Saturday, May 6, 2017

Nora Mae Lyng: The Prince And The Showgirl

The Prince And The Showgirl

Notes on the death of Nora Mae Lyng, May 2017

Hello to the Kmeck family, and to all of Nora’s friends and family. I will be writing a long memoir of Nora’s and my epic Noel-and-Gertie Show Business Friendship For The Ages in the future, but until then, I offer my deepest, most painfully sad and heartfelt thoughts to wonderful George, wonderful Phoebe, wonderful Max and the entire Lyng family.

For many years, Nora has literally been two feet away from me at all times, since over this computer screen on my wall here hang the photographs of us “Forbidden Broadway” kids posing with our guests Ann Miller, Ethel Merman, George Burns, Mary Martin, and Carol Channing.

Nora Mae and I met one dark winter day in January, 1981, when I was the unhappy house pianist for Equity Library Theatre’s unfortunate production of “Anything Goes.” Nora’s big audition song, for her entire career, was a riotously hilarious rendition of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” She was beyond brilliant in a single verse and chorus of that song, for decades. I played the hell out of it for her, on that fateful day, instantly sensing I was playing for a comic and vocal genius. Her last comic surprise move in the last four bars instantly sent tears of hilarity streaming down my face; surprised by my trademark “big-orchestra” playing, she cocked her head, looked over at me at the piano, and said: “You sure put a burr under MY ass, kid!” and the room erupted in laughter. And in that instant was born the epic friendship of 36 years.

At the dance call for the same show, the choreographer went down the line, and asked each of the 30 last contestants in turn, “Any tricks? Any acrobatics?” As usual, the performers killed themselves trying to come up with some lamely impressive answer. “Somersaults.” “Handstands.” “Back Handsprings With a Reverse Sideways Flip.” Finally the choreographer got to Nora, asking, “Any tricks? Any acrobatics?” Nora took a very deep breath and after the most perfectly timed pause in the history of theatre, she succinctly replied: “Well, I had a baby.” The room absolutely exploded. I didn’t think I could love her any more after “My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” but from that “baby” line on, we were the fastest friends – and kindred spirits on that production, subversive and wicked with varying degrees of obviousness. Nothing makes for greater friends than two killer-dillers working under cover in a so-so show.

A few months later, she called me and begged me to play her club act of some kind. I HATED playing club acts – all that work, no money, ten people in the audience, no take-away, the whole bit. I told her I loved her but just couldn’t go there; no club acts for me. I was very grand at age 22; she had already dubbed me “The Austrian Prince” after my ancestry and grandiosity. Finally I very wearily said, “OK, Nora, why don’t you come over and SHOW ME THE MATERIAL.” (That was me at age 22.) If you know Nora, you know she doesn’t come over and SHOW YOU THE MATERIAL. But ten minutes later she was in my apartment with some friend of hers who had written her some special material, and she launched into a rendition of “One Of The Boys,” from the then-running “Woman Of The Year.” She pitched her voice into an absolutely perfect, scientifically architected caricature of Lauren Bacall, and began singing: “I’m one of the girls who sings like a boy; my voice is as low as the tunes I destroy.” I fell apart, and once again, tears of hilarity streamed down my face. She “showed me the material” alright, with her lyricist friend Gerard Alessandrini closely evaluating my pianistic feel for show music. And thus began my association with Nora and Gerard on a two-person-one-pianist revue called “Forbidden Broadway.” As for what happened next over the following 36 years, an epic tale of great intensity, ups, and downs – well, that’s for the book.  Nora, when I write us up, I’ll try and do you proud. Signed, with tears of despair and devastation streaming down my face, your Austrian Prince.