Fran Drescher on playing stepmother in Broadway's 'Cinderella'

Fran Drescher stars as the wicked stepmother in

Fran Drescher stars as the wicked stepmother in "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella." (Credit: Carol Rosegg)

Fran Drescher was back in her old Queens neighborhood recently, passing by her alma mater, Queens College -- "Jerry Seinfeld went there 2!" she tweeted -- and stopping in for pizza at Valentino's on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing.

The Emmy Award nominee, best known her 1990s CBS sitcom "The Nanny," was tripping down Memory Lane for a segment on "CBS Sunday Morning," one of several TV appearances she's made this month to promote her new gig. She's making her Broadway debut as the evil stepmother in "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" at the Broadway Theatre, replacing Harriet Harris.

Drescher joined the cast earlier this month with "Call Me Maybe" Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, who's stepping into the glass slippers of the title role. Jepsen is in for three months; Drescher, through April 13.

Besides TV (she recently starred in the TV Land sitcom "Happily Divorced"), Drescher has appeared in film ("The Beautician and the Beast," "This Is Spinal Tap") and onstage (including Off Broadway's "The Exonerated" and a special one-week production of "Camelot" at Lincoln Center).

A uterine cancer survivor, Drescher, 56, today lives in Malibu, balancing time between social activism (her bestselling book, "Cancer Schmancer," spawned a website and advocacy group) and her new man (MIT lecturer Shiva Ayyadurai). She spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

You picked a fine time to leave the warmth of Malibu.

Yes, but I'm warmed by the excitement of being here. Performing on Broadway is exhilarating. And Central Park is just a winter wonderland.

So how evil a stepmother are you?

I hope to be the character you love to hate. I'm gonna bring a lotta glamour to the role. And wickedness.

Actors have told me one of the hardest gigs is stepping into a show that's already up and running.

It's challenging, but on the positive side . . . there are many new actors -- Carly Rae Jepsen is the new Cinderella . . . Joe Carroll, the new Prince Charming. So I'm rehearsing with people who are learning the show for the first time, too. It's almost like starting from scratch.

What do you remember fondly when you look back on "The Nanny?"

Wearing so many hats. I loved that. I was the star, but also an executive producer -- I created the show, directed a few episodes. And kissing Charles Shaughnessy is, y'know, no small thing. I loved my character. She was so delightful, and uncomplicated. I enjoyed getting into her shoes.

And your least favorite thing?

I suppose it was challenging once Peter [Marc Jacobson] and I separated.

Your husband and co-creator of the show.

Yes. We continued to work together -- we never sacrificed the baby, so to speak, because of our differences. The show must go on.

It's great you can be friends. Maintain a relationship.

Yes. We're amicably divorced. He's helped me through rehearsals. I've been running lines with him. He tells me when I'm going off-key. So it's been wonderful. We're 3,000 miles apart, but he's got his copy of the script, I've got mine, and we speak every day and go over it.

Congrats, by the way. You've been healthy 13 years?

It's 14 now. I got diagnosed in 2000. I'm very blessed. Sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages.

How so?

Well, I think turning pain into purpose is very healing. It helps you feel you're regaining control. I feel like . . . I got famous. I got cancer. And I lived to talk about it. There have been many silver linings that have come out of it. It's deepened me as a person, made me a more well-rounded woman, more in touch with my vulnerabilities, more able to ask for help and not just be everybody else's caregiver.

So how can people take control of their own health, as you urge?

The home is the most toxic place we spend the most time in. But one we have the most control over. So each time we go to the market to replace an item, we should do the "check, choose and change" challenge. Buy toxic-free products that we put in our mouth, on our skin, and around us -- like cleaning and gardening supplies. It's in, on and around. If you can read the back of the label and you don't have to go to MIT to understand it . . . then it's probably something you should buy. On cancerschmancer.org, you can search ratings for popular brands. If it says it's eco-friendly, it's probably going in the right direction. If it's good for the planet, it's good for us. We're all one big interdependent living organism. If we start thinking about that, we can effectively reduce our risk of cancer for ourselves and our family.

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