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A Conversation with Jonathan Cerullo

| December 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

A Conversation with Jonathan Cerullo

November 30, 2017

By Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Cabaret Scenes spoke with Jonathan Cerullo, the director/producer of the upcoming Legs Diamond 30th Anniversary Reunion Concert, along with two of its stars, Christine Andreas and Ruth Gottschall, after a dress rehearsal this week. The show runs twice on December 3, 2017 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (7pm and 9:30pm), and features original cast members including Cerullo, Brenda Braxton, and Bob Stillman, as well as material cut from the ill-fated, albeit Tony-nominated production starring the legendary Julie Wilson. Willa Kim earned a nomination for her sublime costumes and a nomination for choreography went to the extraordinary Alan Johnson. Adrian Bailey, Randall Edwards, Jim Fyfe, Mark Manley, Shaelynn Parker, and Kevin Weldon round out the cast, with choreography by Jennifer Paulson Lee and musical direction by Phil Hall.

Julie Wilson & Peter Allen
Photo: Martha Swope

The Grammy and Oscar-winning Peter Allen did not fare so well. Frank Rich, in what was (even for him) an exceptionally vicious review, had literally nothing good to say about any aspect of the show, whose book was co-written by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon (unless you count an expression of pity for the great Julie Wilson stuck in midst of the debacle). Other reviews were more mixed, acknowledging individual performers, or the score by the famous Australian songwriter in his much-anticipated and hyped first Broadway musical.

A retrospective post-mortem of Legs Diamond merits its own treatment. After a six-week workshop, it went straight to Broadway. At the Mark Hellinger (which became the Times Square Church after the show closed), Legs Diamond had a record-breaking 72 previews, during which the press documented production problems and technical issues in unusual detail. After a formal run of just 62 performances, the show closed on February 19, 1989.

Legs Diamond is certainly not alone. Many Broadway flops boast first-rate performers, writers, and songwriters with impressive careers before and after the failed production. But even by the standards of a flop with Broadway pedigree, the score and talent behind Legs Diamond are noteworthy. Jonathan Cerullo’s passion and love for this music and production as a whole—the last original work by Peter Allen, who died at just 48 years old in 1992—is infectious, as is the palpable love the entire cast feels for the late Allen as a person as well as an artist.

Jonathan Cerullo

JONATHAN CERULLO

VO: It must be wonderful, yet strange, to revisit this beautiful music three decades later. How did the idea for a reunion concert come about?

JC: It is. Well, we had thought about a reunion show about five years ago at [what was then just] 54 Below.

VO: Oh, so not long after the club opened?

JC: Yes. Then, early this year, The New York Times ran a piece about [Feinstein’s/54 Below creative and programming director] Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s revival of Rachael Lilly Rosenbloom. The poster for that show hangs near two other framed posters at Joe Allen by Table 51, with which I was involved: Legs Diamond and The Three Musketeers. I always sit at that table; to be on this honored wall twice is very special to me.

VO: So it all seemed sort of meant to be?

JC: Yes. I raised the possibility of reviving Legs Diamond with Jennifer, saying it had now been 30 years, and immediately get back an email in all caps: “YES! YES!”

VO: Were other cast members as enthusiastic as Tepper?

JC: I first asked Brenda [Braxton] and Adrian [Bailey], who were both receptive. I talked to Randall Edwards, now in Los Angeles. And called Peter Allen’s longtime personal assistant, Bruce Cudd, now in Palm Springs, about the idea of a reunion concert. He told me he would send the music to New York. I didn’t realize that he was sending Peter Allen’s handwritten score—the entire original manuscript! A very large box arrived. I opened the box and felt like I was pulling out pieces of history. The music is brilliant.

VO: The song sung by Christine Andreas, which was cut along with her character, is exquisite. Even imperfect shows, or shows with book problems, often hold on for longer than Legs Diamond. So much of this unpredictable business is simply a matter of luck and timing.

JC: You know, we can speculate about what happened, why it didn’t make it. But it’s all in the past. I’m just so thrilled and honored to revisit the show now. It’s a chance for us all to appreciate just how good this production was.

VO: Do you see this reunion taking more extended form?

JC: [Smiling.] Who knows? Maybe Encores?

Christine Andreas

CHRISTINE ANDREAS

VO: Watching you all together, it seems as though you never parted after the show closed. Was it strange to get back together, particularly given that your character was cut from the show?

CA: [Deep breath.] When Jonathan called me, I wasn’t sure if I should [participate]. But after getting pieces of the script and some songs, I decided to do the reunion show.

VO: Your song, “Come Save Me,” is exquisite and poignant.

CA: The score is just spectacular. But the show wasn’t doing well. I was the sweet, soft, winsome character. They wanted to make it fast and funny—that’s what you do when a show’s in trouble.

VO: So it became clear that things were not exactly going swimmingly?

CA: Yes. I remember when people began to turn against Peter. One day I asked him, “How do you do it?’ And he said, “Honey, it’s just a show. It’s important. But it’s just a show.” Peter had perspective, which is hard to maintain in this business. You put years and years of work into something and then, just like that, it’s gone. That’s what I remember most about the show: Peter [himself].

VO: Did you keep in touch with people from the cast?

CA: Not really. I mean I had given up the lead in Weekend at Bernie’s to do Legs, so wasn’t a part of the show for much of the run.

VO: Oh my. That became a cult favorite that spawned a (terrible!) sequel.

CA: Yes, if I’d done the movie, my life would have taken an entirely different turn.

VO: Did you do a lot of straight acting, or work in non-musical productions?

CA: Well, you do a bit of everything in this business. When you can sing, people think of you as a singer. Singing is interpreting lyrics. If you can sing [musical theater], you can act. But I always shied away from the West Coast. I felt that people got spit out faster there. And besides, if I don’t sing, I get sad! I need to be singing.

VO: When did you last talk to Peter?

CA: I saw him at a very fancy hotel. He was with some magnate. He saw me and waved me over. I said, “You’re okay, aren’t you?’ He smiled and said, “Yeah.” That was Peter. He didn’t let things get to him too much. He’d had his own tragedies [including the suicide of his father], but you never felt that. Above all, Peter knew how to create his life.

Ruth Gottschall

RUTH GOTTSCHALL

VO: I gotta ask: Did you do ballet? I can spot a dancer’s legs a mile away.

RG: Yes, I studied ballet and danced for many years. I grew up in Westchester.

VO: Oh, so you’re from New York.

RG: [laughter]. No, Westchester, Pennsylvania. Near Delaware. My aunt was my voice teacher. I was always drawn the musical theater.

VO: But Legs Diamond wasn’t your first Broadway show.

RG: No, that was Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I was in the national tour. We did the show in Los Angeles at the Pantages. And then I returned to New York and did the show on Broadway. I had worked with Peter Genarro and at Radio City Music Hall.

VO: Would you describe the musical as dance-intensive?

RG: Oh yes. Alan Johnston’s choreography was nominated for a Tony.

VO: Did you stay in touch with the cast?

RG: Mark Manley and I lived on East 80th Street. He tore an achilles tendon in tech. He’d understudied as a gangster and went onstage with a cane!

VO: What did you do after Legs Diamond?

RG: With Adrian Bailey, I did Prince of Central Park. Compared to to Legs Diamond, it was a hit.

VO: Oh, dear! Did you know by the first performance?

RG: Oh, well before that! It ran for just four performances before closing. We opened on a Thursday and by Sunday, we were clearing out our stuff. So I was in two Broadway flops the same year. I understudied for Julie Wilson in Legs Diamond. We bonded over bunions!

VO: What was it like to work with Peter Allen? Christine spoke of his cheerful, positive outlook and described him as philosophical about the outcome of the production.

RG: That’s precisely right. I agree with that. I don’t know if Peter was just brave, but he said he didn’t realize just how strong he was until Legs Diamond [and the aftermath].

VO: Did you do the cabaret circuit between shows?

RG: Not the circuit, but I did meet Donald Smith around the time I did Cabaret with Joel Grey. And I met a number of women, like Alyson Reed, who became lifelong friends. I love cabaret.

VO: As a lover of cabaret myself, I think I can say with confidence, I’m not the only one who would love to see you in a solo cabaret show!

Legs Diamond 30th Anniversary Concert
December 3 at 7:00 & 9:30 pm
Feinstein’s/54 Below
254 W. 54th St., NYC
54below.com/events/legs-diamond-30th-anniversary-reunion-concert/

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Category: Cabaret Features, New York City, New York City Cabaret Features, Regional

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