Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES

I had the incredible pleasure of talking to Marilu Henner on her upcoming show at the Write-Off Room Music and Memories on September 23rd

By: Sep. 06, 2023
Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES

I had the incredible pleasure of talking to Marilu Henner on her upcoming show at the Write-Off Room Music and Memories on September 23, 2023. She completely wowed me with her uncanny detailed memory of her illustrious career. Marilu is only one of twelve people in the world who has hyperthymesia, or in laymen’s terms: total recall memory. Accompanying Marilu on her one-nighter will be musical director Michael Orland on piano.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Marilu! So, how are you doing today? Everything good?

Yeah, everything's really good. I’m talking to you. I’m about to see Michael Orland. It’s a good day.

Since you've presented Music and Memories at Feinstein’s 54 Below and numerous other venues across the country, how much rehearsals do you need for your September 23rd show? Just a quick run-through with Michael and his musicians?

I’ll work with the musicians later, but Michael and I are going to go through and maybe change a couple of things. I do two stories and songs about my ex-husbands, my first two ex-husbands, and they both recently passed away within eight days of each other. I'm going to try to figure out how to talk about it and if I'm just keeping the songs, that's part of it. We're always upgrading the material, changing lines here and there, adding some things. I'm working on a new show for next year. This show I doing here because a lot of people here in Los Angeles haven't seen it. So I'm very excited. I don't know the Write-Off Room. Do you know that venue?

No, I haven’t been there yet. It's fairly new. I heard it’s nice.

I'm excited to go there. I think my husband and I are going to go pop over there this weekend and get a feel for it. See what it’s like. I always loved new places. And I've been able to do the show, since the pandemic started, I've done it 39 times. This will be my 40th performance, because I got to do a three-week sit-down of 19 shows in Bucks County. Because of that, I kept saying I feel like Celine Dion in Caesars, because very rarely do you get to do a sit-down for a one-woman show. But I added dancers. I added numbers because they wanted an intermission, which of course I'm not going to do here. They wanted an intermission in Bucks County because they wanted me to name some drinks after the numbers in my show, so they could sell liquor during intermission.

Tell me the drinks.

The drinks were slow gin Roxy, Mary Margarita and Manhattan for Taxi.

How scripted is your Music and Memories? To the letter? Or room for lots of improv and changes of song?

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES It's very elastic. I add numbers. I subtract numbers. I have dancers. I don't have dancers. I had four musicians. I have just a piano. It's very modular. You can change it depending on how much time the venue wants, etc., etc. And I've always been very spontaneous as a person. So, I'll add all kinds of things. And I'll talk about people in the audience. Plus, I do this thing. I have a very unusual memory. I don't know if you know that about me.

Yes. I do.

I have a little fishbowl in the lobby and people would write a date and a year and at random, I'll pull out a piece of paper during the show. And tell them what day of the week it was, what I was doing on that day, and what song was popular then and sing a couple bars.

WOW!

That's fun. Yeah, that's a lot of fun. That's always different. Sometimes, if there's no lobby with a fishbowl. I'll just have people call out dates while I'm on stage. There's no preparation for it. It's just very spontaneous.

I was going to ask you this question at the end of our interview, but since you brought up your fantastic memory you have… You must have had hundreds, more likely 1000s of guests on your talk show Marilu.

I did 165 episodes. I would have done a lot more because I love doing it. But when OJ was picked up for a second season, they said you can't compete with OJ. The only other two shows that are doing well were Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake. If you want to go tabloid? I said, ‘No, I don't think so.’ My little son was little, very little, he was a year old, and I was pregnant with my second son. So, no, that's it.

Out of your many, many guests, do you remember having a shiatsu therapist on your show demonstrating his shiatsu techniques.

Oh, absolutely. Was that you?

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES Yes.

Oh. my God! Are you still doing that? I need one. I missed that kind of massage. I remember the demo and everything.

Unbelievable! Unbelievable! We’ll talk more about that later.

Okay. Back to the interview. What can the Write-Off Room audiences expect to hear September 23rd.

I always think of something sticky for people to remember. So it's 9-23-23. 9-23-23. Last year I did it on 7, 7 at 7. But this year, it’s 92323 at 8. What can they expect? Well, they can expect stories for sure about my career, my family, the way I grew up, which was very unusual. Stories about my costars. They can expect a few little videos. There's a tribute of course to Taxi, a great little montage. And just weaving in stories about just life and self-help. I throw everything in there. I've written 10 books, New York Times Bestsellers. And so because of that, I'm always trying to well, basically drag people kicking and screaming to a better life. But we’re having fun while I'm doing. People really love the show. I'm very happy about it. I had all my Taxi guys there last year. December 14th, they all came. And it was great. It was Jim Brooks and his girlfriend, and Jimmy Burrows came, and Judd Hirsch and his wife, and Chris Lloyd and his wife, and Danny and Rhea were there, and it was unbelievable. I'm constantly talking to the audience. I think that's my talk show training as well. I'll pull people, not pull people up necessarily, although I did do that in Bucks County. But I'll talk to people and tell little stories and refer to things, so just every show is not completely different because some of the musical numbers are set, but the patter changes depending on what's going on. For example, now, there's a little tribute I do to my sons who are grownups. They're 27 and 29. But last year, my son Nick directed his first feature Theater Camp. Have you seen it yet?

I haven't yet, but it’s on my list.

Oh, it’s brilliant. You have to go see it and see it in a theater if you can, before it's going to be on Hulu soon, but go see it in the theater. It's so much fun to laugh with everybody else. I mean, it's unbelievable. And they won an award at Sundance, they called him an actor's director. And there's a little clip in the movie in the little film I show. You know the little video when I'm singing a song about my kids, my two boys. He's got a director's camera. I always say, ‘Oh, he's the director now.’ But now I'll say why he's the director and what he's done. Always adding things. It always feels very fresh to me to do the show.

You must be proud mom.

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES Oh, my gosh! Amazing! He didn’t even have an agent or a manager and now he's got everything. He's started doing new deals and offers. It's great.

My other son too. Joey's the funniest person in the family. Joey improvs all over New York. He's part of a group called Obsessed With Us. It's fantastic. Both my boys were in their improv teams and then Joey went to Northwestern and made Mee-ow which is famous for Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They are really good improv comedian kids. Anyway, he wants to be a comedy writer and he's got a hot script. Joey's also an international bridge player. He got into bridge when he was 12. He's got my kind of memory and he became a life master in bridge by the time he was 24. And he has all these female clients that pay him a lot of money to play bridge with him.

How did you and Michael Orland first meet?

Oh, ‘How did we meet?’ people always ask me. I always tell them; I met him on August the second. August the second was a Saturday, 2008. I met him in San Francisco. I was doing a benefit. He was there with Ricki Lake. Matter of fact, that's twice I've mentioned her. They were singing together. Then last year, it's crazy. It was one of those things where we just started working together because somebody else couldn’t make it one day. He came, and then once Michael and I started working together, it was just magical. He’s unbelievable! Do you know him?

Yes. I'm supposed to interview him for an upcoming show.

He's unbelievable. He's so special. He can play anything. I mean, it's just a different language. When you're that kind of artist, it's just amazing. He's got the best dog, his dog Jinx, who's huge. He's a husky. While we were in Bucks County, he would literally be on in the wings and not move a muscle, just sit there. I always say, ‘Don't anyone tell Jinx he's a dog.’ He can get away with so much. He, she's beautiful. Jinx is a she. Oh, please, she gets so mad! I have a little puppy who's a little boy. That's why I was confused, but Jinx is very much, a very beautiful girl.

What stage show did you perform the most times in? Grease? Chicago? Gettin’ the Band Back Together? Tale of the Allergist’s Wife? Social Security? Pal Joey?

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES There goes my resume! Well, Chicago was 408 performances as Roxy so that was quite a few. Definitely not Getting the Band Back Together because that was canceled after a month.  Tale of the Allergist’s wife, I've done it three times. I did it on Broadway with Rhea Perlman. I did it here in Los Angeles at La Mirada with Caroline Aaron, and I did it at Bucks County Playhouse with Marsha Mason. I did do quite a few performances of that, but still Grease, I would say, probably Grease. Doing Grease was like going on unemployment.  In between jobs, you wouldn't go on unemployment. You’d go, ‘Oh, is my part free in Grease? Okay, I'll go there for a couple months.’ I went in and out of Grease so many times. It was such a big part of my life. But I don't know, maybe I'll have to count it up. Chicago I know is 408 times. Maybe Grease first and then Chicago. Grease was so many times in and out.

What show or performer that you saw gave you the acting bug?

Oh, I had the acting bug at two and a half years old. I wanted to be on stage from the time I was a very little girl. There’s six kids in my family. My two older sisters both took lessons from the choir master, and I would go and listen to them. When I was two and a half, he taught me a song and I got to sing it at a father and daughter breakfast. I got up on stage and that was it. That was it. I was going to be a performer. My oldest sister, she's 10 grades ahead of me; she was always the lead in school plays. I'd be the little girl carrying her script around, running lines. When she did The King & I she played Anna, I was Princess Ying Yaowolak. Back in fourth grade I went to class, the final week with my hair spray dark and my makeup still on and people would say, ‘Why do you have black spray in your hair?’ And I said, ‘It's tech week.’ I was always this very theatrical little girl who always wanted to grow up and do this.

You’ve worn a number of hats in your long career (TV talk show host, author, producer, actress, radio talk show host, teacher). Which one gives you the most gratification?

Well, I love being on stage. I love live theater. That's probably my true passion. I'm so excited to be coming back to New York and to be on stage again. I love live theatre. I just feel very comfortable. Being live, you know, there's something so spontaneous about it and you're in present time and you deal with whatever is happening and that's great. I'm coming to New York with a show with Caroline Aaron, JoBeth Williams. Melanie Myron and I. We've did seven weeks here. Sandra Tsing Loh wrote this incredible piece called Mad Women of the West. And we're opening it at the Actors’ Temple on November 11th in New York, and we're running for the eight weeks. I don't know if it's gonna be called Madwomen of the West or Madwomen of the Westside, because it's very L.A. centric now. I think we're gonna change it. But Madwomen of the West. ‘Oh, you're doing a Western.’ It's like, no, no, no, we're talking about West Los Angeles. That would be maybe the westside. I don't know. But it's great. Oh, it's such a great part for me. It's such a wonderful, wonderful part that was written pretty much written for me. Caroline and I played sisters on Broadway in Social Security, directed by Mike Nichols. We met December 26, 1986, and we've been like really close, super close friends since then. It was a Friday. It's so great being able to play with her on stage. We have great chemistry. Melanie, I've known even longer. We were in the Grease and Godspell families. All the Grease and Godspell kids used to hang out together. I have known her forever. JoBeth I knew because she was on my talk show like you were and we’d run into each other a lot over the years. It's about women, the four of us. It's great to do a piece about women, really, and what we're all thinking about now.

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES But in terms of all hats, I love writing books, although writing a book is more painful than childbirth. My childbirths were so easy compared to writing books, and I've written so many books. It's always that feeling of, especially on a deadline day... You know that scene in Broadcast News, ‘Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby! We're trying to get the deadline completed!’ There's always this rush. I think the reason I love cooking so much is it has that that opening night feeling. You know, cooking is such a challenge. It's meditative for me because there's this planning ahead and getting the ingredients right and figuring out the timing and, there's always that something could go wrong, and you have to be thinking on your feet. Even if you’ve done a recipe a million times, there could be some variant. There's something I like about that, the spontaneity. I would say live theater is probably my true passion.

So if you were forced to choose just one of your occupations, I guess stage would be it.

Yeah, probably, but I like all of it. I can't imagine having to give up… Why are you making me pick one! I don’t like that! Performing in my show, anything live is great. I don't want to do stand-up, that I think is the hardest of all the disciplines. But I love performing and being there with people and seeing what comes up. I don't get nervous. It's funny people are say, ‘God, you have nerves of steel.’ I could be on The Tonight Show or Letterman; or I could be on a Broadway opening and I'm excited, but I don't feel like sick to my stomach nervous. Put me at one of my son's old lacrosse games, or football games or watching my kids on stage, my heart is pounding. Being the mom sitting in the bleachers or the audience, that's the heart-pounding part.

What do you remember of your first night on a Broadway stage in Grease in 1972?

The first Broadway show that I was in was Over Here! The very first preview, the next day I got calls from six agents. It was so cool. it was unbelievable. When I started doing the show two years ago, I added a little photograph because I tell this part of that. Just a little fast story about this part of my life because I have photographs through the whole show, you know, Music and Memories. And there's a beautiful photograph from January of 1974 and you see in front of the Shubert Theater, Over Here! and it's John Travolta, Treat Williams, Annie Reinking and me. At the time, all four of us were still here. Now we've lost Annie and Treat. And it's just mind boggling to me that they're gone. Treat especially because I just talked him two weeks before he passed away in just such a crazy random, violent accident. Horrible, horrible. And Annie was taken from us, also devastating. You live this life, and you meet so many people that you love and you work with and you just can't believe you won't have them forever

Is there one leading stage role that you would love to sink your teeth into?

Let's see, quite few actually. I always thought that I would make a great Mame because I'm kind of the Auntie Lu in my family. I was an aunt long before I was a mother. I was always spoiling my nieces. Now everybody, I have my two sons and my oldest son Nicky, he started this whole trend in the family of another whole set of kids. So it was my sister and her two boys and my niece and her son and my other niece and her daughter and all their friends and everything. And it's so funny because everybody over Christmas stays with me and the kids came all the time. And they always stayed with me, and it was Camp Auntie Lu. ‘We're going to camp Auntie Lu for the holidays.’ COVID took a couple years away from us. The kids all came back and they're all a little bit older now. So, it went from Camp Auntie Lu to Club Lulu. Now it's the grownups who go to sleep and all the kids stay up super late on the lower floor of my house. They are in the hot tub at four o'clock in the morning. I said it's not Camp Auntie Lu anymore, it's Club Lulu, for sure.

My eight-year-old niece and 10-year-old nephew live with us and they're about to start school. My brother and I are running the annual fund campaign. So we've been up at the school. It’s taking over my life. Like why did I agree to do this? But actually, I've been a mom nine times for my kids and his kids, so I don't mind. It's back to school. It's happening.

Neil Simon was a friend of mine, and he always said you have to at some point play Mama Rose, because the passion you have for your nieces and your kids. He said, ‘That's a great part for you. You just have that spirit and that focus.’ That's always been a part that I have the energy for.

Interview: Proud Mom Marilu Henner Ever Excited in Making MUSIC & Remembering MEMORIES That's a nice compliment from Neil Simon.

Yes, for sure.

What’s in the near future for Marilu Henner besides Madwomen of the West?

I'm working on a design show for PBS that's going to be so much fun, but I can't really talk about it.

Thank you again, Marilu! I look forward to sharing your Music and Memories.

I think you'll get a real kick out of it. And I'll call you out from the audience. Because that's always fun too.

Oh, my god! I lost my train of thought.

You have to see Theater Camp. Try to see it while it’s in the theaters. It's fantastic.

He directed it, my son.

Yes. Your son.

Yes, my son, my Nick. Nick Lieberman.

I’ll talk to you soon and I’ll see you even sooner. Take care.

For tickets to Marilu’s one-nighter September 23, 2023; click on the button below:



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