Friday, June 29, 2007

"No Business Like Show Business"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Stewart F. Lane, the Broadway impresario who recently won his fourth Tony Award, wants to break my leg. Wait, sorry, that’s not right. A lot of other people, most of them readers, want to do that. Lane wants me to break a leg. That’s 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 Manhattan’s 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, they’ll want to shoot me.

I got the idea (not to be shot, but to put on a show) after reading Lane’s excellent new book, "Let’s Put on a Show!" In it, he tells great stories about life on and off stage. One of the best is about the time Lane’s 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, "Let’s 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 – I was very encouraged by this – agreed.

Lane was even more encouraging when I said I am such a bad performer – can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t act – that I couldn’t 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 king’s 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 rabbi’s wife heard this, she said, "How are you going to make the dog talk?" The rabbi said, "I don’t know. But in 10 years, the king will be dead."

"What’s the moral of the story?" I asked.

"Give me 10 years," Lane promised, "and I’ll make you a star."

In fact, he added, it probably won’t 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 can’t sing, dance or act, you could pull it off. And you’d get a great review in The New York Times."

Still, Lane added, I’d do better in a one-man show.

"Because nobody would want to be on stage with me?" I wondered.

"No," Lane said. "Because you’re funny and you can talk. You’d 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 won’t walk out because I’ll keep the air-conditioning on."

So it’s all set. I’ll 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.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima