It was nice to see the Obamas welcoming Broadway performers into the White House last week, something that used to happen more often than it has in recent years. But while watching, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some electrifying performances from years past. There was something in the pacing that was just a smidgen off, with some hairy notes and some languid interpretations of the more ebullient numbers (particularly the Hairspray finale), as though the whole affair were under rehearsed (save for the ravishing Audra McDonald who was practically perfect in every way).
This performance is one that kept popping back into my mind throughout the hour and a half I was glued to the White House live stream. Here’s Patti LuPone, accompanied by the US Marine Corps band belting out “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” from Anything Goes for then Vice President George H. W. and Barbara Bush in 1988. (Say what you will about them politically, they are ardent musical theatre fans and supporters). And suffice it to say, Ms. LuPone completely nails it.
Michael Riedel tells us today in the NY Post that Reba McEntire may be headlining a Roundabout revival of Anything Goes next season, directed by Kathleen Marshall. McEntire, who famously made her Broadway (and stage) debut in the revival of Annie Get Your Gun to rave reviews and sell-out business, winning a 2001 Theatre World Award as well as a special award from the Drama Desk. Plans to film her performance as Annie Oakley never came to fruition and instead she signed up for her long-running self-titled sitcom. There was a brief return to play Nellie Forbush in the 2005 Carnegie Hall concert of South Pacific and even talk of her returning in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (did you know that she was James Cameron’s first choice for the part of Mrs. J.J. Brown in the film Titanic but had to turn it down because of her touring schedule?). Now it looks as if she’ll take on the role of Reno Sweeney, another part originated by Ethel Merman, but also memorably essayed by Eileen Rodgers in a 1962 off-Broadway revival, Patti LuPone in a Lincoln Center revision in 1987 and Elaine Paige in the London transfer of the Lincoln Center production.
It is here that I confess muted interest. I am a fan of Reba; however, not so much of that chestnut of a show, with a some fine Cole Porter tunes but with a book of miniscule prescience and substance – and I’m referring to the 1987 rewrite! (I notoriously retitled an unusually plagued production at my college Everything Blows). There is another Merman role that I think would fit Ms. McEntire hand-to-glove: Mrs. Sally Adams in a revival of Call Me Madam. (She was legitimately born on a thousand acres of Oklahoma land. Make that seven thousand acres). Madam has only been revived in an Encores! concert with Tyne Daly and is dated in its Truman-era topicality (those phone calls about Margaret’s recitals would be obscure today, but I’m sure Lady Iris and I would be in stitches), but with the right star and personality, much like McEntire’s, it would be a good time. Just sayin’…