Monday, December 16, 2013

Don't Postpone Joy...lessons in Life from great Artists

"There are two reasons why I am in show business and I am standing on both of them."
-Betty Grable

Hi there!
"Don't postpone joy"...Those words are uttered by Tony Award nominated actress Anita Gillette in her Master Class of a show that she performed last week (and again tonight and tomorrow night) at The Metropolitan Room.
Those of us who were in attendance either on Monday night or Tuesday night of last week know exactly what a joyous treat it was to see a great entertainer regale an audience in a show that seemed like a mere moment.
I was at Anita's show on Tuesday night having been at Donna McKechnie's new show on Monday night (joined by Jerry Mitchell and singers on the night I attended).
From the moment that Donna hit the stage with the Hostess With the Mostess, she certainly was. What has drawn me to Anita and Donna and other great entertainers over the years is
Photo: Sandi Durrell
a joy in their work that cannot be self-contained.
DON'T POSTPONE JOY keeps resonating with me over and over. You'll have to see the show to see where this gem of a life philosophy came from. That was a major message in Anita's show but it applies to both shows.
If there is one overriding goal of this blog it is this: to bring a clarity to how these artists approach their work on a daily basis, and over their lifetimes.

Anita's current show IS a delightful evening of music and memories as she takes an intimate, touching, and hilarious look behind the scenes from Broadway to Hollywood in her autobiographical show.
I personally feel that Anita's voice is under rated Broadway gold. Anita Gillette is part of the very foundation of the Broadway we enjoy today. How does one choose who/what is a star?
It has been an incredible journey from her first television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963.
She joined the cast of The Edge of Night in 1967, leaving the next year. Gillette's biggest exposure on a national scale came as a celebrity guest on various New York City-based game shows such as What's My Line?, Match Game, and on the various Pyramid series produced by
Anita in Me and the Chimp
Goodson-Todman and Bob Stewart.
Gillette's roles in the 1970s included the short-lived series Me and The Chimp with Ted Bessell and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice with a then-unknown Robert Urich and a young Jodie Foster.  She also appeared in Norman Lear's All That Glitters.
The 1980s marked Gillette's transition from Broadway and television into that of a character film actress.

Prior to this transition, she had sizeable television roles as Nancy Baxter on the of the national run of The Baxters, Quincy's second wife Dr. W. Emily Hanover on the last season of Quincy M.E. (having previously portrayed his deceased first wife Helen Quincy in a flashback), and a role on Search for Tomorrow at the end of that series' long run, as well as the early David Chase series Almost Grown.
 After the end of Search for Tomorrow in late 1986, and appearing with Robert Reed and Bert Convy on Super Password, Gillette transitioned to film with a variety of notable roles such as that of Mona in 1987's Moonstruck. Many of these roles have had her as an on-screen mother to characters played by notable actors such as Jennifer Aniston's mother in She's The One, Mary-Louise Parker's mother in Boys On The Side, Bill Murray's mother in Larger Than Life, Jack Black's mother in Bob Roberts, and the mother of Bobby Cannavale's love interest in The Guru. Her return to television in 2000s short-lived Normal, Ohio had her playing the mother of John Goodman's character (coincidentally with fellow former game show regular Orson Bean as her on-screen husband).

In the 1990s, Gillette starred in two Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, The Summer of Ben Tyler with James Woods and A Christmas Memory with Patty Duke. In 2004, she appeared as Miss Mitzi, the lonely alcoholic owner of a struggling dance studio in Shall We Dance? opposite Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon.


Anita Gillette AND Donna McKechnie HAD to go into show business. They also did it the right way. They earned it. They both have had ups and downs in careers that were not always on a linear course. They are both, as well as Jerry Mitchell, engaging.

They also have built and sustained lasting relationships in their careers.Last evening, I saw the amazing Judi Dench in Philomena. There is a moment in the film in which Philomena and Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan are having breakfast in a Washington DC restaurant. I won't
with Donna at The Bistro Awards a few years ago
give away what happens in that scene because it is a pivotal one in the plot.
However, also in that scene, Sixsmith dismisses and is rude to a waitress.

How many times have I seen that happen! I've even had people that I've been dining with do that on more than one occasion.
Philomena tells him there is no reason to be rude to anyone. The people we are rude to are the very people we meet on the way down.

He, of all people, should think about that. You'll have to see the movie to get the full implication of that line.
When I was in high school, I read Joan Crawford's book, My Way of Life. In her book, she says be nice to everyone you encounter.
"The person sweeping the floor today is running the studio tomorrow."
I never forgot that. It jumped out at me like a neon sign. A friend of mine when a step further. He said, "The person running the studio is sweeping the floor tomorrow." Truer words were never spoken.
I became familiar with Anita Gillette and Donna McKechnie in the seventies.
 I became familiar with Donna when the album of A Chorus Line came out. I couldn't get enough of listening to that album over and over.
I was thrilled that the show was still running when I came to New York in 1979.

What a thrill it was to have Anita sitting in the audience of one of my shows years later!

Another thrill for me, although the circumstances were heartbreaking, was doing a benefit with Donna a few weeks after 9/11.
How does one define stardom? Go see Anita either tonight or tomorrow night at The Metropolitan Room and you will see that definition personified. From the moment, Anita hits the stage with her I Can't Be Bothered Now/Happy Go Lucky, she owns everyone in the room and her surroundings.
I felt the same thing with Donna McKechnie's latest outing. Donna is bringing a talk show/variety format to Birdland in what will hopefully be at least once a month.How does one quantify greatness? Donna;s show attempts to answer that question.
The format features a great artist of the theater scene. It is audience-focused.
In other words, her aim is to please. Whether you are in the theater, theater knowledgeable, or just there to be entertained, this show is for you. For her first outing, her guest was Jerry Mitchell. Originally, this show was to kick off the New Year in January 2014. However, due to Jerry's very busy schedule. He will be mounting a production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in London's West End next month.
Donna has come up with a great formula. She was/is wise to open with a great song. After all, we/audiences desire her to do what she does brilliantly...entertain.
Her goal is to show audiences these giants of the theater scene that most of us know...or do we?

With Jerry, it was great to get a trajectory of his career. How he got from Detroit to being one of the hardest working choreographer/directors on Broadway. I remember the first time I saw Jerry dancing on a drum in Tommy Tune's Will Rogers Follies. Who could ever forget that?
Mitchell, sporting the original revealing red-white-and-blue “Indian of the Dawn” costume he wore in The Will Rogers Follies
Mitchell's early Broadway credits in addition to The Will Rogers Follies included revivals of Brigadoon and On Your Toes.
Neither Anita, Donna, Jerry, or even myself, for that matter, are born New Yorkers. We all gravitated to a
calling that was greater than all of us.

Gillette was born Anita Luebben in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Juanita (née Wayland) and John Alfred Luebben.Raised in suburban Rossville, she graduated from Kenwood High School.Gillette studied at the Peabody Conservatory and made her Broadway debut in Gypsy in 1959. Additional Broadway credits include Carnival!, All American, Mr. President, Kelly, Jimmy, Guys and Dolls, Don't Drink the Water, Cabaret, They're Playing Our Song, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and Chapter Two, for which she was nominated for the Tony for Best Actress in a Play. She received the 1960 Theatre World Award for her performance in Russell Patterson's Sketchbook. In 2012, she played Rose Fitzgerald (Mom) in Christmas with the Fitzgeralds, written, directed and starring Edward Burns.

McKechnie was born in Pontiac, Michigan where she began ballet classes at age five. Her earliest influence was the classic British ballet film The Red Shoes (1948), which prompted her, at age eight, to plan a career as a ballerina. She studied for many years at the Rose Marie Floyd School of Dance in Royal Oak. Despite her parents' strong misgivings, she moved to New York City when she was 17. Rejected after an audition for the American Ballet Theatre, she found employment in the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall but walked off the job on the day of dress rehearsal to do summer stock at the Carousel Theatre in Framingham, Massachusetts.
After doing a Welch's Grape Juice commercial and the first L'eggs stockings commercial, she was cast in a touring company of West Side Story. In 1961, she made her Broadway debut in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, where she met choreographer Bob Fosse and his wife, Gwen Verdon. A stint in a Philadelphia production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (as Philia) was followed by the NBC music series Hullabaloo, where she was a featured dancer and met Michael Bennett, who became a guiding force in her life and career.
She became known for her professional and personal relationship with choreographer Michael Bennett, with whom she collaborated on her most noted role, "Cassie" from the musical A Chorus Line, for which she earned the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1976. She is also known for playing Amanda Harris/Olivia Corey on the Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows from 1969 to 1970.
She also appeared as Philia in the national tour of Forum, starring Jerry Lester (Pseudolus), with Paul Hartman (Senex), Erik Rhodes (Marcus Lycus), Arnold Stang (Hysterium) and Edward Everett Horton (Erronius), produced by Martin Tahse.
In April, 1968, McKechnie was back on Broadway in the short-lived musical version of Leo Rosten's collection of short stories The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N, which led to a featured role in Burt Bacharach and Hal David's Promises, Promises, choreographed by Bennett.
Along with Baayork Lee and Margo Sappington, she danced in one of Broadway's most famous numbers, Turkey Lurkey Time. It was here that she first attracted notice from critics and theatergoers alike. This was followed by a role in the touring company of Call Me Madam, starring Ethel Merman.

Bennett showcased McKechnie again in Stephen Sondheim's Company (1970), where she danced Tick-Tock. After leaving the Broadway cast, she reprised her role in the Los Angeles and London companies, and also toured in the 1971 revival of On the Town (as Ivy). In March 1973, she choreographed and performed in the highly acclaimed one-night-only concert Sondheim: A Musical Tribute at the Shubert Theatre in New York. In 1974, she co-starred with Richard Kiley and Bob Fosse in the unsuccessful musical film version of the classic The Little Prince.
 
Jerry was born in Paw Paw, Michigan and later moved to St. Louis where he pursued his acting, dancing and directing career in theatre. He graduated from the Fine Arts college at Webster University in St. Louis. Today, Mitchell resides in New York City and St. Louis.
(Huge portions of this blog are from Wikipedia)
To learn more, see Anita Gillette tonight at The Metropolitan Room.
Keep checking Birdland's website for Donna's next show.
Read more about Jerry Mitchell.

Thank you ALL of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!


 With grateful XOXOXs ,








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