Wednesday, June 30, 2010


"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




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




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



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



"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


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.