Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dispatch from press tour: She's Mrs. Taye Diggs! (And other notes from PBS)

We rag on Taye Diggs a lot at the tour because of the infamous moment during a session for "Day Break" where he insisted the show wouldn't be stupid because "I'm Taye Diggs!" But there was nothing but love in the room for Diggs' wife,Tony winner Idina Menzel, who appeared at the end of the tour's first day to perform a six-song mini-concert to help promote PBS' upcoming telecast of "Chess in Concert." (It'll be done as an opera, with no book, and with Menzel, Josh Groban and Adam Pascal performing in front of a huge orchestra., and is set to air sometime this summer.)

Menzel belted out numbers from "Chess" and "Rent" and "Wicked" ("Defying Gravity" was definitely the evening's highlight), plus some songs from her new album, and in between bantered about her soul-crushing early days singing at bar mitzvahs and about her mortifying night at the Kennedy Center Honors, where she met idols Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin and they were confused about who she was. (Streisand: "You were good. Did you sing 'Don't Rain on My Parade'? I wasn't wearing my glasses.") As the wise and sage-like Randy Jackson wold say, she could sing the phone book and it would always be molten-lava hot.

In other notable moments from day one (not counting Richard Belzer throwing dirt on NBC's grave):

• Menzel's performance was preceded by a Q&A with "Chess" lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who talked at length about how he wound up teaming with the guys from Abba to write the score, the disastrous Broadway run of the show in the '80s, and how frequent partner Andrew Lloyd Weber has grown to hate "Chess" because every actress seems to pick a number from it as an audition song because they think it's so obscure that they'll stand out. Rice is very smart, a good storyteller and has that rare gift of being able to talk about how great his work is without sounding especially pompous.

• Amy Sedaris was here to talk about her role as the narrator of the six-part "Make 'Em Laugh" documentary on the history of comedy, and to talk about about appearing in a companion web series about online comedy. The webisodes inspired a lot of questions about Sedaris' own interest in doing things online, which led Sedaris to confess -- to a roomful of reporters frantically blogging and Twittering on their laptops and iPhones -- that she's a Luddite who prefers to read things in print or not at all. After a few questions in this vein, she decided it was time to riff:
I got a computer maybe four years ago because I have a rabbit and the rabbit got sick. It was too late to call the House Rabbit Society, so I thought I better get a computer because the next time she gets sick, I’ll be able to go on Ether Bunny and find out what’s going on. Then I got iChat because I can just hold my rabbit up, call the House Rabbit Society and say, “Do you see this scab? What does it mean?” And then they can see it. See, I’m getting there.
Maybe you had to be there.

23 comments:

Jon Delfin said...

I'm a fan of Idina Menzel, but I found her "Don't Rain on My Parade" disturbing. On the other hand, at least she was singing live, unlike a certain other one-named performer in that segment.

Another harrumph: There's an awful lot of Sir Tim's lyrics (especially with ALW) that scan so badly, I wondered for years if English was his first language.

Kate said...

Holy crap am I jealous. Also, thanks for the heads up on the Chess performance, I do really like that musical. And I am charmed to know that it's the Annie of grown-up auditions. Heh.

jim treacher said...

I liked Day Break. There were about 7 others, I think.

amysusanne said...

I'm pretty psyched about the "Make 'Em Laugh" doc.

I thought I had more to contribute, but it turns out that's it.

Harriet said...

The Chess concert was actually already performed and filmed last May...there are clips of it floating around the web, but none of very good quality, so it will be interesting to see.

polkadotoes said...

I love the whole Sedaris clan! David is coming to speak at my school in the spring and I marked it down in my iCal setting alarms and reminders everyday for 2 weeks before tickets go on sale..haha! Amy was great when she went on Martha's show to promote her book. OH! I also can't forget when she went on Chelsea Lately with a, um, puppet female reproductive organ made by Todd Oldham. It was awesome.

Adam said...

Here's that Menzel performance, but Jon, I believe Ms. Knowles was singing live as well. Take a look at the Youtube, and tell me where she slips, and I'll check.

LA said...

I love Amy Sedaris, almost as much as I love her brother. Polkadotoes, I've seen David maybe a half dozen times now, you will not be disappointed.

Can't wait for "Make 'Em Laugh."

Tosy And Cosh said...

Anyone know if there's a transcript up anywhere of the Rice chat?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anyone know if there's a transcript up anywhere of the Rice chat?

There won't be -- or, at least, shouldn't be -- since it's against the TCA rules to post a session transcript in its entirety. I'll try to throw up some excerpts here when I have a minute, starting with his response to a question about "One Night in Bangkok":

Oh, "One Night in Bangkok," that was the number three record in America. I was so annoyed it didn't quite get to number one. It was -- Simple Minds and Phil Collins kept us off. I can't stand Simple Minds.

devin mccullen said...

Compeletely unrelated, but last weekend, we were listening to some 80s station and "One Night In Bangkok" came on. Murray Head was mentioned, and then one person said "Better Murray Head than Furry Head", and people started laughing. But what really cracked everyone up was when we discovered that when people heard "Furry Head", they thought of completely different things.

Of course it only got worse when they started playing the Climax Blues Band.

Taleena said...

I liked Daybreak enough to watch the last episodes on CBS crappy site, Jim. Who are the other 6?

J said...

Here is an idea I'm giving to PBS for free because I'm nice that way: During the Chess special, which will no doubt air during a pledge drive, offer a pair of meat thermometers for $150. One for each ear.

renton said...

No mention that Cool Lester Smooth is also in the Chess production?

That alone would get me to watch.

(I actually saw Chess in London in 1987 -- one of my favorite shows ever)

Pamela Jaye said...

Being a Josh fan, this should be nice. When *is* pledge month?

(I've heard he did Chess but no clue what it's about. Not luddite, just too lazt to wikipedia. too much more to read here (and the Yours, Mine and Ours list I joined is still "discussing" Kate Gosselin)

Matthew L said...

I liked Day Break also. Fortunately, here in New Zealand, they actually showed the entire run - although they did drop it from primetime after the first week and relegated it to an after-midnight slot. (Which reminds me, I must look at picking up the DVDs.)

I had no idea Chess was unsuccessful - I thought it was a pretty big hit. Or was that just in London?

And Amy Sedaris was there? I'm seriously envious. And that documentary sounds like it could be interesting. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Linda said...

Me!! (Wildly raising hand). I liked "Daybreak." But then I'm a sucker for alternate universe and time travel stories.

And re: Tim Rice. He wrote what could possibly be the worst lyric ever. OCR of "Evita" (the recording that preceded the original London production).

I believe this is from "Rainbow High," --

"Don't go bananas
Chasing nirvanas."

Fortunately it didn't make it into the US staging and I think it has been expunged from every other one as well (including the film) but it is part of the first recording.

Dan said...

Sorry, WAY off topic here, but the singing reminded me of something...

Did anyone happen to watch 90210 on Tuesday night? Michael (aka Tristan Wilds) ended the show by singing AMAZING GRACE!

It just blew my mind thinking of Michael Lee singing Amazing Grace at some mansion in Beverly Hills with an onlooking Denzel...

Anonymous said...

Adam, thanks for the link to Menzel singing Don't Rain on My Parade. She could not possibly be more adorable and fantastic.

So jealous of you, Alan.

Number Five said...

I enjoyed Day Break as well...so over half of us read this blog!

I flipped through the companion volume to the comedy history documentary (!) in a book store. It looked fascinating, as does the series.

Anonymous said...

I love Amy. Please remind us when her thing's about to come on.

Alan Sepinwall said...

"Make 'Em Laugh" debuts Jan. 14. I doubt I'll have time to write about it, as PBS has this frustrating (from my professional standpoint) tendency to debut big projects right in the middle of press tour and/or right in the middle of the big network launches.

Andrew Schrank said...

Matthew L:

The Broadway production of Chess was vastly inferior to the London version. Some changes to the script and song lineup (none of them good), and the cast, sadly, couldn't pull it off.