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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Free Download for Long Weekend

I've been working on a screenplay based on my book Cool Side of the Pillow. The book was published two years ago and holds a special place for me because of the themes of life changes, theater, friendship, and family. 

In honor of working on it for a new medium, I've made the download free from July 1-3. So grab it up now for your kindle and have something to read beach side this long weekend!

Zachary Kleinmann lives in the elite world of New Canaan, Connecticut and has left his accounting job four years earlier to be a modern stay-at-home father. But as his son is starting preschool, his wife is passionately involved in her own career, and Zach is knocking on forty years old, he begins to wonder how he will find his own serenity and define himself moving forward. 

Enter Ginger Charman, an older, eccentric, free living children's theater actress who has dedicated her life to bringing joy to children and keeping all those around her young at heart. As Zach is pulled into her world and discovers secrets about his new friend, he is not sure he'll ever be able to leave the rabbit hole once he has fallen through - or if he'll even want to venture outside of it again.

I started my career as a theater actor many years ago and found it a fitting place to plunge a greenhorn into for the setting of this novel. The protagonist is a "regular" guy that is attempting to juggle all the areas of his life; fatherhood, a wife passionately involved in her own work, his lack of motivation; all while dealing with a marriage in a slump. Zachary Kleinmann is on a search without even knowing it when he meets Ginger Charman. Her youthful outlook and non-conformist ways are just the thing the thirty-nine year old dad needs to pull himself out of his self-imposed state of complacency. As the title indicates, Zachary is looking for something calming in his life as one does when they flip over a pillow in bed. I hope this book appeals to many: dads, theater lovers, and contemporary fiction readers from all walks of life.

Enjoy the free download and share it with your friends!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Trip to Cape Cod Via MTC

Sometimes it's great to attend a show without knowing anything about it. That's often what happens when I see a show at Manhattan Theatre Club. I just know they produce great work that I usually am very pleased to witness. That's what I got at the opening night of Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross. One of the great elements of this show is that artistic director Lynne Meadow is at the helm and this family dramady is in great hands. The moment you walk into the theater and see the beautiful set by Santo Loquasto (that rotates to show multiple rooms and outdoors of the cape cod home), I knew I was in for a treat. I was instantly transported to one of my favorite places on earth: cape cod. And then the sisters in the Stockton family all start to arrive at the home of Fred and Jess and the true family drama starts to become clear. The type of family dynamics that Beth Henley or Wendy Wasserstein would write, Ross isn't afraid to show women that complain…and complain. What some may see as archetypes of oldest/middle/youngest in a family, others may see their own family in these sisters who tend to be self absorbed. 

Jennifer Mudge is absolutely wonderful as the oldest sister, the fixer, the caretaker and the one dealing with her own health issues that are obviously an obstacle in her marriage. I have only seen her before in a musical and was completely blown away by the journey she took the audience on with her role. She is matched brilliantly by her husband played by Kelly AuCoin. Known for numerous TV shows, AuCoin is a real guys guy and the type of man you want as a best friend or a spouse. He tries hard to show his love for his wife by doing whatever he can to make her 41st birthday weekend as bearable as possible. He is no stranger to the Stockton sisters and knows each of their personalities well.

Heather Lind is great as the youngest sister who is still unsure what she wants in her life and has brought along her hysterical boyfriend Hunter (Nate Miller) to meet the family for the first time. Lind is so funny, natural, and I instantly loved her. Rounding out the family is the middle child Amy played by Alicia Silverstone known to many for the film Clueless. Amy is the self-obsessed, whiny sister who never feels anyone is paying enough attention to her impending wedding to the uptight Josh (Greg Keller). Keller gets some great lines in before
his premature exit in the show. Silverstone's role is one she has played before, but ending up drunk on stage is always a hard thing for an actor to pull off. Luckily she not only pulls it off but gets a great breakthrough moment in act II with her sisters to shout F-Bombs for all their wrongs in the world. 

Ross's story goes to places that perhaps we've seen before, but it was the direction and performances that kept me so engaged and feeling for the characters. The ensemble in this show all perform from a place of truth which is a great thing to witness on stage. Often times you can see actors 'acting' and in this case, you feel you are peering into the world of this family. Even how Meadows has directed her actors to speak over each other (as we all do in real life) - everything was grounded in realness which was refreshing. I was surprised when I felt tears in my eyes during a wonderful scene with husband and wife. 

The story may be about sisters, but as an audience, we bring our own lives into theater. It was the 25 year relationship between Fred and Jess that truly spoke to me…and moved me as well. This is a limited run through July, so be sure and get your tickets for a very entertaining night.  Bravo to this great cast and crew.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I Feel So Much Spring

City Center A New Brain
I am one lucky man. I walked out of seeing the concert production of "A New Brain" at City Center  Wednesday night, and millions of thoughts were running through my brain.

This series which shows musicals in concert offers lessor known musicals that have already passed through New York for a new audience to see. Or in the case of those of us who have done the show before gets to relive the moment. Led by Jonathan Groff in the lead role of a man dealing with having brain surgery, the cast including Ana Gasteyer, Aaron Lazar, Rema Webb, Josh
4th Wall Theatre A New Brain 2002
Lamon (to name a few) gave a full out production that felt nothing like a concert. Each of them were wonderful (with Gasteyer completely moving me in her ballad). William Finn's score sounded as incredible as ever (even with new lyrics and a few songs that were cut). James Lapine wrote the original book with Finn and directed this production. The staging, lights, everything was top notch as they always are in this Encores O
ff-Center series. (Thank you, Jeanine Tesori!)

The reason I felt lucky was thinking back to that time 13 years ago when I played the role Groff so beautifully portrayed tonight and looking at my life since then. His character is concerned with writing something great before he dies (in case the surgery doesn't work). Knowing I would never be a parent, I often thought of that in my 20s/30s…wanting to leave something behind I had my hand in creating. I can almost recall working through that feeling in rehearsals for this show as if it were yesterday and yet since that moment I played the man hoping to leave something behind,  I've had a musical produced, a reading of an original play, several books published and a film completed. An abundance of life-altering, wonderful moments! Realizing that 'full-circle moment', a feeling washed over me that I can't explain. 

Groff's character and Lazar's are boyfriends working through juggling career and relationship. Like most people in a relationship, I know a little something about that one too. However, tonight I was transported back to our production when I was not even two years into my relationship. Working through the ups & downs of those early times and now 13 years later, we're happily married and he has been so supportive of my ability to juggle. It feels as if I've spent an entire lifetime with him since our production…and I wouldn't trade it for the world. 

Sure, I've seen shows before that I've previously done, but for some reason this one hit me in such a profound way. I'm not sure if it were subject matter, the score, lyrics, being with dear friends, or using it as a barometer on my life - but I feel so much spring in my heart afterwards…I hope that this 46 year old Greg can look back at that guy I was 13 years ago and take some of the lessons taught to us in this musical. To live in the moment more and enjoy what life brings our way each day. There is no promise or guarantee of tomorrow so just go for it!

The one sadness that hit me was thinking I could never sing like that again in a show. This 'little' show is a mammoth one vocally for the lead. Honestly, I look back now and can't believe I was able to do it. I suddenly realized I miss singing. Maybe someday that will come back into my life again. But, who knows. If I don't, at least I can remember what it felt like to do it back when I was a performer and be happy for the projects I'm able to throw myself into today.

A beautiful production. Wonderful memories. And huge thanks to a talented cast & crew for bringing it alive on 55th street once again for these very few performances.

"I feel so much 
Spring within me, 
Blow, winds blow;
Spring has just begun.
And something's taken 
Wing within me.
What was dark so long
Had felt like winter,
Finally there's sun.
And so I sing
That I feel so much spring."
               - William Finn

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Are We Our History?

I grew up in Texas; a state that has so much pride for those that live there. We even grew up taking Texas History in school (along with the regular history courses). There is a reason you see bumper stickers that say "Don't Mess With Texas" because they mean it. We had pride that we won our independence from Mexico and then 16 years later joined seven other states to secede from the union before Lincoln took office. When that war was over, it took four more months before a state of peace was declared between the union and Texas. 

That was part of my history.

Texas was known as the last frontier of slavery in the United States and through research I've found that even my own ancestors were slave owners. (A sentence that makes me shudder as I write it.) Texas is also part of the Bible belt where religion, especially the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest protestant group in the US), carries much weight in decisions that are made. Ironically, it's also the denomination that many blacks were part of until after the civil war when they created a new congregation of Baptist churches. I was baptized and raised as part of that very arm of religion.  

That was part of my history.

All of my beliefs, values, thoughts were wrapped up in my history and upbringing as a Texan. We loved the "Dukes of Hazzard" and gave little thought to the flag on top of the car. (My own brother's 3 or 4 year old birthday cake was a replica of the General Lee car.) "For God & Country" was more than a slogan: it was a way of life. This was just all part of who I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

I happened to move north at 18 years old during the time that people go off to college to discover who they are. I brought my roots with me and clung to many of my beliefs as they were challenged with new thoughts and new ideas. Even though I left home, I have friends that stayed in that state and went through the same metamorphosis I was going through as our ideas and concepts of life evolved. 

We may be a product of our history and our upbringing, but that doesn't mean it's who we are. Holding on to history as a reason for doing or allowing something does not make it right. Growing up, making new decisions, evolving as a person - that's what it's all about. Sure those first 18 years of my life helped shape me into the man I am now, but the last 28 years of living, learning, growing has more to do with who I am than anything that happened in a history book that I read years ago. And keeping a symbol as a reminder of those times…well, personally, I'm not one to hang on to things to help me remember. For those that feel their need of history overrides the world we live in today, aren't your memories enough? Do you really believe the person you are is based on what your ancestors did? I sure hope that's not true. I'd hate for anyone to believe the fact my ancestors owned slaves has anything to do with the man I am today.