Monday, May 28, 2007


I was saddened to hear the news that Charles Nelson Reilly has passed away.

Anyone who watched television in the 70s and 80s knew the raucous, outlandish, over-the-top persona which Reilly projected on various variety shows, talk shows, and game shows.

But few know that his first national exposure came as an Excedrin Headache. Back in the day, the Excedrin commercials featured some harried soul or other, explaining why they acquired "Excedrin Headache #23: The Belligerent Boss", or what have you. I was too young to remember the specifics of Reilly's Excedrin Headache, but the commercial brought him to Hollywood's attention, and led to his co-starring role on "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," playing the ghost's nephew Claymore. (Sandy Duncan also gained fame as an Excedrin Headache, but that is another posting.)

Charles had already gained theatrical fame, winning a Tony Award as Bud Frump in "How to Succeed in Business without really Trying." His follow-up role, as the original Cornelius Hackle in "Hello, Dolly!", was not a terrific fit. Even in the early 60s, who could really buy Charles Nelson Reilly as a romantic lead?

He spent only a few more years in New York before heading west to LA and sitcom fame.

Charles was reportedly a terrific acting coach, and was surely a fabulous stage director, to which I can attest. I saw his production of "Gin Game" starring Charles Durning and the legendary Julie Harris (he had directed her to a Tony in the one-woman starrer, "The Belle of Amherst"), and I can attest to the fact that he was a top-notch director. (Harris was one of Reilly's close friends, dating back to their appearance together in a flop Broadway musical, "Skyscraper.")

In the early 90s, his guest starring performance on "Designing Women," playing himself, was a real hoot. The ladies from Atlanta traveled to LA to recover Alison Sugarbaker's investment in an indie film, only to find that the flick, a tender Coming of Age story, had become a biker buddy movie full of women in bikinis. "They're very popular in Turkey at the moment," explains director Reilly.

It is one of the very few really funny episodes from the lone season in which Julia Duffy replaced Delta Burke, due largely to Reilly's performance.

Over the years, he received three Emmy nominations, and was nominated for a Best Directing Tony for "The Gin Game." He clearly loved stage work (in his early career, he understudied both Dick van Dyke and Paul Lynde in "Bye Bye Birdie"), and had returned to the stage in his one-man show "Save it for the Stage: The Life of Reilly," an examination of his life and career. The show is apparently a very true document of the real Charles Nelson Reilly, and was filmed. We can only hope that the film, currently making the rounds at various festivals, finds a distributor and can be seen by a wide audience.

Rest in Peace, Charles, and please know that you afforded us countless hours of hilarious fun.


Due to a scheduling glitch, our well-reviewed production of "Opus" was dark last weekend, so we reopened for five final performances this weekend. We had tremendous word of mouth, and all our shows were full, with the last three packed even "fuller."

This is particularly gratifying because nobody goes to the theatre on Memorial Day weekend. Every other theatre in town was papering their houses, while we were turning people away.

Throughout the run, in addition to rave reviews, we were a Potomac Stages Pick, and a Best Bet from local PBS station WETA (view the recommendation here).

I can't remember the last time I worked with a troop with such a familial feeling. After every evening's performance, we gathered in the green room / kitchen to share a traditional snort or three, usually Jameson's Irish Whiskey. Each Saturday, the cast, crew, and whoever else showed up, enjoyed a family meal between shows. My Caesar Salad was a particular favorite.

Before each show, we were "slapped" by our resident make-up artist, who also played with us onstage. Carl spent a few moments creating the omni-present blister which appears on all professional violist/violinist jawlines. It was a few moments of quiet, which calmed the spirit and prepared us for the work to be done.

At the places call, the five of us raised our bows in unison, wishing "all for one, and one for all."

And we were.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I was socked in the gut yesterday when I read an unexpected email from an old buddy from my undergrad days. He had come upon an obituary published a year ago, regarding one of my most cherished friends from those days.

Jenny was a part of my life for many many years. I first met her my second year at CSUN, when she approached me out of the blue, and invited me to be a part of an upcoming one-hour version of "Cabaret" which she was choreographing. They were looking for a few good men to play a few good transvestites, as the concept (old hat these days, but back in '75, pretty daring) included both sexes as Kit-Kat girls. "Cabaret" was on my "to-do" list, so I of course agreed.

Deeply into rehearsal, the gent playing the Emcee quit (or was fired, I can't recall), and I bumped up into the role I had dreamed of playing for years.

More important than my playing my dream role, I had earned a life-long friend. Jenny and I worked together many many times in the subsequent years, both on-stage and off. She played my second wife Agnes when I attempted (with limited success) to play "George M!", and she contributed the elaborate tap choreography to the show as well. She choreographed me as Albert in "Bye Bye Birdie," and played opposite me in 'The Time of Your Life" in a tiny loft in Hollywood.

Jenny had a slightly sardonic view of life, which had not been particularly kind to her, so we all rejoiced when she met her future husband Frankie while working as a waitress at JoJo's Burgers and Brew.

They quickly formed a family, and daughter Katie was born. For several years they lived in a tract house in the Valley which Jenn inherited from her mother, as she waitressed and choreographed freelance, and Frank waitered and followed sports.

They both adored gambling, and I accompanied Jenny several times on her jaunts to Sin City. I was loathe to part with any of my hard earned cash, and after our first trip, Jenny designed a gift for me, a baseball shirt with the following lettering, reflecting the level of my betting:

I didn't get much better with subsequent trips, but Jenny and Frank put up with my cowardice. I particularly loved another gift from Jenny, another baseball shirt with the following lettering on the front.

The shirt is a bit misleading until you read the single word printed on the back: PLUM.

When playing the slot machines, when the first panel hits BAR, a slight tingling of excitement can be felt. When the second panel hits BAR, excitement mounts, as you imagine what you will do with your astronomical winnings when the third panel hits BAR. However, when the third panel instead hits PLUM, you've lost.

This pretty much summed up Jenny's view of life.

My last contact with my old friend was via email at least 8 years ago. She had moved to Vegas with her family, which included 3 kids by that time, and began a career as a card dealer. Once I left LA in 1993, we effectively lost touch, but she has remained important in my heart.

It's awkwardly upsetting to be grieving for someone who's been gone for a year, but to me, I have just now lost a cherished friend.

I will remember you forever, Jenny, as my funny friend with the unexpectedly big laugh, the open hearted compassion, and the slyly skewed view of the world.

My life is not the same with the knowledge that you are gone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I suppose it is always sad when someone dies, but I can't in good conscience grieve long for the loss of one of the bigots whose teachings and preachings helped create the hugely polarized American political landscape of today. I never liked his politics or his extremist religious views, though he of course had the right to have them, and to express them (a right he would quickly deny me).

But when he blamed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on liberals, feminists, and gays, he surely lost any credibility he may have gained during those fateful Reagan years, when his Moral Majority dined on the carcass of basic humanity and democratic thinking.

The executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said it better than I could: "Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."

I hope, in death, he finds a peace he denied millions and millions of Americans during his life.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Doing the Happy Dance

Around here, the Happy Dance happens only when yours truly snags work. I have had more than my share of loooooong periods without the dance, so I tend to revel when I'm dancing lots. This year has found me dancing like there's no tomorrow.

It all began last October, when I was asked, at the very last minute, to fill in for an actor who had suddenly withdrawn from "Black Coffee" at Wayside Theatre, only a week before rehearsals began. It was my first time out at Wayside, and I had a lovely time.

Overlapping with Black Coffee was a silly little Christmas show based on the British Panto tradition. In other words, the male roles were played by women, and the female roles by men. The conceit concerned a group of amateur actors putting on A Christmas Carol, with little success. The production had little success, too, but was fun when we had a nice receptive audience (about twice during the four week run).

I had a month or so before beginning the current stint in the Shear Madness second company.

Overlapping with Shear, I've been privileged to be a part of "Opus" at the Washington Stage Guild, one of the prestige productions of the moment in DC.
Yep, I've been Happy Dancing for quite a while now, even as I complain about lack of personal time, lack of sleep, and various other lacks.
I am pleased that more Happy Dancing is, pardon the pun, afoot.
I have been compared to the late great Paul Lynde throughout my career, and I am now honored to attempt the role that put him on the map. I've just been cast as Harry Macafee in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre production of "Bye Bye Birdie."