Wednesday, April 8, 2020


During this pandemic madness and the awaited return of Broadway shows,   I am doing what every theater geek is doing: spending endless hours on You Tube, watching clips of every damn version of every damn thing that we have ever heard, seen, or done, multiplied by 1000.   If you are a theater enthusiast having lived in NYC long enough, in addition to Broadway and Off Broadway, then you know that there is something so amazing and so unique happening on a regular basis, especially with organizations like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund, (which, by the way, are both raising funds to help the many whose profession is the basis of many of our favorite moments. If you have a spare fiver to donate,  and know others who can, collectively you will be helping). Back to me.  

In my spiral, I ran across this clip from the Actors Fund production of SWEET CHARITY in 1997, featuring three Tony Award© winning legends, Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth, and Donna McKechnie, in one of my favorite numbers, There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This

I immediately flashed back to actually being in that audience that night. I had been in NYC for about 2 years, and my survival job at the time was being a bouncer/dj/emcee/janitor/house mother and sometimes choreographer at a strip club. 

Yes, I know it might be hard to believe, but at that time many of the older comedians that I admired had worked in a strip club in the early days of their careers.  I felt like I was following a tradition. Not to mention, who would you trust hanging out with female strippers? Lecherous straight guy or fabulous gay guy who can fight, too?

Anyway, after seeing the big event postcards in the rack (remember those?)  at a coffee shop near the strip club, I went back to the club and immediately called the Actor’s Fund and asked for ticket prices.  Cheapest ticket was $150 in the Mezzanine, but Orchestra seats started at $250, so I waited because I had to think about it, because I barely had enough for a mezz seat.  I told one of the “exotic” dancers how bummed I was, because I wanted to go as close to full out fab as I could. That dancer went back to the dressing room and told the other girls. At closing, they ALL went out of their way to tip me extra so I could afford an orchestra seat.  

When I called back the next day to order the ticket, I told the woman on the phone my whole life journey from Texas, and how much I LOVED the movie, and how I was a comedian who worked at a strip club, and how lap dancers were the modern day Taxi Dancers, including the story about the ladies and the generous tips. I know that I exhausted her.  I went to pick up the ticket and pay for it with my stripper tips because I did not have a credit card. That fabulous woman gave me a front row center seat, which was misleading, because it was Row AA. In my mind I thought it was the 27th row, after passing through the alphabet once. Imagine my surprise that night at Lincoln Center almost like Cher in MOONSTRUCK?  

Cy Coleman came out to play the overture.  The ladies from THE LIFE were singing Big Spender with Chita and Bebe.  Theater Goddess, Gwen Verdon, made her final stage appearance that night. She also fell while smoking a cigarette and hiding in Vitorio’s closet.  Dom Deluise and Charles Nelson Reilly were among the other stars on stage. Debbie Allen’s off book moment cracked up the house. Hearing someone scream, “You better work that ponytail, gurl!” as that young dancer made her entrance for the RICH MAN FRUG number.  Looking back some 23 years later, it still feels amazing.

Because I did not know where my life was taking me after that night, I marvel about how many connections to that night continued so many years later.  At that time, I had been in NYC for about 2 years still trying to figure it out. It was before 9/11, social media, and the beginning of the flip phones. After making my way around NYC as a comedian and a hospital clerk for about 10 years from that magical night, I landed a dream job of working in radio.  One of my first BIG assignments was to cover the book launch party of…..Donna McKechnie

Tony Award© Winning, Donna McKechnie's Memoir, TIME STEPS: My Musical Comedy Life

Guess who else was at that party? Bebe Neuwirth.  I know right?  It was right before they were to announce that Bebe was to return to the cast of CHICAGO in the role of Roxie Hart. Later on in my career, I also got the chance to connect with the great Chita Rivera.

Chatting with the amazing 2x Tony Award© Winner, Bebe Neuwirth.

Stage door with Chita Rivera at The Dancer's Life in 2005 holding the pic from the 1997 SWEET CHARITY
2019 Chita Rivera Award Nominee Reception with Chita Rivera

As magical as that night was, it came up again in the most unlikely of places.  My first big relationship lasted shy of 7 years, and began with a few theater conversations.  Upon spending my first night with him at his place, I saw this awesome display on his wall. It was a signed poster from that same SWEET CHARITY concert along with pics of him with some of the stars of that same night.  It was such a sweet moment to realize that we were at the very same event meeting people and possibly passed each other and not even knowing it. No matter how the relationship ended, I will never deny that theater was one of the things that made our relationship fun, and we both can admit it was a good run, and yes, we are still friends.  As this quarantine continues, it seems that I will have plenty of time to remember some really great moments involving the theatre, and I think that I will. In the meantime, do the same and if you can, please check out Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund.
Please enjoy some memories from that magical night, too.

Meeting Emmy Award© Winning Debbie Allen after 1997 SWEET CHARITY
The Original Pic from 1997 SWEET CHARTY with 2x Tony Award© Winning Chita Rivera
Dom Deluise (center), My Friend Bruce and His "friend" 1997 SWEET CHARITY
3X Tony Award© Winner, Hinton Battle, at 1997 SWEET CHARITY

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