Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels

Marilyn Michaels

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels

Marilyn Michaels. What has this woman not done?! She's a tremendous singer, Broadway actress, recording artist, television and stage comedian, author, painter, and mother. The list doesn't stop!

From her television debut in 1964 to today, Marilyn has been a TV regular. With her impersonations of famous singers, celebrities, and personalities she has garnered the legendary nickname of "Woman of a Thousand Voices and Faces".

She has worked with many of the big names in the business; Ed Sullivan, Liza Minnelli, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Burt Reynolds, Joan Crawford, Debbie Reynolds, and Carrie Fisher to name a few. She toured the country as Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL as well as appeared on Broadway in CATSKILLS ON BROADWAY. She helped open the door for female comics everywhere after appearing as the only female comedian on the Emmy Award-winning series "The Kopykats".

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels
Marilyn in FUNNY GIRL

I was lucky enough to be seated alongside Marilyn at an illustrious roundtable at Sardi's filled with 10 other show business greats. The afternoon was one of many I have gratefully spent in the continuation of the historic Algonquin Roundtable hosted by Broadway and Cabaret's most in-the-know hostess, producer, and singer, Randie Levine-Miller. Marilyn had some really great personal stories that she shared, some of which are in her book, some that are not. She lit up the room and seemed to enjoy making us all laugh-and boy did we laugh!

Besides her innate stage talents, what sets Marilyn apart from others is her drive, her attention to detail, and her want to continue to create. During this time she has been focusing on her other creative love, which is painting. She also has been creating and performing work on stage with her son, Mark. Hopefully, they will both appear soon on a stage near you! Be prepared to belly laugh!

NA: Who is your mentor and what would you like to say to your mentor?

MM: I always felt there was a particular correlation between Sammy Davis, Jr. and myself. Both child performers, both singers who did impressions. He ended up writing my first liner notes for my debut Warner Bros Album...and through the years we worked together numerous times. I am in his biographies.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels
Marilyn with Sammy Davis, Jr.

NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?

MM: Oh it's given so much! Of course, there is untold glory when things are going well. Someone once told me when I performed at a gala (and many folks were on some sort of anti-depressant) the producer whispered to me "wow they won't have to take their meds tonight!" What a great compliment that is. On the practical side...I met my 2nd husband through being on tv and the Diet 7 UP campaign. He wrote me a fan letter and it led to a marriage and a baby...not necessarily in that order! Also, I have a super apartment on the upper west side...Performing bought it.

What has it taken away? Tough question. I suppose the art of being a calmer individual... being less fearless...I probably WOULD have gone ice skating if everyone were not so terrified I might fall and not be able to dance... And hey!--I don't EVEN dance!!! But you get my drift. I don't do alcohol or recreational drugs, but that is a good thing... Anything that would have threatened the work was off-limits.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels
Anita Gilette, Marilyn and Debbie Reynolds

NA: What is the hour like before you go on stage?

MM: Nervous...sometimes I think I can be a little short with people because I am basically nervous and must focus...also usually lying down...to take any strain off a very bad back...scoliosis, etc. So I am off my feet and hardly any talking at all. Vocal rest is essential when I work.

NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?

MM: This is near to impossible...there are too many to mention. I suppose working with my mom when I was a teen...the hysteria of the audience was something special when we sang liturgical duets together in Hebrew...very stirring stuff. Then of course those opening nights in Funny Girl, LA, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That run-through at the Winter Garden before we left on tour for Jerome Robbins. Singing through the score with Jule Styne! Wow! ...... like that...oh yes...Dean Martin! Side by side with him... magnetic heaven! ...oh! Everything I got to do on the series, THE KOPYKATS. The last Ed Sullivan on Broadway Special with Merman, Julie Harris, Gwen Verdon...it was a who's who and I had a big chunk of that show.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels

NA: What are you most proud of?

MM: My son, Mark...the writer...I had him when I was 40! ... just missed the cut-off point... super proud of this new CD-- LET THERE BE NIGHT ( Amazon.com and marilynmichaels.com) It's some of my best and inventive work. THE BOOK!!!! HOW NOT TO COOK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, written with Mark! (he is so funny!) Everyone from Orson Welles to Barbra, Judy... Liza. So many friends made their way into it! AND the musical comedy I have written with Mark. I did the music, he did the lyrics. ALYSHA...must get that baby on its feet!

NA: You had many inspirational singers in your family when you were young - a mother who was a Cantoress, a father who sang at the Metropolitan Opera, and Uncle who was also a Cantor. Did you study how to sing with any of them or did you learn more by watching them perform? What lessons do you still use to this day, if any?

MM: Oh yes...this was major stuff. My Uncle was a genius and I was in the choir at 14 singing solos and duets with him. I am on the iconic collectible "The Moishe Oysher Chanukah Party"! ( ha...I'm a collectible!) He was so great...inventive artist...a big inspiration.

My mom, Fraydele Oysher was the same, and I got my "stage legs" working with her from the age of 7! A child performer...it was natural for me. What I always wanted to do...what I always COULD do...I still can't make change.

And yes, I watched her from all over the theatre when she performed. I studied. I absorbed it all.

Any formal tips came from my dad Harold Sternberg who was a basso with the Metropolitan Opera. He put me through my paces at the piano and always encouraged me not to "push the voice". He was a fine musician...but together my parents were tough on me. I had to be "great" every time! There was no in-between. They expected greatness. That is a lot of stress to carry your whole life. I still strive for perfection! Whew...

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels
Marilyn and her mother, Fraydele Oysher

NA: While attending The High School For Music and Art (LaGuardia), you switched your major from music to art.

MM: Yes...now...here's the thing...I was always doing many things if they were art-inspired. I went to Music and Art as a music student, voice/piano, and such...but switched midstream and became an ART major. Art is a huge part of my life...the other "me" as it were. My education is mostly in art and art history...So if I hadn't done show business, I probably would have painted full time. Though I must admit in recent years writing has become lucrative and much to be desired. It's so hard to write, but when you are in love with language, words as I am...so I'm working on a 2nd book now...

NA: What inspired that change and what do you love more - painting, impressions, or singing?

MM: I love to do comedy and impressions. It is great fun to develop or find a new voice...immersing yourself in a character! But I am first and foremost a singer and able to do the best work in a studio. I love the recording process. Working on the arrangements and orchestrations which I hear in my head. Then the layering all of it in the studio, including harmonies, double...triple...more!

Painting is a quiet thing to do without the audience... a soul thing. You go into another/different zone.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels
Marilyn's painting, The Clown

NA: Early on in your career, you were performing on several huge national television shows - Jackie Gleason Show, Ed Sullivan Show, Mike Douglas Show, Joe Franklin Show, Dean Martin Show, Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, to name a few. What was the experience like being on those shows?

MM: Look, every time I was on these shows, it wasn't lost on me that I was living my dream. Whether it was working with Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Gleason, Johnny Carson, Jonathan Winters... and many more... Each experience was unique and thrilling. I go into it in much more detail and many anecdotes in How Not To Cook....which has little to do with cooking!

NA: You performed as Fanny Brice in the national tour of FUNNY GIRL. What's one stage mishap that happened over that tour that the audience had no idea occurred?

MM: There were many...in different cities. In San Francisco, I fell in the middle of "I'm The Greatest Star" and finished the song on my knees...That was NOT the choreography...and the audience really didn't know what happened. But the many anecdotes and excitement and scandals as well in a touring company are more detailed in the book.

NA: You wrote your latest book, "How To Not Cook For The Rest Of Your Life" with your son, Mark. You also perform on stage together. What inspirational advice have you given Mark?

MM: Mark just told me my advice to him has been amongst other things...

"Don't forget to put your tanner on"and "take your glasses off!"

Also... "Fix your collar."

I think for the most part he sees my absolute focus and dedication to every aspect of a presentation, from how you look, to how you use your voice, your banter, your timing, the lights... everything... and on making it as perfect as possible and he reminded me of my mantra!! "There is no easy way into heaven."

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Marilyn Michaels
Marilyn with Marilyn Maye

NA: And what would you say to other young people who are looking for a career in show business?

MM: The Mom in me says, "You must have a backup! You must... There are No Guarantees in this world and very few actually get a shot. Being prepared is essential, but always have another way to survive. That is my good advice to young performers. I, on the other hand...still can't make change.

NA: What creative endeavors are you working on now?

MM: Another book: HOW TO TALK DIRTY TO A WOMAN

Getting our musical comedy on ALYSHA...which is very special on many levels. It has a thoroughly integrated cast: African Americans, Asians, Jews, Hispanic...it is a repertory musical and great fun.

And presently, helping to edit my son's novel OLIGOPOLIS

A Gothic mystery horror/thriller novel.

Oh...where did I go wrong as a parent!!!


Join Team BroadwayWorld

Are you an avid Cabaret fan in NYC? We're looking for people like you to share your thoughts and insights with our readers. Team BroadwayWorld members get access to shows to review, conduct interviews with artists, and the opportunity to meet and network with fellow theatre lovers and arts workers.

Interested? Learn more here.




Related Articles View More Cabaret Stories


From This Author - Nicholas Adler