Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Frantastic Fran Leonardis!

"Faith is seeing the light with your heart, when your eyes see only darkness" St Augustine
Happy Sunday!
Hope you have sprung ahead as we hurl towards spring. Yesterday, I interviewed Sondra Lee only to find that nothing was recorded! When I told her afterward, she consented to sit down later this week and do it all over again! So, you're going to have to wait a little longer to get her amazing account of her two years with Dolly!
This afternoon, I'm interviewing Betsy Palmer! She will be the subject of tomorrow's blog. Today, I'm writing about someone who has never played Dolly as far as I know and yet she possesses all of the qualities that make Dolly Levi Dolly Levi!
I first "met" Fran Leonardis a couple of years ago when I was scheduled to work at a venue in Bloomfield, NJ called Pianos. When Fran first contacted me, I thought she worked at Pianos. I was surprised to find out that she was just a fellow entertainer who desired to make my experience there as wonderful as possible!
The truth was that the "powers that be" truly did not know what they were doing. 
Fran stepped up to the plate for someone she didn't even know. 
She suggested a musical director who knew the venue, Timothy Taylor. 
She put us in touch with each other and he even came to my house to rehearse. 
He wouldn't even allow me to pay for the rehearsal because HE was the one who needed the rehearsal! You will have to look long and hard to find someone like him!
He was wonderful, btw, and I still am indebted to Fran for that.
The entire process leading up to my experience at this venue was less than steller, to say the least. I'm talking about management. The only shining light in ALL of this was Fran Leonardis.
The night of my show, the region was hit in one of the worst storms in recorded history in this region. 
There was no electricity, trees and power lines were down, and it was one of the most torrential rainstorms that I had ever experienced. I was able to get through to the guy who booked me on my cell phone and I was told that it was not as bad THERE as what I was experiencing in my home. So we started out. A 45 minute trip took almost three hours because of the downed trees and power lines. 
When I got to this venue, the booking manager was as excited about my being there as the IRS. I had an audience of 5!
An elderly couple who thought they were really seeing Carol Channing. When I came out as Richard afterward, they thought I was Carol's assistant! There was a 15 year old  who had just "discovered" Carol thanks to the film, Thoroughly Modern Millie and her parents who had just discovered Carol. The guy who booked me didn't even watch the show!
The next day, Fran called to tell me how terribly upset that she did not get to my show the night before. I think she was more upset than I was! She tried and just couldn't get there. I said there was nothing to apologize for. 
NO ONE should have been out that night!
We remained friends and I talked her into coming to Wednesday Night at The Iguana when I was co-hosting there with Dana Lorge.  I had seen Fran's clips on YouTube. She had only done local theatre and open mics. She is a devoted mother and wife and those areas took top priority. 
However, she has the loving support of her husband, Larry, and he suggested she take a chance and come to The Iguana. She killed! 
She killed on subsequent appearances. She never gloated over it, it always surprised her...which is surprising in itself. At another time, people would be clamoring to write for a talent like hers.
This past summer, Fran gave everyone a run for their money as she entered MetroStar search at The Metropolitan Room. She made it to the final top three which also included StaciePearlman and Marissa Moulder.

The maestro, Barry Levitt
As a result of that experience, she has joined forces with musical  director Barry Levitt and director Peter Napolitano and will be making her "official" New York cabaret debut at The Metropolitan Room on March 24th! 
She is more than ready and I am happy to celebrate Fran Leonardis today!
 When Fran was a kid,her Mom took me to see Mame starring Lucille Ball at Radio City Music Hall. That was when the Rockettes still did a show with the movie!  
But that was the first live performance she ever saw.
 Fran says she was fortunate to have parents that listened to all kinds of music.

 Her Dad had and extensive collections of operettas and musicals. They used to listen to these on Sundays as Mom cooked dinner.  
 First professional job? 
Well if the true definition of professional is a gig you get paid for, then I would say Pianos in Bloomfield,NJ. It was this little hole in the wall supper club, but its where I got the courage to get up on stage without an entire cast behind me and without a character to hide behind. Where I cut my teeth on cabaret I like to think.
Your thoughts on Arts in Education:
 I believe that the arts in education are VERY important to students. It helps them to use their imaginations and to learn to think outside of the box.  I teach an enrichment program after school in my kids school district. I have 10 girls that couldn't be happier or have more fun when we are together. 
The music program in the schools where I live is very good also! 
They have record enrollment this year!!! 
Have you ever felt like you were born in the wrong era? What other period of time do you relate to and why?
 People may think that because of what I choose to wear on stage, I would like to have been born in the 1950's. Truth be told, I am quite happy where I am! I wouldn't be able to be the outspoken woman that I am in any other time. Well, I could, but I would be labeled a rabble rouser and the like..wait..that's happened now too. ;)
 Your thoughts on Carol Channing (All my blogs focus on Carol Channing’s Foundation For The Arts)
 Carol Channing is an  Icon of American theater and film. She has shaped the way so many of us look at  shows like Hello, Dolly! Her contribution to the arts is something that all people should look at with great reverence.   
I’m campaigning for Carol Channing to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in 2012. If you agree that she should receive this honor, can you say why you think this should happen (See below on how YOU can help!)
                  The fact that Carol Channing has not yet received a Kennedy Center Honor is truly amazing to me.One of the great ladies of the American stage, Ms. Channing has brought to life such iconic characters as Dolly Levi and Lorelei Lee. At this time in her life she is helping to keep the arts in schools through her foundation. That alone deserves an honor. 

Most recent appearance:
 I appeared this fall as Rosie( the rappin granny) in The Wedding Singer at The Barn Theater in Montville, NJ. Before that I competed in the Metrostar Talent Challenge at the Metropolitan Room this summer. I am proud to say I was named 2nd runner up! 
Next appearance:
 I will be at Wednesday Night At The Iguana with Dana Lorge on 3/21 and then on Saturday 3/24, I will be opening my debut Cabaret show IT WILL NEVER BE THAT WAY AGAIN, at the Metropolitan Room at 4pm. I will also be there on 4/9 at 7pm and 5/23 at 9:30
What is your biggest success in Show Business: 
Well being relatively new to the business, my biggest success so far has been competing in Metrostar Talent Challenge. I received such wonderful feedback from very well respected judges and to me, that was success in and of itself. 
What was your lowest low and how did you surpass that?
About a year ago, I was passed over for a part. The circumstances were rather sketchy, but I will only say there was neopotism involved. It hurt. It hurt alot. To the point where I really didnt want to even think of doing theater, much less cabaret anymore. But then Metrostar came along and boosted my confidence so much as week after week, I made it through each round. It was truly life changing for me. 
What one change would you like to see in today’s industry?
 I would like to see it made easier for people to join unions like Actors Equity, SAG and AFTRA.   

Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
Yes, I would have to say that I am quite happy where I am! I have great people that I am working with and their confidence in me gives me confidence in myself. 
Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do? 
Not yet!!! But I am on my way!
What do you do to remain positive when life's hiccups get you down? 
I learn a lot from my kids. With them, one second the world is going to end. The next, everything is better and they're on to the next. That's the way to live life. 

How on earth do you reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there are so many channels on TV you can’t pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss.
Social media is a God send. You can set up events, and invite everyone you see! I put my postcards anywhere and every where I go. At the supermarket? Hand one to the the toll booth...hand one to the toll taker. At the nail salon...leave a stack.  Then there are people like you Richard that are willing to feature people in their blog! That is a service that is so valuable to ALL OF US!! THANK YOU!!!

A genie pops out of the lamp, he grants you three wishes. What are those wishes? 
Well the first wish would be that my family be financially secure for the rest of their days. 
Second, that I am able to have a career doing what I love do to. 
Thirdly, wow, thats hard to answer without sound like Miss America. 
How did you get into this business? 
If I really think back, it was because of a bad relationship. A friend said she wasn't going to let me sit home and mope and took me to an audition for a community theater show. That, as they say, was that. From there, things took on a life of there own. 
What is your favorite song? And yes, you can only pick one!!!
My favorite song tends to change, its so hard to choose! I think I would have to say my favorite song that lifts me up when I'm down is I'M BEAUTIFUL. Its from Bette Midler's album Bathhouse Betty. 
 What is the last stage show you saw.  Local or professional?
 Last show my husband and I saw was Avenue Q at New World Stages. We laughed from the time the show started till the bows. 
What do you do to prepare for your performances? 
Well, there's rehearsal...which we all do. But I also go into my head and do the whole show there. I can sit with my recorder and "watch" myself to the whole show in my head. Then get up in front of a mirror and do it. By the time I'm done my kids and pets know the show too. lol
When do you know it’s time for a Fran Leonardis show? 
 Its a feeling that starts in the pit of my stomach. Something you can't put your finger on. Then the feeling moves up to your brain and it suddenly clicks that you have something that you need to get out...and the only place you can do it, is on stage. 
 Do you make a living at this or do you have a survival job? Please elaborate on your thoughts on this?
 Well, currently, I am surviving as a Stay At Home Mom. I am fortunate to have a husband who wants me to be home with my kids while they are still young. Before that, I was an office gal. lol Worked in insurance for 20 years. Someday, and I hope it never happens, I may just have to go back to that.
What is your favorite compliment?
During Metrostar, I recieved so many nice compliments, but TWO of my favorites were when Roy Sander called me a "great entertainer" and Rob Lester said I was "FRANTASTIC" :)
You ARE FRANtastic! 


with George Marcy and Carol Lawrence
Please join me tomorrow night with several of the original cast members of Hello, Dolly! (various productions)
$30.00 tickets sold out and $50.00 tickets going fast for DO40 CARES: It's Not Where You Start, March 12th with Host Carol Lawrence and Guest Star Chita Rivera and the merry murderesses from the original CHICAGO! $100 seats are still available! Call telecharge now! 212-239-6200 At the Ailey Citigroup Theater/The Joan Weill Center for Dance, 405 West 55th St., NYC. For more information, call the DO40 Hotline, 212-330-7016 or visit our website,

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

Tomorrow's blog will be...My afternoon with Betsy Palmer!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,
This Blog is dedicated to ALL ARTISTS: Past, present and future and the gifts they give to the world!

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