September 30, 2018

Presenting, live and in person, MissClairol Channing. Wig by Tommy, makeup by Barry Perkins (Reece Eve Cocx)

Well, ‘Hello, Dolly!’ has been put to bed and I’m trying to figure out how I feel about that. The show is one of the things I’ve organized my life and thoughts around over the last few months. I found out that I was going to be offered Rudolph during the period Tommy was in the hospital and the way things were going, I was expecting to have to eventually turn it down as he was going to be back home and have a lot of health needs and I would need to conserve my energies away from work to be able to be there for him and meet his needs, physical and emotional. Then he died unexpectedly and everything changed.

When the initial shock wore off and I made my decisions regarding life – take a few months off, travel some – one of the constants sitting at the back of the mind was that August and September would be taken up with Dolly rehearsals and performances. It became a bit of a rock in my grieving and turbulent emotional state… Just hang on, Dolly rehearsals begin in three weeks… two weeks… one week. It’s given me somewhere to be, people who are counting on me to do a job I love competently, a chance to hang out with friends, old and new, and a chance to be a part of something special. Maybe it’s the political moment in which we all find ourselves but pretty much everyone I’ve talked to who saw the show mentioned how it magically transported them away from their cares for a few hours and that they all left the theater singing and feeling light of heart and more assured of the general goodness of people. What a gift to be able to be part of a group that’s capable of doing that.

I had thought about trying to go into another theatrical project this fall. Something with an October rehearsal period and early November performance dates would have worked, but I think it’s better that I sit out for a few months now that my brain has been a bit reordered by the incredible supportive experience of Dolly and spend a few weeks closer to home. I still have a lot of Tommy’s life that I have to plow through and dismantle and there are some work projects that have been on the back burner for six months. There’s also the question of what these writings are to become…

There needs to be a story. Here’s a relatively recent one. It pertains to Dolly in a tangential way. Please forgive me for being a Carol Channing fan. I first learned of her from my mother who had always closely followed her career (they had gone to the same high school and Carol, who’s about ten years older was making her initial splash in NYC when my mother was in high school herself). We had copies of the OBCs of Dolly and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and childhood me didn’t quite know what to make of the tall lady with peroxide hair and the foghorn voice. I learned to identify her in the 60s and 70s when she made the rounds of talk shows and the occasional commercial and found her weirdly fascinating. In the early 80s, I helped direct Hello, Dolly! at Stanford and, shortly after that show, Carol came through San Francisco on one of her Dolly tours so a bunch of us went up to the city to see the show. She was gawky, quirky, not much of a singer, and you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. About the same time, Forbidden Broadway had opened and released its first album with the hysterical parody ‘Dolly is a Girls Best Friend’ which I immediately learned in my best Carol Channing voice and with which I annoyed my roommate and any number of other theater friends.

About three years ago, a group which raises money locally for senior services asked me to participate in their fundraiser – an all male beauty pageant in which men involved in the aging industry locally don drag and make themselves ridiculous on stage. I said sure and tried to decide what to do and then recalled the old Forbidden Broadway number and MissClairol Channing was born. I made an mp3 of the number, worked out a routine, had Tommy make me an updo wig with red feathers and pulled a red beaded gown out of our stock. Barry Perkins was my nurse at the time and he agreed to do my makeup. So on I go in my finery, waiting for my music to begin… and someone has decided to jettison my ‘Dolly is a Girls Best Friend’ track, which is why I’m dressed as Dolly at the Harmonia Gardens, and replaced it with Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend’ from the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Soundtrack. Oh lord, I thought, none of my routine is going to work. I’m going to have to wing it. Thank god I know the song so I can lipsynch and away I went… (there is video… I’m not posting it…)

I didn’t win (I make an ugly woman and red feathers and spangles didn’t help) but a good time was had by all and no one was aware that my routine was made up on the spot. I’ve threatened to bring MissClairol Channing back some day and I still have the wig. The time will eventually present itself.

Actually, MissClairol appeared again about a month later for Halloween. I had to do the makeup myself so it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Barry’s. I still had the wig in Tommy’s stock and his assistant, Holly, graciously restyled it for me.

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