Two years after his successful turn as Anna Wintour, actor Ryan Raftery is channeling another New York City stalwart and media institution: Andy Cohen.
Ryan Raftery’s Watch What Happens — Live on Stage!, which debuted last week at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, stars the cabaret performer as a fictionalized version of Cohen, one who came from St. Louis to New York in pursuit of his two obsessions: television, and Anderson Cooper.
What follows is indeed loosely based on Cohen’s life (and his books, Most Talkative and The Andy Cohen Diaries) — his time working at CBS News before moving to Bravo, beginning the Real Housewives franchise, and getting his own talk show on the network. But in Raftery’s version, those moves are tied to his unrequited love for a celebrity-obsessed Cooper, all set to a mix of pop songs and showtunes.
As Raftery told EW after the show’s debut, the idea to craft a show around Cohen came after the success of his Wintour musical, Ryan Raftery is the Most Powerful Woman in Fashion, which centered on Wintour’s decision to put Kim Kardashian and Kanye West on the cover of Vogue. That sparked interest in not just reality television, but the “Oz behind the curtain” role Cohen plays in the Bravo TV empire.
“Although the Kardashians are not a part of the Bravo universe, they certainly fall under the same umbrella in the world of entertainment and it fascinates me,” Raftery explained. “Andy is the ringleader of a whole new type of celebrity in our culture. He and I share a fascination with Andy Warhol, and I think Warhol would be obsessed with the Housewives. Warhol painted or silkscreened mundane, everyday objects like Brillo boxes and corporate logos and turned then into fine art. Turning terribly-behaving housewives into celebrities is the same exact thing!”
Indeed, the Housewives get prominent placement in Raftery’s show — a “Greek chorus” trio consisting of NeNe Leakes (Romelda Teron Benjamin), Teresa Giudice (Emily McNamara), and Kim Richards (Miranda Noelle Wilson, who also doubles as Cooper). Though there’s certainly no shortage of big personalities or dramatic storylines in the Real Housewives-verse, Raftery knew it had to be those three women who joined his Andy on stage. (The audience had some off-stage Housewives, too — both Heather Thomson and Dorinda Medley were in attendance at the July 12 performance.)
“NeNe’s over-the-top persona was perfect for the stage, so that was a no-brainer,” he said. “The fact that Kim Richards was not only a child star, but also was the aunt of another reality TV star (Paris Hilton) combined with the fact that she was clearly struggling with addiction during the course of her tenure of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills made her very interesting to me as a writer.”
And, for Teresa, her legal drama and recent prison sentence played a large part in his decision to include her in the show. “I knew that I wanted to include a scene where Teresa tells Andy that she is going to jail, to allow the audience to experience him showing remorse for the role that he may have played in that turn in events,” Raftery added.
The three Housewives all get ample stage time. Cohen and Cooper slow dance as the Teresa serenades them with “Beauty and the Beast” (and then caps the song with an “off to the cupboard with you, Milania,” said sweetly to her cradled baby), while NeNe gets a showstopper when Little Shop of Horrors’ “Feed Me” becomes “Fame Me,” in which she schemes with Cohen to have Cooper’s boyfriend deported in return for getting her own reality show, and all three get a song to express their desire for reality TV fame. But it’s Raftery’s Andy who steals the show, from his opening as a young man dreaming of his future (while singing, “I wanna find someone I can love, like I love TV”) to his red-jacketed, devilish encore.
The show’s musical rundown also includes songs from Smash, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé, with reworked lyrics to fit the story. For example, Beyoncé’s “Formation” came out as Raftery was writing Watch What Happens, and he knew he wanted to use it for the song when Andy gives himself his own talk show. “Andy is such a pop culture icon, and there are no bigger pop stars in the world than Taylor Swift and Beyoncé,” he added.
Whether or not Cohen himself will make an appearance during the Watch What Happens run remains to be seen, but he does know about the show — Raftery told him about the project back in 2014, when he was a guest bartender on the real Watch What Happens Live. But another high-profile face was at the Public on opening night: Wintour, the subject of his last hit show, was there seeing Daniel Radcliffe’s new play, Privacy. For Raftery, that’s a pretty good omen.
Watch What Happens – Live on Stage! has three more shows scheduled at Joe’s Pub on Aug. 1, Aug. 8, and Sept. 12 (with an additional show potentially being added due to popular demand). Tickets can be purchased here.