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15 Minutes with Justin Sayre

May 12th, 2017 Comments off
Justin Sayre (Photo: Kevin Yatarola via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre (Photo: Kevin Yatarola via The Broadway Blog.)

The Meeting* hosted by Justin Sayre — the monthly gathering of the International Order of Sodomites, the centuries-old organization which sets the mythic Gay Agenda — will conclude its acclaimed eight year run this Sunday, May 14 with two performances at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. Both shows are sold-out but will be broadcast globally online for the first time with Joe’s Pub Livestream, which is available at www.youtube.com/JoesPubNY.

The acclaimed comedy/variety show is known for its audacious humor, trailblazing political discourse and button-pushing cultural exploration. Special guests will be announced soon. Lance Horne serves as the evening’s music director. The Broadway Blog had a chance to catch up with Sayre before his final soiree — this is what he had to say…

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

Justin Sayre (Photo: Ricardo Nelson via The Broadway Blog.)

How did The International Oder of Sodomites come to fruition? And are there any charter members besides yourself? 
The original organization was founded in 1205 as part of the medieval guild system and since then we’ve been behind the scenes manipulating and maneuvering the lives and legacies of the LGBTQIA community.

Back then we were just all sodomites, which seemed easier to say but had perhaps harsh consequences. For many years, I worked with the organization in private and then in November of 2009 we had our first public meeting at The Duplex. We celebrated my patron saint, Edie Bouvier Beale. The membership is wide and extensive, celebrities, people who work with cheese, garbage men, real and figurative, we’re not choosey. Once you say the magic words, “I’m ****something besides straight****” you’re in.

Has honoring a celebrity always been part of the line-up?
Always. It’s a way to get people talking. If you were told you’re going to an event about gay culture and politics, snoozeville. But if you’re told you’re going to a night celebrating Diana Ross, and there will be discussions of politics and culture, I’d say sign me up. It was a way to reach out to the membership and celebrate that which has touched us, moved us, given us strength to be ourselves. That brings all sorts of people together, and that is at the heart of what The Meeting* is, a community event.

What is your inspiration for choosing the season of notables?
We have an extensive list, and we rack our collective brains. We try to mix it up a great deal, selecting artists from all over the map. It’s all about inclusion, so we try to vary the lineup from month to month. The final shows was a grouping of people we’ve loved and always wanted to do. The last show will be my favorites. I think it’s only write after 7 years, don’t you.

In one of your recent shows, which paid tribute to Michael Bennett, there were some terrific guest appearances, including his famous “Turkey Lurkey Time” choreography from Promises, Promises. Have you ever attempted this dance in the privacy of your own home? If so, what might you compare it to?
I’m more of a drunken Fosse girl myself. I love a kitchen into bathroom Rich Man’s Frugue.

It’s the last season of The Meeting*. How else are we to get our fix of hilarity draped in a sensible shawl?
I will still be making shows and still making work at Joe’s Pub. It was simply time to end this side of it. Being the Chairman of The Board has been a rare and unbelievable joy in my life for sometime, but I think it’s time to try new things.

You’re very funny. But you also have a sense of gravitas when it comes to our current political climate. Has this recently influenced your work or have you always drawn inspiration from the end of the world as we know it?
I have always been talking about politics and the way we treat each other as a community. It’s the guts of the show for me.

Can we expect to see you at the Equality March in Washington this June? Do you have some tips for creative signage? Because, as you know, any protest is all about the accessories. 
I will certainly be. But I’m very bad with signs. Just look for the bellowing floor length pashmina and you’ll find me.

Justin Sayre

The Lamentable Tale of a Dog; as told by Beppo, formerly of the Castaglioni company of Padua — Sayre’s new solo work — will debut on Thursday, May 18 at 9 p.m. as part of the High Line “Out of Line” event series. The show, which features sets by Sully Ross, costumes by Allan Herrara and artwork by Adam Michael, will take place on the High Line at 14th Street. Melody Berger is featured on violin. The event is free but reservations are suggested. Visit TheHighLine.org for tickets and information.

 

 

15 Rockin’ Minutes with Sheri Sanders

April 10th, 2017 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Sheri Sanders (Photo: Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Sheri Sanders (Photo: Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Life is full of choices but for Sheri Sanders, there’s no reason to choose. When it comes to performing, Sanders believes that you can combine legit trained musical theater styles with rock and pop genres. After a stage career, Sanders decided to start a program called ‘Rock the Audition.’ which has expanded from a book to classroom instruction.

On April 17 at downtown’s SubCulture, Sanders will perform a one-night concert, “Sheri Sanders is Legit,” which will celebrate the launch of her new ‘Rock the Audition’ online class. Many of her students have landed Broadway and national tours and, through her endless passion and energy, she’s managed to open brand new pathways that many never knew existed.

Sanders recently took time from her frenetic schedule to have a phone conversation with the Broadway Blog where she discussed her role as a coach and educator to countless teachers and budding performers.

Sheri Sanders (Photo: Michael Buonicontro via The Broadway Blog.)

Sheri Sanders (Photo: Michael Buonicontro via The Broadway Blog.)

This has become your primary source of income. How did you transfer from being a full-time performer to being a teacher? 
I have a musical theater background and I noticed a crisis in the musical theater community so I cornered the market where pop/rock music was concerned.  I combined my legit techniques with pop music because I always understood pop music. There are actually a lot of similarities between pop and musical theater and there is so much crossover. The way shows are written today is such that pop/rock is the new legit.  I now work with both teachers and students. I work with 16 different universities and have 30 private students.

You mentioned in one of you online classes that singers need to approach auditions in the mood or state that they are in. Isn’t it a performer’s job to ‘act’ in whatever way the role calls for? Can you elaborate? 
It is contrary in theory, but what is cool is that most pop music is not exclusively from shows. So if you choose a happy party song like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” you can use that energy for the better if you’ve had a really bad day and sing the song as though you are ready to have fun. You have to use your current emotional and mental state to change your mind or attitude.

What happens if people come to you and obviously do not have a talent for singing? 
I never audition anyone for my classes.  Sometimes people who have desk jobs and have never pursued singing as a career but who can express themselves through song are the most valuable players in the room. In terms of talent, it’s never my job to tell people whether or not they have talent. It is more important to ask them what they believe in and to pursue that. My goal is to get people as connected to their mind, body, and spirit as I can. We all just root for each other because then, everybody grows.

Rock music is more than just a style. It’s a look and an attitude. You wouldn’t give a bookish librarian a Janis Joplin song, right? Is it right to approach music that fits the singer’s natural personality or can the singer manufacture that? 
You never want to give a song from a singer like Joplin to someone with a small voice. But, you want them to listen to her music, so they can grow more emotional and wild when they sing. That librarian could become a gutsy librarian. It’s important to listen to singers who have the same quality as you, but as important to listen to other singers. That way, your voice is more textured and interesting. You want to create a palate to paint with so that your voice has more variety.

What is the biggest misconception young performers have about the theater industry right now in terms of knowledge and preparation? 
If they are not properly educated, they often think that yelling and putting riffs in a song where it doesn’t belong makes them competitive. You have to look at the show and ask what the show requires and sing something that fits the aesthetic of the show.

How are you able to actually protect your voice when you are grunting and yelling, as many performers often do? 
Very few shows call for grunting and yelling and there is a way to sing emotionally without yelling. One of the things I’m most proud of is that people trust me because I’m never going to tell anyone that they are wrong. Instead, I’ll show them what they do know and take them over to this magical place that is really cool. That way, they take the experience I’ve taught them back to musical theater and they can live comfortably in both worlds.

“Sheri Sanders is Legit!  An Evening of Legit Musical Theatre”
Subculture
45 Bleecker Street, NYC
April 17, 8 p.m.

Advance Tickets are $20, $25 at the door.
Tickets are available at bit.ly/LEGITMT  or by calling 212-533-5470.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

MCC Theater Announces $2.5 Million Challenge Grant

March 28th, 2017 Comments off

MCC TheaterMCC Theater announced today the launch of a matching gift challenge made possible by The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. The Trust has awarded a $2.5 million challenge grant in support of MCC’s first permanent home and expanded programming. The campaign has raised $30 million to-date. Upon the Theater completing the dollar-for-dollar matching challenge by April 30, 2018, the company will meet the campaign’s $35 million goal. MCC’s new home will unite the company’s diverse roster of programs under one roof for the first time in its more than three-decade history.

Set to open with the Theater’s 2018/2019 season, the facility will also allow the company to expand its programming and establish it as a cultural anchor within the Clinton neighborhood. One of New York’s leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies, MCC Theater fosters the dynamic exchange of ideas between artists, audiences, and students through its production of world, American, and New York premiere plays and musicals, a robust playwright development initiative, and one of the nation’s leading arts education programs. 

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges in 'Yen' at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Stefania LaVie Owen and Lucas Hedges in ‘Yen’ at MCC Theater. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Robert W. Wilson was a well-known and successful investor from the mid-1960’s to the mid-1980’s. After his retirement, he devoted his life to philanthropy. Wilson was a transformative philanthropist, primarily funding worldwide organizations in the preservation and conservation areas.

An avid New Yorker, he was also involved with a number of New York’s cultural institutions. He was a major supporter of, and held leadership roles with, the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Opera, where he was a board member for many years. In addition, he and the Trust support the New York Public Library, Central Park Conservancy, BAM, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This matching gift marks the Trust’s first grant to a theater company.

“We are very grateful for the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust’s generosity and we’re proud to launch this matching challenge with their support,” said Bernie Telsey, Co-Artistic Director of MCC Theater, speaking on behalf of the company’s artistic leadership. “As we wrap up our 30th anniversary season, it’s thrilling and truly humbling to consider where we started—operating out of a studio apartment—and the bright future for MCC Theater as we move closer to opening the first home of our own. From new plays and musicals, to workshops developing the next generation of bold artists, to the voices of students in our Youth Company from across the five boroughs, our home will be a vibrant hub of activity in the Clinton neighborhood. We’re eager to open its doors to everyone.”

Groundbreaking at MCC Theater (Photo courtesy of MCC Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

Groundbreaking at MCC Theater (Photo courtesy of MCC Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

Designed by Andrew Berman Architect, the 27,000-square-foot space will advance MCC’s mission and act as a hub for all of its programming, allowing the institution to better serve its growing audiences and broaden its offerings—increasing its productions from four to six per season, supporting a broad and diverse roster of young writers developing new work exploring a range of contemporary topics, and expanding its groundbreaking arts education programs for New York City public school students both at its new home and in classrooms across the five boroughs.

“We are thrilled to support MCC Theater at this important moment of expansion for the company,” said Richard G. Schneidman, a trustee of the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. “Bob enjoyed and supported cutting-edge theater. We admire the impact MCC has had on the American theater landscape, and its commitment to supporting emerging artists and young people. We invite the cultural community to join us in supporting this great New York company as it broadens its reach and embarks on this exciting period of growth.”

MCC Theater’s new home will feature resources for rehearsals, workshops, meetings, public conversations, and two state-of-the-art theaters, with 249 and 100 seats, respectively, designed to accommodate both traditional and non-traditional stagings. Adjacent to a public lobby that invites connection between the outside courtyard space on 52nd Street and the interior, these two theaters will be the heart of the new home.

The 249-seat theater will be named for Ruth and Harold Newman and Marianne and Steve Mills, who serve as campaign co-chairs alongside Board members Judith Light and Julianna Margulies, in recognition of their leadership gifts. Mr. Newman and Ms. Mills are also longtime board members who have provided significant support for MCC Theater’s education and artistic programs. Mr. Newman is the lead individual donor to one of MCC Theater’s renowned arts education programs, the in-school and after-school partnership programs at George Washington High School in Washington Heights, where he is an alum. Ms. Mills served as MCC’s Miscast gala chair for a decade, helping shape the evening into one of the most anticipated fundraising events each season. The 100-seat theater will be named for Susan and Ronald Frankel in recognition of their campaign gift. Mr. and Mrs. Frankel have been active with the company since 2015. They are proud to be a part of MCC Theater’s development and education of artists and NYC high school students.  Mrs. Frankel is also an MCC Theater board member.

“MCC Theater’s journey to our first permanent home continues to be a thrilling time for everyone at MCC,” said Susan Raanan, Chair of the Theater’s Board of Directors. “I want to thank our entire Board for their leadership and support of this campaign as we take this great leap forward and acknowledge the generosity of the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. We invite everyone to help us meet this matching gift challenge as we continue building support for this exciting next phase in MCC Theater’s history.”

“Having the support of our partners at the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust means the world as we build a home to serve our artists, audiences, and students for generations to come,” said Blake West, Executive Director of MCC Theater. “The Trust’s generous challenge grant will have an extraordinary impact on this transformational project. As we look forward to welcoming everyone to this great new space for our 2018/2019 season, we invite our entire community to join our campaign.”

An engine for creative exchange, the company’s new home has been designed by Andrew Berman Architect to provide fluid connections between spaces dedicated to performance, behind-the-scenes development, and front-of-house—all of which will provide greater freedom for MCC Theater’s artists and give audiences greater access and insight into the company’s work. Raw materials are employed throughout, including concrete and warm woods, reflecting the process-based nature of theater-making to which the facility is dedicated.

Francesco Simeti has been commissioned to create two new visual art installations as part of New York City’s Percent for Art program. For the 53rd Street façade, Simeti will create a collage of historic images of New York City that speaks to the cultural and ecological history of the neighborhood. Utilizing digital printing on Mylar interlayers between glass panels, “A Tale of a City” (working title) will incorporate illustrations and references to native weeds and flowers that are now extinct in New York, as well as elements of the botanic, natural, and the human-made urban environment. In a second floor interior public space, the artist will install a tapestry composed of historic imagery relating to theater, sets, masks, and props from cultures all around the world.

Located on West 52nd Street at 10th Avenue, the facility occupies the ground floor of the Avalon Clinton complex, which also includes residential units as well as office and performance spaces for A.R.T./New York and the 52nd Street Project. The $35-million project broke ground on March 22, 2016 and is funded by a public-private partnership between the Theater and the City of New York, which has contributed $25.5 million to the project. The campaign supports construction and expanded artistic and educational programming. Several naming opportunities are still available, including public lobby and backstage areas.

MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala will be held on April 3 at The Hammerstein Ballroom. This year’s event celebrates MCC’s 30th anniversary and features an all-star lineup of performers, including Tony® winners Annaleigh Ashford, Norbert Leo Butz, Jennifer Holliday, and Kelli O’Hara. Proceeds support the Theater’s artistic and education programming. The company’s final presentation of its 30th anniversary season, the American premiere of Matthew Perry’s new play The End of Longing begins at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on May 18.

 

15 Minutes with Michael Cerveris

March 13th, 2017 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Michael Cerveris (Photo: Zack Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cerveris (Photo: Zack Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cerveris has sunk a ship (Titanic), shot a U.S. President (Assassins), slashed a few throats (Sweeney Todd), and committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a truck (Fun Home). It’s a dark resume, but one that has earned him four Tony nominations and two awards. Not that he’s counting. The mild-mannered Broadway star tends to shun the fanfare of ceremony, focusing more on the joy of stagecraft and performing with his band, Loose Cattle.

On Thursday night, his fellow folk/country music cronies will take to the stage at the Sheen Center, where audiences will be treated to selections from his albums, Dog Eared and Hinterland. He’ll also be playing tunes from his new album Piety.

On a recent rainy morning, the Chelsea resident grabbed coffee at the Grey Dog Cafe with The Broadway Blog to discuss his upcoming gig, his career, and why—with complete sincerity—he doesn’t consider himself “the best.”

The Broadway Blog: First and foremost, let’s clarify the pronunciation of your last name. 
Michael Cerveris: It’s “server-iss” (rhymes with hiss). I have close friends who mispronounce it and I have to say ‘You are my friend, but that’s not my name.’

BB: And you come from an artistic family?
MC: Yes. My brother is an actor, my sister was a ballet dancer and later a Broadway actor. My parents met at Juilliard. They tried to send us to good schools so that we’d have ended up in lucrative, stable careers but that just didn’t happen.

BB: How did Loose Cattle get started? 
MC: My girlfriend at the time, Kimberly Kay, and I were going through an argumentative phase in our relationship and decided to create something a little more productive. She loved to sing and I did, too. After years of being away from the South and then returning, I realized that my formative years were spent here (West Virginia). We decided to start a casual country band for fun, but it grew from there.

BB: How did the name originate? 
MC: I was singing backup for my friend, Laura Cantrell, at Hill Country Barbeque [in New York City.] There was a photo on the wall of a road sign in Texas warning people of “Loose Livestock.” I thought it would be a great name for a band, but I misremembered the sign as “Loose Cattle.”

BB: Your night at the Sheen Center will be billed as “Michael Cerveris and his Accomplices.” Who will be joining you? 
MC: Unfortunately, Kimberly won’t be able to make this show but I’ll have a string quartet, fiddle, and mandolin players. Joe McGinty will play piano and a few others.  It’s going to focus mostly on my Piety album, which has just been released. There will be 10 of us altogether.

BB: Which do you prefer: Performing in your band or on Broadway? They are vastly different. 
MC: They are totally different. I’m so grateful that I haven’t had to choose. To be able to have acting as a day job is pretty exciting, but my band is really a labor of love.

'Fun Home' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fun Home’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: You mentioned in a NY Times article that you “have ambivalence about awards in the arts, especially competitive awards.” Why is that?
MC: In general, I think I’ve struggled with competition. I used to run cross-country in junior high school in the hills of West Virginia. I would love the practice runs but as the week would progress towards the track meets, by Saturday morning I would be a ball of nerves. I think I that have color to my personality, which has aversion to ambition and competition.

In the arts, there is no way to objectively compare two performances and say that one is better than the other. The year that I won [the Tony Award for] Fun Home is a perfect example. The job description for my fellow four actors is completely different. There is no way I could have done what Tony Yazbeck, Robert Fairchild, or Brian D’Arcy James did. So to say that I was better makes no sense. I wish they would take away the “best” moniker. I love the celebration of the work, but the actual competition part drives me crazy.

BB: Who has influenced you in the Broadway realm and in the country/folk genre? 
MC: Seeing Len Cariou in the original Sweeney Todd is what made me think that I could do serious musical theater. I’ve always admired Ed Harris. In music, my tastes are pretty varied. John Prine, Dan Fogelberg’s early work, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce were also influences. I’ve also had my indie-rock and punk rock phases.

Now, I’ve rediscovered a lot of country music like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and those singer-songwriters who could capture a scene or character in the most commonplace words that take on a poetic essence. There are some modern bands I really like such as Blackberry Smoke and Drive-By Truckers.

Michael Cerveris & His Accomplices
Sheen Center
18 Bleecker Street, NYC
March 16
7:30 p.m.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

15 Minutes with LaChanze

February 26th, 2017 Comments off
LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

One of Broadway’s biggest voices will be rolling into the Highline Ballroom on Monday, February 27, but don’t expect show tunes. LaChanze will be celebrating the launch of her new EP, Feeling Good.

The inspiration came from a cabaret set that the Tony Award-winning actress (The Color Purple) has been performing, coupled with work on her memoir. Together, she felt there were stories to tell that would showcase the music with key moments of her life.

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

“All of the moments are very specific — from my childhood through adolescence, adulthood and midlife,” says the actress, who, after several ensemble roles on Broadway, captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike in Once on This Island. The show, directed by Tamara Tunie, also touches upon some of the challenges she’s faced and the people who were influential in getting her back into her life after a personal tragedy.

One of LaChanze favorite moments, which she describes as “pure joy,” is from a specific moment from her childhood, expressed through Dianne Reeves’ radiant song, “Nine.” The multi-talented artist also showcases her own songwriting skills with “You’re Free.”

LaChanze is thrilled to be back at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where she played a Valentine’s Day concert in 2009 and fell in love with the space. In the heart of Chelsea and tucked under the historic High Line elevated park, the venue’s size sits comfortable between a cabaret and concert venue.

“The stage size is huge and equipped with terrific lighting. I love the venue. It’s open, expansive and easily transformed,” says LaChanze of the artistic hub that has welcomed such artists as Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Carlos Santana and more.

LaChanze’s impetus to produce the concert and tour the show later this year (visit www.mslachanze.com for future dates) is multi-faceted. Creatively, it is a celebration of her professional and personal life through song, but it is also an opportunity to stay engaged and relevant in a notoriously fickle industry.

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

LaChanze (Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

“For women in general, and not just women of color, when you become a certain age opportunities narrow. We’re viewed differently than men,” observes LaChanze. “Men have full careers in film and television. Women are often relegated to specific roles — the mom or the girlfriend. This happens across the board and even more for African American women.”

“One of the reasons I’m doing this show is because I don’t want to sit around and wait for the phone to ring,” she continues. “And we’re not a monolith. It’s a wide net that’s cast for a few roles, so I’m telling my own story.” LaChanze brought on director Tamara Tunie

In spite of the challenges, LaChanze continues to be in demand and has been working in television, film and voiceover. Broadway audiences will have to wait until at least 2018 for her return to the Great White Way until her daughter graduates from high school before the seasoned actress is ready to commit again to eight shows a week.

But for now, we’re feeling good knowing that LaChanze

LaChanze – “Feeling Good”
Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
February 27
Doors open at 6 p.m.
Showtime 8 p.m.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo

 

15 Minutes With ‘In Transit”s Rick Hip-Flores

January 13th, 2017 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

'In Transit' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘In Transit’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Rick Hip-Flores is a seasoned musical director, having worked on several projects both on and off Broadway. Yet he, along with the cast of In Transit, is currently exploring unprecedented territory by being the first completely a cappella Broadway show.

The harmonic tuner is currently enjoying an open ended run at Circle in the Square and explores the daily grind for a diverse bunch of New Yorkers—complete with joy, frustration, dreams, and reality.

Photo provided by Rick Hip-Flores.

Photo provided by Rick Hip-Flores.

Hip-Flores recently spoke with the Broadway Blog to discuss the unique aspects of rehearsing and conducting what he considers a “tough beast to tame.”

A cappella singing used to have old-fashioned appeal with glee clubs and barbershop quartets. In the last few years, it’s become quite hip, thanks to groups like Rockapella, Straight No Chaser, Pentatonix and the Pitch Perfect movie franchise. What is it about this style that people find so appealing?

Immediately, I think people react to the human voice. The creative spirit of a cappella is that you don’t need to be classically trained to create music. A group of people can get together, create an arrangement and make it sound great. Mainly, there is an automatic connection when you hear the human voice. Instruments only emulate it.

With “cantata” (musically accompanied singing), it’s somewhat easier to blend singers who possess a variety of vocal skills and techniques, but with a cappella, there has to be a collective synchronicity. You clearly found the right blend with In Transit. What was the audition process like and how you were able to find the right talent?

These actors went through the hardest vetting process of any show I’ve been a part of. They had to sight read, sing in groups, and possess music theory knowledge. In terms of blending with the cast, we listened to their placement of vowels, how much vibrato they used, and other factors that aren’t considered as solo performers. On top of all this, they had to come across as engaging performers. There are many hats that have to be worn for In Transit.

Erin Mackey in 'In Transit.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Erin Mackey in ‘In Transit.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

How is the cast able to stay on pitch from the beginning of each show through the end?

In talking to people after the show, they are always blown away by the cast’s ability to do that, but I have to say that pitch is not the hardest part for them. The most difficult components are staying perfectly in sync rhythmically, keeping the same tempos, and finding the right volume and blend.

Did the cast come into rehearsals knowing the music or was that taught to them?

They all came in completely cold. A few of them had done prior workshops of the show, so they knew a little bit, but all of the parts had been rewritten anyway, so it was all new. The creative team told me that the first ten days would be spent solely on learning the score. In a typical rehearsal process, only three days would be spent on music. At first, I wondered how the cast would sit still for 80 straight hours of music rehearsal. To my surprise, they were extremely intent on learning it and getting it right and I think it shows in the final product.

Margot Seibert and James Snyder in 'In Transit.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Margot Seibert and James Snyder in ‘In Transit.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

I certainly don’t mean to imply that any of the performances in this show are akin to a lip-synced Mariah Carey performance but due to the amount of sounds coming from such a small ensemble, are any of the parts pre-recorded?

(Joking) Well, I wouldn’t tell you if they were. No. Nothing is pre-recorded. Even offstage singing is live. Sometimes, the cast may be changing a costume, moving a set piece, and singing their part at the same time. So the audience will hear the smooth sounds but have no idea what mayhem is going on behind the scenes.

Is this the first time you’ve worked at length in the a cappella arena?

It is. I worked on some arrangements in college, but this is the first time I’ve worked on it in this capacity. It has a whole series of challenges but I will take what I’ve learned from In Transit and apply it both to music that is not a cappella and instrumental music.

Besides the obvious addition of instrumentation, what are some of the challenges and differences between this show and other musical theater projects?

The biggest challenge is from the audience’s point of view. If you think about the energy that a band creates, you can turn up the volume and have the band providing the foundation for that energy. With a cappella, you don’t have the same dynamic variety and range and you have to create it all with the voice. Musically, it’s tough to create a varied evening through a cappella, but I think that the composers achieved it very well.

In Transit
Circle in the Square
235 West 50th Street, NYC

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview: ‘The Untold Stories of Broadway”s Jennifer Ashley Tepper

December 15th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

The Untold Stories of BroadwayFor a true theater lover, there is simply no one else who has captured the rich history that lies between the walls of Broadway’s cherished structures better than Jennifer Ashley Tepper, author of The Untold Stories of Broadway. Tepper’s third volume has just been released, and for any theater geek, it’s a must read.

Tepper spent an extensive amount of time interviewing an array of individuals who had not only stepped into the spotlight, but she thoughtfully sought out the “unsung heroes” that make Broadway hum: stage hands, music arrangers, directors, company managers, and box office personnel.

In this volume, she highlights the Broadhurst, the Belasco, the Edison, the Lyric, the Majestic, the Schoenfeld, the St. James and the Walter Kerr. In between interviews, she sprinkles some interesting tidbits about the theaters and infuses her own experiences and memories.

In addition to writing, Tepper has also worn many hats including directing, producing, and marketing of many Broadway shows and is the director of Programming at Feinstein’s/54 Below. As an industry insider, Tepper knows how to gather the “dish,” but she serves it back to theater lovers in a compelling, gracious, and reverent manner. Think of her as Michael Riedel minus the snark and with better lipstick.

From ghost stories to opening night tales, backstage rituals, secret rooms, PR pranks, and auditions, Tepper’s book is as thoroughly entertaining as a Broadway show itself and can either be enjoyed from beginning to end, or by casually leafing through. With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect gift for the person who already owns original cast recordings or previously published coffee table books.

Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The Broadway Blog: So many people love the “razzle dazzle” of Broadway, but your interest goes much deeper than that. What is it about these physical spaces that fascinates you?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper: I’ve always loved the idea that when you’re sitting in a theatre, you are where so many other people have been: people who have created hit shows, people you admire, and all of those things that are so unique to Broadway.

You might love a particular movie, but there’s not really a chance to visit the soundstage and pinpoint exactly where the actors stood. These theaters are so specific in the sense of their history. Many of them have been here for at least 100 years. It connects us to the past. Plus, every theatre has secret passageways and weird nondescript rooms. They help chart what Broadway used to be and what it is now.

BB: You reference a secret tunnel between the Broadhurst and Schoenfeld. Tell us about that.

JAT: People don’t really know about it if they aren’t working in either of those theaters, which are on two different blocks. Two of these secret passageways lie in the inner alley that connects the two theaters. Street passerby on 45th Street can look to the left of the Schoenfeld to find a locked alleyway. The stage door is to the right of the Schoenfeld, but the alley on the left also provides an exit, used by audiences and show folk alike. At the very back of the alley, one door leads directly to the Broadhurst stage and another door leads to house left in the Broadhurst auditorium.

(Photo: Daniel Douglas / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo: Daniel Douglas / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: Most of your stories are warm and nostalgic or bittersweet. You also tell stories of people who have had ghost experiences. I’m wondering if there were any that were too bleak, gossipy, or just downright depressing to share?

JAT: There totally were and I have a file marked as “Off the record.” People have instructions to destroy it (laughs). But actually, Fritz Weaver was a Broadway actor who just passed away. He was an amazing man. I had the pleasure of interviewing him and he told me a very sad dark story. He played a Tony Award winning role in a show called Child’s Play and it was about an incredibly dark, violent, suicidal teacher.

Fritz was a method actor and he told me that the biggest regret of his career was the year he did that play because he took the show home to his young kids. He admitted that although it was critically acclaimed, he spent so much time trying to make it up to his children who were terrified by his presence while doing the show. I thought that it was so moving that he focused not on winning the Tony, but what toll it took on his family. That really stuck with me.

BB: Any stories of all out brawls between creative teams or All About Eve type stories?

JAT: There is a lot of that and sometimes you get the true stories of what you’ve heard through gossip, but you get to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. One the best examples in this book is the real story behind Taboo, the Boy George musical. Raul Esparza talked about quitting, working with Rosie O’Donnell, and why the show failed. People tend to be honest as long as—say—ten years have passed.

Rosie O'Donnell and Boy George at the opening on 'Taboo' on Broadway, November 13, 2003. (Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Rosie O’Donnell and Boy George at the opening on ‘Taboo’ on Broadway, November 13, 2003. (Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: You mention in the preface that you wanted to focus on people of color and women whose theatrical contributions were either not applauded or remembered. Who were some of those people?

JAT: One of the things that I ran into is that I tried to find female playwrights who had worked at a particular theatre and there either weren’t any or they were deceased. Some other influential artists of color were hard to pin down for an interview. It’s hard to get people you’ve never met before to answer a phone call or email regarding an unfamiliar project. I tried to get as many as I could, but I filled in the blanks quite a bit in this volume.

The Schoenfeld has a cool history of women writers so I charted that in the book and I also found women who worked behind the scenes at that theatre.

George C. Wolfe, who is one of my heroes, has a lot of incredible material in the book. Baayork Lee talked about being in The King and I with white actors who were made-up to appear Asian. People either didn’t care or didn’t protest. So there were some markers that I found with regards to race and gender.

BB: What are your most vivid memories of theaters that you reference in this third volume?

JAT: A Chorus Line revival at the Schoenfeld really sticks out. I saw it 11 times and can recall skipping class on my birthday to go to a matinee. I was working on title of show at the time, directed by Michael Berresse. Michael was also playing Zach in A Chorus Line and took me backstage following the show.

I had the launch of my book at the Lyric Theatre and have such a vivid memory of my first time being there. I came to the city as a teenager with my parents and we were planning to see Aida, but learned that Adam Pascal was out of the show that day. I cried so much that the box office exchanged our tickets for later in the week and instead, we rushed down to Broadway and ran to our seats for 42nd Street. Whenever I walk into a Broadway theatre, I immediately think of the last few times I’ve been there. Those memories are powerful.

(Photo: Shubert Organization)

(Photo: Shubert Organization)

BB: Did you happen to find any research on the size of seats and the limited leg room?

JAT: I found a lot of fascinating information. I interviewed Bob Wankel, President of the Shubert Organization, who talked about how, when all of the theaters were first built that women didn’t go to the bathroom that often in public. They didn’t want to remove their corsets or petticoats.

So now, if you’ve ever heard complaints about the lines at ladies’ room it’s because the bathroom was probably built into what was once an office. Things like that definitely affect the physical space. Plus, people used to be smaller so there is less leg room. It’s interesting to learn that the actual life of people go into how these buildings were built.

BB: Coming from someone who is 6’1 and fuller framed, if you have any clout on the design and leg room in newer theaters, I’d appreciate that!

You have a few other volumes coming out after this, right?

JAT: I do. There are 40 Broadway theaters—soon to be 41 with the Hudson—so I’m looking at about six volumes in total. I don’t know how long that will take but I plan to get to all of them.

All three volumes of The Untold Stories of Broadway can be purchased on Amazon.com.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

 

15 Minutes with Melissa Errico

December 2nd, 2016 Comments off
Melissa Errico (photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico (photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Currently starring in Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Finian’s Rainbow (extended until January 29, 2017), Melissa Errico is re-defining the ingénue. Her self-written feature in The New York Times was a hallmark moment for the 46-year-old actress, who refuses to play to age-based limitations, writing:

The ingénue police are knocking, but I’m not letting them in. They know the great Mary Martin was 46 when she played the young postulant Maria Von Trapp in the original The Sound of Music. (They probably knocked on her door, too.)

And Finian’s Rainbow is a fable always worth retelling, with an absurd plot that is really not absurd at all. It’s about equality, peace, racism and tolerance. It is about a more hopeful America where each person might see beneath the surface of another, and find within oneself a tolerance toward oneself — even a celebration — as we allow our own surfaces to change. 

The Broadway Blog had a chance to catch up with the Tony Award-nominated actress in between shows and an overflowing life with her husband, three daughters, and Yorkshire terrier.

Melissa Errico in 'Finian's Rainbow' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Melissa Errico in ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Why do you think Finian’s Rainbow resonates with today’s audiences?

I’ve done the show over the course over 15 years. Concerts then a full production, then a concert at Town Hall. We opened Oct 25 but by the time we had the election the show was very different.

It’s hitting a nerve, offering a possibly reassuring voice. A model of liberal racial politics — somewhat antiquated — but still a model. Yip (E.R. Harburg, the show’s lyricist and book writer) was a great humanitarian and liberal activist. Finian’s Rainbow is about inclusion and we’re living in a time that many people feel threatened.

At first, I didn’t think that the musical was current. In my dream world I thought we were past that. There’s a terrific dialogue exchange that could come out of today’s headlines:

Senator Billboard Rawkins: Of course it’s legal! I don’t know where you immigrants get these radical, foreign ideas!

Sharon McLonergan: From a wee book the immigration officer handed us. It’s called ‘The United States Constitution.’

Finian McLonergan: Haven’t you read it?

Senator Billboard Rawkins: I don’t have time to read it, I’m too busy defending it!

In particular, what do you think makes this production special in Irish Rep’s intimate space?

Irish Rep’s space has become larger and much more playable since it’s recent renovation. There are still those onstage columns, which are incorporated so beautifully into the set design by James Morgan to create this sort of dreamy plantation or rural forest.

From the actor’s standpoint, it’s tight quarters backstage. There’s no chance of warming up and you can plan on brushing your teeth with someone else. There’s this unspoken agreement to be communal and work together, and the only way to succeed is to be that kind of person. Charlotte Moore (Irish Rep’s artistic director) is a genius to find those kinds of people to cast.

In terms of performance, it’s not a Broadway show where you’re ushered along. You’ll notice that there are no microphones — there’s not a speaker in the building. It’s the audience and the actors. And then this all-female Celtic jazz orchestra sits down and forget about it! There’s a lot of color coming out of those four girls. You’ll never have that kind of experience on Broadway.

This is story theater. There’s no ability for the show to get fake or pretentious. We’re constantly looking for the substance, and to tell that story you have to put your heart out there. And then there’s the technical side of things. If I want to crescendo with everything else happening around me I have to walk toward the audience for my voice to rise above the others. There are a million different levels. It’s hard stuff!

The New York Times piece put a spotlight on women of a certain age in the theater. Do you think there’s a double standard?

The theater community wants women to age and wisen and teach and connect and be sensual. But there aren’t a lot of roles out there. But there’s another culture — the world of concerts — where we can create a strong experience and women are not impotent in that domain.

There are also a million catch-22’s. In my 30’s, while my career was soaring, my doctor said, “Are you ever going to have children?” It’s tricky to be a gal but we wanted to have a family.

Being in our 40s is an interesting time. It’s not that long ago that we felt young, but then we realize that we’re really adults now. I’m certainly not moaning. We each have to work it out in our own way. Lead the way in your wanting.

I want to be an adult in the business, so that’s what’s coming. I have a family. I have things to do on the off weeks. I have three amazing daughters. And yes, I’m also desperate to play certain roles.

(Photo provided by Melissa Errico.)

(Photo provided by Melissa Errico.)

Do you feel there a special skill set for those actors, like yourself, who seem to embrace the classics, like Finian’s Rainbow?

Some people are just born very modern. They’re not given ballet lessons! I had that sort of training and what I call “pretty” lessons, but with an element of trapping a person as a “good girl”— lots of qualities that you find in characters like Leona in Do I Hear a Waltz? or Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest.

I love all the ideas behind these works, too. There’s a bookishness about me. My first big job was Cosette in the first national tour of Les Misérables and you could find me backstage reading the Victor Hugo novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the source material of so many of these great shows.

You recently sang “The National Anthem” at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, what was that like?

I wanted people to remember the country is still there. Hey, I threw in a high “C”!

I was put on the ice in front of 65,000 people to touch their spirit, and for a moment, to lift up that room. It was a chance for that energy to pass through me to the crowd, hoping to bring out the best in everyone for one night. And as performers, we hope they carry a little bit of that out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Minutes with Erich Bergen

November 2nd, 2016 Comments off

by Jim Gladstone

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

On a November night ten years ago, 20-year-old recent college drop-out Erich Bergen flew to San Francisco from his home in New York to start the job he now describes as having “shot me out of a cannon.”

Cast as Bob Gaudio—spring-chicken of the Four Seasons—in the first national tour of the colossally successful Jersey Boys, Bergen spent over six and a half months rehearsing and performing at the Curran Theater in the City by the Bay.

He returns this weekend, bringing his latest cabaret act to Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

“The city has such a mystique for me now,” he said in a recent phone call from Manhattan. “I have amazing, intense memories associated with San Francisco. It seems like the way some friends who traveled around Europe after college feel about Paris. Whenever I go back it’s like this really important time of my life, the people, the music all coming rushing back.”

Once a child-actor—“My parents used to have me imitate all the singers on We Are The World as a party trick”—Bergen made his national debut at 11, playing Dana Carvey’s son on the comedian’s short-lived ABC variety show.

Bergen is only half-joking when he says, “San Francisco is the city where I became a man.”

“My birthday is New Year’s eve. I literally turned 21 there. I remember we had a cast party at a bar around the corner from the theater. I felt so good, like I’d really done something with my life. And I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.”

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

Playing one of the Four Seasons in Jersey Boys puts a male lead in a slightly perilous situation: The adulation of the band by its fans is mimicked by baby boomer audiences out for a night on the town. It’s not hard for actors who play the roles to feel a bit like rock stars themselves.

“I had a lead role in one of the biggest shows of all time,” recalled Bergen. “I was on the road with it for a year and then opened the resident production in Las Vegas.” As a young, handsome star of that hit production—which went on to become the longest-running Broadway-to-Vegas show ever—Bergen was the toast (or at least one slice of the toast) of the town, buttered up by LA producers and casting agents who caught his act and beckoned him westward.

Not immune to charms and flattery, Bergen missed a few too many Jersey Boys performances for go-sees and screen tests. After two years, he was fired from the Vegas company.

“It was like coming off a big high,” he remembers. “I moved to LA and did that thing that all actors do. Going to audition after audition. Money drying up to the point where you wonder if you’re going to be able to fill the car with gas.”

Bergen picked up occasional small parts on shows in television series including Gossip Girl and Desperate Housewives and also flew back to New York with some frequency, participating in workshops and auditions for Ghost, Wicked and The Book of Mormon, but never landing a lead.

In his Los Angeles downtime, Bergen began to focus on his songwriting, eventually recording a pair of EPs consisting primarily of his original tunes—along with an almost downbeat cover of Madonna’s Open Your Heart.

“In the songs I write and the songs I love, the beat doesn’t come first,” says Bergen, who points to Billy Joel and James Taylor as writing influences. “Melody always wins with me. In twenty years, you’re not going to sit around a campfire and hum a beat. It’s called ‘Name That Tune’ not ‘Name That Beat.’”

The melodies of the great American songbook were attractive enough to Bergen that, in 2012, he did a spell on the road as tap-dancing Billy Crocker in the national tour of Anything Goes. “Bob in Jersey Boys was such a perfect part for me. This didn’t match my strengths as well. And frankly, it didn’t pay as well. I didn’t feel like it was what I should be doing.”

During the Anything Goes tour, Bergen returned to San Francisco, and was delighted to be booked to do his cabaret act on a dark night. Within days of his performance the club abruptly shut down, leaving Bergen with the worst of his San Francisco memories.

Returning to LA from the road and beginning to feel that his career was in a serious downturn, Bergen’s next big break echoed his first: A call from Clint Eastwood, asking him to reprise the role of Bob Gaudio in the movie adaptation of Jersey Boys.

While the film was generally viewed as a flop, the individual performers had a chance to show some star quality. “That film restarted everything for me,” says Bergen.

Erich Bergen plays Blake Moran on 'Madam Secretary' (Courtesy: CBS Broadcasting Inc. via The Broadway Blog)

Erich Bergen plays Blake Moran on ‘Madam Secretary’ (Courtesy: CBS Broadcasting Inc. via The Broadway Blog)

In short order, Bergen won the part of Blake Moran, openly gay assistant to Tea Leoni’s Madam Secretary on the CBS political drama. Rather unexpectedly, the showrunners for the program—which also includes recent Feinstein’s headliner Patina Miller in its cast—have (via karaoke, talent competitions, and the like) come up with opportunities for Bergen to show off his singing chops.

“I did ‘For the Longest Time”’and ‘Fire and Rain,’” he recalls, “And in the Thanksgiving week episode this month I do three separate numbers.”

Bergen’s return to San Francisco takes place during the series’ mid-season hiatus, and he looks forward to visiting some of his local landmarks.

“There’s a little 24-hour diner up the street from the Curran called Café Mason,” he recalls fondly. “It’s a nothing place, but almost every night after Jersey Boys, I went there and had a turkey and avocado sandwich. It was the best sandwich. I’ve never been able to match the joy of it.”

Erich Bergen
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
222 Mason Street, San Francisco
Saturday, November 5, 7 p.m.
Sunday, November 6, 3 p.m.

Exclusive: 15 Minutes with Betty Buckley

September 14th, 2016 Comments off
Betty Buckley (Photo: Scogin Mayo via The Broadway Blog.)

Betty Buckley (Photo: Scogin Mayo via The Broadway Blog.)

Truth be told, this interview wasn’t 15 minutes. In fact, it was well over 45 and I have a feeling that if I hadn’t had a pressing deadline, the Tony Award-winning Betty Buckley would have chatted with me for more for an hour. Because that’s what happens when you engage a true artist on the subject of creativity: the floodgates open and you better know how to swim.

At the time of our phone conversation, Buckley had just finished a celebrated run of Center Theatre Group’s Grey Gardens and completed a road trip with her longtime assistant back to her ranch in north Texas to “blow the cobwebs out of my mind.” They called themselves the Road Warriors and even posted some of their journey on social media.

It was after 9/11 that Buckley felt the pangs to return to her Texas roots. With decades of studying, performing, recording, and teaching under her belt, she felt visionless and without purpose. Her love of horses and the equine sport of cutting reinvigorated her and this November she’ll celebrate 14 years of life on a ranch.

But ultimately Buckley is a self-proclaimed “working girl” and this fall she heads to the East Coast for 15 concerts, including her latest show, “Story Songs,” which will play seven performances at Joe’s Pub in New York City.

Can you tell me more about the inspiration for your latest show, Story Songs?

Betty Buckley:
At each point in your life certain songs fit and others don’t. This is a collection of songs that I feel at this point—through interpretation and from my vantage point—can resonate with a degree of truth.

I do a new show, generally, once a year. This past Spring, I connected with composer Joe Iconis and he invited me to sing in his show at Feinstein’s/54Below. He sent me some songs and at the last minute he wrote a song for me, “ Old Flame”—it’s very funny and he’s a wonderful writer. It fits me, as a Story Teller, like a glove.

In February I went to Australia to perform “Defying Gravity,” an evening of Stephen Schwartz’s music. It was a wonderful series of concerts with a full orchestra and I sang “Chanson” from The Baker’s Wife and “No Time at All” from Pippin.

And then I reached out to other composers whom I admire—people like Jason Robert Brown. He sent me a few songs, one titled “Cassandra”– from a new show he’s working on. This is the base of the material and then I start to consider what they all have in common. It’s an evening of stories about some interesting characters.

How do you adapt to such vastly different venues? Your upcoming concerts at  Joe’s Pub (9/22 – 9/25) and “Ghostlight” at NJPAC (9/17) are fairly intimate, but you’ve also played Carnegie Hall with a 50-piece orchestra.

Betty Buckley:
That’s not a big deal for me. It’s something I include in my awareness, of course. It’s just a different space. My work process remains the same in every venue and genre.

CATS is back in the limelight with its first Broadway revival recently opening at the Neil Simon Theatre. It’s certainly one of the benchmarks of your career. What do you think is the emotional entry point for the character of Grizabella and what were some of the challenges in bringing her to life?

Betty Buckley:
The job assignment was to “stop the show”. But within that, you have to find in yourself a world of profound isolation and loneliness. Grizabella is in the last moments of her life. As the Glamour Cat in her youth, she lived life to great excess. She was considered a great beauty. And she drank too much, smoked too much, and she was promiscuous. And now in her later years she is no longer desired and has become the pariah of the Tribe of Cats. She longs to be included but the cats shun her and keep sending her away.

The character is only on stage for 13 minutes. (I timed it at one point when I actually got to sit and experience the show for the first time from start to finish. It was the 8th Anniversary Celebration of the show in London.) I kept waiting for Grizabella and thinking, “Where is she?”

Trevor Nunn’s direction was to play pathos, but I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of stopping the show, and I didn’t know that there was a formula for that. I wasn’t “stopping the show” during previews and it was frustrating—they called special rehearsals for me, and there were lots of conversations.

In desperation, I called my voice teacher, the great Paul Gavert. I thought they were going to fire me. He said, “Come over on your lunch break.” He threw a pillow on the floor and told me to hit it. And I said, “This won’t work, teach me how to stop the show.” He said, “Hit the pillow!”

I hit the pillow and started sobbing. And I heard the voice of this little child inside me saying, “I’m here, too. I’m here, too.” I’d forgotten to ask my inner being how she wanted to do the song. From that awareness, I then hit the streets of New York City on a quest. I found this beautiful portrait book of photographs of homeless people, and I began to follow various homeless women around New York City. There were women on the streets at that time that were my age and had eyes like mine.

One morning heading to work I passed woman on the Upper West Side. She was dressed shabbily with white, pasty makeup and smeared lipstick. She moved as if in slow motion with tremendous grace and dignity. I was profoundly touched by this encounter and the connection she made with me in just a few fleeting moments.

Two nights later, the Universe sent me another woman, almost exactly like the first one. We too had that same amazing connection. It took me about two weeks to incorporate all this information into my journey through the show. The creative team kept calling rehearsals. I said, “I’m in transition.” And they trusted me which was amazing and generous of them to do.

These women I observed reminded me, most profoundly, that we often overlook people because of circumstance: Bigger. Better. Best. We are taught to believe that on some level, and it’s not true.

It finally came together a few performances before Opening Night. “Memory” became a song for me about longing—a cry of the heart. And I suddenly understood: To ask for nothing but be willing to share everything.

I see Grizabella as my soulmate. The character is one of my closest friends and I visit her every time I sing her song. I immediately go to that world, it’s a dreamscape, a place that I love. It is a privilege and great blessing in my life.

 

 

(l to r) Rachel York and Betty Buckley in 'Gray Gardens.' (Photo: Craig Schwartz via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Rachel York and Betty Buckley in ‘Gray Gardens.’ (Photo: Craig Schwartz via The Broadway Blog.)

Do you see continuity among some of the major theatrical roles of your career: Grizabella in CATS, the title character in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Rose in Gypsy, Big Edie in Grey Gardens? 

Betty Buckley:
The explanation is soul and spirit. I loved the great actresses of the previous generation to mine: Kim Stanley, Gena Rowlands and Geraldine Page. They told truths in their rawest form. They were my role models and I wanted to become that kind of actress and be able eventually to bring that kind of raw truth to my work in the Musical Theater.

My first Broadway show, when I was 21 years old, was 1776. There were two women in the show and 30 men—mostly actors who could sing but they’d never done a musical before. Howard Da Silva, William Daniels and Paul Hecht took me under their wings. I was an experienced performer but a very naïve girl. I continued to go to acting school and studied hard at the Actor’s Studio, Stella Adler, and with Sondra and Greta Seacat, and my coach Peter Flood.

Then I got the part of the stepmother Abby in the TV series Eight is Enough. We did 29 episodes a year for four years. That’s where I continued to practice and learn my craft and the business of “Big Business Show Business.” On the heels of that came Tender Mercies then CATS. That was my training ground. I had a goal to become a certain kind of Story Teller/Singer/Actress. The Universe collaborates with your truest vision for yourself. If you’re willing to do the work, you’ll be guided how to achieve that vision.

Betty Buckley at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Betty Buckley at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

And you’re also teaching a five-day song interpretation/monologue workshop at T. Schreiber Studio (September 19-29).

Betty Buckley:
I share and teach the tools taught to me by great teachers. They have never failed me. The tools are very practical, not amorphous. We, as a Humanity are completely connected. We each of us have a heart that is beating and wants to love and be loved. We have to remember that in our storytelling. You must allow your heart to go there. Each lyric or line must be vivid to the singer/actor. Each word must have a deeply personal resonance. When you’re willing immerse yourself, to do that work, then vicariously your journey becomes something in which the audience can experience their truest selves.  It takes time to learn and a willingness to be that vulnerable.

Don’t Miss:
Betty Buckley at NJPAC, “Ghostlight,” 9/17
Betty Buckley at Joe’s Pub, “Story Songs,” 9/22 – 9/25
Five-day song interpretation/monologue workshop at T. Schreiber Studio, September 19-29).

 

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.