ĎNo Business Like Show Businessí
By Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima on the Great White Way performing La Cage Aux Fool.
By Jerry Zezima
Stewart F. Lane, the Broadway impresario who recently won his fourth Tony Award, wants to break my leg. Wait, sorry, thatís not right. A lot of other people, most of them readers, want to do that. Lane wants me to break a leg. Thatís because he plans to put me on the stage, after which he will probably tell the driver to make the horse run as fast as it can and take me out of town.
This is the only thing, aside from a complete lack of performing talent, that can prevent me from being a big star on the Great White Way.
That was the promise made to me recently over dinner and, especially, drinks at the Friars Club in New York City, where Lane and Jules Feiler, the mad genius at 5W Public Relations, plotted to put my name in lights. With my luck, the lights will be above the 9th Precinct, which covers Manhattanís theater district, after I am charged with crimes against art for a planned one-man show I may have to call "Bullets Over Broadway," because when people see it, theyíll want to shoot me.
I got the idea (not to be shot, but to put on a show) after reading Laneís excellent new book, "Letís Put on a Show!" In it, he tells great stories about life on and off stage. One of the best is about the time Laneís mother walked out on one of his shows because he had turned off the air-conditioning in the theater. "My own mother!" Lane writes.
Mainly, though, "Letís Put on a Show!" provides invaluable tips for anyone who wants to put on a show. Lane knows his stuff because he has won Tonys for producing "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "The Will Rogers Follies," "La Cage aux Folles" and, most recently, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only," in which Johnson recounts his career as a ventriloquist.
"I could have played the dummy," I told Lane, who Ė I was very encouraged by this Ė agreed.
Lane was even more encouraging when I said I am such a bad performer Ė canít sing, canít dance, canít act Ė that I couldnít pass an audition for the role of myself.
"This is the biggest challenge of your career," I said. "Can you make me a star?"
Lane responded by telling an old tale about a king who asked his prime minister if he could make the kingís dog talk. The minister said no, so the king had him beheaded. The king then asked his grand wizard if he could make the dog talk. "No," said the wizard, who also was beheaded. Finally, the king asked a rabbi if he could make the dog talk. "Yes," the rabbi replied, "but it will take 10 years." When the rabbiís wife heard this, she said, "How are you going to make the dog talk?" The rabbi said, "I donít know. But in 10 years, the king will be dead."
"Whatís the moral of the story?" I asked.
"Give me 10 years," Lane promised, "and Iíll make you a star."
In fact, he added, it probably wonít take that long. There are roles, such as Roxie Hart in "Chicago," in which the character is supposed to be a bad performer. "Not that I would ever cast you as Roxie," Lane said, "but in your case, having no talent could be an asset. If you play a character who canít sing, dance or act, you could pull it off. And youíd get a great review in The New York Times."
Still, Lane added, Iíd do better in a one-man show.
"Because nobody would want to be on stage with me?" I wondered.
"No," Lane said. "Because youíre funny and you can talk. Youíd have to do it for an hour and a half, eight times a week, which is physically demanding, but you could do it."
Now I have to think of a name for my show. I am leaning toward either "The Jerry Zezima Follies" or "La Cage aux Fool."
Finally, and most important, I have to find someone who believes in me enough to bankroll the show.
"Is your mother still alive?" Lane asked.
"Yes," I answered. "And she wonít walk out because Iíll keep the air-conditioning on."
So itís all set. Iíll begin rehearsals in the bathroom mirror tomorrow morning. Lane, who may never win another Tony Award after this, might want to break my leg after all.
Jerry Zezima writes for The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate, where this column first appeared. His blog is www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com.
Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima