Monday, July 18, 2016

An Open Letter to Ivanka Trump

Dear Ivanka,

It is quite obvious how much you respect and admire your father. Children should look up to those that rear them. My father passed away in his late 50s, but he always instilled in me there was nothing I couldn't do if I put my mind to it. Having watched you for years, it's obvious you've been taught a similar thing from your dad. I remember seeing you years ago when you were younger at the movie theater in NYC holding tightly to your father for his support and protection. 

As we age, the roles often change with our parents and we step up in many different ways. I see your dad turns to you for so many decisions in his life (even when he was talking to celebrities and reality stars on TV). You were there in the fake board room giving your thoughts and concerns. You now do the same thing as your dad chose Mike Pence to add to his ticket and it seems he went with what you kids wanted versus going with his gut.

Only what is happening now isn't a studio set of a reality show. This is actual life and this is the largest job in our country. As a parent, don't you cringe when your dad says something that you'd hate for your child to repeat. That he allows bullying and bigoted rhetoric to be such a part of his campaign? Perhaps this was how he ran a business (and as someone who has been in business for years, I've dealt with many men like your dad), but being the leader of the free world it's not the same as working out deals with foreign countries to create a clothing line.

It's hard when I hear people discuss his negotiating skills in a board room and think that same skill set will work out for our country. It troubles me when his views on diversity center around the "lots and lots" of foreign people that work for him. As a New Yorker, how he can disregard the millions of Americans in the LGBT community is beyond me. But you - you're a younger generation. You have friends that cross political boundaries. You seem to have a level head on your shoulder. You can still love and respect your father, but call him out on his hateful bigotry. My dad was a great man, but I'm sure there were some that would have believed racism was flowing through his veins (even if it didn't seem to be something he would admit to). But that's the problem. There are millions of white Americans who harbor those feelings of bigotry, homophobia, racism and your dad has made it 'okay' to let those flags fly.

How I wish you could intervene with your father. Rein him in and get him on a track that would be good for ALL Americans. It's sad to think the legacy of what many believed to be a great entrepreneur will be replaced with a man that could destroy the very fabric of America and be compared to some of the worst leaders in world history. But he's your dad. You're proud. And that is truly sad.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cats is Back in NYC: A Preview

Back in the early 80s I became obsessed with the musical Cats. I honestly am not sure why. As a teen in Texas I don't know if it was the connection to Betty Buckley or having loved previous Andrew Lloyd Webber shows or just because I was a theater nut...something about it grabbed me. I bought the album, I bought the books, we traveled to New York City in '84 and tried to get tickets (to no avail), but finally when I moved to NYC in '87 I saw it. And saw it. And saw it. The show that never ended was on my 'go-to' list each time Grizabella would change. 

Me obsessed in '86
Many were shocked to hear that it was coming back to Broadway in 2016 after closing 16 years earlier (though other shows have returned in less time), but I still grabbed up tickets once it was announced. My husband had never seen it (along with a dear friend who missed it too) so four of us attended a matinee just after previews started.

Well, I'm happy to report that the show that is "now & forever" is still just as good the second time around. They made some cuts and changes that keep the musical moving and just over 2 hours and 15 minutes including the intermission. I was so entertained by this fresh, young company. (I emphasis young because some of them weren't even born when it started the first time back in the 80s.) 

I was amazed how much the lyrics and certain visuals all came back to me so quickly. Gillian Lynne's signature choreographed moments are there, but Andy Blankenbuehler (of Hamilton fame) has put his own touch on the show as well.  John Napier has created a set and costumes that remind us of the original while still being new. This cast is dancing and singing their butts off and it's absolutely wonderful! I usually sit back in the theater to take it all in, but my friends love sitting down front so we were on the second row and I could see the nuances these actors bring to their feline roles. 

Napier's 70th set for Cats

My husband (who only likes shows with a 'story') really enjoyed it. (Shocked me, I must say since the storyline for Cats is such a small string of a story.) He mentioned how the score sounds very 80s and he could hear other Lloyd Webber tunes in it. (Guess his years of being with me has turned him into a theater critic.)

Intermission: Old Deuteronomy
I want to give a shout out to a few performers that stood out to me (though I really enjoyed them all). Christopher Gurr brings great acting chops to Gus the theater cat, Tyler Hanes is serving Adam Lambert as Rum Tum Tugger, Eloise Kropp is an adorable Jennyanydots (that kept my gaze many times throughout), Andy Huntington Jones has a wonderful voice for our 'narrator' Munkustrap,  Jess LeProptto & Shonica Gooden exhausted me in a good way as Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer, Sara Jean Ford's soprano soars even in ensemble numbers as Jellylorum, Ricky Ubeda puts his own 'spin' on Mistoffelees that is sheer brilliance, and Quentin Earl Darrington has the presence and powerful vocal chops that we all want from Old Deuteronomy. I could go on and on about each performer, but I'm sure people want to hear about the big G.

Right by our feet in front of stage
I'm going to try and not write about all of the Grizabellas that have come before (and I've seen many). I totally understand Sir. Andrew wanting to bring a name into his show. I get it. (My husband loves Leona Lewis and was very excited to see her.) But I don't think it's necessary. There are tons of Broadway women that could act and sing this role. And yes, the role must be acted, it is not all about "touch me" - the role is so much more even though it's only about 15 minutes worth of stage time. I want to believe that Ms. Lewis will continue to work with an acting coach to find the heart and pain of Grizabella so that her stage presence will match her vocals. I DID see a preview after all, so perhaps that will get better in time.

With all of this said - if you loved Cats before: see it again. If you never saw it and want to be able to form an actual opinion and not jump on the "hate Cats bandwagon" - see it. If you love electrifying dancing and great music, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Out of the Publishing Closet

Five years ago I set out on a journey in the publishing world and it's been amazing. During that time, I've worked with four other publishers (from indie publishers to larger publishers) and have learned so much. The world of self published authors has changed over the years and people get their literary fixes in all different types of ways.

One thing I did was to create my own publishing company back in 2011. I set up the company, purchased ISBNS, joined the IBPA, and immersed myself into that world. At first, it was to get some of my own stories out there (that I had not published via other publishers), but it quickly grew into something much more. In a "pay-it-forward" type of way, I started publishing other authors. I worked with and mentored them on marketing, social media, and the pitfalls I had experienced myself. I was so proud of our roster of authors at ASD Publishing and the fact they were out there in the world promoting their work and that I could be a small part of that. Honored and thankful to each of those authors for trusting me.

ASD Publishing grew into ASD Media & Entertainment when I decided to create a short film and then we also worked with a playwright on producing his show in NYC. The company expanded while I continued to tell our small family that as a one man band (who out sourced many of the jobs such as editing, book layout, etc), I had to be very choosy about who I was able to work with. Author contracts have about a 3 year shelf life and our contracts have run out and many of the authors have moved on to other publishers, but as I look at our anniversary this summer - boy, it was satisfying.

Did I get rich? Not at all. Did I meet lots of new people? Absolutely. Was I touched by having those authors in my life? Every day. 

So grateful to each of them and proud of what we accomplished in the first five years. I have no idea what will come next for ASD Media, but I figured after five years...I could finally come out of the closet and share that I was the man behind the curtain. It was fun at times when people in my life had no idea that ASD was actually ME. I'm not embarrassed by our little company.  It was a rewarding, exhausting, fulling experience & here's to what's next!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Guest Blog: Black Lives Matter...TOO

A dear friend of mine spoke so honestly and raw on Facebook last night that I asked if I could share her post on my blog. I said in yesterday's blog that as a white man I feel lost and unsure what to say or do. I appreciate her allowing me to share her feelings as a mother and an amazingly strong woman that I admire greatly.

Gwen's word:

I've been very silent today, as my emotions, like the emotions of so many others, have swung between anger, crying and fear. What is happening to black people, especially black men, is wrong and if you are a person of conscious you have to call it out. 
My husband and I have raised 5 children--2 of them are strong, smart and capable black men. However, we live in a country where they are constantly the victims of other people's suspicions. We shouldn't have had to give them the "talk" about how to interact with the police--but we did. We shouldn't have had to constantly harp on them about how they dressed and how they spoke, because people would make assumptions--but we did. We shouldn't have had to be on the phone today, with family and friends commiserating and shaking our heads and asking each other, why?--but we did. And we weren’t alone. I daresay most black people in this country were doing the same thing. 
I appreciate the support of my white friends—but I need you to understand that this is not a “black problem.” This is truly an American problem. We should not have to film the deaths of our husband, brothers and friends for the majority to “believe” that there is a problem. 
I’m going to continue to pray for our country—because I truly believe in the power of prayer. But I also believe in the power of work, and the Bible tells us that “faith without work is dead.” So what can I do—what can we all do? We can raise our voice—we can call our Members of Congress and say that instead of a 50th hearing into Hillary Clinton’s email, how about our elected officials call hearings on the problem with policing in the US, and what can be done to establish some best practices and real training for cops. 
Let me be clear--I do not hate policeman. My husband was a cop for 10 years. I hate that the first reaction of too many of them is to shoot a black person first. Yesterday (July 6) in North Carolina, a 62 year old white man fired a handgun during an altercation with a Wake County deputy after the man was seen pointing a shotgun at passing cars. The man, William Bruce Ray, was approached by a Deputy and pulled a handgun on him. The two wrestled and Ray even fired a shot during the incident. Ray however, was taken into custody and not physically harmed. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both had legal weapons, which they did not pull on the police, but they are both dead. You try explaining that one.
Let me end by sharing the words of Jesse Williams from his recent speech at the BET Awards. A speech which prompted some woman named Erin Smith to create a petition urging his firing from Grey’s Anatomy for what she called “a racist, hate speech against law enforcement and white people.” Jesse ended, what I viewed as an incredibly eloquent acceptance speech for a Humanitarian Award by saying “the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright – stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down. We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
So, when we say ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬, please do not come at me with “all lives matter.” Of course, they do. If you would just listen, what we’re really saying is “black lives matter, too”- We matter just as much. We love our sons, our husbands our brothers just as much and we are tired of having to bury them because they reacted too quickly or too slowly or didn’t bow quick enough. If you want to know what you can do—stand up and say something to those in power. If not—Then. Have. Several. Seats.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The War on Black Men

I'm heartbroken, yet feel helpless. Angry, yet unsure where to point that anger. Two mornings in a row I've found myself (like many in our country) grappling with the senseless deaths of African-American men. For anyone reading thinking this is an anti-police rant, it is not. I value our officers. I have had family members that serve in that capacity. There is good and bad in every group and I've always said that (black, white, purple, gay, straight - we all have bad eggs).

But one can't see these senseless deaths and not believe there is an epidemic occurring. The rules simply do not apply if you are a black man living in America and as a white man who cannot comprehend that at all, it infuriates me. I have friends tell me they have schooled their own children when stopped by police exactly how to respond, where to keep their hands on the wheel, etc. (It feels no different from the past where black men where told to keep their eyes down and not look "the white man" in the eye.) And time and time again, the perpetrator of these actions get off without any justice for the slain causing rightful outrage. We should be outraged! This simply isn't right. And think about it, we are only seeing the few caught on camera...this happens more times than we even know or is even reported.

Try and imagine what it must be like to live in that constant fear. To be the 4 year old girl in the back seat of Philandro Castile's car watching as 4 to 5 bullets are shot at him. To be Alton Sterling selling CDs and ending up on the ground filled with bullets. The list could go on and on...those are just the two names we know this week. You can't imagine it, because it's not part of your world. But it's part of ALL of our world. It's happening to our people. 

There is outrage over mass shootings, suicide bombings and there should be outrage as one by one our fellow Americans are being picked off due to trigger happy officers. I read that Philandro Castile's sister said it's like modern day lynching instead of getting hung from a tree, blacks are being killed on camera. This is not acceptable and something must be done...but what? Who steps up and takes control? People seem to get mad at the BlackLivesMatter movement or when they see a black minister leading a protest on TV. What do you believe should happen? 

A black man is killed and there is a rush to find a criminal record to play out across the media (as if that justifies the actions of a cop, who, btw,  would not know that history when pulling them over). A white male rapist gets a slap on the wrist and his accolades are shared in the media.  The NRA believes people have a right to carry a gun, yet if you're a black man - you don't get that right. An officer will shoot first and ask questions later (while with a white man they will talk him down to put the gun away). 

None of it makes sense. I am sick over it. I hate the division in our country and it just grows more and more because however you look at it - racism is alive and well in America and it's a horrible, ugly, stain on our country. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

History Was Made: Now What?

Back in 2008, I was a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. I had the sign on my lawn. I was very vocal in my support for her when many of my friends (and the country) got behind the 1st year senator from Illinois. When Obama became the nominee, I jumped behind him and gave him my full support and continued that support throughout his presidency. For me, it's a no-brainer: you support the candidate you believe will not only be best for the country as a whole, but also believes in your rights as a citizen and doesn't want to send you tumbling backwards (and in my case - back in the closet).

Here we are 8 years later and while I wasn't thrilled with candidates on either side of the aisle at first, I got behind the nominee that I believed would move our country forward. Not only do I believe Clinton has the country's best interest at heart, I fully believe she stands with me as someone in a same-sex marriage. (Something I know not one person in the Republican party can get behind.) While many will debate the way the Democratic Party counts delegates for days and weeks to come, she has more pledged delegates than Obama had in '08, she has the majority of pledged delegates in this election cycle, and yes - the super delegates will put her over the needed amount (same as Obama in '08 when he was declared the winner on June 3, 2008 - well before the convention that year). I was thrilled to watch her as she made history as the first female to become the presumptive nominee for a major party and I love reading the stories of parents with little girls all across the country that stayed up to watch her speech.

I admire the passion that people have for Mr. Sanders (even if I don't admire or believe all of his false promises). I love how he changed the discussion in our country and he has brought up many important topics that need to stay in the forefront as we move forward. As a senator, he can have a much more powerful platform now. AND if he had been the Democratic nominee, I would have gotten behind him 100%. Yet those that have worshipped Bernie and felt his burn all these months can't do the same thing that many of us did in 2008. I'm saddened by those that can't do the same thing now. That WON'T do the same thing.  

Instead, they feel Hillary is not a good choice and they want to tear apart the democratic party and rally behind an independent. I firmly believe our system needs to change so we are not a party system - but for now: WE STILL ARE. Putting your vote behind an independent (who, btw, used the Democratic Party for months to gain publicity and a following), is handing the election to Donald Trump. A man that will make us a laughing joke to other countries and frankly, could take us into WWIII with his ego.

But if that's more important to you than a woman who has a political record, who believes in our country and who WILL lead (even though many will write me about her horrible past and please don't bother repeating those same talking points to me) - then I guess I have to be ready for us to move backwards and for me to end back up without rights in our country. When that happens, it will be hard for me to look at those friends who enabled this 'independent revolution' to occur which ended up bringing our great country down under Trump's reign.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Tony! Tony! Tony!

It's that time of year where all theater geeks make their predictions for the Tony Awards honoring the best of the past Broadway season. So here are mine (along with some links to my reviews of some of the shows). Also, click to hear a great discussion about the Tony Awards with myself, Keith Price and, Paul Winkler on Keith's curtain call Tony Awards Prediction Show.
Best Play
Eclipsed Author: Danai Gurira
The Father Author: Florian Zeller
The Humans Author: Stephen Karam
King Charles III Author: Mike Bartlett
Loved them all, but I'd go with King Charles III - I bet The Humans will get it though.
Best Musical
Bright Star
School of Rock-The Musical
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Well, this is Hamilton's & totally deserves it. (Though I wish American Psycho would have gotten a nomination - it's just as revolutionary in a completely different way even though it closed this past Sunday.)
Best Revival of a Play
Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Noises Off

I was greatly disturbed by Blackbird, laughed so hard at Noises Off, but I'm betting it's A View From the Bridge

Best Revival of a Musical

The Color Purple
Fiddler on the Roof
She Loves Me
Spring Awakening
I'm torn between the two reimagined productions of Color Purple & Spring Awakening.
Best Book of a Musical
Bright Star - Steve Martin
Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda
School of Rock-The Musical - Julian Fellowes
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed George C. Wolfe
Tough category because some of these in this list are what was talked about as being the weakest part of the show (and yet they still got nominated) - but Hamilton will win for Lin-Manuel's 6 years of writing this masterpiece.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Bright Star - Music: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Lyrics: Edie Brickell
HamiltonMusic & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
School of Rock-The Musical - Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Waitress - Music & Lyrics: Sara Bareilles

Hands down - this is why Hamilton deserves to be where it is this year. That score!! YES!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Gabriel Byrne, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
Frank Langella, The Father
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III
Mark Strong, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
This is such a hard category for me as I love so many, but have to go with Frank Langella who gave me a masterclass in acting.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Laurie Metcalf, Misery
Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed
Sophie Okonedo, Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird
So many good ones! Glad that Laurie Metcalf was remembered for early in the season and Michelle Williams blew me away, but thinking it's Jessica Lange.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Alex Brightman, School of Rock-The Musical
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

This is tough for me as I honestly believe Benjamin Walker should have been in this category over (dare I say it) Lin-Manuel. So since he's not, I have to go with Leslie Odom, Jr.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton
I am so happy by this category with so many amazing women! I'm torn between Carmen and Cynthia for completely different reasons. 
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans
Bill Camp, Arthur Miller's The Crucible
David Furr, Noises Off
Richard Goulding, King Charles III
Michael Shannon, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Great actors here and I'm thrilled that David Furr made this list! But I'm going with Reed Birney.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Andrea Martin, Noises Off
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Another great category - but Megan Hilty's performance stuck with me from early in the season.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton
This is another category where I could have put several other actor's names on this list from musicals this season (Paul Alexander Nolan) and not sure Hamilton should have run the category the way it did. That said, Christopher Jackson is my guy (though I bet Daveed Diggs will get it). 
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Could this category BE more different in performances? As much as I love them all - I have to go with my girl Jennifer Simard for going there in Disaster!
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Beowulf Boritt, Thérèse Raquin
Christopher Oram, Hughie
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
David Zinn, The Humans
That set for Hughie was amazing (even though hardly anyone saw it in such a short run). I'm going with Christopher Oram.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Es Devlin & Finn Ross, American Psycho
David Korins, Hamilton
Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Es Devlin & Finn Ross created a world that was completely different from anything else in the category and I'm going with them for American Psycho.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Michael Krass, Noises Off
Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
Tom Scutt, King Charles III

Usually I have one that jumps out at me, but none of these do this I'm going to pick Noises Off - Michael Krass.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting
Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me
Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton

I got to see these up close & personal backstage and they are just as amazing there...Paul Tazewell for Hamilton.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Natasha Katz, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Justin Townsend, The Humans
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
Justin Townsend had a challenge lighting this set and did an incredible job at making it all real. Going with him.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening
Justin Townsend, American Psycho
I have to go with Justin Townsend again showing a completely different way of working.
Best Direction of a Play
Rupert Goold, King Charles III
Jonathan Kent, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Joe Mantello, The Humans
Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed
Ivo Van Hove, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
I just loved how King Charles III moved & everything about it which points to Rupert Goold. (He was also amazing directing American Psycho...obviously, I have an obsession with this closed show.)
Best Direction of a Musical
Michael Arden, Spring Awakening
John Doyle, The Color Purple
Scott Ellis, She Loves Me
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
I think Michael Arden & John Doyle did amazing work reimagining those shows, but Thomas Kail's work on Hamilton made it what it was. 
Best Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof
Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea
Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Andy Blankenbuehler showed us things we've never seen before and helped create a phenomenon. It's him. 

Best Orchestrations
August Eriksmoen, Bright Star
Larry Hochman, She Loves Me
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Daryl Waters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
A different sound - a unique voice - I'm going with August Eriksmoen for Bright Star.