"Anybody want a glass of wine?" Scott asks as she settles into a table at an Italian restaurant on Spring Street, not far from the theater. "How about a bottle of Merlot?" "Red, I can't drink red," says drag legend Tommy Femia, who has the flamboyant, gender-bending role of Sugar in the backstage musical comedy. "Red gives me a headache. Do you have any Pinot Grigios? Make it a trough." Jaid Barrymore--mother of Drew, and an accomplished actress in her own right--moans "It's been one of those nights. What kind of beer do you have?" Sidney Myer, a longtime friend of Scott's, snorts: "I'll have what Mimi's having."
An alumna of Grandma Sylvia's Funeral, which also played at the Soho Playhouse, Mimi Scott was virtually house bound with asthma when the idea for Dressing Room popped into her raven-haired head "I was in Grandma Sylvia's for two years," she says. "I played a drunk. Just before it was over, I left the show because of an asthma problem. So I sat down and wrote about my 40 years in theater. It's that simple! It was winter, and the cold air was really doing a number on me, so I had to stay in; but I had this big grin, because I was writing about all the things people used to say that I overheard. Believe me, I never planned on writing a musical; but once I knew I had to do the lyrics, they just started comin' and comin'." Song titles include "Why Are We Sitting Here?," "Weddings are for Wusses," "Never a Bride," and the delightful "Tensions Here Go Round and Round."
Dressing Room tells the backstage story of a successful Off-Broadway show called You Can Take It With You." From the looks of the costumes, this show-within-a-show has everything from a ballerina to a cross dresser to a stripper who looks like Cleopatra (the Jaid Barrymore role; yes Drew inherited more than just talent from her mother). The action takes place in the girl's dressing room. Each of the nine characters gets to sing, and there are several choreographed numbers that give them all a chance to flaunt their considerable talent for movement.
After a series of read-throughs "with only significant others present," Scott let Dressing Room begin to slip out to the general public: "We did several readings in New York and then went to Brooklyn, to the Ryan Repertory Company, to stage the show." During the reading and performance process, the cast was pared from 18 to 13, finally topping off at nine for the Vandam production. According to Scott, "Some characters were combined: like, the gay character got combined with the bitchy female lead, and a cross-dresser named Sugar emerged. Scenes came and went, and half the songs got left behind." Three actors have been with the project from the very first readings: "Jaid, Sidney and Paula Newman--who plays the Nazi-like stage manager--were there from day one."
Some may call all of this dumb luck, what with Dressing Room being Scott's first crack at a musical. To add pleasure to all the chaos, she has brought some of her extended family into the development of the show. Jaid, for instance, met Scott during the Grandma Sylvia's run, and the two have been best friends ever since. Scott virtually wrote the role of Jewell specifically for Jaid; and Jewell's best friend in Dressing Room is Molly (Lorraine Fogliano) who is a dead ringer for the author. ("No way could I have acted in this show too," says Scott, "so I wrote myself into it and let someone else play my part." Sidney Myer was also in Grandma Sylvia's, as an understudy. "I went on for something like 70 times," Myer relates, "and I would always say, 'That's 70 more times than Carol Channing's or Ethel Merman's understudies ever got to go on!"
The cast is rounded out by Paul Amodeo (Tony), Nina Fine (Lucille), Melissa Marlin (Mona), and Christine Nardone as the dresser, Nicole. Direction is by Dennis Edenfield, costumes by Jean Claude Mastroianni, sets by Christopher Casoria. But every aspect of Dressing Room has been carefully commandeered by Scott (her son is even one of the producers).
Keeping it all in the family is one thing; but how, in this crazy time of filled up theater spaces, was Scott able to snag the Soho Playhouse? "I accosted Dana Matthow, who owns the theater, on the street one day, and I told him I had his next show," Scott says. "He took me up on the idea. Can you believe that! And what's even weirder is that, a couple of years ago, I had a conversation with Jaid at one of the very first readings. We were in a bathroom, and I remember saying how incredible it would be if, one day, we were able to take the show to New York to our little theater on Vandam Street. And here we are."
What about all those songs that were cut? "I'll use them in the next show," Scott cheerfully replies. "Maybe it will be about how this show got put together. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff we've been through. But that's another story--and another show."
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