For people who truly love musical theater, the name Al Hirschfeld is legendary. Even if you haven't heard of Al, you know his work. It's everywhere. Jim considers him one of, if not, the finest artist of the 20th century. But his field was pen and ink. And his world was the theater.
Louise, his widow, is a dear friend and a wonderful human being. When we visited there, after she saw Zero Hour, she let him sit in Al's famous barber chair, which is where he worked every day, against the window, on the upper floor of their townhouse on 95th street.
Well, now that she's remarried, she's moving on. And in doing so, has donated Al's chair and drawing table -- he kept the same one since the beginning. And it's grooved with all the times he cut the drawing paper and boards. You might remember our visit:
We arrive at Lincoln Center.
Standing in front of Lincoln Center.
Louise Hirschfeld Cullman being interviewed by Playbill.
Jim Brochu with philanthropist, Lewis Cullman.
Jim chats with Eli Wallach, talking about working with Zero in Rhinoceros.
Jim Brochu, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson.
Jacqueline Z. Davis with anoher official with the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Installation of Al Hirschfeld's famous barber chair.
He sat in it every day and drew his theater caricatures,
capturing the entire 20th century in pen and ink.
It felt so 1800s. Actors on the road! We even brought Steinbeck, who sat in his carrier in the back seat of the rental car and stayed quiet the whole time. Upon arrival, he quickly took over the top floor of our friends' house, on the beach in Delaware on the coldest day of the year. A glamorous life for us.
Our friends are Rich and Sue Bloch. He has just built, almost as a hobby, but really out of passion, a 50-seat "magic parlour," complete with Dickensian motif.
Rich is a very successful lawyer, but he's primarily known for his magic, having worked with Orson Welles and won multiple awards for his illusions, which he creates and builds. Our audience would be, primarily, locals, of course. The hotels are mostly shut down. Restaurants closed.
Jimmy was unaware that he would be doing a magic show, but I suppose theater is magic. Turning into another person and bringing them into the room is a kind of magic. I forgot to make the suggestion that he start Zero Hour off with a seance.
From the road, you can see the main house. It's going to become a restaurant.
The house on the right is a guest cottage/green room.
The theater, itself, is a converted garage, sitting behind the main house.
There's something kind of mysterious and spooky about a magic parlour in the woods.
This is on the door.
Sign over guest cottage.
Rosie the fortune teller sits next to the stage.
It's a perfect room for the viewer. Every seat is close and comfortable.
Rosie has awfully nice skin for an old lady.
Posters of magicians decorate the walls.
Rich has a bird. He's teaching it to do tricks.
It kept looking at me.
Rich Bloch and friend.
Magnificent blue feathers.
It's always great to see friends and to see a part of the country we hadn't seen before.
On the way back, we kept turning the radio dial, as we passed from town to town, trying to follow the football play-offs. Weirdly, the Jets game cut off just as we were hitting Newark.
That night, we sang a few songs down at Etc. Etc. at the Mark Janas Salon. Football and the freezing cold kept a lot of people away, but got to meet the very talented, and nice, composer Jimmy Roberts, whose "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" has been a smash hit in theaters all across the country.
But it's so good to be home. We love our friends. We love traveling. We love doing the show. But we love, most of all, being home. And Steinbeck had a blast.
I'm very sorry to tell the readers of this blog that PFLAG mom and civil rights hero, co-founder of Families United Against Hate, Carolyn Wagner, has died. When I first met Carolyn, cyberly, it was in the early days of this blog. She and her son, William, came to New York to see The Last Session, and I got to spend time with William just talking to him and giving him whatever meager support I could.
It's hard to imagine that a force of nature can die, but death is one of those inevitabilities. I don't know everything Carolyn has done. Someone needs to write her story up and make a movie or something because if you ever met her, you would have never guessed, just by looking, that beneath the skin of little "southern mom" was a steely rage against injustice that never wavered, even when she was staked and beaten in her own back yard.
She never stopped fighting for equality before the law and especially never stopped lending her personal support to families who were victims of anti-gay violence.
A more formal obituary will be forthcoming from her family.
All I know is that when I wrote "William's Song" all those years ago, when she was first starting to do her work, which began in Fayetteville, Arkansas when she went up against a school administration that was turning a blind eye to the daily beatings being delivered to her son, I had no idea how far her reach would extend. I am honored to have been a part of her story.
I wrote a silly lyric about the news report this past week that the signs of the Zodiac had shifted, and that a new sign had come into play. At the Salon last night, I improvised some music and played the song for the first time to great reaction. Here's the video.
Jim and I are going to go down to Delaware to do Zero Hour at our friend, Rich Bloch's, new theater. He built it after I gave him my professional advice that building and running a theater is the worst idea in the world. He should stop. Uh uh. We've been there, done that. Please. No. Don't. Just stop. Your lost all sanity for even thinking of it.
But, thankfully, he completely ignored my advice and built one anyway, and I can't wait to see it. It's near a beach just outside of Washington DC, in Delaware.
January 21-13. Dickens Parlour Theater. Millville, DE.
Tickets for the Dickens Parlour Theatre production of Zero Hour are $55 and must be reserved in advance by calling 302-829-1071. Brochu will perform Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Jim will be performing at the Laurie Beechman Theater, Monday, Jan. 31 at 7pm for an evening in a series they've been doing, Sondheim Unplugged.
This series is hosted by Phil Geoffrey Bond, one of my favorite persons in this town. He is so funny and charming, and impish, you never know what he's going to say next. But he provides a great thread that connects up the evening. Last time, Marni Nixon and Sarah Rice sang "One More Kiss," and it was GLORIOUS.
I see they're on the program again. That alone makes the night worth whatever they're charging. I suggest everyone book early. As for exactly what Jim is going to sing, we'll see what he comes up with.
For reservations, which are necessary, call 212-695-6909.
I woke up early to look out my window, onto the street outside. Looks like about a foot of show. The streets look relatively passable, at least here in midtown. But, at 6am, not many cars are on the street.
But, baby, it's cold outside. This is the one recording of Margaret Whiting I have in my list of all-time favorites. With Johnny Mercer's easy southern grouchiness against her softly purring "what I could do to you in that warm bed up there" voice, it's a perfect marriage of singers and song.
Margaret Whiting died yesterday. She was a cabaret and big band singer. I met her a few times, but knew only her name, at the time, not Who She Was.
The first interaction was not really with her. It was with her husband, Jack Wrangler. Jack had conceived a big Broadway show called Dream. All I remembered was hating it. Absolutely hating it. It was just boring. A bunch of songs, lined up and performed with no rhyme or reason. Like a check-list.
And, to make matters worse, they advertised it as a "musical" rather than the "revue" that it was. I took haughty umbrage.
Puffed up and full of myself, stood out front at intermission, in the noisy crowd, describing my hatred for it, moment my moment, when I looked over and saw that Jack Wrangler was standing right next to me.
I was humiliated. If you stand out in front and talk about a movie with your friend, there's very little chance that Steven Spielberg will be standing next to you. But, here in New York, Billy Joe Armstrong is actually on the stage at "American Idiot" doing the show.
And Bono is in the audience of "Spider-Man, The Musical." Or, at least, I think he is.
So, a lesson in humility. Theater is little. The community is little. Keep your mouth shut unless you have something nice to say. And that might also be a lesson in life, but who knows.
My more vivid memory of meeting Margaret Whiting, whose bio says she was a favorite of the USO, was the night Ruth Warrick asked Jim and me to come to her cabaret show and tape it with our little home video camera. (She chose the angle, yelling at me, at one moment, when I caught her from the wrong side. First and only time, I saw her snap and turn fierce except as Phoebe Tyler on All My Children.
She sang "Do, Do, Do, What You Done, Done, Done, Langley," referring to her on-air husband. Her album, "The Confessions of Phoebe Tyler" was a fun curiosity for fans of the soap, but hadn't really punched a hole in the charts.
Ruth wasn't really good. Whatever singing talent she might have had at one time was long faded.
Margaret was in the house. With Sheila MacRae, probably. I kinda knew her name, but wouldn't have known her voice in a blind listening.
I remember her being very kind to Ruth, staying after the show, and posing for photos. As if they were all from the same fraternity of sisters. And I thought, this is a classy dame. I could probably learn a few things from her.
Not really. It was a simple mistake, easily made. When I put a piece of black tape over the red light on my little video camera, I also covered up the microphone.
I wondered why the sound seemed messed up. But I'm only using a head phone and a laptop, so I just figured it was my equipment.
Anyway, I do have a lot of video. I just can't use a lot of it like I wanted to. But, now the problem is fixed. I have had at least one complaint about the fact that I haven't made many videos recently. So, apologies. I promise to start back again soon. New York is the most picturesque place on earth. Maybe not always the most beautiful, but definitely picturesque.
I took this picture the morning after New Years, on my way to sing at the new year's morning mass. The Hilton's wacky clock makes the whole street look like 42nd Land, a theme park in France. And you can see the great big Spider-Man musical sign. Musical theater veterans are scoffing at the fact that the piece opened into previews without the composers in attendance. How do you know what to fix if you aren't watching?
Happy new year!!
Very few signs of revelers the night before.
The place was clean as a whistle.
In the distance, you see a double crane on top of a building. That's the new Freedom Tower.
The tallest one on the left is the new Frank Gehry apartment high rise, soon to open.
"I want to bring back the bay window."
At Starbucks this morning, I was getting a coffee for Jake. (I don't drink coffee).
The salesman insisted I should try the new cloverleaf (?) brewing system.
He insisted that it made coffee taste better than anything in the world.
I started taking videos of the process, but they stopped me.
This is what it looks like.
It kinda foams up.
James (who's called "Boots") and Jake on our way home from Brooklyn
after Sunday morning services.
Such good little choirboys.
As you may know, Jim paints an entirely new painting each performance of Zero Hour. Over the years, "Arthur," the unseen "model/interviewer" was pictured in many different kinds of ways, but, toward the end of this run, Arthur started morphing more and more into Zero. It's dated, on the bottom, 1-9-11.
This is the final painting of the series that includes the original New York run, beginning at the Theater at St. Clements, the DR2 and, finally, one of the places we think of as "home," the Actors Temple Theatre on 47th street, a synagogue we turned into the theater space with "The Big Voice: God or Merman?", thus helping save the synagogue. (Hooray!)
But it's been a great run and Jim needs a break before he starts hitting road. I'll be updating you on the plans for the coming year, soon.
For those who read this blog, you know that the name Carolyn Wagner sits high on my list of Heroes. She has been a fierce advocate for GLBT equality, due to the abuse her son, William, endured in high school. I canonized her in my song "William's Song," which could just as easily be called "Carolyn's Song."
She has been fighting cancer for some years, now, and I am most proud of this moment, which happened because the members of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus banded together and flew her, husband Bill, and Gabi & Alec Clayton in for the concert.
So, if you're the praying type, it would mean a great deal to me if you would hold Carolyn in your heart this morning. I'm told she's in very fragile condition and is mostly sleeping.
Carolyn is one of those invisible activists, ministering to families affected by violence, providing support to parents, brothers, sisters and friend. because her country is the backwoods of America, the small towns, the places the media doesn't usually get to, her story is still untold.
I tried to capture her feisty soul in "William's Song. So, if you don't know who Carolyn Wagner is, let Amy Coleman tell ya the story.
I never realized, until I finally made my way, as an adult, to New York and Los Angeles, how much of the non-Baptist culture of the Big Wide World that I was barely aware of.
It's not that my parents ever cut us off from things. It's that we were raised with a certain set of principles, and much of what the outside world offered, went against those principles. So, we had, and have, a culture. One that exists outside the view of the rest of the world. And this, by the way, is true of every human being. We live inside our own worldview and culture. So, I'm not slamming Baptists. Just stating a fact.
When I was five, our folks moved us from Arkansas, where I was born, to Anaheim, California where my dad eventually became pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. Missionary Baptist. (In the past, when Northerners asked me what a Missionary Baptist was, I would tell them, "They dropped out of an association that dropped out of an association that used to be Southern Baptist. So, they're two degrees more conservative than Southern Baptist." The look of horror on their faces was priceless.)
But, when I was in 9th grade, I believe, we moved to West Monroe, Louisiana. This would be -- god, I hate trying to remember dates -- 1968? Then, a year later, we were in southeast Texas in the golden triangle.What I remember is that my family watched the moon landing from a flickering TV in a big, old wooden house in Buna, just north of the blinking yellow light.
So, probably I was a sophomore. I loved Top 40, having discovered it in the summer of '67 when I got my first transistor radio. The first record I bought was "A Little Bit Me" by the Monkees. I was so in love with them. I had all the souvenir books and picture books. I didn't know those publications were meant for girls.
But, really, Top 40 was my peek into the outside world. It was radical enough! Protest music and folk music were way off my radar, unless they crawled in through groups like the Byrd. I never even heard a Bob Dylan vocal until I was an adult. By that I mean sit and listen to it and know it's Bob Dylan. But the same was true, for me, about Broadway music.
I do remember one song, though. I didn't know where I heard it or who it was, but I loved it. Something about the utter clarity of the lyric, and the fierce anger we all felt as we were being sent into the meatgrinder of Vietnam. There was a draft back then, so you had no choice, if your number came up.
The simplicity of "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" still makes my blood pressure rise, as I'm immediately transported back to that era.
The present generation of soldier is volunteer. I think this is why the public is not more outraged at the madness of Bush and Obama's foreign escapades. Also, the war is mostly kept off the front pages, and, Wikileaks aside, we don't really know what's going on.
But that singer's name was Phil Ochs. There is a new documentary out about him that I intend to see. Here is the trailer:
Wednesday night, we went to a birthday party for Dan Glosser, who works in the tv and music industry. We saw so many friends from Los Angeles! It didn't make me nostalgic for being in El Lay, but it made me really miss my friends who live there. It's hard maintaining friendships when you work in the biz.
But that level of conversation/noise is difficult for me. It makes me dizzy and I have to sit down. I know that sounds stupid, but it's such a cacophony, my senses get overwhelmed. Also, I feel very awkward trying to engage in chitchat. Jim is so good at it because he remembers faces and names. I remember them, but not on the spot. I kind of panic and freak out that I'm not holding up my end of the conversation. So, I sort of withdraw and make him do all the work.
I spied a table against the wall, in the corner, under the video screen slide show of Dan posing with lots and lots of celebrities and friends. (The only problem was that every time someone start looking at the video screen, I thought they were looking at me, and they'd be smiling, so I'd wonder if they knew me. Then, I'd kind of half acknowledge them, so they wouldn't feel bad if it really was me they were saying hello to, but we could both keep our dignity if they were a total stranger.)
I sat there watching the room and several friends came over. John McDaniel, who's musical directing the hot new show coming onto Broadway, "Catch Me If You Can," came over and we hugged, speaking of universally loved human beings. Jerry Sternbach was there. Jim Caruso.
Suddenly, a woman, dressed fabulously in feathers, came over, leading a friend, a man with a guide dog. They saw that the rest of the seats of the table were empty, so they scootched in and the dog, a German shepherd, was at my feet. I looked down and noticed he was trying to pick up a toothpick. So, grabbed it.
Then, idly, I started scratching his ears, and was told that I wasn't really supposed to do that, which I knew, but couldn't resist.
Turned out the guy is a composer and pianist for TV (and no, I didn't get his card), and we talked about the state of music, and our backgrounds. His is jazz. I told him that Jim and I were best friends with the late, great Stan Freeman, but that I wasn't raised with jazz, so couldn't play it very well.
"No matter what song I write, it always starts out sounding country," I told him, "and then I try to bend it a little to help it fit elsewhere."
He said, "No, you're just finding the soul in the song. You have to start from a place that's real. Every thing I write starts out jazz, and then I have to stretch it to fit the occasion."
I was glad he was a good talker, and could lead the conversation. I also helped him with the finger food when his companion went off to schmooze. I did not mind. There were handsome, lithe waiter/dancer/actors in black t-shirts passing it around, and my pianist friend enthusiastically ate everything offered. I had fun describing the food, getting it from the server and then placing it in his hands so that he could easily eat it.
Initially set for a 12-week run, Zero Hour has now run 14 months, and must now going to close so that he can fulfill tour dates that were booked long before anyone knew the show would be this successful in New York. Will it come back? Who knows? Anything is possible. But this is it. If you're in New York, you have Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Yesterday at the show, a man came back to meet Jim. He knew Zero when he was a child. He embraced Jim, with a tear in his eye, and said, "You got him! You got him!"
No higher compliment is imaginable. All of his family members have said the same thing, that Jim really brings Zero back into the room.
I did not know David Gurland well, a singer here on the cabaret scene in New York, But all my friends here are deeply saddened at this news. It seems everyone loved him. If you were a fan of is and didn't know, here is what I was sent by my friend, Marle.
With tremendous sadness, it was announced today that David Gurland, the multi-award winning singer and recording artist, passed away on January 1, 2011 at 4:52 PM as the result of a massive brain hemorrhage.
David passed at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan surrounded by friends and family. David is survived by his partner, actor Rob Maitner, his parents Evelyn and Gerry Gurland, his brother James Gurland and James’ wife Leslie, his nephew Ariel and by countless friends and a lifetime of music that will be enjoyed forever.
The families of Mr. Gurland and Mr. Maitner released the following statement:
“The world today sounds a little less sweet now that David has gone on to the next part of his journey, but his essence will live on forever in the recordings he left behind and the music he has left in our hearts. David lived grandly, loved fiercely, sang beautifully and danced terribly. And that is exactly how we hope the world remembers him. What many do not know is that David was also an organ recipient, having had a double corneal transplant in the 1990’s. It is with great joy that we may help David close a profoundly beautiful circle and donate his organs so that others may have the gift of life.”
David Gurland was also a fierce advocate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender issues. As such, the family asks that, in lieu of flowers, a donation be made in David’s name to the Ali Forney Center for GLBT homeless youth. The Ali Forney Center is located at 224 West 35th Street, Suite 1102, New York, NY 10001. To learn more about the Ali Forney Center or to donate online, go to www.aliforneycenter.org.
In his life, David Gurland, who hailed from New York City, had won a place as one of the most formidable openly gay singers in New York's music scene. Channeling cabaret experience and instincts into his pop/rock shows, Gurland merged talent, presence and humor, into an unforgettable entertainment experience. Gurland’s accolades include 7 MAC Award nominations, the MAC/Hanson Award, a Gay and Lesbian American Music Award Nomination, and four Bistro Awards, one of which recognized his first CD, released in 1999 to rave reviews. David has been seen at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, The Cutting Room, The Bitter End, Town Hall, CB’s Gallery, The Living Room, Don’t Tell Mama, The Duplex, and The Metropolitan Room, as well as out of town venues like Odettes in New Hope, The Gardenia in LA, the Manor in NJ and Twiggs in San Diego. David was also singing with the band UPTOWN EXPRESS, and had recently recorded a CD with them entitled 'Take You There’.
EDIT: Here is a video of David. I did meet him a couple of times, probably at Mark Janas' Salon. That's David on the left. They're promoting a show about Rodgers & Hammerstein, promising to sing only "the famous stuff."
I posted this on a board that consists of Christian conservatives. They were citing statistics about the promiscuity of the gay community.
When it comes to your anger and frustration and judgment, I wish you could see the world through my experiences -- growing up Baptist, preacher's kid, scared to death that God hated me. And once the Calvinist in my life informed me that being gay was "proof" that I was doomed to hell, I thought, "Well, then. That means I have no chance, anyway. Might as well live it up!"
Took me awhile to get out. I had a band I had to tell. I had a family who I could not tell. I was living in my college town (Baptist).
And the only anchor I had in life -- my relationship with God -- was just, "according to the Bible," severed forever.
My 23 year old head said, "You're free!"
Why wouldn't I go and have the time of my life? If I had no chance for heaven anyway, then wow!
Now, I realize not every kid has a Calvinist to help him along on the road to perdition, but really, every gay kid who grows up in a Christian conservative home, gets this message. It was in my head long before I met the Calvinist. What would you have done?
Imagine your 23 year old self, a virgin whose life experience consisted solely of church, now tossed out into the big world.
Now, straight men, imagine yourself moving to a big city, alone. Naive. In my case, Dallas. You've now been told that God has abandoned you. You go to a club. You don't even know the names of drinks. So, you're scared and alone.
In the far country. As foreign to you as a going to Cuba. And then you notice something else. The bar is filled with nothing but women. Beautiful women. And they all hug you, talk to you, want you, embrace you. They're wounded, too. And they accept you just the way you are, flaws and all.
I know that you think of gay bars and are probably horrified and think, with big red letters SIN. And I'm not making excuses for the choices I made that eventually landed me in the hospital facing my mortality.
I'm just saying that it's easy to judge another person's life. Until you really have walked in my shoes, your protestations -- and I mean this with gentleness and respect -- about all that promiscuity fall on deaf ears because you look at a statistic and make a judgment call about an entire group of people.
This is what your opponents do to you, too, btw. When I saw it in myself, I made myself stop. I cannot judge you without knowing you.
In my experience, true ministry is about listening. When you know the heart of that person across from you, you've given them something way more valuable than your opinion. You've given them your time.
And as Katherine Hepburn told Jim Brochu after he asked about why her lamps were tied to the ceiling with strings; she knocked one aside, it started swinging back and forth like a pendulum, and she dusted the table beneath. Then she said, "Saves time. And time is all we've got, you know."