THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: Joan Rivers On Broadway - Streisand, Simon, Shakespeare & SALLY MARR
Today we are turning our attention to a world famous comedienne currently in the spotlight unfortunately due to her life-threatening health crisis, the one and only Joan Rivers.
Joan & The Paycock
Stand-up comedy is certainly as bare-bones, basic and outright terrifying as live performance gets - a performer all alone with an audience, with just a microphone and a stage apron separating them - yet Joan Rivers showed off a whole new set of theatrical skills in 1994 when she took on the Herculean challenge of writing and headlining her own one-woman show, SALLY MARR... AND HER ESCORTS. Based on the true story and real life of the mother of caustic, controversial comedian Lenny Bruce, SALLY MARR... was actually the third time Rivers made an appearance in a dramatic role on the Great White Way - previously, in 1988, Rivers committed to a rapturously-received stint in the Neil Simon hit BROADWAY BOUND, while she started off her career in a stage comedy penned by her eventual husband and father to her only child, Edgar Rosenberg, titled FUN CITY in the 1960s. Although both roles showcased Rivers's inclination towards comedy, it was in SALLY MARR... that Rivers finally got the chance to show her dramatic chops naked and unadorned in a compelling, original, brand new role. Alas, the run was to be short-lived.
SALLY MARR... ran for only 50 performances on the Great White Way 20 years ago, but Rivers considers it a career highlight to this very day nonetheless. Rivers herself spoke to me at length about the play in our InDepth InterView last year, relating, "Playing that show is my favorite thing out of everything I've ever wrote. I absolutely love it - I love doing it." Additionally, Rivers related, "It's a great part - oh, God, every actress should grab that part and run with it!" Plus, Rivers shed some light on an abandoned film adaptation, as well, sharing, "Well, Bette Midler optioned it for a movie, but then she dropped it. I thought, 'Oh! Mistake! Big mistake!'"
When questioned about eventual Best Actress In A Play winner Diana Rigg ultimately taking home the prize at the TONY AWARDS that year, Rivers told me, "Well, listen, they gave it to somebody whose play was scheduled to close - and did close - like three weeks after the Tony Awards. So, what is that all about? You hand the Tony to somebody and their play closes three weeks later because it is a limited engagement. They would not extend." Rivers elaborated, "I still love the Tonys, but I do think there should be certain rules put in place that they shouldn't award shows that are scheduled to close two weeks after they give the awards out... Listen, what the Tonys really are about is PR for Broadway, anyway - that's what they are really about."
At the time, Rivers also confirmed that she intended to bring SALLY MARR... back to Broadway in the near future - which is certainly something fans can look forward to following her recovery from her recent bout with bad health after a routine medical procedure went awry late last week. "I'll tell you what - and I am not making a joke - I am coming back to do Sally Marr...[AND HER ESCORTS] one night a week. I can't do it every day because of JOAN & MELISSA filming and FASHION POLICE filming - and, now, I have IN BED WITH JOAN filming. So, I want to do it once a week every week in New York," she said at the time, adding that the show had been significantly revised since its debut and also revealing at the time, "We already found a theater - on Broadway. It's a little theater, so it is going to be a pop-up theater for the show."
Furthermore, during our 2013 conversarion Rivers spoke extensively about her early theatre work in New York - including candid memories of starring opposite a young Barbra Streisand in an edgy, early Off-Broadway production, no less. The interview excerpt pertaining to her theatre work follows:
PC: Barbra Streisand famously appeared this year and I was curious if you could recount your experiences working with her on an Off-Broadway play, DRIFTWOOD, back in 1959.
JR: Of course I will. What do you want to know? I can tell you that it originally started off being written for Geraldine Page and Ralph Meeker, who, then, apparently read the script and turned it down.
PC: Geraldine Page didn't dig it?
JR: Well, apparently she was a good reader!
PC: It wasn't the best play, I take it?
JR: It wasn't the best. She was smart not to do it. So, we did it Off-Broadway - Barbra was still in high school at the time, so you can imagine how many people they tried to cast in it first.
PC: It wasn't a hot property, I take it?
JR: It wasn't. So, Barbra got the part and they couldn't find a guy to play one of the parts, so I said, "Why not make them lesbians?" And, so, that was it - that's what we did.
PC: That was very progressive for 1959, even Off-Broadway.
JR: It was. But, nobody saw us because nobody came to see us! [Laughs.]
PC: What a shame! It ran for nine weeks, right?
JR: Nine weeks would be being very generous, I think! They were giving lots and lots of tickets away, hanging around on street corners.
PC: What were some roles you played during that era?
JR: I was in JUNO & THE PAYCOCK Off-Broadway. I was in a play by N. Richard Nash - oh, God, I'm forgetting the title. I did a lot of stuff back then. I remember I auditioned for OUR TOWN, but I didn't get it. But, yeah, I really auditioned for everything - it was all about Broadway to me. Broadway, Broadway, Broadway.
PC: Did you ever take on a Shakespeare role?
JR: I actually got accepted to a big Shakespearean company in the Midwest and I remember getting in and being so excited, but then deciding not to go and instead I went to typing school.
PC: Do you regret that decision?
JR: Well, I did do some Shakespeare in college - I did OTHELLO.
PC: No way! Who did you play?
JR: I think I was the only Emelia in history with a New York accent.
PC: Now, that is funny!
JR: I was! I love going to Shakespeare-In-The-Park still to this day - I go to that every year and I love it. I wish I had done that once.
So, now, go back to 1994 and see clips of Joan Rivers in SALLY MARR... AND HER ESCORTS (beginning at 2:50).
What has been your absolute favorite Joan Rivers performance to date, whether onstage or on screen? Do you prefer her as an actress or a stand-up performer? Furthermore, would you be interested in seeing her back on Broadway sometime soon? Let us all send our best energy and positive vibes into the universe in wishing her a speedy recovery - and another Broadway bow, too.