Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Wanda Richert!

"If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you dream it, you can become it."
- William Arthur Ward 

Happy Wednesday!

The above quote is one of my favorite quotes. 
It also happens to be one of Wanda Richert's. 
I love Wanda. 
I always have from the moment I saw her on Broadway at The Majestic Theatre right after 42nd Street moved. I remember seeing her in her periwinkle blue dress on the Tony Awards that year. That seemed to be the end of an era as far as the Broadway musical is concerned. Wanda was having a successful career and then left New York. I was thrilled when we connected several years ago through the technology of Facebook. I consider Wanda a spiritual soul mate and I am thrilled to celebrate her today on the occasion of her birthday!

The quote above was instilled in Wanda from a very early age. She had it on her bathroom wall when she was on Broadway. She had a beautiful photo of a ballerina with that quote over the top. That is Wanda's philosophy. From the moment she came into this world, her family encouraged her to dream her dreams.
When Wanda was three years old in Cicero, Illinois, she has memories of having been on stage! 
She used to close the bathroom door, stand on this little lift that went into the tub, and pretend she was on stage. From that time on, she just knew. Her mom put her in modeling school when she was four.The rest is history. She just started dancing. Her mom "saw it" in her playpen. Her mom knew that she needed to devote her life to getting Wanda "somewhere" at an early age. She found all the right teachers for Wanda. Wanda was always focused from as early as she can remember. 
She wanted to become a "star" so she could buy mansions for her mom and grandmother. She loved doing what she was doing. 

When Wanda was five, she started dance class.
She grew up a disciplined artist without a lot of time to see movies and television. She didn't even know what was going on on Broadway before she opened in 42nd Street.
Elizabeth Taylor in The Little Foxes
As a result, she really wasn't star struck. However, there was one night that has stayed with her. That was the night Elizabeth Taylor came backstage to congratulate her. Elizabeth Taylor was about to open in The Little Foxes on Broadway (which I also saw!) Wanda found her, as did I when I met her, to be lovely, very real, humble. She was a REAL person. Wanda says as she followed her throughout her life and the work she did on behalf of AIDS, she respected her more and more. Wanda really admires people who LIVE their TRUTH. Those people, however, sometimes get ridiculed for it, as we see on Facebook.
Wanda told me that after the Tonys that year, Elizabeth Taylor through a party at Sardi's for all the people who did not go home with a Tony (I refuse to call them losers).

When Wanda was doing Cassie in A Chorus Line in San Francisco, she injured herself really badly. She was at The Golden Gate Theatre. She pretty much tore her rib muscles away from her ribs. It was very difficult to work through that pain and stay on track with what she had to do.

Thomas Z. Shepard, Wanda Richert, David Merrick, Jerry Orbach, and Bob Summer
Wanda has learned the hard way that honesty is not always the best policy in this business. She learned these lessons very early on in 42nd Street dealing with David Merrick.He actually ended up being a very close friend of Wanda's. Wanda admits that she wore her heart on her sleeve at that age. She learned that being on Broadway is not always the best place to be. If she had the opportunity to go back and do that again, she would be more of a business woman.

Lee Roy Reams, Wanda Richert, Jerry Orbach and Joseph Bova
Wanda believes that desperately that we have to get the arts back in school. For kids that are interested in pursuing a career in the arts, Wanda would encourage them to be diligent, disciplined, be prepared...and never give up on your dreams.

Wanda believes that Carol Channing should absolutely receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor. Carol Channing is a true icon. "We" have lost focus of the true entertainers of her genre. Wanda was blessed to appear at the first Kennedy Center Honors. A Chorus Line did a tribute to Fred Astaire.
Walter Matthau, Channing, Eddie Arnold
It was a moment in Wanda's life she will never forget. Wanda thinks the honors have changed drastically since they first began. Mickey Rooney also has not received this honor. Wanda believe, as I do, that show "business" has become all about technology. Broadway is very "technology" driven. People like Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Gwen Verden, even Wanda Ritcherd would probably not even be hired for Broadway under today's conditions. People need to honor the wisdom that comes out of a career like Carol Channing's. Most of the youth coming up these days have no clue as to what it is to have a career in this business. Wanda recently directed a community production of 42nd Street and was flabbergasted that the kids didn't even know to being in a head shot and resume. We have gotten so far away from what show business used to be about, being prepared and disciplined. There is so much that can be learned from just watching YouTube clips of these great entertainers that has gone before us. One of Wanda's favorites is Carol Channing's Before The Parade Passes By from the Tonys.
Because that comes from one of Gower Champion's shows, she loves it even more. She's hoping that I am successful in getting Carol a Kennedy Center Honor THIS YEAR!

Up until NOW, Wanda has never had the nerve to do her own club act. When she was doing 42nd Street on Broadway, she didn't have the right support system around her and was a little timid. She really hurt herself in her last show. When she is fully recuperated, she WILL be ready! She is full of possibility. She would love to do one now. The title of the show will be the same as the title of her book, From Broadway to Heaven.She is already thinking of the material for the show. One song that will definitely be part of the show is Where Am I Going from Sweet Charity. That was the only audition song she ever used. She would love to do these show at Carnegie Hall. Because of the trajectory of her life, this will be more than a club act, it will be about exploration.

42nd Street cast in action (Photo: Henry Grossman)
Wanda considers the biggest success in her life is being a mother. I asked Wanda what her lowest low has been. She says that is a loaded question and perhaps is another interview. She has a son who is now 16. She has custody of him. He was practically "stolen" from her by the court system. She has almost lost her life over this. She almost died and had a "near-death" experience which changed her life forever. It has given her the strength to keep moving on, to do something purposeful with her life. She has reunited with Christ.

The one change that she would like to see in this life is to see the technology lessened. She would like to see musicals going back to having full orchestras. Less helicopters appearing on stage, and chandeliers falling and more pure talent, like Carol Channing.

with Michael Walters at Costume World
Wanda recently got back into her 42nd Street dress from 31 years ago! This happened at The Broadway Collection at Costume World in Florida a few weeks ago. I even wrote about it in a previous blog. Wanda said it was like putting on a second skin. It was beyond clothing, it was an extension of Wanda AND Peggy Sawyer.She is thrilled that this costume is on display for others to enjoy.

Meredith Patterson who played Peggy Sawyer in the recent Broadway revival had this to say: "Wanda you look fantastic!! I hope I fit in mine 30 years later. That's the plan. You inspire me! xo"

Wanda is extremely happy at this point in her life and extremely grateful. No matter what is going on, she is beyond happy. She is peaceful.

What makes Wanda unhappy? Suffering in the world. Seeing people who don't feel they are worthy enough of pursuing their dreams. Wanda is a counselor and a minister and sees over and over again that this is the common denominator for most. People who don't feel they deserve to be successful and living their passion. She would love to see that change.

42nd Street was the last show that was "naughty, bawdy, sporty" Broadway! It was the end of an era. After that time, she replaced Anita Morris in Nine. Then Michael Bennett asked her to come back into A Chorus Line on Broadway. Three months into that run, she found out she was pregnant with her daughter...which was a major highlight. That "simple" show with that white line and costumes at the end...THAT was Broadway!

Wanda says her daughter changed her life in 2006 when she forced her to create a MySpace page. Her life changed forever. She created My Space: The Miracle Network. It really isn't operational anymore. As much as she tried to tell herself that she would never be on a computer, she now has a global audience on Facebook. Her ministry is extremely empowering. It is exciting to Wanda to know that someone in Cairo, Egypt is communicating with her. They were telling her what was going on when the riots were happening.

A genie pops out of a lamp and grants Wanda three wishes. Her wishes are that the world get back to love. That the world get back to love. AND That the world get back to love.

I asked Wanda what her favorite song was and she could only pick one. David Cook's Time of My Life
The last stage show she saw was Michael Walters as Dame Edna! She loved him! He even forced her to come on stage and sing Young and Healthy and Quarter to Nine both from 42nd Street. 

Michael had this to say about Wanda:
 You cannot help but adore Wanda. She is the epitome of love and light. Every time I'm around her, I can't help but smile. I am so blessed to know her!

Wanda, Michael/Dame Edna, Wanda's daughter

 I asked Wanda what she does to prepare for a performance. She says she puts on her make-up and has a cup of coffee. 

Because of her accident, Wanda hasn't worked since 2007. She has been denied disability. She readily admits that she's hanging on by the skin of her teeth. She says it is a miracle every day that she is provided for; she has no income. She just wants her body rehabilitated and she will dance again. Five years of not dancing has done tremendous damage to her body. Just last week, she was rear-ended. To Wanda, it is a blessing in disguise. Finally, doctors are seeing her. 

When A Chorus Line opened at The Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. Michael Bennett said to Wanda in front of the entire company after he had given notes to everybody, " Now, I would like to talk about Wanda. I have known her since she was nineteen. She is an actress. Darling, you are an actress, and you can act your ass off." She was stunned. Michael was her mentor. Michael gave her very important direction with Cassie: "Make sure you listen when you are on stage. Stop acting and start listening." 

I hope you're listening to me Wanda. I LOVE YOU AND I CELEBRATE YOU! Happy Birthday! 
Thank you for the gifts you have given and will continue to give to the world.

Your devoted fan,

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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..Celebrating Sara Lazarus, director of this year's Bistro Awards!

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 Al Koenig! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!!

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