Performance, interviews, favorites: dancing, laughing through life

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas,
New Year's Eve. Cookie, Keller had ringside seats to ring in 2015!

Bruce Meyers as emcee in our 1977
production of "Cabaret."













          

 DANCING THROUGH LIFE, TOP PERFORMANCES, INTERVIEWS,                    CHANCE MEETINGS    



Cygnet's lively Old Town Theatre is a favorite venue
when Cookie and Keller are in San Diego.











STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By
BRUCE KELLER (and archives)

  IN THOUSANDS of plays, concerts and star interviews, I've collected a steamer trunk of programs, playbills, ticket stubs. Notebooks from chats with over 1,000 stage and screen personalities through the years. Scribbles on napkins about surprise meetings at the theater -- sitting next to Christopher Plummer as we watched his daughter, Amanda, win a Tony nomination for "Agnes of God." Sitting across from Indira Gandhi at her last play in America,  days before she was assassinated. Getting a last-minute "okay" for a 10-minute interview with Sammy Davis Jr. at his last Sands performance in Las Vegas. What a sweet, gracious guy!
     Life without performance and writing about it would be a dull proposition.
Sammy Davis Jr. at the Sands.

MY MOST vivid memories are shaped by theater -- shows experienced on both sides of the footlights. I treasure productions I saw while traveling, shows in which I played a part, interviews with actors, directors, playwrights. 
    Barysnikov at the Kirov, Pavarotti in Milan-- each with a much loved late husband. "Cabaret," at Billings Studio Theatre in Montana, in which Bruce Meyers starred. He was emcee and I was head of the bawdy Kit Kat Band, directed by the gifted Skip Lundby.
The Ahmanson in Los Angeles is a
regular on Cookie and Keller's
theater going docket.
Performance keeps me going. As my gran Olive  said, "We can't choose the tune to life's record. We can choose how we dance to it." 
    'MAN of La Mancha" is a treasured memory. I've seen it a dozen times -- first on Broadway with Richard Kiley as Don Quixote then performing it two dozen times at Der Schwartzwald Dinner Theater in Montana with Bruce in the title role and I as music director. We raised thousands to save our 1931 Fox Theater. Cygnet's "LaMancha" here in San Diego evoked happy flashbacks via Sean Murray's sensitive "Don Q" portrayal as I viewed the production with my partner, Bruce Keller, in his hometown.
"Sweeney Todd" is a
favorite of the writer's.
 Other highlights: Folies Bergere in Paris with mother Ellen and sister Robbie. Dame Joan Sutherland at Sydney Opera House with my sailor turned play-going pal Keller.
The Disney, Mark Taper and Ahmanson,
in Los Angeles beckon our travelers often.
   A FULL day spent at “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby” in New York, with a brief break for wine, a nosh and quick interview with the star John Howard.
   I first met Dustin Hoffman in 1970 when I interviewed him on the Montana set of "Little Big Man." Then seeing Hoffman’s Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” in London was exciting.  My most thrilling production of that brilliant Arthur Miller work was in a Beijing theater in China.  Despite my limited knowledge of 
Dustin Hoffman played 
Willy Loman in the 1980
s
in a London performance
which Cookie enjoyed.
Mandarin, I was mesmerized, appreciating that this familiar play traveled across the world to move an Asian audience as deeply as it does its American fans.  When Willy's widow, Linda, delivered her “attention must be paid” lines near the tragedy's end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Burt Bachrach helped
christen the Alberta
Bair Theater in Montana 

During 45 years interviewing stars at the old Fox then Alberta Bair Theater, two "ABT gala" interviews stand out -- Burt Bachrach and Harry Belafonte. Both were gracious and loquacious in the renovated ABT green room, a far cry from its musty, decrepit Fox days.

I REMEMBER a favorite actress, Mary Tyler Moore, not just for her brilliance in two Emmy winning sitcoms, but for her Tony winning performance in "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" that searing, but warm and touching study of end-of-life questions.  In 1980 I interviewed her at the premier of "Ordinary People." She poignantly portrayed a mother struggling with the death of a son, rejecting her remaining son's affection. (It also introduced Robert Redford's directorial genius.) I told Moore  
Mary Tyler Moore above,
and Betty White, below,
two favorite interviews.
  
of my fondness for  "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." I also interviewed two of her longtime collaborators, Betty White and  Cloris Leachman: on the "MTM" set (and Leachman again at the world premier of "Young Frankenstein.") What a kick in the theatrical pants both sessions were. Both White and Leachman had impeccable comic timing and we reporters were in hysterics as the actors bantered and ad-libbed one-liners. Leachman did a little curtsy at the interview's end
The comedic talents of "Young Frankenstein"
 cast provided laughs on and off the set.
 and White blew kisses. 

Manhattan Transfer in San Diego's Balboa Theatre.
Founder Tim Hauser, second from left in the quartet,
died in late 2014. So happy we saw them several times.
      Great performance -- drama, concerts, ballet, on stage or screen -- moves us as few other experiences do.
WHEN OUR family saw “Oliver!” in July of 1964 at the Imperial Theatre in New York, it left indelible marks. We still sing “Consider Yourself,”  “As Long as He Needs Me” and “Where is Love” at family reunions. Even the youngest remembered the lyrics to "Food Glorious Food" and Fagin's nimble dance as he sends his charges off, or the heartbreak when Bill Sikes murders Nancy. 
We remember my dad hailing two yellow cabs from our hotel to the matinee, then to Sardi's for dinner, surrounded by stars’ portraits.   The orchestra seats were $4.75 each and all nine of us dined splendidly for $122! Thanks to our theater-driven mother for organizing it all.

 
All you need is love at Cirque du Soliel's Vegas Beatles show.
Cookie and Keller are Vegas regulars, for the shows of course.
Fishtail, Montana, hosts Shakespeare in the Parks each July.
        I'VE SEEN our beloved “Oliver!” in London revivals – in 1984 and again in 2008. A few years ago, I took the family to "Oliver" at Venture Theatre in Billings, Montana.  It was all I could do to keep myself off the stage. Seeing this revered musical with my brothers Rick and Patrick and sister Olivia, who flanked me so long ago in the Imperial, was a treat.  Now the tunes are beloved by my niece Aurora and great-nephew Connor.
I've lost track of my Elvis impersonator shows -- dozens. I love seeing multiple productions.
   Cookie's "Top Ten" Performances 
I never miss "My Fair Lady," one of my childhood's Broadway favorites,  which we've seen brilliantly delivered at Welk Resort, Cygnet, Ahmanson and in Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival with two pianos instead of an orchestra!
"My Fair Lady" set with two pianos at the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. 
  I LOGGED three productions of "Sunset Boulevard," with Patti Lupone, Glenn Close and Betty Buckley. Each gave it her own unique spin.  I saw Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett in the original production of “Sweeney Todd,” then Lupone and three others.  All fabulous, on  both coasts -- New York and here in San Diego.  At the movie, I sat between nephews Kenji and Eric, clutching their arms as blood flew and Sweeney's razor did its job. Who’d have thought Johnny Depp could sing (he can) or that Helena Bonham Carter would be such a mesmerizing Mrs. Lovett (she is.) Stephen Sondheim is on my bucket list of most coveted interview subjects!
Cookie lands in Paris, heads for the Folies Bergere.
Cher at Caesar's in Vegas.
     I'VE COVERED the Academy Awards, interviewed dozens of stars of stage and screen, previewed and reviewed hundreds of productions. I’ve tried to be kind, appreciating the energy and effort that actors, musicians, directors, dancers, designers, technicians give.  I’ve done time on that glorious side of the footlights, conducting and playing piano to raise money to save our beloved Fox, now the ABT in Billings.
       When I took the helm of the “Save the Fox” endeavor, in Billings, spring of 1976, the future of the Fox was doubtful.  Would the building be leveled?  Would it be a parking lot? Helping save that gem, now the ABT, is one of my proudest endeavors and led to many delightful interviews.

Cookie with her play-
bill at Oregon
Shakespeare Festival.
Theater and gambling, two of Cookie's
 favorite pursuits, combine in Las Vegas.
   
The path to the Lyceum in downtown San Diego
 at Horton Plaza home of the San Diego Rep.

 
IN LAS VEGAS on the grounds of the venerable old Sands Hotel, now stands the flashy Venetian, in its gondolas and glory.  But this reporter remembers seeing a dozen headliners in the showroom of the landmark Sands.  
And savoring many greats in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City's upper east side -- Bobby Short, Mary Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Debbie Reynolds, Judy Collins. 
And the Fairmont in San Francisco where "Bruce the First" and I saw Duke Ellington, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli. Showrooms in Paris, Rio, Madrid, Buenos Aires. Many of my icons were backed by a full orchestra before taped scores became the norm.  Dean Martin, Donald O’Connor, Liberace, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr.  Marian McPartland. Duke Ellington.  Peggy Lee.  I saw them all, interviewed them. I have the Playbills and notebooks to prove it!

           




4 comments:

  1. Oh, I am green with envy. Mark and I lived vicariously through old movies. We loved musicals like the Producers, King and I and especially Music Man. Mark surprised me for my anniversary with 3rd row tickets to Alberta Bair for Music Man. We were in our glory! In Milwaukee we would go to the repertory theater which was in the round. We saw Man from LaMancha and my favorite, Waiting for Godot. Seeing Angela Lansbury would be a dream come true. We loved her in Gaslight. You may not know but I have a vintage trailer and it is decorated with old movie stars. I have a man's tie depicting a scene from Gone with the wind" Audrey, Frank and Bing are on my walls. For a while I was blogging tributes and trivia on the stars. So needless to say I loved your blog it was right up my alley. TCM is my best friend these days. I will visit again. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Cannot imagine life without theater....what would become of us?

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  3. Just found this gem while looking for stories on Broadway. What a life, what a memory. Keep on writing about it all and sharing with us.....let's hope Covid ends soon and we will be back in our orchestra seats! (Or stalls as we say in London.)

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  4. I just found this piece. Saw your delightful FB post on Sammy Davis Jr. We saw him twice at the Sands, and we will never forget his charisma! THANKS for the memory.

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