Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Three Years Later, But Made it to Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots opened on Broadway on April 4, 2013. Two weeks later I had tickets to see the hot new show, but my father-in-law passed that very day and I never tried to see it again. Sitting in the Al Hirschfeld Theatre last night, I realized what a connection this show is for fathers and sons. My dad and my father-in-law were both more accepting of their sons' choices and lives than the two main characters in this musical, but I still couldn't help but think of them both while watching the show.

Based on the 2005 British film, the musical written by Harvey Fierstein with a score by Cyndi Lauper is basically an old-fashioned feel good musical and won 6 Tony awards. Charlie Price must step into his father's shoes in a failing business (making shoes) and when he meets a drag queen decides to create boots for a niche market. It's about letting go of preconceived notions of others and being who you are. The writing team uses La Cage Aux Folles as a blueprint (also written by Mr. Fierstein) where the drag queen is not one you would see on RuPaul's Drag Race (that can cut you with their tongue), but instead one that the straight people attending the theater will champion for and fall in love with. (The married man next to me loved the show.) And  why should he not? There is a lot to love on that stage.

The show felt very fresh to me with a very full audience (for a Monday night) after running for three years. I'm thrilled that the producers realize the show is the star and you don't need stunt casting because Alan Mingo, Jr. (having played the role in Toronto) is absolutely brilliant as Lola. Too many times I've seen actors in drag give a nod & wink to the audience, but Mr. Mingo inhabits the character and lives his life in all of his glory. I saw him last at Paper Mill Playhouse in The Little Mermaid and the same fire and dynamic personality he had then shines through again.  He is stunning to watch on stage! 

Aaron C. Finley recently took over the role of Charlie Price and has a wonderful singing voice, shares lots of acting levels, and tackles the challenge of his arc head on...and masters the red boots too!

The entire cast is wonderful under Jerry Mitchell's direction and choreography. Stage 'bits' feel as real now as when they were first blocked. I must give a shout out to Haven Burton and Daniel Stewart Sherman for two well done characters (without making them caricatures) and to Devin Trey Campbell as young Lola who has the moves!!

There is a lot of heart on the stage in this musical and a message that we should all be reminded of now and again. We're in a political climate where diversity seems to be a bad word...thanks to the cast and crew of Kinky Boots for reminding us that it's something to be celebrated! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Norbert and Girls, Girls, Girls

Some of the best concerts in New York City happen at Feinstein's/54 Below on 54th street. I've had many a great evening there, but never one where I wanted to run home and write about it.

Until tonight.

I am a huge fan of Norbert Leo Butz on stage. The man is an incredible singer, actor and puts his all into everything he does. (Hell, I saw Big Fish three times on Broadway because of him and then had the honor of playing his role this past June in a New Jersey production of that show.) But seeing him in a different surrounding - in a concert setting - it's pure magic. Don't go to Feinstein's thinking you are going to be hearing showtunes because Butz gives us much more. Taking us on a journey of dealing with all the numerous women in his life (daughters, wife, ex wife, mother, mother-in-law, nieces) he uses Greek stories of goddesses to weave a story that is engaging, enlightening, and pure entertainment. 

And then he opens that mouth and shares that voice that can send chills down my spine. There is a rawness and a truth in his singing that truly makes him one of my favorite male singers in New York City. I told my friend this evening he could easily have had a career as a country, blues singer had he decided to go that route. Lucky for us, he shares all of those colors in his song choices. Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town, Sunny Came Home, Come on Eileen, and oh yes...there is ONE showtune....Wig in A Box from Hedwig (not a standard for sure). 

Michael Moritz Jr. is the MD/pianist and he is incredible at his job as well (the entire band is top notch). The arrangements that Moritz does is truly wonderful. The man really is a a genius in his own right as a producer of several shows and projects. 

I could have stayed there for another hour tonight because it's just that entertaining. Butz is a performer who doesn't believe in giving 1/2 of anything. His entire body, heart, and soul are there on that stage and the sweat pours off of him showing just how hard he is working. And yet...he makes it feel effortless. From accompanying himself on the guitar to singing a moving ballad - he holds an audience in his hands. It's obvious why he's so beloved in New York. Television may have grabbed him up with Bloodline, but he's New York's son and we're lucky to have him as ours.

Do yourself a favor and get to 54th street to catch this show. It runs several nights until August 12th. (You can also grab the CD of the show from Broadway Records.) 




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.