Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Hours of Misery That is Well Worth It

Twenty five years ago I moved to NYC and Les Miserables was the big musical that year. I've seen many live performances and numerous Jean Valjeans (country singer Gary Morris was actually my favorite). Like most theater geeks, I've been looking forward to this sung-through musical finally coming to the big screen.

As a theater freak, I've also read all the reviews, followed the postings of theater lovers weighing in on forums, and watched every clip of the show before seeing it in the theater. (I often think how musicals like The Sound of Music would have faired had the internet been around where every theater fan could chime in on their thoughts.) Unfortunately I was sick Christmas Day when I had tickets to see it, but I finally felt well enough to leave the house and see it this morning.

Let me first say - I love movie musicals. I grew up on them. I have no problem when a character breaks out into song. Some movies have transferred very well while others have had some major problems on the big screen.  From Moulin Rouge to Chicago and even parts of Sweeney Todd - I've enjoyed what Hollywood has given us. 

Director Tom Hooper definitely has a vision for his Les Miz and for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the vision that he supplied. He took us off the turntable that was the stage show and gave us locations that evoked the period and made sense. Yes - he has a love for closeups...but in some cases, it made the moment all the more moving. (Other times I was wishing he would just pull back and let us see something else.) 

There has been so much said about the live singing in this show and it really did change the movie for me. The fact we knew they were in the moment performing these numbers felt completely different from that of a dubbed vocal. I had no issue with the orchestrations that others have complained about. I found it very beautiful and moving.

There are also some pretty inspired casting choices. Anne Hathaway was so moving and earthy as Fantine. I absolutely loved her. She deserves all the praise being given to her now. Eddy Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried and Aaron Tveit each bring wonderful life to the younger characters in this epic tale (even though they don't appear until midway through the film). There were things about each of their performances that I could pull out and rave about and several of them brought me to tears in moments of their performances. Even Russell Crowe who is getting a bad rap on most theater forums did not bother me as Javert. (Goes to show watching clips does not help.) I thought I was not going to like his performance, but I actually saw depth there to this man who spends way too many years chasing down a convict. As far as Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen - I don't think I need to see them in another musical ( be fair, I've never been fans of those characters in the musical).

And then there is Hugh Jackman.

The man who took a mediocre musical like The Boy From Oz and turned it into a smash because of his incredible performance. The Wolverine that shows he can do much more on screen than fight. The performance he gives in the prologue of this musical as a scrawny prisoner is so amazing. His song "What Have I Done?" (before the musical actually takes off) had me in tears just from his performance. I have such respect for him as a performer and that he can show that an actor can do so many things. But something strange (for me) happened in this movie. Once he was out of a jail and starting a new life - he began to fade into the background. I tried to think that perhaps it was because the director had him alone so much (in a carriage, walking in the woods, etc) - but that wasn't it. Too many of the other characters seemed to have higher stakes at that point that I never noticed the umpteen times I've seen this show on stage. It's not that his performance was simply lost some of the power that he had at the start. And then there is his biggest song "Bring Him Home". The one song many people know even if they don't know the show. I've seen Jackman on talk shows saying how hard it was to do that song. They lowered the key. They put it back. I honestly wish they would have gone back in the studio and dubbed this one song. I think it would have helped the entire piece if they could have just gotten that song correct. Again: just a personal opinion. (It didn't stop me from shedding a tear for him by movie's end.) 

I'm glad to see musicals continuing to be made into movies and I hope it continues. I also love when a director gives a nod to those that originated roles as well. To see the original Jean Valjean as the Bishop and Eponine as a "Lovely Lady" was also really great.

Carve out three hours and go see this film. And then come back here and leave me your thoughts too. I'd love to hear what you think!  


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Discover New Authors & Books!

Blog hops are a great way for people to find new authors. Perhaps read a genre they haven't thought of before. The Next Big Thing is an around-the-world blog hop where authors of all genres tell readers about their next/recent book release in the course of answering 10 questions.  Each author has been tagged by another author to write a blog, and the current author then tags new authors who blog the following week.
I'm excited to be a part of this one and have Jan Moran to thank. Jan I have reviewed each other's last books and I just loved her Scent of Triumph. This woman has such a knack with historical novels...I highly recommend it! 

But now I'm to discuss my upcoming book with a few questions, so here we go!
1) What is the working title of your next book? 
Cool Side of The Pillow
2) Where did the idea come from for the book? 
I started working on this book several years ago when this idea started to percolate in my brain. I love to examine people's lives and place characters in moments where major decisions must be made. When working on this one of a dad attempting to find himself, the more layers would be added as secrets and mystery would bubble up. My background in children's theater also plays a huge part in this book.    

3) What genre does your book fall under? 
This is contemporary fiction.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 
I'd be lying to say I haven't seen certain people in my head when I write, but what if this book DOES get made into a movie one day? I don't want to piss off the actor chosen. So I plead the 5th.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
As Zachery Kleinmann must redefine his life, he meets an eccentric actress who runs a children's theater company and discovers secrets that makes him reevaluate everything as he is pulled down the rabbit hole of her world.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
The indie publisher ASD Publishing puts out all of my books.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 
I started working on this book several years ago. It took a while to get through the first draft. But after numerous edits and beta readers, it's time to let this one out of the bag.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
Hmmm....I hate the whole comparison question. The book is about a family man. Perhaps Little Children by Perotta or About A Boy by Hornby. An author friend who just finished reading it over the holidays gave me a movie pitch by saying it is a little Grey Gardens mixed with Kramer vs Kramer with a dash of Mickey & Judy singing and dancing in a barn. 

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I'm not a parent, but I've always thought about what it would be like to have that responsibility. And as I've gotten older, my mind always goes to how we define ourselves: parent, our jobs, our talents: what is it? I spent many years working in children's theater and I was drawn to the quirkiness of the documentary Grey Gardens. Somehow the two combined as I started creating the character of Ginger. Plopping my 'dad' down into that world seemed like an intriguing place to create this story. 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
The book deals with relationships. Long marriages and how they change as we grow. Creating new friendships at different points in our lives. How a man and a woman CAN be friends...or can they? And how does someone who seems to have everything in life still find fulfillment when they are looking at their 40th birthday and feeling they don't have enough to show for it.

I'm tagging the following authors so be sure and check them out next week! All of them are wonderful and should be followed on their blogs and on twitter!

Lori Stephens A novelist, a university lecturer, and a DIY addict.

Alina Oswald An author, photographer and reviewer.

Carey Parrish Author and blogger.

Benjamin Wretlind The author that opened my eyes to a new world.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Becoming an Advocate

I never thought I’d be one to enjoy going places and talking about my books, but I've found this past year to really like it. Last month I was at a school in Texas where I spoke to each grade (K-5) about Chicken Boy. Then just yesterday I was part of a writer’s panel at the prestigious Trinity School in Manhattan with a group that included screenwriters, playwrights, ghostwriters, authors, sports writers…it was really a great day. We each had two workshop sessions with groups of middle school students and then we all came together for a Q&A in the auditorium.

I've been speaking about writing for several years now: sometimes as a guest speaker to the creative writing class at the college where I work and other times at book signings and talk backs.

 As I stop and look back on the past year, I think what baffles and excites me the most is I never knew I’d become such an autism awareness advocate. I don’t know if one sets out with the thought that’s what they intend to do or if it just happens organically. When I speak of my children’s book, I can’t help but talk of my godson and many of the questions turn to autism (and not just about writing). I always state I’m not an expert in the field, but I do love discussing and hearing other people’s stories of those they know. When a group of students talk openly about it – it reduces the stigma that is associated with it…even if just a little. And the stigma these children have placed on them…well, it really breaks my heart. (Read my Huffington Post blog from this week on my feelings about that.)

Perhaps there was a bigger plan for my 2012 that I never even considered when people were voting on my children’s book online a year ago. Sure, I love being a writer and I suppose I enjoy public speaking more than I thought I would. But maybe I was meant to be one small voice in this vast world that is autism awareness. I wish I could do more, but if I can take these moments as a writer to be able to make just one person in the room aware of interacting with a child with autism…I feel I’m doing some good.

I suppose I became an advocate without even realizing I was doing it: looks like my godson was the one teaching me all along.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remembering Dad

Greg & Dad
The holidays can be an amazing time with family and friends. But as the recent events in Connecticut have shown us, for those that have lost loved ones, it can always be bittersweet as you remember holidays shared with them.

It was ten years ago today that I received the phone call that my father had passed. That call came in the middle of the night, just a few days prior to my flying to Texas to be with them all for Christmas. Yes...only three more days and I would have seen him. It is hard for me to believe ten years have flown by that quickly and yet I can recall that particular year so clearly as we rushed to get his funeral done in those few days that lead up to Christmas and what a hard Christmas it was to get through.

But rather than dwell on that sad time, I wanted to remember the good times. The Christmases that I know he and my mom would discuss that money was tight, but somehow they would manage to get us that ‘big ticket item’ on our list. (The photo here is from the early 80s when I got my Atari for Christmas.) The crazy holidays visiting relatives when grandparents' homes were overflowing with way too many people - but we'd make it work by plopping down a 'bed' wherever we could. The family vacation where dad drove us from Texas to Colorado and we thought we were really something sleeping in a van at the KOA campgrounds - never knowing that was my parents way of affording the trip and wanting to give me and my sister a great memory.  

Dad & Mom
Dad was a salesman. He could sell anything to anyone! And I think in many ways, I got my “I can do that” attitude from him. I went into a business where I was constantly selling myself. As a performer. As an author. And he believed that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to do. Even my years in Corp America as I climbed that ladder, Dad absolutely saw no reason why I shouldn't be working my way up to management.

Dad was also a people person. He loved to talk to strangers. (Probably why he was so good at his job when he would go into a store to speak to clients and make them believe they needed what he had on his truck in their store. Then later in life, he worked many years for Frito Lay and was known by many as ‘the chip man’.) I can usually hold my own when speaking to strangers and I guess he instilled in me that we learn from talking to others and as a writer: well, that’s where I get the best characters!

Mom/Me/Dad (Yes...I was a turtle)
I try to remember the whole package of my dad and not just the last ten years of his life where he fought with heart disease. He died much too young at 59, but to me – he seemed as if he had already lived a full lifetime by that point. He served as an MP in the army overseas. He married young and divorced young. He blended a family when he married my mom and they had me. He buried a son. He said “let’s do it” when my mom wanted to become a foster family and then we were blessed with an awesome little boy who we ended up adopting. But he always seemed to roll with the punches (okay – I didn't get that quality as I’m always stressed, but wish he would have passed that along to me).

I celebrate him ten years after his passing. 

I miss you, dad. 

But I see you every day when I look in the mirror. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

When Good Shows Shift Courses

Sunday night, two of my favorite television shows came to an end for the season. While I wanted to distract myself from the non-stop media coverage of the horrific events in Connecticut - these shows didn't actually do much in the way of calming my brain.

Still, I couldn't help but look at both of these shows as an author. When I work on a novel, I spend so much time with an editor telling me what chapters do not push the story along. Are my characters being developed? Are choices they make later in the book something that makes sense? Those types of issues.

After watching Dexter and Homeland on Showtime, I usually visit different forums to read comments people are saying about the ending and how they felt. In the case of Dexter, it has been on for so many seasons that viewers start to feel they know the characters as well as the writers do. We believe we know what they people would do and when something really major happens that we may not agree with, we sometimes start to think the writers are simply looking for a shock to our systems. After all: this show is about a serial killer so we've become numb to that after all these seasons. So instead they try and top it and I found myself truly upset by the outcome thinking it was so far fetched, I almost wished the series would have ended Sunday night and not gone for another season.

Homeland was only ending their second season and was the hot ticket on television last year. This year however, we had so many subplots that didn't seem to go anywhere. By seasons end - the writers have decided this odd romance is more important than the thriller they were originally writing. The character they had created for Claire Danes has evaporated this year (which should get some feminist up in arms), yet I'm not ready to give up on this show as I really do enjoy it. However, in the wake of 9/11 - I think the writers owe it to their viewers to do a little more homework on what is plausible in their story lines.

But what do I know? I'm just an indie writer attempting to tell my own stories and there are those that love my work and others that hate it. So I suppose in the end, everyone sitting on the internet today is considered a critic in one way or another as we're all going to share our views.

If you are a fan of these shows, be sure and share your views too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Theater Creates Memories

The last musical I ever did before I moved away from Texas 25 years ago was Annie. I played Bert Healy and had a great time doing it before heading to NYC to test my fate with other roles. And now, here it is back on Broadway again this year. People have great memories from seeing musicals. They make you ‘feel’ something when you witness them. The same is true to the actors performing in them. And boy do actors have stories to share from those productions.
Actor and author Arthur Wooten has shared just such stories in his latest novel DIZZY: A FICTIONAL MEMOIRI've blogged about Arthur before, but there is something so different and special about this book – I had to blog again.
Arthur has created a world in his latest work that is set smack-dab in the middle of the Broadway community. And he has plenty ‘stories’ to share. He was a child actor, went off to major in theater and communications as he continued performing and then moved to NYC where his work in regional theater really took off. In the novel, Arthur has created a leading actress on Broadway named Angie Styles and she shares flashbacks to summer stock jobs and regional work: many of those stories taken directly from the author’s own life. (And yes: Annie is even discussed in his book.) The author has told me that performing was always just a part of who he was. From directing the neighborhood kids in shows to the huge productions he did later in life: he couldn't get away from it.
Arthur on Cape Cod
So it makes sense for him to cover this aspect of his life in a novel. And yet, he chose to do something really unique by wrapping it up in a fictionalized account so that his character is well known and loved by many as a huge Broadway star. The man knows from which he speaks because his main character is diagnosed with the same disorder that Arthur deals with daily.
I've never heard of this disorder until meeting Arthur. We spent some time together in Cape Cod this last summer and I saw 1st hand how it affects him. It’s called bilateral vestibulopathy with oscillopsia. In 2005, a virus went to his brain that destroyed the working of both of his inner ears. So he has no sense of balance. He always feels as if he is bouncing on a trampoline. The oscillopsia is the brain unable to decipher if he is upright or upside down. So he’s in a constant state of unrest. (Strangely enough, we found he did best in the water when we were away and he spent so much time relaxing in the bay off of Cape Cod.)
The book is inspiring when one realizes the author is sharing something that affects many and yet is not often discussed. It is also entertaining for those that love a great theater story. (Just look at how many people are watching SMASH and GLEE on TV.)
Pick up a copy of the book and see for yourself HERE.
Learn more about vestibular
Learn about Arthur.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

This Brother is Proud

Last year I did an entire blog series on people taking chances in life; changing careers, following dreams. There has been someone in my life that I've always looked up to and admired and that is my sister. She has amazed me in all that she has done as an adult. An incredible mother. An awesome teacher. She can decorate and plan a party like no one’s business. And has a gift for singing that (I’m biased), but I think can’t be matched.

We always shared the love of music growing up. She was considered “the country” one in the family and I was “the Broadway” singer. Sure, she did musicals in high school and I even popped out a country tune my senior year to enter a singing contest – but we both knew our strength and 
weaknesses. And we would rely on each other. I moved off to NYC and would spend many nights on the phone sharing stories of my life as an actor and I watched her world as a singer take off. She became vocally stronger as she would sing with bands, released a CD, opened for Restless Heart…I was so proud of her!

Angie as a "Dinette"
And then this year, she did something that I couldn't believe. She auditioned for a musical! Yes, we all knew she could sing it (it’s a country-themed show) – but she had forgotten all the underlying elements of putting up a show. Rehearsals. Dancing. Memorizing lines. Tech rehearsals. Writing down your blocking in the script. Things I just take as normal as theater has always been my life. But ‘living’ this with her 1500 miles apart the past few weeks has been wonderful for me. I've talked to her on her drive home (most nights) and have been so impressed with how she has tackled this new challenge.

It’s never too late in life to try something new. We should all remember that. Tonight, my sister opens in Pump Boys & Dinettes in Dallas, Texas and I’m sending so much good thoughts her way. Only wish I could be there in the audience to enjoy it.

Stephanie Riggs & Angie McWhirter as "Dinettes"

Break a leg, sis!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don't You Hate When...

That's right. One of my random blogs about something that chaps my rear!

First, I'll start with saying...I love reality competitions. There I said it. I watch so many of them and find myself pulling for my favorites. From Survivor to the new Cake Boss competition - there is something great about sitting back and watching them. For me, it is mindless TV that I can watch during an afternoon on a weekend. No involvement in a story line. And most times on a weekend, they run several back to back on Bravo or the Food Network.

But there is something that completely bugs me and Food Network is the worst offender. (Are you listening powers that be over at that network?)

If you want people to watch your shows, stop showing the commercial for the next 'new' show in the middle of the re-run. That commercial is going to show who is left on the show and ruin the 'who is going home at the end of this episode' excitement I have watching the marathon.

I know, I know. In the greater scheme of all that is happening in the world, this shouldn't bother me at all. But it does. It just seems like bad marketing. They think they are getting you to tune in to the new one in prime time. But what they are really doing is messing up the thrill of the competition for those that haven't seen it yet.

So Food give us great shows, but while I'm watching The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, stop showing me who is on the next episode. Thanks. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rudolph is LIVE and on Stage

The professional children's theater company Growing Stage knows how to cater to the tots that fill their seats. When you walk into the historic Palace Theatre in Netcong, NJ, you step into an enchanted land perfect for children of all ages. Murals of classic characters adorn the walls inside the theater. A 'reindeer' shopping area takes up a back corner of the space for this holiday season. And a painted brick road creates the center aisle making sure that audiences know they are in a land for children. 

I happily attended a performance of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to get me into the Christmas spirit. The moment the overture started, I was transported back to that of my own youth watching the yearly stop-motion show. All of the classic Johnny Marks songs and musical underscoring come directly from the beloved Rankin-Bass television special. And Growing Stage does not disappoint with this 'live action' production. Winter wonderland sets of snow trees and the Christmas town roll on and off stage (many times pushed by reindeer, elves, and rabbits). As someone who has watched the show so many times I believe I could quote it, I was so entranced by the attention to detail in costume design (by Lori B. Lawrence and Scaramouche Costumes) and set and prop design (by Perry Arthur Kroeger). It was obvious they had a shared desire with director Stephen L. Fredericks to give audiences what they know from television. But this production takes the wonderful story to a new level with so much dancing choreographed by Jillian Petrie and musical direction by Laura Petrie. It is a perfect mix of nostalgia for older audiences members and Christmas wonder for those young. 

I love that Growing Stage utilizes the likes of professional actors mixed with adorable children to fill out the roles on stage. The professional artists make up some of the larger roles, but I must admit that I was impressed with this fine company across the boards. Becky Nitka is wonderfully child-like in the title role and has her misfit match in P.J. Schweizer's comical Hermey. These two take us on the lessoned-filled journey that 'different' is not a bad thing while entertaining us in dance and song. Megan Hurley's Clarice (the doe that catches the eye of Rudolph) has the beautiful soprano song There's Always Tomorrow from the movie, but adds a graceful ballet to the mix.  David Spellman, William Ward, Will Sandoval and Steven Nitka all bring excellent exuberance to Yukon Cornelius, Sam the Snowman, Coach Comet and Donner/Boss Elf while making me believe their claymation counterparts have truly come to life. Director Stephen Fredericks is the much loved man in the red suit and his Santa was spot on. If I closed my eyes I swore I was hearing the soundtrack from the TV show. Actually, each seemed to have truly watched the movie several times to deliver memorable lines in the way our ears are accustomed to hearing it (a special shout out to young Bryn Bennett as Charlie in the Box), yet still making the roles their own. I was quite impressed with the dances the children would do...right down to the two bunnies in the winter wonderland we all know from the TV show. Huge kudos to this production in how they handled King Moonracer and The Abominable Snowman.

I had such an enjoyable afternoon and the cheers and smiling faces on the young audiences showed they did as well. The only thing I could wish for is that microphones were used during the songs as voices would get lost behind the music too often. Perhaps someone out there will learn from Scrooge this season and want to make a nice sized donation to Growing Stage so all those voices can be heard with a state-of-the art sound system.

Jump in those sleighs and get to Netcong as fast as you can! The show runs through December 23. Full details can be found on their website:

All photos by Danny Campos

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Shopping for Readers

Chanukkah starts next weekend and so I thought it was a great time to do a ‘self-serving’ blog about some book gift ideas. Actually, my book coming out in 2013 has Chanukkah as the setting in one of the chapters – but for now, take a gander at the list below for some one stop book shopping ideas for the holidays!

Greg Allen’s Adverse & Diverse Stories!

My brother: Greg in back
Proud Pants is the novella about my older brother who passed away. Stop right there! I know you’re saying “how depressing for holidays”, but actually it is a love letter to my mom (his step mom) and there “is” some mention of Christmas in the book.

Okay. So Well with My Soul doesn’t really cover any holidays, but there is a lot (A LOT) of partying in it! And once again – it is about family. How two brothers can be soooo different as they grow up. And it’s topical (though set in the 70s-90s). It deals with the issue of ‘praying away the gay’.

Quilt my grandma made me
Over 25 years old
If you want a book that is going to plop you right in the middle of Christmas…complete with snow in Maine and all the trimmings – Patchwork of Me is for YOU! (It actually covers several fall holidays), but this award-winning story of a woman's self discover is a great holiday read!

If you want a book for children of all ages…don’t miss out on Chicken Boy: The Amazing Adventures of a Super Hero with Autism! The MeeGenius People's Choice Winner (and Reader's Favorite Winner for preschool) is a wonderful gift for children to learn not to fear someone just because they are different.

And since I mentioned it – my next book will be out in 2013 and it is called Cool Side of the Pillow – very excited about people reading this one. Different’ voice’ for me to tell a story and I get to pull from my early years of children’s theater…plus create a lovable zany character that people will want in their own lives! Here is a blurb on it:

Zachery 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 pre-school, 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 eccentric, free living 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.

Happy Shopping!