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Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th

"I'm waiting for those producers to come and get me and put me in a wonderful, long term, high paying, enjoyable sit-com."

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th

Lillias White is a lady who really keeps herself busy. The Tony and Daytime Emmy Award recipient was the first performer to go back onto the stage of a cabaret nightclub after the lockdown of 2020 when she headlined The Green Room 42's reopening. She recently released her first-ever solo studio album, and she has a slew of concert dates coming up, the first ones beginning this week on August 12th at (guess where?) The Green Room 42! Before the pandemic hit, Ms. White was just as busy, acting in plays and playing clubs around the country, so it is no surprise that, once the show business shutdown was over, she would get back on the work horse right away.

Curious to know what inspires her, what keeps her going, and what her life as a grandmother is like, I got on the phone with Lillias White, and that's when I learned that, even on a Saturday, she's hard at work... only this time it was a little light housekeeping.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Hi Lillias, it's Stephen Mosher

(Laughing) I know.

How are you today?

I'm doing ALRIGHT!

How are you enjoying the weekend?

Well, I'm enjoying it... I'm doing the laundry (Laughing)... I forgot about this interview... (Laughing) and I was walking out the door with the dog... (Laughing)

Well, the laundry's gotta get done and the dog has to be walked!

I know, honey, we all need clean clothes, too. (Laughing)

Well I promise to not keep you too long, I just want to hear about your new show at The Green Room 42 - you were, in fact, the very first entertainer to go back into a cabaret room after the lockdown, weren't you?

Yeah, that was me, yes!

Put a picture in my head of everything that you were thinking and feeling as you were the first woman back on the stage.

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th It was tremendous, it was just such a gift to have people in the audience, to have live human beings - this is why we do what we do - it's for people, it's about having a heart to heart with the people out there, so that has been a wonderful thing. And all the people that were there were really happy to get out of their living room and into a club where they could sit down and hear some music and get the love.

But that show was a few months ago, your new show on August 12th is entirely new, isn't it?

Yeah! It's relatively new, it's based on the new CD... not all of it, there are going to be some songs you've heard before, but it's a new configuration.

I've spent a lot of time this week listening to the new CD, and it's just fabulous. This is your first studio album and your first solo album in a while. What was the inspiration for this album after so long?

I was a single parent for many years and I was always working, so I didn't have time. I tried to get it done at some point, but it didn't work out. So, I have a brother, he's passed away now, and he used to tell me that god is the perfect planner. There have been times when I've tried to get some recordings done - and I've done a lot of recording... I've done show tune albums, I've done dance music, I've done demos for people, I had a recording of the live show that we did at Arci's Place. So I've been recording, and... there are some live recordings floating around out there, in the clubs, you know, people record...

Yes, they do.

But this is the first time I've had the opportunity and the producer, where I could just say, "Let's get this done."

The album has a theme, it's right in the title: happiness. And I see your shows every time you play, and you're always a happy person. Where does that optimism come from?

(Answering immediately, without needing to think about it) Oh my goodness. I would have to say my mother and my family. You know, when I was little, I was very much encouraged to do what I was doing. I didn't know what I was doing (Laughing) but my family always encouraged me and pushed me to be the best that I could be, doing whatever I did. I'm going to write my memoirs very, very soon, and in the memoir, you'll read about my childhood. I don't want to give it away, but I was lucky to come out the way I did.

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th No spoilers on the memoir! We will keep that quiet.

No spoilers on the memoir! (Laughing)

But I will ask you this: does the book have a title yet?

(Mysteriously) No, it doesn't...

Well, as you go along, the book will help you name it.

Yeah. It will.

Getting back to the album, these are all songs everyone knows and loves, but they have brand-new treatments. When you're creating an arrangement of a song that's in our lexicon already, do those new arrangements come from you or from your musical director?

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th I would say it was a collaborative effort. Timothy (Graphenreed) passed away on March 1st, 2020, and Timothy and I worked together extensively for decades, putting shows together, and we were at the Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina several times - we performed down there, we performed at The Green Room 42, we performed at 54 below. We got to go to a lot of different venues and I miss him so much because one of the things that we used to do is we would have these ideas, and then I would call him and say, "What about this song? How about when we did this and that with that song?" and he would do the same thing. So it was a collaborative effort and we really would have a lot of fun doing that. Oh, my goodness, he came up with the parts for the background singers - it was his brilliance... you know, he was the composer of the dance music for the original THE WIZ that was on Broadway. And so he was a composer, and he had other projects that he was composing... and I was one of those things... We'd get together and just kind of giggle and make things happen. In a word, it was a collaboration... but it was easy because of his brilliance.

I once heard Betty Buckley say that if she's doing a live show and she doesn't sing the song, "Memory" it bothers people. Do you have that experience with your live shows and "The Oldest Profession"? Do people expect that song from you every time?

It's so funny you asked that because I was in San Francisco a couple of weekends ago at Feinstein's at the Nikko Hotel, and there was someone in the audience that requested it and my musical director, Gerry Sternbach had the music, but it was upstairs in the hotel. He was going to bring it and I said, "No, we're not doing that show, we're doing this show..." But he brought it down to the next night and we did do it. So people are still requesting it.

There are those artists who want to shake off that for which they are known. Do you still have a good relationship with that song and that show and Sonja?

Abso LUTE ly, Honey! Sonja has been VERY good to me! She's been really good to me. I love the show, I love the song, I love everything about The Life. It was really a very dynamic and interesting take on life in pre-Disney Times Square. You know, some of that grit is missing from New York City, I personally kind of miss some of it. It's just changed everything. But I am very, very much in love with The Life and with Sonja, with everything about it. I was telling someone last night about the costume, we were looking at something on New York 1 about costumers. I remember having words with Marty Pakledinaz, who designed the costumes for The Life, and he wanted to put me in a green something or other and I was fussing with him about it. And he was so hurt. And then... when I saw the costume... and I saw what he had done, and the impact that it had when I opened that curtain in the beginning of the second act, and I came out with that chartreuse bustier and that HAT with the BIG feather! Oh god! It was impactful! Yeah. I have very, very fond memories of putting that show together and working with Cy (Coleman) and Michael Blakemore and the wonderful cast and the great crew. I have no regrets, and I'm very, very blessed to have been a part of it.

And you are a born and bred New Yorker, so you saw New York in that era

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th Yes! I am from Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in Brooklyn in Crown Heights and my mother used to take my brothers and me, regularly, to Radio City Music Hall, and we would walk from Radio City Music Hall and we'd go to Horn and Hardart - (Giggling) I'm showing my age, now -. And if we didn't go there, we walked down to Times Square, we'd go to Nedick's and have those Nedick's hot dogs, with that wonderful orange drink they had. And my mother would hold us very close to her because there were all of these sleazy-looking people who were selling things. And one guy had a raincoat, he opened up the raincoat and he had all these watches and gold... I mean, that was real! So I'm a born and bred New Yorker and I've seen it change and some of the change is great. And some of it is so-so.

Your mother sounds wonderful, and you come from a good Catholic family. What was her take on you playing Sonja?

My mother LOVED Cy Coleman, first of all, so whatever I was going to do... Cy Coleman put me in Barum and that's when my mother got to meet him. So she just loved Cy Coleman and she'd loved his music since before I was born. My mother was all for me working and exploring my gifts. And she understood it was a show, it was not my life. It was me portraying a character. And my mother was so cool. My mother was a very hip woman.

What is the most prominent lesson your mother taught you that you used when it was your turn to be a mother?

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th She taught me to have good manners. Please. Thank you. Excuse me. You know, good manners. And I've tried my best to instill that in my children. She said "Be nice," to me, "Have good manners, and be kind to people cause you never know what somebody's life is like, - so be sweet." She kind of pushed that into me because I wasn't always sweet (Laughing heartily) not always sweet. (Laughing continues) Now I think I'm sweeter than I used to be.

You've been an actor for a really long time, but right now your music is in the front seat - what would you like to get into, acting-wise?

I'm waiting for those producers to come and get me and put me in a wonderful, long term, high paying, enjoyable sit-com.

Yes. Put that out there. Put that energy into the universe.

Yeah, that's what I'm saying! That's what I'm doing! I'd rather say what I want than what I don't want: I want a long-term, high paying, enjoyable sitcom! (Laughing)

Cause you're a funny girl.

(Lillias laughs really hard.)

I love how funny you are in your club acts. Let me ask you about that. When you do a nightclub act, do you sit down and script it out with your director or do you just speak extemporaneously when you get on the stage?

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th

I've worked pretty closely with WILL NUNZIATA and actually, WILL NUNZIATA was the first director that I had direct a show of mine- we did that for 54 Below and it was The Lillias White Effect, and I won a Bistro award for it. Generally, I do write out a setlist and I do put some thoughts down about what I want to say in those shows from moment to moment... and sometimes I follow it, and sometimes I don't, but a lot of times it's extemporaneous, I like that word. I fly by the seat of my pants and by what's happening in the news, by what I saw today and who said what to me and what I ate, what my grandkids did, a lot of times it's about what life is like and what's coming into my head, sometimes it's all about what's going on in the audience, if I hear people talking or see people talking, I interrupt their conversation, I get inquisitive and I ask people, "How long have you been married?" or "Are you together?" or "Hey, that's a pretty ring you have" or anything at all.

That's one of the things that I love about your shows because a lot of the time people on the stage are so married to their scripts that they forget that what's happening is a conversation between them and the audience. I never get that from you, I always get the vibe we are at your house and you are just being this great hostess who sings.

And that's what I want you to feel. I want you to feel welcome and I want you to feel like I'm singing and talking to you. This is just for you.

What kind of grandmother are you? Are you the cookie baking grandmother or the cool hip grandmother?

Oooooh! I'm the grandmother who makes soup and provides them with watermelon in the summer. And I'm the grandmother that takes them out to eat and we go to SeaWorld (when it was open), and Universal Studios. I want to put them all on a plane in first-class, and let's go somewhere.

When you're not doing laundry, you keep really busy - where else are you playing these days, after The Green Room 42?

I'm going to be in P-Town!

Have you been to Provincetown? Is that a regular stop for you?

We're trying to make it one; we didn't do it last year, of course, because of the pandemic, but I was there the year before with Timothy. So I have that coming up... and I have some other stuff coming up that I can't talk about yet because it's not signed on the dotted line...

No spoilers! We will wait for the big announcement! Do you have any one specific track on the new album that you had a particularly fun time doing?

Oh, I had a good time doing "The Twist." (Laughing) Joshua Sherman was the producer of the album and he wanted Timothy to escalate the tempo, so the tempo went up and up and up.. and so that was fun to do. I loved singing "That's All" and I think my favorite track on the whole album is "You're My Best Friend."

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th

The Queen song! Oh, it's so good. It's such a good treatment of that number.

Thank you because I really love the song, I love what it says. And I think it pertains to people who are just friends and people who are closer than friends.

Well, I don't want to keep you from the laundry so before we say goodbye, I have to hear about the dog!

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th She's a chihuahua mix, six years old and she's a rescue. I got her from the humane society in Chicago when we were doing the show "Gotta Dance." And she was a spoiled brat and I have a beautiful albino bengal cat.

I'm sure that having pets was a great solace during the lockdown.

It was absolutely essential. I don't know if I would have kept my sanity

Animals, make everything better.


Well, I'm sure the clothes are ready to come out of the dryer, so I'll let you go - have a wonderful time at The Green Room 42 celebrating the release of GET YOURSELF SOME HAPPY. I know the audience will be getting lots of happiness.

Interview: Lillias White of WE'RE BACK at The Green Room 42, August 12th Through 14th That is my goal. My goal is to make people feel good about being alive and about being lucky enough to be able to sit in a room and be comfortable and be entertained. Because there are so many people around this country and around the world, who do not have that opportunity. I was in LA and San Francisco within the last couple of weeks and the homeless situation there is atrocious. People are down on their luck and have lost their homes and are trying to get to a place that's stable. To be able to sit in a club and have a beverage and some dessert with a loved one and enjoy some music - we ought to all be happy to do it.

When you are sitting in a club watching a performer, what is your preferred beverage and dessert?

Oooh, dessert is usually something chocolatey - molten chocolate mousse something, and champagne or a martini.

Lillias do you have a philosophy or motto by which you live your life?

Be kind to people... be kind to yourself. If you treat yourself right, it's easier to treat other people right.

Lillias White WE'RE BACK plays The Green Room 42 August 12, 13 and 14. For tickets visit the Green Room 42 website HERE.

Lillias White will appear at The Art House in Provincetown Massachusettes on August 27 and 28. For tickets visit the Art House website HERE.

Copies of Lillias White's album GET YOURSELF SOME HAPPY can be purchased HERE. Get Yourself Some Happy is a 2021 release on the Old Mill Road Recording label. Visit their website HERE.

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