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Fran Drescher
Photograph: Joey Carman, Dope Magazine

Fran Drescher dishes on her upcoming 'The Nanny' musical and the show's lasting impact

Drescher wants to make Barbra Streisand a character in her show.

Written by Leigh Scheps
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When Fran Drescher visits New York City, she embraces its fine foods. On the day that she spoke with us via Zoom from her NYC apartment, her cousin brought over a Zucker’s bagel topped with ricotta cheese and salt. 

"When somebody generously brings something with the intention of trying to please me, I'm going to accept it graciously," she said off-camera to her cousin.

Drescher, who was born in Queens, is no stranger to a good bagel—there were plenty eaten on The Nanny, her hit 1990s comedy sitcom that ran for six seasons on CBS. The show may have been off the air for more than two decades, but it is now more popular than ever. New audiences are discovering the hilarious show about Fran Fine, a Jewish nanny pining over Mr. Sheffield, her boss and widowed British Broadway producer while raising his three children at his Upper East Side townhome from streaming the series on HBO Max. 

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Drescher, too, has been in the spotlight after securing the SAG-AFTRA presidency and raising awareness for her non-profit organization, Cancer Schmancer Movement. “I'm not married. I don't have children. But I do feel a responsibility towards people and leveraging my celebrity and my abilities for the greater good,” she said. With so many responsibilities at 64, she tries to take every other day to rest. On those “off-days,” she still does work virtually, doesn't have to go anywhere nor does she have to be in hair and makeup. “I have to honor my body as I teach other people to do and respect the age that I'm at,” she added. 

Drescher is currently writing a musical based on the series with her The Nanny co-creator and ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rachel Bloom is writing the music and Adam Schlesinger, a founding member of the music group Fountains of Wayne, was also working with Bloom. (Sadly, he passed away due to complications from COVID-19 in 2020.) Drescher recently said in an interview that it will be a few more years before the show is ready for an audience. 

In the meantime, she recently teamed up with Australian author Rebecca Kelly to release a picture book called N is for The Nanny. It’s a special limited release of 10,000 copies where 100% of proceeds are donated to the Cancer Schmancer Movement. Each page features a letter that’s thematic to the series followed by a brief explanation of the term. For example, “G is for Good Morning Everyone”—what Drescher’s character used to say wearing a bathrobe in countless episodes as she entered the dining room to eat breakfast with the Sheffield family and have a bagel or two from time to time. 

Time Out New York spoke to Drescher about her favorite parts of the book, some clues as to what to expect when the musical is staged and how the iconic series was always filled with countless celebrity guest stars.  

What I think is remarkable is that 100% of the proceeds of N is for Nanny go towards your nonprofit.

It's our supporters, the Kellys from Australia, who proposed this. It was indeed extremely generous that they don't even really want to be reimbursed for the cost of the book. They're making the book their donation for as many as can be sold. We’re so grateful. I don't think we've ever been blessed with such a generous proposal. 

Would you consider it a children’s book? 

It’s as the series was: good for the whole family. It was perfect because The Nanny was a nanny. This series is so wildly popular, but there hasn't really been new merchandising in decades. So to do a children's book seems very spot on and I think it really captures the warmth and the joy that the series has brought to so many.

Which is your favorite letter in the book?  

“P is for Producer”–Peters’s page, but I've spent some time with Renee Taylor (Sylvia Fine) here in New York and I love how much she loves her page “S is for Sylvia.” 

You’ve talked a lot about the show’s fashion but I am going to list some names. Elizabeth Taylor, Lainie Kazan, Elton John, Bette Midler, Cloris Leachman, Whoopi Goldberg twice. Rosie O’Donnell, Pamela Anderson, Jason Alexander, Marvin Hamlisch, Donald O’Connor, Rita Moreno. How did you get so many celebrities on the show?

That was my big job to hook the stars. We made it I Love Lucy in that regard because Mr. Sheffield was in show business and Fran was always trying to meet the celebrity that he was working with. Because the show was so wildly popular and because there wasn't social media at the time, it made it a great platform to get people on the show if we were willing to write the episode towards whatever they wanted to promote.

Elton John went on to promote the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Bette Midler went on [to promote] the New York Restoration Project. Elizabeth Taylor was selling her black pearls—I think—or it was perfume or something. Everybody was self-promoting. Jay Leno played himself, and he was on The Tonight Show back then.

So you reached out individually to all the celebrities to get them on.

Yeah. If I ran into them, I would say, “we’ve got to get you on the show. Everybody's doing it. And we'll write it for you. Whatever you want to promote. We'll make it part of the show.” We were very interested and motivated to get these stars on because they were ratings points for us. 

Who is your favorite celebrity guest star and why?

Rosie O'Donnell is a personal friend of mine, but the very first person that ever did the show was my dear friend, Dan Aykroyd. He played the refrigerator repairman, a character he made famous on SNL where you see the crack of his ass, and he did it on The Nanny. That was the beginning because he was so generous to support us in that way. That was in our first season. 

Who is one celebrity that you tried to get on the show but couldn't? 

Well, Barbra Streisand (laughs). We got Roslyn Kind. 

Barbra said no or she just wasn't available? 

I don't think she really had an interest in appearing on the show, but she was very appreciative for being this larger-than-life character that Fran worshiped. In fact, many years later, she said to us that in that period [the show ran], she really wasn't that active in her career. It was The Nanny that really elevated her every week in a way that nothing else was doing. In the episode where Fran has an opportunity to go to a Barbra Streisand concert with C.C.'s father, she takes the high road—as she always does—and lets C.C. go. I did receive a handwritten note from Barbra saying how much she enjoyed the episode.

You've met her in person at this point in your life, right?

I know her. We both live in Malibu. We’re not close friends. We've gone to dinner together. We've gone to parties together. 

I was surprised that you mentioned Bernadette Peters in one episode but she was never on the show. 

I’m not really sure why. But if we ever did a reboot of it, I'm sure we could get all of [Broadway]. Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and newer talent. We just saw Sarah Bareilles and she's just amazing.

You saw her in Into The Woods at New York City Center?  

She was funny. Peter and I both were taken aback because you wouldn't have seen that [when she starred in] Waitress. But in this, she was very funny. Peter and I thought she was really good.

Are you going to have Barbra Streisand as a character in the musical? 

Absolutely. Even if it's just in the same capacity as she played [on the show.] But I think we have something creative for that obsession of Fran’s in the musical. 

In what way?

I can’t tell you!

Is the musical based on the entire series where it starts with Fran selling beauty products or will it be a two-and-a-half-hour episode in a musical?

It won’t feel episodic. It will be something that gives Fran a struggle, a journey and a resolve different from the series. In the series, pretty much everybody changed around her. She didn't really grow or learn that much. When you're a central character in the theater, you have to take that hero's journey, and that's what we've infused in the musical.

Will it be like My Fair Lady, like in the episode where Mr. Sheffield and Niles transform her into being one of the society ladies?

No, it's not gonna be like that. Fran is Fran and she is a woman on a journey. Peter is saying don’t say anymore! 

Okay, let me just ask this though. I assume that there'll be some recurring jokes from the series that you put into the show.

It’s definitely going to have the same humor and all the characters.

I picture a number like from Annie with all the butlers and maids dancing in the mansion. 

I'm hoping that we'll have stuff like that. I mean, we're writing it that way. We'll see what ends up in the end. That's the beauty of putting it on stage and taking it out of the small box. You're on a Broadway stage, you see the show within the show. You have a cast of characters from Mr. Sheffield's show, a cast of characters who run the house, and townspeople from Flushing. All of that was represented by maybe one person [on the show]. On Broadway, you have a whole chorus of people to represent that and bring it to life.

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