(Strangeways Note: Seattle Gay Scene is thrilled to announce the return of Mark “Mom” Finley to the Seattle media scene with his first published writing in many years. We’ve been trying to lure Mr. Finley into our clutches for over a year and all our wooing finally paid off. (The six cases of cheap champagne and a trio of sweaty Venezuelan houseboys clinched the deal…) Mark will be contributing celebrity interviews, primarily of theatrical performers, similar to what he used to do at Seattle Gay News in the early 2000’s….and, since he knows almost everyone who ever sang on a Broadway stage, we’re in for quite the treat. Mr. Finley has been adored, reviled, honored, stalked, and parodied at one time or another by one of his many admirers over the last 20+ years in Seattle and his sequined shoulders have comforted and counseled more than one generation of “Mom’s Kids”. We’re delighted “Mom” is back and dishin’ with the stars…Enjoy!”)
Hello All –
It’s been a while since anyone has seen anything with my name on it anywhere! I took some time off a bit ago, only to find that I really enjoyed the whole concept. Only popping up here and there for the occasional and/or odd performance the past year, or so, has been my M.O. I began to realize that there were several people in town who either have some vague idea what I do (and have done) or they’ve never heard of me. Much like the star I was with recently.
SeattleGayScene.com contacted me and asked if I would be at all interested in writing again. It was the perfect solution to my problem. Not only that, but all the ‘time off’ was getting monotonous. What better way to get back into the swing of things than doing the one activity that always brought me joy – celebrity interviews! Just as my interviewee, the incandescent Tony Award winning actress/dancer/living legend, Liliane Montevecchi does in her newest show at the ever astounding Teatro ZinZanni!
All my initial fear disappeared the moment I heard the name of my first assignment! No need to worry about anything since we’ve known each other for years! Just knowing that I’d be chatting with a woman I admire and respect put me at ease. It was the same on her end as she’d just recently recovered from a broken appendage and this would be her first foray back promoting “Bonsoir, Liliane!”
As I was getting out of my cab a flash of something red caught my eye. I looked up to see my darling Liliane crossing the street wearing bright red from tip to toe – complete with an oversize sun hat! She was stunning – as always! We teased each other about both of us arriving early: “It’s in our blood – once in theatre, always in theatre.” “I tell the kids in the show, ‘I’m here, and I’m 80. So you have no excuse!” Both of us couldn’t wait to get started!
[What follows is the transcript of my afternoon chat with Liliane. Most of you have heard me on the mic somewhere so you can guess what I sound like – but you just can’t capture Lilianne’s warm, throaty, French accent. We’ve known each other for quite a while – and always enjoy making the other laugh – so I’ll do my best to fill it all in for you! Enjoy! – M.]
Mark “Mom” Finley: So, what is this, now? Your third show with Teatro ZinZanni?
Liliane Montevecchi: No. Second…. I think?
M: I think you’re right. I’m still not quite ‘up to speed’ with everything. You know, you’re my first assignment in several years.
M: Yes. I had been working over 15 years without any type of break. And trust me, I needed one! I was afraid I may have to join my father sooner, rather than later.
L: Oh, what’s wrong with your father?
M: He’s old. He thinks it’s ‘last Tuesday’. We’re not quite sure which ‘last Tuesday’ he’s talking about. But as long as he’s happy.
L: Is he living with you?
M: Oh lord no! He’s happily tucked away at an assisted living facility back in Centralia. But enough about me! I’m supposed to be interviewing you! I was so happy when I learned you were my first assignment! I figured that if I was terribly out of practice – you’d forgive me because we’ve known each other for so long.
L: Really? It doesn’t seem that long ago.
M: Darlin, we met in New York during the run of “Nine” (Liliane’s first show with “Bonsoir, Lilianne” Director Tommy Tune). Oh I loved that show!
L: Did you work the show? No.
M: No. My voice teacher at the time was Dee Etta Rowe (she played ‘Olga Von Strum’ – one of the ‘Germans at the Spa’ in the show).
L: Ha! I just had dinner last night with Shelly (Burch – also from “Nine”) and Marten (I believe her husband). They have a house here. Where is Dee Etta now?
M: Still performing. And I think also still teaching voice at AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy – my alma mater) in New York City.
L: Oooh, Dee Etta. I haven’t seen her in at least 15 years. I miss her.
M: And also I was around during “Grand Hotel” (also directed by Tommy Tune). Yet but another show I just love. Those gorgeous chandeliers. The orchestra suspended over the stage. Classy. And you, once again a prima ballerina.
L: (she rolls her eyes) Well… Almost. (We both laugh)
MORE Mark and Liliane after the jump!
M: But on to this show. Is it completely different from your last outing with ZinZanni? Because I know how some of the shows here have over-lapped.
L: No. It’s completely new. It’s much more of my story than the last. My memories. Things that I did. It’s a bit quieter and emotional. That’s why Tommy is here. To make sure I do get too (she throws her hands up in the air, shaking) ‘AAHHHHH’! You know? (I burst with laughter) He wants me to show all the different colors (twirling her hands ethereally with a ditzy look).
M: (still laughing) Well what’s that supposed to mean? You always show the ‘different colors’.
L: I know. I know. (looking at me with disbelief) I’m even flown in as Pierette!
M: That sounds wonderful. But then again, Tommy does love any excuse to get a moon on stage!
L: (nodding in assent) Yes. (another roll of the eyes) Actually, I’m the only aerial act – if I may put it that way – in the show. I mean, there’s nobody upstairs but me.
M: No Tamara the Trapeze Lady?
L: Nope. I’m the only one who ‘goes up’. It’s me. (with mock ‘star’ ego)
M: Well then. That’s as it should be. (also in tone) You are the ‘star’, after all.
L: (she can’t help laughing) The first day though, I was a bit afraid, because he put me all the way up. I was in the rafters. I couldn’t see anything.
M: How is it now?
L: (she lets out with an explosive ‘Ha!’) Now you know I shouldn’t be so afraid because when I was with the ballet we used to do benefits for the old actors. This year we were doing something we had never done before in our lives and I choose to do ‘the cord’. (hmm, how to explain this… basically the center pole of the big tent rising up in the sky with everyone and everything on stage attached to you. Oh yeah, and you’re spinning. Got it?) So of course, in rehearsal they only put me halfway. But the night of performance they put me way, way up. (you can see her reliving the memory) And I was screaming, “Stop it! Put me down!” Because they turn you this way and that (motioning broadly around herself) and the ropes down by the feet. Oh God I was so scared.
M: Didn’t you do something similar on film? In one of your first pictures at MGM?
L: “Plume de ma tante”?
M: No. That’s not it. And for the life of me the name isn’t coming to me. (she starts chuckling)
L: Ah hah… you haven’t studied? I’m surprised at you, Mark.
M: (in childish exasperation) NO! You know I know it. I’m still just a bit rusty getting back into the stream of things. Ya know? (she shakes her head and chuckles “tsk, tsk, tsk”) No! Now come on. You know this never used to happen to me! (she playfully shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes) Oh Lilianne. Please forgive me. It’s right on the tip of my tongue. I can even see the movie still in my mind. You were in the Ballet. (she shakes her head)
L: Well there weren’t many.
M: You know this is unusal for me. Even though I knew it was just going to be a nice conversation with an old friend… I knew I’d get something wrong. You know I know your career very well.
L: (still taunting and teasing me) Really?
M: Yes. I know your entire filmography. I’m just having a hard time pulling up those records in my head this morning. (trying to kick start my memory) Now I know you did ‘Happy Face’ with Astaire.
L: (blustered) Whhhhhhaaaat? Oh now Mark! I’m shocked.
M: ‘Happy Face’?!?! There isn’t even a movie with that name. Where did that come from? (she’s laughing now) See, I told you – I’m still a bit rusty yet. ‘Happy Face’? What the Hell? (Editor’s Note: I think Mark was thinking of the film, Funny Face with Fred Astaire, but Ms Montevecchi was in Daddy Long Legs with the acclaimed dancer/actor…at least, according to IMDB.)
L: (laughing) Perhaps I better call your new boss and tell him you’re not doing your job?
M: Why? It’s all right here anyway.
L: Oh, that’s right. You’re taping all this. I see. (she laughs) Well, let’s see. In the beginning I was loaned out a lot, because I was only a contract player.
M: And dancer!
L: (she nods) But I did do two films with Hal Wallis. One was King Creole (with Elvis Presley) and another one. (now she’s forgetting) I wonder what other film I did there?
M: But I thought you did one with the Ballet.
L: Oh yeah. That’s called Glass Slipper. That’s the first. Before I was put under contract, actually.
M: See? I knew I wasn’t crazy.
L: Ah Ah! (with a hint of ‘gotcha’) But that wasn’t done at MGM. That was done at 20th Century Fox. We were on loan when we came over with the Ballet.
M: Okay. Enough about Hollywood. Let’s go back to France, when you were performing at the Folies Bergère.
L: MARK! Do your homework! I never worked at the Folies Bergère!
M: AAACK! (I’m mortified! ‘Folies Bergère’ is her show stopping number from “Nine”) The Moulin Rouge! I meant the Moulin Rouge!
L: (with exaggerated digust) My God! Who have they sent me? This isn’t what…
M: No, no, no. I’m still asleep! I’m asleep! (she starts laughing) Please forgive me.
L: (laughing) Ay, yi, yi, yi, yi!
M: (pleading and rubbing my eyes) I’m asleep. I’m asleep. I’m asleep. (she stops and gives me a ‘come on’ diva stare and then bursts out with a hearty laugh)
L: (in a school teacher’s tone) What time did you go to bed yesterday?
M: (sheepishly) Not that late.
L: Like what? 4?
M: (quickly) No, 3.
L: That’s not too bad.
M: I know. It’s also after a long holiday weekend, of which I whole-heartedly partook! But I’m out of the habit.
L: Where are you performing now?
M: I’m not, really.
L: (with disbelief) No?
M: (in agreement) I know! I’m basically semi-retired now. So I only perform when I want. It’s been nice but I’m getting antsy. They basically pulled me out of retirement to come talk to you. But I’m loving it.
L: Well, you’re a performer. (as if she were saying, ‘c’est la vie’) What else could you do? It’s all I do. You know, speaking of retirement. The other female in the show came out of retirement to do it.
L: Oh she’s amazing! I love her! And, she was a ballerina!
M: (if I didn’t know better I would think she was playing with me) Oh yes. She used to dance with the Ballet here.
L: Yes! Oh it is so wonderful to watch Ariana (Lallone). But she had danced for quite some time and knew that it was time to step away.
M: And so many don’t!
L: (nodding in agreement – and then her face lights up) Oh God is she Heaven!
M: This is her first time performing in anything like ZinZanni?
L: Yes. But why I tell you is because of the transition (even she has noticed I’m having a hard time aging). She’s accepted it, you see, because she’s retired. When you’re a ballerina, you have (she makes a larger than life grand gesture with both arms encompassing the world). Then (looking around – back to me with a shrug)… Or you become a teacher. Or you become cranky.
M: As all Ballet teachers are. Just like in “I Love Lucy”!
L: (she chuckles) But this woman walked away. And when they asked her if she would like to do the show she said only if she could approach it a new way. She has accepted a whole new choice in her life and for that I have great respect for her.
M: I can imagine.
L: And a huge admiration. Because she has this ballet in the middle of the audience on a little platform, and my God! She does a ballet! In that little place! She’s just…. oh I just adore her! And for me, I’m on stage at that time, because she’s a reflection of what I did when I was young. I’m watching her every night. The other day I was so taken. After her I have to sing “La Vie En Rose” and I was crying. She just touches me so much. But it was my turn to sing and I was all whaaa whaa whaa. (She lets out a wild cackle at the thought)
M: (joining her) Oh no! I bet you were lovely.
L: I know. (she then does a short over-the-top wailing and emotional piece of the song – everything is more one long vowel sound and sobs. Hysterical!) Oh I just couldn’t do it. I was so broke up. But I’m very glad that Reenie (Duff, Assoc. Artistic Director of Teatro ZinZanni) asked her to do what she does. (sudden clarity) They met in the street.
M: You’re kidding?
L: They did! You know, the timing of things. She was in the street and Reenie said ‘hello; how are you; I admire your work; and what are you doing now’. And she said, ‘well, I’m going to be retired’. Then Reenie says, ‘you aaaaaaaare? (sounding like the cat that found the canary) Would you be interested in joining ZinZanni?’ And she said, (much too rapidly) ‘yes!’
M: Oh that’s a great story! And you have Kevin Kent doing the show with you as well, yes?
L: (her eyes twinkle and she grins like the cheshire cat) Ah, mon Kevin.
M: I’ll take that as a yes. I’ve known him for quite a while, as well. We met when I first moved to Seattle. In fact, you wouldn’t know it to see him now, but I was one of the first people that helped him hone his Drag.
L: No one better, I’m sure.
M: He was doing this act where he’d improve an entire opera with the audience as a rather bookish little man. Many people suggested that he change it to a woman, because we all know there is nothing more ‘operatic’ than an overage diva! (she laughs) So we were doing a benefit show here in town and he asked me to give him a quick look over before he went on. He looked perfect – but he didn’t have any jewelry. (she gives me a look of utter disbelief) I know! So, I was very busy performing everywhere at this point in time so my assistant Todd (Cannon) and I had everything packed in his car – just in case. So I start throwing necklace after necklace, and bracelet after bracelet on him. Finishing him off with a big brooch.
L: How did he look?
M: Perfect! He was very worried that there was too much. I told him, ‘Darlin, an aging opera diva doesn’t wear ‘a’ necklace – she wears them all!’ (Liliane covers her mouth laughing in recognition) Am I right? I’m sure you’ve seen them!
L: Yes, I have. Now Kevin – what can I say? He has such beautiful legs!
M: It’s the heels.
L: You know, thinking out it, this is my first job back as well. It’s the first time I’m walking again.
L: I broke my leg and couldn’t walk. I had to cancel everything.
M: Did you get a motorized chair?
L: Oh, noooooo. I had a chair, but was taken care of by my beautiful Italian boyfriend.
M: Lucky you! But it must have been terrible – not being able to get around.
L: It was. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I just wanted to get better.
M: So you could get back on stage. I know the feeling exactly. But you’re not over taxing yourself, are you? I have to ask – because everyone asks me the same question.
L: No. Not at all. Oh sure, to some it might seem, but it’s all part of the work.
M: It’s all part of theatre.
L: We never have it all right. The public tells you what to do.
L: We rehearse. We rehearse. And when the public are there – the laugh are different, the timing is different. So we have rehearse it all again, because they’ve told us what to do.
M: Also, if I’m not mistaken, a lot of things in a ZinZanni show are improvised and can change all the time.
L: True. And for Tommy it can be so difficult.
M: I can imagine.
L: Because when he sets something he wants it that way. But I said, ‘Tommy, I have the feel to be free.’
M: Of course.
L: (with a sly smile) Because I’m very good at that.
M: No? Really? You?
L: (playing coy) I’m very open…
M: Please! There were some nights when I saw “Nine” that you were just having too much fun playing with the audience during your number. (she tries a ‘who me?’ look that melts into another tremendous smile.)
L: I’m still doing that song today! And having even more fun now.
What can I say? She’s still got it – and then some. We finished up our little afternoon chat wishing each other the best of luck with our new endeavors. Granted, mine is playground antics compared to the gauntlet she manages to traverse on stage every night. And all the while making it appear effortless. All in all – the three words at the beginning say it all: Responsible, Respectable & Remarkable!
If you have never seen the likes of Liliane, or the chameleon Kevin Kent, or the maven of movement Ariana Lallone – “Bonsoir Liliane!” now playing at the permanent home of Teatro ZinZanni through January 2012 shouldn’t be missed. Also, it’s a great way to also experience the perceptive directorial genius of Broadway Legend Tommy Tune in an intimate setting. If that wasn’t enough – did I happen to mention the gourmet five course meal prepared by Executive Chef Erik Carlson that will seduce even the stoic taste-buds among you? For more information go to www.zinzanni.org
As we hugged goodbye I asked what was in her future after January to which she replied, “I’m doing a concert tour with Kaye Ballard and Lee Roy Reams. Should be fun – but first it’s time for Teatro”.
***MY DEEPEST APOLOGIES! This was to have been posted much sooner. However, September hasn’t been the best – and it’s not even finished! I fell off a small, make-shift, un-lit stage while performing at a benefit which laid me up for a week. An accident involving my laptop, my cats, and me was almost completely devastating! I lost nearly everything on my computer and not having backed up recent documents I had to re-do them all from the beginning! Please forgive me. I promise you it won’t happen again! M’wah – M.***
Mark “Mom” Finley is an actor, singer, emcee, performer, hostess, pianist, writer and who’s survived a childhood in Centralia; the bright lights of 1980’s Manhattan; the AIDS epidemic on both coasts; and over thirty years of performing in high heels and feather boas. Not to mention: numerous theater productions and Pride events all over the world, a year as Miss Gay Seattle, 11 years shilling alcohol, 15 years writing a column for SGN, and more fundraisers, benefits, and parties than you can shake a glow stick at….not to mention the withering glance of Celeste Holm, but that’s another story…for his in the works memoir – “Bad Press”.