Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Road to THE ROAD TO QATAR, Part 1


JAMES BEAMAN WILL STAR IN THE NEW MUSICAL, "THE ROAD TO QATAR," BY DAVID KRANE AND STEPHEN COLE, AT THE YORK THEATRE COMPANY IN NEW YORK BEGINNING JANUARY 25!

I received the best of all possible holiday gifts this year. Just before Christmas, I was offered the leading role of 'Michael' in the new musical, The Road to Qatar, which will have its Off-Broadway premiere in January at the prestigious York Theatre Company. Aside from the enormous blessing of having an actual job in New York (the last time I performed on an NYC stage was the fall of 2007), I will also have the incredible experience of originating a terrific part in a new show.

The Road to Qatar is written by David Krane and Stephen Cole, and is based upon their true life story of a bizarre series of events in which they were commissioned by the Emir of Qatar to create a Broadway style musical to be presented in a soccer stadium in Qatar. The two writers, who had never met nor collaborated before, found themselves whisked away to the Middle East where they wrote the musical Aspire in just five weeks. Check out the two part documentary of their true life adventure here.

David and Stephen took their wild adventure and turned it into the hilarious musical comedy, The Road to Qatar. Fortunately for me, the show is about "two short Jews who write musical comedy!" It is rare that a short, gay, Jewish character actor gets to play a lead in a musical, so you can imagine my delight when I was offered the part of Michael. Michael is sort of the 'Oscar' half of the odd couple of Michael and Jeffrey, based on Krane and Cole themselves. I am also delighted that I will be directed by Phillip George, who was my director in my very first New York show, Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo!, back in the early '90s. Phill, who staged Forbidden Broadway for many years, is a clever and ingenious director and I am excited to work with him again.

We begin rehearsals just after New Year's, so be sure to tune in as I blog the whole adventure. For more information on the show itself, visit the authors' website. For tickets and performance information, visit the York Theatre Company's site. What a great way to start 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Holiday Letter



I have friends and relatives who include in their annual Christmas cards a letter, detailing all the events and activities of the year past, sharing the losses and the triumphs, and wishing everyone a great year to come. Since I am spending a quiet Christmas in Manhattan, with plenty of time to ruminate on the many adventures of 2010, I thought I would write my own letter and put it out there to my friends, loved ones and supporters.

What an incredible year it has been. The prior two years were so completely immersed in my journey with the Spamalot tour; this year has been about really getting back into the mix of fine performers looking for work, and making amazing new inroads in the business with extraordinary people. In addition to my artistic and professional growth, I had the chance to explore a new relationship with a loving and wonderful guy after four years of singlehood. And I rediscovered a passion for teaching and coaching young actors through a magical series of powerful events.

The year started with intense activity of all kinds. Challenging auditions were balanced by the extraordinary growth I experienced in the acting classes of Matthew Corozine. I created an entire new career plan with Jodie Bentley, a fantastic career coach and co-owner of The Savvy Actor, which led to a new website and a host of new networking strategies. I also got the chance to return to The Nutty Professor musical in our second backers audition reading of the show, directed, again, by the incomparable Jerry Lewis.

I was delighted to break through with Goodspeed Musicals, winning the role of Charlie Davenport in Annie Get Your Gun.
I had long wanted to work at this prestigious two time Tony-winning regional theatre, and what a great first experience it was. The cast was incredible, led by Jenn Gambatese as Annie, and I enjoyed the changes of season for the many weeks of the show in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley. I also did some exciting educational outreach for the company, finding a terrific teaching partner in triple threat performer Molly Tynes.

I made two trips over the summer to Washington, D.C. in a pair of collaborations with Marcus Kyd, Lise Bruneau and their Taffety Punk Theatre Company. The first was a powerful staged reading of Ronald Harwood's The Dresser. I played the role of Norman, dresser to a rapidly unraveling Shakespearean actor-manager, played, to my great pride and delight, by my teacher and D.C. veteran star Edward Gero. This is a role I have always wanted to play and to get just a taste of it was so rewarding. A week later, I returned to D.C. to play the role of Theseus in Taffety Punk's "Bootleg Shakespeare" production of Two Noble Kinsmen at the Folger Theatre. Exhilarating stuff.

Surprise, surprise. Goodspeed invited me back to join an outrageously talented cast in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
Preempting the forthcoming Broadway production through the generosity of Jo Sullivan Loesser, Goodspeed mounted a stylish and sizzling production and I got to kick my heels up as a dancer again, and play the office womanizer, Mr. Gatch. More educational work was also a highlight of my fall at Goodspeed, and the company commissioned me and Molly Tynes to create the first ever Goodspeed Musical Theatre Audition Intensive, a weekend boot camp in audition preparation and performance for high school students contemplating trying out for college theatre programs. The workshop, which took place earlier this month, was a powerful and hugely successful endeavor. Talks are already underway for the next one!

The year is coming to a close on a truly high note. This week, I was offered the lead role of Michael in the Off Broadway premiere of David Krane and Stephen Cole's new musical The Road to Qatar.
This hilarious piece is based on the authors' own true story of their collaboration on a lavish musical commissioned by the Emir of Qatar. The adventures of "two short Jews who write Musical Comedy" will run January and February at the York Theatre Company. I couldn't be more excited to be finally doing something great in New York--and a wonderful lead role to boot. I've been waiting for my short gay Jewishness to pay off! Happy Holidays to me. So much to be grateful for. Truly, all I have ever wished for is a life in my art. And it is all happening for me. On the most personal level, I was given the incredible gift of trying my sea legs in a relationship this year. A loving, free spirited, challenging, talented guy named David touched my life and my heart. It's hard to try to love again, but what a beautiful thing to know that it's still possible. Thank you, David, with love.

My greatest wish for the season would be for all of us to really try and be in the moment. And realize how incredible, bountiful, and full of possibility our lives are. Releasing the wounds of the past, not being overly obsessive about the future. Hold those you love close to you, and have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!! Love to all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Year of Goodspeed

"Lloyd always said in the theatre a lifetime was a season, and a season a lifetime..."
~"All About Eve"

As actors we all have our wish lists: lists of roles we want to play, lists of directors and prominent actors we'd love to work with, and then there's the list of theatres where we would love to tread the boards. It is part of an actor's ambition; ever reaching for better and better opportunities--desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, as it were. My career is increasingly split between my passion for classical acting and my love of musical theatre, and in each genre we have in the US our leading institutions. On the musical side, Goodspeed ranks at the top. To be asked to perform here twice in one season was a rare opportunity and it has been such a rewarding journey for me.

Eight months of near continuous work has afforded me the opportunity to work with two new directors, two new choreographers; it has put me in the mix with some of our finest Broadway performers, both seasoned veterans and rising young stars. Goodspeed's reverence for the classics they revive and their unflinching determination to present fresh and refined visions of those classics have give me the chance to experience the magic of Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser in two of their finest creations.
I was able to create my own take on a delicious character in Charlie Davenport, and then to join an amazing ensemble of triple threat performers in "How To Succeed...", rediscovering my love of dance and enjoying the process of creating the wacky 1960's world of that show. Throughout these many weeks of work I have also had the chance to get to know this beautiful part of Connecticut, to revel in the changing seasons, to taste of the art and fine food and history that make this area so unique. In short, my year at Goodspeed has enhanced my life and my career, and to be almost continuously employed in my craft during these challenging economic times is a gift that I am truly grateful for.
My deepest thanks to Michael Price, the fearless leader of Goodspeed, and to his entire producing team, the artistic staff, stage management team, and dedicated crew, and people both behind the scenes and in the front of house whom I have had the pleasure to get to know this season. I feel a part of your family.

Today we play our last performances of "How To Succeed..." and then the diaspora begins. Most of us will pack up and head back to New York City; a lucky few of us are slated to begin rehearsals for new Broadway shows; most of us will get back into the hustle of auditions, taking a stab at the next gig before settling in for the holidays. Tomorrow when I return to the city I have two auditions! No time to rest on my Goodspeed laurels--the next thing awaits. I will be back in East Haddam next weekend to lead the first ever Goodspeed Audition Intensive, introducing a new generation of young talents to the process that will become one of the fundamental components of their life in theatre. I discovered, or perhaps decided, at one point in my career that we must love ALL of what we do, the auditions as well as the performing, for truly they are all a part of the thrill ride that is an actor's career.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Say "Uncle!"


TWO MORE WEEKS OF "HOW TO SUCCEED..." AT GOODSPEED!

This production may prompt audience curiosity about how well the planned Daniel Radcliffe-John Laroquette version will do on Broadway in early 2011. It may be hard to top how well all of the separate components of the Goodspeed production flow satisfyingly together. ~Hartford Arts Examiner



The joys of live performance are sometimes contradictory. Stage actors are, by nature, creatures of habit; we love the athletic repetition of our performances, and the attendant routines of signing in, warming up, donning our disguises--the reassuring daily motions of the working performer. However, one of the realities of theatre is that it is in many ways spontaneous, and indeed, works best when there is sense of danger, of unpredictability. And, no matter how strong an actor's technique or his level of concentration on stage, sometimes something happens to just, well, crack him up. The Brits call this "corpsing" because in the moment those inappropriate giggles arise, one's character dies and the actor beneath is exposed. Last week, regrettably, a mass expiration occurred on the Goodspeed stage, during the rousing 11th hour number, "The Brotherhood of Man." It all began so simply--a small slip of the tongue by our esteemed "president", Ronn Carroll as J. B. Biggley. Brian Sears, as Finch, setting up the number, says, "We're all brothers." Ronn is supposed to glare at Bud Frump and say, "Some of us are uncles." On this night, he mistakenly said, "Some of us are nephews." I know it seems so innocent, so banal, but it took Brian and the rest of us by surprise; by the time Brian had to turn and sing to the group of us executives, a red faced grin had erupted on his face. The rest was a chain reaction--shoulders began to shake, serious expressions gave way to struggling grimaces unsuccessfully masking open hilarity. The first part of the song was broken up by a bunch of performers trying to regain their composure while a mystified and bemused audience watched. Torture!! And of course we were all heartily ashamed of ourselves while acknowledging that it was indeed quite funny and we are human, after all. The next night, when we returned to the same spot in the show, I know more than one of us was gripping his feet, holding his breath until the moment passed without a giggle.

Thanksgiving approaches, as does the conclusion of our run. Dusk falls early now; the nights are cold and dark. Pumpkins and mums are giving way to yule logs and twinkle lights. I watched all the seasons change here at Goodspeed this year: I arrived to start "Annie Get Your Gun" in the frigid cold of March and capered through the Wild West through spring and summer, then returned during the last dog days of that season to take up my position at World Wide Wickets through a blazing New England fall. With the coming of the holidays, I can only feel gratitude that in these uncertain times, I have been gainfully employed as an actor at one of our finest theatres for virtually an entire theatrical season. What a gift. I plan to savor these last performances, even as my eyes turn inevitably to the horizon and the search for that next gig.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How To... HALLOWEEN


Actors love in-jokes. I think this stems from the joy that we all experience when we are asked to join a temporary family within a production; our little catch phrases and private gags make it feel like a special club of which we are honored members. I also think that the in-jokes are a way of lightening the pressure of the eight show week. We took full advantage of a chance to blow off steam with our company Halloween party this past weekend. The theme of the party was to dress as a line of dialogue from "How To Succeed...". With limited budgets and creative imaginations, we all hit the outlet malls, Wal-Mart, and party stores to find the bits and pieces that would get across, in the wittiest possible way, the line we had chosen to represent. The results were hilarious: everything from a hula girl with leprosy ("an extremely tropical disease"), to a church lady covered in plastic ivy ("Grand Old Ivy"), to my own contribution--a head dress made from two martini glasses, one of them containing a prop olive ("You call this a double martini? It only has one olive in it!"). Here I am wearing my creation, next to cast mate Lianne, who came as "Making a clean breast of the whole thing" (she carried around a Comet can with a revised label on it that read "Boob"). The party was a blast--pot luck goodies, a fire pit and S'more making, jack 'o' lanterns, and much autumnal frolic. This is such a bright and funny group of people. The last month of shows will continue to be great fun.

Goodspeed has also offered me the opportunity to hone my skills as a teacher and coach, through their education outreach programming. I have greatly enjoyed leading workshops with area middle school and high school kids, and have been especially impressed with the talent and motivation of the students from the Community Music School in Essex.
I love coaching young talents; they are eager sponges that absorb everything I throw at them, and their enthusiasm is a reminder of the fresh faced drive that led me to a life in this profession. I am delighted that Goodspeed has collaborated with me and my teaching partner, triple-threat performer Molly Tynes, to create their first ever Audition Intensive for graduating high school seniors preparing to audition for college theatre programs and performing arts conservatories. This exciting weekend seminar will take place December 4 & 5, and Molly and I will be teaching the nuts and bolts of the audition process, and coaching the students on their songs and monologues in preparation for their college tryouts. We will also be joined by a distinguished panel including Brent Wagner, chair of the musical theatre department at University of Michigan, Michael O'Flaherty, musical director of Goodspeed Musicals, and choreographer and master teacher Parker Esse. This panel will view the students' mock auditions and give invaluable feedback. It is truly a remarkable opportunity for young actors, and an exciting project for me and my fellow educators. Visit the Goodspeed Musicals website for more information.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Les Feuilles Mortes


"HOW TO SUCCEED" OFFICIALLY OPENED OCTOBER 20! REVIEWS TO COME, PLUS PHOTOS, ETC. AS THEY ARE AVAILABLE. WE ARE OFF AND RUNNING AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE!

While I am sad not to be in Manhattan to enjoy the autumn, this best of all possible times of year in the city, I am comforted by the joys of fall in New England here in the Connecticut River Valley. We are at peak foliage time here, and the countryside is ablaze with reds, oranges, golds. I enjoyed a picture postcard of a Columbus Day with apple picking at sprawling Lyman Orchards in nearby Middlefield, bringing home pies and pumpkins to fill my actor's digs with seasonal delight. Bundling up and shuffling through the leaves, poking into the many antique shops that populate this quaint area; enjoying sunsets over the river that would make Maxfield Parrish jealous: pinks and lavenders reflecting off the water as the Opera House rises against the crazy quilt of fall foliage, a fantasy place that seems carved from ice cream. Truly there are many blessings that accompany this autumn sojourn with the rollicking joys of "How To Succeed," if one can put up with the lunacy of Connecticut drivers, who have made me christen this "the tailgate state."

We opened our show officially this week, with a warm and raucous first night audience. The show has found its legs, and all of us are enjoying our eight shows a week. My creative energy is not reserved only for my performances at Goodspeed. I am also teaching several classes for area high schoolers via Goodspeed's educational outreach programs, and am working on the details for the Audition Intensive I will be co-conducting at the beginning of December; a weekend of coaching for high school seniors preparing to try out for college theatre programs. In addition, I am also enjoying being a part of another artist's creative process by commissioning a piece from an extraordinarily talented local sculptor, Kara Knobelsdorff. I discovered this artist's work while working at Goodspeed over the summer, and have asked her to do a portrait of me as a birthday gift to myself. Some of my friends feel this to be a slightly narcissistic enterprise, but I see it as a way of celebrating this moment in my life while being on the inside of an artist's creative process. My first sitting was this week and I find the whole thing fascinating.

Speaking of fascinating... I must devote some of this post to rhapsodize about the current production at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre, a new musical version of the Roald Dahl classic "James and the Giant Peach." Our company was invited to attend the final dress rehearsal of this workshop of a promising new piece, and I have to say it completely captivated me.
The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, a bright, witty contemporary score; the book is by Timothy Allen McDonald. The piece truly captures the simultaneously comic, macabre and touching aspects of this classic story. The cast is energetic and talented, with standout performances by Denny Dillon and Ruth Gottschall as the deliciously nasty Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The revelation in this production is the incorporation of the elegant, gravity defying dancers of Pilobolus, who succeed stunningly at bringing to life everything from a man eating rhinoceros to a flock of seagulls, to the peach itself. Graciela Daniele, the visionary director behind this adventure, has returned to the essence of what theatre really means. Using a bare stage and the most rudimentary of props and costumes, she blends the musical and acting talents of her cast with the glorious movements of her dancers to create a world inhabited by insects, carnival creatures, paparazzi, sharks, swiftly moving clouds... the audience's imagination fills in the rest thereby engaging us in the creation of this world and never letting us go. Theatre is storytelling, at it's essence, and it is about the sharing of stories that illuminate the human experience and that touch our souls and our dreams. This show is doing just that. I couldn't stop thinking, as I watched this magical piece, about the daily reports coming in from the multi million dollar behemoth, "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark"--the technical tangle of incorporating high tech CGI and other technologies with dangerous stunts that have produced injury after injury amongst the cast. Julie Taymor's vision for this new musical is pushing the limits of financing and technology, but only time will tell if her trademark creativity and inventiveness will shine through. Personally I remember Taymor's work at American Repertory Theatre when I was in college; productions that relied upon classic storytelling, shadow puppetry, mask and Commedia dell' Arte--the simplest effects created moments that sent chills down the spine. Graciela Daniele has given us a creative jewel that needs no fancy pyrotechnics or elaborate sets; she trusts the material and she inspires her performers to lead us into Roald Dahl's fanciful world. At the heart of "James and the Giant Peach" is a small and universal story of an orphaned boy searching for a family. I alternately cheered, gasped and wiped away tears as I witnessed this wonderful work. See it if you can!!

It is ironic to me that at this season, most often thought of as a time of decay and dead leaves, that I find myself a part of, and surrounded by, so much art and creativity. Truly, I feel very, very blessed. Fall passes so very quickly and soon we will hunker down for the long winter. Mull some cider, break out those fabulous layers and something spooky for Halloween, and savor this time, wherever you may be.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Merrily Machiavellian

"HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING" CONTINUES AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE THROUGH NOVEMBER 28!

This week I decided to wax a little dramaturgical, for no other reason but that I am a dork and love to trace the common threads between theatrical works we consider modern or contemporary and those of ages past. I find these classic themes fascinating. There is a reason that pieces like "How To Succeed" endure in the popular repertoire; of course Frank Loesser's witty and timeless score has much to do with it, as does Abe Burrows' well crafted book. But additionally, the story of the rise of the young opportunist J. Pierrepont Finch draws on classic themes that are a part of western cultural consciousness and it's fun to draw those connections.

As you probably know, the musical was adapted from a sharp, satiric best seller by Shepherd Mead of the same title, with the subtitle "The Dastard's Guide To Fame and Fortune." The dictionary defines a dastard as a 'mean, sneaking coward.' While we might disagree with this as a description of young Finch, our hero is a manipulator, a sneak, and will do just about anything not only to get ahead, but to save his own skin. Shepherd Mead drew upon his own experiences at an advertising firm, where he rose from mailroom clerk to vice president, and his witty observations of the corporate world were the basis of his comic 'self help' book, but the book itself didn't have a plot line or a main character. It was Abe Burrows and his collaborators on the book who created Finch and his story, drawing, in my view, upon the classic archetype of the Machiavel.

Machiavelli, the Renaissance philosopher who many consider the father of modern political science, laid out in his treatise The Prince, his proposed guidelines for achieving and maintaining power, mainly through cunning and manipulation.
The Prince was a very popular book during the English Renaissance, during which it formed the basis for many of the great villains of the plays of the era: Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (in which a character called Machiavelli actually delivers the prologue), Shakespeare's Richard III, and Ben Jonson's Volpone (The Fox). Moliere's Tartuffe and Don Juan also share similar characteristics; they are deceivers, chameleons who can put on just the right facade to fool those they wish to gull or manipulate. And they get where they want to be by their talent for playing on the weaknesses and vanity of others--it is in their astute, albeit cynical grasp of human nature that they find their power to get what they want. Finch plays on the weaknesses and foibles of those he meets at Worldwide Wickets-- J.B. Biggley's desire for his extramarital 'bit on the side,' Hedy LaRue; Bud Frump's lack of subtlety and desperate need to get ahead; Mr. Gatch's lecherous tendencies; the chairman of the board, Wally Womper's, disdain for elitist, college educated men. This is part of the reason that audiences love these merry villains; we don't want to identify with the Machiavel's victims, since they are so fatuous and so weak-- we want to align ourselves, perhaps despite our values, with the master manipulator, with an ego that can lead someone to climb the ladder of success without any concern for who he tramples on on the way up those rungs.

These Machiavellian heroes are attractive, charming, with steel trap minds and infinite ways of escaping the consequences of their actions. And often, like Finch, they not only get away with their machinations, but they triumph. There is something simultaneously thrilling and deplorable about such triumphs, but it is part of our human nature that we fantasize about getting everything we want without hindrance from others and without consequences. We often look askance at those who are so self centered and driven but we secretly wish we had the cahones to be that way ourselves. Eve Harrington in "All About Eve" is a great example of a feminine Machiavel. She is a great actress in every day life, playing on the weaknesses of those she encounters in the theatrical world, with a sophisticated strategic game plan for becoming the leading lady she so desperately wants to become. Would she have risen to such a success without all that conniving? Clearly, she's a talented actress, but going the usual route of working the way up the ladder is too slow for a single minded vixen like Eve. Shakespeare's Richard III isn't waiting for dust to settle on him either; he'd rather kill off everyone that stands between him and the English throne.
And he tells us through soliloquy at the very start of the play that that is his intention--and by confiding in the audience, he makes us complicit in his plots--part of the guilty pleasure for the spectator. Finch does the same thing in "How To Succeed" but it is in the form of a mischievous grin directed at us, checking in with us to make sure we are appreciating the master manipulations he is concocting. Funnily enough, I see a lot of similarities between the hunchback king and J. Pierrepont Finch. It is interesting to me that one of the hits from our show, recorded by many of our finest singers over the years, "I Believe in You," is actually a love song sung by Finch to Finch in the washroom mirror. The ultimate narcissist sings a stirring love song--to himself. In one of Richard III's many soliloquies he has a line that keeps coming back to me: "I am myself alone." Ultimately, while Finch ends up with Rosemary (she herself a sort of Machiavellian secretary striving to manipulate Finch into marrying her), he really is in love with only one person--himself. And in spite of ourselves--with perhaps a secret wish that we were as ballsy as Finch is--we love him for it.

As of this posting, it is Columbus Day and another crisp, sun drenched fall day in Connecticut. We have been blessed with several such days here, and I am reveling in the fresh breezes, falling leaves, and nights of starry skies and cold air slightly tinged with the smell of woodsmoke. Truly beautiful. Our show is playing to enthusiastic houses, and I am enjoying the many pleasures of working at Goodspeed, including teaching some outreach classes for area high school students, and activities with my comrades in the show. "How To Succeed" will play through the fall and I hope that many will make East Haddam a destination, enjoy the foliage and the many pleasures of autumnal New England and come have a good laugh with our merry Machiavel, Finch, and the gang at World Wide Wickets!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Team Wicket



You, you got me
Me, I got you...
--"Brotherhood of Man"

With the intense activity of getting through technical rehearsals and our opening weekend, I had to neglect you, dear reader, but now that "How To Succeed" is up and running, I can muse upon things a bit. Theatre, as you can well imagine--if you are not one of us nuts who decided to purse this career--is very much a collaborative art form. The putting up of a show has often been likened to the efforts of a sports team, with each individual playing his or her role as part of a collaborative effort with a common goal. The team metaphor definitely has validity, because without every one's committed participation, the organism of the production cannot function. It is an interesting conundrum for the actor to realize that in service to the entire piece, he has to set aside his own personal egocentric needs. You must admit there is an irony there when a person pursues a career which is all about performing for an audience in the search for their approval, validation, and applause--and then has to accept that he or she has to put others first! These challenges were rife during our week of technical rehearsals leading to our preview/opening weekend.

Mounting a complicated musical comedy in three weeks is a monumental task. Add to this the unique challenges that the Goodspeed Opera House itself presents for designers, technicians and performers and crew alike, and the task becomes even more daunting. I don't think Goodspeed patrons realize that in order to build the set, hang the lights, complete the costumes, and work out the sometimes hundreds of sound and lighting cues, there are crews working round the clock for three days. The performers and musicians rehearse ten hours a day. The Goodspeed space is so small, that all the choreography and set moves must be re-rehearsed in order to fit the playing area allotted. In addition, our highly creative director and choreographer have a free form style of working that requires each performer to be at the ready to absorb and integrate dozens of detailed and sometimes minute changes at the drop of a hat. This can all be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting and deeply trying for all involved. However, it is the adrenaline of that process and the satisfaction of being a 'problem solver' and a quick, skilled artist that keeps us coming back again and again. Tech week is the birthing process, and at the risk of being graphic, all birthing processes can be painful and messy.

Yet none of this effort and struggle showed last Friday night, when we brought a laughing, cheering opening night audience to its feet as we gave our new baby to the world. Jo Sullivan Loesser graced us with her presence, and came on stage at curtain call to hug our leading players and to declare unreservedly that she had a marvelous time and that Frank would have been happy with our production. There was a definite energy from audience, performers and crew that night--an excitement and anticipation that got us through the rough patches. For us, our first performance was really more like a dress rehearsal, but for that audience it was a joyful premiere. Our choreographer calls us "Team Wicket" because we are troupers--we band together and make things work; we finesse moments that are still in a nascent stage, we 'sell' steps that are still being conceived. Even now, we continue to rehearse during previews, as we seek to deliver just the right product for our creative team and producers. Every team has an MVP and ours is Brian Sears, whose character of Finch is the center of the show. Brian must lead us all every night in this mammoth musical comedy star turn, and he is doing one hell of a great job! Truly he sets the standard, ably seconded by Broadway veteran Ronn Carroll, whose deft comedic talent is another anchor in this production. With standards like these, we all can only rise to the occasion and bring this zany ride home.

This weekend I will raise the stakes even higher as I go on for five performances in my capacity as understudy in the role of Bert Bratt, the personnel director. Aaron Serotsky, who is playing the part, is getting married this weekend and I wish him and his bride a wonderful wedding. And so, while we continue to refine the show and perform our previews, I am cramming as much of Bratt as I can in preparation for my first time on in the part Friday night. If you have never understudied before, the only way to describe that first time out in a part is that it's like those dreams you might have had in college or high school: you are about to take a test and realize that you never attended a class and have not studied one thing. It's also like jumping on to a moving train (and clinging on for dear life!). But again, it is the team around you that you count on to support and get you through. I have no doubt Team Wicket will have my back.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gypsy In My Soul


These few weeks of rehearsal in the ensemble of this show have been an enormous reminder to me of just how hard the task of the chorus singer/dancer is. Truly, the ensemble members are the hardest working people in the show and we have to be able to do it all--sing, dance intricate choreography, provide assistance with scene shifts, act as set dressing, and play small roles; sometimes many characters in the course of each performance. It has been a seismic shock to my system to be challenged to rise to the occasion of taking my place "in the line" as it were. And all I can say is that A) my hat is off to the gifted performers working alongside me--their talent, their stamina, (their YOUTH) astonishes me... and B) I intend to prove myself worthy of being in their midst. It's taking a lot of brain strain, sweat, and epsom salts but I'm getting there!

We did have a wonderful glimpse of the show that we are creating this week in an invited run through. The Goodspeed staff and crew, the producers, as well as guests from the current show, "Carnival!" and Jo Sullivan Loesser herself crowded into the studio to watch us do our second only run of the entire show. We are still at a tentative stage with much of the business, and the complicated dances and transitions, but I have to say, our company pulled it out and gave a wonderful early performance! I have been going in early every day and drilling the choreography, and clearly the other performers have also been doing their homework, because we really stepped up and put our all into it, and we now really feel we have a show. And a delightful, fast paced, and amusing show it is. In just two days we rehearse with the orchestra for the first time and then it's an intense few days of technical rehearsals leading to our first performances. Rest, focus, and more epsom salts are in order. Planning to spend my day off out in the beautiful weather and stunning scenery of the Connecticut River Valley. Every day, Mother Nature paints a few more leaves in shades of red and orange, and autumn is beginning to blaze across the region. In just a week or two it will be prime foliage time and I hope many "leaf peepers" will come out to see beauty and stop in to have a great laugh with us at Goodspeed and this terrific show.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Perfectly Frank

Remarkably, after posting my blog last week, which contained an account of my involvement with a Frank Loesser revue spearheaded by Jo Sullivan Loesser, the lady herself graced us with a visit during rehearsals for How To Succeed...!
Ms. Loesser takes a keen interest in any major revival of Frank's work, and is constantly at work preserving his creations and enlivening interest in revivals and fresh concepts of his lesser known pieces. What a treat it was for us as a company to sit in a circle and listen to Ms. Loesser's tales about her life with this American genius and in particular her accounts of the creation and original production of the show we are working on. Jo is a feisty, no nonsense little lady with a hearty laugh and a shoot-from-the-hip sense of humor. She adored Frank Loesser, even though she amusingly describes him as "a pain in the neck," and from her stories a portrait of Loesser emerges-- of a brilliant musician who talked like a character out of the Damon Runyon books that Guys and Dolls was based upon; a prodigious talent who worked only at night (often pausing for martinis at 4AM), and who created the entire score for How To Succeed in six weeks. Jo related to us the story of the opening of the show, and how Frank hated opening nights; in an early scene of the play, a piece of scenery wobbled when it was moved on stage, and Frank stood up, left the theatre and spent the entire first night in the bar! She talked to us at length about what works best in performance of the material, and how certain pieces of the score came to be created. Frank felt that the satirical nature of the Shepherd Mead book on which the piece was based did not lend it well to the inclusion of a romantic love ballad in the score. When he felt he really needed to add one for the good of the storyline between Finch and his secretary girlfriend, he decided to do a takeoff of the "Maria" number from the then wildly popular West Side Story. The result is the florid and over the top "Rosemary" number which closes Act One. It is tales like this that only someone who was there and witnessed the creation of this classic musical can tell--which made Jo Loesser's visit all the more special for each and every one of us. We truly felt we had been given a glimpse of theatre history through this fabulous little lady, and how grateful we all were for that opportunity!

Rehearsals continue at breakneck speed, as our intrepid director and choreographer push to stage the entire piece in time to allow us a week of refinements and intensive drilling of the material before our technical process begins in just over a week. As of this writing we only have one scene left to stage as well as the finale of the show. Greg and Kelli's work is at once playful and incredibly intense; they ask of us complete flexibility, high energy, and total concentration. The choreography and staging is extremely stylized and detail oriented, requiring a high level of technical ability--this is a true farce in the best sense, and will, in its final form, resemble the whimsical cartoons created by the illustrator "Claude" for the original Mead book, cartoons like the ones found in the classic New Yorker magazines. Each and every gesture and nuance is given special emphasis and the tempos and comedic bits are being intricately worked out. I think that the sheer exuberance, energy and speed of the show are going to take the audience's breath away.

Equally breathtaking will be Gregory Gale's stunning costumes, which are being made completely from scratch for our production. Both of my 1960s slim suits fit me superbly and are sharp as a razor. My fitting this week allowed me a chance to really see what Milt Gatch and my other characters will look like and the style of the costumes is completely in harmony with the snazzy comedy of our performances. I gotta tell ya, this show is going to be a total hoot and expertly crafted on every level. It will be something special not to be missed! Stay tuned for more as we head into week three of the rehearsal process...

Friday, September 3, 2010

"HOW TO SUCCEED..." BEGINS!!


I am delighted that Goodspeed Musicals invited me back for another great show this season: the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning classic, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. This time around, I get to join an outrageously talented ensemble of performers and play the very amusing featured role of Mr. Gatch, the office 'grabber,' in this send up of corporate politics and ambition. It's an exciting time to be working on a fresh new production of this piece, as Broadway will soon see a major revival starring Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter. After this first week's rehearsals, I can safely say we will be giving any production of this show a run for its money!!

Our How To Succeed... is directed by the talented Greg Ganakas, a Goodspeed favorite, and choreographed by the inventive Kelli Barclay. Greg, in addition to being enormously creative and clever, is hysterically funny, with an outrageous and completely disarming sense of humor. His energy blends beautifully with that of Kelli, whose methods of working are exciting, spontaneous and infinitely skillful. Greg calls this show a "crackerjack" piece and he has absolute faith in this tried and true material, with its witty book by Abe Burrows and timeless score by Frank Loesser; he is being true to the spirit of the piece while applying his imagination and sense of whimsy in some amazing and unexpected ways, using the 1960s swanky style of the hit TV series "Mad Men" as inspiration for the world of the piece. He has assembled a cast of such unique and vivid performers that each and every one--from our leads, to our ensemble singer/dancers--is a standout. I feel fortunate to be of their number.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the first time I have been asked to perform as part of an ensemble in literally twenty years, and even though I was daunted by the prospect initially, this week has reminded me how much I love to dance and how very, very hard ensemble performers work. Our 'chorus' provides the personnel, the color and flavor of the World Wide Wicket Company, and is an integral and essential part of the piece. My 'dancer brain'--the one that picks up steps and choreography--is having to be retuned, and my body has to readjust to the rigors of the choreographic rehearsal process, but I have to say, I am having a total ball doing this stuff. While my ambition from the time I was 12 was to be a classical actor, I also grew up in the late 70s, when A Chorus Line and films like "All That Jazz" and "Fame" made jazz dancing a national craze; so I was also obsessed with dance from an early age. I trained in jazz, tap and ballet and performed as a dancer in musicals for many years, and I am reminded every day during these rehearsals how thrilling it is to move. I am really proud and happy to say that...well... I still got it!

I have an interesting history with the incredible genius of Frank Loesser, best known for How To Succeed... as well as the immortal Guys and Dolls and Most Happy Fella, not to mention the countless songs he wrote for the musical movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, songs that became an indelible part of our collective American culture: "Baby, It's Cold Outside;" "Heart and Soul;" Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition;" and so many more. A number of years ago, I was asked to be a part of a revue of Loesser's songs created and directed by Richard Sabellico, entitled Heart and Soul. Loesser's widow, the Broadway singer/actress Jo Sullivan Loesser, had long wished to commission a successful retrospective of Frank's work, and this project was intended to fulfill that objective. All the text for the revue was quoted from things Frank Loesser actually wrote or said, and it was chock full of his greatest songs. At the time, I was still a well known female impersonator, specializing in portraying Marlene Dietrich, for whom Loesser wrote what became signature numbers, most notably the saloon song "The Boys in the Back Room." So in the revue I appeared as Dietrich and as Bette Davis (singing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" written for Davis for the wartime flick "Hollywood Canteen"), then led the finale as myself in the wonderful Guys and Dolls number "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." The show was presented at a regional theatre but never made it to New York; however, it was such a great experience, and to this day I still use the Tiffany key chain Jo Loesser gave each of us performers on opening night, with a heart shaped charm on it engraved with "H&S" for Heart and Soul. I understand Ms. Loesser is coming to see our production, as she is passionately dedicated to the preservation of Frank Loesser's works. It will be nice to be reacquainted with this legendary lady.

So we are off and running, and I look forward to giving you a peek at the inside of this process. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"HOW TO SUCCEED" CASTING ANNOUNCED!


Goodspeed Musicals has announced the cast of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." I am excited to have the chance to work with such a talented cast, led by Ronn Carroll, a veteran actor and Goodspeed favorite who is reprising his role of Mr. Biggley, having performed it in the last Broadway revival starring Matthew Broderick. Playing the lead role of J. Pierrepont Finch is Brian Sears, whose Broadway credits include the recent "Lend Me a Tenor", "Finian's Rainbow" and "Grease."

The cast will also feature Natalie Bradshaw as Rosemary Pilkington (Natalie and I did "The Nutty Professor" readings together and she is adorable!); Nicolette Hart as Hedy LaRue; Erin McGuire as Smitty; Jennifer Smith as Miss Jones; Richard Vida as Mr. Twimble/Wally Womper; Aaron Serotsky as Bratt; plus, Jerry Christakos, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Sara Marie Hicks, Matthew Kilgore, Natalie Newman, Brian Ogilvie, Kristin Piro, John Scacchetti, Drew Taylor, Micki Weiner, and--ME. Tom Deckman, another "Spamalot" alum who was so brilliant on tour and on Broadway as Prince Herbert, will play Bud Frump. He has incredible comedic talents and I am looking forward to working with him!

I leave for East Haddam in about a week and a half and am looking forward to getting down to work!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Goodspeed Redux

JAMES BEAMAN RETURNS TO GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE FOR "HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING"



In a surprising turn of events, Goodspeed Musicals has invited me back to perform in their fall production of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." This is a classic of the musical theatre repertoire, a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning hit, with a fantastic score by Frank Loesser. It is interesting timing that Goodspeed is producing the show, as it is going to have a Broadway revival next spring starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame.

I found it kind of ironic that I was offered the show, after having discovered (as detailed in an earlier blog post) that one of my costume pieces from "Annie Get Your Gun" had been made for Robert Morse, who was the original star of "How To Succeed...!" Maybe the vest was a magic talisman of sorts! However, I am not coming back to play J. Pierrepont Finch.
I am going to be playing the role of Mr. Gatch, one of the executives, and dancing and singing with the ensemble. This will be an interesting experience for me. 2010 marks my 20th year as a professional actor, and it will be exactly 20 years to the month I begin rehearsals for "How To Succeed" that I last performed as ensemble! It was 1990, and my last non-Equity job before I joined the union. I was in the ensemble and had a feature as Tommy Tucker, the cabin boy, in Huntington Theatre Company's production of "H.M.S. Pinafore."

So, this should be an interesting adventure. I went to be measured for the custom made 1960's menswear that will be built for me, which is kind of cool. I understand our director, Greg Ganakas, is inspired for this production by the hit TV series, Mad Men, so I expect we will be a snazzy lot. Stay tuned, more details, casting etc to come!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

RECENT, CURRENT AND UPCOMING!


JAMES BEAMAN PLAYS 'DUKE THESEUS' IN THE RARELY PERFORMED "TWO NOBLE KINSMEN" AT THE FOLGER THEATRE WITH TAFFETY PUNK THEATRE COMPANY, MONDAY JULY 26TH.



GOODSPEED MUSICALS INVITED JAMES BACK TO PERFORM IN "HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING!" THE PRODUCTION RUNS SEPTEMBER 24 THROUGH NOVEMBER 28 AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE, EAST HADDAM, CT.



BEAMAN STARRED AS 'NORMAN' IN A STAGED READING OF RONALD HARWOOD'S "THE DRESSER" ON MONDAY, JULY 19 IN WASHINGTON, D.C., PRODUCED BY TAFFETY PUNK THEATRE COMPANY, AND CO-STARRING FOUR TIME HELEN HAYES AWARD WINNING ACTOR EDWARD GERO AS 'SIR.'


STAY TUNED TO THIS SPACE FOR MORE UPDATES AND JAMES' BLOG...!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Finale


"In my end is my beginning."
~T.S. Eliot


And so our journey with "Annie Get Your Gun" comes to a close. What a great opportunity to rediscover a classic, and what a great way to make my debut with Goodspeed Musicals. Anybody who performs in musical theatre in this country knows the standard that Goodspeed represents, so to be invited to work here is truly a special honor and I have greatly enjoyed my time. I want to take this opportunity to give my thanks to our great director, Rob Ruggiero, the brilliant musical director Michael O'Flaherty and our talented choreographer Noah Racey; to the wonderful stage management team of Brad, Derek and Alicia, and their phenomenal crew, who bring so much heart and so much integrity to what they do; to Bill Thomas and our exceptional band who make eight musicians sound like a full orchestra! Thank you to Kristan and her splendid company management team! And heartfelt thanks to Mr. Michael Price, to Donna Lynn Hilton, and to Bob Alwine for producing such fine theatre and for inviting me to be a part of it all. And of course, much gratitude to Dave and Lucille Viola, our show's sponsors, who treated each of us like gold and who redefine the phrase "patrons of the arts."

From here I will get to enjoy my first summer in New York City in more than three years, and I am looking forward to being in my own space and planting out my first terrace garden. On July 19, I will participate in a very special reading of a brilliant play in Washington, DC; for various reasons I can't say much about that yet, but a full report will follow... On July 26, as I have announced previously, I will return to my classical roots and play Duke Theseus in the rarely produced Shakespeare and Fletcher classic, "The Two Noble Kinsmen." This is one in a series of "Bootleg Shakespeare" productions that my gifted friends at Taffety Punk Theatre Company mastermind. The company received the first ever emerging theatre award at DC's prestigious Helen Hayes Awards this year and they do exciting work; adding to the excitement is the venue for this production, the stage of the Folger Theatre, a gorgeous recreation of an Elizabethan playhouse in the historic Folger Shakespeare Library. Should be thrilling stuff, and of course, I will blog about the event.

In closing, I will say that every production I am a part of teaches me something new--about myself, about the work, about the virtues and foibles of all us human beings. I take away a couple of good friends who I hope will remain good friends; and there are one or two people to whom I genuinely wish good fortune and long life, but with whom I do not share the same values and sensibilities, something I deem essential if one is to use the word friendship. We managed to work together in an intense, fairly close environment for four months and to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and give the audience the best show possible. For that we must all walk away proud and with a sense of accomplishment. I want to give a shout out to the company of "Carnival!" and wish them all a splendid run in this charming theatre. I've no doubt they will bring great pleasure to the lucky audiences who will enjoy the fruits of their labors.

During my first weeks here, as I was exploring the small, charming towns that surround East Haddam, I ventured into a fancy ceramics shop in nearby Chester. The store sells brightly colored majolica style ceramics imported from Tuscany, and on one wall they displayed hand painted plaques portraying various Catholic saints. I enquired with them if they had one for St. Genesius. Now, I'm Jewish myself, but I rather like the idea of patron saints; special envoys dedicated to specific professions or fields of endeavor who accept special prayers.
St. Genesius is the patron saint of actors. His story is that he was an actor in ancient Rome and was hired to perform a propaganda play against Christianity for the Emperor. While he was enacting his role, which required him to reject a proffered baptism, an image of angels appeared to him and, essentially, he improvised a new script, declaring himself a Christian convert and asking to be baptized right there on stage. After the enraged Emperor had him tortured to force him to renounce his conversion, Genesius refused and was beheaded. I leave the Connecticut River Valley in possession of my new talisman commemorating brave St. Genesius. Hopefully, he will hear the prayers of an itinerant actor 'at liberty' in New York, and send me a great new opportunity.

Stay tuned for all the happenings to come in my little corner of the theatrical world, and best wishes for a grand Independence Day celebration and a glorious summer!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week Fifteen

"ANNIE GET YOUR GUN" CLOSES ON JULY 3!

JAMES BEAMAN WILL JOIN TAFFETY PUNK THEATRE COMPANY AT THE HISTORIC FOLGER THEATRE TO PLAY THESEUS IN "THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN" ON JULY 26.

We are moving into the final stretch with "Annie Get Your Gun," and the entire company is feeling the first pangs as we watch the calendar wind down on this special production. Summer is in full flower here in the Connecticut River Valley, the boaters and bikers are out enjoying the fine sultry weather, and the lovely air conditioned Goodspeed Opera House has been full to capacity. We all hear exciting things about "Carnival!", the next Goodspeed offering, which promises to provide chills and thrills with its diverse company of acrobats, singers and dancers. The show is based on the 1950s film, "Lili," which was one of my favorites as a kid. It's from a novella by Paul Gallico ("The Snow Goose," "The Poseidon Adventure") about a disillusioned dancer who returns wounded from the war and is forced to take up work as a puppeteer in a traveling carnival; an innocent waif wanders into the world of the carnival and brings love and wonder back into the wounded dancer's life. Quite a beautiful story. We are hoping we will get a chance to see a run through of the show before we pack up and leave East Haddam.

I thought I would devote my blog this week to a subject that has been very much occupying my thoughts of late: an actor's ambition. I don't think there has been an actor, since time immemorial, who has not entered upon his career with thoughts of glory. No one sets out as a performer with the dream of being a supporting player, or of filling out a crowd scene. No dancer labors daily at the barre without a passionate vision of him or herself thrilling audiences from center stage. No singer runs through their daily scales thinking, boy, would I love to sing backup! It takes big dreams and a lot of guts to commit to a career as a performer and the fuel for that fire is a dream of greatness and success on the highest levels. Of course, as one matures, these dreams become tempered by experience, hard knocks and a realization of the hierarchical and whimsical nature of the profession. One then finds oneself perhaps shedding one's glorious visions of stardom, and scaling one's ambition back to a simple wish: Please, Lord, just let me be hired to do something.

I was a precocious child, and my early exposure to the theatre was through my brilliant artist parents, so I had a more intense and informed notion of the theatrical profession than most kids.
I became obsessed with the idea of greatness, and I learned that the great actors of history were those that assayed the great roles of Shakespeare and the classics. I began, at the age of 12 or 13, to read voraciously about the grand traditions of British theatre; I collected books about Laurence Olivier, who, in my youth, was the acknowledged 'greatest living actor.' I devoured the plays of Shakespeare and I produced tiny paper spectacles of his plays on my little toy theatre stage, playing all the characters as I recorded the voices, with suitably dramatic musical accompaniment, on my cassette recorder. I saw myself as being the American inheritor of the legacy of the great classical actors: Garrick, Kean, Macready, Gielgud, Olivier.

It was a strange sort of bewilderment that overtook me when I got into undergraduate drama school and realized that my teachers had a very different idea of what my trajectory as an actor would be. A 5'6" actor playing the great heroes of Shakespeare?? Pish posh, my boy. You are a character actor!
(Never mind that Edmund Kean, one of the greatest actors the theatre has ever known, was shorter than I). I spent four years playing walk ons, old men, and bit character parts, all the while hungering to tackle the great parts. When I graduated and pursued training in London, the head of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art auditioned me and told me that my vocal instrument was not dramatic enough to speak Shakespeare and I should pursue other avenues of expression. Devastating criticism such as this further eroded my confidence and I began to cultivate other, more marketable skills--like singing and dancing. Musical theatre requires enormous technical prowess, larger than life presence, and great skill, and, in our country, the highest level of the theatrical profession, Broadway, is dominated by musical theatre. My young ambitions were not limited to being an interpreter of the great classical roles, but also performing in lavish Broadway shows that would take their place in the annals of theatre history.

Over the years my ambitions continue to burn within me. And often, I have struggled to get the profession to see me as I see myself; one of the great frustrations is to know, with greater and greater certainty as one develops as an actor and matures as a man, the astonishing things one is capable of and to find oneself frustrated by the vagaries of the profession. It appears one can't get on Broadway without Broadway credits; one can't get hired to play leading classical roles at major theatres unless one already has such credits, or unless one attended one of three elite acting schools. The business is hierarchical, it is a sort of ladder--and one's importance and value are tied up inextricably in what opportunities have been thrown one's way, regardless of the years of training, effort and persistence. The leading actors get the best housing, they get the highest salaries, they get the standing ovations, and their names are mentioned in the reviews. It can be a demoralizing experience to know with the certainty of every cell in one's body that one is a leading actor, and stand upstage watching someone else get the glory.

I do not, for one moment, devalue the work that has come my way. I have not had the easiest road as an actor and have had to log in more than my share of hours at thankless day jobs, year in and year out. Few actors I know appreciate and revel in the simple wonder of being EMPLOYED as an actor more than I, and I always apply my best efforts and the highest level of commitment and skill to each role I play, large or small. It is what gives my journey meaning. Knowing that I have given my best helps me to look in the mirror each morning with a sense of pride and self respect. But there are times when I wonder if I will yet fulfill that 12 year old's grand dreams of success. Over the years, I have produced my own work in an effort to be in the leading position. I created six different shows for the cabaret stage, two of these intended to become a full length theatre piece. I tailored my shows to my unique talents, I hired musicians and designers and press agents and financed all of it with my earnings from a retail job and an inflated VISA card. I went back to school at the age of 38 and earned a master's degree in classical acting in order to reclaim my original goal of doing the great roles of Shakespeare. And I have had the chance to play a few: Macbeth, Mercutio, Talbot. And even now, I am in the process of motivating a couple of projects just so I will have the opportunity to play meaty, challenging roles that the profession may not ever give me the chance to play. I wonder, sometimes, in the dark silent hours, whether or not I will ever achieve what I set out to achieve; whether or not this profession--so whimsically and stubbornly attached to the trappings of fame and success and so cowardly about taking risks on extraordinary talents and ideas--will ever give me the chance to shine my true light and unleash my true power. Perhaps the only thing to do is not to wait. To make it happen myself. I am reading a fascinating book right now about little known British actor Donald Wolfit, who was one of the last great actor-managers, touring his own Shakespearean company and playing all the great roles in the canon. He was not the ideal of the leading actor of his time, but he knew what his destiny was, and he seized the reins of his own career unequivocally and undeniably. I will close with a quote from that book that inspires me these days and helps fan my inner flame.

"'I must back myself or not be backed at all,' he wrote. All his life, this ambition had been constant. From bitter experience, he must have realized how little he conformed to the fashionable ideal of leading man; he was, by nature, too impatient to wait to be asked to play the great roles which he longed to encompass." ~ Ronald Harwood, "Donald Wolfit"

Friday, June 18, 2010

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week Fourteen

TWO MORE WEEKS OF "ANNIE GET YOUR GUN" AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE!

JAMES BEAMAN WILL PLAY THESEUS IN "THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN" AT FOLGER THEATRE IN WASHINGTON, DC ON JULY 26.


This week I decided to do a special Father's Day blog post. After five or six years not having seen each other, my Dad and I recently reunited for a nice visit at his remote country home in the Berkshires. Due to his advanced age and numerous health challenges, my Dad doesn't venture far from his place out in the woods. Consequently, it can be difficult to visit with him unless one drives out there, and in recent years, what with touring and other commitments, I have not had the opportunity. So it was a special treat to use my day off this week and drive out to beautiful Charlemont, MA to see him and catch up.

My father was a scenic designer and master scenic artist for over 30 years, and taught design in the theatre department at Boston University.
He is one of the last exponents of the traditional manner of scene painting (which he jokingly refers to as "18th century" scenic art), creating multi-dimensional tromp l'oeil illusions with only paint on canvas. It would not be an overstatement to say that Don Beaman is a genius, and that his brilliant talent inspired numerous successful designers and scenic artists over the course of several generations. His work is in scene design text books; designers like Eugene Lee credit him with providing formative training for them. You can imagine the kind of colorful childhood I enjoyed, spending hours with him in his basement paint studio at home, at his drafting table at BU, and in the various paint studios where he created his magic, painting enormous theatrical sets and backdrops. Dad is an expert on art history, theatre history, architecture, life drawing and numerous other disciplines related to his art. He has an extraordinary mind and a wealth of knowledge at his fingertips.

In addition to his work in the theatre, he has also applied both his intellect and his artistry to the study of ancient civilizations, esotericism, and spirituality, and he has written multiple volume texts on ancient symbolism, as well as created his own Tarot card deck, The Tarot of Saqqara, inspired by ancient Egypt. This latter project resulted in a series of enormous canvases he painted for each of the major Tarot cards. Has has also painted numerous works reflecting his interest in the occult, pagan ritual and ancient spiritual rites. In short, my Dad is a brilliant man, and it was so good to reconnect with him. He has promised me a couple of his large paintings for my bare walls in New York City and I plan to get back up there before "Annie Get Your Gun" closes to claim these masterpieces.

My relationship with my Dad has been like many others--complicated, fraught with some disappointment, disillusionment, and disconnection. Perhaps it is the gift of getting older, but as the years pass I remember the good more than the negative, and acknowledge the incredible influence he has had on me creatively, aesthetically, and the degree of appreciation he has imparted to me for history, tradition, art, and culture. Because of my Dad I have a working knowledge of many periods of art and architecture; I possess facts and trivia about the history of the theatre and the many personalities who peopled it over the centuries; due to his love of music, particularly the American Songbook and the musical theatre traditions, and his extensive collection of albums, I have a deep appreciation for the traditions of American music. He inspired me to strive for artistry and excellence in my work, insisting on the best in myself, and leaving no stone unturned in my thirst to know and understand everything I can about my profession. The legacy he has provided me with is priceless. A theatre artist could not have chosen two more brilliant creative spirits as my parents and I am about as lucky as any actor could be. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I will continue to be the best I can be.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week Thirteen

ONLY THREE MORE WEEKS OF "ANNIE GET YOUR GUN" AT GOODSPEED!

When I was blogging my two years on the road with "Spamalot," there were times when I would sit down to write and would struggle trying to come up with something interesting to fill my weekly blog post. Often, just writing whatever came to me would yield some surprisingly good stuff; so as I sit down to a blank screen with a blank mind, I am hoping for the best!

Our show continues to play to enthusiastic audiences and the press to date has been nothing but rapturous about the production and performances, if not, alas, for Peter Stone's adapted book for the show. The script has gotten the brunt of the negative commentary, and, while I agree it is not the strongest book, and it contains some rather hokey humor, it is definitely an improvement on the original. I must say it has not gotten in the way of the audience's enjoyment of the show. I have had visits from a few friends who have come in to catch the production, and this weekend Rebecca Watson's friend Peter Marx, who played Charlie Davenport in the Broadway production of this adaptation of "Annie Get Your Gun," was here and had some very complimentary things to say about my performance. Phew!

We are beginning the inevitable winding down of this show. Next week, the cast of "Carnival!," the second offering of the Goodspeed season, arrives to start work. Our performers are redoubling their efforts on the audition trail and hustling to secure the next gig; some are preparing for the role that they have waiting for them beyond our closing on July 3. Along with the nerves about what comes next is a renewed enthusiasm for our show and a more conscious enjoyment of the last remaining performances. My next thing is somewhat up in the air. I have a couple interesting one night events in Washington, DC next month, but beyond that nothing firm has been secured. In my younger days I would have been pacing the floor in anxiety and stressing about this nebulous future, but now I accept it as par for the course, and am confident that the next right thing will appear for me.

Meantime, I continue to enjoy the lush and beautiful summer landscape of the Connecticut River Valley, despite persistent and torrential rains, and am using the handy rental car I have out here to make visits to family and friends on days off and to shuttle back and forth between here and New York for auditions and callbacks. Whenever I may be tempted to stress about the future, I remind myself to savor the present moment and the good fortune of being a working actor in a splendid production. Being in the now and expressing appreciation and gratitude for one's blessings is the surest way to a happy life. I hope that this finds you cherishing your present moment. More next week.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week Twelve

ONLY FOUR MORE WEEKS OF "ANNIE GET YOUR GUN" AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE!

"After one of the most lackluster Broadway seasons in recent memory, "Annie Get Your Gun" is a welcoming tonic... notable performers include James Beaman as Buffalo Bill's right hand man, Charlie Davenport." --Stu Brown, Stu on Broadway




JAMES BEAMAN WILL PLAY DUKE THESEUS IN "THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN" WITH TAFFETY PUNK THEATRE COMPANY AT THE FOLGER THEATRE, WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 26!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been offered a chance to participate in the latest Bootleg Shakespeare production with Taffety Punk Theatre Company. They've offered me the hefty leading role of Theseus in Shakespeare and Fletcher's rarely produced "The Two Noble Kinsmen." Once I have learned all 324 lines of this central character, I will show up at the legendary Folger Theatre on July 26 for a breakneck few hours of rehearsal and then perform with the company for a packed house. Theatre at its edgiest!

And now for a little blogging from Goodspeed...

This week's post is about the temporary family that every production gives birth to. Theatre is a collaborative form, requiring intense creative exchange between all of the participants in a production, from actors, to design team, to stage management, to crew and musicians. In the course of rehearsing and performing, friendships--some of them to last a lifetime--will form; inevitably, the demands of the work and the intensity of the process will give birth to squabbles, misunderstandings and compromises. This is true in any family, but even more so amongst a bunch of dramatic theatre types! The longer the run, the more complex and dynamic the company's internal relationships become, and it is a testament to Goodspeed Musicals that for the most part, they gather together people of like minds and temperaments who not only work well together but who enjoy their off time communally as well.

Many who have worked here fondly call this place "Camp Goodspeed." While this is a top notch, Tony Award-winning regional theatre, part of its charm is that it retains a feeling of old fashioned summer stock, from the quaint New England town of East Haddam, to the charming Opera House with it's communal dressing rooms, to the various company houses--many of them from the 18th and 19th centuries--which we all share. I'll level with you: I am not the greatest at communal living. I am, by nature, a loner. I crave quiet and privacy, and am also a fastidious neat freak, which makes sharing a kitchen with five other people a sometimes less than delightful experience for me! I am at an age when I'm a bit set in my ways, and sometimes it can be a challenge to accommodate the habits of an assortment of people with whom one must share a space. That said, we do manage to have some good times, whether it be group game nights or poker tournaments, or cookouts, or "American Idol" viewing gatherings. Goodspeed does all it can to make us comfortable and provide each of us with a private room and bathroom; to that end, they are working diligently, in cooperation with the town of East Haddam, to construct a charming 'village' of brand new actor houses which they expect to be completed, at the very least, in time for next season. A very exciting development for all who work here.

This week, I enjoyed the benefit of my temporary "Annie Get Your Gun" family with a delightful day of barbecue, sun and fun, celebrating Memorial Day At gorgeous Harkness Memorial State Park in nearby Waterford. I was invited by our adorable star, Jenn Gambatese, who had planned the cookout with some of her friends from the area, and a few of us actors joined her, her sweet little girl, JoJo, and husband Curtis at the park.
Harkness is a sprawling state park, complete with grassy lawns and a small stretch of rocky beach, crowned by the summer mansion of the wealthy Harkness family, Eolia, a beautiful 1906 edifice surrounded by colonnaded terraces and lush gardens, which is open during the summer season for all to enjoy. It was a truly wonderful and quintessentially American holiday that we enjoyed, catching rays, watching the babies practice their wobbly new walking skills, feasting on burgers and franks, not to mention a spontaneous and entertaining whiffle ball game which attracted an entire group of rough-and-tumble little boys from all around the park. I reveled in the fun of meeting new people and of getting a chance to get to know Jenn and her family, as well as the other actors who shared the day with me.


A view of Eolia, the Harkness Mansion

While we all love the work of the theatre, and spend the majority of our time as actors hustling and auditioning for the chance to do that work we love, it is an added benefit far and beyond the joy of creative endeavor to live and work with such fine and loving people as Goodspeed has gathered to do this production. It says a lot about the values of our employers as well as the supporters and community that embrace the theatre, that "Camp Goodspeed" is as joyous an experience as it is for all involved. As we embark on our final month of performances, I already am hopeful that I will get a chance to come back and work in this unique environment again.

Friday, May 28, 2010

WHAT'S COMING UP NEXT


JAMES BEAMAN CONTINUES AS CHARLIE DAVENPORT IN "ANNIE GET YOUR GUN" AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE THROUGH JULY 3!

The show was warmly received by the press, and was nominated for six Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, winning two: Best Actress in a Musical: Jenn Gambatese, and Best Choreography: Noah Racey.

No blogging this week from Goodspeed, but wanted to share what's coming up for me beyond "Annie Get Your Gun."

JAMES BEAMAN WILL PERFORM IN SHAKESPEARE'S "TWO NOBLE KINSMEN" WITH TAFFETY PUNK THEATRE COMPANY AT THE FOLGER THEATER IN WASHINGTON, D.C., MONDAY, JULY 26.

I am happy to say that I will be participating in one of the most exciting projects of the Taffety Punk Theatre Company, the next in their Bootleg Shakespeare series.
I was lucky enough to be in the very first of these events, a production of "Cymbeline" which was one of the highlights of my career to date. The Bootleg concept is simple: assign a cast of talented, classically trained actors roles in a Shakespeare play, instruct them to learn their lines and report to the performance space the day of the show for a few brief hours of staging rehearsal with director Lise Bruneau, then perform the play before a packed house of enthusiastic Bardolators who got in for FREE. It is like being shot out of a canon. And the play comes magically and vitally to life. The next of the series will be "The Two Noble Kinsmen" and will be at the Folger Theatre in D.C. Monday July 26. More details to come! For more information on Taffety Punk Theatre Company: http://www.taffetypunk.com/

Sunday, May 23, 2010

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week Ten

"James Beaman plays Charlie Davenport with a New Yorker's wily acumen." ~Hartford Courant

"ANNIE GET YOUR GUN" PLAYS THROUGH JULY 3 AT GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE!

This week, for several reasons, I chose to stay in East Haddam for the days off. It's amazing how long and luxurious those two days can feel when I'm not motoring back and forth to New York, hustling to auditions and various appointments in the city. During my free time I spent a few hours exploring the extraordinary archives of the Scherer Musical Theatre Library at Goodspeed. This great facility is the only library in the U.S. solely devoted to the preservation and advancement of musical theatre through the collection of performance materials for research and study. Its collection of scripts, scores, sheet music, playbills and other materials is second only to that of Lincoln Center's Performing Arts Library in New York. You can just imagine what a boon this place is for the performers who work here. Not only am I always committed to expanding my knowledge of the craft and the history of my work, but as an actively auditioning performer, I am forever seeking great songs and monologue material for use in auditions--preferably material that is more obscure and not as commonly used by other actors. The Scherer Library provides unfettered access to a wealth of material that may be completely unavailable elsewhere.

I had an audition this week for a prominent Shakespeare festival, for which I was required to perform two monologues, one classic and one contemporary, as well as a song from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
I selected a tune from "Patience," one of the lesser known G&S shows, which lampooned the aesthetic movement in the Victorian era. The Scherer Library had a complete score and libretto of the piece, and librarian and education director Josh Ritter was able to take an old LP of a British recording of the operetta and transfer my song from an analog to a digital track right there, sending me away with a CD of the music I needed to study! While I was waiting, I looked through the library's extensive collection of play scripts, and happened to find a very, very funny comic monologue which completely captivated me, and which I have spent my days off memorizing and working up for this audition. While I admit I am a theatre dork, the discovery of a new and workable comedic monologue that can serve me in auditions for years to come is a real find.

I was also able to help out one of my performer friends who needed a song from a rather obscure contemporary musical. The song is not available in published vocal selections from the show, even though it is included on the original cast album, and my friend had searched the Lincoln Center Library for the score, to no avail. Wouldn't you know the library here had the entire score, in a copy of the original, unpublished manuscript? I was able to take the song and fax it to my friend, who will be able to use it for his own audition next week. While I want to toot the horn of this amazing resource center, it's so wonderfully managed and so easily utilized here at Goodspeed, I rather selfishly don't want to see it get too popular! I am only kidding. Really, folks, if you are a lover of the musical theatre genre, or a scholar or performing professional who desires access to some really valuable material, the Scherer Library is something to know about. Goodspeed Musicals truly gives back to us all by dedicating space, manpower and resources to this great institution.

Another way Goodspeed gives back is through educational outreach programs, and they offer all us visiting artists the opportunity to participate. These opportunities can involve anything from pre- and post-show discussions with audiences and school groups, to classes and workshops with area students.
This week, the talented Molly Tynes, one of our ensemble dancers, and I devised a workshop on auditioning for a group of ten students from the Community Music School in nearby Essex. These kids study voice and music and theatre and every summer participate in a musical production with the school, so they have a passion for musical theatre. Auditioning is an integral and essential component of the actor's career, and requires a set of skills that need to be developed above and beyond the training a performer receives in their craft. Auditioning draws upon one's interpersonal skills, one's ability to improvise, and challenges the performer to develop methods of relaxation and of presenting one's best self in an intense and concentrated encounter with potential employers. Through question and answer and a series of exercises, Molly and I encouraged the students to focus on their strengths, both as performers and as people, knowing who they are and the unique combination of qualities they project.
Then we asked the kids to present 16 bars of a song and set things up like an actual audition. We were not only impressed by the abilities of these talented teenagers, but by the way in which they took our direction and coaching. The results in just a couple of hours were really inspiring. It reminded me how vital it is for older, established artists to provide encouragement and positive reinforcement to budding young talents, and I felt so grateful for that reminder. Revisiting the wonder and excitement of a young performer finding his or her self expression helped me to realize that I need to keep those same energies alive in myself as I pursue my own work. Thank you to Josh and the education department at the theatre for a stimulating classroom opportunity, and best of luck to our ten young aspirants! Carpe diem!