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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Groovy Musicals #7: Seesaw

I love listening to the original cast recording of the 1973 Broadway musical, Seesaw. The score by the brilliant Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields is fun and catchy and makes me smile. And who can resist the wonderful Michele Lee (Knots Landing) as Gittel Mosca, a kooky, streetwise dancer from the Bronx who has a brief affair with Jerry Ryan, a young lawyer from Nebraska (played by Ken Howard, who recently won his first Emmy for his performance in HBO's Grey Gardens)? Add in the fabulous and flamboyant Tommy Tune in a showstopping number called "It's Not Where You Start" and you've got yourself a groovy musical.

However, Seesaw had more downs than ups during its troubled pre-Broadway tryout in Detroit, where the Tony Award-winning Michael Bennett was brought in to save the show. He immediately fired leading lady Lainie Kazan, who apparently was supposed to shed 40 pounds before their out-of-town opening in order to portray a dancer convincingly. She didn't. Bennett asked for absolute control over the production as director and choreographer, and he brought in Neil Simon to help him rewrite Michael Stewart's book, although final credit--and a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical--went solely to Bennett. Seesaw finally opened on Broadway at the Uris Theatre on March 18, 1973, and its reviews were mixed:

"It has three fine performances to call its own, a bland yet efficient slickness and a certain New York brashness to it . . . Seesaw is probably not top-drawer Broadway musical material. You may not come out walking on air, but at least you will come out walking" - Clive Barnes, The New York Times

"The show isn't great, but it works" - Martin Gottfried, Women's Wear Daily

"The show is just dandy, wonderfully satisfying simply as fun and then again as honest eavesdropping on two troubled but thoroughly engaging people" - Walter Kerr, The New York Times

Seesaw was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score, Best Actress in a Musical (Lee), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Tune), Best Choreography, and Best Direction of a Musical. It won for Choreography and Best Featured Actor, but Raisin won for Best Musical and Raisin's Virginia Capers won for Best Actress. As a publicity stunt, New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay (a Ken Howard look-alike) made a cameo appearance as Jerry during the "My City" number on March 23, 1973, and the media coverage resulted in a boost at the box office. However, the show failed to earn back its sizable investment by the time it closed on December 8, 1973, after 296 performances.

Actor John Gavin (Psycho, Thoroughly Modern Millie) replaced Howard during Seesaw's run, and he, Tune and Lucie Arnaz starred in the national tour of the musical in 1974. Also, soap opera actor Nicolas Coster (Another World, Santa Barbara) was the standby for the role of Jerry, which I think is an interesting bit of trivia. And, in closing, isn't it about time for Encores! to do a production of Seesaw?

Below you can enjoy Michele Lee singing "I'm Way Ahead" and "Seesaw" on the 1974 Tony Awards, Dame Shirley Bassey belting "Nobody Does It Like Me", and the legendary Barbara Cook performing "It's Not Where You Start".

Groovy Music: The 5th Dimension

In honor of Marilyn McCoo's 66th birthday today, let's enjoy some of the groovy music that she sang as an original member of The 5th Dimension from 1966 to 1975.

"Up, Up and Away" - #7 on the US charts in 1967

"Paper Cup" - #34 in 1967

"Stoned Soul Picnic" - #3 in 1968

"Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" - #1 in 1969

"Workin' On a Groovy Thing" - #20 in 1969

"Wedding Bell Blues" - #1 in 1969

"One Less Bell to Answer" - #2 in 1970

"Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes" - #19 in 1971

The 5th Dimension present the award for best performance by a duo/group during the 1972 Grammy Awards.

And, finally, here's McCoo with her Solid Gold co-host, Rex Smith (check out those black leather pants), singing "Up, Up and Away" in the mid-'80s.

Dish of the Day #248

To welcome my newest advertiser, VisitSweden's Stockholm in Full Glory (a campaign to promote one of the most glorious capitals in the world to the LGBT community), I'm featuring some revealing Dishes this week. And if you're interested in winning three nights for two at one of Stockholm Gay Network's partner hotels, the Nordic Light, click here for more information and be sure to become a fan of their Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Groovy Gal: Madeline Kahn

What's not to love about the late, great Madeline Kahn? She was one of the funniest ladies in history--right up there with Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. I was fortunate enough to see her Tony Award-winning performance in Wendy Wasserstein's 1993 play, The Sisters Rosensweig, in which she played the delightful Dr. Gorgeous Teitelbaum. It was a night at the theater that I will treasure forever. I miss Madeline Kahn, who died in 1999 at the young age of 57, and it makes me so sad that she isn't still with us today, entertaining audiences with her brilliant comedic talents. So today I'm celebrating the glorious life of this groovy gal on what would have been her 67th birthday.

Here are 10 Groovy Facts about Madeline Kahn:

1) She was born Madeline Gail Wolfson on September 29, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts.

2) After graduating from Hofstra University in 1964 with a degree in speech therapy, Kahn briefly taught public school (can you imagine having her as your teacher? I'm sure she was wonderful).

3) Just before adopting Kahn (her mother's maiden name) as her professional name, she made her stage debut as a chorus girl in a revival of Kiss Me, Kate.

4) Her part in the 1967 flop musical, How Now, Dow Jones, was written out before the show reached Broadway, as was her role as Miss Whipple in the original production of the 1968 musical, Promises, Promises. She finally made it to Broadway in the musical revue, Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968.

5) Kahn's film debut was in The Dove (De Düva), a 1968 Academy Award-nominated short film that parodies the work of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Her feature debut was as Ryan O'Neal's hysterical fiancée, Eunice Burns, in Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screwball comedy, What's Up, Doc?

6) She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performances as stripper Trixie Delight in Paper Moon (1973) and as cabaret singer Lili von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles (1974).

7) Kahn was originally cast in the role of Agnes Gooch in the 1974 film of the Broadway musical, Mame, but she was either fired by star Lucille Ball due to artistic differences or she got herself fired on purpose so she could star in Blazing Saddles and still get paid (which wouldn't have happened if she'd merely quit). Whichever version of the story is true, I think Kahn was better off having not appeared in Mame.

8) She starred in a 1977 Town Hall revival of the musical, She Loves Me, with Barry Bostwick and original London cast member Rita Moreno (I would've loved to have seen this).

9) It was reported that Kahn left the 1978 Broadway musical, On the Twentieth Century, very early in its run because of damage to her vocal cords, but some say she was fired. Her understudy, Judy Kaye, replaced her in the role of Lily Garland and became an overnight star. However, Kahn was later nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

10) After starring in her own short-lived TV sitcom, Oh Madeline, in 1983, Kahn went on to give us some of her most memorable performances as Mrs. White in the 1985 film, Clue, as corrupt mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper in the 1995 concert performance of the Sondheim musical, Anyone Can Whistle, and as high-strung housewife Alice Gold in her final film, Judy Berlin, in 1999.

Sunday Night Suds with Housewives and Siblings

It's a tradition in our house for me to make dinner on Sunday nights and then watch Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters. However, my loyalty to one of these shows is beginning to waver precariously.

Let's start with the Housewives, whose sixth season opener resolved last spring's cliffhanger on the identity of Mike Delfino's bride: He remarried Susan, kicking poor Katherine to the curb. However, this is a good thing creatively speaking because actress Dana Delany (whom I've adored ever since her days on As the World Turns) stole the show as a woman scorned. I would've been upset with Susan as well for never apologizing for stealing my man. Hopefully creator Mark Cherry will give Delany a more juicy storyline this season.

What else did I like? Bree and Karl together. We should all be so lucky to look as good as Richard Burgi does at age 51. The guy is a hunk, and he's so great at playing the charming cad. Nothing against Kyle MacLachlan, whom I like as an actor, but I am so over his annoying character of Orson. I'm hoping that Orson will learn of his wife's affair and go totally crazy, so he'll be written off the show. Unfortunately, I've heard that Orson will be coming to Bree's rescue after she gets into some trouble with Karl, which is a disappointment. I really don't want Bree and Orson to ever get back together--especially not when there's a hot stud like Karl hanging around.

I also liked that Karen McCluskey has herself a new boyfriend (who will be played by Orson Bean), and it's nice to see Susan's daughter, Julie, again. But I was surprised that the girl nearly got strangled to death at the end of the episode. Whodunnit? The prime suspect is, of course, the moody new kid, Danny Bolen, who took an immediate liking to Julie. But I think his father, Nick, could be the culprit--or even his mother, Angie--and I certainly wouldn't be too unhappy if Orson turned out to be the neighborhood strangler. As for the new family on the street, it's too early to tell whether they will fit in or be another Betty Applewhite disaster. But I am intrigued to learn how Angie Bolen got those hideous burn scars on her back.

On the Desperate downside, I'm not too keen on Lynette's pregnancy--and obviously neither is she. It's much better than giving her cancer again--which I feared would be the case--but I think it would be far more interesting to see her and Tom split up or have her become a widow and eventually meet someone new. Lynette and Tom have become a very stale couple. Another boring storyline is Gaby's naughty niece (I would've rather seen Tom's bad seed daughter return). However, the hunky Jesse Metcalfe will be returning to Wisteria Lane on October 11 as Gaby's former boy toy, John Rowland, and she will not be too pleased when her niece sets her sights on him. So at least Gaby's life will become more fun to watch in the near future.

Other cast changes this season are the return of Katherine's daughter, Dylan, while Max Carver, who played Preston Scavo, has left the series (I guess his twin brother, Charlie, can play both Preston and Porter from now on). I am disappointed that Shawn Pyfrom (Andrew Van de Kamp) will only be making guest appearances this season. Andrew was always one of my favorite characters.

I give Desperate Housewives a solid B for its season opener. There's enough delicious drama with the ladies on the lane to keep me tuning in.

On the other hand, there's Brothers & Sisters, which began its fourth season with a lame teaser. Would Justin and Rebecca be in a serious car accident? We had to wait until the very last moments of the episode to see that they avoided a crash. And instead of Nora's son being injured, her daughter, Kitty, was the one who received the bad news that she has cancer. I loved Kitty's almost affair last spring with the cute single parent, and I was so hoping that she would leave the increasingly unpleasant Robert. But, no, she stayed with her husband--and now the writers have given her a life-threatening illness. Gosh, I still remember how much I loved Kitty during the first season of the show when she and Nora were always trading hilarious barbs. Kitty was a fun, flaky character like Calista Flockhart's earlier persona, Ally McBeal. But once they married her off to Rob Lowe, she has slowly evolved into a miserable sourpuss. She's no longer funny, and Flockhart and Sally Field rarely have any amusing scenes together anymore. And now Kitty has cancer. Will this bring her and Robert back together? God, I hope not--unless they plan on writing the couple off the show.

And speaking of annoying characters, I really wish I liked Kevin more. A lot more. I adore Scotty--he's the dream boyfriend. Kevin, however, is a spoiled jerk whom I just want to slap. Whenever he doesn't get his own way, he makes snide remarks and pouts--which is usually almost every other week. I don't know how Scotty puts up with him. Kevin must be amazing in bed because I just don't see what else would attract anyone to this guy.

The only two Walker siblings that I really enjoy spending time with are Justin, who's a cutie, and Sarah, who's my favorite. Of course, it figures that actress Rachel Griffiths would be the one to be written off the show due to her pregnancy. But come on, folks, having her go off to Paris after some bad on-line dating experiences is just lazy, lame writing. Sarah would NEVER miss her own brother's engagement party--NEVER in a million years--unless she was in a coma. I don't know if I can survive watching the show without Griffiths' wonderful sense of humor. I will miss her terribly during her maternity leave.

Besides Sarah's too-brief appearance, the only things I liked about Sunday's episode were Nora and Holly's bickering (Sally Field and Patricia Wettig are my favorite couple on the show) and Marion Ross' amusing turn as Nora's opinionated mother. I didn't think Ross was old enough to play Field's mother, but it turns out she's 80 and Field is 62. Ross, who will forever be Marion Cunningham to me, looks absolutely fabulous for her age--and it's always a joy to see her in anything.

Kitty's illness and no Sarah is going to make Brothers & Sisters a real depressing downer to watch this fall, but I'll try to hang in there for as long as I can. I always hate to give up on a show that I've watched since the very beginning, but my devotion to the Walkers is fading fast. I give the series a C- (and I'm being very generous) for its season opener, but if it doesn't improve by the time Justin and Rebecca's November-sweeps wedding rolls around--and hopefully the return of Sarah--I might just have to bid the show adieu.

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Vera Charles

Every Tuesday I post five questions relating to television or film, and the first person who sends me the correct answers wins the highly coveted Auntie Mame Award (for excellence in trivia).

Last week's lucky winner was Rick Aiello, who answered the following questions about the television miniseries, Tales of the City, correctly:

1) Where is Mary Ann Singleton originally from? Cleveland

2) Who does Mary Ann have an affair with? Beauchamp Day

3) Who wins the Mr. Endup Contest? Michael "Mouse" Tolliver

4) Who is Connie Bradshaw? Who does she have sex with on her birthday? And what actress plays her? Mary Ann's friend, Brian Hawkins, Parker Posey

5) Who makes an uncredited cameo appearance as a writer in a window? Armistead Maupin

Please send your answers for this week's questions to or via a private Facebook message (DO NOT post your answers on here where everyone can see them or they will be deleted). This week's theme is the 1974 movie musical, Mame.

1) What actress was originally cast in the role of Agnes Gooch?

2) Fill in the blanks in the film's tagline: "She'll coax the ______ right out of your ______."

3) What actress was passed over for the role of Mame Dennis because Warner Bros. didn't think she was famous enough?

4) Who was the original director of the film? And who was his replacement, Gene Saks, married to in 1974?

5) Who played Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside?

Dish of the Day #247

To welcome my newest advertiser, VisitSweden's Stockholm in Full Glory (a campaign to promote one of the most glorious capitals in the world to the LGBT community), I'm featuring some revealing Dishes this week. And if you're interested in winning three nights for two at one of Stockholm Gay Network's partner hotels, the Nordic Light, click here for more information and be sure to become a fan of their Facebook page.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mad about the Men: He Gives Good Go-Around

"I want to take you into that bedroom, lock the door, take your clothes off with my teeth, throw you on the bed and give you a go-around like you've never had" - Duck Phillips to Peggy Olson

And I thought last week's lawn mower episode was great. But last night's Mad Men was even better with the surprising hook-up of Duck and Peggy. Writers Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton and Matthew Weiner did a terrific job of setting up a mystery at the beginning of the show with a couple in bed and a man lying face down on the floor. At first I thought that they were all in the same room after some sort of party--or orgy--and I didn't recognize that it was Peggy in the bed (the woman kind of looked like Sally's teacher, Miss Farrell). But once Don got up from the floor, I realized that he and the teach weren't the couple in bed. However, I believe it's only a matter of time before they do hit the sheets because there's an obvious spark between them. And I'm also looking forward to seeing where Betty's relationship with Henry Francis (the flirtatious fella she met at Roger and Jane's party) goes. Finally, I'm so happy that the talented Mark Moses is back on the show as Duck, whom I never would've expected to be such a smooth talker. But I bet he does give good "go-around".

Now let's take a look at what else happened on Mad Men this week:

Don Draper: Don's relationship with Conrad Hilton is interesting, but it is kind of weird having him interact with an actual person instead of a fictional character. I am pleased that Mr. Draper has returned to his former bad boy ways since he's been much too good so far this season. Drinking and driving and picking up hitchhikers--this is the Don I enjoy watching. I'm not a big fan of the guy's hallucinations of his father, but I liked his scenes with Peggy and Cooper (did we know before that Cooper was aware of Don's real identity? I don't think so. UPDATE 9/30/09: Pete told Cooper about Don's real identity at the end of the first season. Thanks, Dean, for reminding me).

Betty Draper: It was the best Betty episode of the season. Thank God she's had the damn baby and her annoying father is dead--I know, I'm so mean, but I like my Betty looking fabulous and not worrying about anything--or anyone--except her own personal happiness. And I can't blame her for wanting to spend time with Mr. Francis (played by the handsome Christopher Stanley), who gets me all hot and bothered, too. I also love that she bought the fainting couch that they saw together in the antiques shop. However, Betty is still a mother with a short fuse as she was less than pleased with her son hanging up on Henry. I haven't been a fan of Betty's drab storyline this season, so I'm hoping this episode marks a new--and much more fun--beginning for her character.

Peggy Olson: Yet another fabulous Peggy episode as she got a good go-around from Duck. But talk about your strange bedfellows--I would never have expected these two to hit it off, so it will be interesting to see how their relationship progresses. I did feel sorry for the girl when Don so rudely snapped at her that "there's not one thing that you've done here that I couldn't live without." Poor Peggy doesn't deserve to be treated so badly.

Joan Holloway Harris: Joan was missing in action this week, but hopefully she'll be back soon.

Roger Sterling: His shaky truce with Don didn't last long as Don was majorly pissed off that he tried to get Betty to persuade him to sign his contract--which he eventually did.

Pete Campbell and Sal Romano: Pete didn't have much to do except salivate over the Hilton account and get on Peggy's case about accepting an expensive scarf from Duck. As for Sal, I miss him. He needs to be featured again soon.

With two brilliant episodes in a row, Mad Men seems to be on a creative roll after a bumpy start to its season. I assumed that the show would get back on track once Betty had her baby, and it has. With only six episodes remaining before its season finale on November 8, I can feel the dramatic tension increasing--especially between Don and Betty, who seemed fairly happy together early on this season. My gut instinct is that the Drapers will not end up this way.

Two final questions before I go: Does cheddar cheese taste good with apple pie (as Henry ordered it in the bakery)? And don't you think they should bring back cocktails at work? I'm not recommending that everyone get plastered--just one little drink around three in the afternoon to take the edge off the day. Just an idea.

My Top 100 TV Shows

I thought it would be a fun challenge to list my 100 favorite TV shows of all time--"favorite" being the operative word here. This is not a "best" list. If it was, The Sopranos would definitely be on it. I liked The Sopranos, which was a great show, but it's not something I ever care to see again. On the other hand, every show listed below I wouldn't mind watching a second or third time. The only programs that I did not consider were made-for-TV movies that only lasted one night. I'm sure almost everyone will have a favorite series that did not make my list, and all I can say in response is: "Go make your own list." Finally, the list is in alphabetical order because ranking them would take forever. Okay, #57 would probably be my number #1, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

1. Absolutely Fabulous (1992-96, 2001-05, British)
2. All in the Family (1971-79)
3. All My Children (1970-Present)

4. Ally McBeal (1997-02)
5. American Bandstand (1952-89)
6. American Dreams (2002-05)
7. Arrested Development (2003-06)
8. At Home with the Braithwaites (2000-03, British)
9. Barney Miller (1975-82)
10. Battle of the Network Stars (1976-88)

11. Beggars and Choosers (1999-2000, Showtime)
12. Big Love (2006-Present, HBO)
13. The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78)
14. The Brady Bunch (1969-74)
15. The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78)
16. Cheers (1982-93)
17. China Beach (1988-91)
18. Coronation Street (1960-Present, British)
19. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Present, HBO)
20. Dallas (1978-91)
21. Damages (2007-Present)
22. Dark Shadows (1966-71)
23. The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (1987-91)
24. Designing Women (1986-93)
25. Desperate Housewives (2004-Present)
26. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66)
27. Dynasty (1981-89)
28. Falcon Crest (1981-90)

29. Fernwood 2-Night/America 2-Night (1977-78)
30. Flamingo Road (1980-82)
31. The Forsyte Saga (1967, British)
32. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

33. French & Saunders (1987-07, British)
34. Fresno (1986)
35. Friday Night Lights (2006-Present)
36. Friends (1994-04)
37. Gilmore Girls (2000-07)
38. The Golden Girls (1985-92)
39. Hill Street Blues (1981-87)
40. Homefront (1991-93)
41. Huff (2004-06, Showtime)
42. I Love Lucy (1951-60)
43. In a Land of Plenty (2001, British)
44. The Judy Garland Show (1963-64)

45. Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95, British)
46. Knots Landing (1979-93)
47. The L Word (2004-09, Showtime)
48. L.A. Law (1986-94)
49. The Lakes (1997-99, British)
50. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-98, HBO)
51. Laverne & Shirley (1976-83)

52. Lost (2004-Present)
53. The Lucy Show (1962-68)
54. Mad About You (1992-99)
55. Mad Men (2007-Present)
56. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-77)
57. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)
58. Match Game (1973-79)
59. Maude (1972-78)
60. McMillan & Wife (1971-77)
61. Melrose Place (1992-99)
62. The Muppet Show (1976-81)
63. NewsRadio (1995-99)
64. Nip/Tuck (2003-Present)
65. Number 96 (1972-77, Australian)
66. The Office (2005-Present)
67. Oz (1997-03, HBO)
68. The Partridge Family (1970-74)
69. Pasadena (2001)
70. Password (1961-67, 1971-75)
71. Peyton Place (1964-69)
72. Prisoner: Cell Block H (1979-86, Australian)
73. Rhoda (1974-78)
74. Rich Man, Poor Man (1976-77)

75. Roseanne (1988-97)
76. Saturday Night Live (1975-Present)
77. SCTV (Second City Television) (1976-84)
78. Seinfeld (1989-98)
79. Sex and the City (1998-04)
80. Sisters (1991-96)
81. Six Feet Under (2001-05, HBO)
82. Slings and Arrows (2003-06, Canadian)
83. Soap (1977-81)
84. Sports Night (1998-2000)
85. St. Elsewhere (1982-88)
86. Strangers with Candy (1999-2000)
87. Swingtown (2008)
88. Tales of the City (1993)

89. Tanner '88 (1988, HBO)
90. That Girl (1966-71)
91. 30 Rock (2006-Present)
92. thirtysomething (1987-91)
93. The Thorn Birds (1983)
94. The Tomorrow Show (1973-82)
95. Twin Peaks (1990-91)
96. Waterloo Road (2006-Present, British)
97. Weeds (2005-Present, Showtime)
98. Will & Grace (1998-06)
99. WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82)
100. The Young and the Restless (1973-Present)

Dish of the Day #246: In Full Glory Week

Well, almost full glory. To welcome my newest advertiser, VisitSweden's Stockholm in Full Glory (a campaign to promote one of the most glorious capitals in the world to the LGBT community), I'm featuring some revealing Dishes this week. And if you're interested in winning three nights for two at one of Stockholm Gay Network's partner hotels, the Nordic Light, click here for more information and be sure to become a fan of their Facebook page.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Groovy Gal: Olivia Newton-John

I've been hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton-John ever since she appeared as Sandy Olsson in the 1978 film, Grease. I liked her during her earlier "Let Me Be There" adult contemporary/country phase, but it was Grease and then her first pop album, Totally Hot (in which she was dressed all in leather on the cover), that made me a fan forever. My very first concert was part of her 1982 Physical tour, and I don't care what anyone says about Xanadu, the movie still makes me smile. I've never stopped loving the lady and her music, and today I wish her a happy 61st birthday.

Here are 10 Groovy Facts about Olivia Newton-John:

1) She was born on September 26, 1948, in Cambridge, England. Her family moved to Melbourne, Australia, in 1954.

2) As a teenager, Olivia performed as Lovely Livvy on The Happy Show, a local Australian television show. She then won a TV talent contest by singing "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and received a trip to England as her prize.

3) In 1970, she joined the pop group, Toomorrow (the brainchild of producer Don Kirshner, who had created The Monkees and hoped to repeat this success), and they filmed a science fiction musical, also called Toomorrow, in which dying aliens kidnap the group whose "vibrations" are needed for their race to survive. The movie flopped, and Toomorrow soon disbanded (I kind of like the song, "Happiness Valley", in the film clip below).

4) While Olivia was recording her first hit, "If Not For You", in 1971, her dog knocked over a microphone stand in the studio, and the noise is still evident in the song today.

5) Singer Helen Reddy encouraged Olivia to leave England and move to the United States in 1975 to help further her singing career. Olivia was later offered the role of Sandy in Grease after meeting producer Allan Carr at a dinner party held by Reddy.

6) Her performance in Grease earned her a People's Choice award for Favorite Motion Picture Actress. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Musical.

7) The title track of her 1981 album, Physical, was her biggest hit, selling over 2 million copies and spending ten weeks at No. 1 on the charts, matching the record held by Debby Boone's 1977 hit, "You Light Up My Life."

8) Olivia became a pioneer in the new music video industry by recording a video album for Physical, featuring videos of all its songs and three of her older hits. The video album earned her a 1983 Grammy for Video of the Year and was aired as an ABC TV special, Let's Get Physical, on February 8, 1982.

9) She won a 1999 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Song after her song, "Love Is A Gift", was featured on the daytime soap opera, As the World Turns.

10) Olivia's most recent acting gig was the role of Bitsy Mae Harling, a lesbian ex-con country singer, in both the 2000 film and 2008 TV series of Sordid Lives.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Of 'Glee' I Sing: Kurt Hummel is our man! Can he kick? Yes, he can!

This week's Glee was the best one yet. And I'm happy to report that FOX has picked up the show for a full season of 22 episodes. Hooray! And next week the Emmy Award-winning Kristin Chenoweth will be guest starring as a former classmate of Will's. Hip Hip Hooray! But before I get too excited and pass out, I better tell you what I loved the most--and the least--about this week's "Preggers" episode:

Favorite character: 19-year-old Chris Colfer (who is openly gay in case you're all wondering) stole the show this week with his fabulous performance as the flamboyant Kurt. It tickled me to no end to watch him become the star kicker of the football team and help them win a game with his groovy dance moves. I have more to say about Kurt, so keep reading.

Best new character: Kurt's widowed father, Burt Hummel (played quite nicely by Mike O'Malley, whose sister is actress Kerry O'Malley--who was terrific in the 1997 Encores! production of Promises, Promises. Just thought I would share that bit of musical theatre trivia with you).

Least favorite character: Terri's obnoxious sister, Kendra, whose overbearing personality at least makes Terri seem less annoying. However, I did like her bizarre euphemistic line, "Your wife is going to be pushing a watermelon out of her boy howdy in five months." Boy howdy? I've never heard it called that before.

Favorite non-musical scene: Kurt's sweet coming-out scene with his father.

Suspending my disbelief scene: I did find it very odd that Finn believed Quinn's ridiculous story about getting pregnant in the hot tub with their swimsuits on. Come on, is the guy really that big of a doofus? I never thought so before, but now . . .

Most intriguing new storyline: Despite Finn's extreme gullibility, I like the unexpected plot twist of Quinn's pregnancy, which involves both Puck, Finn's best friend (and the real daddy), and Terri, who is interested in passing off the girl's baby as her own. I also enjoyed Quinn's cruel line to Puck, whom she thinks is a loser: "I had sex with you because you got me drunk on wine coolers and I felt fat that day."

Most delightful duo: Sue Sylvester and Sandy Ryerson teaming up to take down Will and the glee club. But I didn't find Sue's TV news segments all that funny.

Best performance: Kurt's basement rendition of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)", which was interrupted by his father.

Best lines: "Hi, I'm Kurt Hummel and I'll be auditioning for the role of kicker" and "My body is like a rum chocolate souffle. If I don't warm it up right, it doesn't rise" - Kurt

"Natalie Wood was a Jew, you know" - Rachel (who will say anything to play the part of Maria in West Side Story, since Wood--who played Maria in the 1961 film--was actually Russian Orthodox).

That's my review for this week--and to quote Kurt one last time, "I think we should end with a show circle."

Deeper Dish with Alexandra Billings

Alexandra Billings is a very funny lady. If you don't believe me, just check out her YouTube channel and watch her Katie's Corner videos, in which she does a hilarious Katharine Hepburn impression (you can also view a few of my favorites below). But I've known that she is an amazing actress with a fabulous sense of humor ever since 1990 when she starred in Charles Busch's play, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, at Chicago's Royal George Theatre (where I worked in the box office). Since then Alex has pretty much done it all: television (Grey's Anatomy, Eli Stone, Romy and Michele: In The Beginning, in which she made television history as the first transgendered female to play a transgendered female character on TV), movies (Socket, Stealth), CDs (Being Alive, The Story Goes On), a one-woman autobiographical show (Before I Disappear), a cabaret act (she received the New York MAC Hanson Award for Cabaret Artist of the Year in 2004), and marriage (she married her best friend from high school, director Chrisanne Blankenship, in a commitment ceremony on December 4, 1995). She was also inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2005, and this year she was the Grand Marshal for the 40th Annual Chicago Pride Parade.

Having admired this lovely and talented lady for so long, I am honored--and thrilled--to have her as a Deeper Dish interviewee (i.e. a fabulous person who will answer pop culture questions along with giving us some insight into their life). Now let's get deeper with Alexandra Billings:

Let's start with the recent documentary about your life, Schoolboy to Showgirl: The Alexandra Billings Story. How did this film project get started and eventually produced?

The documentary was actually a big, fat surprise. I was asked to do a short interview by Alexandra Silets (from PBS) on the history of the LGBT community. As we talked, I started telling stories of my life, and Alex and I began a dialog that veered off into Bizarre-o Land...which is basically my life without the punctuation.

She then said:

"Your life would be a really cool documentary."

To which I replied:

"But who would care? Who do I think I am anyway? Bea Arthur?"

And then six months later, she put it together, produced it, and sold it to PBS.


So how does it feel to have your own personal story featured on PBS?

To be honest, I have a real problem watching myself do anything. It took me a couple of weeks before I mustered up enough courage to actually see it without throwing up into a bucket. And it was odd. The show itself was beautiful, but that was due to PBS and Alex. But watching myself talk about myself in a show about myself was a little too much of myself. I'm an actor, so I understand Me, Me, Me...but honestly, you can go too far occasionally, don't you think?

Back in the '80s you worked as a female impersonator under the stage name "Shante" at Chicago's Baton Show Lounge and other drag clubs. What is your fondest memory of those days?

In the mid-1980s, I was downstairs in my dressing room at The Baton getting ready to go home, and Chili Pepper came up to me and plopped an envelope on my dressing table.

"Here," she said in her best Zsa Zsa Gabor. "Read this. You need to do it."

I opened it up and inside was the script for an off-Broadway play called Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

I asked her what it was, and she smiled.

"It's your ticket out of here, Mary."

It was the show that got me back on stage and reminded me that the only thing that was trapping me...was me. It gave me back a sense of who I was and what my dreams were. I loved being at The Baton. I loved what I did. I was never ashamed of it. But I was bored. I was stuck. And I felt helpless. Chili was the first one who believed in me and told me I had the power to change anything and do anything, and most importantly, BE anything.

I didn't find out until years later that the role in Vampires was actually offered to her first. She turned it down and gave it to me.

That was a great, great memory.

There was also the night that Kelly Lauren did a cartwheel in the middle of "Burning Up For Your Love" and fell off the stage and headfirst into the front row. That was also a great, great memory.

Can you briefly describe what it was like to work with Yul Brynner and Carol Burnett?

Well, I was actually only six or seven years old. My father was the musical director at Harbor College (and head of the music department) as well as the conductor at The LA Civic Light Opera House, so when I started in theater I was very, very young. I was doing musical theater before I could spell it, really. While most kids were outside jumping rope and playing house I was learning lines and mixing cocktails for cast parties.

The only thing I remember about Yul was that he was very tall and very ill.

I remember Burnett very well. She's exactly the person you see on her show. Exactly the same. What a dame.

You've worked on many television series in recent years. Which show was your favorite experience?

I have to say the very first one I did is still my favorite. It's a tiny little movie that pops up on TV every once in a while called Romy and Michelle: In The Beginning. With the exception of a moronic and maniacally erratic Paula Abdul, it was the happiest, most alive and hilarious set I've worked on. Katherine Heigl and I met there, and we're still friends. She's one of the kindest people in this town, and was unbelievable to me when my wife and I first got here. She showed me where the In-N-Out Burger was located. She's been my personal hero ever since.

What's your favorite song from your two CDs, Being Alive and The Story Goes On?

I think "Let the River Run" is probably one of my favorite songs period. It's a near-perfect song. The lyrics, the musicality and the feel of it. It's one of those songs that resonates with me really strongly and one I never get tired of singing.

You used to live in Chicago and now you live in Los Angeles. What's your favorite thing about each city?

I love the physical city of Chicago. The look of it, and the architecture. I've been a lot of places and I have to say, it's one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

As far as LA goes, the great thing about living here is you can be at the beach or making snow angels in a matter of six hours driving either way. You just better make sure you drive quickly, or someone will set your car on fire.

What's your new movie, Wildcat Road, about?'s all hush hush and stuff. I'm bound by one of those silly contracts. Bound I say! Bound!

In high school I was:

Trying to act like a boy and behaving like a girl. My gym class was completely confused.

If I had to gain 30 pounds for a role, I would eat:

Exactly what I eat now. I live on lard, fat and sugar.

The last good book I read was:

Letters From A Poet.

If I could be part of any TV family in history, I would choose:

The Ricardos. But I'd have to be Lucy's sister. Her schemes were always filled with so much joy and I'd have to be her partner. So I guess I'd have to push Ethel out an open window.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:

Password, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Monty Python, Night Gallery, Bewitched, Dark Shadows, and I Love Lucy. In fact, since the invention of the VCR, I've watched I Love Lucy every single night of my life. My wife can attest to this.

Today I never miss an episode of:

Medium, Hung, and So You Think You Can Dance. The rest are TiVoed episodes of the list from above.

The very first album, tape or CD that I purchased with my own money was:

The original soundtrack of Mary Poppins.

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:

Judy Garland live from Carnegie Hall.

If I could go back in time and see any Broadway show, I would see:

The original cast of A Streetcar Named Desire. Not necessarily to see Brando but, moreover, to see Jessica Tandy. Supposedly she was run over by Brando's brilliant performance, but I'd like to see it for myself.

I also would love to have seen Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie. This was supposedly a defining moment in American acting, and I would love to have been there and witnessed some of her gifts.

If I could star in any role in any Broadway musical or play, I would be:

I would eventually like to play Arkadina in The Seagull and Mame in Mame.

Five movies that I think everyone should be required to watch are:

1. Young Frankenstein

2. The Manchurian Candidate (the original)

3. Gentleman's Agreement

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

5. The Band Wagon

...and of course, every person on the planet should see The Wizard of Oz. If this were shown on a loop in the Middle East, I have a feeling things would be much calmer over there.

If I could give an Oscar for any neglected film performance of the past, I would give one to:

This is an easy one. I'd hand it over to Garland for her miracle of a performance in A Star is Born. If you've ever seen the clip of Grace Kelly accepting this award for The Country Girl, you can see even SHE'S shocked beyond words. Groucho Marx once said: "This was the biggest robbery since Brink's."

If I could have anyone in the world--living or dead--be a guest at my fabulous cocktail party, I would invite the following people:

Well, I don't drink so this would actually be a fabulous root beer and cheese party, but I think I'd like to surround myself with Stephen Hawking, Katharine Hepburn, Albert Einstein, John Wayne, Bette Davis, Richard Rodgers, Nanette Fabray, John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Johnny Mathis, Richard Nixon and Abigail Adams.

I guess I'd probably have to break down and get some booze though. Half of those people wouldn't stay ten minutes.

What's next for Alexandra Billings?

I'm going to be opening at Vitello's, which is a fancy nightclub here in LA in November, and I'll be the opening act for Leslie Jordan's new one-man show through the month of December at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood.

As far as what else is next, I have absolutely no idea. My life has always been a series of happy accidents. I've never, ever had a plan for anything, and I've never known what the next big thing was going to be. I'm going headfirst into the fire, and I have no idea how it's going to turn out. And I love it.

I just hope I'm wearing the right shoes.

Thank you, Alex, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish (and I hope to someday see you as the marvelous Mame Dennis). To learn more about Alexandra Billings, check out her website and her wonderful blog, Stillettos and Sneakers. You can also become a fan of hers on Facebook by clicking here.

Dish of the Day #245: Vote for your Favorite

Every Monday through Friday a new Dish of the Day will be featured, and beginning today you can vote for your favorite Dish of the week in the sidebar poll.

Last week's winner was #239 with 34% of the 103 votes cast. #238 came in second with 25.2%, followed by #236 (17.5%), #237 (14.6%) and #240 (8.7%).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Modern Family, Cougar Town & Eastwick (and only one was worth watching)

I watched all three of ABC's new shows last night (don't worry, I taped the glorious Glee), and I will never get back the 90 minutes of those two hours that I wasted. Oh well, you win some, you lose some--and ABC has one winner and two losers on its Wednesday night schedule in my opinion.

Let's begin with the bad. The very bad. What was Courteney Cox thinking when she agreed to star in the painfully unfunny Cougar Town? The talented actress is the best thing about this stinker, but didn't we already see her sleep with a high school senior on a 1995 episode of Friends? It was kind of funny back then, but Cougar Town is no Friends--not even close. And watching Cox's 40-year-old character getting caught by her 17-year-old son giving a blow job to a 20-something guy made me desperately long for her bygone days as Monica Geller. The show is very shrill with lots of screaming, and most of the supporting characters are quite obnoxious--especially Cox's ex-husband and her new neighbor (played by Josh Hopkins, who was so good on last year's Swingtown). I have no desire to ever spend another moment in Cougar Town--but I am looking forward to seeing Ms. Cox in Scream 4. Hopefully the movie won't suck, but it's gotta be better than her current gig.

Now on to the less bad but still not very good--Eastwick, which made me think only one thing while watching it: Why? That's all. I just want to know why anyone felt the need to do a TV version of the far superior 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick. The only good thing about the show is actor Paul Gross, whom I previously loved on Slings and Arrows (a fabulous Canadian series that everyone should watch instead of Eastwick). He is very good as the mysterious Darryl Van Horne (the Jack Nicholson role), who arrives in the town of Eastwick to stir up trouble for three lovely ladies. Unfortunately, Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Jaime Ray Newman are all rather bland as the women, and I'm beginning to think that Price has some sort of curse on her as all her TV series seem to flop--Coupling (2003), Pepper Dennis (2006), and Lipstick Jungle (2008-09). Or maybe she just picks bad shows to star in. The supporting cast includes Sara Rue and Veronica Cartwright, who are both sadly wasted--but I do find it amusing that Cartwright is playing a similar character to the one that she portrayed in the original movie. I really wanted to like Eastwick, but the familiar story just isn't dramatically interesting enough to make me want to tune in every week--even with the delightful Mr. Gross, who is one of the few actors that can make an obnoxious character very likable. He reminds me a little of Larry Hagman, who made J.R. Ewing into someone that we all loved to hate. But Eastwick is no Dallas--and there isn't a Suellen to be seen.

And now for something entirely different--and fabulous! Modern Family is the best network sitcom since 30 Rock. It's a very funny show with an engaging cast of characters played by an ensemble of actors, who couldn't be better. Ed O'Neill as a man married to a much younger woman, Julie Brown and Ty Burrell as the parents of three kids, and especially Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet as a gay couple with a Vietnamese baby are all wonderful. And I loved the way that the pilot episode brought the three different families together at the end to let us know that they actually made up one big family. It was a pleasant surprise and, unlike Cougar Town and Eastwick, I want to spend more time with these people. When Stonestreet's flamboyant character came out carrying his baby daughter to the tune of "Circle of Life" from the musical, The Lion King, this hilarious scene made Modern Family something more than just an amusing sitcom. It was a sign of potential greatness on par with 30 Rock and Arrested Development. The only downside to the show is its unfortunate time slot up against another gay-friendly series, Glee. So I'm hoping and praying that both of them will survive and flourish in order to entertain us for many years to come.

Dish of the Day #244

Every Monday through Friday a new Dish of the Day will be featured, and beginning on Friday you can vote for your favorite Dish of the week. If you haven't voted for last week's Dish yet, choose your man in the sidebar poll.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Groovy Guy: Bruce Springsteen

The ladies love Neil Diamond, but men love The Boss. Having now been to concerts of both singers, I can honestly say that this is true. I've never seen so many straight guys reach out and touch another man in my life--in a non-sexual way, of course. They just worship Springsteen and his music--and maybe a few of them secretly wish they could be the Grammy and Oscar-winning rock 'n' roll legend, who certainly knows how to put on a damn good show. I saw him perform on Sunday night at the United Center here in Chicago, and it was nearly three hours of non-stop entertainment. Although I enjoyed hearing him sing his hits like "Hungry Heart" and "Dancing in the Dark" as well as his entire Born to Run album from 1975, the best part of the concert was when he took obscure requests from his adoring audience. Springsteen then proceeded to sing "Da Doo Ron Ron" (in honor of songwriter Ellie Greenwich, who passed away on August 26) and "Rockin' Robin"--two songs that I never expected to hear him croon in a million years. And he and his groovy band--including Steven Van Zandt, Max Weinberg and the great Clarence Clemons--performed them exceptionally well. It was a fun night that I will forever remember.

Bruce Springsteen has the energy of a 30-year-old, which is amazing since today is his 60th birthday. He was born Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen on September 23, 1949, in Long Branch, New Jersey, and I'm just going to honor the talented man by featuring a few of my favorite songs of his: "Cadillac Ranch" (1981), "Sherry Darling" (1981), and "Glory Days" (1985). Enjoy!

P.S. He won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1993 for "Streets of Philadelphia" from the film, Philadelphia.