At 54 Below, Sherie Rene Scott’s “Piece of Meat” was a whimsically diverting account of her highly varied obsessions.
BY DAVID NOH: Sandy might have brought New York City to its knees, but nothing but nothing stops a show queen like me from sniffing out a good story. Ebullient triple threat actor Eddie Korbich recently enthused to me about appearing in the soon-to-open “A Christmas Story”: “It’s an iconic role in an iconic piece, the whole ho ho ho drunken Santa Claus, and I m so excited to be doing this. We just started staging it yesterday, and evidently I’m on this big piece that’s going to resemble a huge sleigh with a sliding board I go down with a bunch of elves. It’s a magical piece.
“I watch the film so much every year. I grew up with ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’ and it came out after I was out of college, involved with getting my own life started, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I revisited it a few years later and totally got everything, especially Melinda Dillon, who I’d only known from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and discovered later that she was the original Honey in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.’ Then I started quoting lines from it, and it became a part of my life. I understudy the Darren McGavin part of the old man, and when I mentioned that to my daughter, she said, ‘Don’t say that. That’s a mean thing to say.’ But that’s how he’s referred to in the play. I said, ‘I’m sorry, honey.’ She’s ten, in all her ten gloriousness.”
Korbich’s mention of his daughter led to a story that is a classic case of turning life’s lemons into lemonade. It all started when he was cast in the noted Broadway flop, “Seussical.”
“I never had to audition for that, a wonderful actor’s validation. They said, ‘We want you as the Onceler and you have a big number called ‘The Lorax.’ During our tryout in Boston, they said, ‘We don‘t think the number‘s working. We’re gonna chop it down from 12 to five minutes.’”
The number was eventually cut entirely, and Korbich finally got the call he was dreading: “We are not going to do it, and you are welcome to leave the show because the reason you were hired is no longer here.” He recalled, “I told them, ‘I put my heart and soul in this for a year. Can I at least open it and make the cast album?‘ It was November and we agreed that I would stay through the first of the year.
“Then, Rosie O’Donnell came in to play the Cat in the Hat, and the stage manager said, ‘We’ve been so busy putting her into the show, we haven’t had time to audition your replacement. Can you give us another week?’ [Cast members] Mary Ann Lamb and darling, sweet Ann Harada also accosted me in the most loving way, saying, ‘Why don’t you stay for the whole time with Rosie, and go out on this big high?’ Because it was an extraordinary moment when her fans came, flooding the front of the stage with cameras, and I got to be a part of that.
“I found her unapproachable and was not going to encroach on her world. But one day, she was sitting at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on the stairwell, waiting for her next entrance, and I was making a costume change, and she said, ‘How you doin’, doll? I got up the courage to say, ‘Hi. Can I ask you a question?’ and I saw her prepare herself. ‘My lover and I have been looking to adopt a child and were just wondering if you could give us any advice.’ She said, ‘My adoption lawyer is coming in two days, and I will introduce her to you.’ And there you go.
“Through her participation, we got our daughter, Alex, and when she was born we got a huge box from her from Baby Gap — three years’ worth of clothes, hundreds of everything from onesies almost up to age three. So, the most challenging part of my professional life — losing a number in the show — became the most magnificent part of my personal life.”
Eddie Korbich is set to play a drunken Santa in “A Christmas Story.”
Korbich grew up a 100 percent Ukrainian Roman Catholic altar boy: “I was an adopted kid myself, born in DC and then taken to Shamoken, Pennsylvania. I went through all the crap that goes along with Catholicism and being gay and am still going through it, trying to figure it out. I don’t care if anyone says they’re a lapsed Catholic. You will always be Catholic. I can say all the prayers in English and Ukrainian and love the culture, but I cannot agree with the mandates handed down because now I’m living my life. But I’m still very spiritual, every single day. I was 31 in 1992, and saw all the hardcore AIDS activism by Larry Kramer and others, and thought I was a coward because I didn’t get involved, wasn’t willing to go to jail. I was doing ‘The Gift of the Magi’ and fell in love that summer with two completely unattainable men already in relationships. I was in my little Queens apartment one day and it struck me, ‘Dear God, are you trying to tell me I’m gay?,’ and the weight of the world fell off my shoulders.”
Two days later, a friend of Korbich’s asked him to see him make his New York stage debut at the Promenade Theater: “I went and, seriously, the first person came onstage as the narrator, and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s cute.’ Cut to the chase: I called him the next day and asked for a date, and we saw each other every day until he had to go away to a job, and this November, will be 20 years together. His name is Andy Leach and, ironically, that show was his last as an actor. He went into directing and teaching and is magical at it. I was in Florida, doing a show, and we would take our daughter to Gymboree there. We got a phone call at home one day from her Gymboree teacher, crying and saying, ‘I just want you to know, I’ve been a Republican all my life, but I just voted Democratic for the very first time because I met you and I’ve seen what love you have for this family. I thought, ‘We don t have to do anything but be a strong family because by our existence we are activists.’”
Two Broadway divas recently offered wildly contrasting shows at 54 Below. Sherie Rene Scott’s “Piece of Meat” (October 19) delivered a whimsically diverting account of her highly varied obsessions, ranging from her lapsed vegetarianism to personal icons like the Dalai Lama and Paul McCartney. Through it all, her smoking musical chops and ineffable timing (part Lisa Kudrow, part Jean Arthur, but all her) blazed through, and it was great to hear her renditions of such California classics as Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” and Linda Ronstadt’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” which took me directly back to my pot-perfumed, Sangria-sipping USC days, cutting classes from being hung over after late nights at the Troubadour and such.
Mary Testa, a very political, intellectual Ethel Merman, performed an ambitiously challenging show, with few nods to the Great American Songbook.
Mary Testa (October 21), with her huge belting voice and dynamic presence, proved herself something of a very political, intellectual Ethel Merman. Accompanied by Michael Starobin, hers was an ambitiously challenging show, with few nods to the Great American Songbook, apart from “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and a searing “If I Loved You” (surprisingly paired with Bjork’s “Unravel”). There was a lot of electronic musical enhancement, rare in cabaret rooms, but things got very basic during William Finn’s “Change, in which we were all asked to shake plastic containers filled with pennies that had been provided at each table. Finn, in the audience, beamed approvingly.
Watching the latest “Anna Karenina,” I was struck by how rarely this truly great woman character has been portrayed well on screen — despite all the famous actresses who have attempted it. Jacqueline Bisset, Sophie Marceau, Vivien Leigh, and Garbo all had a whack at her, with less than transcendent results. Leigh’s 1948 version was sumptuously Cecil Beaton-designed, but, although seemingly perfectly cast, she lacked a necessary all-consuming passion, somehow too sensible throughout to really be convincing. Garbo — another supposedly perfect choice — made a silent and sound version, with the first, directed by Edmund Goulding, decidedly better. Her 1935 Adrian-gowned Anna seemed as heavy as the barge toted upstream by that famed Volga boatmen.
The current interpretation features Joe Wright’s overly fancy and stylized, sub-Baz Luhrman direction. Wright tiresomely stages it like a play, its artificiality a constant distraction from any emotional or dramatic involvement. Keira Knightley, way too thin emotionally, can be exquisite at moments, but she desperately needs to learn the value of repose, as she is usually far too busy in the face and forever fluttering about the elaborate sets like a hummingbird in heat.
She’s not helped by the fact that her lover Vronsky is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is far more beautiful than she. With his looks buried here, Jude Law, who once might have made the perfect Vronsky, gives the most interesting performance, as Anna s cuckolded husband. I was reminded how often actors playing this role — Basil Rathbone, Ralph Richardson — have stolen the show, making it more the story of Karenin than Karenina.