Stepping into the den of Bobby Goldman, the author and inspiration of the new off-Broadway musical Curvy Widow, gives a visitor who's seen the show déjà vu.
"This is the apartment in the show," Goldman says as she leads a tour of her 1,600-square-foot Midtown bachelorette pad. Rob Bissinger's scenic design is so exact that props were even sourced from her own kitchen. "I came home one night and realized I didn't have a peppermill anymore because they took it."
A level of realism this extensive is in keeping with Curvy Widow, which Goldman initially wrote as a solo show. The main character is named Bobby Goldman, and she is a proud Manhattanite whose life is upended after the sudden death of her husband, Jim.
In the show, Jim is a famous writer; in real life, Goldman's late husband, professionally known as James, wrote the legendary musical Follies with Stephen Sondheim, as well as the even-more-legendary drama The Lion in Winter, which earned him an Academy Award. As the stage version of Bobby experiences the trials and tribulations of online dating, eventually settling on a site where she can hook up with married guys, so too did the real-life Bobby, who, at 68, is currently dating six men she met through the infamous website Ashley Madison.
But the extremely candid Goldman is more than the sum of her relationships. Not many people can say they owned a construction company for 36 years without knowing a thing about construction. And few others can claim to have had their life threatened by actor Ann Miller. But how her life became a musical? That's perhaps the craziest story of them all.
Who's That Woman?
"It was a bit messy," Goldman admits when asked how she and her late husband met. "My ex-sister was the best friend of the wife he was breaking up with." Though there was a 26-year age difference, Bobby and James were together for more than 25 years, until his death in 1998.
As the agent and manager of her late husband's estate, Bobby is fiercely protective when it comes to his work. But it never occurred to her to turn her own story into a play until she began working on a new published edition of The Lion in Winter in 2004. "Sales went up, so they took me to lunch." As they dined, Goldman made her big reveal. "They said 'What are you doing since Jim died,' and I said, 'I'm dating incredibly successful married men from a sex site.' And they said, 'You gotta write it.'"
It took some prodding, though she eventually acquiesced. Curvy Widow premiered as a stage show in 2007, with Cybill Shepherd playing Bobby Goldman. Goldman eventually abandoned the project due to "artistic differences" with her theatrical alter ego.
Goldman went back to the drawing board and turned it into a memoir instead, which found its way into the hands of Drew Brody, a musical theater writer who saw something in this unpublished autobiography. "He said, 'It's a musical,' " Goldman recalls, "and I told him to go do something unnatural to himself and hung up." Nevertheless, "he continued to call back. He said, 'I wrote a song, and if you get a tear, we're doing it.'
"I got a tear."
The Right Girl
Goldman asserts that Curvy Widow is 98.5 percent true to life. The mention that she owned a construction company? That's real. "A friend came over and said, 'Here are the keys to a very expensive townhouse off Park. You have seven months. Do it, stock it, furnish it, staff it, train the staff, give me a party, move me in.' It turned out I was very good at it. My phone never stopped ringing."
She's even better at guarding her late husband's estate, despite the fact that, in certain theatrical circles, she's considered public enemy No. 1. When the 1998 revival of Follies at Paper Mill Playhouse wanted to transfer to Broadway, Goldman put the kibosh on it, much to the chagrin of nearly everyone involved. According to Broadway lore, Ann Miller, who played Carlotta, asked on multiple occasions for the number of a good hit man to take her out. A different production of the musical appeared on Broadway in 2001, and it was revived again in 2011.
Goldman takes the long view. "You have to look at what you have and be very clear about it, not just go for short money," she says. She recently granted permission for material from Follies to be used in the revue Prince of Broadway, and is gearing up for the National Theatre's full-scale revival of the musical, which is currently in previews and will be broadcast in cinemas November 16 as part of NT Live.
"On Lion and Follies, we have a restriction worldwide. If you want to do the show, you have to come and it has to be OK'd. There was a time when Lion was not doing well and I pulled the rights for three years. I put it back and it now sells out."
She was similarly tough when it came to finding a performer to play herself. "It's very hard to find women in theater or movies over the age of 50 who have not had so much work done that they look like they're 16." Nancy Opel, who plays Bobby and withdrew, ironically, from Prince of Broadway to take on the show, "is sexy, funny, and a clown. She's total perfection."
Live, Laugh, Love
Just like in the show, Goldman is open about her dating struggles. When she was on Match.com, using the screen name Curvy Widow, "I was dating regular guys and being left at restaurants, being told I was awful. By accident, I found a sex site and the men were nice. They were attractive, charming, intelligent, and successful. So I went, 'Wait a minute. I could go out with a really lovely man who cares for me, or I can be told I'm awful.'"
Does it bother her that she's "the other woman"? Not in the least. "Most of these men never want to leave their wives. They love their wives, but they're lonely. The men I go out with love going to a beautiful restaurant. They want to have the conversation. They want the romance. For them, that's what's missing at home. Frankly, their wives could cure it in five minutes.'"
This candor is what brings audiences of all ages to the Westside Theatre. Night after night, Goldman is surprised by the demographic Curvy Widow is attracting. "63 percent are women between the ages of 50 and 68," she says. "The rest are 20-, 30-, and 40-year-olds. The largest amount of 20-year-olds you've ever seen. We get all these young girls who want to sit and talk about sex. Straight guys looking to get laid are using it as a date show."
And she's proud. "Watching people laugh is amazing. You hear how it's giving them hope, which I never would have thought of," she concludes. "I thought I wrote a dirty little show."
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