Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spring Returns to Broadway in Time for Fall

Something truly spectacular, moving, and incredible is happening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. When producers announced they were bringing the Deaf West Theatre's production of Spring Awakening to Broadway after it's LA run, many felt it was too soon for a musical that just left Broadway six years ago. But producer Ken Davenport is no theater-fool. He knows a good thing when he finds it and knew this production deserved to be seen by a New York audience. 

The story of teens feeling they are not heard by adults takes on a brand new meaning when half of the cast is deaf. Director Michael Arden and choreographer Spencer Liff have created images on this stage that take your breath away. (The tree choreography: exquisite. Father/Son scene - stunning.) There are some roles played by one speaking/singing actor (who often signs) while others are played by actors that sign their roles while others supply the singing voice. It's the connection between this cast that makes it so moving. There is a sense of 'us-versus-them' which is more prevalent when teachers don't want students to sign or hearing-impaired performers look to their vocal counterparts for reassurance of a choice being made on stage. These moments are pure brilliance.

I never saw the show the first time around. I knew the music, but I didn't know all of the story. I must say that I saw the Gypsy Run-through 3 weeks ago and am amazed by how much this show has grown in those three weeks. There was an electricity in the theater that night, but now - that electricity has created a current that runs through every performer on that stage. Powerful. While I can't be one to compare it to the original, I can say that the story-telling in this production is spot on.

Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater's music and lyrics sound and LOOK amazing as we witness it signed. Michael Arden has placed himself square into a 'must work with' spot among Broadway directors. And the lighting, sound, projections all add to an amazing night.

At the gypsy run, I felt I could tell who the Broadway vets were (even without a playbill in my hand). Tonight - every single performer on that stage made me believe I was watching someone who has been doing this their whole life. Even the two understudies who were in tonight. (Alexandria Wailes was beautiful in the Marlee Matlin roles and Van Hughes knocked it out of the park as the voice of Ernst/Piano when he wailed on "Touch Me".) 

While everyone in the cast is wonderful, there are a few stand-outs for me. When Krysta Rodriguez is on stage, I can't take my eyes from her. She is captivating and a star. Daniel N. Durant has layered Moritz in such a way that I found myself in constant awe of his talent. Andy Mientus OWNS the role of Hanschen. Ali Stroker has expressions that reach to the back of the house. I am in love with Alex Wyse and his voice. Camryn Manheim plays every single adult female role with gusto and diversity. Austin P. McKenzie takes Melchior to a new place, making us forget a certain gentleman one block over that originated the role. He is heart-breaking in his constant conflict and turmoil. Sandra Mae Frank is sweet, innocent, and mesmerizing as Wendla and Katie Boeck compliments her greatly in both incredible voice and a true feeling of support for everything Frank does with her body. These two work beautifully together to create one character.

I don't want to say too much except - go see this show. The show opened two nights ago and tonight, there were entirely too many empty seats in the orchestra section. No matter your age, you can recall and relate to that feeling of not being heard, understood, or attempting to find your way from adolescence to adulthood.             

Friday, September 11, 2015

What Did We Learn from 9/11?

Every year we think back to that horrific day in our history where everything changed. People post memories online. We are transported for a moment back to what started out as a beautiful September morning. Then we think about how it all unfolded, where we were, taking stock of friends we knew that worked in lower Manhattan or in the Pentagon area. Trying to reach out to people and phone lines being jammed.

Everyone has stories from their own perspective from that tragic day, but the common story was how people helped and supported each other. After standing in Hoboken and staring at the New York skyline, I got back on my train to head home. As I waited for my train to leave the station that morning, I watched people getting on who had just arrived from lower Manhattan. There was such kindness on that train before we even knew the enormity of it all. If we try and find a positive about 9/11, it’s how the country came together. 

We truly were once again the UNITED states of America.

Yet 14 years later, as we witness men and women all wanting to lead our country as the next president, we are more unraveled as a country than we have been in years. Gone are those feelings about 9/11/01 that we are all in this together. Now it’s us/them - right/left - and the divide becomes wider and wider. There isn’t a leader that seems to want to unite. That’s the saddest part of watching the elections unfold. It’s all about pandering, scripted responses, and how much air time can they get in the sea of candidates.

And then last night, Stephen Colbert (only in his third episode of the new Late Show) brings Vice President Joe Biden on and they travel to a place never explored in late night TV. In a world full of comedy, these two men had the most honest and amazing discussion. Biden allowed his humanity and humility to shine through - all the while saying that’s not something he should do. Almost apologizing for being human…as if politicians and those running for office should not show that part of their personalities. Through his personal grief (something Colbert can completely relate to), he displayed what we are missing in the current elections: humanity.

I’m not saying Biden should be forced to run. I’m saying it was nice to be reminded we are all the same. We hurt. We grieve. We bleed red. No matter what political affiliation we are a part of - we are Americans. It would be great to remember how we knew that after 9/11 and have potential leaders show how they could get us there again without having to go through another tragedy. We always say we will never forget, but it sure seems we forget what it felt like to be united. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Letter to My New Niece

Dear Chloe,

You have no idea how many people were waiting for you to be born all across the country today. We started teasing your mother online the moment your due date passed this week, but that was simply to keep us connected via social media with family in so many different states. You see, that's what we do in this family…we make jokes. You'll get used to it really quickly when you get older.

Your parents have worked hard to prepare your home for you…and what amazing parents you have. They met while serving our country in the US Army. They married and waited until the right time to have you…knowing how special you would be. Your mother wanted to have the perfect day and way for you to be born. Just wait until she describes this incredible day to you when you're old enough to hear the story. Your dad (my little brother) has waited his entire adult life to have a family and with you (and the dogs and the lizards) his family is complete. Let's hope you enjoy living in Noah's ark because I'm sure by the time you are grown, that's what it's going to feel like.

With your birth, we have a baby in the family again. You see, the next cousin you have on our side is 22 years old so we forgot what it was like to have a baby around. But those cousins will teach you how to wrap your Mamaw around your finger and get whatever you want from her. (That Mamaw flew from Texas to Wisconsin to be with your parents before you ever arrived to pamper your mom, keep your dad in line, and be there to welcome you into the world.) And then there are uncles, aunts, great cousins/uncles/aunts…the list goes on and on. This family is HUGE. (Don't be frightened: just learn the word "Bee" and you'll be doing just fine.)

Even though I'm in New Jersey as you are born in Wisconsin, you are in my mind and my heart. I can't wait to get to meet you. What an amazing Christmas we are going to have with a baby in the house again.

Sending you loads of love from your uncle. (Trust me, you'll learn fast that you can pretty much get whatever you want out of me too. Just ask Ashton & Shelby.)

Happy Birthday!

Love you,

Uncle Greg

Monday, August 3, 2015

Massage And Energy Therapy

Provincetown Bay
My body is sharing stories.

I've been seeing a chiropractor for lower back pain the past two months and she knew so much about my life based on my body. Even told me I need to slow down as I'm putting too much pressure on my feet all the time. My acupuncturist has also used my body like a map to tell how I live my life. 

When I travel, I love to get a massage and my recent trip to Cape Cod was no exception. Massage therapists are always great at telling what I do, parts of the body I favor, and working out those kinks and stress spots. A local recommendation was made and I noticed on the person's card holistic treatments and craniosacral therapy and for a moment thought of not going.

That would have been a mistake because the entire experience changed me. 

Namaste Spa
I'm not going to try and convert your views on holistic therapies nor can I truly articulate into words what transpired, but from the moment I was on the table and Ram Charan of Namaste Spa in Provincetown placed his hands on the back of my head, I knew this was a different massage. He worked on lower back, he worked on my stress points - but it was all done in a completely different way from other massages. There was energy flowing through my body in a way I've never felt. There is usually a connection between therapist and client, but this connection went deeper than I can express. I felt I was being filled from the inside out and light was radiating from me. By session's end, I had a deep dread of never experiencing this again. We had a great talk about what had transpired, I shared my anxiety/excitement and made another appointment before leaving town. 

Ram Charan Biz Card
The second session took much less time for me to open up and I was visualizing myself as a child running through a field, feeling a fire/light coming from my own torso, and by the end Ram shared some very illuminating things he found that I definitely struggle with. Again - my body was sharing stories with my therapist. I'm a seeker of knowledge and he tried to tell me there is much one can't understand about energy therapy, but suggested I read up on Rumi. I started reading The Essential Rumi book instantly.  Now I'm back home, wishing my new found spirit animal was closer to take me on this journey again, but also realizing it's already within and perhaps I can find someone local to work with. 

Herring Cove, P-Town
I think my Christian faith always made me believe one shouldn't dabble in anything outside of that belief, but now I see that is simply not true. Rumi is read by many different religions. Energy is God. Meditating can absolutely be prayer as well as allowing yourself to be open to those around you. For me, I was enlightened in a way like no other massage. I am externally grateful for Ram in leading me down that path and believe it was all meant to be the moment his business card was placed in my hand. Wow, what I would have missed out on had I chosen a different place. I can't wait to see what other stories my body has to share as I continue to open up to this new way of therapy. 

Thank you, Ram for an incredible gift and a highlight to a beautifully relaxing vacation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Theatrical Musical Experience About the Sea

Can you remember the first time you saw Rent, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Once? Musicals that changed the way we looked at standard musical theater. While Hamilton is getting all the attention this week as it starts previews on Broadway, I was lucky enough to head down to the South Street Seaport Museum where Naked Angels is presenting a musical theater experience/play/concert…I actually find it very hard to describe; but it is incredible. 

Myself and about 60 other people were completely captivated by 7 performers onstage who sing, act, play instruments, create sound effects/sets/images in the most creative of ways. Director Liz Carlson (artistic director of Naked Angels) and her design team have created an experience like no other. Breathtaking moments in this play, underscored by music and sounds that create a theatrical experience that immerses the audience into this world of the sea.

The show is SeaWife by The Lobbyists & Seth Moore directed and developed by Liz Carlson. The website calls it a concert play - I call it a deeply engaging and moving fable of a man's connection to the sea. How it bore him, nurtured him, and caused havoc in his life. We watch him grow from a young boy following in his father's footsteps to a man seeking out his own way in the world. The imagery used in this show to illustrate baby, boy, the sea…it is absolutely beautiful. 
Even the use of changing the actor that portrays our protagonist Percy midstream completely works in the way the entire story is presented.

For those that wonder what this is: it's a little Peter and The Starcatcher meets Once with a rocking, pulsating score that gives way to haunting melodies and the tightest harmonies seven voices can create. That score (co-written by The Lobbyists who are all performing it) is glorious. I left humming the closing song and still can't get it out of my head. 

I must mention the names of this ensemble group because I've never seen such devotion to artistic work - perhaps because you are sitting so close to them that you feel every single thing they do - but they are living, breathing and sweating this story out of every inch of their bodies. Tommy Crawford, Eloise Eonnet, Alex Grubbs, Will Turner, Tony Vo, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, and Raymond Sicam III give their all. 

The group has been working and reworking the piece for a few years now. I can't wait to see what happens and only hope a producer will jump in and take this show to an Off-Broadway house where it can have a longer run and more people can experience the magic that is happening nightly. Sure, there are places that can still be tightened up to work on the length of the show, but that's part of the beauty of catching something in its infancy. The show has been extended downtown through July 26th. Don't miss your chance to see it. So you can't get tickets to Hamilton until 2016…experience SeaWife now and tell your friends you got to see it before everyone else starts talking about it.

Photos by Caitlin McNaney

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Trump Factor

I used to be a die-hard Apprentice fan and then I stopped watching it when I got tired of some of Trump's antics off-air. To me, he was the school yard bully using social media to create fights with people to keep his name constantly in the spotlight. Using words like stupid, ignorant, and the worst to describe his foes. (Those same 5th grade words that haven't changed much in his vocabulary through the years.) 

When he announced his run for president, I didn't believe it would actually happen. The GOP race already had a ton of politicians all vying for the spot and believing they could make America great again. But still, this Washington outsider threw his hat in the ring and well...we all know what has happened since. People can't get enough of The Donald. His name-calling and bullying ways have gone from social media to reporters that interview him. He has an air about him that says he doesn't really care if you like him or not and for some reason - this is endearing more people towards him.

Say what you will about his politics, his answers of how he would govern - any of those things: Trump has changed the way this election is going to happen. He is driving the car and people have to jump in or run behind. He brings up a topic and then other candidates are forced to discuss it. Even though I am not a fan, he has shown a huge light on how politicians react. They don't. Instead of coming out and saying something against his stance, they sit and they wait until advisers tell them what to say. Trump doesn't wait. He speaks his mind. He goes on TV without a slew of people feeding him words in his ears. While I think in the long run that is detrimental to how to run a country (I mean, the president STILL has to listen to others even if Trump is used to running a company alone), other candidates could learn a thing or two about NOT being a politician for once and speaking up. Don't wait to say what you think others want to hear. Trump is going to run all over them if they don't. He's getting all the air-time and people are really listening. (And frankly, some of us are tired of what he is saying.)

Yes, part of me still believes he may be working for the Hillary campaign and this is all part of a bigger plan to get her elected...but in all honestly, the man that I think has the biggest ego in the race is showing how he got to where he is today in the world of business. Come debate time, he's going to be on that stage in The Donald Show while others are left in the wings. Come on GOP - time to take hold of the grand old party.      

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Feeling the Qualms at Playwrights

Tony and Pulitzer prize winner Bruce Norris does not shy away from controversial plays that makes audiences think…and talk. That's exactly what I wanted to do after seeing his latest work The Qualms finishing up their run this week at Playwrights Horizons. The moment the show was done, I wished for a theater play club that I could sit with others and discuss what we had just witnessed.

On the surface, the play seems like a regular comedy; newlyweds Chris and Kristy (played wonderfully by Jeremy Shamos and Sarah Goldberg) attending a swingers party at the home of Gary and Teri (the charming John Procaccino and Kate Arrington); a perfect setup for disaster of dropping outsiders into a world they don't know. However this play is much more than an evening of titillation for theater-goers looking for a sex-romp comedy. It is smart, dark, and very thought-provoking. People may walk into the play believing they know exactly how they feel about a certain situation, but Norris has played both sides of this lifestyle and completely challenges your thoughts. Instead of making it black and white about how you feel about monogamy, the play brings in conversations about war, freedom, property, jealousy, and so much more.

I love Jeremy Shamos as an actor in everything I see him do. He plays 'every man' in such a way that you cheer for him even when he says things you may not agree with. I've read reviews that called his character of Chris as the a$$hole of the show, but I tend to disagree. Sure, he says things that are very unkind, but he's also struggling with the entire concept - even though he obviously is intrigued or he wouldn't be at the party. I actually see the character of Roger (played perfectly smuggly by Noah Emmerich) as the alpha dog pushing Chris's buttons. With Chris, you feel his desire to try something new, yet his constant struggle with his own personal moral code. Even as his pressure breaks and his rants grow, he continues to return because some part of him is still interested (I don't believe it's all about his desire to be correct and convert the others in the room). Shamos is perfect showing that growth, that boiling over, and an exasperated man who has dropped down the rabbit hole and not sure he truly wants to get out.

The entire diverse ensemble is greatly acted with Donna Lynne Champlin, Andy Lucien and Chinasa Ogbuagu rounding out the couples. Pam McKinnon has directed this piece in a way that makes you feel every single moment taking place. We are a part of the evening - the funny moments and those that are uncomfortable. The play takes place in real time which also adds to the intimacy of the entire thing.

I've always thought I was a pretty open-minded person and believe I can't impart my rules on others. Yet I also found myself judging characters within the show at different moments. If you can get a ticket before it closes and want to open your mind to a dialogue, get to 42nd street and see this show…then join our theater club to discuss what you witnessed. See if you leave feeling the same way you did when you walked in.