Broadway Comes to L.A.

photos by Margie Barron

Brian Stokes Mitchell.

New York’s Radio City Music Hall hosted the 64th annual Tony Awards on Sunday, and the Oscar-winning Hollywood actor Denzel Washington was there. Denzel once called Toluca Lake his home, and now he has been welcomed into the Broadway community after receiving the Best Actor Tony for his performance in Fences. There was a cheering crowd for him that gathered for The Actors Fund’s annual Tony Awards party at the Skirball Cultural Center in L.A.

Tommy Tune emceed the event which honored musical great Brian Stokes Mitchell, who received the Julie Harris Award in recognition of his leadership as chairman of the board of The Actors Fund. A gracious Annette Bening did the presentation noting Mitchell’s theatrical accomplishments, from Ragtime to Man of La Mancha, and many more. Plus, he is dreamy, handsome, and nice, as I discovered.

It was a classy gala produced and written by Marc Cherry and David Rambo. The Desperate Housewives creator Cherry and I have often talked about our love for Broadway shows, especially Gypsy. And he proclaims that L.A. has finally turned into a “theatre town.” Amen to that.

On hand to root for their Broadway favorites was a Hollywood gang that could boast of impressive stage and musical credits. Among them Betty Garrett, Lee Meriwether, Anne Jeffreys, Michelle Lee, Patricia Morison, Cathy Rigby, Sharon Lawrence, Michael Learned, Adam Arkin, Holland Taylor, Theodore Bikel, Ilene Graff, Doris Roberts, Rip Taylor, and Scott Bakula. Plus Ken Howard, now the president of SAG, once played future president Thomas Jefferson in the musical 1776.

If you can’t make it to the Big Apple to see a Broadway hit, you’ll be happy to hear that the Tony-winning best musical In The Heights is coming to the Pantages Theatre, from June 22 to July 25. A big thrill for this production is that the Tony-winning creator, composer-lyricist and original star, Lin-Manuel Miranda will reprise his lead role as “Usnavi.” Another talented performer to look out for is the exuberant young actor-singer-dancer, Shaun Taylor-Corbett who plays the show’s second banana Sonny, and is earning raves for his performance.

The clips I’ve seen of the musical numbers from In The Heights are sensational, and so is the theme of the show. It’s about chasing your dreams and finding your true home, set in a vibrant Manhattan community.

photos by Margie Barron

Keely Smith.

Now let’s take a trip down memory lane and head towards another vibrant community, where Keely Smith was the “Queen of Las Vegas, Swing.” It was the 1950s and 60s, and Keely and her band leader husband Louis Prima became part of the legendary Rat Pack era that changed Vegas forever.

Keely, a sassy 78, was recently honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters at a nostalgic luncheon that had everyone recalling those golden days in Vegas. The singer of Cherokee-Irish descent joined Prima’s band when she was a mere 16, and Louis was the hottest musician on the scene in post-war America. Keely’s sultry vocals suited Prima’s popular swing orchestra, and her deadpan sense of humor made her the perfect “straight man” to his wild antics.

PPB chairperson Jeanne DeVivier Brown put together a great dais of folks who recalled the magic that Keely brought to her stage and TV variety show performances, plus her recordings over the years. Jerry Sherrell, president of the Society of Singers, called her “an American treasure.” Golden voice Chuck Southcott (heard on Retro-1260 KGIL radio) praised Keely’s voice and her new recording “Swing, Swing, Swing.” Hal Kanter, Wink Martindale, Morris Diamond and Marilyn King, also had great stories, but none could top Keely’s frank recollection of her fling with Frank Sinatra. She revealed that she wants to write an honest book about her life, “but I have to wait for a few more people to die.” My-o-my!

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