Monday, October 20, 2014

Interview: Phyllis Newman Talks Broadway, Showbiz, Beating Barbra Streisand Out of a Tony, and More!

That awesome moment when you're nominated for a Tony Award against Broadway legend Barbra Streisand and win. But it's slightly tainted when your producer leans over to you and says, "I voted for Barbra." For Phyllis Newman, that's pretty much how the 1962 Tony Awards went.

I got to talk to this amazing 81-year-old Broadway veteran about her career as well as her husband's. Oh yeah, not only did she beat Babs out of a Tony, but she was also married to Broadway lyricist Adolph Green who penned On the Town, On the Twentieth Century, both of which are being revived on Broadway this season, Peter Pan (which will be broadcast live on NBC in December), and many more. He earned five Tonys in all- a little misleading, considering his first hit was written before the Tony Awards existed. I think most people know him by his song, "New York, New York."

So check out this excerpt from my interview with this lovely woman who had nothing but wonderful things to say about her late husband, who would have been 100 this year. She was really sweet and adorable. She kept saying, "It's true! Every word of it. It's all true."

"How was the concert at 54 Below honoring your late husband, Adolph Green?
"Well, I didn't get to it because I had to do other things, but my children were there; my daughter [Amanda Green] sang. It was just wonderful, I gather, end-to-end, just hearing some of the material he's written and some of the people who were in the original shows. The idea that- this is the staggering part- is that last year, I was saying to my family, "What are we going to do for Daddy's 100th birthday with his body of work?" And I thought, "A benefit? No, oh gosh everybody does that... I don't know!" And then suddenly all of these things happened, as if directed by Adolph himself. First, On The Town, which was his first [Broadway musical] and a great, great love of his life, and then PETER PAN on NBC in December. And ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is going into rehearsal in December, close to his birthday. It's incredible! I couldn't have planned it. Only he could have planned it.
"How special that ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY will be around his birthday!
"It goes into rehearsal to make it part of his birthday, a day or two before his birthday, which was December 2, 1914. Even Encores! is doing an adaptation of their original story and screenplay of BANDWAGON, so it's just ridiculous. It really is! Happy ridiculous.
"So, On The Town opens Oct. 16. Have you seen the previews yet?
"Oh, sure! I'm working very closely with everybody on the show. So I'm very, very involved with it because I'm the owner of the rights, and because of John Rando, who's a great director. He and I have very much the same view and vision. We've exchanged scripts. I give suggestions for cuts, etc., and it goes back and forth. I see it and give thoughts, and we have a great working relationship. So what could be better, you know? Because I do have the final say. In other words, I could say, "You know what, I don't really like this," but I'm happy to say I love it!
"I see that in your bio from the first revival of On The Town, it says, "Upon crossing the Hudson River, she not only managed to land a role in a hit Broadway musical (BELLS ARE RINGING), but also a husband, Adolph Green, co-author of the show."
"Right! It's true, it's true. And when I won the Tony, it was for a show of Adolph's also, called SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING, and I had to audition five times. In a towel! This was a very long time ago, when I was very young and very cute, but nevertheless, five times auditioning. And I always said, "It's the first time I ever heard of not sleeping with the author to get the part. But it's totally true! We were happily married with a baby, and I had to audition five times, because David Merrick, the fabled meanie producer just wanted to, I don't know, show his power or whatever. But you know, he got his, because I won the Tony. And he had Barbra Streisand in I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE. When they announced my name, David Merrick turned to me and said, "I voted for Barbra." It's absolutely all true. Every word of it. So, it's a real theatre life we've had.
"Wow, yeah when I read that you had beaten out Barbra Streisand for a Tony, I was amazed!
"I know. I must say not only is she phenomenal, as we all know, but every time I see her, when she invites me to her concerts, she always goes, "There's some woman out there, I don't know, maybe she got the Tony..." You know, and she's very funny. I go back, and I say, "Well Barbra, let's let bygones be bygones." So we both have a good laugh over it. She's always been one of my favorite performers of all time. 
...
"I'm excited about the PETER PAN broadcast, because I grew up watching the VHS of the Mary Martin version.
"Isn't that amazing? So many young people tell me that they watched that old VHS with Mary Martin. I'm always surprised! It's a beautiful production. It's a wonderful show, a wonderful score. I'm very excited about that. But you know where its fame has stuck? All over the country all the time. I know, because I get the reports of the performances, and it's always being done. Every day, somebody somewhere is doing PETER PAN at schools, colleges, community theatres. It's the most performed of their shows. Well it's funny, there have been a million attempts at PETER PAN, but this version is the one that stuck. 
"And there were a lot of revivals of PETER PAN on Broadway, at least five.Oh yeah, they were terrific. It's a great story! And Cathy Rigby was wonderful doing it. Her gymnastics were incredible. And Sandy Duncan was marvelous. I didn't see Mary Martin live, I only saw it on the same VHS you saw!"

She also kept calling me "honey," at the end, and apologizing for it. It was very sweet.

Make sure to read the whole interview here!

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

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