First Time Here?
WATCH Steve's amazing perfomance at the World Domination Summit.
CELEBRATE WITH Jim & Steve at the Metropolitan Room in New York City, Jan. 15.
At 7pm,SING ALONG with Steve Schalchlin and the Bonus Round Band performing TALES FROM THE BONUS ROUND, featuring Bill Goffi and Stephen Elkins. Plus, Jim and Steve singing "How Do You Fall Back In Love?"
At 8, POWER SCHMOOZE. (Jim knows everyone in show biz. You don't know who might show up).
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Her husband, Harry Kuligian, a man who was her childhood sweetheart -- and with whom she got back together only a few years ago -- is a perfect match for her. When she would do one of her frequent meandering down rabbit trails, he was there with a ready punchline to pull her back. And she would break out into this huge guffaw.
She was there to promote her new Gospel CD. Yes, Gospel CD. (Mom, I got one for you).
Oh, why not. Ethel did a disco album. Channing can do Gospel.
But she wasn't there merely to sell product. She and Harry, who was a bandleader back in the day, are both passionate about the tragedy of how arts programs are being excised from school curriculum. And they were blunt: To take the arts out of the schools is to destroy our civilization.
And it's that simple.
It's been proven, over and over, that when a student has music or art as part of his curriculum, it creates pathways of understanding for science and math and the other hardcore subjects.
It's not enough, in this life, to merely eat, sleep and work. Our souls and our lives and our minds are enriched by art, music, plays, movies, games. These things make the rest of life possible.
You have too look at these two lovebirds. He's 90. She's 89. Their love for music and art, and for each other, is palpable. And you can tell that one would not be possible without the other.
And though I don't love the TV, GLEE -- a little too wacked out for my taste -- I do love the premise, kids singing in high school. Today, in the NY Times, is an article about college students banding together in schools mainly concerned with other kind of academics and creating glee clubs for themselves. And bravo to all of them. The school systems might be failing our kids, but there's always hope when the kids themselves decide that the arts mean something.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
From Broadway World. Photo Credit: Genevieve Rafter Keddy
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Yesterday, I posted about this study showing how facts don't alter anyone's opinion about anything.
Recently, I asserted that music is an ultimate way to create peace. What is my evidence? How did this whole line of thought begin?
It began on a ship in the dead of night.
A Ray Bradbury dead of night. (In "Something Wicked This Way Comes," the description of 1am. Not so bad. 2am. Getting later. 3am. The dead of the night. 4am! I don't remember the details, but there was always something so delicious about the progression of the dead of night.)
So, I, having retired early, was now up and wide-eyed at 3am, dressed in black casual slacks and shirt, creeping down the corridor, saying hello to the night crew with their mops and vacuums.
Peeking into the night club, I looked around to see if the partiers had gone to bed. They had. The bar was now dark and empty. Too dark to work in. I pushed the secret button to "late night," and a glow settled over the gleaming black Yamaha grand, freshly tuned but showing its constantly pounding wear.
I probably played through a few of the pieces I was composing, at the time. And then, at some point, I went into my zone. When I'm in the zone, I pace. I talk to myself. I go up and down the aisles, bumping into cocktail tables. (The night crew all think I'm funny. They pretty much leave me alone, at first, until they get used to me and we end up making a choir together.)
Finally, I sat down and looked at the piano, thinking about the current foreverwar, and why war happens. And how sad it all is.
The image that came was simple. It's one we actually witness and experience every day of our lives.
I saw a huge room. It was filled with people of every type of cultural, political and religious division.
And they were all listening to a beautiful piece of music.
And it was perfectly still. Perfect stillness. And peace.
I thought about how religious and political figures, currently in the media, are all saying they want peace -- and how ironic that all of them think the only path to peace is by creating war and violence. As if "peace" were some physical shoreline just over the horizon, and "war" is a living creature, or a big storm, a physical obstacle getting in the way.
This same moment hit me when I was playing John Lennon's IMAGINE piano in Gabi and Alec Clayton's front yard. How the music from this instrument created this space of perfect peace.
Can you go into foreign territory and create peace?
It's exactly what the gay men's choruses do, for instance, when they go to a small town, like the San Francisco group did this past year, on the Freedom Tour.
But how do you do it on a macro scale? If all the soldiers in the Middle East, for instance, start singing the same song, will they stop fighting? Remember the stories of the Civil War and WWI soldiers who, at night, were so close, they could hear each other? And sing Christmas songs together? Even cross the lines and share a drink with each other? How warm and fuzzy are those stories, those moments of shared humanity.
And yet, the stories end the same way. The next day, they continued slaughtering each other.
No. I'm not naive.
But what I do know is that when people who normally don't sit in the same room together are all joined together in song, it changes things. It makes you realize that peace is not a foreign destination. It's an achievable reality. For a little while, at least.
But maybe there are ways to extend those moments.
In "Inception," they plant the idea through dreams, and insist that it won't "take" unless it's deeply implanted. In real life, we can't jump into dreams, but we can create them, and by creating music along with those dreams, we can not only implant the idea of peace, but create peace while doing it.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
This is why, as artists, we have to create peace and community and justice. People won't be swayed by someone doing a lecture.
I've been discussing a possible new, and very exciting, evolution for New World Waking.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Since I was under a "death diagnosis" at the time, I was ruminating on my own death and it hit me that my words, here in the last moments of my life, would actually live on forever because of new Internet thingie. None of us who were early adopters, who weren't computer experts, really knew where the Internet was. It seemed more like a wonder of nature, newly uncovered. Like gravity (which, apparently, might also be an illusion).
For the first time in history, a peasant, non-royal life is sitting in the class of Everything That Is and raising its hand saying, "Here."
Coming from Buna, Texas, it was my first chance at having a voice.
From this moment on, anyone wanting to know what life was like for me, or that I even existed, could just look me up, online. (I started to write "google me," but then remembered that Google hadn't been invented at that time.)
At the time, I was reading history books about the creation of Christianity, and others about the Middle Ages, realizing that the only written accounts we have from those periods tend to be whatever the royalty, or other privileged persons in society, allowed. (It seems so obvious now, but back then, it was pretty heady stuff.)
Since I wasn't expected to live much longer, I poured it all out.
But, I have to confess, it's not enough. What I really want is people singing my songs.
See how selfish I am? And on a Sunday morning, too!
Friday, July 16, 2010
He came in to "audition" (chat) and as I was walking him out, he joked, "I live to grovel." That's a line from my favorite musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I responded with another line from the show and he did another line...and pretty soon, we'd done about half the show in the outer office there, stopping just short of singing a few choruses of "Everyone Ought to Have a Maid."
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Jim will be guesting. Co-hosts Booth & Pat. Mark Janas, one of the greatest pianists I've ever met, will be on piano. There will be an open mic. So, you have to show up early and sign up at 7pm. You know I'm gonna be there.
And you! Yes, you reader. Sing my damn songs!
2. PARTICIPATION IS THE KEY TO LONG-TERM GROWTH
Do you think it's a coincidence that 25 years ago there was no girls' team in my hometown, and no one gave a crap that Argentina beat Germany in a 3-2 squeaker? Soccer became a bigger part of American life just a couple of decades ago . . . and now those kids are grown up, and are loving watching what they participated in. The arts are no different. If it were mandatory that every kid out there performed in at least one play during their high school career (and I'm not saying that it should be), Broadway would have a bigger fan base. Today's participants are tomorrow's audience.
My first participation, that I remember, in theater, was in the Buna High School junior play.
Buna, being a tiny little town where we moved when I was a sophomore, had no drama department. But, every year, the English teacher would pick a play and choose a cast from the students in her class. (Yes, I said "the English teacher." My class numbered 96 that year. I think it was down slightly from the previous year because of a few extra pregnancies.
I don't remember much about it, but I got picked to play a nerd. It was a comedy called "Cracked Nuts." Or that could have been the Senior Play. I don't know.
And I know I've told this story before, but after I got to Dallas, in my mid-20s, I heard about this "dinner theatre" that needed a tenor. I was fresh off the boat from being in my Jesus rock band and had no idea what a dinner theatre was.
Honestly. I mean, I suppose I could have pictured it, logically, but I had no idea what I was stepping into when I stood up at the piano, looked down at the floor, and sang a Stevie Wonder song. (I only got hired because I could hit a decent high note, I knew how to wait tables, having just survived a run of the midnight shift at the Denton IHOP, while living in an apartment with a bunch of Iranian engineering students. But, I digress.)
The point was that when I showed up for rehearsal on the first day, everyone there was a theatre or opera major. I was this Baptist rock band guy who was dancing for the first time in his life. And by that, I mean that I never went to a high school dance and we did not have dances at Jacksonville Baptist College.
This was my first time to dance.
As they showed me "steps," realizing that I was completely hopeless, they eventually kept me out of everything but the most crucial big cast numbers. I'm sure I resembled a scarecrow being dragged around.
Then, someone mentioned an "audition." It was for a "Broadway show" called Platinum. They were looking for "alternative casting" for the lead, a rock star.
I had no idea what that meant.
Seriously. A what? A Broadway show? I thought "Broadway" meant old movies.
I think that moment is the one that has crystallized, for me, over the years, the difference between the larger culture I now find myself in, and the sealed-off protected environment of the World of the Missionary Baptist.
I started to remember things. Ah, yes. Time Magazine. It always had a section on "Stage." It featured people I never heard of doing things I couldn't see. Not from east Texas.
Also, none of it felt "real." It looked like a pretend version of the real thing. Or just something for elite kind of people.
|The Booth, The Merman and the Martin.|
If I pictured those theaters, I only saw them in terms of old movies.
Over the years, I've felt kind of ashamed of that. But probably because my first stage appearances were totally embarrassing there at the Gran' Crystal Palace (in Dallas). Bobby Grayson, the successful Broadway hair stylist, was there at that time. He always fascinated me because he had perfect hair, a great smile, and could sing show tunes and dance.
They always used to group up and do the big final dance from "A Chorus Line." I just stood watching, mystified.
I probably didn't register much on his radar, at the time.
But it was there that I started to catch the fever of musical theater. It was there, in the culture, all that time, but it was as far away from my world as Russia, where all the commies lived.
The chasm was, and may still be, enormous. But, all I needed was that one show. That's when I became a fan. (My first Broadway musical was the original cast of "Sweeney Todd" -- Angela Lansbury, Len Cariou. I don't think I've told her about this. I did tell him, but he doesn't really know me, so I probably just sounded like a idiotic fan. When Angela came to our party, I was so dumbstruck, I sat next to her at one point, on the couch, and couldn't come up with a word. She was there because she's great friends with Bob Osborne. I felt like Alexandra Billings meeting Piper Laurie. "I'm your biggest flan.").
So, I was all the way in my mid-20s before I was even a potential audience for theatre. I didn't really know it existed.
I wonder what a drama department at Buna High would have been like? I doubt they would have done Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. Probably play it safe.
The standards. Dolly. Oklahoma. Sound of Music.
All those Baptists dressed up like nuns. I think I would have loved to have seen that.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Political leaders are not providing role models of peace.
Religious leaders are not providing role models of peace.
Music [art] can cross all boundaries.
Therefore, creating peace becomes mandatory for the artist.
Friday, July 09, 2010
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
From Frank Rizzo's column via Broadway Stars.
In searching for a "Funny Thing" clip of Zero Mostel I came across this outstanding piece of comic brilliance, a rare clip from a 1961 show produced by David Susskind. Mostel's piece is "An Actor Prepares."
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Working with Tom was a dream. He is calm and cool, and confident. He also takes direction and plays everything from the heart. I knew when he finally met the rest of the cast, he would fit right in.
Remember I said how, when auditioning Tom, it felt like we were replaying his entrance in The Last Session? Well, the similarities kept piling up, and it almost felt like an out-of-body experience.
For one thing, in TLS, the cast of five consists of four people who all know each other, and who last sang together probably about 10 years ago, and one outsider. And all of them have to sound like a single unit by the end of the night. Amy, Maisey and I (and Jim) all did this show together back in 1999. We've known each other, and corresponded with each other for years.
After all, he didn't know us and didn't know what kind of people we'd be. Plus, he now had to "impress" the others. We started singing and -- perfection.
No, seriously. We were instantly a choir. Our blend was perfection right from the first note. Tom really does his homework. He came to "class" knowing everything -- and when I switched some harmonies around on him (because his voice is higher than mine, so I gave him some of Stillman's harmonies), he didn't miss a beat.
Jim jumped into rehearsals the next day. The "new" script of TLS was ready. Into the script went some new jokes and also some new dialogue to help clarify certain things. Out went stuff that didn't matter. For instance, the unseen character of Bobby has suddenly become a wannabe chef.
We also made the decision to keep the setting in 1996, just as Crixivan, the protease inhibitor drug that saved my life, was introduced, but before Gideon is that aware of it. This way we can more fully accept Gideon's suicidal state of mind. His drugs, pre-Crixivan, were failing miserably, just like mine did.
By the end of the week, with three full-cast rehearsals, we were ready for St. Clement's.
This was not going to be easy. First of all, the set for "Another Part of the Forest" was split completely in half, with stage right about a foot and a half higher than stage left. And the piano was up there. So, I had to pull it downstage near the edge, and set everyone else on the lower half.
Secondly, sound. Sound reinforcement is necessary for this show in this space. Luckily, Dan Koehler came along found mic stands and microphones, and had the technical knowledge of how to plug into the system.
But, at first, we were nervous nelliess, running around trying to get it all set up and ready.
And I really felt for Tom, because, since the others of us have done the show before, we know what happens during the course of this show. Where the laughs land, where the tears start, etc. And pacing is so very important for a musical. I also felt that there were certain things, actingwise, he wasn't getting in rehearsal, such as Buddy's discomfort at Vicki's flirtations.
I seriously kept thinking, "Well, at least he can sing it. And if he can just get the lines right, he'll do fine."
My first surprise was when he showed up with a new haircut, a shirt and tie. He said, "I thought Buddy would look like this."
Talk about seriously underestimating our newbie! From the moment he landed on stage with his "Hello! I'm here!!" he had the audience and the rest of us in the palm of his hand. It was seriously like seeing a completely different person.
The show begins with comedy. The laughs landed perfectly. The new jokes worked beautifully. It was all going well.
As for Amy and Maisey, the years had deepened their performances. Amy's "Somebody's Friend" tore the house apart. "The Group" seemed to leave everyone sobbing. Jim was hilarious as "Jim" in the booth."
And then it was time for "Going It Alone." Remember I told you Tom has this ache in his voice? It's hard to describe because it's soft, it has a little edge. It has a tenderness to it. I was hoping he'd remember my instruction and aim for that sound.
I didn't have to worry. That ache is not merely a physical thing one reproduces. It's a feeling. He was feeling it. He was feeling Buddy. To the tips of his toes. I could feel the audience shiver when he began. And, happily, my voice was in very good shape that night, so I could throw that B-flat harmony on top and wail with him.
Seriously, it was electrifying. HE was electrifying. And as he finished the song, "..alone.." the crowd didn't know whether to applaud or just sit there gasping. I think they did a bit of both.
We were ecstatic down in the dressing room. Act one seemed to fly by so quickly!
But, as Peter Filichia noted in his column, it was Maisey's "Singer and the Song" that finally stopped the show.
Weirdly, maybe it was because I was so wrapped up in getting the dialogue and music right, I wasn't very aware of how the audience was reacting during act two. Were they with us? Did they feel they were just listening to an old chestnut? Would anyone care? Act two is more intense.
But "Singer and the Song" comes at the most crucial point of the show. It has to do a lot of things. First, it's the final plea from Tryshia for Gideon to stay alive. Secondly, it's the one song that seems to come out of nowhere, that's made up on the spot, out loud. (I used to say the TLS starts out as a play with songs and morphs into a musical as it goes along).
So, emotionally, this is the high point. If the audience isn't with us, this song won't fly and won't mean a thing. I always see applause here as not simply an ovation for the actor, but a signal that everyone in the room is emotionally connected to the show, to Gideon's fate and to the structural conceit we've thrown at them. We're asking a lot!
But, well. Wow. As Peter described. The ovation started, waned, restarted, and then went higher than it started. It was like the audience was this single entity of wanting -- of NEEDING -- to jump into the play and become a part of it. As if they had been waited for this moment to just let go, not wanting it to end. Not wanting Gideon to end.
By the end, when we got to "When You Care," we were just singing our asses off. Tom -- it was like he'd been set free. Because it's structured as a duet in the middle part, we had our first chance to just stand together and jam on the singing. And, man, did he kick some ass. It was joyous!
The show ended with a massive standing ovation from the audience, most of whom were in tears.
Rev. Mitties got up and thanked us, thanked the audience, said a few words.. I don't even remember what she said. But, thanks to a friend and fan, Thomas Casale, we had 100 souvenir posters for people to buy up, to help bring a few more bucks in to the food pantry and free vet clinic, the recipient of our night.
Everyone crowded in the lobby, shaking our hands, hugging us, buying posters and assuring us that TLS may be more relevant, necessary?, now than it was back then.
As several people put it, back then, the pain of AIDS was fresh in our minds. The death toll. The hospital visits. The funerals. TLS was a difficult ride for people needing to get away from all that pain.
But, now, a new generation has come and almost gone, and the pain has largely been forgotten. The death and suffering caused by this disease, is no longer fresh in the minds of people, at least those here in the western world. The media has forgotten it. Schools have stopped calling me for educational programs about it.
Additionally, with the rise of the political and religious right wing, people are looking for a better way to communicate across all these divides. TLS brings together these worlds and proposes that there is a solution outside of rancor and debate.
Tom Rhoads starred in an Off-Broadway show because he took a job driving, and because he was ready with his CD when the opportunity came. Because he was "there," magic happened.
I think the same thing is true of The Last Session. I produced this reading because I wanted to personally know if this show would still "play." I needed to see it for myself. And I learned that it's more powerful now than it was back then. We put it up and magic happened.
What's next, you ask? Well, we're here.
Let's make a little more magic, shall we?
Sunday, July 04, 2010
"Where is it?"
Tom Rhoads answered with the address.
His manager replied, "You don't mean Jim and Steve?"
It was Bob Callely, who used to run the American Theatre Wing, which hands out the Tonys. He was just in our home a couple of months ago, escorting Angela Lansbury when she showed up to see Bob Osborne.
Bob Callely was a HUGE fan of the original Off-Broadway production of TLS 12 years ago. He had even, at the time, invited Jim and me up to his office, and gave us both little Tonys -- key chains, "This is the only Tony I can give you now, but someday..."
Had Angela been on, we would have never met. (I didn't remember Tom. I was in the back seat with Richard, thinking, "How does a boy from Buna get picked up in a limo after a Broadway show by a childhood legend and end up driving to the most secret and exclusive club on restaurant row, which doesn't even have its name over the door, the Bar Centrale, where, inside, we saw Linda Lavin, Martha Plimpton, producer and entrepeneur Jim Caruso -- who once sang, in Dallas, my song "I Want To Make Music" -- Broadway columnist Michael Riedel, and all sorts of fancy looking people. When Jimmy later told me we were auditioning "the driver," all I could think of was, "What driver?")
The character of Buddy, for which Tom would be auditioning, is a special one. He's in his early 20s. Singer. A mama's boy. In fact, his "record label" is called "Emma Records," named for her. He's a devout Baptist, and he's made a name for himself in the Gospel market.
When Tom Rhoads arrived at our apartment, he was athletic, tall, with shaggy blonde hair pulled back under a backward baseball cap, huge blue eyes, and a winningly goofy smile.
I liked him immediately.
I probably told him I wasn't that impressed with his demo CD, which featured a bunch of "Broadway" sounding stuff, because I'm blunt and don't know when to just keep my mouth shut, but I wanted to know if he could sing pop and gospel.
As if the John Boy/Murder She Wrote connection hadn't already put us in the Twilight Zone. The first song I ever had published was published by the Nazarenes. "I Will Trust The Lord," referred to in TLS. To this day, it's in their children sing-along books. I keep thinking that some day, one of them will discover my blog and banish it forever.
"All the time at home," he said proudly. "In fact, I brought her here to New York and we sang together for an event. Afterward, she was surrounded by all the gay boys. They loved her, and she loved them."
I probably laughed out loud.
But that demo. It was looming large in my mind.
I'm thinking, "Please know how to sing... please know how to sing...."
Hesitantly, I sat at the piano and started playing and singing "Going It Alone" for him, so he could get a feel for it. After a couple of phrases, I started over and told him to echo me on the lines.
"Though you've been a rock for me to stand on..."
"Though you've been a rock for me to stand on..."
"Beside me every moment of the fight..."
But the real test is the bridge.
The song is written in an AABA format and the verses are pretty easy. It's the bridge, the B part, that's a bear because it goes very high and it has to be sung with the quietest and most delicate tone. Usually, "up" means "louder." You have to have a head voice, and it's the crucial moment of the audition. It's where most fail. Legit singers sometimes can't do it because they've been trained to not approach those notes that way.
But it's very natural for Gospel tenors.
So, hoping against hope, I sang the line, "Is it such a lonely battle..."
I felt him lean in. He echoed me. Perfectly. He was right in my ear. Our voices merged.
"Have I been so wrapped up in myself? What about what you've been through, as well?" A long, unbroken melodic line. He stumbled a bit because it's hard to get all in one listening. So, we did it again.
And that's when I heard it.
Somewhere, deep in there, I heard it. I can't describe it. Scott Coulter has it. Joel Traywick had it. Stephen Bienskie has it. Brian Childers. An ache. A touch of pain. I stopped him. I probably scared him.
"That! That's it! What you just did. That's the sound. That's the part of your voice I want to hear! That's Buddy!" It's the part of his voice that's totally and uniquely Tom. I looked over at him. Tears in his eyes. He said, "I don't even know this song and I'm already crying."
He had connected to the material, and we had connected to each other. And not just the two of us. Jim could feel it, too.
Tom was living this material. And feeling it and believing it, and he had a remarkably fine instrument to do it with.
We read a few scenes and I'm sure he was fine as an actor, but I don't remember that part. I leave that up to Jim. What I heard was The Sound. If he could do that on stage, if he worked his ass off and really learned this material, so that he could just sing it without thinking about it, he would slay everyone in the audience.
[Continued in Part 3]