DAYTIME DRAMA… IN THE EVENING!
In one of many priceless moments in the classic 1982 comedy “Tootsie”, we learn that a no-nonsense female producer of the movie’s fictional TV show setting, “Southwest General”, fines the cast and crew a quarter every time they refer to their show as a “soap”. The proper term, she states, is “daytime drama”. Her intent was presumably to give the under-honored segment of the entertainment world the respect it deserved. Fast forward to 2009, and daytime drama and their stars probably don’t feel the need to fight for respect or need to prove their mark on American culture anymore. The genre has even, at least partly, re-claimed the name “soap” over the years. This is evidenced by the advent of SOAPnet, who teamed up with ABC for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS for a night of stars, music, and lots of old school glamour– all for a cause! The sold-out event was The 5th Annual ABC & SOAPnet Salute Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at Town Hall. The event generated a record $325,000 in ticket sales, auction bids and online fundraising donations, and it featured the most popular and talented players of the world of daytime drama. Afterward, the stars met for an exclusive meet and greet for the media at The Marriott Marquis. Semantics aside, whether you call them soap operas or daytime dramas, these long-running small-screen sagas have been one of the most enduring phenoms of American pop culture. The men and women of these shows– “All My Children”, “General Hospital”, “One Life to Live”, etc– are stars in every sense of the word, and carry themselves that way. That night proved it! Their fans are men and women, young and old, gay and straight.
The show at Town Hall apparently went into overtime, keeping we the press waiting longer than expected. But although being in a room with fifty or so aggressive, restless fellow members of the press isn’t always fun, I was secretly happy that those who bought tickets for the show were getting their money worth. When the stars arrived, let’s just say it was pretty intense. So many beautiful human beings concentrated in one small area– whoa! The women all looked amazing: their hair, makeup, dresses (Playing the rebel was the lovely Kassie Depaiva [“Blaire” of “One Life to Live”], who chose a black pantsuit over a gown– and was no less the sexy for it!), and shoes were a symphony of perfection. The men were just as beautiful. While we’re on that subject, the first star to emerge was the handsome Jacob Young (“JR Chandler” on “All My Children”). You could hear the collective gasp from the women (and, natch, some of the men too…). Other hot stars included Bradford Anderson and Brandon Barash of “General Hospital”, and a stellar menagerie of lovely people from “All My Children”, including Denise Vasi, Cornelius Smith Jr., Brianne Moncrief, Chrishell Stause, and Melissa Claire Egan. Ricky Paul Goldin, also of “All My Children”, had a more rugged, urban look in contrast to his more polished male peers. Not to be outdone by the youngstas, silver-haired star Anthony Geary made an imposing presence that night. As “Luke Spencer” of “General Hospital”, Geary is a true legend of daytime drama. He has won a Daytime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” six times. But, hands down, the high point of the night was when Ms. Susan Lucci made her way on stage. Named “Daytime ‘s Leading Lady” by TV Guide, Lucci plays larger-than-life “Erica Kane” on “All My Children”, and even non-soap (I mean, daytime drama!) fans know that her finally winning an Emmy in 1999 was a major moment in TV and American pop culture. (But here’s something you may not know: Susan Lucci took over from Bernadette Peters in the revival of “Annie Get Your Gun” on Broadway in 1999.) The actress looked no less than stunning, and both the crowd and her peers in the biz went buck wild when she was lifted in the air by her fellow star and “Dancing With the Stars” alumnus Cameron Mathison (“Ryan Lavery” on “All My Children”).
A big highlight of the night was the presence of and Eden Riegel and Tamara Braun, who play “Bianca” (Erica Kane’s daughter) and “Reese” (Bianca’s girlfriend-turned-wife) respectively on “All My Children”. (Daytime drama fans have always marveled at the way Susan Lucci and Eden Riegel really do look so much like mother and daughter!) The two young, hot actresses enjoyed a relaxed, fun, clearly amiable relationship off camera. They were funny, open, and totally cool as they talked in depth with reporters: including Dish Miss’ Tony Sawicki, who asked them about what it was like to play out lesbians on TV– and, behind it, the larger issue of gay marriage equality and the representation of lesbians and gays in the media. In addition to the TV icons, the event also featured the three young stars of the Broadway musical “Billy Elliot”: Trent Kowalik, David Alvarez, and Kiril Kulish. Out of 1500 contenders, the three boys all won and now share the coveted role of Billy Elliot, the hero of the play who finds freedom through dancing in working-class northern England in the ’80’s. The play features music by Sir Elton John. It was pretty obvious that these kids had what it takes to be stars. They were clearly delighted with all the attention they received, but were totally poised and cool about it.
All the stars were tirelessly accommodating with the press. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since Dish Miss’ Tony Sawicki had informed me before the event that, based upon his past experiences, daytime TV stars were the nicest of the celebrities in the entertainment world. (I’ll resist saying which group of entertainers is, shall we say, NOT the nicest…) But despite the virtual “Who’s Who” of daytime drama in attendance, it was Ms. Lucci’s night the whole way. Her fans, the press, and her fellow actors clearly love her– and, the iconic star clearly seems to return the love exponentially. To my excitement, I got to meet the sexy star up close and personal again. (I previously met her in 2001 at a Joan Rivers show.) But earlier, I had taken my shoes off to stand on chairs to get the best pictures for my beloved readers– and afterward, I couldn’t find them! So, I felt I owed Ms. L. an explanation: “Sorry for being so ‘ghetto’, Ms. Lucci… but I lost my shoes somewhere!”, I offered. She just laughed and gave me a gentle punch on my arm. I was tempted to do the same, but I was worried that even the lightest love tap would knock her over. As you may have heard, Ms. Lucci is VERY petit! But size 2 or not, Susan Lucci, like the character she plays, is larger than life. Hooray for daytime drama! Oh, the hell with it… Hooray for soaps!
Photo 1: Jed Ryan, Tamara Braun, Eden Riegel, & Lady Clover Honey
Photo 2: Jed Ryan, Susan Lucci, & Lady Clover Honey