Lee Roy Reams in his home, with his rendering by Al Hirschfeld. | DAVID NOH
We all know about Broadway triple threats, but the glorious musical veteran Lee Roy Reams is a quadruple — not only does he sing, dance, and act, he also happens to be maybe the greatest theatrical raconteur ever. Having adored him onstage for his talent and off for his effervescent, ever-friendly vibe, I knew he would be one hell of an interview when I rang the bell of his enchanting, antiques and memorabilia-filled Upper West Side brownstone. I emerged from it, a lightning-fast four hours later, my head positively buzzing with the rich bounty of reminiscences and trenchant theatrical observations he shared.
Reams will be at 54 Below on November 10 with a new show, “My 40th Birthday” (254 W. 54th St., 9:30 p.m.; 54below.com), and he described it this way: “It’s a recreation of that particular event in my life. Producer George-Paul Roselle used to hire me and Liliane Montevecchi to do shows at Studio 54. We’d be there at least twice a week, covering our ears because the music was so deafening. Then the music would stop and we’d do our show, but everyone was so stoned they didn’t know what the hell we were doing. Roselle got another account at the Palace, which was in the old Luchow’s, and asked me to help him with its opening. I said, ‘It’s on August 25? That’s my 40th birthday!’
“So George-Paul said, ‘I’ll throw a party for you,’ and all of Broadway came — Ann Miller, who was doing ‘Sugar Babies,’ Maureen McGovern from ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ Peggy Cass was the hostess. He asked what I wanted for my birthday and I said, ‘No presents, but what I would like to do is have the four living Broadway composers I’ve worked with play the piano while I sing their songs. Cy Coleman, Jule Styne, Jerry Herman, and Charles Strouse, who will probably come on the 10th.
“I’m going to talk about that night in my show and do the songs I sang. It’s a selfish thing for me to do, but it was a very happy time in my life and I love celebrating what you do. As a kid in Covington, Kentucky, my mother was smart enough to put me in dancing school. I always knew I was going to come to New York and be in the theater, from the time I was 12 in my very first musical, ‘Finian’s Rainbow,’ for the Newport Catholic Actors Guild.”
The ultimate song, dance, and dish man; Marie & Catherine
Absolutely nobody dishes the dirt like Reams, and he is an endless font of anecdotes about everyone’s two favorite subjects, divas and — ahem — dick, with the two topics often deliciously combined in one story.
“My first job was with Juliet Prowse, playing the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel, where we stayed. I’m a kid from Kentucky and it was just an old hotel with chandeliers to me. When people asked where I was staying, I’d say, ‘The Plaza,’ and they’d look at me funny, so word got around town that I was this little Southern boy who came to New York to be in show biz and his mommy and daddy put him up at the Plaza. I didn’t know that until years later.
“Sal Mineo and Juliet were having an affair, having met doing the movie ‘Who Killed Teddy Bear?’ He was staying at the Americana because I guess she didn’t want him around all the time. One morning, I found this note from him saying, ‘I hope you’ll join me and Juliet for supper after the show.’ I called him and said, ‘Sal, unfortunately, I’d gone to bed early and got your message too late.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you get dressed and come over here and we’ll have breakfast?’
“I go over there and ring from the lobby, ‘Hi, I’m here.’ He said, ‘I’m not quite dressed yet. Come up.’
“He’s wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around him, which gave me pause. We start talking and he said, ‘I’m having some coffee sent up before we go to breakfast.’ And he starts rubbing himself and I thought, ‘Oh, no!’ He said, ‘You know, I really like to watch you dance. You’re like watching a racehorse at the Kentucky Derby. Juliet’s sexy but I’m telling you when you’re out there I can’t take my eyes off you.’ Still rubbing. Then he comes over, drops the towel with half a hard-on and gives me a kiss with that mouth. Baby!
“I said, ‘Sal, I’m very flattered but we have to have breakfast.’ Honey, I’m not fucking the boss’ boyfriend, not getting in the middle of that! We had breakfast and I never saw him again. But he was hot!”
Here’s a real classic Reams remembrance: “We were going to the opening of Lauren Bacall’s ‘Woman of the Year’: me, Carole Cook, Bob [Donahoe, Ream’s longtime life partner], and Ethel Merman. It was the hottest August Sunday, and the limo arrived, driven by an East Indian guy who couldn’t speak English. It was filthy, like someone had been fucking a bunch of ducks in the back seat, and Bob made the driver get out and clean it. No air conditioning.
“We’re going to pick up Ethel and the traffic is horrendous. On a Sunday? We realize it’s the Puerto Rican Day Parade and we can’t go through the park, so we have to drive up to 125th Street and back down to get Ethel on Madison. By now, it’s quarter to seven and the curtain is at seven. My tuxedo shirt is soaked through and I run to Ethel’s building and ring her from the front desk.
“I didn’t even say hello, before she said, ‘Don’t say another say another word! Those goddamned spics have been beatin’ those fuckin’ drums since 6 o’clock this morning! I’ll be right down!’ Click.
“She comes down in a lime green chiffon gown, hair all teased up, eyelashes beaded. We pull up to the Palace Theater 10 minutes after seven, no one in the lobby and, sweating like pigs, we get to our seats just as the overture starts. We’re finally getting relaxed, the curtain goes up and there’s Bacall, looking fabulous, as they sing the first song. As they finish, she gets the tag line [here Reams did her tone-deaf basso profundo]: ‘I’m woman of the year!’
And Merman went, ‘Jesus!’ with her hands over her ears. She said it that loudly and everybody got whiplash turning around to look at her, and I wanted to just die. Next thing, Harry Guardino enters onstage and Bacall looks at him with dropped jaw. Merman hits me, ‘That’s the “goon” look, honey! They call that the “goon” look! I did it in “Annie Get Your Gun!” I’ve already done that!’ Harry sings the love song and she said, ‘That’s the only fuckin’ song in the score! All the rest are a piece of shit!’
The show’s finally over, and instead of going to the party Ethel wants to go to Sardi’s for a drink. We got to the party late, and of course Bacall said to me, ‘Well, where the fuck have you been?’ ‘I’m with Ethel Merman, darling. You tell her she can’t have a drink after the show!’ And then Merman looked at Bob and said, ‘Come on, honey, let’s you and me get out of here!” She was wanting Bob, and I said, ‘Carole, we need to send Ethel home.’ Boy, what a night that was, her commenting through the whole fuckin’ shown with that voice of hers. One man turned around and said, ‘Ethel, I loved your humming.’ ‘Thanks honey! Nice to see you!’ and she hit him on the back.”
For more of the fabulous same, come to 54 on the November 10.
Catherine Ricafort may be headed to Broadway after a standout performance in Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” at the Paper Mill. | CATHERINERICAFORT.COM
The fall season has started, bringing two marvelous shows. The first, David Adjmi’s “Marie Antoinette,” at the Soho Rep, is a quite brilliant, hilariously droll, and deeply moving evocation of my all-time favorite historical figure (46 Walker St. btwn. Church St. & Broadway, through Nov. 24; sohorep.org). Pay no attention to Ben Brantley’s clueless New York Times pan, this show is dazzlingly good, magically if minimally staged, and in terms of a marvelously modern meta retelling of history achieves everything that Sofia Coppola’s movie so desperately strived for. The superbly abrasive, virtuosic Marin Ireland, so miscast in Odets’ “The Big Knife,” utterly redeems herself here with possibly the year’s strongest stage performance.
Brantley — thank heaven — did have the good sense to praise Paper Mill Playhouse’s just-closed “Honeymoon in Vegas,” for a Times rave makes its so-deserved Broadway transfer a definite possibility. This wonderfully entertaining romp thankfully reminds us of what the term musical comedy really, means, having become an almost avant-garde concept these days, with shows so laden with preachy message and artsy-fartsy reach. A bright new standout in the show’s charming cast is Catherine Ricafort, who plays Mahi, a Hawaiian would-be temptress who tries to lead the leading man (the always terrific Rob McClure) astray in Paradise.
California-born Filipina Ricafort, who studied engineering at the University of Southern California, ebullient with her first important chance on stage, told me, “[Composer] Jason Robert Brown and [book writer] Andrew Bergman have been working on this for 10 years. I feel so lucky this project came to fruition at the time when I was ready to do it because 10 years ago I was still in high school and not ready for anything like this. They let me bring a lot of myself to the character. I’ve now matured into a young adult here in the city, but with Mahi, I get to bring back some of the friskiness of my younger days at USC, a party school. I channel this girl who loves to have fun and conquer an evening by seeing which boys she can reel in and then let dangle. I had a lot of experience to draw from. I hope my dad doesn’t read this [laughs]!
“In the movie this show’s based upon, my part was originally a man, played by Pat Morita — Mr. Miyagi! They changed that early on, as they were writing the script. They thought, ‘We’re all so sick of all these dudes in the show. Let’s change it up!’ And it was cool that I didn’t have to live up to some previous actress’ take on the role and could do my own thing.
“We’re closing after a very successful three-week run, and it’s bittersweet because it’s been a bigger hit than we ever imagined. We don’t know when or if Broadway will happen. I think it will because we have the right people interested in it. Now it’s just finding a theater, and we’re all praying it will happen sooner rather than later so as not to lose the momentum and the synergy of this cast.
“I know there is always the risk that if we transfer, there may be recasting, for maybe bigger names, but I hope they keep me, and, anyway, we have a name and that is Tony Danza. He’s having this wonderful resurgence, even sexier and showing more of his talent. There are so many ladies lined up waiting to see him every night. He’s so charming, and the energy comes from the top down with him and Rob, who are not divas but get right down with all of us in the dirt. When someone I think in the Times wrote about Tony being like Sinatra, he cried a little bit and kept telling everyone, ‘You know, if my mother hadn’t died and she saw that, that would have killed her!’”