The reunion story of three sisters who had a girl-group moment features Donna Lynne Champlin, Sally Mayes and Valerie Wright
By MARIA SCIULLO
Scott Logsdon was coming off a particularly trying few years of personal and professional challenges when he found himself deep into a “YouTube spiral” of videos from the comic musical TV show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Each week, the emotions of characters were played out via song and dance.
In one number, Rebecca (the show’s co-creator Rachel Bloom) was getting along suspiciously well with her domineering mother. She had not realized Mom was drugging her with antidepressants.
“So she does this ’50s girl group number about her mother called ‘Maybe She’s Not Such a Heinous Bitch, After All,’ ” Logsdon said. Here is the clip.
In the song, there’s a lyric that goes, “All I ever prayed for, every day, was to resent my mother in a regular way.”
Logsdon, a librettist, was inspired. “I watched it several times and I thought ‘Oh my god, the genius of the initial cheeriness and peppiness against such darkness, and then a little light went off in my head and I thought ‘what if …?’ “
As he researched the history of girl groups, Logsdon realized that many did not have “terribly happy endings.”
“I wrote a lyric and I sent it to my friend [composer] Aaron Gandy,” he said.
And so, The Crinolynns was born.
The musical about a fictitious girl group features three sisters now in middle age, as they reunite and work through what’s become of their lives in their new, autobiographical act. The trio is played by a stellar lineup of Broadway veterans: Donna Lynne Champlin, Sally Mayes and Valerie Wright.
The 21-song project is neither a revue nor a book show, but it’s likely to have audiences moving along with the beat and feeling all the feels when Stage Right! productions welcomes The Crinolynns at 2 and 7 p.m. September 30, at the Carey Center Theater at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
“They are all ridiculously talented and authentic and I keep pinching myself: Is this real?” Logsdon said of his cast.
The performances mark a homecoming of sorts for Logsdon, who grew up in Somerset County.
The Crinolynns is a showcase for actors who no longer play the ingenue. And that is both a rarity and a wonderful surprise in a theater genre that too often ignores ladies who “age out.”
“I just think it’s so important to not shuffle people offstage once they’ve hit a certain age, and that was one of the appeals of this show. … It’s sort of like ‘you hit 40 and you’re not the hot babe so we don’t really care.’ I find that so offensive,” Logsdon said.
“You hit your Mrs. Lovetts and you hit your Dollys but after that, there is really not much,” said Champlin, a Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama grad who just happens to have co-starred in Crazy Ex as Paula, motherly mentor and friend to Rebecca.
“I mean, there are parts for women, let’s say, post-menopause, but if they are in a production, it’s usually some third or fourth character they’re playing — unless it’s Desiree [in A Little Night Music]. So it’s nice there’s a show like this with three women. It’s a group effort, everything is equal, everyone gets their spots to shine.”
Crinolynns boasts a simple setup: three actors, four rock musicians, one simple set. But the trio would stand out even against elaborate staging. Champlin has done everything from Broadway (Sweeney Todd, By Jeeves, Hollywood Arms and Billy Elliot among others), won OBIE and Drama Desk awards and, back in the day at CMU, performed in Pittsburgh CLO and the Pittsburgh Public Theater productions.
Mayes made her 1989 Broadway debut in Welcome to the Club, (Theatre World winner) and was Tony-nominated as featured actress in a musical for She Loves Me. Her Broadway credits include Urban Cowboy, and Steel Magnolias. She also has three Drama Desk nominations and performs a celebrated cabaret show.
Wright starred as Lola opposite Jerry Lewis’ Faustian Mr. Applegate in “Damn Yankees,” earning a Helen Hayes nomination for the tour. Her Broadway credits include Tuck Everlasting, Elf, Cats, Song and Dance, Sally Marr… and Her Escorts, Steel Pier and Annie Get Your Gun. Wright is Victoria Clark’s vacation standby for Kimberly Akimbo.
“I love her,” said Champlin, who was at her home base of New York City when the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strike shut down production on two projects (SAG members will not discuss their TV or film work).
She has shared the stage with Wright numerous times – “She’s just so fantastic and a joy to be around” – but has not yet “had the pleasure” of working with Mayes.
“But I grew up on her ‘Closer Than Ever’ soundtrack and I’m such a huge fan of her and her career … The chance to work with these two ladies! One who I know very well and love very much and one that I had admired for decades — honestly, I’m just looking forward to having a good time.”
Logsdon described The Crinolynns as a mashup of Golden Girls and Forever Plaid with “just a dash of Follies.” (You’ve got to give Sondheim his due.)
The three sisters are very different. Ann (Wright) is happily married, adventurous Roz (Champlin) has had a string of husbands but is always on the lookout for a good time, and Maddie (Mayes) is the cynic. “If it’s Golden Girls, I’m Blanche,” Champlin said, laughing. Sex and the City? I’m Samantha.”
Logsdon said writing the show with Gandy was a joyous time. It was also cathartic, given the years leading up to it.
He had returned to Western Pennsylvania to care for his mother, Adele, after she suffered a fall. She died in 2015. Logsdon was then diagnosed with lymphoma, but has been in remission for five years. His career was starting to pick up steam, including a Halloween-ish spoof of those Hallmark Christmas movies everyone knows and often loves.
Dana Rowe, who wrote the music for the Witches of Eastwick musical, was on board and a reading of 12 Days Till Christmas was scheduled with Kerry Butler and Andy Karl, among others, in New York City.
And then … pandemic.
“Well, it’s like in the Sound of Music where they say ‘When God shuts a door he opens a window,’ ” said Logsdon. “You’ve got to look for the windows.”
As the world in general and Broadway in particular began figuring out new ways to dream (Andrew Lloyd Weber shoutout there), Logsdon was busier than ever. He wrote the book and lyrics for Sticks & Stones with composer John McDaniel a CMU alum. Audra McDonald, Javier Munoz and George Salazar performed the premiere in an online concert for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation/BCFEA.
He and Rowe also wrote the theme song for Stars in the House, Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley’s online series to raise money for The Actors Fund (now Entertainment Fund) during the pandemic.
As an actor — Logsdon was in the original national production of Les Miserable — he’d met so many people now available to help develop The Crinolynns. Stage Right! executive director Christopher McAllister was among them. When Logsdon discovered McAllister was doing a new musical in March 2022, he got in touch to see what else they might be up for staging.
“We then did a reading in Greensburg last summer, in June, and it went gangbusters,” Logsdon said. “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We got emails from women saying ‘OMG this song was my life’s story.’ “
TICKETS AND DETAILS
The Crinolynns is presented by Stage Right! at 2 and 7 p.m. September 30 at the Carey Center Theater, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe. Tickets: Visit https://www.stagerightgreensburg.com/shows.