Monday, December 16, 2013

Santas, Scrooge & Giving

I love when I see the stories about Secret Santas that give back at this time of year. When people ask me what I want, I actually have a tough time saying anything because I prefer to be on the giving end. Now this is not a blog about patting myself on the back - it's about talking about the love of giving and paying-it-forward.

Many people say that holidays are for the children...because there is nothing like seeing the face of a child as they unwrap a gift. I tend to think that's a great way to see it because people get crazy around Christmas and the holidays due to the pressure involved. I say - remove the pressure. Not everyone can or should be buying gifts for others. It puts them in to much debt during December. Cut down that list and do not try to buy for every single person you know.

But there are so many other ways and times of the year to give to others. I personally do not like when I've worked places and they told me what I should give to. I give to charities, non-profits and groups that mean something to me. It can be a cancer, autism, MS, or an AIDS walk. Maybe a favorite non-profit theater company. Giving a little towards an indie filmmaker trying to get their film completed. Or a singer recording his first CD. These happen to be way that I prefer to give in order to pay-it-forward to another person. (And not all of those are tax write-offs, so trust's not about that.)

It's about that overwhelming feeling you get when you know you have made someone's day by your gesture. And sometimes that gesture has nothing to do with money. Showing kindness to others can definitely evoke a response as well. Giving shouldn't be something just reserved for the wealthy.

Giving also shouldn't be something we think about once a year. Nor should we feel guilted into doing it or spending beyond our means. Give from your heart. Give what your can. And give to those you believe are deserving. You can put that smile on a face and Christmas spirit in a heart all throughout the year.

After all, isn't that what Scrooge learned?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Behind the Scenes At Spider-Man on Broadway

If you’ve worked in theater, you have a horror story to share. Personally I’ve worked in a production of Fiddler on the Roof where the house/roof holding the fiddler tumbled over in the middle of the show and the daughters had to sweep it up while singing Matchmaker, Matchmaker. I’ve directed a production of Kiss of the Spider Woman where the theater had no heat and it was dead of winter as my South American prisoners froze to death on stage. And sometimes you have actors that completely question your sanity, vision, and if you know anything when you are directing them in a scene giving you the infamous line ‘what’s my motivation?’ But while I was doing all my shows, I did not have the glare of a national spotlight, millions of dollars piling up in costs, and 6 grueling years to attempt to bring a show to fruition.  

That’s exactly what happened with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway that has just announced after a two year run, they will be closing January 4th. Co-Book writer Glen Berger has written a very lengthy and detailed account of those six years in his book Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History. And what a controversy it was. From creative team members coming and going; stars being cast and then suddenly gone, debt piling up as the costs grew; no one certain what show they were writing and who was the star (Spider-man or Arachne), numerous injuries due to the technical aspects of the show, and how this particular man left his family upstate to spend all of his time in the city working on this show – it’s all there in his almost 400 page book. He says the original draft was over 1200 pages and thankfully an editor took a pen to it (though it still could use another pass). But if you can skim past the parts where he belabors a certain moment, it is truly a fascinating read.

Berger, Taymor, Edge, Bono during rehearsal
Using references from all sorts of stage shows as well as Greek mythology and Spider-man himself, Berger paints a picture of Julie Taymor and U2’s Bono and The Edge as the most dysfunctional family attempting to create the most amazing piece of work. Never intended to be a Broadway musical, Taymor is reported to have hated the fact the show ever went into a Broadway house. They were creating something different and unique. I will admit that when I saw version 1.0, I said it would have worked better in another venue where it wasn’t held up to certain theater standards. But I was only one blogger of many that shared their views on the never ending saga of the show that would not open. And according to this book, Berger was out there reading every single blog being written.

I read the book in just a few nights and while reliving it with him, I had to occasionally go and watch you tube clips. To see the final opening night when Taymor showed up even though there was a lawsuit going on. To watch firsthand what Berger is recounting. I went back and read my second blog when I returned to see 2.0 now knowing the drama involved where Berger never knew if he was going to be let go along with so many others from version one. It really is a fascinating read for anyone that has ever worked in the theater, created a musical, or worked in any type of collaboration. Much can be taken away from this book. I question if people will ever trust him again to bring him on board a new show. Especially if it were one to be scrutinized the way Spider-man was. But I'm sure Berger thought long and hard about that before going to Simon and Schuster with his vivid account of those long six years. 

But more importantly (and this was the part that stunned me) – Berger made me feel for these people…these characters. It’s a shame the show on stage had such a problem reaching that level of emotion when the script writer was obviously capable of making his audiences feel. Perhaps collaboration should be just that: people listening to each other, especially those hired to do a certain job.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Home Far From Fun

Have you ever attended a performance of a show that everyone has raved about and you can’t quite put your finger on what doesn’t feel right for you?

Let me start by stating all that I loved about FUN HOME running at the Public Theater in NYC.

I love musicals with heavy subject matters and this fits the bill. Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, the story is that of a girl raised in a funeral home, growing up as a lesbian and discovers her own father is gay. While in college, her dad committed suicide and at 43 years old, she looks back on her life to attempt to make sense of it all.

Being a memory play, the staging and sets are brilliant. There is a vast open space that revolves and turns and furniture is moved around – all as if moving around inside of Alison’s mind. Jumbled the way we often do our memories. As my friend pointed out, a ‘fun house’ is all about smoke and mirrors and that’s exactly what this feels like. On the surface, the family seems normal, but peel back the layers – look into the fun-house mirror and you’ll see things are not as they appear.

I absolutely love Jennie Tesori’s music (Violet, Carolyn or Change) and the score for this show is pulsating and alive. Playwright/Lyricist is Tony-nominated Lisa Kron (an open lesbian herself) and she aptly captures the young Alison’s internal discovery of changes going on in her mind. Young Alison singing of an older woman’s outfit (including her ring of keys), college Alison singing of changing her major to Joan – all beautifully and smartly done.

The performances are top notch. Three actresses play Alison at different times of her life – all wonderfully. There is young Alison played by Sydney Lucas with so much spunk as she plays with her brothers in the ‘fun home’ – which they’ve dubbed the funeral home in which they live. Her interactions with her father are those that time can change when recalling or maybe they were the truth. This play is all about things not being what they seem. Alexandra Socha plays the college-aged Alison and I found her acting and singing to be so vibrant and engaging as she awkwardly attempts to traverse the halls of Oberlin College, she had me all the way at the back of the house. Beth Malone plays older Alison – always on stage – always remembering every moment as some type of Rachel Madow reporter – commenting on what we are seeing. She has an incredible voice and I loved the song she sang in the car with her father. She goes in and out of the present and past seamless – all aided in the wonderful direction by Sam Gold.

Her father is such a well layered written role. I love everything I’ve ever seen Michael Cerveris do and this is not an exception. Playing a dad who wants things done a certain way (even how the family cleans the house). A closeted man attempting normalcy in the 70s when it was harder to come out of the closet. A man not quite right, something feeling ‘off’ about him and not just his struggle with his sexuality. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a show and thought ‘man, I want to play that role!’

Judy Kuhn plays the mother and while she is a gifted actress, the role is smaller as the story focuses on that of Allison trying to understand her father, but we get a sense of this woman who sacrificed a great deal. Four others round out the cast as siblings, the college girlfriend, and a man that plays the different guys that come in and out of the dad’s life.

With all of that said and the rave reviews the show is getting, I should have leapt to my feet at curtain call. And yet, I felt empty at the show’s end. Perhaps that was what I was meant to feel. In life, things are not always resolved, and in this family drama full of angst and heartache, resolve isn’t always found. And yet – I’m more drawn to the father/son dramaplaying uptown that is closing at the end of December to not as favorable reviews.

Maybe I went in with such high expectations because of the raves and was let down. I wish I could articulate how I feel about this piece. I felt sadness for Alison. It seems as if she has spent her entire adult life attempting to come to terms with something she’d never be able to fix. And in a 100 minute musical with no intermission, perhaps that hole I felt was exactly what this creative team had in mind.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Marriage is More Than a Word

13 years together.
5 years in a civil union.
1 day of marriage.

I actually never believed I would see this day. After all, I've known I was gay since I was in the 7th grade. Being a gay teen in Texas, marriage was for my straight friends who would marry their high school sweethearts. This gay man would have to be content sitting in the pews as a witness to others, serving in wedding parties or singing at ceremonies. Skip forward several years when I was in my early 30s, (after I had already had a few relationships in my 20s) and I met a man that changed how I viewed - well, everything. We took it slowly. Even the part of living together. And then when New Jersey allowed for civil unions, we decided to have one on 08/08/08. The closest thing we'd ever have to a marriage - but it worked for us. After all, we felt married at that point even if the rest of the world didn't view it in the same manner. 

We witnessed gay friends marrying in states that allowed it and even though New York was just over a bridge, we decided not to marry in another state until it was available where we lived. And God knows New Jersey kept trying, but governor vetoes would knock it down. We had certain rights with our civil union, but there was still this sense we were not equal. We'd still have to write single on forms and as I've mentioned in other blogs - come out over and over. 

And then all of a sudden a judge declares same-sex couples can marry in our state and the governor says he's no longer going to fight it and I was completely overwhelmed while reading the news. Sitting on a beautiful hill in Puerto Vallarta, reading the new on my phone that it was actually legal now in my own state - I couldn't hold back the tears. Tears because it never occurred to me I would be able to share in what so many others have. And so...there was no proposal. There was no getting down on one knee. After all we've been together for 13 years. We simply looked at each other and decided we wanted to make it legal. No big ceremony. Just paperwork. 11/12/13. At least  it would be a date we'd recall just as we had picked 08/08/08 previously.

We returned from our trip to Mexico and walked up to the immigration/customs counter together in New Jersey - holding our separate declaration forms. The gentleman asked if we were married and again, I had to say "No...but we will be in two weeks." He noticed we had the same address, ripped up one declaration form and said "it's legal in this state, you only need one form." That small gesture felt so huge to me - I can't even describe it. A complete stranger recognized us as a couple and it meant more than I can even say.

For me, that's what marriage is. We are recognized. We are no longer invisible. I do not need to stumble over words describing my partner. He is my husband. He is my best friend. He is the person that makes me happiest in the whole world and like all of my straight friends and family members, I can have the same rights in my relationship that they have. And I didn't need someone else to vote to allow me to marry. But boy, it sure feels sweet that after so much time together, I feel whole with him.

Nothing changes and everything changes.

A new life begins for us...or should I say, the old life just got a little more clear.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Sunny Road Trip Musical

It seems that most of the stage shows I discuss on my blog recently started their life as a film, but that's a trend I don't see changing any time soon. In the case of the well-loved film "Little Miss Sunshine" - one would assume a movie about a road trip would make for a difficult musical. James Lapine and William Finn (with huge credits to both of their names) have attacked that task and given us a fun-filled evening at Second Stage Theatre (in a limited run production that has already been extended). The show had an out-of-town tryout and then if rumors are correct, was almost completely rewritten before finding its way to New York.

I'm a huge fan of William Finn. I've actually performed in several of his musicals including Falsettos, A New Brain, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee...his is a musical voice that is incredible to my ears. I do know everyone does not completely agree with my assessment of his work. Many feel Finn writes more sung dialogue than songs and at times - that is true. While I hear pieces of earlier works of his in this, I wanted more to turn into full songs so the characters could soar. That said, I still enjoyed what he has done and I'm sure if I saw it again, I'd find myself singing the "Something Better" theme. James Lapine has done a nice job of opening the movie up with his book and direction. Throwing out the idea of having a mini-bus on the stage for this cross-country trek, he instead uses chairs with wonderful chair-ography throughout the show. We also never feel the cast is 'stuck on the bus' in the way he has staged it.

I'm a fan of the small, ensemble musicals and this one falls right in line with the 6 family members on the road and another seven people to fill out other roles. Hannah Nordberg is wonderful as Olive, the little girl that wants to compete so badly in the little miss sunshine beauty contest that this dysfunctional family decides to drive from New Mexico to California. Hannah has great timing on stage and such an adorable quality that I found myself watching her when she wasn't even speaking - yet she was always acting. I'm sure NY will see this California girl again after this show. Her parents (played by the incredibly gifted Stephanie J. Block and the usually charming Will Swenson) are at odds with each other throughout the show, but we get a flashback not written in the movie to give these actors and the audience a connection. I say usually charming Will Swenson because the character of Richard isn't so charming, so putting Mr. Swenson in this role felt like a stretch. Yet sitting directly in front of him in the front row, I watched as he had such nuances in his face when not speaking that he felt every moment happening around him with his family and wore the pain and responsibility in a profound way. When Ms. Block gets a chance to truly I love her voice. 

The actor I was most impressed with was Rory O'Malley playing the role of uncle Frank. I had only seen him in The Book of Mormon and never knew the depth he had an an actor. What a great performance he gives as the gay uncle that has to live with the family because of his attempted suicide. He also has some wonderful vocal moments (I say moments as there was no song list in the playbill for the preview that I saw). The grandfather that has no problem speaking his mind and teaches Olive dance routines is played by David Rasche (though I wish his character's big song had more than one joke in it) and the brother that has taken a vow to stop speaking is served well by Logan Rowland. 

I must also give a shout out to two actors I love to tweet with that play several small roles and bring humor to every moment they are on stage. Wesley Taylor (yes, I love his web series and have written about it on Huffington Post) and Josh Lamon are both hysterical. And Jennifer Sanchez rounds out this great ensemble with four younger pageant girls.

The musical officially opens this week and I'll be watching to see what critics say about this new musical. I'm not certain where the creators plan to go with it. Off-Broadway is certainly the place for it as I don't see it being a Broadway show, but I can certainly see regional theaters grabbing it up as soon as rights become available. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Betrayal and A Court Room Drama

I remember having to read Pinter in theater classes and if truth be told, not enjoying the read. However seeing the revival of Betrayal on Broadway gave me a different appreciation for his work. That's right: I'm not going to say the same things that every review has said. The financially successful production hasn't been as well-received from critics as it is from theater-goers willing to pay big bucks to see Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall. With Mike Nichols at the helm, this production handles the triangle relationship of a married couple and his best friend in a much different way - adding subtext not found in the play and basically changing the tone of what people believe to be Pinter. 

I've read that Pinter based this play on an affair he had, but that he was unaware the woman's husband knew of the affair. Told in a backwards tale, Betrayal starts in 1977 when Emma (Weisz) tells Jerry (Spall) she and her husband are divorcing and goes back to 1968 when the affair between the two first began. I found the chemistry between the two actors very believable. And I was taken in by the stuttering, disjointed performance of Spall and the sheer beauty of Weisz. Daniel Craig has the smallest of the roles, but his presence is very well felt as everything he does booms up to the mezzanine. The sets were beautiful to watch constantly change and the mood music was haunting. I can see where reviewers felt a letdown (if they have seen other productions of the show) because you never believed for a moment they were pulling a fast one in their deception. No one was truly betrayed because the actors wore it all on their faces - constantly. Plus there were moments where the audience laughed, making me feel as if I was watching a British comedy and I knew that wasn't what they were trying to convey on the stage at the Barrymore Theatre. 

It did spark conversations afterwards though with my fellow theater-goers about affairs, permission granted by spouses and why people would stay in a marriage for so long while continuing something on the outside - especially with someone so close to the couple. All questions that are best left for therapy and now I think I'll need to go back and watch the 1983 film adaptation of this play. 

Two nights later, I attended A Time to Kill - the adapted stage work by Rupert Holmes of the John Grisham novel. The day before I went, it was announced the show will close on November 17 and I must admit I am disappointed that is happening. I was thoroughly enthralled by the courtroom drama - even though I had already seen the 1996 movie based on the same novel. A moving set keeps locales changing and the use of projections are used to fill that 'dead air time' continuously keeping audiences engaged in the action. A story of a small southern town, reactions to a rape, a murder, and how racism plays so heavily in decisions people make are still ringing true in 2013 as much as they were when the novel was written in 1989. It was obvious the audience when I attended was deeply engrossed in the story, even speaking back to the stage at times.

We (the audience) were the jury - and so close to the great performances being displayed by TV favorites such as Tom Skerritt, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Ashley Williams along side some of Broadway's best with Sebastian Arcelus, Patrick Page, John Douglas Thompson, and Tonya Pinkins. All of the performances were wonderful, but it is Patrick Page that stood out mostly for me. Playing the prosecutor, Page creates an evil foe to Arcelus's young DA Jack Brigance without ever going overboard into stereotype. I was completely pulled in by his slimy ways complete with constant lint picking from his suit, fixing his pocket handkerchief and ability to get red-faced in an instant as well as that amazing bass voice. 

It is hard to condense this huge novel down and still keep characterization intact. When the play is concentrating on the trial, it is at it's best. I applaud director Ethan McSweeny and the creative team for taking a chance on an adaptation that would be so closely compared to the film. And for those that were able to catch the play in its short life on Broadway, we were offered a great night of drama.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thoughts on Aging

When I was a kid, I remember my grandfather showing me a hand full of pills he would take each morning. Recently, I got into a talk with some friends and we were comparing blood pressure, cholesterol and various other medicines we take.

We were officially old.

When it comes to health and the body...aging simply sucks.

About 15 years ago, I lost a great amount of weight and did it in a short amount of time. Now, my body laughs at me for attempting to lose a pound a week.

I got up off the sofa a few night's ago and my other half asked if I farted. Nope. It was my knees cracking.

And then there is family history. My father had his first heart attack at 49 and died ten years later from heart disease. Two weeks ago I had two different friends only a few years older than me have heart attacks. I'm a neurotic mess about my heart because of it. Actually ending up in the ER occasionally thinking I was having one (and yes, that just occurred again recently). Each EKG, stress test, etc says my heart is fine.

And yet, my body knows when something is wrong. Doctors may say everything is okay (and I'm thrilled to know it's not my heart), but something is definitely going on. Turns out while I was busy blaming my dad for his genes, I think it may be my mother's side of the family playing a part. Several of them have found themselves in the hospital (thinking they were having a heart attack) and instead told they have inflammation of the chest. Not to self diagnose, but some online research brings up words like costochondritis and Tietze's Syndrome and I am happy to find others with that issue and not believe I must be crazy due to the elephant sitting on my chest when doctors say I am fine.

The lesson: aging may suck, but listen to your body. It's been with you a long time and can speak to your health often times better than those living outside of it attempting to place a label on it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Missing My Dad At Big Fish

One of the wonderful things about theater is that it can touch different people in different ways. I notice that every time I read a review of a new show on Broadway. Sometimes I agree; sometimes not.

I was lucky enough to be able to see the musical Big Fish just a little over a week after it opened and I am glad I don't listen to reviews and snarky people on theater forums. Or better yet - I'm glad I'm able to make up my own mind about shows.

Based on the 2003 film (that was based on a novel), the musical stays very true to the film as it was penned by the same screenwriter John August. That film struck me hard. A story of a father and son was not the film for me to watch the year after my father had passed and I've stayed away from the film ever since. But the themes of that relationship, of true romantic love, and of good 'ol southern people - this former Texan knew I wanted to see what the creative team could do with it to bring it to Broadway. I followed it's journey from the road to Broadway...reading about changes being made, listening to songs, and trying to understand what people were not connecting with in the story.

A father tells tall tales. A son doesn't understand why and gets mad at his dad for always making everything about him. What better way to show those tales than on a Broadway stage? Visually, the show is exciting. From the ever changing sets to the clever projections - to the smart way director Susan Stroman paints those stories. I loved it all. (And one can tell a Stroman signature dance the moment it starts!)

Andrew Lippa has written a modern score that harkens to an old time musical at the same time. As a matter of fact, the entire creative team has created something that feels old and new simultaneously. It feels fresh, yet it is also comfortable. Perhaps that's why I was drawn to this more than other Broadway musicals I've seen recently. (This show and 
2003 Film 2013 Broadway
 Matilda both have huge elements of 'story-telling' as parts of the plot, yet this one pulled me right in.)

The entire cast works so beautifully together. I've never had the pleasure of seeing Kate Baldwin and BOY what I have been missing. A gorgeous voice, a solid performance, and half of a wonderful love story that really hit me. I've always loved Bobby Steggert and he did not disappoint in the role as the son. His is a tough role as the character can come across uncaring, but Steggert handles it so well - I never once found myself upset with him. And when he lets go with a song...I could listen to him sing all night long.

And now my love letter to Norbert Leo Butz. Is there anything this man can't do? I feel I've seen him in so many things since Wicked and no one performing on Broadway today can command a stage like this man can. (And yes, I even saw him in Dead Accounts where he carried the show.) What he does in this musical by playing younger Edward and older Edward...WOW! I am in awe of him. The man sings more than 1/2 of the score and can sell a song like no one else. He caresses words and makes you believe every single thing he says - because you know HE believes it. He brings such zest to the role that I found myself missing my dad all over again (and the man is only two years older than me). 

I would love to debate Ben Brantley on how memories can roll over us quickly. After all, Edward Bloom can't control how fast the stories he has shared over and over are coming out of his mind (and into the eyes of the audience). And if you've seen the film or once you've seen the show - this will make sense. I'd tell Elisabeth Vincentelli of the NY Post (who claims that Matilda's score outshines this one) that Lippa's score is full of varied tunes, beautiful melodies and words I could actually understand what the singers were saying.

But instead of fighting those I disagree with, I'll say thank you. Thank you, Mr. Butz for sharing your talent with audiences in this show. Thank you to the entire cast for feeling the incredible story you are sharing and paying no attention to the nay-sayers out there. Thank you to the creative team and producers that saw that this show deserves to be on stage. Yes, we all bring our own baggage to a show when we see it. But I can't imagine a father or son leaving this show and not feeling a sense of belonging to that fraternity. My father was a salesman like Edward Bloom. And while ten years have passed since I lost him, I sure did miss him tonight. 

Also, Mr. Lippa...I have not wanted to own an original cast album in a while, but man I want this one. 

And I can't wait to return to the Neil Simon Theatre and see it again.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Art of Coming Out

It's National Coming Out Day. A day founded back in 1988 to celebrate those coming out of the closet and raise awareness of LGBT issues. October 11th was chosen as it was the anniversary of the National March on Washington For Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987.

As the community celebrates 25 years of this day, I can't help but think about how far we've come in those 25 years. Will we always need a day to recognize this or will it eventually no longer be a big deal? Do those that lived their private gay lives prior to 1988 sit and think of how difficult it was for them to live openly and honestly? 

Yet coming out never really seems to end. Even if you consider yourself out and proud. You meet a new colleague or acquaintance and they look at a ring on your finger and ask about your wife - you have to come out again. You get a new doctor and need to fill out paper work where it says single/married/civil union - you have to come out again. Sure, the fear and angst you once felt over saying the words isn't as strong, but in the back of your mind, you can't help but wonder how much you are being judged.

Ironically, I came out to my family in the summer of 1988...a few months before this day was first celebrated. I had already known for about seven years prior and had slowly told others, but was never official about it. A friend in a show that helped me to see I was not an awful person. A straight male friend in high school that cared enough for me that actually said he wished he was me so he could fight it for me. (I'll never forget those words as they were so powerful at the time.) My girlfriend - yes...told my girlfriend right before prom and she still went with me. These were all baby steps as I took off for New York and thought at first I'd simply stay in the closet my first year away at school. But those are the years when we come into our own. And being in New York definitely aided in allowing me to find the courage to begin to tell more people I was gay. But it was the summer of '88 when I went home for my grandmother's funeral (poor timing) that I ended up telling my family. Those that know my family think I have the coolest, most accepting bunch around. But trust me - that summer wasn't easy at all as they all dealt with it in their own ways. And then I did the hardest thing by leaving my parents to return to NYC, knowing they had so much pain and emotions to deal with. But time and knowledge helped and we became even closer than I ever thought we could. And a few years later, I was taking my mom to a gay pride parade.

To those that are still dealing with it, take your time. Don't allow anyone to push you. Even if times have changed, that doesn't alleviate the fear that I know you are going through. It's up to YOU to decide when you want others to know. Most importantly, you want to believe you have a support system in place: either you own family or those you have created around you.

So I do celebrate the LGBT community today. I hold my breath that New Jersey will eventually allow me to marry my partner of thirteen years. And I'm so very thankful for the family and friends that I have that have supported me the past 25 years that I have been out.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Broadway Revival Feels Fresh And New

I never realized how much I have been influenced by Tennessee Williams and his incredible play "The Glass Menagerie." I've known the play for 28 years when a certain director challenged a group of high schoolers by producing it and I got my first taste of Tom. The play also greatly influenced my characters of mom and sons in my bookWell with my Soul. Sitting in the Booth Theatre, it hit me what an impact it has held on me as I witnessed an amazing production currently running on Broadway.

Everything about it is magical. And why not. Tom says "I have tricks in my pockets, I have things up my sleeves" and director John Tiffany has used many throughout these luscious performances. Any reviewer (I'm looking at you, Mark Kennedy) that gives away such tricks in their reviews should be banned from attending future theatrical performances. You don't tell what a magician does. You let an audience experience it. And we do in this production. Tom says the play is memory as he steps back into it and pulls his family out of the crevices of his dark mind...a mind illustrated by the blackness of the set. The floor of the apartment hovers over a black liquid abyss - making it completely isolated in time and space. Yet it also conveys a lonliness and a place that Tom desperately wants to escape. Kudos to Bob Crowley on this.

Yes - I will speak of Tom first as it feels as if Mr. Williams calls from the dead in this role and it is the role I am most close to having played him all those years ago. Well before I could understand the depth of his character. Zachary Quinto is mezmorizing in his Broadway debut. His Tom is energetic, aloof, a hot pot ready to boil - yet nurturing when it comes to his sister. That sister is played by the oh-so-talented Celia Kennan-Bolger. She is frail, soft spoken, magical, and her Laura is almost forgotten in this house that has such a dynamic and explosive family. Yet as much as the character may attempt to meld into the woodwork and not be noticed, the actress is still electric in her subtlety. Her scene with the gentleman caller, played by Brian J. Smith, has been used in many a scene study class for years. Yet I've never seen him played with such gusto and charm as Smith portrays him. The poor man that has no idea of the trap he walks into when invited for dinner goes with the flow of everything thrown his way and boosts confidence from his sheer presence. 

But it is Amanda Wingfield that people think of when speaking of this show. The matriarch that never quite got the life she wanted, lives for her children and through them, and speaks excessively to both enhance and mask what is happening underneath. Cherry Jones gives an Amanda unlike those I've witnessed. At first, I had a tough time getting used to her voice, but I finally let it go and was pulled in to her character. She doesn't overdo the humor that many previous Amanda's have done, but instead we sense the pain she is covering as she longs for a good life for her children. 

The 70 year old play has been extended and I highly recommend this production to anyone that has or hasn't ever seen this show. It really is a remarkable piece of theater.

And Mr. Quinto - I read that you said you'd love to continue to do more and more theater. I happen to think you'd make a fabulous Jacob in the stage version of Well With My Soul. Call me. Let's talk. I'd love to see you stay in New York and continue enthralling audiences with your nuanced performances.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Next Journey

If life is a highway, I not only want to ride it all night long - but I want to experience as many adventures as possible! I  love trying new things...from my work on stage (directing, producing, acting) to my love of writing. I can often be found creating small trailers for plays I've worked on or books that I write. Film has always been something I could see myself working  towards; unsure what that exactly would entail - but eager to try.

I got that wish a few months ago. We never know how connections in any business are going to work, but suffice to say that six degrees of separation played itself out and I found myself adapting the novel MISSING by Drake Braxton for the screen. The filmmaker fell in love with the book, I'm friends with the publisher, I've always wanted to write a full length screenplay and well....the working draft is finally completed.

It has been an amazing ride working closely with the filmmaker - back and forth as we tore apart Braxton's novel to decide what parts will work best in a film. I used my background of writing for the stage to think visually, knowing there are parts of a book that must be left out when changing mediums and well aware that audiences often say "the book was better". But I've loved every minute of it! I felt as if I was doing it all secretly, but now that the director is taking my screenplay and will begin location scouting next month, I knew I could finally blog and share.

The story is right up my alley. One of love, suspense, mystery, personal growth, flawed characters - and did I mention it just happens to be a gay story? That's something else I love about it. This female filmmaker did not say "can you change the leads to a male and a female"? Instead, she is staying true to the author's original intent and I did my best to stay true to that as well. I think it is so important for LGBT films to be made, but the wonderful part is that this award-winning story (New England Book Festival Best Gay Fiction of 2012) can be appreciated by gay or straight. Anyone can relate to the simple question: what would you do if your spouse was gone? Simply went missing? 

First draft: Title has changed
If you haven't read the book - DO! It's gritty and raw and will keep a lump in your throat through a huge portion of the book. And then when the movie comes out in a few years, you'll be able to compare what I did to it! :-)

I can't wait to see where this journey leads. I have a strong feeling I will be involved in much more than just screenwriting and I can't wait to learn as much as possible from this wonderful filmmaker working on (dare I say) this great indie film. Who knows, I might actually be adapting one of my own down the road...I can really see COOL SIDE OF THE PILLOW as a film. 

Here we go!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Creativity Comes in Many Forms

Cast of [title of show] - Photo by Tom Schopper
I feel as if I haven't blogged in forever. Instead of commenting on life, I've been very busy living it and juggling multiple projects. One of which was returning to theater as a director for the first time in three years with a very interesting show. A show I felt such a unique connection to as it's about two guys writing an original musical (something I've done once or twice in my past). Only these guys did something truly incredible as they saw their show go from festival to off-Broadway and eventually - Broadway. (If you ever get the chance to see a production of [title of show], allow yourself the pleasure!) Our production opens this Friday night!

Working on the show, I realize how much I love to be surrounded by other creative people - those doing what they enjoy...the creative process. Writing can feel like solitary confinement - but doing theater takes me back to those creative roots. It shows me my mind is in the right direction for things on the horizon. I see new things in store for me that I guess Oprah or the people behind THE SECRET would say putting that positive thinking out there helps one achieve it. Something inside of me believes that I will. (I just won't share what I think that will be...not just yet.)

Working in theater, we learn so much about ourselves. How we react to others. How we collaborate. Returning to that familiar territory causes me to use a different part of my brain - and obviously I was missing it.

The theme of this show is all about believing in a dream and going for it. This show actually came along at a perfect time in my life and for that, I'm truly grateful to 4th Wall Theatre.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Observations on Back to School

The past two weeks have seen the start of school for so many students and teachers. I loved seeing all of the 'first day of school' photos that filled my Facebook feed. It got me thinking about school and learning and the lessons that I've learned or life observations. Thought I'd share a few in no particular order.

  • My parents would tell me about things that would happen to me when I grew up, but what kid wants to listen? Now as I'm older - I see them happening. (And no, I'm not talking about my face freezing that way.)
  • I used to love spicy food. Mexican was my favorite. Now my body rejects it. Can we say Nexium?
  • Speaking of food...when did raw tomatoes decide they were no longer a friend to my mouth and tongue?
  • I don't believe I've ever used geometry or chemistry in my adult life. So glad I had to go through those classes in high school.
  • Drink your milk! Enjoy it when your younger and your parents tell you to 'drink up'. Now in my 40s, I've switched to soy.
  • Women can use 'the change' for hot flashes and sweating...what am I supposed to use when I'm the only one in the room dying from the heat?
  • I was never a kid that wore glasses. Now I have to grab them to read anything small in front of my face. I can't even see a text message on my iPhone. My eyes are going and my spouse's hearing is fading. Guess I'll be his ears and he'll be my eyes in old age.
  • I was always a skinny kid. Then once I hit adulthood - BOOM! I blew up like Violet in Willy Wonka. I know the diet, gym, etc to get it under control - but one thing I notice: it seems to be all my single friends on Facebook talking about going to the gym. Do I need to end my relationship to want to work out?
  • Gravity is real. Just ask my body.

Feel free to add to the list! Leave me your own observations in the comments below and happy - back to school!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How Many is Too Many?

Hello my name is Gregory and I'm a 'project-a-holic'.

I have neglected this blog because there are so many projects currently on my plate, I simply can't get around to everything. And yet...I THRIVE on staying busy and juggling so many. Sometimes, we simply have to stop and re-order our lives. Hit reboot. Prioritize and in doing so, accomplish more by seeing what rises to the top of the heap. That's what is going on with me. While I have several books I want to get around to writing, I just need more time to be able to address those.

The freelance writing has had to slow way down and in some respects, I've had to stop some of those gigs all together. Again - not enough hours in the day.

I've maintained my priority of 'paying-it-forward' which manifests itself via emails and discussions with new authors, people questioning what has worked (and hasn't) for me, assisting indie artist in marketing of their projects from crowd-sourcing films to new books. I really do love to help out others (when there is time).

I've been busy writing another children's book (and I can't wait to share the information on that).

I'm directing the musical [title of show] - back directing for the first time in three years! It is an amazing cast, an incredible show, and one that I feel a true fondness towards. (It opens one month from tonight!)

And there is another huge project on my list that I'm still entirely too nervous to discuss for fear of jinxing it, but as soon as I can bet I'll be blogging about that!

So I'll sit back down at this meeting of 'project-a-holic anonymous' and get back to work.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Therapist Uses Cooking to Communicate with Children

I am so proud to be a part of the ASD Publishing family where such a diverse line-up of books are published.  This week, they have their latest book - therapist/author Allison Carver who has a unique approach to therapy and cooking. With her new book, she is looking to reinvent the 'family meal time' by bringing families back together - something I was used to growing up with in the 70s, but is very difficult for those raising children in 2013. 

In her debut book, "Cooking Therapy: The Recipe for ImprovingCommunications with Your Children through Cooking" (ISBN: 978-0-9853441-8-4, ASD Publishing), Carver gives practical advice for parents looking to involve their children in the kitchen while cooking.

Carver is a Licensed Professional Counselor who earned her Master's of Education and Educational Specialist Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Virginia. But it is the unique business, A Taste of Therapy, LLC, she owns and develops that I wanted to discuss with her: a one of a kind company that combines the power of therapy with the process of cooking. As a Culinary Therapist, she believes that through the process of cooking, one can relax, unwind and connect with others.

I asked her a few questions for my blog and in the middle of her busy launch; she was able to get back to me!

Gregory: Thanks for joining me, Allison! So, when did you start A Taste of Therapy?

Allison: Back in 2010.
Gregory: What made you decide to launch your own company around cooking and food?
Allison: I've always felt that cooking was relaxing and when working with clients in therapy I always wondered if it would help to relax them to. Also I found that in the therapy world there was very little use of creativity in actual therapy practice. I wanted to change that. When working with clients (especially kids and adolescents) I found they enjoyed doing something while talking. And I started thinking...hmm...what about cooking? I felt that keeping them busy helped them to engage in the therapy process more. I always felt that the process of cooking was relaxing and felt that if incorporated properly into the therapy process it would work for many different types of clients! And it did!
Gregory: Where did the idea of mixing therapy and cooking originate?
Allison: Honestly, It just came to me one day. I knew that I wanted to make therapy more approachable, creative, and engaging for people who may feel a little hesitant about therapy. I also wanted to provide folks with a tangible way to relax and deal with life's stressors in the comfort of their own home. Therapy can seem intimidating, and this allows for therapy to come into your home in a fun and calming way. Plus, you have to eat, so why not use that process as a way to help you relax!
Gregory: What is your favorite kind of food to cook and/or eat?
Allison: This is ALWAYS the hardest question for me! I love to cook and eat everything. I find all kinds of food exciting and fun to try. I know that doesn't help. But I do love to cook southern comfort classics, because it reminds me of my past and childhood. But my favorite kind of food to eat that I don't make for myself is Indian food.
Gregory: Lastly, does your husband help out in the kitchen and if so...what's his favorite 'job' that you talk about in your book?
Allison: Yes! He and I always cook together. He's a huge help and we switch up jobs in the kitchen and it actually works well. It's how we get caught up with each other from the day. He always says he's my sous chef and he enjoys that job.

Here is the info from the back cover: Many people hear the word therapy and run the opposite direction. Carver hopes it will have you running to your kitchen. With "Cooking Therapy," she has created a way for families to communicate, connect, and come together all in one location. Through recipes, anecdotes, and therapeutic tips, Carver has mapped out a way to reinvent the family mealtime by bringing everyone together before and during a meal. It is that time at the dinner table and the act of cooking together that Carver believes is the secret to improving communication in the family.

Follow Carver on her websiteFacebookor Twitter to learn more about this unique form of therapy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

When Murder Can Be Hysterical

There is nothing like being asked by a friend to join you at the theater when you really have no idea what you’re seeing. I knew it was a show at the uptown Second Stage Theatre, but that was about it.

What a treat I received with Murder for Two!

This musical mixes an Agatha Christie type murder mystery with a Carol Burnett sketch comedy routine. Two actors tell the story of an investigator who arrives at the scene of a crime to decide ‘who-done-it’ when meeting all the suspects at a party. And all the suspects are played by one actor. As an author, I loved that the premise was set around the killing of…an author.

I have always enjoyed Jeff Blumenkrantz from How to Succeed… to A Class Act (to many other shows). But I never realized how incredibly talented he is until after this show. He plays every suspect, switching back and forth (many times in the middle of a song) - male and female without ever changing a costume.  I was completely exhausted for him by the end of the 90 minute show. (And I thought doing Das Barbecue was a hard show! Wow!) I left with such a newfound appreciation for him.

The writing team
I don’t know Brett Ryback as he has done much regional theater work, but I think New York has a new star on their hands. Charming, talented, perfect comic timing, amazing voice – and a wonderful ‘yin’ to Blumenkrantz’s ‘yang’.

This musical comedy is cleverly written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair. Both wrote the book and Kinosian supplies the score which covers a wide range of old-time genres which Blair has a knack for writing perfect rhymes that makes this former BMI Musical Theatre writer smile.

The two actors are also composers in their own right, so the sense of the evening has a feel of actually watching the creative team who put the entire thing together. (Almost like when Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen allowed actors across the world to start playing ‘them’ in [title of show].) While I loved the actors by night’s end, I actually felt I was getting to know Kinosian and Blair as well; something that doesn’t happen every time you see a musical. (Many people forget the writing team.)

The set design by Beowulf Boritt is kept simple in this musical, yet every single piece on the stage is used at some point. (I love the nod to the board game CLUE.) I would not want to give anything away, but let me send out kudos to the sound designer Jill B C Du Boff who (for me) was another character in the show. Scott Schwartz has directed this 90 minutes as a face-paced romp that never let’s up or allows an audience to even think of an intermission.

And did I mention the main piece on the stage is a grand piano. A piano that both men play…yes, they are the ‘pit’ in this musical. It is stunning to watch the choreography as they switch back and forth to accompany themselves or each other, often in the middle of a song. And when they sit and play together and smile at the audience, we are pulled right in as they say to us “isn’t this the best time you’ve had in a long time?”

Yes. I think it is.

Thank you, Second Stage for another great night of theater! The show only runs until August 25th. Get to the upper West side now!