Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year, New Show!

James Beaman plays King Frederick in the new musical Frog Kiss, having its first full production at Virginia Stage Company January 15 through February 3!

Well, show business may be a precarious life, but it is rarely dull!  Just before Christmas, I received an offer to join the cast of the new musical Frog Kiss.  I had auditioned for the production back in October during rehearsals for Guys and Dolls and for whatever reason, the actor they had cast as King Frederick in this hip, irreverent new take on the Princess and the Frog tale had to withdraw.  My offer came literally the night before rehearsals began!  No time to think about it-- so I jumped in.  Frog Kiss has been in development for several years, garnering rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as the New York Musical Theatre Festival.  The Virginia Stage production will be its first fully mounted production and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

The piece, by Charles Leipart and Eric Schorr, is a saucy take on a classic story, with a score that ranges from traditional musical theatre styles, to jazz, to hip hop.  The creative team, led by director Kenneth Roberson (Avenue Q), is made up of incredibly talented Broadway artists, and the design team is first rate.  I am playing the Princess' father, King Frederick, a befuddled but sweet hearted Dad who seeks the help of Taoist Masters to bring order and balance to his troubled kingdom.  It's a treat of a part and a delicious show, and there are few things more exciting than being part of the development of a new and promising piece.  We fly to Norfolk, VA to Virginia Stage Company on New Year's Day.  It's a wonderful thing to start the new year with a gig!  For more information on Frog Kiss, visit the show's website here.  Happy New Year all!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Holiday Letter

As 2012 hastens to its close, it's time for my annual holiday post, reviewing the events of the year and looking ahead toward the new year to come.

This was a year of changes, reevaluations and the beginning of wonderful new experiences in my life.  2012 started with an intense period of auditions, mainly for the summer season; these resulted in an offer for my third production on the mainstage at Goodspeed Musicals: the role of M. Lindsay Woolsey in MAME.  Mid-March I headed out to East Haddam, CT to begin rehearsals and spent most of the spring and summer enjoying the upbeat energy of this Jerry Herman classic, which was led by the remarkable Louise Pitre as Auntie Mame, and Judy Blazer as Vera Charles.  Judy and I became fast friends during the run of the show and that was just one of the blessings of MAME.  While I was in Connecticut, I also had the opportunity to coach some talented young actors, teach Pilates to the cast of the show, and complete the first draft of my feature length screenplay.

Once the show had closed, it was time for a period of rest, reflection and reconnection with family and friends.  I spent a week in Massachusetts at home with my Mom and family, catching up with my brother and his brood who were making their annual pilgrimage 'back east'.   I was delighted to learn that my niece Isobel has caught the acting bug and is the star of her high school!  After the family vacation I enjoyed a week on Fire Island, soaking up sun and sea and meditating on the various paths I want to pursue as an artist: performing, directing, teaching, producing and writing.

In early August, I went down to Washington, D.C. to perform in my fourth Bootleg Shakespeare production with Taffety Punk Theatre Company at the Folger Theatre.  This year we did the so-called 'bad quarto' of HAMLET, and I had the pleasure of playing the Ghost and the First Player.  Bootleg is always a jolt of energy and a renewal of the creative spirit and the performance was rapturously received.  I love the DC theatre scene and collaborating with my gifted friends there.

I was very excited to find a new community for classical theatre right here in New York, The Shakespeare Forum.  Started by Tyler Moss and his talented wife, Sybille Bruun, this amazing company offers classes and productions of Shakespeare as well as the invigorating and always uplifting weekly Forum, where artists from all backgrounds come together to explore the plays and ideas of Shakespeare.  I love being a part of this community and look forward to working with them more.

The fall brought me back to the musical theatre with GUYS AND DOLLS at North Shore Music Theatre, in my hometown of Beverly, MA.  I had long wanted to perform in this theatre-in-the-round, where I often went as a kid on school field trips to see theatre.  Our production of this Frank Loesser classic was an unqualified hit, garnering rave reviews, and I was tickled to be featured in the local media as the hometown son who made good!  I was spared being in New York for Superstorm Sandy, but all of us who had come up from the city to do the show watched with white knuckles as our beloved city was assaulted by this natural disaster.  Click here for one of the pieces on me, this one in the Boston Globe.

My creative work continued to expand this fall, with my return to the cabaret scene as director of an act for the talented Lianne Marie Dobbs, an extraordinary singer and music theatre actress making her cabaret debut.  The show, "Everything Old Is New Again," debuted at the Metropolitan Room to a sold out and rapturous audience, and Lianne and I plan to bring the act back soon.  Click here for video of Lianne in action!  In early December I returned to Goodspeed to teach, for the third year in a row, the Musical Theatre Audition Intensive.  30 talented high school students joined us for a jam-packed weekend where we introduced them to the process of preparing and executing their auditions for college theatre programs.  This marathon workshop has yielded amazing results, helping our participants to gain entrance to some of the finest training programs in the country, and has received a 100% approval rating from the students and their parents.  I am honored to be a part of its creation and development, and feel very proud of my work as a theatre educator--work that I hope to do more of in the new year.

As of now, my last project of 2012 will be a staged reading of George Bernard Shaw's SAINT JOAN, presented by Project Shaw.  I am thrilled to be a part of this evening, which will be graced by an incredible cast, including Fritz Weaver, Simon Jones, Tony Sheldon and Tony winner Nikki M. James in the title role.  I will be playing Brother Martin Ladvenu, a sensitive and beautiful role.  For more information and tickets, visit Project Shaw.

2013 is a blank canvas as of this writing.  I don't as yet have any acting jobs lined up, and the directorial, teaching and writing projects I am developing have yet to bear fruit.  But I keep pressing onward!  I am slowly executing the rewrites on my screenplay, trying to initiate a revival of an obscure but completely delightful musical comedy, educating myself on how to expand my opportunities as a teacher and coach, and recommitting to my first love of classical theatre.  My new love, Robert, has been dealing with some health challenges; and when someone you cherish is facing such things it has a way of putting things in perspective... the career angst, the financial woes and the personal problems seem to become much lighter when someone you care about is in a health crisis.  Fortunately, Robert is doing better and we are just taking one day at a time and taking nothing for granted.

My wish for all is that we remember how fleeting life is, how fragile it all is, and that we take the time this holiday season to reflect on our many blessings with the same energy we put into setting our new year resolutions.  I encourage you to celebrate the good things in your life, to give yourself credit for your accomplishments; to hold your loved ones close to you and express your love to them; and to give a little back to those affected by disaster and misfortune this year.  Here's to a beautiful 2013, full of great adventures, love and fulfillment.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Recent and Upcoming!!

It has been a couple months since I updated you on my creative doings so I thought I would catch you up!  Here's what has been going on since I closed "Mame" at Goodspeed Opera House, and what is on the horizon:

I performed the role of The Ghost/Lead Player in "HAMLET: The Bad-ass Quarto" with Taffety Punk Theatre Company at the Folger Theatre, Washington, DC on August 4.  This was the annual Bootleg Shakespeare production and it was rapturously received by the SRO audience at the Folger.

Stunning vocalist Lianne Marie Dobbs has asked me to direct her first solo cabaret act here in New York, entitled "Everything Old Is New Again," premiering October 22 at the Metropolitan Room.  This is an evening of re-imagined standards from the Great American Songbook and I am delighted to return to my cabaret roots to help launch the nightclub career of this fine singer.

On October 4, I had the pleasure of performing a reading of the new musical "Merman's Apprentice."  Written by Stephen Cole, the author and lyricist of "The Road To Qatar!", the piece I starred in last season Off Broadway, this is a valentine to the Broadway musical and a tribute to his friend Ethel Merman, played wonderfully in the reading by Klea Blackhurst.  I read the role of Marvin, David Merrick's harried assistant, and I was so excited by the way this charming piece was received.  Click the title above for the show's Facebook page and 'like' it for future updates on the progress of the project.

On October 16, I begin rehearsals for "Guys and Dolls" for North Shore Music Theatre, in my hometown of Beverly, MA.  This will be at long last my debut at this theatre, where I went as a child on school field trips!  I am thrilled to be coming home and performing where my family and childhood friends can see my work.  I will be playing Rusty Charlie, and understudying the roles of Benny Southstreet and Nathan Detroit.  "Guys and Dolls" runs October 31 through November 11.

I will return to Goodspeed Musicals the weekend of November 30-December 2 to teach the Musical Theatre Audition Intensive for my third year at this prestigious theatre.  The weekend workshop, which I helped create, prepares high school aged students for their upcoming college theatre program auditions.  The Intensive has had spectacular results, helping our talented young artists gain admission to some of the country's finest theatre programs, and has a 100% approval rating from participants and their parents.  If you know a talented young actor who would benefit from the workshop, click here for more information on the Intensive, on the Goodspeed website.

In other news, I am into rewrites on my first full length screenplay, "The Girl In the Green Dress," and am excited about the progress I am making.  This is a period piece set in early 19th century New York, a dark tale of desire and murder based on true events.  In addition to this creative project, I am working on readings of two other pieces which I hope to have a hand in producing, and am developing a concept for a production of a Jacobean tragedy that I want to direct and act in.  Details to come...!

Wishing you a spectacular fall!  Tune in for more updates on my creative journey to come.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Open a New Window


And so, we head into our final performances of "Mame."  What a trip it has been!  I want to express my gratitude to Goodspeed for bringing me back into the fold for my third production here in as many seasons. What an honor!  "Mame" has been a jazzy, glittering, hilarious romp and I have great admiration for all my fellow actors and the many hardworking people who make things tick here at this jewel of a theatre.  I have made a few new incredible friends and have had the pleasure of watching our leading lady, Louise Pitre, live out a dream in playing Auntie Mame.  Her discipline and drive have been a marvel, never missing a performance and performing this marathon role, complete with 17 costume changes, all of them quick, with enthusiasm and energy.  Brava!

A post-mortem on this production is premature, but I thought I might reflect a little on what I have learned about this classic show by doing it, and offer some acerbic commentary, just for fun.  After all, it's my blog!

  • Lindsay Woolsey is in the show in order that he might AGE.  The play spans nearly two decades and Patrick goes from being a 10 year old to being a father himself.  No female star 'of a certain age' in their right mind will "age up" in a glamorous musical... so Lindsay has the honor of-- according to the stage directions-- "greying nicely."
     He is present when the news of the great stock market crash comes, but Vera brings that news and Lindsay only underscores it by confirming it.  
    He comes up with the idea of Mame writing her memoirs and convinces her to do it, but this serves only one purpose in the musical: to give Agnes Gooch a reason for being there in Act Two.  Since the original play's characters of Nora Muldoon, Patrick's nanny, and Gooch, Mame's secretary, are conflated in the musical, once Patrick is in college Gooch has to transition from nanny to secretary.  The memoirs are the way to do that, and since Lindsay is a publisher it is assigned to him to give Mame the idea.  But it's a red herring.  Once Gooch comes back pregnant, the entire plot line of the memoirs is dropped; in the original play, Lindsay brings the galleys of Mame's book to the final party with the Upsons and it is remembering all the stories of their times together that finally turns Patrick away from the Upsons and back to Mame.  In the musical this doesn't happen.
    This is not to completely denigrate the importance of the character since he does perform a couple functions, but on the whole, Lindsay is sort of the kind of small principal role that an old fashioned musical with an enormous cast could afford to have around back in 1966, on a Broadway principal contract.  To any producers out there who might be considering a Broadway revival of the show: I am available, greying hair and all, to return to the role at your convenience!
  • I would be remiss if I did not goof on one of the oddest things about my job in this show.  In my second scene, Mame and I come in to Beekman Place laughing, having enjoyed a full day of shopping in Manhattan together. In rehearsal, I was given a single box to carry in, wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine.  I figured, well, this is a place marker-- a prop to use for rehearsal purposes until we get the real packages that would look like a shopping spree in New York (maybe bags from Bendel's or Bergdorf's).  When we got to the theatre, there was that brown box tied with twine.  One can't quite imagine what's in that box but nevertheless, my job at the start of that scene is to stand center stage for about 4 minutes holding that box, while Mame and Babcock argue over Patrick's schooling.  It is one of the oddest things I have ever done on stage.  And that's saying a lot!!
  • It will never be revealed what the 'M' stands for at the front of M. Lindsay Woolsey's name.  After asking many their opinion of what it might be, Judy Blazer won hands down for best answer.  She thinks Lindsay is really a nice Jewish boy and his first name is "Moishe."
  • I always wondered why the scores of Jerry Herman shows are set so incredibly high in the voices of the ensemble.  In a Herman show, baritones sing tenor notes, tenors sing alto, altos sing soprano.  When legendary music director/conductor Donald Pippin gave a talk recently at Goodspeed he told us that in his singing choruses for the shows he worked on with Herman, he had a mezzo who could sing incredibly high notes and he always incorporated these into his arrangements.  Thus the final note of the "Mame" number in the soprano part (magnificently nailed by MJ McConnell in our production) is a C sharp.
  • While the score of "Mame" is chock full of wonderful songs, it's not my favorite Herman score.  Nor is "La Cage," even though I have done the show three times and have a deep affection for it.  I feel "Hello, Dolly!" is Herman's best-- most stylistically cohesive, most expressive of, and true to, the source material the show came from,  and full of variety. Of course this is like comparing one priceless, many faceted diamond to another.
  • There is one glaring anachronism in the script.  It's 1929 and Mame's lost her money in the Crash.  She meets Beau and refers to him as reminding her of Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind."  That book wasn't written until 1936.
  • If you do a kickline, even if the kicks are not even waist high, the audience will applaud.  The Rockettes are working far too hard in my opinion.
  • Agnes Gooch is the long lost cousin of those two nameless gangsters in "Kiss Me, Kate."  They all come in in Act Two and completely steal the show with one musical number, after the leads have been working their tushies off the whole evening. Even Mame's 11th hour torch song, "If He Walked Into My Life," cannot extinguish the impact of "Gooch's Song."
  • As for that famous torch song, I have decided that, as beautiful a song as it is, "If He Walked Into My Life" is rather uncomfortably wedged into the show.  It's a fact that Herman wrote MAME with Judy Garland in mind-- and if you listen to the score you can hear how perfectly tailored it is to Judy's special gifts.  One of her gifts was singing heart rending ballads and of course there has to be one at the eleventh hour spot in the show.  But the character of Auntie Mame, in the original book and in the play, is not a torch singer.  She takes disappointments in stride, she doesn't dwell on them, she makes lemonade.  Her conflict with Patrick in Act Two of the musical is rather uncomfortably skewed to set up the singing of this blood and guts song of regret and self doubt.  But it's not in keeping with the character as we have come to know her.  It also doesn't really set up what Mame does next--which is to sabotage Patrick's engagement.  If she were that terrified of losing him, she'd suck it up and let him marry Gloria.  I feel somewhat the same about Albin's big anthem, "I Am What I Am" in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.  Having played the role, it is a big challenge to go from the vainglorious camp queen Albin is to the defiant, political creature who stands up for his individuality at the end of Act One.  But it can be done.  It's just tricky.
  • While it is undisputed that Rosalind Russell will forever be identified with the role of Mame, she is not the only one from the 1958 film whose impact will forever be felt on any version of the Auntie Mame story.  Joanna Barnes, who brilliantly played the stiff jawed Gloria Upson, has left an indelible imprint on the character which audience members, especially of a certain age, can never forget.  During performances of "Mame," when Patrick first announces her name, the audience is already buzzing in anticipation of seeing Gloria and hearing that first drawled "I can't TELL you how pleased I am to make your acquaintance!".
  • And finally, and this is something I have always known about the Auntie Mame story: as nutty as it is, as full of mischief and outrageous antics, the story is about love and about family.  It's a story of people making the absolute best out of life by loving each other.  This is why it will continue to be done and enjoyed by audiences for decades to come.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Sable Silver'd



Those of you who know my work know that my first and most enduring love is the classical theatre and acting Shakespeare.  I had the honor and privilege of training in classical acting at The Shakespeare Theatre Company Academy for Classical Acting at George Washington University, and since then I have had the chance to do some exciting roles and powerful Shakespeare productions. 

I am especially proud of my work with Taffety Punk Theatre Company, an exciting cutting edge theatre in Washington, DC, founded by fellow ACA alumnus Marcus Kyd and his multi-talented partner, Lise Bruneau.  For several years now, one of the most popular of their projects has been the Bootleg Shakespeare series, in which members of the Taffety Punk company and guest actors from around the country arrive at the Folger Theatre on the morning of the single performance of a Shakespeare play, having memorized their lines.  The day is spent doing rudimentary staging, fight choreography and dances, and at show time, with the actors never having run through any of the play, a  an audience packs the house, free of charge, and the actors catapult themselves into a breathtaking, impromptu performance.  I have had the pleasure of performing Posthumus in Cymbeline, Hubert in King John, Theseus in The Two Noble Kinsmen and this year I will perform the roles of the Ghost of Hamlet's Father and the Lead Player in Hamlet: The Bad Quarto.

The Bad Quarto, as it is termed by scholars, is the first published version of Hamlet which appeared in 1603.  Since the First Folio of 1623 is considered the authoritative text for the canon of Shakespeare's plays, and the Bad Quarto of Hamlet differs significantly from the Folio text (character names are different, there are significant differences in the text etc.), it is thought to be a possibly pirated version of the play, taken down haphazardly by someone during live performances, or possibly drawn from early actor 'sides' from a beginning stage of the play's development.  At any rate, it's a fascinating and sometimes bizarre look at the most famous play in the English language.  Taffety Punk, drawing its inspiration from a devotion to classic texts combined with a punk rock sensibility, is the perfect company to present this odd and interesting artifact, and the Bootleg Shakespeare project will give it even more vital life and energy.

I am looking forward to enjoying the interesting task of being both the Ghost of Hamlet's Father and the Lead Player who represents the murdered Hamlet Senior in the play-within-the-play.  I think the dual role might be very interesting and effective for the audience.

As of now, this one night only event is the only project on the docket for me beyond MAME at Goodspeed.  Ah, the uncertainty of the actor's life!  Check this blog for updates and announcements of the next creative adventure.  Meantime, for more information on the amazing work of Taffety Punk and details on Hamlet, visit their website here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let's Start at the Very Beginning...


An exciting thing happened this week:  I got to meet one of my idols.  Goodspeed Musicals has commissioned a musical adaptation of a charming children's book by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, "The Great American Mousical."  The new show is slated to have its first production at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester this fall.  It is a valentine to Broadway and a wondrous tale about a company of mice putting on a show in a crumbling old theatre that is about to be demolished.

This week, a group of us actors from the "Mame" cast were asked to do a first reading of the script (written by Hunter Bell), which is still very much in development, along with the composer and lyricist, Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, who performed the still unfinished (and marvelous) score.

The kicker was that the reading would be done for a small group of Goodspeed artistic staff, the show's musical director, the casting director, and YES!-- the director of the show, Julie Andrews herself.  I don't think I need emphasize how incredible it was to meet Julie Andrews, nor to gush about the influence she has had on my life and my love of theatre and film.  She is --and this expression is used far too often-- a living legend.  And she is everything one would expect-- gracious, eloquent, a lovely lady.  I managed to shake hands with her and her very kind daughter and co-author, Emma, and beg a photo with them. What a moment!!

As for "The Great American Mousical,"  I have no doubt that it will be a magical show.  The material, in these very early days, is already beguiling, clever and full of heart.  And Goodspeed is decidedly excited about this, as this is the first musical they have ever commissioned to be created from the ground up here.  It has enormous promise and I was delighted to be a part of the reading and to get a first glimpse of it.  Look for it this fall at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester.

As for me, nothing has yet materialized as a next project beyond "Mame" but I am looking forward to having some summer vacation following our run here-- a nice break to enjoy family, sun, sand and relaxation before charging 'once more unto the breach' in this mad business of show.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Louise Pitre as Mame with the company in "It's Today!"  Photo: Diane Sobolewski
"Mame" can't be all flash or caustic wit, nor can it be overly sentimental. A successful needs a director who almost instinctively knows how to balance each of these components as well as a leading lady who is capable of suggesting the seriousness at the heart of her character's "live life to the fullest" message. Luckily, this Goodspeed production has both.
~ Andrew Beck, Hartford Arts Examiner
"Mame" is about the central philosophy of the title character: "Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death." And there's plenty of life to be had at Goodspeed for audiences to sample or gorge on as they see fit.

~Christopher Caggiano, Theatermania

We opened our show to the press on May 9, and so far, as you can see, the response has been positive.  We are all very excited too about the audience reception for the show which has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  So much so, that word of mouth alone has boosted box office, and we are now extended to July 7.  All of us are looking forward to enjoying the next nine weeks of our run.

Lots of photos, teaser videos, and more are available for viewing at the Goodspeed website.  Additionally, you can enjoy a radio interview I gave this week about "Mame" along with our Vera Charles, the stellar Judy Blazer, by clicking the link here.  

Spring has been a mixed bag of weather out here in the Connecticut River Valley, but all the rain has brought a riot of blossoms, color and greenery.  Always a treat to watch the seasons change in this beautiful part of Connecticut.  I am making my plans for the summer, visits with family, a beach getaway, my annual trip to DC to do Bootleg Shakespeare with Taffety Punk Theatre Company at the Folger, and continuing the search for the next great acting opportunity.  Wishing you a glorious Spring and a sensational summer to come.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Up and Running!

"Mame" is launched and we are all basking in the rapturous response of our audiences. Everyone involved with the show is delighted at the way folks are embracing the story we are telling and especially the way they are falling in love with the Auntie Mame of our fearless and glamorous leader, Louise Pitre.

Our opening night party was great fun, with much festivity and photo ops. Everyone, from staff to crew to creative team to performers, enjoyed a night of celebration and a few well earned cocktails.

 I am delighted that my 'best girl,' my Mom, is coming out to see the show this weekend. She's my biggest fan, and was always Auntie Mame to me-- encouraging me to dream big, be uniquely myself, and take a big bite outta life! Glad she can see me strut in my gorgeous Gregg Barnes costumes.

We are six weeks into our time here at Goodspeed, with ten more to go. I am filling my time with writing projects, teaching Pilates to the cast, engaging in some great education outreach with the Goodspeed Education Department, and of course keeping the hustle going back in New York for the next gig. That process of drumming up work never stops! As of now, the next thing for me will be a return to DC for the annual Bootleg Shakespeare presentation at the Folger Theatre with Taffety Punk Theatre Company. This year it is "Hamlet: The Bad Quarto" which should be a blast. Shakespeare's play was published in a quarto version that has stymied scholars for centuries-- it contains so many errors and discrepancies that many believe it might have been a pirated version of the actual play we all know. But it reveals some interesting things about the piece and will be fun to explore. I am slated to play the First Player, and will get to have fun with the "Mousetrap" play within a play sequence.

The weather out here in the Connecticut River Valley is schizophrenic to say the least, with wild extremes in temperature, but the lush foliage and bright blossoms everywhere herald the Spring and the promise of warmer days to come!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It Takes a Village


with Louise Pitre as Mame and Judy Blazer as Vera

I am excited to begin performances of "Mame" and of course will report on the opening of our glittering, fabulous production after our first weekend of previews. If you plan to come and see the show, I recommend buying your tickets right away-- we are selling fast! I thought I would take a moment here and sing the praises of Goodspeed Musicals' new actor housing.

One of my first jobs out of college was a season of summer stock at a non union theatre in upstate New York-- a dilapidated old venue literally in the middle of a cornfield called Fort Salem Theatre. My Mom drove me from Boston and I arrived at the theatre, excited to do my first full season of musicals. I was directed to the house where I would spend the next three months of my life, and was shocked and appalled to see the ratty, filthy old place that awaited. In my shared room, the floors had buckled, the beds were mattresses on the floor, one window had been shattered and glass lay everywhere, and the place smelled of the mold that had gathered under the damp, peeling wallpaper. It was, in short, a hovel-- one I would not wish on a squatter. But being non-union, there was no recourse to correct the problem, and since I was young and stupid and had signed a contract, I remained. By mid-season, the upper floors of the house had been condemned by the local building inspector, and all of us crammed into the remaining bedrooms on the ground floor, and were forced to share one mildewed bathroom amongst eight performers. This is an extreme story, but it illustrates the plight of the itinerant actor, who must uproot himself continually and take up residence temporarily at each theatre where he works.

As mentioned in previous posts, this is my third show at Goodspeed, but this time the experience has been immeasurably enhanced by the amazing new actor housing that the company has created. In the past, actors likened their time here to a sort of summer camp, referring to it fondly as "Camp Goodspeed." This was partially due to the homey feeling of quaint East Haddam and the surrounding Connecticut River Valley; but it also had to do with the kind of housing the theatre provided. Actors shared old 19th century houses that offered few amenities, and it was a sort of given that we all had to get into the spirit of things and make the best of our communal arrangements if we were to enjoy our three to four month sojourns here at Goodspeed. And we did! Good times were had in those well worn old houses. But Goodspeed, a place where theatre is done according to the highest possible standards, wanted better for its artists and after years of planning, the company built 17 new artists' houses. The Artists Village initiative represented the largest capital project in Goodspeed history. In total, the project cost $5.5 million, $2.5 million of which was provided through a grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development and the remainder through private donations. Over 120 jobs were created as part of this project, most in the construction field and all within the state of Connecticut. It is estimated that the creation of Goodspeed’s Artists Village caused an economic impact of $17.5 million on the local economy.

Best of all, we artists get to enjoy wonderful, comfortable, state of the art accommodations in a green-friendly village of charming houses that fit perfectly into the historic landscape of beautiful East Haddam. I can't emphasize enough how greatly enhanced our work life is here at Goodspeed, waking in comfortable beds, cooking in well equipped, clean kitchens, and enjoying each other's company: sharing a glass of wine on the porch, or creating communal meals. We all feel so well taken care of, respected and nurtured by the theatre. How can we not do our best work? To learn more about the Artist's Village at Goodspeed, you can visit their website here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bosom Buddies


Most actors have a wish list. It's the roster of plum roles that they desire to play before their career has run its course. Whether we share this wish list with others or just keep it close to our hearts, it's there. And one of the bitter truths of the profession is that as one matures, some of those roles have to be crossed off the list; we move beyond them and they go unplayed. When I was an aspiring and precocious little boy, my dream was to play the title part in "Oliver!;" when that didn't happen, and I was a teenager, it was time to dream about The Artful Dodger. That didn't happen either. Now, it's the role of all roles in that show, Fagin, that I hanker after. I often tell friends that the best thing about being a character actor is that your best years are always in front of you!

Knowing this truth about the actor's journey, I can understand the intense desire our leading lady, Louise Pitre, has had for years to play Auntie Mame. This passion for the role inspires the great joy and abandon that she is bringing to the part, and her enthusiasm is infectious--truly, she leads us all with a feeling of giddy fun. Her Mame is unique; rather than an arch, flamboyant performance, Louise is giving the role a free wheeling, fresh and genuine interpretation, bringing a femininity and natural quality to this traditionally eccentric character. It's disarming and it works. I didn't know Louise prior to this production, and all I knew of her career was that she originated the role of Donna in "Mamma Mia!" and was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. But this is only one of her many accomplishments. French Canadian by birth, Louise has performed the role of Fantine in "Les Miserables" in English and in French in Canada and in Paris, and has played the iconic French chanteuse, Edith Piaf. She has been nominated for three Dora Mavor Moore Awards for her work in her home country. She has recorded several albums and is an acclaimed concert performer. I would call Louise an 'athlete.' She is clearly a type-A personality, a hard worker and a highly disciplined performer, as evinced by her taut, athletic frame (Louise is a wonderful dancer) and the concentration and dedication she brings into the rehearsal studio. You can tell she is having the time of her life playing this dream role! Star vehicles like these do not come along every day, and "Mame" offers one of the finest star turns an actress could have-- the glittering central role of an extravagant musical comedy, complete with a glamour wardrobe of 17 different looks.

One of the gifts of my recent career has been the chance to work with performers like Louise, who have paid their dues and have refined their craft to the highest level. And sometimes I get to work with actors who have truly inspired me as I have come up as a performer.
How delighted I was to learn I would have the chance to work with, and get to know, the fabulous Judith Blazer. We met in the hallway outside the studio where "Mame" auditions were being held and I just had to approach and tell her how much I admire her work. Judy could not have been more gracious and down to earth. She is a genuine, warm and incredibly funny lady. The first time I saw her was as the doomed Caroline Neville in "Titanic" on Broadway, and I will never forget her luminous presence, fantastic voice, and who can escape those big, soulful eyes of hers? Her career has been extraordinary, and one of her first professional gigs was right here at Goodspeed, in the title role of "The Bloomer Girl." She has starred on Broadway, in daytime drama, as a major concert performer, and opera artiste. She has worked with some of the best in the business: Neil Simon, Michael John LaChiusa, Michael Tilson Thomas, and the legendary Hal Prince, with whom she worked as "Brecht's Woman" in the Broadway show "Love Musik." Judy is an accomplished woman who speaks several languages fluently, is a masterful musician, teacher and founder of a company and school in Ohio. She is, in short, the real deal, and the kind of performer that makes you a better performer just observing her work and playing along with her. I also just adore talking with her, hearing her amazing show business stories and sharing a laugh. She is playing the outrageous, boozy stage star Vera Charles with incredible comic mastery and her rapport with Louise Pitre makes their "bosom buddy" relationship come to delectable life. It is something to behold.

How fortunate am I to be playing Woolsey, who is the close chum of both Vera and Mame and to get to do all my scenes with these two powerhouse actresses?? Truly, this is a gift of an experience I do not take for granted.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Life Is a Banquet


Left is right, and the Right gets left, in "Mame"

It's interesting to me that "Mame" is receiving a major revival now, at this time of virulent polarization in our political and social discourse. The gulf between conservative and liberal has never seemed so wide and there appears to be little middle ground. What does this social unrest have to do with a lighthearted Jerry Herman musical, you ask? Well, theatre does not exist in a vacuum, and sometimes a classic like "Mame" finds its way back into our cultural consciousness because the prevailing climate makes its message relevant and powerful.

When Patrick Dennis wrote the novel "Auntie Mame" in 1955, America was in the midst of the Eisenhower administration and a post-World War II cultural homogenization, a conservative reaction to the chaos of the war years which gave rise to the middle class. 1955 arrived on the tail end of the destructive era of McCarthyism and the craven tactics of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which had threatened and destroyed the lives of many creative minds who were considered liberal or subversive. It was the year that Rosa Parks took her historic stand on a bus in Alabama, igniting the Civil Rights movement. The Vietnam War was also declared that year, a war that would divide the country as powerfully as World War II had united it. The stage was getting set for social revolution in America, and in waltzed Auntie Mame. Mame represented a 'bohemian' approach to life and was, and is still, perhaps, the poster child for liberalism--inclusive, open minded, and staunchly defiant of all things repressive, bigoted and narrow. Her "live! live! live!" philosophy and outrageous antics seemed to be the tonic America was looking for, because the novel broke sales records on the New York Times bestseller list, selling over two million copies and spawning a hit Broadway play adaptation and film.

Mame was the hero of individuality, free thinking and a view of the world as a welcoming place to be explored and experienced--at a time when conservative America was becoming more and more xenophobic, paranoid; white bourgeois bigots were circling the wagons to protect their way of life. In "Auntie Mame," these folks are represented by characters like Mr. Babcock, little Patrick's trustee and scion of the Knickerbocker Bank, as well as Patrick's potential new in-laws, the crass Upsons, living a 'top drawer' existence behind the gates of their 'exclusive and restricted' community. After raising her nephew to be as free living as she, Mame is faced with a crisis when it looks like her 'little love' has grown up and rejected her teachings, choosing the straight and narrow path for himself. These clashes between conservative and liberal run throughout the story of "Auntie Mame." We are even given a portrait of the American South when Mame joins her fiancee Beau at his Georgia plantation, 'Peckerwood.' These cartoon Southerners seem stuck in a time warp, existing in a world that is gone with the wind, as it were, hopelessly fixated on outmoded traditions and closed minded views--venom masked with sugary smiles-- and a rejection of the eccentric Northerner, Mame. That Mame ultimately beats them at their own game, winning them all over, is only one example of Dennis' theme of the triumph of liberalism.

When the musical adaptation made its appearance it was a decade after the initial success of the "Auntie Mame" franchise, and the revolution that was looming in America had now exploded with social, racial and sexual rights movements such as our country had never seen. The Vietnam War raged on as a new generation--the children of those who had fought in the last World War--took to the streets to protest; marches moved across the South demanding racial equality; and a new counterculture took over with its own music, values, and world view. The Hippie Generation had arrived and it looked in many ways like the bohemian subculture that Auntie Mame had presided over. The time was ripe for her return, battling the forces of conservatism with her plea to "open a new window" and experience life with abandon, rejecting accepted notions of behavior, dress, and ideology. While much of the political content of the source material was softened for the musical (it is a musical after all), the message was still clear-- one of openness, freedom and acceptance. It can be no surprise that the show was a hit in the late 60s, running for four years and over 1500 performances, and winning numerous awards, including three Tonys.

And here she is again! Auntie Mame is sashaying back on to a major American stage in the midst of a polarized and volatile political and social war, where conservative leaders are attempting to roll back all the progress gained since the Eisenhower years in which Mame first came on to the scene. Auntie Mame has, for generations, been a gay icon, inspiring self acceptance, freedom of expression and individuality. How fitting that her message should return at a time when the great strides of the gay rights movement are under attack from well funded evangelical political groups?
Jerry Herman, while a populist mainstream success in the musical theatre, has never shied away from reinforcing this message of inclusion and tolerance, cementing it with his juggernaut, "La Cage Aux Folles," which contains one of the all time gay anthems, "I Am What I Am." Mame also represents an image of a liberated woman, one who commands her own world, thinks her own thoughts and lives by her own rules. This message is fitting as well in a time when the Right is seeking to reverse reproductive freedoms and impose itself on the lifestyles of women who already fought for the right to control their own bodies and destinies. In fact, Mame's ultimate coup de gras in the story involves her bucking of convention by nurturing the very pregnant and unwed Agnes Gooch and establishing a home for unwed mothers right next door to the Upsons. In her own way and for her own time, Mame is a staunch feminist.

We are in a time of great momentum and transformation, and sweeping social change and growing personal freedom always seems to give rise to a powerful resistance from those who would seek to squeeze this land of freedom into a box that resembles the narrow view they have of what America should be, or as Auntie Mame quipped, 'put braces on our brains' and create a country that is as 'exclusive and restricted' as the Upson's country place in fictional Mountebank, Connecticut. Just as Mame belts out "we need a little Christmas now!" I think we all need a little Mame right about now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Clothes Make the Man


I grew up as much in the design world of the theatre as in the world of acting and performance. My Dad, Don Beaman, was a set designer, and taught scenic design at Boston University for decades (this photo shows him in his early career, fittingly posing on a paint frame).
Much of my youth was spent in paint shops, washing brushes and buckets, helping to size drops, and watching my Dad paint. I also wandered off into costume shops, which to me were magic emporiums, overflowing with feathers and velvets and glitter. Stitchers and drapers would send me off into a corner with scraps of fabric where I would happily play by myself for hours while they went about the work of creating amazing things for actors to wear. Stage struck as I was from as early as I can remember, to me being an actor meant transforming into any character I wished with the help of the right disguise.

When I was in college, Richard Attenborough's film of "Chaplin" came out. There's a scene in it where Robert Downey, Jr. (in a masterful performance) finds the hat, cane, and other accoutrements of the "Little Tramp" character for the first time. To watch this fanciful scene, click here. These simple articles of clothing magically suggest to Chaplin the qualities of what would become one of the most iconic and beloved characters of all time. Costumes have power, and a truly masterful costume designer can be an actor's best ally in creating a memorable performance.

How fortunate we in the Goodspeed production of "Mame" are, then, to be blessed to wear the sumptuous creations of designer Gregg Barnes. Gregg is a Tony Award-winning designer whose credits include "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Legally Blonde," and most recently his glorious creations for "Follies." Gregg is what I would flatteringly refer to as 'old school.' He dazzled all of us at the first day of rehearsal with his collection of hand drawn, painted and bedazzled renderings for Auntie Mame's stunning wardrobe of 17 looks. Gregg's designs have wit, glamour, specificity and he consciously creates each look with an eye toward telling the story of the play through his clothes. In each scene in which Mame appears, her individuality and flamboyance are highlighted by using color and style to contrast with everyone around her. And Gregg's specificity and artistry extend to all of the characters that inhabit the world of "Mame."

A cameo role like Lindsay Woolsey can be, in some ways, more challenging to make specific and memorable than a large role, primarily because there is very little information about him in the script. Of course, the flip side of that challenge is the opportunity to be creative about filling in the blanks with the choices made about how he sounds, moves, and looks. Traditionally, Woolsey is an elegant, well dressed, calm presence in Mame's zany world. Patric Knowles, who created the role in the Broadway production and film of "Auntie Mame" was distinguished, classy, with an understated British charm. While I admire these qualities, for a dynamic, imaginative character actor like me this seemed a bit staid. But I was really at a loss as to how to imbue this small role with something special.

I went in for my consultation with the hair and makeup department for "Mame" sporting a beard (a default look I go to in between roles as I loathe shaving every day) and surprisingly, they thought we should keep it; as the action of the play spans three decades, they will have me use temporary color to darken my hair and beard in the early scenes, washing it out for the Act II scenes, allowing my natural salt and pepper to come through. Then I thought, well, what kind of a gentleman wore a beard in the 1920s, when the predominant look was clean shaven with slicked back, neatly cut hair? The answer-- an 'artistic type,' or a man with a European sensibility. This is where Gregg Barnes stepped in and suggested to me that perhaps the eminent publisher, M. Lindsay Woolsey, is less an understated executive and more of a kind of worldly impresario, with an artistic/European flair. He suggested as a model the founder of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, whose personal style included shoes with spats, rich overcoats with big fur collars, flamboyant hats and luxe accessories.

This was a direction I had not considered going in! In a short conversation, Gregg essentially handed me my character. How fitting that since Vera Charles, the outrageous stage star, is Mame's closest female friend, her closest male friend should be someone equally stylish and artistic? I look forward to my costume fittings with Gregg and his team with great anticipation now, knowing that each element will help me bring Woolsey to life in a vivid and memorable way. Photos of my transformation will of course be included in a future blog post!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Fabric of a Life



Linsey-woolsey was the name given in the 17th century to a type of durable wool and cotton blend fabric from the British Isles. It was a commonly used and less expensive alternative to woolen cloth, and was one of the staples of the early American colonists. According to Wikipedia, "Linsey-woolsey was valued for its warmth, durability, and cheapness, but not for its looks." It is amusing, then, that Patrick Dennis decided to snatch this musical sounding name and bestow it on a minor character in his novel, "Auntie Mame," Mr. M. Lindsay Woolsey, the eminent publisher.

Somewhere along the way, in the adapting of the best selling novel for the stage, the character of Lindsay was expanded, from a marginal figure mentioned only in one anecdote, to a supporting character who is a mainstay in Mame Dennis' life. His role is nearly identical in the musical to what it is in the play: Lindsay is there as an admirer of Mame's; one of those suitors who becomes a friend, always hoping that perhaps the free-spirited Mame will come down to earth and finally marry him. He is a party guest at the top of the show, and then reappears at crucial moments in Mame's stage life-- he comforts her when little Patrick is swept away to boarding school; he is present when the news of the stock market crash hits; he encourages Mame to write her memoirs; and he helps her seal the deal when she sabotages Patrick's unsuitable engagement to the crass, bigoted Gloria Upson. It seems clear that, like his namesake fabric, Lindsay is a warm and durable friend. In my research I have not been able to uncover why he has the first initial of 'M' or what it signifies. Perhaps if I get to meet Mr. Jerry Herman at our opening out at Goodspeed, I can ask him if he knows.

Jerry Herman's Trinity

It's rather astonishing to recognize that the lion's share of Jerry Herman's success has stemmed from his three juggernaut musicals, "Hello, Dolly!", "Mame," and "La Cage Aux Folles." Of course he wrote other fine shows like "Mack and Mabel" (Herman's personal favorite of his shows), "Milk and Honey," and "Dear World," but none of these could match the phenomenal success of the main three Herman classics. "Dolly" was the longest running musical of its time and won ten Tony Awards; "Mame" won three Tonys and established Angela Lansbury as a bona fide Broadway star; and "La Cage" is the only Broadway musical to have won a Best Musical Tony, and the Tony for Best Revival twice.

"Mame" will be my second Jerry Herman musical, having appeared in three productions of "La Cage Aux Folles" over the years, most recently starring as Albin opposite Maxwell Caulfied as Georges in the Ogunquit Playhouse production in 2007. What is interesting about the Herman Trinity, as I call it, is that all three shows share some core themes. All three revolve around a central female, or at least 'maternal' figure, a sort of eccentric fairy godmother who encourages a younger generation to embrace life, love and individual happiness. Mame, a free spirit who has never given much thought to being a mother, finds the love of her life in young Patrick, and devotes herself to giving him a colorful and exuberant life; Albin, an extravagant drag queen, also sees himself as the only real mother his adoptive son Jean Michel has ever had, and just like Mame, offers to him an alternate view of the world that fights conventionality and which brings out his true loving heart. It can't be a surprise, then, to know that Jerry Herman's own mother was the most important figure in his life, and that her passing, long before he realized his phenomenal success, was a devastating event which may have inspired him to create these strong, vibrant mother figures in his musicals.

Research and information like this about the pieces I work on just add to the process of being a part of a production and give me a foundation on which to make choices regarding my role and my place in the show. As "Mame" is not often produced on the level of a theatre like Goodspeed, I feel really excited to be a part of this production and look forward to rehearsals starting in a little over a week! For more information on Goodspeed and "Mame," visit their website here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Today!

I have not posted an update since the holidays, which will give you an indication of how very quiet the winter has been in my corner of the theatrical industry! But things are looking up.

Next month, I will return to Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut to play the role of M. Lindsay Woolsey in the Jerry Herman classic, MAME. This will be my third production with Goodspeed and I am delighted to continue my relationship with this prestigious theatre. The production will be directed by Ray Roderick and choreographed by Vince Pesce; I have not yet worked with either of these esteemed gentlemen and am excited to do so. As of this writing, the full cast has not been announced, but Auntie Mame herself will be played by Tony nominee Louise Pitre, of MAMMA MIA! fame, and Mame's 'bosom buddy' Vera Charles will be played by the incredible Judy Blazer. I have admired Judy's work since seeing her in TITANIC, and I look forward to working with this Broadway veteran. For the Playbill item on Ms. Pitre's casting as Mame, click here.

Lindsay is an interesting supporting part. He appears very briefly in Patrick Dennis' novel of "Auntie Mame;" he is Mame's publisher when she decides to write her memoir, entitled "Buffalo Gal." The writers of the play adaptation of the Dennis novel (which starred Rosalind Russell on Broadway and in the fantastic film version), Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, decided to make Lindsay a constant supporter in Mame's life, an admirer who sticks with her through thick and thin and who eventually marries Mame at the story's end. The role was created in the play and film by the elegant Patric Knowles, and was played in the original cast of the musical by George Coe. I look forward to bringing some suavity of my own to the role!

This will be Goodspeed's first production of MAME, and they seem to be pulling out all the stops in the glamour department. For costumes, they have brought in Gregg Barnes, most recently represented by his glorious designs for FOLLIES. To get a taste of Auntie Mame's extensive wardrobe, click here for an online gallery.

MAME will play April 20 through July 7 at the beautiful and historic Goodspeed Opera House. For more information on the production and to get your tickets, click here for the Goodspeed website.