Sunday, July 24, 2022

Well, All Right!

Yes, friends and fans, despite enduring possibly the worst two and a half years of my life, and despite the rather melancholy tone of my last blog post so many months ago..


When the work you've done for 32 years is taken from one, it's difficult to find one's way back.  I am happy and grateful to announce that my hometown theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, has offered me my first stage role in 29 months: Texas DJ and wise mentor, "Hipockets" Duncan in the spectacularly successful The Buddy Holly Story.

as Hipockets, with Kurt Jenkins as Buddy

You might recall that I played Hipockets before: in my first co-production with The Gateway and Ogunquit Playhouse, in 2013--nearly a decade ago.  I am so looking forward to the joy of bringing this bittersweet story of a musical genius to the glorious arena in the round at North Shore.

This production will be my fifth at this wonderful venue, and my time in Beverly, MA will be a great opportunity to connect with friends and family.  I was on the north shore not long ago, in June, for the memorial celebration of life for my beloved mother, Mickey Coburn, who left us on Mother's Day, May 8 of this year.  After so much grief, it will be a joy to return home to do the work I love. The work she taught me to love from childhood.

So I am back, folks.  I continue to slowly build my coaching business, The Work with James Beaman, and I am directing three--count 'em, three!--cabaret acts for singers Goldie Dver, Alexandra De Suze, and Becca Kidwell, all premiering this fall in NYC.  

My screenwriting continues, with my TV pilot, Wisenheimer, earning three laurels in recent months, including the top prize, First Place Golden Winner in the New York International Screenplay Awards!  The script continues to make the rounds and I am optimistic about its future.

So, watch this space!  I promise to blog more than once a year.  Stay strong, mask up, get vaxxed!  And let's move bravely forward into this next chapter of our journey.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Twenty One Months Later

2021 was a lost year. Sitting here, it feels like a blink.  Almost like it didn’t happen. But it did.  

2021 was a year of grief.  It was prolonged and intensified by my avoidance of that grief; my fear that it would destroy me, subsume me. February 23, 2022 will mark a year since my mother entered the nursing home. The anniversary of the worst day of my life. The day I had to concoct a story, a lie, to get my mother into the car and to the doors of the home, where I left her in the hands of strangers (great strangers, in the best of all possible nursing homes).  The lie was that she was going home. She will never—except perhaps in a scrap of dislodged memory, in some silent, private moment I will never witness—go home again. 

Nor will I.

Of course, the only way to keep grief from destroying one is to risk feeling it. Because all of one's avoidance tactics are more damaging, more toxic than that pain could be, and they leave one weakened and less and less able to sit with the grief.  Ironically, then, these tactics succeed as they debilitate. Like chemotherapy, the treatment kills as it seeks to heal.

Add to 2021 the isolation of living in a frightened, nasty-spirited social media addicted world that was, and is still, riddled with highly transmissible disease. Disease that can sicken you regardless of your vaccination status. Disease that has us going through the motions of KN-95 masks and protocols and vaccination cards--and correcting each others' pantomimes, like children in a school play. For me, the lack of work as an actor, combined with the pressure to sidestep covid-19 at all costs--knowing that I would not be permitted to see my mother if I were to test positive—created the perfect excuse to hunker down in my apartment and isolate.  I watched hour after hour after hour of films and series and documentaries and stand-up comics, and reality shows… anything to fill the SILENCE of my cave, which of course wasn’t silent at all.  

My mother was once the ideal person to be the messenger of any news of a terrible loss. She held herself together. She told you what you needed to know, and she stood by quietly on the phone while you lost it.  My father and sister died within two years of each other, and when both of these seismic losses occurred, I was in rehearsal.  My Dad passed a few days before tech began on “Les Misérables,” in which I was playing a dream role—Thénardier. My sister died a few days before Thanksgiving in 2016 when I was juggling two productions: a thesis project at Columbia, and an Off-Broadway evening of one acts by Thornton Wilder.  And in both instances, Mom told me to stay and do the work and be there for the company, and we’d grieve together later.  She was right, and she was wrong.

In the moment, throwing myself into the work was the best thing for me, but that just meant the grief—not to be denied, as certain as death itself—would come and get me when I least expected it.  And boy, did it.  Joan Didion wrote, "Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be."  Mere weeks after burying my Dad,  I showed up for rehearsals for “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Pioneer Theatre Co. in Utah, and was suddenly engulfed by relentless, agonizing grief and anger.  I was beat up for it, in front of my fellow actors, by a member of the creative team whom I still haven’t forgiven.  When my sister passed two years later… well, there’s something staggering about experiencing the loss of a sibling whilst doing plays by Wilder, the king of existential longing. Unfortunately, my catharsis came in front of a sold out audience when I was supposed to be “asleep” as The Middle Aged Doctor, in the shadows upstage in “Pullman Car Hiawatha.” Stifling sobs, I tried to stay "asleep."

Covid-19 left me enveloped by grief without my familiar refuge: my work.  I tried to overcome the problem by creating a business plan for my work as a coach; registering the business, announcing it on social media, and paying a designer to create a website announcing this amazing new project. An amazing new project which has gone (so far) exactly nowhere.

I channeled my pain and isolation and sense of the absurd (because life, defying all our attempts to give it shape and purpose, is absurd) into a TV series called “Wisenheimer.” I wrote the pilot, then the characters decided they wanted more. So I wrote six episodes; the entire first season.  And it’s darn good. I'm fully prepared for it never to do anything nor go anywhere.  Don’t misunderstand me—I'm not negative nor pessimistic. I just no longer have expectations: another word for dreams.  I don’t dream anymore. I think it’s a good thing.

Dreaming of my great, inevitable, future stardom on Broadway helped me survive a brutal childhood, and a bullying set of sadistic undergraduate acting teachers, and some real a**hole colleagues. But it set me up for disillusionment and rage. I showed up for my biggest job to date—starring as Sir Robin in the first national tour of “Spamalot”—like eager, upbeat Peggy Sawyer fresh from Allentown--to be greeted by a company of privileged theatre folk making six figure incomes, four-walling 3000-seat theaters, many of whom were bitter, jaded, passive-aggressive and in some cases, downright cruel.  Billie Holiday once said, "There's no damn business like show business.  You have to smile to keep from throwing up."  I thought the tour would open the door for me to Broadway—it would all be worth it because I would make it to Broadway AT LAST.  I didn’t. That was a dozen years ago now.

And what about the dream? 

George Carlin’s stinging indictment of the American Dream was that “it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”  The past year, I tried to stay asleep. I used streaming networks, substances, sex, food, self pity, avoidance of all things healthy that might raise my endorphin levels, and yes, sleep.

Lily Tomlin (via Jane Wagner) once said, "What is reality, anyway? Just a collective hunch."

I face the first day of 2022---which is only the first day of 2022 because we’ve all collectively agreed it is; really it’s just another day, and a day is only a day because we’ve all collectively agreed on what a day is, etc.— I am facing this turning of the year AWAKE. I’ve decided to stay awake and deal with the pain. Because there’s one alternative. And, as Peggy Lee once purred, “I’m not ready for that final disappointment.”  I don’t have dreams. I don’t even have plans. Plans will form. Eventually.  Dreams? Dreams are for children.  Let them dream. Until the day some adult answers truthfully, "No, Virginia..."

I am a confirmed atheist. If I ever indulge in a fantasy of what an afterlife might be like, it’s a place where I can be with my mother again as she was.  The mentor, teacher, cheerleader, nurturer, inspiration, friend—all the things she was. Like Emily in “Our Town,” I imagine what those few moments of "going back" would be like. My Mom, arms outstretched, coffee brewing in her kitchen and one of her amazing pies warming in the oven, asking me to tell her about my work and my life. The best listener ever.

I don’t know what 2022 will bring. Or take away. I have no resolutions, no grand schemes--and no dreams. I face this “new” year alone, with grief as a constant but ever quieting companion, with a mother across the river from me, who remembers little, yet, thankfully, still remembers me each time she sees me. For now. 

I no longer expect to be a star. I’ve been luckier than most. I've worked. I’ve made mistakes, been too outspoken, held grudges, tried too hard to make broken things work. I’ve always tried to do my best. But my best was never enough for me. I needed to be perfect.  Talk about chasing a dream.  Awake now, if I have one hope, it's to rediscover what “my best” is.  Maybe 2022 will be the year of doing the best I can.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

We Are What We Are

As Albin/Zaza, with James Patterson as Georges
La Cage Aux Folles can be enjoyed purely as a frothy farce, a glamorous spectacle, a bubble of a musical comedy.  And it is all of these things.  But if we look beyond the laughs and the glitter, there are deeper messages for us and our time--which is why the piece is a timeless classic.

On the surface, we are greeted with all the elements of classic farce: a flamboyant, openly gay couple run a drag club on the fringe of the Mediterranean resort town they live in. Their son announces his betrothal to the daughter of a homophobic politician determined to shut down all the gay clubs in St. Tropez.  Hilarity ensues.  But, in the hands of Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman, this story of worlds colliding takes on greater dimensions, inviting us to open our minds and hearts to a story of acceptance, self empowerment and love.

In 1983, when the show premiered on Broadway, I was a freshman in college. I had not come out yet as a gay man, and the times were not hospitable. A rising tide of conservatism had overtaken the country; the Religious Right was cutting its teeth, and gay people were a prime target of their venom.  Famous people were being outed, their careers destroyed.  AIDS had just begun to decimate the gay community and our government was doing nothing to stem the tide of what would become a global pandemic.  In response, LGBT people activated, and groups like Act Up and Queer Nation demanded equality and action to save the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS.  It was a time of great fear but also of great empowerment.... and I came out in the midst of it all.  Taking a stand for how I love and live despite these pressures--good preparation for one day playing Albin!

The original cast of "La Cage Aux Folles"
La Cage Aux Folles was a bold and risky choice for that season on Broadway--chorus dancers in full drag, a central love story of two men raising a child together, and a repudiation of the kind of bigoted politicking that was taking root in our culture.  And yet, it was a massive hit.

Fast forward nearly 40 years, to the America we live in today. A rising tide of conservatism has again taken hold in our government and our culture.  Loud voices of bigotry and discrimination abound.  It's a time of division and fear.  And here comes La Cage Aux Folles again, with its exuberant celebration of gay culture, its glitter and glamour, and its message of inclusion, tolerance and empowerment--all encapsulated in the show's timeless anthem, "I Am What I Am."

As we've been rehearsing here at Riverside Theatre these past couple weeks, another dangerous virus has started spreading throughout the world--the Coronavirus--threatening to become a deadly pandemic.  I've watched officials trying to stem the panic, and people worldwide scrambling to keep themselves safe from this highly infectious disease.  It is in such moments that we are reminded that regardless of race, color, creed, gender or orientation, we are all human: we are all vulnerable, we are all mortal.

As I prepare to play Albin--a man who, even by today's standards, is living outside what most consider "normal"--who has to plead with his loved ones and his world to accept him as he is... I remember that human beings in times of crisis, when existential threats begin to close in, reach beyond their differences. They find common ground in the name of survival.  I was in New York City during 9/11 and I remember, in the wake of that horror, the way communities reached out to each other to help, to comfort, to commune and to carry on.

After all, we are what we are, and what we are is a human family.  It shouldn't take a terrorist attack or a deadly pandemic to remind us that at our core, we all are human beings; we all want the same things--love, acceptance, a family, a future, and the freedom to live a happy, healthy life.  La Cage Aux Folles isn't a "gay story," it's a human story.  The message we are left with as we brush the glitter off our sleeves and walk out into the world smiling and humming Herman's fabulous tunes, is that we are not so different, we humans.  We all want to be happy, safe, loved.  We want to make this time The Best of Times, and live and love as hard as we know how.  Join us March 10-29 at beautiful Riverside Theatre, and feel the love.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Little More Mascara

La Cage Aux Folles has worked a sort of magic in my life--twice--setting me on new paths of experience and professional advancement.  It's a story of family, of love, of personal authenticity, decorated with sequins and infused with heart. 

The first time I stepped into t-straps and entered the glittering world of La Cage was in 1990.  I did a small, low budget production at a long defunct theatre in Framingham, MA, which was attended by two wonderful producers, Armand Marchand and George Charbonneau, who were about to launch the New Bedford Festival Theatre at the grand old Zeiterion. La Cage Aux Folles would be their inaugural production, with a full orchestra and the Broadway costumes and sets.  Armand and George swept me up to reprise my role as the notorious and dangerous Cagelle (with an attitude), Mercedes.

Summer love: with Damien in New Bedford
It was in New Bedford that I met the man who would become my partner for 16 years.  My one and only ever "showmance."  Damien played Francis, the stage manager, in La Cage and during those brief three weeks of the show, we fell in love, and moved in together not long after.  This musical farce of drag and family drama had changed the course of my life. 

Ironically, it was right after the end of my relationship with Damien that La Cage came unexpectedly back into my world.  The year after our breakup in 2006, I spent a season performing Shakespeare's "War of the Roses" plays at Alabama Shakespeare Festival.  Five months of sword wielding and verse speaking.  Right after that, I joined my friends Marcus Kyd and Lise Bruneau in DC to be part of their fledgling company, Taffety Punk's, first ever Bootleg Shakespeare production: Cymbeline. I played the tormented lover, Posthumus Leonatus, and returned to New York from the one day marathon of Bootleg, flushed with creative joy and hoarse as heck from the vocal challenge of Posthumus's ranting!

The evening I got back I got a call from casting director Stuart Howard (who cast the original Broadway production of La Cage) telling me that Ogunquit Playhouse was doing the show and that they had lost the name actor who was to play the lead role of Albin.  They started rehearsal in less than a week and had been unable to find a replacement.  He insisted I go and audition. With absolutely no clue if I'd be able to sing the show's anthem, "I Am What I Am," after my vocal exertions in the Shakespeare, I nevertheless showed up the next morning at 9AM.  I somehow found the voice to sing the song, and director BT McNicholl and choreographer Barry McNabb hired me on the spot. Five days later, I plunged into rehearsals with my co-star, handsome heartthrob Maxwell Caulfield.

As Albin, with Maxwell Caulfield as Georges
It'd take much more than a blog post to relate to you the many wonders of that production; the brilliant folks I worked with on it.  Ogunquit's La Cage brought me lasting friendships, and challenged me to step into my own as a star musical theatre performer.  Albin is the male equivalent of Jerry Herman's great leading lady parts like Dolly Levi and Auntie Mame. It takes enormous confidence, skill and endurance to deliver Albin's journey and that of his dazzling alter ego, ZaZa.  Playing the part transformed the entire way I viewed myself as a performer.

And... as fate would have it, BT McNicholl went immediately from our production to become Mike Nichols' assistant director on the Tony-Winning Best Musical Spamalot.  BT helped me get in front of the show's casting director, Tara Rubin, and, come that fall, I was cast as Sir Robin in the First National Tour.  And if you have been following this blog you know just how monumental that opportunity was for me and my career.

Well, here we are, 12 years later, and I have been invited by wonderful Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, FL--one of my favorite theatres--to lead their production of La Cage Aux Folles as Albin in 2020!  I am thrilled to take on this glittering and fabulous role again, and to be directed by cherished collaborator DJ Salisbury.  With the recent passing of the great Jerry Herman, it is truly an honor to begin the '20s performing this life affirming classic.  Will this new La Cage lead to yet another magical breakthrough in my love life or career?  Who knows.  All I feel right now is excitement!-- and gratitude for having this opportunity before me as the new year dawns. Truly, playing Albin IS the best of times.
La Cage Aux Folles plays March 10-29 at beautiful Riverside Theatre.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Berlin: 1999

As we near the end of another decade, I am reminded that it was 20 years ago this month that I saw in the Millennium in the fascinating city of Berlin, and in the guise of one of Berlin's most famous native daughters: Marlene Dietrich.

Black Market Marlene
I had been impersonating Dietrich for about five years at that point.  My first act, Queen of the World: Marlene Dietrich in Concert, had been followed by Black Market Marlene: a Dietrich Cabaret, my most successful endeavor with the screen siren. The act had been commissioned by the late impresario, Erv Raible, who invited me to create an original show for his legendary club, Eighty Eights.

I conceived a sung-through piece presenting Marlene in her gender-bending signature look of top hat and tails, incorporating pieces she sang in male drag as well as lots of her early film and recorded songs in German, French and English.  Accompanied by brilliant musical director and arranger David Maiocco, accordionist Tony Lauria and drummer Mary Rodriquez, I insinuated myself through the intimate club, weaving an illusion of a bygone Berlin cabaret suffused with smoke and mystery. For a glimpse of my Dietrich work at that time, enjoy Rick McKay's short film on me, Illusions.

The show was a big success, garnering rave reviews and launching a series of tour dates in cities like New Orleans and San Francisco, as well as gay hot spots Fire Island and Provincetown.  A Berlin cabaret promoter, Klaus "Mabel" Ascheneller, who represented several drag acts which he'd had success with in Germany (including drag opera diva Shequida), saw the piece and decided to pitch it to the BKA, an edgy cabaret venue.  Impressed with my rave New York reviews, and the images of me as Marlene, the BKA booked me to perform through the '99 Christmas season, the Millennium festivities and into 2000.  

Thank heaven David Maiocco was hired to come with me, and off we flew to Berlin.  To call the first few days we were there a whirlwind would be an understatement.  The producers at BKA barely spoke any English, and neither David nor I spoke enough German to get by.  We were introduced to our two musicians, neither of whom had much if any English: a female French classical accordionist and a German drummer.  David spoke the language of music to these talented musicians, and set to work getting them up to speed.

Meantime my schedule had been arranged for me, with interviews and press events, culminating in a segment for Berlin Public Television which had me followed around the city by a camera crew to various places significant to Dietrich, including her grave site.  There was a controversy over the giant posters of me plastered all over town: the Dietrich Estate, administered by Marlene's daughter, Maria Riva, insisted that the photo of me used on the posters was of the actual Dietrich and was being used without license.  Staving off their cease-and-desist order, my German agent had to put them in touch with my NYC photographer, Stephen Mosher, who provided proof that the shot was of me.  It was rather flattering in a way, but added to the overall stress of the situation.

The Public TV segment was shot the day of my opening performance.  The concept of preview performances was unknown to the BKA, and unbeknownst to us, they'd invited every television and radio station in Berlin, as well as the national press, to cover my first performance.  Despite the Germans' ambivalent attitude toward Dietrich (she's rather like Joan Crawford to them--simultaneously reviled and celebrated), an American drag performer playing the siren garnered a great deal of interest.

To add to the pressure of the moment, the camera crew whisking me around Berlin got me to the club without enough time for me to do the 90 minutes of makeup required to transform into Marlene.  This meant that my performance went up 45 minutes late.  By the time I emerged on stage to begin the show, a cranky full house of dignitaries and Berlin cognoscenti had been smoking (and fuming) for over an hour.  My first entrance was like something out of Fellini.  The room was thick with cigarette smoke. A row of television cameras in the back was staring me in the face. In the front row, Germany's top drag performers, in full regalia, were seated alongside the German Minister of Culture.  Arms folded, they peered at this drag arriviste American with all the warmth of a firing squad.

The performance happened.  At the end, the audience stamped its feet and demanded encores.  I learned afterward that Germans are very persnickety about genre.  My show was promoted as a cabaret, but the German idea of what a cabaret was bore little resemblance to what I was doing--they expected political humor, satire, improvisation, riffing off the audience.  I was doing a sung-through art piece with virtually no patter. To them, this was a concert and they were going to teach this upstart American a lesson.  My show incorporated no encores.  The audience applauded and stamped until I was forced to roll out three encores of songs I had already performed.  Finally, sweating and exhausted, I was allowed to leave the stage.

The next day, the press lambasted me. From the national newspaper Die Welt on down, the reviews were in and they were vicious.  You see, also unbeknownst to me, there had just been a highly successful Berlin run of Pam Gems' play Marlene starring a famous German television star, who had received raves. I didn't realize that my engagement was a thumb in the eye of this lady's success--and by a Yank, no less!  The press sharpened their knives and drew blood. 

With brilliant musical director, David Maiocco
Funnily enough--although my producers were freaking out, and I was devastated by the notices--I learned another perverse thing about the German public: they love controversy.  Far from dissuading people from coming to the show, the bad reviews made them want to see for themselves and make up their own minds about it.  The run sold out.  Audiences loved it.  People from Marlene's past started showing up and greeting me after performances-- including a little old lady in a babushka who threw herself, weeping, into my arms.  She'd been Marlene's dresser in the early 60s when she'd brought her act to Berlin, amidst controversy far more dramatic than what I was experiencing.

The BKA contracted me to host their New Year's Eve event, a varieté program--sort of like a vaudeville--with me as Marlene doing a few numbers and introducing the various acts, which included a belly dancer, a snake charmer, and my partner Damien--who was a dancer with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo--performing The Dying Swan, en pointe.  It was surreal and sublime to find myself in this strange Weimar-style fun house as the 90s came to a close.

We toasted each other with champagne as midnight struck, people taking to the streets firing guns into the air, as fireworks exploded over the Siegessäule. David Maiocco dubbed our Berlin adventure The Marlennium Tour.  It certainly was a trip.  Twenty years ago.  Seems like another life, and certainly another career.  

Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin...

Monday, December 23, 2019

A New Decade Approaches

Well, here we are, about to start a new decade.  One thing I know for sure--the older I get, the faster time seems to fly.  Having already posted a sort of recap of my various ventures and creative projects of the year, I am taking this opportunity to reflect on the decade past and some home truths I have come to embrace.

I've been cobbling together ideas and notes for a memoir I am considering writing.  For inspiration, I recently read the wonderful and hilarious autobiography of Eric Idle, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life." It reminded me that the decade that is coming to a close started for me with the finale of the First National Tour of Eric and John DuPrez's Tony-winning Best Musical Spamalot.

It was my most prestigious and most lucrative acting job to date. In October 2009, we gave our last show in Costa Mesa, CA.  By then I had been on the road for 22 months, played 62 city stops in North America, and turned in over 680 performances as Sir Robin.  I had starred opposite my idol Gary Beach, as well as greats Richard Chamberlain, Jonathan Hadary, and John O'Hurley.

I can't deny that I expected, as I returned to New York with a nice bank account, fancy LA head shots and a brand new agent, that my next step would be: BROADWAY.  From the age of 11, my dearest held aspiration, The Great White Way.  And having played a leading role in a hugely successful tour, I hoped and anticipated that doors in that hallowed echelon of the business would open for me.

Well, a decade has passed and Broadway remains elusive.  Virtually every other principal actor I worked with on the tour has done multiple Broadway shows and made big inroads into film and television in the past ten years.  While I often counsel my coaching clients and acting students not to compare their relative success and failure to that of others, it is sometimes impossible not to go down that rabbit hole of doubt and self-pity myself.  

As I've been putting together anecdotes about those halcyon days on the road, one story continues to creep up on me and rankles like no other.  Spamalot was directed by Mike Nichols and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.  This was certainly the show that put Casey on the map as a major force. The Book of Mormon and his many other successes were yet to come, and of course now he is, arguably, the most significant director on Broadway.

Casey came to see the tour in February of 2008 when we were playing Huntsville, AL.  It was the first time I had met him; I had already been in the show for well over a year.  At our note session, Casey was over the moon about my performance and gave me nothing but positive feedback.  I was elated.

A month later, we were in Wilmington, DE rehearsing John O'Hurley into our company in anticipation of our West Coast tour, which would take us to San Francisco for two months and then to LA and the Ahmanson Theatre for nine weeks. Casey came to see the show and, knowing he was in the house, I was probably pushing a bit in my performance; the overall mandate for Spamalot was a very low key, almost deadpan performance style.  Anyway, the next day we had a work session with Casey.

Everyone gathered on stage and Casey arrived to begin rehearsal.  To my surprise, he singled me out and began to dress me down, demanding to know what had happened to me and how my work could have become so awful--and that I had ruined the previous night's performance.  To this day, I find it hard to believe that in just a few short weeks I could have gone from brilliant in his estimation to ruining the show.  But in the moment, I was stunned.  And the worst thing you can do to a person who was ridiculed, bullied and brutalized for the first 10 years of his life in public school is to ridicule and bully him in front of his peers.  Casey could have taken me privately aside and told me I had been pushing and I needed to pull my performance back.  But he didn't. And so, feeling attacked, I stood up for myself.  

What transpired was a heated five minute squabble between me and Casey, witnessed by all, which left me shaking and furious.  But I took his notes, gave a better performance that night, and was told by his assistant that Casey left Wilmington happy with my work.  But the bad taste remained with me.  One of the dysfunctions of show business is that things happen, or don't happen, in one's career and one never knows why (or why not).  I have always wondered if that five minutes in which I quarreled with Casey hurt my chances of making inroads into Broadway.

But, of course, this way madness lies.  I will say that a year later, I got into an elevator at 42nd Street Studios in New York and stood right next to Casey.  I said hi, and he acted like he didn't know me.  My mind reeled.  As I said: madness.

Which brings me back to Eric.  Because these stories we hold on to--particularly the negative ones, the moments we actors think ruined forever our dreams of success and fame--can overshadow the really affirming, amazing moments we've experienced.  So, in the aftermath of this negative moment with Casey, we made our way out west.

One night, at the Ahmanson in LA, I was doing my big number, "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," and I looked out and there was Eric Idle sitting in the third row along with his gorgeous wife Tania, and next to them, Billy Crystal and his wife Janice.  Throughout my song, Billy was howling with laughter and having the time of his life.  It was surreal.

After the show,  I'm leaving my dressing room and heading home.  I open the door, and who is standing outside my room waiting for me to come out but Eric, Tania, Janice, and Billy--who points at me and shouts: "YOU!!  YOU ARE HILARIOUS!"  He then leaps forward and takes me into a huge embrace, lifting me off the floor. Eric steps forward and pats me on the back and says to Billy, "Didn't I tell you he was great?"  I'm thinking--what is happening here?  Whose life is this?  I spent the next ten minutes with these two comedy legends as they and their wives gushed over me.  I only wish in 2009 we'd had phones equipped with cameras and video. 

Anyway, you see where I'm going with this?  The most important director-to-be on Broadway gave me a negative set of notes in front of my fellow actors and I thought my career irreparably damaged... and a few weeks later, the show's writer, one of the Pythons, the entire reason for Spamalot existing, the ORIGINAL Sir Robin-- and his buddy, one of the greatest and most successful actor/comedians of all time-- told me I was brilliant.  What better vote of confidence could I have?

And yeah... Broadway hasn't happened.  Yet.  But I've learned that holding on so strongly and desperately to a desired goal can make one unappreciative--almost unaware-- of the great things one is already achieving and has achieved.  So, no, the decade past didn't bring my Broadway debut.  What did it bring?  Relatively consistent employment as an actor at some of our finest theaters, and more and more great parts.  I've gotten to play a handful of my all time dream roles: Thénardier, John Adams, Nathan Detroit, Captain Hook. I've developed new musicals and worked with more legends: Jerry Lewis, Marvin Hamlisch, Sally Struthers, Valerie Harper. I've developed great relationships with directors and theaters  who've invited me back numerous times.  I've broken through with small bits on great TV shows: Law & Order: SVU  and Succession.  

So, have I achieved my ultimate dream? Not yet.  But I have probably achieved the ultimate dreams of many in my profession who continue to strive toward opportunities I have been fortunate enough to have had.  As 2020 approaches, I have concluded that no matter what the future brings, we must embrace the good in our lives, give ourselves credit for our hard work, and just keep moving forward with as much optimism as possible.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Birthday Reflections

Taking stock of what I have and what I haven't...
What do I find?
The things I've got will keep me satisfied.
Checking up on what I have and what I haven't...
What do I find?
A healthy balance on the credit side.
~Irving Berlin

Another birthday is here and I find myself in the midst of that awkward, silent time that precedes the start of a new gig.  In less than a week, I will go to Vermont and spend the holidays playing wonderful Max Detweiler in "The Sound of Music."  It's a return to a role I love; to New England, where I spent the first half of my life... and most importantly, it places me two hours' drive from my Mom--which means we get to do Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah, and Christmas together, and even see in 2020.  Blessings.

I have been doing a look back over this 54th year of my life and it's been a time of some real struggle--financially, professionally, personally-- but also a period of growth and achievement, highlighted by a new trend of diversification in my work.


 Big Apple Film Festival Award
A year ago, the Big Apple Film Festival awarded me Third Place Winner in their Short Screenplay Competition for my script, "T."  This intense, surreal story of addiction also won Best Short Screenplay in the HollywoodJust4Shorts Competition.  My feature screenplay, "The Girl in Green," placed in the top 10% in the coveted Academy Nicholl Fellowship Competition and finished as quarterfinalist in the WeScreenplay Feature Competition.

Television and Commercials

Last fall, I made my primetime TV debut in a tiny part on "Law & Order: SVU."  It felt like a huge achievement to finally join the "Law & Order" family--a rite of passage for a New York actor.  Since then, I have appeared in an episode of the HBO blockbuster "Succession."  Other interesting opportunities have come my way, including a super fun commercial shoot for the moonshine brand, Saint Luna--as the hipster bartender, I found myself featured as part of the branding for the company!

Coaching and Teaching

My private coaching business has been growing by leaps and bounds and in the best way possible: by word of mouth.  My talented and successful clients have been very generous, sending referrals my way and helping to build my business.  In the past year my clients have booked Broadway, national tours, television and film roles.  I've had amazing opportunities to work with folks like Zachary James on his Metropolitan Opera debut in "Akhnaten" and Josh Raff on his one man show, "Love-Love."

Coaching young stars at Goodspeed Musicals
Goodspeed Musicals invited me back to lead a master class in audition technique for young people.  Always great to return to East Haddam, where Goodspeed continues to set the standard for musical theatre production and education.  

I also launched a new venture with my teaching partner, Andrew Parks--a professional intensive for musical theatre performers called Rep Book Excellence.  This new approach to the selection and performance of audition repertoire had a great first round of classes and we are looking forward to bringing it back in 2020.


Returning to the world of cabaret as a director has been enormously gratifying and creatively exciting.  Crafting and directing Sierra Rein's solo debut act, "Running in Place," in collaboration with musical director Bill Zeffiro was a joy, and Sierra swept the awards this past year, winning both the Bistro Award and the MAC Award.  This spring, my dear friend Goldie Dver made her comeback after a ten year absence from cabaret with the show we created together, "Back in Mama's Arms."  The piece, an inspiring story of survival and optimism, has been universally embraced by the cabaret community and press and Goldie has confidently reclaimed her place on the cabaret scene.

New Works

Readings and workshops of new plays and musicals are something I try to be a part of as often as I can--one never knows what piece will go on to have a life.  I am fortunate that writers and directors have invited me to the party a few times this past year.

In January, Bill Zeffiro asked me to be in a reading of his musical "Houdini Among the Spirits," with stars Robert Cuccioli and Nick Wyman.  This summer I had a great feature in the reading of the immersive speakeasy musical "Whisper Darkly," co-written and directed by talented DJ Salisbury; and wonderful playwright Gordon Penn invited me to read the bombastic comic lead of President Juraslob in his play "Black Garden" at the Roundabout.


Two wonderful regional theatre productions highlighted this 54th year of my life and my 29th year in show business.  I escaped the winter and returned to one my favorite companies, Riverside Theatre, to play the delicious cameo of Hungarian charlatan Zoltan Karpathy in "My Fair Lady."  Superb production directed by Jimmy Brennan and starring husband and wife Higgins and Eliza Jimmy and Kristin Beth Ludwig.

Drag antics with Max Falls and Brandon Curry 
With a week's turnaround following my time in Vero Beach, I flew off to TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Arkansas to play drag diva Miss Tracy Mills in Matthew Lopez's "The Legend of Georgia McBride."  A play with such heart, directed with heart by Bruce Warren--and a company of such lovely actors with whom I became fast friends. We are slated to remount our production in 2020 at Virginia Stage Company.

Looking back, it's been quite a year and I feel really grateful, even while I struggle to make the bills, and line up work in a business that is precarious even in its best moments. I've been pretty much single for 13 years and I wonder if love will ever find me again.  Getting older makes one think about things like stability, savings, retirement... but in this business, to quote a song lyric by friend and collaborator Bill Zeffiro: "I'll retire when I'm dead."  Welcome 55th year--let's see what you have in store...