got Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, and Jennifer Holliday to Open the Tonys
The 2023 Tony Awards are happening! I’m so glad the Writers Guild made a compromise that allows the Tony Awards to be televised! Broadway can continue to rebuild after being hit so hard by COVID, and the world will be more aware of the strike because there won’t be any official script written for the evening.
I’m also happy that the theatre community is so supportive of the strike. So many have been posting about it on social media as well as joining the picket lines. I had Warren Leight on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, to talk about the issues the writers are facing because, even though I’m Writers Guild East, I was like “Wait, what are we fighting for?”
Warren’s play Side Man was a Pulitzer finalist, but he’s best known as the show runner of Law And Order: SVU.
From what Warren told me the issues are two-fold: one is about how the powers-that-be are not adjusting residuals for the streaming era, which is screwing writers, and the other is about the tricky ways the powers-that-be are trying to cut costs, hurting writers. In terms of the first issue, writers are paid residuals for something called reruns, episodes of television that air more than once. Of course, nowadays, most of us don’t wait for a show to re-air. We watch the shows when they’re available on streaming. For writing a show that is streaming, writers are paid a flat fee meaning no matter how many times the episode is streamed, there is no additional compensation for the writers.
The example Warren mentioned is the television show Manifest. While this wasn’t a huge hit when it first aired, viewership completely changed during lockdown. Manifest then literally broke Neilson streaming records. It spent weeks and weeks at the top of the charts. That meant that Netflix reaped the benefits of all those views, but the writers just had their initial flat-fee. There was no adjustment for millions of streaming views. The powers-that-be need to adjust compensation based on this new viewing normal as opposed to Next to Normal. (Yay! I got my Broadway reference in.) The other main theme I mentioned, coming up with new cost-cutting methods that wind up screwing the writers, is best explained here in this article about “mini-rooms.” Please give it a read.
Onto the Tony Awards! I don’t quite know what’s going to happen with the Tony Awards without writers. Yes, presenters can make up whatever they’d like to introduce the nominees and winners, but what about the opening number? There have been so many amazing ones lately with brilliant lyrics. That kind of opening number we’ve come to know and love won’t happen this year, sadly, unless the strike is settled. Here’s one of my favorites.
Back in 1998, when I first joined the Writers Guild, I was thrilled to be asked by Rosie O’Donnell to write the Tony Award opening number. Rosie told me she wanted to sing about being a Broadway diva and have three stars perform their signature songs. I told her the divas had to be Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, and Betty Buckley. Amazingly, all three women agreed to do it! Jerry Mitchell staged it and John McDaniel was the music director. Holy cow, it all came together amazingly.
That was the first time I had ever been to the Tony Awards. I bought tickets for my family, my boyfriend at the time, Aaron, and my good friend Drew Geraci. The highlights were performances from Side Show, The Lion King, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Ragtime.
This year, I’m hosting a Tony Awards watch party! You can hang out with me live and in person at The Triad on 72nd street or stream it in the comfort of your home. Purchase tickets here!
Joshua Malina, star of The West Wing and Scandal, joined me on Seth Speaks as well. Joshua is currently one of the stars of Leopoldstadt. His first appearance on Broadway was in the original company of A Few Good Men. Joshua proudly stated that he does a Broadway show every thirty years. Between that Broadway show and Leopoldstadt, he was booked and blessed on television. Unfortunately, I was in my, “I don’t watch television” mode when The West Wing was on, but I was obsessed with Scandal. It is my absolute favorite drama. I’m begging anyone reading this to watch that show from the beginning. It is so good.
What’s so amazing to me about television actors is that they often do not know what was going to happen on the next episode, including any backstory about a relationship they have with another character. For instance, one season finale features Kerry Washington seeing her dad for the first time. Kerry told me, during an episode of Stars In The House, that she actually had no idea what their relationship was! Good? Bad? Guilt-ridden? Full of secrets? Who knows! She just said the words and the audience filled in the subtext.
Joshua told me he was always wondering whether he was going to die on the week’s episode. When the cast would sit down for a table read, he would surreptitiously look at the end of the script to see if he survived. Well, one week he sat down for a table read, quickly flipped to the back of the script and saw that his character was dead! Joshua started whispering to his friend on the show, Scott Foley, that it looked like this was his final episode.
Joshua thought no one had seen him habitually flip to the back of the script, but the writers had caught on and, that week, gave him a fake script that included his character’s death. Busted!
Joshua is the king of practical jokes. I asked him to tell me one he pulled and he mentioned one that did not go as expected. He was good pals with Portia de Rossi and, during her time on Scandal, their parking spots were next to each other. On her last day of shooting, Joshua pulled a middle-school prank, putting Vaseline on the handle of her car door. He knew that she would know he did it as a “goodbye” prank. To his surprise, Portia’s last day came and went and she never reached out to him. Odd. Finally, at the end of shooting one day, Joshua was told to go directly to Shonda Rhimes’ office. When he got there, he asked her what was up. She then asked him what was up. He tentatively asked, “Does this have to do with the Vaseline on the car handle?” Shonda replied emphatically,“Yes!”
Apparently, Portia finished filming her final episode extremely late and she was exhausted. When she got to the car and grabbed the Vaseline on the door handle, she didn’t think it was a prank from Joshua. She though it was put there by someone who, for whatever reason, had a beef with her!
Shonda explained that she was running many television shows and didn’t have time for his “hilarious” pranks. Joshua told her that he would text Portia right then and there, telling her it was him who did it. He assured Shonda that, once he revealed himself as the prankster, Portia would think it was hilarious. He immediately texted her, admitted the prank and, thankfully, she did write back that it was hilarious. Joshua went running back into Shonda’s office waving the text exchange. Phew.
In belting news, I also had the amazing Farah Alvin on Seth Speaks. Farah’s new album, On Vinyl, features music from my favorite time period: the 1970s. Yay!
I’m very happy to say she performs “Solitaire,” which we arranged together years ago for an Actors Fund salute to Neil Sedaka. She sounds so amazing.
I first met Farah when she joined the Broadway cast of Grease when she was around 19 years old. I was the assistant music director and was teaching her the very simple backup harmony to “Freddie My Love” when I heard her amazing vocal placement. I stopped the rehearsal, told her to forget learning harmony for a moment, and instead insisted she sing “A New Argentina” from Evita, which she did amazingly. Thus our friendship was born!
All of Farah’s albums are available here.
I’m on the road again! May 23, I’ll be in Dallas, TX for a concert with Jessie Mueller. Jessie and I will travel together to Provincetown, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
Here’s a video of us singing with my dog Bagel. He’s a #MusicalGenius!
Come see us. Peace out!