Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Return to Friends

A year ago I made my first appearance on national radio with Larry Flick and Keith Price of the Morning Jolt on Sirius Radio. Actually a year ago to this same Thursday (on Oct 27 last year). I recall the fear and excitement. Since then, I spend every morning listening to the two, tweet with them, have called in on occasion - a regular listener.

This morning I returned to the show to talk about my latest books and what has happened with me as a writer over the year and it was like visiting old friends. They are both such amazingly warm men who put guests at ease. We discussed my books Patchwork of Me and Chicken Boy. We talked about indie artists and the difference from traditionally published authors. And I was honest about reading reviews and how the entire process can make me feel.

Larry Flick
One thing I didn't discuss was the lows that sometimes come when you are busy promoting a book. You want so badly to get back to writing something new, but social media beckons and you are attempting to sell what you already have out there. All so important to connect with those wonderful people taking the time to read your work.

I've been in one of the lulls lately questioning every decision I make and I have to say: today rejuvenated me again. Sometimes it just helps to talk to someone that you haven't spoken to in a while. In this case, Larry interviews so many people daily. From the famous to those like me (that no one knows). But to hear his words of encouragement and that someone 'gets' what I attempt to do by sharing stories of adversity and diversity really helps. It makes me believe my work has a purpose...for each of those readers that find it and are moved by my stories. And that can mean more than the multi-million dollar deal from some big publisher. (Not that I'd turn that down or if any film studio out there wants to turn my book into a film.)

With Keith Price
Yup - I'm feeling good again. And it comes at a great time as November has me busy speaking on my writing. I'm talking to college classes, elementary school classes - audiences that will be very different and it's always best to be in a great mental place when you decide to go out and share your work.

If you want to hear the interview, it's posted on the homepage of my website.

Thanks to a couple of radio friends for the 'therapy' session today! ;-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Some Dreams Are Possible

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is celebrating their 50th anniversary and Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte (having spent 22 years in that position) knew she wanted to produce Man of La Mancha as a dedication and thank you to the dreamers and theater people who have supported the company. As one of those 'crazy theater types', I applaud her for taking on this show that walks the line between reality and insanity - and what a wonderfully polished and unique production she has given us.

Man of La Mancha rides on the shoulders of the actor portraying Cervantes/Quixote and Monte has an excellent strong-shouldered leading man in William Michals. He is much more than the booming voice that can deliver "The Impossible Dream" or the beauty of "Dulcinea". He is an actor that transforms himself in front of the audience to that of a frail man teetering on the edge of sanity with an incredible ability to convey both comedy and pathos to lead his audience on a journey. The Broadway performer never goes too far in his portrayal and fills his performance with truth. I've seen numerous productions of this musical and have witnessed actors that range from performing it for themselves to always giving to their fellow ensemble. Michals falls in the latter category. 

At this production, I took someone who had never experienced the show and I found it interesting to see it through fresh eyes. The concept musical is something that audiences were not as used to in 1965 when Man of La Mancha was first presented. A play within a play where the poet Cervantes awaits an inquisition with other prisoners and tells a story about Don Quixote in order to stop people from burning his manuscript. A ground breaking musical for its time that many absolutely love while others find much too sentimental or sometimes confusing. Playwright Drake Wasserman has said he was drawn to Miguel de Cervantes' story more than that of Cervantes' book "Don Quixote". Hence Man of La Mancha became a story within a story. Yet all the songs by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion were written for the Don Quixote portion of the play. This accounts for many audiences believing the musical is the 'Quixote Musical'. I've always wished Cervantes would have music to propel his story so that we could feel for that character as much as we are pulled into Quixote. But who am I to question the 5 time Tony Award winning Best Musical that ran almost 6 years the first time it appeared on Broadway? And director Monte and actor Michals have worked hard with this script to portray that Cervantes has a goal from the moment we see him. He must win over his other prisoners and in turn; the audience watching it.

It is wonderful to see this production in a small, intimate space. The piece lends itself to be shown in such a manner: with the story unfolding in the audiences' lap to make that human connection. The smaller pit (with prisoners playing many of the instruments) with musical direction by Doug Oberhamer enhances without ever overpowering. Monte has created an exciting environment for that audience with a scenic design by Michael Schweikardt that makes the audience feel as if they are part of the prison. Lightning design by Michael Giannitti that is unafraid to use shadows as well as light. Costume design by Michelle Eden Humphrey portrays the period beautifully and utilizes additional pieces thoughtfully to tell the play within the play. And sound design by Steven L. Beckel sets the tone the moment we hear footsteps approaching the iron door of the prison and the loud opening of that door.
Monte has made wonderful use of this 'prison playground' in the telling of her story along with fight director Rick Sordelet. Her placement choices of scenes such as Aldonza's abduction give wonderful impact without being too jarring in this intimate space. Her art of storytelling is evident in this the first musical the group has produced since 2004 and the way she has chosen to use the entire ensemble. 

I mentioned Monte's unique production earlier in that she has made different casting choices in some of the roles. One of those is casting Jane Pfitsch as the service woman/prostitute Aldonza. With her cropped, dirty-blonde locks, Pfitsch does not match the stereotypical look of other actresses that have portrayed the role and at first, I'll admit I was thrown. Then I was pulled into this tough, earthy take on the character that looked different from the other women in the ensemble. It caused her to stand out both to the audience and to Quixote. Pfitsch's acting moments are so grounded that I found I was transfixed by her when she would enter. Powerful

Sancho is usually a rotund man to play the servant of Cervantes, but Blake Pfeil brings his own unique look to this role. More Seth Green than Ernie Sabella and a delightful performance all around. Jeremy Lee Parrish has a voice as The Padre that I could listen to for days; John Seidman is appropriately comic as The Barber; Patrick Boll offers a commanding presence as Dr. Carraso, and the harmonies of the men singing "Little Bird, Little Bird" are so lovely to hear without amplification. The entire company shines brightly considering they are surrounded by a dank and dark prison and each carry the weight of this piece as prisoners that dream of the impossible.

Man Of La Mancha is a show everyone should see at least once. And if you're like me and love to see new and exciting productions of it, get to Madison, NJ to catch this production. Runs through November 18 at  The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Visit for complete details.

Originally Published on

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Secret Obsession

Christopher Reeve autograph
Is there something you are so obsessed with, but don't want people to know just how much you are obsessed with it? Well - I'm about to share how much of a true freak I am.

Back in 1989, after watching the video of one of my favorite films (Somewhere in Time - the romantic time-travel movie), I said to myself "That would make an incredible musical." I stayed up all night writing an outline and then set out to find the book the movie is based on - Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson. I bought a used copy of the book from someone in Arizona and then wanted to find out if Universal owned the rights. (In the photo - you can see how much I marked up the copy of my book writing myself notes for the musical.) All along,  I was still writing the musical as my obsession was too great to stop. Adding additional characters to have a secondary storyline for a musical. Writing a counter melody for the protagonist to sing against the music used in the movie (Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.) And then discovering that Mr. Matheson retained the rights even after the movie was made in 1980.

My letter to Richard Matheson
I did demo recordings with friends, had readings of it in my New York living room as I waited to hear a response from the letter I had written to the author. And then the letter came that I dreaded. About 20 years ago in 1992, Mr. Matheson himself wrote me saying he was already working on his own musical version of it and 'hated to throw cold water on my project, but it was spoken for.' I was in my early 20s at the time, completely crushed - but learned a valuable lesson to always get the rights to something before proceeding. From that, I went on to write more musicals, was accepted into the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop and my life went on.

When I met my other half in 2000, one of the things we had in common was our love of this film. (I won't even go into the amount of crazy gifts we have given to each other all these years that are built around this particular story.) Then in 2004, the world lost Christopher Reeve and while everyone was talking about superman, I continued to think of Richard Collier. My spouse and I traveled to Mackinac Island in October of '05 (where the movie was filmed) and the true freak came out of me as I enjoyed every second of that trip reliving the film. (Yes, we walked around to all the locations - but notice I'm not including photos in this blog where we reenacted the scenes. I even get emails from the Somewhere in Time fan club, but I've never joined them when they gather on the Island as one large group each year).

The Grand Hotel 2005
In March of 2006, right after Christopher Reeve's wife passed, a friend of mine wrote me that he heard they were making a musical of Somewhere in Time. The story is all about fate and with the untimely passing of Dana joining her with her husband once again (much like the story) I thought destiny was talking to me. So I wrote to Ken Davenport - the producer behind the musical project. Thrilled when he respond that he would listen to my work and I sent off a package to him. Now, I'll admit: I should have reworked it before sending. I returned to twenty year old music (tho I had become a better writer), and sent him a demo from that. But then I got the word he had chosen his team and again, I let it go.

Looking back, everything happens for a reason. Had I got that job I would have spent the last six years working on that musical instead of becoming a published author of four books that have gone on to win awards. 

But I am happy to see this week that Mr. Daveport's musical is finally coming out in 2013. He's worked a long time to get the project accomplished. (Read his journey here.)  It will premiere in Portland in the spring and when it gets anywhere in the New York area - you can bet this obsessed fan will be there cheering on those time-crossed lovers. Congrats, Ken on getting your baby to the stage. And thank you for completing this dream that has been my own obsession since 1989.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Caught in A Lie

I'm constantly amazed by people who believe they can say and do whatever they want and will not get caught. It really must take a 'huge set' for people to think they are above it all and can do it. But why wouldn't they? The media loves controversy and scandal so they play into it. But either watching presidential debates or what Lance Armstrong is going through, there is always plenty of examples where someone thinks they can say anything they want and the truth will not come out.

The fact is: the truth usually comes out. Some people capitalize on that 'truth' and write a tell all book or create a purse line (am I showing my age with that reference), but they grab that 15 minutes of fame while they can. Is there a difference in degrees in lies? You want to get out of doing something so you make up something else you have to do. You really want to get a job so you change your resume to suit the needs of  that job. You take enhancements to to have the stamina to get through the Olympics. You go under cover pretending to be something your not all with the hopes of writing a Pulitzer Prize winning expose. Or you want to lead a country and will say anything to get those votes.

It seems we live in a world where consequence doesn't seem to matter. Where people do whatever they can to get ahead. Perhaps I'm just feeling a little discouraged today by too many things I'm reading about in the media and will have a better outlook tomorrow - but for today, the deceit in the news is troubling me.

Monday, October 15, 2012

When It's Over

When I was a child, I used to be so sad and depressed when a production I had been in would end. My mother would witness her child go into a funk and knew it was going to happen each time. You become family with people when you mount a show. And then they are gone. As I got older and did shows professionally, I learned to bounce back much more quickly from that edge of depression of it being over. And now since I tend to write my feelings, I couldn't hold back from analyzing what I went through the past two months.

Several years ago, I walked away from theater to concentrate on being a writer. I had spent so much of my time going from show to show, but really had forgotten what it was like. The past two months was a huge reminder. The hours of rehearsal. The memory work involved. The fear that comes the older you get when we somehow lose that "I can do anything" attitude we had when we were younger. But I accepted the challenge. I took the journey. And I'm so glad that I did.

I learned about myself during the process. I even thought about the type of story teller I am as a writer. And I wanted to get to the depth of my character. Yes, Next to Normal is a musical - but it is an emotional play of family dynamics, loss, love, grief - and these are themes I love to write about as well. 

I learned about friendship. Those that support you during the process. That believe you can accomplish what you set out to do. That come to the performances and support your endeavors.

And I learned that as an adult, the sadness felt when the show is over is slightly different from that when I was younger. Yes, I'll miss all those involved in the production. I'll miss the excitement of doing the show and getting that instant acknowledgement (that you don't receive as a writer). But what I really found was - I'll miss the character that I played. I was a husband. A father. A man attempting to hold together a 19 year marriage as his life was cracking around him and I felt for this man. I loved portraying him for an audience and I carried his 'world' home with me each night. I can't say thanks enough to my director for trusting me with this man and for 4th Wall for producing such a great show.

And as an author? Well, I've always thought my next book out would be Fences That Divide Us, but there has been another on the back burner that may just push it's way forward now for 2013. A few years back I wrote a novel about a married man who was the stay at home dad while his wife went to work and once his child starts school, he has no idea what to do with his life. After this experience, I believe it is time to revisit that novel and get it out sooner rather than later.

So the experiences we have in life - even when a show ends - may just be the beginning of something else.

The cast of Next to Normal

Photos by: Tom Schopper

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Return to the Line

I remember going to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ back in 1995 as a guest of a reviewer to see The Secret Garden (in which my friend understudied the role of Lily). Life is truly strange to return this week when I am the one writing the review for The musical brings back so many memories as it was my first Broadway musical I ever saw.

If you are in theater and you hear "5, 6, 7, 8", more times than not, you feel the urge to go into the opening dance sequence of A Chorus Line. Even if you are not a dancer, for just a moment you long to be one. A Chorus Line was the first Broadway show I ever saw in the summer of 1984. I remember the feeling I had as the gypsies on stage shared their stories with the audience; their deep longing to be a part of the Broadway community; the truth that each dancer is more than simply a line of un-named faces.

Paper Mill Playhouse has opened their season with the show and once again, I was that teenage boy reliving those same feelings, only this time through the eyes of a 43 year old man. Director/choreographer Mitzi Hamilton has restaged the original direction and choreography brilliantly on the stage in Milburn, New Jersey. And she should know. She was part of the original audio sessions (inspiring the role of Val) that became the workshop and eventually the Pulitzer Prize winning, and nine Tony Award-winning) Best Musical. This production feels as fresh as it did when it opened on Broadway in 1975. It even utilizes scenic and costume designs from the Broadway production.
I can’t imagine that there are people that do not know of this inventive concept musical by Michael Bennett, which took recorded sessions he had with dancers and created a book that shares their hopes and dreams--all intertwined within an audition setting, while, a director is looking for eight men and women to fill spots in the ensemble of a new Broadway show. The late Marvin Hamlisch provided a score that soared and would bring tissues out of theater-goers pockets as the cast sang of “What I Did for Love”.
Audiences tend to want to see A Chorus Line done a certain way. They go in “knowing” it and you can feel the collective “ahhhh” when the iconic line is formed with each dancer going into their pose. Restaging the original choreography takes the audience back to the first time they may have seen it, and our memory plays such a huge part in this show that is set in the 1970’s. At the same time, I’m thrilled when I see actors taking chances to make the characters more of their own while staying true to the original. When that gamble works; it is magic. We see plenty of examples in this production with this cast of fine triple-threat performers.
The show is an ensemble piece and yet written so perfectly to allow each character to have a moment to shine. And shine they do on the stage of the Paper Mill Playhouse - starting with that now famous song mentioned above. At the performance I attended, understudy Jessica Vaccaro played the part of Diana and what a performance she gave. All the spunk and energy needed for the feisty Morales, with a voice that boomed to the back of the house. Speaking of voices, I’ve seen ACL so many times and tend to judge it based on Maggie’s ability to bring chills with her voice. Karley Willocks does not disappoint in this area: so sweet and pure - a delight. Kevin Curtis was a firecracker of a Richie with energy that went on for days. Kristine is usually a role I only pay attention to during “Sing”, but not when Amanda Rose is playing the part. She commanded my attention through much of the production – and I gladly gave it.
I watched the documentary of the casting of the last revival on Broadway and just knew Rachelle Rak would have played the character of Sheila. I was wrong that time, but audiences finally get to see this fine actress in a role she was born to play. Both the attitude and vulnerability were all perfectly packaged in her portrayal of this woman. And I knew it would be. I was equally mesmerized by her each time she stepped on the stage when I saw her in Catch Me if You Can on Broadway. Martin Harvey is a strong Zach and his scenes with Cassie are wonderfully acted by both he and Jessica Lee Goldyn. I adored Ms. Goldyn when I saw her in the Broadway revival as Val, but the Paper Mill Playhouse pit overpowers her when she sings and there are moments when the star that is Cassie gets lost in the crowd. Other standouts are Ashley Arcement as Val, all three women of “At the Ballet,” and J. Manuel Santos delivering Paul’s emotional monologue.
If you haven’t seen A Chorus Line, where have you been and what are you waiting for? If you have, do yourself a favor and get to the Paper Mill Playhouse to see it again. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Come Out! Come Out!

It was a year ago today that I introduced some special people in my life. Brothers Noah and Jacob - as different as they are, I care about them both. The steadfast Gary who could push Tammy Wynette over and sing "stand by your man". The New York clan of Pamela, Jeffrey, Samantha, Rachel and all the others. Okay, so these are characters in my book, but for an author our characters are living, breathing people. 

It was around this time I was celebrating the launch of the book at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Choosing National Coming Out Day to launch the book because of the themes of the story. Nervously waiting for what people would think of this highly-charged book.

A year later, I am still so proud of it. Of the feedback I receive (both good and bad). How after a year, it continues to touch people and I still hear from new readers how it affects them. That is part of the joy of being an indie writer. That my book can stay out there long after being pulled from the store shelves. People can still find it and enjoy it as if finding something new.

Sure, I made some mistakes along the way. I'm not certain if I gave away enough of the themes of the book to get people involved in it. I wanted the book out on this important day where gays and lesbians can stand up and be proud of who they are because a character in my book had such a tough time doing that. The book may be set in the late 70s-early 90s and we may have not heard the term "pray away the gay" at that point...but it was there. And people were doing it.

I say stand tall and be proud. I wish all in the LGBT community a very happy National Coming Out Day. And if you want to read a little history on what this community was like several years back - grab a copy of WELL WITH MY SOUL. To be able to say that all is well, that is the ultimate! 

Book Trailer for WELL WITH MY SOUL

2011 Book Release Party at Stonewall Inn

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Day of the Show, Ya'll!

People that follow this blog know that I write about being an author and so many other topics. One of those topics is taking chances and pushing ourselves out of comfort zones: well I've done just that with getting back on stage for the 1st time in four years. And what a challenging show it is. Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize and several Tonys when it was on Broadway. It has a cult following and people love to see it done a certain way. (Though a contemporary/rock musical about a family dealing with a woman's bipolar diagnosis is not usually the subject matter for a musical.)

When I approach a role, I try my darn-'est to not copy what others have done. And the director on this production has done a wonderful job at putting her own spin on this story and giving so many levels to all involved. (Kate is not only the artistic director of 4th Wall Theatre, but a working director all over the country and a fantastic woman!) Approaching a role means discovering who the person is and conveying that character to the audience. (Like developing a character in a book, only this time I get to create that person on stage and embody them for audiences to see.) 

If you follow this blog, you know by the title of it that I constantly battle with weight issues. Well, that was one of the reasons I said as a director (yes, I've directed several shows) I wouldn't ever cast ME in this role. Directors may say otherwise, but many times we have a look in our head of a particular character and all "THIS" (he said running his hands over his body) isn't what I see as Dan. And yet, I made my back story that this man is so busy taking care of his family and dealing with his wife's mental illness that hitting the gym isn't on the top of his priority list. (And obviously hasn't been on Greg's either...let's compare to my book launch this time last year and the pounds have come back!)

But I digress. I'm here to say that I am so glad I not only auditioned for this show, but that I was cast in it. It has been a wonderful experience for me to push myself in ways that I haven't in so long. And MAN did I forget what rehearsals can do to a person. Your body aches in places you didn't even know you had muscles. (And I don't even dance in this show.) The mental toll it takes as you carry the character home with you. And let's not discuss how it has eaten into my TV watching time.

All that said, I took a chance and now audiences will witness it the next two weekends and we'll see if the chance was worth it. For me: it was. I challenged myself to get vocally set again. (Huge thanks to Corinna for getting me back in vocal shape!) I reminded myself what it is like to get in the mindset of an actor. And I had so many people helping and cheering me on.

So now we're off. It's the day of the show and I'm ready to do this!

Who needs normal? I like being 'next' to it!

And check out Tom Schopper's Facebook page who not only shot the photos for this show, he has done my head shots in the past and is a wonderful photographer!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Looking At A 25 Year Anniversary

Always the goof-ball - at Statue of Liberty

I can't believe it has been 25 years since I moved north from Texas. That number seems so large to that 18 year old boy with dreams of making it on Broadway. 

Don't all the movies say New York is the place of dreams? Well I had plenty of them. Then I became that jaded person who only saw the things I didn't accomplish. 

But just recently my life coach (ok, my dearest friend) pointed out things I have done during that time and I have to admit - she is right. Not to turn this blog into a 'toot my horn' - but sometimes it is good to take stock of what we have done.

I was a working actor for many years...and during that time, I would do pretty much ANYTHING.

Professor Gangreen in Killer Tomatoes  /Yes-singing in a mall   / Don't even ask
I climbed the corporate ladder in a self taught field until I finally walked away from the money to go back into the arts and have managed an arts center for the past 6 years.

Stalking stars like Bernadette Peters after "Into The Woods"

I've had musicals I've written produced on stage. Short stories and four books published. And have won awards for several of those. Each one of those accomplishments made me feel so blessed. 

I've contributed articles to several online sites, interviewed people, been interviewed, touched lives through my writing and have received wonderful reviews of my work. The feedback received from people can't be stressed enough as it is so amazing to know someone sits in their own corner reading your words and are moved by them. I simply can't describe that feeling that overcomes me from hearing from those people.

I also found my way back to the stage in 2000 and once again discovered my love of performing and directing.

A New Brain
Forever Plaid

And even though I haven't been on stage in four years, I open in a show again this coming weekend. 

The past 12 years, I've had a partner who has supported me through so much of that list. And I know without that support, I couldn't have accomplished half of it. He is the true accomplishment of the past 25 years and I know just how lucky I am. (Now if only someday we can actually be married.)

No. I never ended up on Broadway, but sometimes dreams change. And that is not a bad thing. If life didn't take us down a different road, we'd never get a chance to see something new. I've had a great 25 years and I know I wouldn't change any of it.