Fran Drescher recently turned a corner in her life. She’s gotten a new pet, a new man and a new job – on Broadway.
The Emmy Award-nominated former star of The Nanny is making her Broadway debut on Tuesday as the wicked stepmother in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a step she knows is outside her comfort zone.
“People should always push themselves to feel the butterflies in the stomach, to get nervous, to learn something you didn’t know before,” the 56-year-old says.
Drescher takes over from Tony Award-winner Harriet Harris on Tuesday night for a 10-week engagement through April 13 at the Broadway Theatre. Cinderella is also switching, from Tony-nominated Laura Osnes to Call Me Maybe Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen.
“Canadians are such sweet people, aren’t they? They have no edge,” the nasally voiced Drescher jokes before a full day of fittings, choreography and rehearsals. Her phone has been blowing up with excited texts and emails from friends about her next move.
She might be nervous but Drescher — a survivor of uterine cancer — puts it in perspective.
“I’m a victim of a violent crime — I was raped at gunpoint. I’m a cancer survivor. I went through a very painful divorce. Life hands you blows. No one leaves this planet unscathed. But, as they say, that which doesn’t kill us makes us strong,” she says. “No one’s going to die if I flub a line. I’ll try my best, I’ll give my all and I’ll do it with great love and passion.”
Drescher on Broadway shouldn’t be such an unusual concept: A native of New York, her parents took her often to see shows and she recalls Godspell changing her life. She likes to see as many shows as she can and caught August: Osage County three times and Jersey Boys twice.
She made her stage debut at The Pasadena Playhouse in Ronald Ribman’s Rug Merchants of Chaos. She was in Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s), The Exonerated and Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore off-Broadway. She also was in a 2008 production of Camelot at Lincoln Centre with the New York Philharmonic.
Her love of the stage is even embedded in her most famous work, The Nanny. She and the show’s creators decided to make Nanny Fine’s boss, Mr Sheffield, a theatre producer. “We wanted to support Broadway,” she says. “If we were going to plant Miss Fine in New York, somehow Broadway should be threaded through that.”
The traditional fairy tale she’s about to enter has been given a makeover by Douglas Carter Beane, who has turned the musical into a charming, witty story updated for a new generation.
Drescher promises to make the part of the stepmother her own, modelling her on Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.
“My version of the wicked stepmother is going to be very self-absorbed, very confident, very much a diva in her own mind, very glamorous and beautiful,” she says.
Tony-winning producer Robyn Goodman has been impressed by what she’s seen of Drescher. “She’s going to bring sexiness and a kind of humour that’s different than anything else on the stage,” Goodman says. “She makes me laugh. She just makes me laugh.”
Drescher is coming off a rough personal and professional patch, but things are looking up. Last year, her beloved Pomeranian dog Esther died and her sitcom Happily Divorced was cancelled.
But she met a man — V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, an MIT lecturer who claims to have invented email in 1978. She introduced him to her parents over Christmas, and they celebrated his 50th birthday with an Italian holiday.
“For each of us, I think it’s our first truly adult, mature relationship where we’re not trying to fill each other’s voids,” she says. Drescher’s heart also swelled when she fell in love with a new Pomeranian, Samson.
“Here I am in New York, doing the Broadway play, with a boyfriend that I love, and a little dog that fills my heart with joy and laughter. So the new chapter has begun.”