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!