Scott Siegel, Still Going at 103, Celebrates Broadway Ballyhoo Birthday
By: Ellis Nassour
Impresario Scott Siegel will celebrate his 103rd birthday on September 25 at 54 Below at 9:30 P.M. under the guise of his monthly late-night cabaret Broadway Ballyhoo, where the line-up includes artists we’re familiar with and many with whom we’re not.
The entertainment roster is still growing, but those already committed are Tony and Drama Desk nominee Barbara Walsh, Drama Desk nominee Karen Mason, Drama Desk nominee John Bolton, singer Carole J. Bufford, actress/singer Jillian Louis, and Nightlife Award winners Scott Coulter and Carolyn Montgomery-Forant. The evening will also feature international cabaret artist Maxine Linehan and the release of her CD, An American Journey.
He’s not saying if there’ll be cake and ice cream, but is announcing that, though he’s not expecting birthday presents, there’ll be gifts and prizes through the evening for everyone.
Some artists, and producers, are reluctant to give their correct age. Until now, most just consider Siegel to be of a certain age. But 103? Candidly, many feel he’s several years younger.
"I really am not going to be 103," swears Siegel, finally coming clean — without given an exact age. "It is my birthday and since I’ve been doing all this cabaret for what seems like a hundred years, I figured ‘What the heck.’"
This will actually mark Siege’s third birthday celebration and, says Siegel, "a particularly special one. Three years ago, the show was a sell-out. We even topped that the next year. So, feeling no younger, I wanted this third one to be even more spectacularly talent-laden. There’ll be amazing talent and 90 minutes of pure musical theater magic."
This "Sleepless Host with the Most," over the last century, has branched out to become teacher, producer, writer, and director. Siegel and Town Hall events include the acclaimed Broadway by the Year/Decade, Broadway Unplugged, Nightlife Awards, and Rising Stars -not to mention writing/directing/producing Michael Feinstein’s Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts the first two years.
"With so much of our world shrinking and losing art forms," states Siegel, "I wanted to help keep cabaret in the forefront. I’ve worked with so many talented people that I’ve taken it upon myself to get behind certain performers I can help by giving them as much spotlight as possible."
Among them are four-time Drama Desk nominee Nancy Anderson, Bufford, Coulter (not only as singer but also director), tap dancer extraordinaire Kendrick Jones (discovered by Susan Stroman and cast in The Scottsboro Boys), William Michals (a later Emile in LCT’s South Pacific and Broadway-bound in Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame), and a number of our Rising Stars, who’ve gone on to Broadway and tours.
But who is Scott Siegel? He’s a bit of a mystery man — to say nothing of his mystery woman. Where did he come from? How has this modest, slightly built and soft-spoken man managed to do so much?
"Mostly by accident!" he laughs. "In what might be called the current phase of my life, I was involved in hosting and programming a Town Hall film class. Town Hall had no shows of its own devoted to Broadway. I proposed the idea of Broadway by the Year. It’s a series we’re quite proud of. It’s reached a wide and dedicated audience.
"Broadway by the Year has evolved, changed, and gotten considerably larger [with ever growing rosters of singers, dancers, and chorus filling the stage as if in a Cecil B. DeMille epic]," Siegel adds. "It’s been the anchor for other concerts I’ve created. Sadly, it’s become considerably more expansive over the 15 years."
At his and Town Hall’s events, as the lights dim, an offstage voice booms "…the author of 1,047 books…" Everyone’s been curious to find out what they are; so to name a few: the Dark Forces, Ghost World, G.I. Joe: Find Your Fate, and Star Trek ‘Which Way‘ series; and books such as The Encyclopedia of Hollywood, American Film History, Richard Chamberlain: An Actor’s Life, Susan Lucci, and Jack Nicholson: The Unauthorized Biography. A few are collector’s items, such as A View to a Kill: James Bond in Strike It Deadly, which is available on line for $1, 615 [spanking new].
There’s actually no way to get an exact number [but it appears to be 47]. That’s how prodigious Siegel and wife/co-author Barbara are. [In addition to partnering with her husband, she is the longtime chair of the Drama Desk nominating committee, and usually in theatres eight or more times a week.]
"Freshman year at branches of Rutgers," recalls the Bronx native, "I took a creative writing course and my professor, upon reading one manuscript said aloud, ‘This is the kind of story that could get published.’ It never did, but the seed was sowed."
Siegel got hooked on movies in college, especially Westerns. In graduate school he planned to do his dissertation on Western Novels into Western Films. "I started reading Westerns," he says. "One night I sat upright at 2 A.M. and, suddenly, it finally dawned on me: ‘I really can do this!’ I scribbled an outline and over several months wrote my first novel. It didn’t sell. It sat in a box several years, until I changed the title, and resubmitted. It – Rider in the Rain, yes, a Western – got published. I never changed a word."
The St. Louis Post Dispatch critic wrote, "Siegel writes of a brash and brutal Old West, where good men die, and bad men die faster."
He points out that "Once you’ve proven you can write and sell a novel, others will take a chance, so more novels followed – some of which did so well they became series."
Bronx native Siegel, living in St. Louis, came here on a visit following his sixth novel. He met Barbara through a college roommate. "Our first date was 15 minutes long – we didn’t find each other for a half hour; and, then, Barbara had another date waiting. There was some chemistry, however, because we stayed in touch, developed a long-distance relationship, and then I moved here."
Siegel branched out beyond Westerns, usually collaborating with Barbara, to write everything from horror and fantasy to How-To books and encyclopedias. They had particular success with show business books, including biographies and tell-alls, such as the behind-the-scenes non-chemistry on the TV series Moonlighting. After the publication of The Encyclopedia of Hollywood, the duo became film critics and branched into theater criticism and nightclub coverage.
As a columnist for the West Coast’s Drama-Logue, Siegel interviewed Streisand ("My first interview!"), Allen, DeNiro, Dreyfuss, Hanks, Kidman, Pacino, among numerous other A-Listers. Some might remember Siegel, solo, on WNEW-FM’s Pat St. John Show for two years.
States Siegel, "I’ve long been amazed at those who’ve not only believed in me, but also their generosity. I couldn’t be doing what I do, what we do, on our Broadway Unplugged series and Nightlife Awards, shows where I rent Town Hall and take all the inherent risks, without those who’ve helped. They were there at some dark and dire moments to save the day."
The list of believers, supporters, and sponsors is long, but Siegel specifically mentions ASCAP’s Michael Kerker, Bank of America, The Town Hall, especially Larry Zucker; and dedicated fans, such as Dr. Stu Chassen, Irwin and Jill Cohen, the late Edythe Kenner, and the late philanthropist Max Weintraub.
"By my side through thick and think," points out Siegel, "has been my tower of strength, my wife Barbara. It would be impossible to have achieved what I’ve achieved without her."
Along for the ride, too, for all the BBTY concerts and other shows has been music director and arranger Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band.
Broadway Unplugged returns to Town Hall January 26. Advance tickets can be purchased at SiegelEntertainment@msn.com, where there’s information on upcoming shows.
Scott Siegel’s 103rd Birthday and Broadway Ballyhoo have a $25/$35/$50 cover and $25 food/beverage minimum. Doors open at 8:45 for dinner/cocktails. Book at www.54Below.com or www.opentable.com.