When Michael McCorry Rose and Tiffany Haas met on the Wicked tour, the two of them had an instant friendship. He was drawn to her “infectious personality” and she to his “killer sense of humor.” They also realized they had a love of classic musical theatre, something that struck them as interesting since they were in the middle of this very contemporary musical tour. So the idea of their show, Cheek to Cheek: A Broadway Romance, was born. A show that would be filled with all the songs they love to sing.
But things really started taking shape when Michael was chatting with an NYU theatre history professor, John Kenrick. Michael and Tiffany didn’t just want to do a concert and sing classic Broadway love songs, they wanted to tell the story of Broadway romance. They wanted to explore what was happening in the composers’ loves lives while they were writing these iconic songs. Tell the stories of the romance behind the music. And Professor Kenrick had those stories.
So, yes, you can expect to hear Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, and the Gershwins. But you will also hear how the Gershwins used to arrive at parties, claim the piano, and entice young ladies to join them. Then drawing from their repertoire of songs, they would pretend they were composing a song on the spot for whichever girl was sitting there. They would ask the girl’s name and as Tiffany put it, “insert the three syllable name into the tune that has the three syllable name.” What other salacious (or sweet) stories will we learn about composers from the Golden Age? You’ll have to come to find out!
Of course, we couldn’t let Michael and Tiffany go without answering our questionnaire! Here are their answers:
Patty & Emily: Do you know Beth Leavel?
Tiffany Haas: I don’t know her. But fun fact: When I was living in New York City, a little side job that I had was a reader for auditions at Telsey. And I only did it for one show, but I was the reader for The Drowsy Chaperone. So I read opposite for her, and Sutton, and Danny, and all these amazing people who were coming in. And I’m just sitting in this chair, reading Adolpho lines for Beth Leavel. I remember, she came into the room in character. And [director Casey Nicholaw] got a kick out of it because he knows her. And it was an upright piano, not a baby grand, so it’s not like there’s room to lay. So she created room to lay and as the accompanist was playing, she crawled up onto the piano keys. I’ll never forget it. It was unbelievable.
Michael McCorry Rose: Well, I mean, how am I going to beat that story? We just did a reading together a couple of months ago, and actually this morning we were in a recording studio recording demos for that show. So, we’ve worked together, but she’s not a close personal friend, but I am a fan.
P&E: Which show do you most want revived?
TH: I mean, I know it’s so weird, but, Bridges. And any Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Jerome Kern. Oklahoma, Carousel, Show Boat.
MMR: This isn’t even a show for me, but I just think it’s a perfect musical. When was the last time The King & I was revived?
P&E: It’s coming back! The last time it was on Broadway was in 1984 with Mary Beth Peil. Have you ever fallen asleep on stage while pretending to sleep or be dead on stage?
TH: Wait, was that a question? No. I have in yoga during shavasana, but not a show.
MMR: No. 100% no.
P&E: What’s your favorite Broadway house?
MMR: I’ve got my answer. It’s just fresh in my mind because I went to go see Hedwig the other night. And the remodel on the Belasco is just so impressive, it’s just stunning.
TH: I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the Gershwin Theatre, where Wicked is. It was my Broadway debut, and I actually saw Show Boat there, and it was my first Broadway show experience. So that theatre holds so much oomph for me.
MMR: I have a question. Can I go back and make another answer? This occurred to me when Tiffany was talking. I was at The Music Box seeing Dead Accounts, and the house manager asked if I had ever been to Irving’s office. And I said, “No. What’s that?” So he took me up to Irving Berlin’s office. He was the owner and built the Music Box. So, he had this speakeasy that he built in his office; it was sort of through a hidden door. So the house manager goes in and does this elaborate series of pushing and unlocking and prodding and shifting and all the sudden this door pops open. And you put your head in, and down through this long, slender hallway — it’s a hallway that’s dimly lit and not finished — but it basically looks like a stone bar, enough room for a bar stool and someone to walk by. And it was a speakeasy during prohibition that he built in there that you could only access through his office.
P&E: Do you have a monologue prepared?
TH: I mean, if I had to do one for an audition, I would have to go through my stuff and find whatever last one I did.
MMR: I do. Well, I take a scene study class once a week, so it’s easier.
P&E: What is the show you’ve seen the most times?
TH: I think mine is Cats. My mother owns three dance studios, and she would come and see Cats all the time and bring me with her. I think it was something like 8 or 9 times? I know for a lot of Broadway people now, especially for a show like Wicked, if you’ve seen it 8 times, you’re not a real fan. But I think that’s it. That or the Radio City Rockettes.
MMR: I did go back a few times to that revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center a few years ago. I kinda kept going back.
P&E: Who would you fangirl/boy over?
TH: Um, Kelli O’Hara. She’s a beauty.
MMR: Mine’s Audra McDonald, and here’s why. When I was at UCLA, she came to do a concert. She started the set by doing two gorgeous songs, and she’s in this evening gown, and just elegant, seeping with class. And then she said, “I just have to tell you I just flew in from New York and immediately stopped at In-N-Out on my way from LAX and got a Double-Double animal style, so if I start burping during this concert, I apologize in advance.” It just won us over because she’s just so beautiful, and it was the last thing you thought someone like that would say. And that was kind of my first introduction to her. And just through the years to see how virtuosic her career has been, to me is inspiring. Someone that seems equally at home in plays, in Shakespeare, certainly in musical theatre, opera. I mean, that’s truly a Renaissance actor to me. So that’s the one I’d probably freak out over. Well, I have met her a couple of times, and I just sort of didn’t say anything for fear of saying everything.
P&E: On a scale of 1-10, how awful is the Broadway World message board?
TH: I’ve never seen it.
P&E: Good. Don’t go on it. It’s evil.
MMR: I have say the same thing. Once a few years ago, I saw a message board — I don’t think it was Broadway World; it was something else — and saw something about someone I know that was so deeply upsetting, so I just don’t read those for that reason.
P&E: If you had comps and a time machine, what would you go see?
TH: Oh, yes. I would see Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert.
MMR: I would go back and see the first production of The Merchant of Venice. I’m just curious. People say Shakespeare was presented so much differently originally, and that the audiences were different, and that the language was different and fell on the ear in a certain way, and that it wasn’t the scholarly pursuit that it is now to go and watch Shakespeare. So, it would be cool to go back and actually experience that in real time.
Clearly, these two are full of their own great stories, so you can only imagine what they’ll do telling the great romances of Broadway’s classic composers. And speaking of romance, Michael agrees with Tiffany about a revival of The Bridges of Madison County, and they’ll both be available when it happens. We’ll definitely be there to see that, and we’ll be at Birdland on Monday, May 19th at 7:00pm for Cheek to Cheek: A Broadway Romance. Get your tickets here!