Monday, April 29, 2013
Audrey Landers and Shirley Jones shine at fundraiser for Dallas Rape Crisis Center
The women's performances were nothing short of spectacular.
DALLAS When I created and founded The Column almost 20 years ago now, never in my wildest dreams did I foresee what the creation of this publication would do for me. I had no clue how powerful the internet was. Outside of my inner circle of friends, I honestly didn’t think anyone would read my theater reviews. Talk about being completely wrong!
I wasn’t prepared for the rapid growth that this publication started to generate. From 20 assorted friends at the beginning, it now has close to 27,000 subscribers worldwide. When I first started, it was just me as the sole theater critic. Today The Column is now the only publication with a staff of 30 Theater critics to cover the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
One of the greatest joys of creating this publication was the doors that it opened for me. I started to interview huge stars of Broadway, film, and television. Including my idol and inspiration to become an actor, Tony Award winner/Broadway legend Chita Rivera. Who today I can’t believe I can call a friend! Surreal!
I also became friends with so many performers who have or are currently in Broadway shows because of The Column. I also have been invited to attend so many grand, extravagant events that I never would have been asked to had it not been for The Column. Opening night parties of national tours, private parties for celebrities, film festivals, fundraisers, galas (like the Dallas Curtain Call gala), and on and on. This past Friday was such another event, where I met one of the greatest legends of Film, TV, and stage.
This past Friday night I attended a special Fundraising Gala benefiting the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (DARCC). I was personally invited by its Chairperson, TV talk show/actress Nicole Barrett. Performing that night would be TV/stage/film star Audrey Landers and Academy Award winner Shirley Jones.
As my guest I took one of my best friends, Jim Sullivan. If you know me, you know my idol and inspiration is Chita Rivera. Well, Shirley Jones is that for Jim. He just loves her so much, so I knew he would be the perfect guest.
The gala was held in the exquisite Venetian ballroom at the Fairmount Hotel in the heart of downtown Dallas. Surrounding us in the foyer were ladies dressed in elegant gowns & cocktail dresses, while the men in suit & tie or black Tux. Champagne was served before the event began.
We were ushered into the ballroom, which I have never been in. It was a beautiful ballroom with two levels. In its center was a small stage that had a gold scalloped curtain upstage. On this stage was already a four piece combo band. The walls were covered in copper/gold wallpaper. The chairs around the tables had ornate patterned cushions with gold trim. Gold candelabras were on the walls to give the room a warm, honey dew aura. I did feel though that the room did remind me of the ballroom in the 1972 disaster film The Poseidon Adventure. I turned to Jim and whispered, “If I see a Christmas tree or Shelley Winters, we are OUTTA here!”
Nicole Barrett came on stage and welcomed the guests, did introductions and thank yous to the various chairpersons, committee members and discussed what DARCC was all about. Ms. Barrett looked beautiful in a gown of lavender satin that was covered in a beaded black lace overlay.
Ms. Barrett then introduced our first performer, Audrey Landers. She is best known for her role as Afton Cooper in the original television drama series Dallas, and her role as Val Clarke in the film version of A Chorus Line where she sang that great song "T&A.”
Dressed in a dark purple sequined gown & wrapped around her was a red plush feather boa. She sang several songs and had a chit-chat with the audience. Ms. Launders still oozes sex appeal as several of her songs poured sensuality and va-va-voom sass. She has a soprano voice that fit her song selections like an arm length satin glove. She toyed with the audience about her Dallas days and brought up a great fact. She is the only mistress of JR (the late Larry Hagman) who dumped JR! Usually he would throw away his conquests like tissue paper, but not Afton (Landers), she was the one who dumped the powerful oil millionaire. Landers was greatly entertaining, both in her vocals and rapport with the audience.
Next up was local TV legend Bobbie Wygant who was asked to introduce Shirley Jones. I have always called Ms. Wygant the “Mary Hart of DFW TV.” She has interviewed every star, from the golden age of Hollywood to today’s current crop of celebrities. In person she was as sweet as ever. I’ve had the delightful pleasure to get to know her over the years as our paths have crossed so many times at opening night events and press junkets. I have the utmost respect for her. She gave a loving, entertaining introduction for Ms. Jones.
When Ms. Jones entered the ballroom, the audience immediately rose to their feet. She was dressed in a cornflower blue pantsuit, but the jacket was a shimmering sea of blue/green iridescent sequins, and in the center a diamond broche. For the next hour Ms. Jones took us on a very moving, at times hysterical journey of her career and personal life. She still possesses that sublime soprano voice that we have grown to love from her work on stage, TV, and film.
She sang songs from her most famous movie musicals: Oklahoma!, The Music Man, and Carousel. Each song brought into your mind those iconic films she starred in. It was surreal to wrap your mind that inches from you was the celluloid versions of Laurey, Marian Paroo, and Julie Jordan. That before me was an Oscar winner who also played the mom on the major TV smash hit, The Partridge Family.
Every song she sang was a sweet, melodious, memorable number. She even did a little hint of the theme song from her iconic TV series, The Partridge Family. One of my favorite songs she performed that evening was “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music.
She told the audience after she saw the show (the original production on Broadway), she told Stephen Sondheim how much she loved the show and in particular that song, he told her, “Oh Shirley that song is awful, but I had to do something there for the character. People won’t like it.” Ms. Jones slyly looks into the audience and with perfect comedic timing said, “How wrong was he?!”
Ms. Jones really peeled into the layers of the lyrics of this classic Sondheim song to give the subtext a layer of heart breaking melancholy. You could feel the room feel each haunting lyric. The arrangement was also slightly differently in that it gave her the opportunity to go instead to her higher vocal register to end the song (instead of the low alto note it normally ends with). The audience erupted into loud applause and cheers. Her song selection for the entire evening was a glitzy bauble of gorgeous vocal finesse.
She told the audience a very funny story about how when she was pregnant with her son Patrick Cassidy while filming The Music Man. She took to lunch her director Morton DaCosta and broke the news to him. He begged her not to tell anyone and that they will film her from the waist up as much as possible. She didn’t show though on film. Ms. Jones, with the audience now fully engrossed into her story, brings up the one kiss that Harold Hill (Robert Preston) and Marian have, which is the foot bridge scene. She physically showed the audience as they were about to kiss, Preston yanked back in horror and said (pointing to her stomach); “What the hell was that?” Apparently baby Patrick kicked right at that moment!
Jones said years later in life, she, Preston, and Patrick were all performing at a big gala. Patrick told her he was going to introduce himself to Mr. Preston as they have never met. He knocked on Mr. Preston’s dressing room, walked in and introduced himself to Preston, who again yanked back with his arms up and said, “Oh we have already met before!” LOL.
Fun side fact here: I am actually friends with Patrick Cassidy. I conducted an interview with him in his dressing room when he was performing as “Julian Marsh” in the Broadway revival of 42nd Street. It was really a very insightful, fantastic interview. We really connected in that interview and have stayed friends since! I had told him earlier this week that I was seeing his mother perform, he told me to make sure to tell her hi for him!
Ms. Jones revealed to the audience that she and her son Patrick will be doing a concert tour of The Music Man next year! She joked, “Oh I’m not Marian! Don’t be silly. I’ll be Mrs. Paroo and Patrick is Harold”. She also revealed that she has written an autobiography that will be published in July.
She went to share with the audience about her years in Hollywood. Remember, she won the Academy Award for her role in the film, Elmer Gantry. She told us, “I was at the bottom of the totem pole with those other ladies nominated. I had no chance of winning. Everyone was saying Janet Leigh for Psycho would win.” But it would be Jones who would take home the gold statuette.
She said that she’s always asked who the best kisser within her co-stars on film was. She listed a group of major film stars that she has kissed on screen, but in the end it would be her Elmer Gantry co-star Burt Lancaster who was the winner as best kisser.
Jones told the audience that she loved and missed her years during the golden age of Hollywood. That it’s not the same as it is today. I agree. She was there in the best years of Hollywood. Not the fast food rapid tabloid world of celebrity we live in today. Jones said, “I never slept with my co-stars.” Then took a beat, looked at the audience and purred, “I slept with other men, but never my co-stars!” The audience howled on that line!
Then she told us a great story about her first audition. She was on vacation with her parents in New York and for the hell of it went to open casting call held by John Fearnley, the casting director for all of the musicals composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein (who Jones at time never heard of). After she sang, Fearnley was so impressed that he took Jones across the street to the theater where Richard Rodgers was rehearsing with the City Center orchestra. They were in rehearsal for Oklahoma.
Jones sang for Rogers. He told her to please wait in the lobby. He called Hammerstein at home and told him to get to the theater now. Hammerstein arrived. But during that time Jones friend who played the piano at her audition had to leave. Jones was now in front of both R&H on stage!
Hammerstein asked if she knew the songs from Oklahoma. She said she heard some of the songs but did not know them from heart. Jones tells us the audience, “Imagine that. You telling the lyricist you didn’t know his lyrics!” So Hammerstein gives her the score. But she then tells them that her pianist had to leave. Rogers says, “That’s okay. The City Center orchestra has been working on the score. So you’ll sing with them.” Imagine that! Your first ever Broadway audition is in front of Rogers & Hammerstein and not with just a piano-but a full orchestra! Talk about pressure! But she sang three of Laurey’s solos clutching the score for dear life.
This audition showed these two masters the great potential in Jones. She became the first and only singer to be put under personal contract with the songwriters. From that audition Jones told the audience she was cast in a minor role in South Pacific, then in the ensemble of R&H’s next Broadway musical, Me and Juliet. Then came the film version of Oklahoma. The rest, as they say, is history!
She finished the night with an encore performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, which she dedicated to all those who have been afflicted by rape. It was a very moving tribute.
The guests were then invited to meet and greet Ms. Jones in the foyer. As we started to exit the ballroom, Audrey Landers came up on stage. I had a chance and took it. We waited when she was free and took pictures with her. We also met her mother!
There in the foyer an ocean of people were around Shirley Jones. But then we finally got to her! Even up close, you could see how beautiful she still looked. I became so nervous. I told her what a true and incredible honor it was to meet her and thanked her for her amazing and legendary contributions to the American Musical. She replied, “Oh aren’t you a sweet boy, thank you.” I then said, “I actually have met and interviewed your son Patrick when he was on Broadway in 42nd Street.” Her eyes sparkled at that comment and said, “Oh my! Well you know I did that show with him on Broadway!” I giggled and responded, “I know! Patrick actually said you were in your dressing room resting!” I told her that Patrick told me to make sure to say hi for him. She let out the sweetest giggle, pulled me in for a hug and said, “Well did I raise a good son or what?” We both laughed. In my head my brain is screaming, “Shirley Jones is hugging you!!!” The pictures included here show this moment.
Jim the met her and I could see his eyes beam with great joy. He was so excited in meeting his idol! We thanked her again so much (there was a HUGE crowd around us) and said our goodbyes.
Jim and I walked into the night, both of us bursting with excitement over the entire night. We met one of Hollywood’s greatest musical stars, who has an Oscar and is a legend of film/TV/stage. It was a magical night we both will never forget!
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