Will the Real Christine Pedi Please Stand Up?
The Forbidden Broadway mainstay acts up at the FireBird Café.
In person, Pedi's a tall, attractive brunette with long, straight hair and a non-stop conversational style. "I was brought up to believe that the more you have to do, the more you do," she laughs while explaining that she and Alessandrini are still choosing and polishing material for the new show. Her first ASCAP Songwriter offering was a very popular evening of Comden and Green fare, first seen at the FireBird last August and repeated for several weeks in the fall. It would also have been part of this February's FireBird lineup, but Mark Nadler--Pedi's C&G pianist and partner-in-crime--is currently co-starring with KT Sullivan in American Rhapsody at the Triad. (Matthew Ward will be playing Forbidden Divas.)
"I'd been wanting to do an all Gerard evening for a long time," Pedi explains, "and now I had both the time slot and the deadline to do it. But you can't believe how difficult it's been to pick just a dozen numbers from 18 years' worth of his shows. It's all so good! The show will be a comment on Gerard's women in the theater--not just the sounds I make, but the words he writes." Alessandrini and Pedi share a real mutual admiration, so it's no surprise that Alessandrini responds, "Christine is a comic genius in her own right. Not only is she tremendously talented but, in any other era, she'd already be a star with a Tony or two. But because she does these brilliant impressions--she even gets into the damaged parts of famous voices--it sometimes overshadows the fact that she has a beautiful voice of her own."
This is high praise from the man who chose Pedi for his show out of 200 hopefuls back in 1990. As Pedi recalls, "I'd come to New York [from Westchester] and struggled for four years. I didn't know anyone in theater and had no friends in New York, and I'd vowed, 'No more cattle calls.' But I allowed myself one last perusal of Back Stage, and there was this audition for the Forbidden non-Equity tour."
It was not only the start of a beautiful friendship, but a dynamic theatrical duo as well; Pedi was obviously born to perform Alessandrini's ever-inventive parodies of Broadway (and Hollywood) divas. In the new edition of FB, she adds several new ones and revisits some old favorites in new numbers. Her Dame Judi Dench bemoans the state of British musicals ("Why Can't the English?") and her Queen of the Broadway Broads, Elaine Stritch, belts "Stritch" (to the tune of "Zip" from Pal Joey), while her Marin Mazzie (Kiss Me Kate) acknowledges "I Hate Ben" (as in Brantley). She sings and dances as Judge Judy, sashays as all-time prima diva Mae West. She's beautiful as a youthful Liza in pseudo-Halston red spangles, ballsy in blue when "Being LuPone," brassy and loud as Merman, "like buttah" as Barbra as Mame. She sports a faux mustache and a hairy chest plate for the parody of The Full Monty and plays a trombone (really!) for the "76 Hit Shows" finale (from The Music Man).
In 1999, Pedi was called in to play multiple roles in the Roundabout Theatre's Little Me, starring Martin Short and Faith Prince. "Most people see me primarily as a satirical performer," she says, "although an agent once told me that FB was too serious and esoteric for me! A friend of mine calls it 'rubber chicken theater,' but it's more than just changing clothes every 11 seconds. Each personality requires a total shift of physical and vocal energy." Much like Al Pacino's Michael Corleone in the Godfather trilogy, every time Pedi decides she's done everything she can in FB and it's time to move on, they "pull her back in" with new shows in new locales. "I had other shows lined up--but I'd never been to Los Angeles, Tokyo or London," she sighs.
She spent over a year in L.A. with Alessandrini's Forbidden Hollywood. "I intended to stay in L.A., but then they offered me New York!" she laughs. FH allowed her to expand her diva list to include such movie stars as a raunchy Sharon Stone ("Sharon, Sharon, Sharon, folks are always starin', 'cuz I'm always barin' my hide!") and an off-key Audrey Hepburn ("Dub Me" to the tune of "Show Me' from My Fair Lady), plus a really cute Pocahontas. "It always amazed me to see people laughing at the same song parodies in Tokyo as in New York, L.A. or London," she says. London--where she also wanted to stay!--took Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back and Christine Pedi to its collective heart. In particular, the critics made much of her take on British diva Elaine Paige (Sunset Boulevard), depicted as a sawed-off Munchkin. "I'm not small, it's the sets that got bigger," Pedi as Paige proclaimed to huge laughter--including that of Paige herself.
"It's almost surreal to perform in front of the artists we're parodying," says Pedi. "The other night, we had both Stephen Sondheim and Heather Headley out front. They're always the most gracious and appreciative audiences, but you get this strange tingle performing in front of them. It's a little dread and a little horror plus a bit of pride, but the pride always comes out on top."
There's another side of Pedi that we may be seeing more of. "It really happened sort of by accident during the start up of this edition of Forbidden," she reveals. "We were supposed to do something for the annual Gypsy of the Year event but, as the time got closer, everybody was too busy to rehearse and they all dropped out. Overnight, I wrote this monologue about Fay, a dresser from Yonkers, who explains the theater to her friend as she packs up all the costumes from the show. Everyone loved it. Gerry Gutierrez [the director] sent me a note, and Rosie O'Donnell even mentioned me on her show the next day.
"Doing Fay made me think of my late cousin, Tom Pedi," she continues. "He was the original Harry the Horse in Guys and Dolls and he'd been in all these shows by Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neill, but people wanted to pigeonhole him, too. I'm not just 'the girl who does voices,' " insists the woman who sees herself one day in such parts as Mama Rose in Gypsy and the title role in Mame. "You know--all the big, ballsy, belting broads," she says. "And I want to do period plays where I can wear a bustle all night and never take it off. Plus I'm good at accents, and I can talk fast enough to do Noël Coward," she giggles.