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BWW Interview: Shelly Goldstein Talks About Her Life's Work as a Writer and as a Cabaret Artiste Par Excellence

BWW Interview: Shelly Goldstein Talks About Her Life's Work as a Writer and as a Cabaret Artiste Par Excellence

Writer/actress/cabaret performer Shelly Goldstein is very popular worldwide and is in a constant state of motion. In our interview she talks about her work and how she cannot live without it. Not a moment passes without a sprinkling of her extraordinary humor.

First, tell our readers about your background. How did you get interested in comedy and then musical cabaret?

SG: In truth Don, I don't think it was ever a conscious interest on my part. It chose me. I was always a performer..Maybe "ham" is a better word. I began singing along with my parents' musical theatre albums and my big sister's rock/pop records when I was about 2. I was acting them out by 5 and I wrote my first play when I was 7. I learned early that life was more enjoyable when I made people laugh.

Some years ago, I was hired to write a cabaret/nightclub act for a big TV star who loved what I wrote but only paid me part of the money we agreed on because I finished it a week earlier than we planned. (Punished for getting it done early!)

That gig was such a nightmare, I decided it was time to stop writing acts for other people and to write one for me. I did, expecting it to be a one-time thing. But the experience was electric. And after my very first cabaret show I was offered the great honor of being Michael Feinstein's opening act at an AIDS benefit. I said yes immediately! And I've been performing ever since.

You have been writing and punching up screenplays and TV shows for many years and have worked with some of the greatest names in the business. If you had to tell a funny story about one particular person, who would that be? Or two?

SG: There's an old expression about never meeting your heroes because they will disappoint you. I'm proud to say that with the occasional exception, most of the people I've met and had the honor to work with have been wonderful. There is little in life better than sitting at a table with Stephen Colbert writing jokes or making Steve Martin laugh. In addition to their immense talent, both of those men are as kind and wonderful as you'd want them to be. Having Paul McCartney tell me he'd read something I wrote and really liked it was beyond the beyond. One night I sang for Carol Channing and she said in that inimitable voice of hers, "I have no idea how that mind of yours works, but I love the madness that comes out!" I'd rather not focus on people who were mean or treated people badly. The times we're living in are much too negative.

Do you have a mentor or mentors from among all those celebs you worked with? Who influenced you the most in producing your own performing career? If more than one, what did you learn from each?

SG: My first mentor was Garry Marshall who discovered me at Northwestern through a seminar he taught that I was invited to attend . That same week he came to see an improv show I ran, directed and performed in - and he told me he was going to keep an eye on me. Two of the cast members of that show were Ira Glass who now is known for THIS AMERICAN LIFE on NPR and Gary Kroeger who was a cast member on SNL. Garry gave me my first TV job writing at Paramount. I met a lot of wonderful people when I first began working in LA. One was the unmatched Larry Gelbart who was one of the sweetest, funniest men in the world. We rarely saw each other, but we wrote each other e-mails back and forth and played word games and pun games which were like a master class in comedy writing. He'd tell me stories about his days working on CAESAR'S HOUR (contrary to popular belief, Larry never wrote YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and it used to bother him when he was mentioned as a writer on that show) and his early days on Broadway. I was also lucky enough to meet the great Treva Silverman who wrote so many legendary TV shows - notably THE Mary Tyler Moore SHOW and THE MONKEES. Treva is the only writer to ever win a "Super Emmy" - it was only given out once and was voted on by other writers. I grew up watching the shows she wrote and recognizing her name on the screen and was always awed by how smart and funny she was. She's also a dear person and a great friend.

As a performer I simply absorbed everything I could. I grew up performing musicals from the age of 6 in Chicago. When I decided to put together my own show, I went to a different cabaret show every night and participated in every open mic in town. I've also worked with brilliant musical directors/arrangers: Scott Harlan & Doug Peck in LA, Nigel Lilley & Tom Brady in London. The "patter" part of the show was never an issue for me, but each of them helped me musically in myriad ways, notably to find ways to do a song that truly made it mine. Not just re-writing lyrics which I love to do and do quite a lot - but also working to interpret a song in a way that was "me" - and working on great arrangements and medleys that tell a story.

I love putting songs together in unexpected ways. One of my favorite arrangements in my new show HOW GROOVY GIRLS SAVED THE WORLD (arranged with Doug Peck) combines "No Time At All" from PIPPIN, Laura Nyro's "And When I Die," Eric Idle's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and Carly Simon's "Anticipation." Performing it is a joy. I call it my "Happy Death Medley."

You have gotten rave reviews in London. What is cabaret like there in comparison to here in the US?

SG: First of all, I am madly in love with London and have been my entire life. It's the most glorious and electric city. Cabaret is wildly diverse and wonderful there. Different styles, different languages, different generations. It's invigorating. London cabaret audiences are wild - they want to have a good time.

Lots of Americans have made their mark there. The Queen of London cabaret and one of my best friends in the world is the brilliant Holly Penfield, originally from the Bay Area. Harold Sanditen and I have become very close friends. He's a dapper Southern gentleman from Tulsa who has built London's best Open Mic Party at Zedel (which used to be Le Crazy Coqs.) Miss Hope Springs is divine, the brilliant alter ego of Ty Jeffries, a wonderful songwriter and performer. Ruth Leon used to run cabaret at Zedel, now she books the Pheasantry in Chelsea and brings over many great American artists, like my friend Michele Brourman who plays her beautiful songs and performs with the Callaway Sisters and Amanda McBroom.

What thrilled me about performing in London and being so warmly embraced by the crowds there was the simple fact that when I first started, no one knew me (outside of my husband!) My references, especially in my early shows, were obviously very American and I wondered if they would translate. They did!

It was fantastic to make a roomful of strangers laugh and applaud...and over the years, I'm made many friends who follow my shows around.

My first "GroovyShelly" show, ONE FINE DAY: THE GROOVY GIRLS OF THE 60s paid respect to many of their icons: Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Cilla Black, Lulu and the legend of Swingin' London itself. I'm looking forward to bringing my new show HOW GROOVY GIRLS SAVED THE WORLD over there.

My very first London Show, SONGS FOR LOVERS & THOSE THEY'VE DUMPED was at the old Pizza on the Park, across from the Palace in Knightsbridge. There was a big, distinguished man sitting ringside, smoking an enormous cigar. The smoke drove me mad, but he commanded your attention. I found out he was Lord Spencer Churchill, Sir Winston Churchill's grandson!

I had a wonderfully fun run at Sergio's, just north of Carnaby St, organized by Ronnie Davison who is probably London's #1 fan and promoter of cabaret. My Musical Director was Nigel Lilley. When we started working together, he was fresh out of the Royal Academy of Music. Now he's one of the busiest conductors, arrangers and MDs in the West End.

He's been so busy that for my last show, he connected me with a gloriously talented guy who's making a big mark on West End theatre, Tom Brady. My show included Sondheim's "Getting Married Today" which I love to sing. A young West End actor was recommended to me as the perfect person to sing it with, playing Paul as well as the "Choirgirl". He showed up at rehearsals and was great. He did the sound check...Perfect.

Then hours later at the show...HE WASN'T THERE! He, preoccupied and missed the gig. So from backstage I called into the mic, "Tom - you're on!" And he filled in to perfection.

There I was - stood up at the altar! (Now when I do that song, I play all 3 parts!)

There's also a very vibrant one-person show community. Lots of shows that come from the Edinburgh Fringe. Hannah Gadsby's show was an impossible ticket to get long before she exploded on Netflix with Nanette. People would stand in line for ages hoping to get a seat when she went on.

Lots of Americans come over. Join us! I guarantee you an adventure you won't forget!

If you had to choose between writing and performing, which one takes precedence in your life, or do you like them equally?

SG: Absolutely no way I could choose one or the other. I need to do them both. I write every single day, I sing every day, I hope I say something that makes someone laugh and see something from a new perspective every day. Both are as important to me as breathing. The only real difference between being a writer or a performer is if you ask for a glass of water, someone will bring it to the performer. The writer, not so much!

What do you consider your funniest song?

SG: Hmmm...The most fun I have with a song that I didn't write is definitely "Getting Married Today." It's brilliant, it's hilarious, it's my cardio. Of my parodies, probably the one that audiences insist on would be my update on the Carole King classic that I call, "Un-Natural Woman."

The parody that means the most to me is the one I wrote as an anthem for marriage equality. I took the Mary Poppins/Sherman Brothers classic and rewrote it as, "Stupid Callous Homophobic Hateful Legislation." It went viral around the world and was sung at many weddings. One lovely man in Brussels translated it into French and sent it to me! The response to that song made me so proud - the cause means so much to me.

Is How Groovy Girls Saved the World set to perform in LA at some point in the near future?

SG: I debuted this show in LA earlier this year at Catalina's. It was a terrific night and we sold out the room. The show in Chicago was a blast and I hope to bring the show to London soon. I'd also love to take it to other cities - NY, SF, Palm Springs...and any other town that wants Groovy Music from some of the greatest women in Musical History as well as a lot of laughs. (Call me if you're interested!)

I know you from FB and from running into you at cabarets and hearing others perform your funny, funny songs, but I have never seen you do a show. Maybe a brief appearance in someone else's show at the Gardenia. You have such a curious mind on FB always coming up with quizzes and fun questions. Do you use any of these responses in your material for a show? What about the politics of the day? Does that play into your comedy routines?

SG: Politics always factor into my shows. How can it not these days? One of my favorite songs in the new show is a parody of one of the great Alan Menken-Howard Ashman Disney collaborations. It's about how Washington is screwing up the environment, primarily the oceans, lakes and rivers. It's about the problems for fish, flora, fauna and sea life, "Under D.C.!"

My shows are scripted but I always leave room to comment/ad lib based on what insanity we've faced that day.

ON FB I just try to get people to talk without being nasty or regurgitate talking points. It's often just a way to work through my frustration at what we're going through right now.

What other projects are on the horizon?

SG: Right now I'm writing a live comedy special. The cast is outstanding - Lily Tomlin, Pete Holmes, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Lesley Jordan, Allee Willis - and me!! It happens next month at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica and it's a fundraiser for a great animal charity, VOICE FOR THE ANIMALS.

Bruce Vilanch and I just created a sitcom together. Waiting for someone to produce it. The world needs to laugh right now, don'tcha think?

I want to bring HOW GROOVY GIRLS SAVED THE WORLD to some new cities and I am writing a new show about the California sound of the groovy era, notably the community in Laurel Canyon.

BTW - I write cabaret acts, special material and lyrics for performers all the time. Call me~

Oh, one last thing. I'm at that specific time we all must face...I'm obsessed with playing Mama Rose. Because...of course I am.



TWITTER follow me @groovyshelly

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