For those of you who know me at all, and for those who read my blog, (thank you by the way), you may have heard me mention Laurie Birmingham. You know – The most monumentally talented actress on the planet, Laurie Birmingham. Yeah, that’s the one.
In 2008, Laurie worked on a show called The Happy Elf at First Stage Childrens Theatre Milwaukee, written by a team of artists, including Harry Connick Jr. Connick in 2003, “I had this idea of an incredibly enthusiastic elf in Santa’s workshop, and after that, it was just a matter of sitting down and putting words and music to it.” The song The Happy Elf is included on Connick’s platinum 2003 disc “Harry for the Holidays.” An animated NBC television special and subsequent DVD followed, leading to a stage adaptation with Laurie Birmingham at Milwaudee First Stage in 2008. The show premiered as a workshop production in Kansas City’s Coterie Theater Lab for New Family Musicals in 2007. Thus far, there have been 5 adaptions including the one you can see today at the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, (Charles Brown Ice House Theatre) in Bethelhem, Pennsylvania. I did not see this show, but she did very much enjoy working with Mr. Connick and Director John Rando. She told me it was one jazzy and inventive Christmas show attractive to children 4 years old and over … including the children known as their parents. The show has received rave reviews over the years.
Laurie recently played Paulina in Shakespeare’s Winters Tale at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival followed by Mrs. Fezziwig in Cleveland, Ohio at Great Lakes Theatre’s annual production A Xmas Carol. By the way, her portrayal of Paulina was seriously beautiful, ferocious, powerful, and mesmerizing. For those of you who do not know this play, Paulina takes on all the idiot men who cannot comprehend a woman’s power. The reason Shakespeare’s work stands the test of time is due to it’s timeless themes. Men in fear of women is nothing new. Women taking control of the situation and setting the men straight is nothing new. However, Laurie’s performance was something new, (and more than Shakespeare could have hoped for), or even what he could have imagined, especially since women were not allowed on stage then, (women’s roles were played by young boys but that’s a different story). As many times as I’ve seen Winters Tale, Laurie’s performance was remarkable, you could not take your eyes off of her, and the audience was entranced and thrilled with this experience. Directed by Jesse Berger, it was a beautiful production. Laurie made the show into a Broadway quality production, just for her presence and power onstage. I am not exaggerating kids, I was with my man, who claimed he did not like Shakespeare’s work. Due to Laurie’s performance, he has now changed his mind. Laurie Birmingham can do that to a man (and a woman, dog, goat, or tree). A Xmas Carol in Cleveland plays in until Dec. 23, 2012.
But wait, Laurie is in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, and it’s December 20th. What about Mrs. Fezziwig? Where, oh where, is Laurie? Laurie received a phone call on Monday December 10th from Connick’s assistant. The assistant had to track Laurie down, and did so through Milwaukee’s First Stage where she had first worked on The Happy Elf. In choosing a cast for this final workshop of The Happy Elf, Mr. Connick had his memory in tact, and she had left such an impression on him that he asked his assistant to find “the women who played Gurt in Milwaukee, she was the best of them all.” Harry Connick Jr. has sold over 25 million albums worldwide. He is ranked among the top 60 best-selling male artists in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America, with 16 million in certified sales. He has seven top-20 US albums, and ten number-one US jazz albums, earning more number-one albums than any other artist in the US jazz chart history. Connick’s best selling album in the United States is his 1993 Christmas album When My Heart Finds Christmas, which also is one of the best selling Christmas albums in the United States. His highest charting album, is his 2004 release Only You
which reached No. 5 in the U.S. and No. 6 in Britain. He has won three Grammy awards and two Emmy Awards. He played Grace’s husband, Dr. Leo Markus, on the TV sitcom Will & Grace from 2002 to 2006. Connick began his acting career as a tail gunner in the World War II film, Memphis Belle, in 1990. He played a serial killer in Copycat in 1995, before being cast as jet fighter pilot in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. Connick’s first role as a leading man was in 1998’s Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock. His first thriller film since Copycat came in 2007, when he played the violent ex-husband in Bug, before two romantic comedies, 2007’s P.S. I Love You, and the leading man in New in Town, with Renée Zellweger in 2009. Holy Shit, this man is a bad ass genius who knows talent when he sees it. Of course he remembered her, she’s brilliant! They hunted Laurie down, her understudy took over for Mrs. Fezziwig, and the rest is herstory.
As of today, The Happy Elf is up and running and Laurie is in her second show at the time of this writing. When she arrived in Bethlehem, Harry let her know his deep appreciation that she dropped everything, as she was no doubt busy, and returned to work on his show. Harry is a busy man, as you can imagine, he had to work quickly to get this production on it’s feet. The best move he made, was tracking Laurie down. I wish so much that I could see this show! I especially would like to hear the Poop Hole song Laurie sings. Yeah, that’s right, the Poop Hole song.
Laurie sent a text to me a few minutes ago, “In my second show today already. It’s going well!” Of course it’s going well … Laurie’s in the show! They had a short and sweet rehearsal process, the two shows today are for school children and the official opening is tomorrow, Friday December 21st. He is very appreciative and now, Harry Connick Jr. knows her not as “that woman in Milwaukee” but as the priceless gift of storytelling through the beautiful and extraordinary talent known as Laurie Birmingham.
The Happy Elf – Music and Lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr., Book by Lauren Gunderson and Andrew Fishman. Laurie Birmingham – The greatest actress of all time. I said it here, mark my words. It’s just a matter of time before she is known throughout the world. It’s time we wake up and acknowledge Laurie for her work. Also, she is one hell of a great friend and I am a better person for knowing her this past 23 years.