Climbing the Stairway to Stardom

  • What Public Access Television Used To Be

    December 27, 2011

    Posted By: Joey Panek

    Picture it.  West Virginia, 2008.  While on a rehearsal break working at a summer stock, we indulge in the common pastime of sharing Youtube videos.  


    We shared all the classics:  Fat Kid on Rollercoaster,  Grape Lady, Charlie Bit Me... The list went on and we laughed all through our ten minute break.  


    "Have you guys seen Stairway to Stardom?" one actor asked.


    And that, my friends, was the gift that kept giving.


    Before X Factor, America's Got Talent, American Idol, or even Star Search, there was Stairway to Stardom.  Sure, it may not have had the distribution the others had, but recent Youtube circulation has garnered the show a cult following.   Making its debut on NYC's public access channel in 1979, the talent showcase ran through the 80's.  Filmed in what Eliot Glazer described as "what appears to be a freshly carpeted Staten Island basement,"  the show was hosted by its creator Frank Masi and featured homegrown amateur singers, dancers, comedians, and actors in hopes they'd catch their "big break" and be plummeted to stardom.  It's highly unlikely that any of the performers actually found fame after their appearances.  I'd venture that this show was the peak of their career (and no Google search has yet proven me wrong.)  


    The fact that some 25-30 years later we are still watching and sharing these videos baffles me.  I'm sure many of the delusional performers envisioned that "everyone's gonna know my name" after their Stairway to Stardom appearance. So, in some ways, they were right.  Much like we gave William Hung his fifteen minutes of fame, we find it impossible to tear our eyes away.  Enjoy the phenomenon that is Stairway to Stardom!


    It seems only fitting that you start with the show's intro.  This should set the stage for you, thereby lowering all expectations and prepare you for the talent yet to come.  Take special note of the (then) high-tech dissolves and crossfades.  


    Now you know it's going to be a good ride, don't you?


    Let's begin with the first Stairway performer that I ever saw.  This introduction was good enough for me; it'll be good enough for you.  Gloria Huddle begins with a monologue, as most things should.  Speaking in a (sort of) Cockney accent, she delivers this speech to an offstage character whose name we learn is Libby.  She talks of a gent named Alfie and the voice lessons he has planned to give her.  (Now, I've googled this speech more times than I care to admit, and countless searches have led me to believe that Gloria has concocted this fine piece of theater all by herself.)  The monologue leads her into a cover of Manhattan Transfer's Operator.  And oh, would they be proud of the rendition G.Hud delivers.  Enjoy.




    If Gloria is the Queen of the show, Lucille Cataldo is the Duchess.  Here she performs her original song, "Hairdesser."  From what I can gather, the vinyl-clad Lucille is begging her beautician to work some magic on her.  That's all fine and good, but in an almost Jim Steinman-style bridge, she breaks into a completely different melody that I like to call "Tease-a Louise."  One wonders (if one has way too much time on one's hands) if Lucille was actually working on two different songs before putting them together in a... what do the Glee kids call it?  A "mash-up"?  In any event, here is Lucille with Hairdresser (Tease-a Louise).




    Oh, the talent wasn't limited to just singers.  Oh no.  Take Michelle Sutlovich.  I have to assume that when she discovered there wasn't much call for a Kristy McNichol stand-in, she gave herself to the world of dance, and aren't we glad she did?  I admire her concentration.  While I'd love to see what the moves looked like on her choreographer's body, I tend to think it was actually choreographed by Michelle herself.  Or even better, by her mother in which case the choreography undoubtedly looked exactly the same.  The fact that she dances to "Fame" makes this routine all the better.  Take it away, Michelle!




    Now I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, Michelle, you have cornered the market on dance in the 80's in the entire Tri-State area!  Well, you couldn't be more incorrect.  Take Lola Perazzo.  Her interpretation of Michael Jackson's Thriller is so effective it leaves us terrified.  Or maybe it's her choice in leotards.  Either way, we're not sure.  




    In the mood for some dramatics, you say?  Then Precious Taft comes along not a moment too soon.  Precious (Ms. Taft, if you're nasty) performs what appears to be an original monologue.  I mean, anything that starts with "And sometimes he was cinnamon..." and ends with "I'd bash his brains against the goddamn radiator!" (oops, did I give away a spoiler?) must be made up, right?  Wrong!  After some digging, we find out that Precious is in fact performing a speech from Lanford Wilson's The Gingham Dog, a drama about marital tensions between a mixed race couple.  So what if Precious didn't write it!  She still delivers it with an uncanny amount of emotion, especially considering she is, after all, in a Staten Island finished basement.  




    But Stairway doesn't let the adults run away with all the accolades.  Not even!   The young talent pool is represented on the show.  There's Bobby J. Carter, the young Chris Farley doppleganger.  This clip may only show the tail end of his no-doubt thrilling rendition of Jingle Bells, but it captures the exclusive interview afterward.  Notice how Bobby becomes less interested in the questions and more intrigued by the contents of his own nose.  Ahh, these are the classic television moments.




    Next up we have Toni Marie, whom one blog describes as "either seven years old or seventy."  Either way, she puts her mark on the Broadway tune "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" dressed as a candy-striper.  And singing to, from what I can tell, a photo of Scott Baio.  Folks, you can't make this stuff up.




    The next clip shows the two appearances (about five years apart) of Louise Mascia, first performing "Let Me Entertain You" and then switching to the more demure "You Light Up My Life".  The former clip is borderline creepy, as Louise's adolescent attempt at sex appeal too closely resembles Buffalo Bill's on-camera dance in The Silence of the Lamb, complete with pointing directly to the camera.  The latter appearance is less flirty, but poses the question "Wasn't there a lower key she could've been singing in?"




    Are you afraid the masculine gender hasn't been fairly represented?  Fear not.  Anthony Ciulla brings it and more with his rendtiion of "What a Feeling" from Flashdance.  Complete with legwarmers and a shirt that looks like he's skinned Lucille Cataldo's Hairdresser frock, he splits and leaps the crap out of that song.  Too bad the special video effect in the middle of the routine makes it look like he's caught in the Ghostbusters laser ("Don't cross the streams!")





    Rounding out the comedy portion (Hasn't it all been comedy?) is Horowitz and Spector.  No, it's not a Staten Island law firm.  They're the comedic songwriting duo who may or may not have been the precursor to Tenacious D.  Dressed in their best lamé, they sing about the woes of diet pills (This was the 80's, remember.)  You've got to love any song that features the lyric "Don't want no boiled chicken, no boiled taters, no plain salad, tuna with no mayonnaise."




    Still craving more Stairway to Stardom?  This was just an appetizer.  Cancel your meetings, put your phone on silent, and indulge yourself for the next several hours in more clips of these performances.  Check out their Youtube channel with dozens of videos to keep you staring at your screen in bewildered amazement.


    You're welcome.


    Did you have a favorite?  Let us know in the comments below.


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