Friday, May 28, 2010



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."


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:

Sunday, May 23, 2010


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


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!

Friday, May 14, 2010


Left, as Charlie, with David McDonald, Jenn Gambatese and Kevin Earley (photo: Diane Sobolewski)


My Mom and I are Facebook friends, and recently she got hold of a scanner and posted a bunch of photos from the days when she ran her acting company and school in my hometown of Beverly, MA. It was there that I really started my journey as an actor and received all my early formative training.
At the age of 13, I was taking acting, singing, mime, and all forms of dance, as well as playing roles in children's theatre and in the adult productions whenever there was a part for a precocious kid! Seeing those photos of me as a child actor made me think of the three talented youngsters who are playing Annie Oakley's siblings in "Annie Get Your Gun," and I thought I would devote this week's blog to profiling the littlest "Goodspeeders."

I was bitten by the acting bug very early, and my childhood was full of creativity and grand dreams of playing on Broadway. The first Broadway show I ever saw was "Annie" (which, as you may know, began its life here at Goodspeed), and I was so elated to see kids my age on that stage singing and dancing in a glittering Broadway production. I idolized the show's star, Andrea McArdle, and played the original cast album until it was worn out. As far as I was concerned, my life's path was set--I would be an actor, and one day star in a Broadway show myself. I see the same passion and starry eyed enthusiasm in our three talented junior cast members, Marissa Smoker, Joy Rachel Del Valle, and Griffin Birney, who play Nellie, Jessie, and Little Jake, respectively.

Marissa Smoker, Joy Rachel Del Valle, Griffin Birney with Jenn Gambatese (photo: Diane Sobolewski)

Marissa, who is our resident firecracker--a real ball of energy-- started her theatrical career in community theatre alongside her Mom, who is a lover of show biz and has been coming to Goodspeed shows since she was a kid. In fact, Marissa's stage debut was at the age of one in her Mom's arms in a production of "Dearly Departed." When one of her young friends was cast in the Broadway production of "Mary Poppins," Marissa, 12, begged her parents to get her a New York agent. She has been auditioning in New York for a couple of years, and taking dance, acting and voice lessons. She recently played Young Dorothy in a feature film, "Witches of Oz," with Sean Astin and Christopher Lloyd. Ultimately, Marissa wants to attend FIT and become a fashion designer. No doubt her spunk and bubbly personality will take her far, wherever her creative aspirations lead her.

Joy, who, at 15, is really more a young lady than a kid, is extraordinarily talented and mature for her age. She has a quiet sweetness about her and has truly been like a big sister to her younger cast mates. She possesses a strong and beautiful singing voice and speaks passionately and articulately about her love of theatre and her ambition to get good training at a reputable college theatre program and pursue a career in musical theatre. She has already performed at several professional regional theatres in this area, including the highly respected Hartford Stage. Citing "Glee" star Lea Michele as one of her idols, Joy is well on her way to becoming a lovely singer/actress.

Griffin, a diminutive and serious little actor, who one day hopes to be a lawyer (smart kid!), is incredibly bright and inquisitive. He recently underwent intense training in dance as part of a 'camp' that develops young performers to potentially take on roles in the musical juggernaut, "Billy Elliot," which features exceptionally gifted kids and has multiple companies around the US and abroad. As of this writing, Griffin has been cast in the national tour of the show! What an amazing adventure awaits this lucky ten year old. Griffin reminds me so much of myself at that age--clever, precocious, talented, and full of personality.

My Mom always said I was "born in a trunk," a reference to my being brought up in a theatre family, and I would say that it is definitely in my blood. I was so lucky to have been brought up by two such talented theatre artists as my parents. The same can be said of our littlest Goodspeeder, Jenn Gambatese's enchanting daughter, Josephine, who turned one year old this week.
Jenn threw an adorable birthday party in the theatre's green room between shows on Wednesday to celebrate the occasion. JoJo is a gorgeous little creature, who seemed fascinated by all the attention. Who knows? She may follow in her Mom's talented footsteps someday. I guess the thing all theatrical kids have in common are the unsung heroes: the parents. They recognize the budding talent, they encourage those grand dreams, and they make all the sacrifices: paying for dance lessons, driving to auditions, drying tears when the role goes to someone else, leading the standing ovations on those happy opening nights.
I believe that it's important for kids to be well rounded, even if they find professional success as young actors. The best 'stage moms and dads' know this and find ways to give their talented youngsters a grounded, normal childhood. We should never forget that much of the early inspiration and nurturing that creative kids receive is in public school drama and music programs. We should do all we can to help preserve these programs, which are ever on the verge of extinction, and always the first to go when budgets are being cut. Those school plays and recitals could be the training ground for the fine performing artists of tomorrow. I am crazy about our little stars in "Annie Get Your Gun" and look forward to watching them grow and succeed.

Friday, May 7, 2010


with Rebecca Watson as Dolly Tate (photo: Diane Sobiewski)


It was suggested to me that I devote this week's blog to some thoughts about what makes a great audience. We had a house full of school kids at our Wednesday matinee, and it became obvious to all of us on stage that these youngsters had not been properly instructed as to how to behave at a live performance. The steady stream of chatter, restlessness and texting was extremely distracting to the performers and the rest of the attendees. Granted, most young kids don't get to experience live theatre all that often, and their attention spans have been formed watching TV or movies, or surfing the web. I feel that the live theatre experience is a unique and indispensable one and one that we need to keep alive by exposing kids to it and educating them on how to make it as enjoyable and exciting as it can be.

I guess the single most important thing to impress on a young audience is that they are as visible and as audible where they sit as the actors are on stage.
This seems so obvious, but when the house lights are down and the show is in progress, kids forget that the people up there are not on a screen and can see and hear everything coming across the footlights. We want to hear their reactions and their laughter, which fuel our performances, but there are certain behaviors that can be disruptive and distracting, especially in an intimate space like the Opera House. I think something that is almost never communicated fully to kids is that their responses to what we are doing become an integral part of the performance and contribute to the overall experience of the show. I feel that once they have embraced this fact, they will feel like they are making the show happen with us and might enjoy the added responsibility of that contribution.

Then there's just the issue of etiquette. And these things apply not just to youth audiences but to all live audiences. There was a time when people found themselves in social settings with large groups of people more than we usually do nowadays; whether it be church, or the theatre, or in public situations like on planes or trains, there were certain codes of behavior and social expectations that we no longer give much weight to. Still, I feel that going to the theatre, like dining in a fine restaurant, is an opportunity for us all to enjoy a little bit of formality, lending to the occasion a certain dignity and a sense of consideration for our fellow patrons and the live performers on stage and in the orchestra pit. There was a time that we didn't need someone to make a speech over the PA system before the curtain to remind people to turn off their cell phones or not to unwrap candies wrapped in cellophane during the show. People just knew what was proper and what wasn't. I am not saying that live theatre should be a stuffy affair; rather I feel like the sense of decorum adds to the specialness of the event, again, like going out for a fancy meal in a nice restaurant.

To that end, these would be my suggestions for how to educate kids to go to the theatre.

Think of the performance as a conversation between the actors and the audience. Everything we do elicits a response, whether it be audible or not. Kids should know that we want their laughter and enjoyment of the show, but they should also be aware that the people on stage have feelings, and that jeering and ridicule have no place in any social situation.

Theatre is a place to maybe put on your Sunday best, in terms of dress and behavior. Sure, I wear jeans to the theatre, but I always feel like I need to wear a nice shirt or jacket, and a decent pair of shoes. Just as I wouldn't wear flip flops and a t shirt to a fine restaurant, I wouldn't go that casual to a nice theatre. I think it's a good lesson for kids to make some extra effort in how they present themselves at the theatre--these habits can be carried over to job interviews, to family and church events, and will come in handy when the kids are grown and start dating.

Just as one wouldn't sit in a pew in church or synagogue texting or chatting on a cell phone, one shouldn't do it in a theatre. To me that's basic. And for kids, it's part of teaching them maturity and appropriate social skills. They shouldn't carry on like that in movies either. It's not just about their enjoyment of the experience, it is about every one's enjoyment.

And finally, here's a big pet peeve of mine. The curtain call is the time that the actors not only get to receive the audience's thanks and appreciation in the form of their applause, but is also the time when we can engage directly with the audience, and by bowing, express our thanks for their attention and patronage. The curtain call is not the time to leap from one's seat and race to the exit in order to be the first one out of the parking lot. Again, we can see you out there! And it's very disheartening to perform for two and a half hours and then, in the moment provided for us to share the enjoyment of the job well done with the audience, to see the backs of people leaving the theatre. Stay, everyone, and enjoy the curtain call with us. I promise you, even if it adds a few minutes to your exodus from the theatre (and the parking lot), it will enhance not only your pleasure in the experience of the show, it will give all of us on stage a feeling that what we did really mattered.

Live theatre endures, despite technological advances, streaming videos on the web, 3-D digital movies in stadium theatres; the reason for this is that human beings have an innate desire to connect and mingle and share our common humanity. And the theatre, since the days of ancient Greece, has been the place where we can do that. In an era where technology and an increasingly casual popular culture have served not to unify us, but further distance us from each other, institutions like live theatre continue to provide us with a place where we can experience the cooperative and collaborative energy of the communal moment. I love to think of patrons leaving our show feeling like they shared something special not only with us, but with each other, in a spirit of joy and satisfaction. Let's continue to expose our kids to this unique experience and educate them so they can really appreciate and enjoy the live theatre experience for many years to come.