BY Advocate Contributors
December 04 2009 1:50 PM ET
Then I wrote a Lauren Bacall/Woman of the Year lyric, inspired by her performance on the Tonys. Again, I was watching with friends. When Bacall sang, “I’m one of the girls who’s one of the boys,” somebody — I think it was Peter Brash — said, “I think she’s one of the girls who’s really a boy.” That was all I needed to get me going.
While I was working at Lincoln Center as a maitre d’, I had lots of time to jot down lyrics. I would be at the host stand, and sometimes it would get very busy, but mostly I’d stand there for hours with nothing to do. So I’d write parody lyrics on these big paper placemats. I wrote out the Burton, Bacall, and Patti LuPone in Evita spoofs. On my breaks, I would call friends and sing the lyrics into their phone machines. (People had phone machines in those days.)
During the summer, the host stand was moved outside to the plaza, near the fountain. One day, the wind blew my whole set of lyrics off the stand, and I thought they were gone forever. But my manager, Bob Arnold, came up to me the next day, grinning from ear to ear. He was holding a bunch of crinkled papers, and he said, “Somebody found these floating in the fountain last night. I read them and I thought they must be yours.” The papers had gotten wet, of course, and the ink had run a bit, but you could still read the lyrics. Thank heaven Bob rescued them and had a good sense of humor, or there might never have been a Forbidden Broadway.
At the time, I was also studying musical theatre at The New School with Aaron Frankel, who has been a great mentor and friend to me. All of us would bring in songs from book musicals we were working on and present them to the class. There would usually be some time left at the end of each session when we would entertain each other, so I thought, “Let me see how they like these parody lyrics.” Everybody loved them, and Aaron said, “You should put those songs into an act and do it at a nightclub somewhere.”
I took his advice to heart, but I didn’t want to perform the songs alone, since many of them were about Broadway divas and I really wasn’t into drag. So I enlisted the help of a talented singer-actress-comic genius I knew. She was as unique as her name, Nora Mae Lyng, and I had always wanted to write a show for her.
I had already come up with the Forbidden Broadway concept; I kept the lyrics in a folder that had that title on the cover, along with my own cheesy, hand-drawn version of what the logo art would look like. It featured a grinning and winking Amadeus hovering over a 42nd Street chorine, plus the face of Richard Burton, a Timbuktu chorus boy, and Mrs. Lovett grabbing the crotch of Sweeney Todd. It was a mess, but the point of view was all there. (To this day, whenever I do a new edition or show, I sketch out the poster art first. That helps me set the tone.)
Another friend of mine who was also wonderfully supportive and encouraging at the time was Pete Blue, whom I had met in Aaron’s workshop. Pete and I tried writing a few songs together, and we joined the BMI workshop as a team. During his off hours from his job as conductor and pianist for the original Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Pete was generous enough to help me put together Forbidden Broadway as a club act.
By the summer of 1981, Nora, Pete, and I were ready to go. The first presentation of Forbidden Broadway was in June 1981, in Peter Brash’s living room. Nora and I sang about fifteen songs, with Pete at the piano. We used “costumes” from our closets, evening wear and hats. The audience consisted of Peter; his partner, Jim Lynnes; my friend Laura Henry; and Nora’s husband, George Kmeck. They were rolling on the floor with laughter, and I thought, “Maybe this really is a good idea for a show.”