Thursday, October 14, 2010
Deeper Dish with Michael McAssey
Now the native Chicagoan is coming back to town to play Gaetano Proclo in Pride Films & Plays' staged reading of Terrence McNally's hilarious play, The Ritz, on October 24. And I am delighted to have him here on the Dish to discuss his career and answer a few pop culture questions.
Let's begin with your upcoming Chicago appearance in The Ritz. Are you a fan of the film version? And what is your favorite moment in the play?
I'm a HUGE fan of the movie - one of my all-time favorites. I carried a worn-out, badly recorded VHS of the movie - that I taped off The Late, Late Show - for over 20 years. There are so many moments that I love in the play, starting with Googie's "act" and Chris' many great one-liners. But for my character, Proclo, it's when he gets to the room where he thinks Joe Namath is resting and finds out it's Chris and he's devastated - so funny and touching all at the same time.
What are a few of your favorite things about Chicago?
There's not much I don't like. I love this city - the lake, the Loop, Wrigley, Boystown, the theatres, the clubs, the MEN!
Do you remember your very first cabaret performance and what you sang?
Oh God, I was playing Jesus in Godspell at the Athenaeum Theatre and had just spent the summer singing and dancing at Marriott's Great America in Gurnee (it had just opened) and there was a cabaret night at the Golden Dragon on the corner of Belmont and Sheridan. I'm pretty sure I opened with "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin.
"My Favorite Year" by Michelle Brourman and Karen Gottlieb is first and foremost my "signature" song. I got it from Billy Stritch and Michael Feinstein back in the early 80's. That song is the reason I started recording in the first place. On How Long Has It Been?, I think I'd have to say David Friedman's "Listen to My Heart". It's uplifting and amazing. I've been so lucky over the years to know so many brilliant songwriters - Ann Hampton Callaway, Rick Crom, David Zippel, Rick Jensen, and the late, great Brian Lasser to name a few - who have been so generous with their great songs.
You appeared in the short-lived Broadway production of the musical, Late Night Comic, in 1987. How was that experience? And when did you realize that the show was in trouble?
Well, I was sure it was gonna be a big, fat HIT. You always do. I had a great experience, but it wasn't very good - it was badly directed and badly miscast. I think I realized we were in trouble when we were out of town and our leading man was arguing with the director about how to play his opening monologue. It was short, but they'd been at it for over two hours while we all sat around - and I thought to myself, "Our star is doing Medea and the rest of us are doing Hello, Dolly!"
Since you toured with Patti LuPone, do you have a favorite Patti story that you can share?
Hmmm...well, this one is not in Patti's book (which I loved). We met and worked together in Paris one summer. I was asked to play second piano for a show featuring a quartet of Broadway singers and a guest star. After the show I then performed in a "Manhattan piano bar" in the downstairs lounge. For two weeks Patti was the guest star, and she popped in and out of the show doing her own material - especially "Meadowlark", "Buenos Aires", and "Don't Cry For Me..." Patti liked the way I played her songs, so she asked that I accompany her in the show, so I did. Well, we hadn't been paid in over two weeks and things were strange backstage. After many requests, I finally said I would not play that night's show until I was paid - I'd never done something like that before or since. I asked Patti how she felt and she was supportive and said "do it." Well, Patti's first number in the show was "Buenos Aires" and as I sat in my dressing room listening to the show (the producer never showed up to pay me), all of a sudden Patti pops her head in and says, "FUCK WHAT I SAID - GET YOUR ASS ON THAT PIANO!" So, I played only her songs and would walk on and off when she did. I got some money the next day, but we ended up having to use our credit cards to get back to the States and never got paid the rest. Once home I did a couple of gigs with her playing Key2 and backup vocals in the Catskills. We had a lot of laughs.
I read online that you appeared as a dancer in the 1982 film version of Annie. Is this true? And if so, what is your fondest memory of working on the movie?
It's true! This was the Albert Finney-Carol Burnett-Bernadette Peters version, directed by John Huston (I think his last film). It's the "Let's Go to the Movies" number when they go to Radio City Music Hall. I was an extra originally and the next thing we know we're all sitting around the basement of Radio City for three weeks dressed as ushers and being placed all over the theatre sometimes moving, sometimes waving flashlights in time. Mr. Huston was ill and sat in the back of the house watching on a small TV screen, and Broadway legend Joe Layton was directing the action. Onstage there were real Broadway dancers doing a big number. Later it turns out after three weeks of shooting in Radio City, they had the wrong film in the camera and had to reshoot most of it back in L.A. with other people.
How did you get the role of blind pianist-singer George Baldwin on the daytime soap, Guiding Light? And did you enjoy being a soap opera actor?
The man who directed my NYC cabaret shows, the brilliant Jimmy Bohr, was a casting director on Guiding Light, and he'd put me on a few times as background. A role came up of a guy who played piano and directed the blind school Christmas pageant, and he befriends the leading lady - who was temporarily blinded in an accident - and helps her cope. Jimmy got me an audition, and it worked. I loved being on set. I was there a few days a week for about two months and it was the first real money I had made in New York City. Then my character got an emergency cornea transplant on Christmas Eve and I was written off, but the drama on the show was - "WHO WILL PLAY THE PIANO?"
What has been your favorite acting role?
No question, it was Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, the best time I've ever had on a stage in my life. I plan to just travel the country looking for theatres doing that show and offering to pay them to let me play her again.
If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
Hang in there. The longer you go, the more fun you have.
Chunky, awkward and "theatrically inclined". In other words: GAY!
My favorite comfort food is:
When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
The Carol Burnett Show and the Tony Awards.
Today I never miss a television episode of:
Real Housewives, Kathy Griffin, Flipping Out (anything on Bravo), Brothers & Sisters, Modern Family, Cougar Town, Glee and the Tony Awards!
If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
Ann Hampton Callaway, Bette Midler's Live At Last, Karen Mason, Nancy LaMott and Nancy Wilson.
Three of my favorite movies are:
The Ritz (no, really!), Auntie Mame and The Women.
If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
This week? Scott Caan.
If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg and Charles Nelson Reilly.
What's next for Michael McAssey?
Well, I've just spent over a year on tour with Avenue Q, so I'm going back to New York City and starting work on a new CD and getting back into the cabaret scene while looking for a job, a man and an apartment.
Thank you, Michael, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. Pride Films and Plays' staged reading of The Ritz will be performed on Sunday, October 24, at 7 pm at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont). Tickets may be purchased by phone at 1-800-838-3006 or online at brownpapertickets.com. And to learn more about Mr. McAssey, check out his website at michaelmcassey.com.