Musical theatre performers who were working in the DC area in the late eighties/early nineties had two “rites of passage.” One was Ford’s A Christmas Carol (not the current version – the David Bell adaptation). The other was Mrs. Foggybottom & Friends, a satirical revue starring Joan Cushing, which ran at the Shoreham Hotel’s Marquee Lounge for quite a few years. The supporting cast changed from time to time, but Jane Pesci-Townsend was a constant, and in total I think I did something like two and a half years with the show, playing everything from Sonny Bono to Oprah Winfrey (that’s me and Bryan Ashby as Mr. and Mrs. Dan Quayle, circa about 1989).
I had just one professional show under my belt when I joined the Foggybottom crew as a New Year’s Eve substitute for Jane, who was out of town. I was understandably nervous, as Jane was the backbone of the ensemble and had a couple of tricky solos. I got through the solos and the bulk of the first performance without incident, until we got to the penultimate song, a number called “Sleaze” which featured the three female cast members.
“Sleaze” began with the three of us sitting demurely in folding chairs of a heavy-duty black plastic (I think Conran’s used to make them – remember Conran’s?). Each of us had about a sash of about two yards of pink satin, which started the number tied around our necks in the “floppy bow” style which was so popular with working women in DC at the time (along with the heinous practice of wearing white pantyhose with a dark suit and shoes – remember that?). The gist of the number was that the only way women in government could be equal to the men was to be just as sleazy as them, and as the number progressed, it degenerated into a bump-and-grind, in which the sashes were untied and used for various strip-tease steps. One of the steps involved kicking one’s right foot up on the seat of the chair and sawing underneath one’s thigh with the sash.
Did I mention that I was very nervous? When I’m nervous onstage, the nerves translate into energy – I sing loudly, I move vigorously. Since “Sleaze” was the most choreographed of all the numbers in the show, I was doubly anxious that I get the steps right, so I was really throwing myself into the moves. I slammed my right foot up onto the seat of that folding plastic chair –
– and my foot went straight through it. The impact of my stiletto heel had cracked the plastic seat in a starburst pattern. My foot slid through up to the ankle and I was trapped, standing there in the middle of the number with a chair stuck to my leg. The other two girls flicked me looks of horror as they continued to do sing and do the steps. They danced around me as, still singing, I attempted to pull my foot out. No luck. The audience was howling. In desperation I hopped to the rear of the stage, dragging the chair like a ball and chain. I reached under the seat and pulled my shoe off, then pressed down with both hands on the cracked seat and managed to extricate my leg. I stuck my shoe back on and leaped back into the number (I recall we were doing a shimmy step at that point). The audience gave me a hand, and under the noise, one of the girls hissed, “Are you all right?”
Strangely, I was – I hadn’t even ripped my pantyhose. We finished the number to rousing applause, but I was absolutely mortified and certain that I would never be asked back. I guess the Foggybottom folks like a good laugh, though – by spring I was in the show as a permanent cast member. But it certainly wasn’t an auspicious beginning.