Farewell Matron Mama Morton!
It seems like only yesterday that I first met Marcia Lewis at a Las Vegas rehearsal of Chicago. I was watching the cast rehearse for the press preview the following day. When they were finished Marcia walked up to me and Riva Rice, whom I was chatting with, and said, "One of you must be V.J." And that was the beginning of a new friendship.
We did an interview for Talkin' Broadway and at the end of that chat Marcia said something about getting a computer and learning how to get e-mail. We concluded with a promise to do so and also do lunch while she would be here.
Well, Chicago did open in Las Vegas several months ago starring Chita Rivera, Ute Lemper, Marcia, Ben Vereen and Ernie Sabella. The show received great reviews and continues on. Chita, originally scheduled through August, left a month early and heads to the London production. Stephanie Pope took over for Ute Lemper when she left in May and now Marilu Henner has taken over for Chita. It's kind of hard following the cast changes, but tonight marks the last performance for Marcia and Stephanie.
Marcia heads back to Broadway and Stephanie goes intro rehearsals for Fosse. Roz Ryan will take over for Marcia in Las Vegas and Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, coming from the Broadway production, will be the new Velma. And before you blink an eye, Marilu and Mamie will be replaced in August by Charlotte D A'mboise and Jasmine Guy. Hal Linden will also be replacing Ben Vereen. Ernie Sabella is heading back to New York too and ensemble member Darren Lee is leaving to do Kiss Me Kate on Broadway. Anyhow, it's a lot of fun following the Chicago shuffle. But I'll really miss Marcia Lewis.
In the four months or so that she did the show we did get together frequently for lunch or dinner and yes, we also did some shopping for a computer. Good friend, Devin Ewell, became Marcia's computer teacher and in a short time Marcia was surfin' the Web and zipping off e-mails. And during all this we shared many theatre stories and had a lot of laughs, but all good things must come to an end. Come with me to Marcia's final performance at the Mandalay Bay and then we'll head over to the party for Marcia and Stephanie given by Marilu Henner.
The Performance: The Mandalay Bay theater is quite an affair. It's austere but gorgeous, however, in that hall can come some rather crazy theater-goers. Some come with cowboy hats and a cans of beer! But this night was different. The place was packed and everyone was on time. As the house lights went dim and the opening number was performed, something strange happened, the audience applauded moreso than I had ever heard them before. My god! A real theater audience. Now, I've seen Chicago countless times since 1975 and when you have an audience that is a bit electric I know how the cast can respond. And wow, did they ever respond tonight; making this one of the best nights I've ever spent in the theater. Each number was received with thunderous applause.
Still, I was really there for Marcia. She made her entrance and did her first few lines. Some guy in the front row was so taken with her he yelled out "Yo Mama!" Well, Marcia Lewis felt that electricity in the audience and as a result she let "When You're Good To Mama" just rip! She always sings it good but tonight she belted it out and knocked the audience for a loop. There was so much applause and cheering that it stopped the show. The orchestra leader looked at her; Stephanie Pope looked at her and I thought Marcia was going to break out laughing. After this pause the cast knew they had the audience in the palm of their hands and they all let it rip as we all went for a ride to hell in a handbasket!
Marilu Henner, doing the role of Roxie, does a terrific job and Stephanie Pope, as Velma, was simply amazing. During "I Can't Do It Alone" the cast surprised her with a quick cheer from the sidelines, startling her, and almost cracking her up. This was her final night too and she was red hot.
"Class", the duet with Marcia and Stephanie in Act Two, had the audience rolling. Both of them pushed the number to the limits. When you're doing comedy and you have an audience with you, the limits of how far you can go are dictated by that audience, and this audience said 'give us more' and boy did they ever! When Marcia sang the line, "Jesus Christ...ain't there no decency left?", I thought I would split a gut. The phrasing was just at the edge of being over the top but not quite. She knew how far to go as did Stephanie. The audience ate it up.
Ben Vereen is now in command of the role of Billy Flynn, and Ernie Sabella was just his amazing self. Mary Sunshine was also a crowd pleaser as well as the terrific ensemble of dancers. The Las Vegas cast of Chicago has nothing to envy on Broadway. They are that good. The curtain call was just one cheer after another as the audience stood. What an exit for Marcia Lewis and Stephanie Pope!
The Party: Marilu Henner is a party girl! And what I mean is that Marilu knows how to throw one helluva party. She's the hostess with the mostes'.
After the show, we met Marcia backstage and walked over to the restaurant where Marilu was throwing the party. It was outdoors/indoors with a patio for dancing around the pool. All kinds of booze was flowing, which was needed after eating the spicy Mexican food. Along the way, Marcia introduced me to Clint who had caught up with us. "Hi, nice to meet you." Dumb, I know, but how was I to know it was Clint Holms who's headlining in Las Vegas. Marcia later told me, "Oh you have to go see him. He's just great. Chita and I loved his show. We cried our eyes out. He's just phenomenal."
Well, the swells were everywhere, and I'm not going to drop any more names than I have to, but imagine a dance floor filled with the dancers of Chicago doing more pelvic thrusts than a normal heart can take. And who is leading them, none other than Marilu herself. She and dancer, Dan LoBuono, did the meanest and sexiest Macarena I've ever seen.
During a quick break from dancing Marilu came over and we chatted. She's just simply so nice. Her 3 and 5 year old sons were on the dance floor too! It's in the genes.
A few weeks ago I had said to Marcia after seeing the show yet again, "There's a new gal in the chorus; she's terrific. I mean, she can dance, plays Go To Hell Kitty. Who is she?" "Oh, that's Sandahl Bergman. She is terrific. Y'know, she was in the film "All That Jazz." "I'd love to meet her sometime." Marcia introduced me to Sandahl, and she reminded me of a younger version of Marcia, tough, but oh so delicously sweet.
It went on and on but I kept looking for Mamie Duncan-Gibbs since we just published an interview with her, but alas, nowhere to be found. Mamie goes into the show on Tuesday. Into the wee hours we went just telling stories and talking to friends. I didn't know Marcia had played Mama Rose in Gypsy so I had to hear about that. And then I asked her to tell us about when Mamie had to learn Velma in 24 hours when both Bebe and Ann were injured in New York. And Marcia tells it so beautifully. "So Walter Bobbie asks 'Can anyone here play Velma?' And Mamie raises her hand and says, 'I can.' She didn't know the role or the dancing but she learned it in 24 hours. Mamie is just so amazing. She's got more talent in her one arm than some have in their entire bodies."
To say the least it was a fun night and a great party. Marcia got up and made the rounds to say goodbyes. I watched the dance floor as Marilu was now barefoot and dancing up a storm to "Born To Be Alive." Stephanie Pope was also cutting a mean rug. I met Marcia at the buffet where we had a Brownie. "Y'know, Mamie is here", says she.
"C'mon, I'll introduce you." And there she was, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs. I, of course, love her and am gaga. To me, Mamie is the best Velma Kelly since Chita Rivera originated the role in 1975 and I published that about a year ago. Well, Mamie was so nice, and goodness, somehow she had read a copy of that article. We just chatted like old friends. Another lovely, lovely person. I knew that though.
Next to her was this absolutely gorgeous woman, a dancer in Chicago. I said, "You look like the gal who won Star Search a few years ago." Mamie laughs and says, "She did. That's her." Wendy Edmead laughed and said, "Yes, that's me. Only I'm better." "That's right" says I, "I thought you were so much better than Sam Harris!"
We walked Matron Mama Morton back to her hotel and called it a night. And it had been quite a night. Sad in a way, though, as Marcia Lewis walked into my life a few months ago and now I had to let her go. I don't warm up to people easily, but I knew the moment I met Marcia that she was the real thing. We hugged and promised to talk and e-mail, but I just know I've got to get to the Shubert Theater in New York. I gotta hear her sing "When You're Good To Mama" just one more time.
See you next Sunday!
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