On Monday, cast members from the original Broadway productions of Grease, Nine, and Grand Hotel flew in from across the country, and gathered from across the city, to honor Kathi Moss. The actress, who was diagnosed with the rare disease cardiac amyloidosis in 2011, could not be physically present at The Perishing Square Signature Center for "Kathi Moss' Rama-Lama-Ding Dong Reunion." Yet her presence filled the space, enlivened by the memories, songs, and video tributes shared by former cast members who came out to perform in her honor -- and to raise money for her medical care through The Actors Fund.
Moss, who originated the roles of Cha-Cha di Gregario in Grease, Saraghina in Nine, and Mme. PeePee in Grand Hotel, was also digitally present. She watched the show via Skype, on a laptop in the balcony of the theater.
Through a computer perched on her bed, Moss watched 17 of the original female characters in Nine serenade her with that show's "Overture." She watched 8 of the original male characters in Grand Hotel "Take a Glass Together," full of spirit (if not spirits). She watched Grand Hotel cast members Yvonne Marceau and Pierre Dulaine ballroom-dance across the stage with a grace undamaged by more than 25 years gone by, and Grease's original Sandy, Carole Demas, sing "It's Raining on Prom Night," accompanied by Nine's Alaina Warren-Zachary, who was also in the original cast of Grease as the understudy to Moss' Cha Cha, as well as Rizzo, Jan and occasionally Miss Lynch. (This number, in addition to performances of "Freddy My Love" and "Summer Nights, made us think that a Grease revival performed only by actors nearing or past retirement age needs to happen.) Moss watched Shelly Burch, who originated the role of Claudia in Nine, perform a powerful "In a Very Unusual Way," wearing a low-cut bodysuit (old age, be damned), and Grand Hotel's Ken Jennings sing a tender "Not While I'm Around," a song he performed night after night in Broadway's Sweeney Todd, but this time sang to Moss and her husband, Tom Quinn. Moss watched Karen Akers, who was Tony nominated for her work in Nine, belt Luisa Contini's signature song, "My husband makes movies," and Tony Award winner Liliane Montevecchi (Nine) perform "Folies Bergere," complete with unraveling boa and still-limber dance moves. Moss watched Walter Willison, the evening's co-writer, director, and pseudo-MC, sing a rendition of Martin Charnin and Richard Rodgers' "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You," his eyes directed at the laptop in the balcony. And Moss watched, in addition to several other performances, her Broadway family pour their hearts out on stage, sharing fond memories of working with her, and often speaking directly to her. This didn't end after the concert, as former cast members gathered to talk and reminisce.
"I don't know if she'll ever hear this interview but Kathi, if you happen to, we love you with all of our hearts," Demas said into our microphone in the Signature Center lobby. "Your entrance in Grease in that big yellow dress was a moment in time that none of us will ever forget. And the way you just stood there, defiantly looking down at all those Greasers while they yelled, ‘She looks like a school bus!' We will never forget you standing there with that trophy in your hand, the music still playing, the tatters of the night coming down around you, all alone on the stage with no boy to take you home. I'm so glad you found one who did. And he [Quinn] loves you so much. And I know you feel cheated and that you can't do the things you'd like to do. But the love is there, Kathi. From him, from everybody. I'm sending you some. Thank you for being you."
Laura Kenyon (Nine), who organized, wrote and directed the event along with Walter Willison (Grand Hotel) and Musical Supervisor Steve Ross, said that she did not initially expect that "Kathi Moss' Rama-Lama-Ding Dong Reunion!" would bring out so many of her former cast members. "It snowballed," she said. "At one point we only had 8 girls from the company of Nine and then word got out…we created a Facebook page for people who care about Kathi, then The Actor's Fund got involved…then girls were flying in at the last minute. Kathi just has that star quality, and also she is really a terrific person."
Kenyon said she thought the turnout spoke volumes about Kathi, but also about the theater community. "I think it has something to do with what happens on stage," Kenyon said. "You do 8 shows a night. You might complain -- your feet hurt -- but you get out on stage with a migraine and you do it. With the Nine girls, there was a lot of emotional things on the set because it was during the AIDS epidemic, and everyone just supported each other. When you give out to strangers night after night your heart is just out…When I first came to New York, I couldn't pay my rent, so I went to The Actor's Fund. When you're old, they have a home. They take care of you. So then you take care of your own. This is the community."