Archive for May, 2011

As many know about me, I spent three of the most blissful summers of my life, from 1981 through 1983, as a student in the Musical Theatre department at the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, which is located in Wheatley Heights, a small suburb of Huntington very close to the Nassau-Suffolk border. Usdan’s logo is, or was at the time, “Where you lose yourself for a summer and find yourself for a lifetime,” and in my case they certainly made good on that promise. Not just in my case, either; other Usdanites include Mariah Carey, Deborah Gibson, the television actress Felice Schachter, the jazz singer Jane Monheit, the entertainment authoress Eila Mell, the entertainment producer Richie Jackson, standup comedians Eddie Sarfaty and Frank Liotti, and such Broadway personalities as Seth Rudetsky, Lorraine Goodman, Jordan Leeds and David Josefsberg besides several dancers and musicians working in professional companies and symphony orchestras all over the world, and a healthy plethora of studio artists who show in galleries and museums on a global scale. Not all of us chose to go into whichever art form we studied during those summers, but with few exceptions we’ve all found success wherever life happened to take us. And I’m happy to say that I’m still deep friends with a great big bunch of my fellow theatre students and even some of the teachers and staff, with whom I stay in constant touch and try to see as often as I can. I’m not even going to try to list them all here because it’s well over a hundred people, and I’ll feel terrible if I forget to name someone. But there’s one I want to discuss in particular, a lovely gal named Michelle Cohen. Let me first explain the Usdan experience, however.

The way Usdan’s Musical Theatre department was structured at the time was that for the first two weeks, we all took classes all day long, with a lunch break in between (and a ghastly activity they called Assembly, which was where renowned guest artists in various media were invited to perform for the campers. Assembly was very largely avoided by the Theatre kids, who most often skipped it altogether, and that was fine with the kids from the other departments, because they thought that WE thought we were superior to them. The truth is, we didn’t think we were superior to them, we just knew that we worked more intensively; they didn’t have to spend all day concentrating on one area of the arts–they chose a major subject and a minor subject–and received a swimming period, which we didn’t).

But I digress. The classes included Acting, Voice, Movement, Improvisation, Musical Style, and anything else they thought to toss our way. And there were three or four different groups of about twenty who would have a rotating schedule; while twenty of us were in Voice class, another twenty were in Movement class, etc. After those two weeks, and once the teachers had a solid sense of our strong points and weaknesses and who had talent and who didn’t, they decided which two musicals would be presented at the end of the season, cast us all in appropriate roles from the leads to the chorus, and we rehearsed ourselves half-dead for the next six weeks until the performances, on the last days of camp. In retrospect, and from what I now know having done real summer stock, I suppose it was probably as close to a stock experience as we could get as teenagers; there were costume fittings, separate vocal rehearsals for those who had solos or intricate harmonies to master, separate monologue sessions, et al. And it was murder at times, but we loved every minute of it.

So, in 1981, the two musicals chosen were Babes in Arms and an original revue of Broadway hits, contrived by our teachers, called Broadway Rainbow. Well, it was pretty obvious which would be the glossier show; all of the kids who were better dancers got cast in Babes, and the rest of us were in Rainbow. And don’t get me wrong; Rainbow was tremendous fun and had some extremely talented singers and actors AND kids who could dance well, but it lacked the luster of what the Babes company was turning out and we all knew it. The good thing about the casting of the shows was that we suddenly got to meet and work with about sixty other kids from the department with whom we hadn’t been in class, and the bad thing was that it ripped all the classes in half, so that half of the people we’d been seeing every day and getting to know so well in class were suddenly in the other show and we were thrown together with sixty strangers, and the case of first-day butterflies started all over again. Albeit, this too would pass.

The initial outline for Rainbow was drawn up on the first day of rehearsal, basically presenting it with the notion that this was a bunch of people auditioning for a Broadway show, and some would make it and some would not (I guess it was a take on A Chorus Line). A girl had one through character as the stage manager, a boy had one through character as her assistant, and the rest of us basically played ourselves except when we were in scenes or songs or group numbers. It was established right from the start that I wouldn’t be receiving a solo (not a big surprise, since I was a little too shy to really show the prowess of my singing voice in class, but also frustrating when I realized that others were getting solos and I could sing a lot better than they could). By the fifth day, after putting a lot of numbers together and sort of throwing us into group songs at random, they had it whittled down to an official script, and we ran through it all for the first time. At one point, near the beginning of the second half, a girl named Michelle Cohen (whom I hadn’t really met yet) got up and delivered her solo, “Dream Babies,” from The Me Nobody Knows. And none of us could believe what we were hearing. This chick had a depth to her voice, such a phenomenal natural talent, that most of us were left panting. We just wanted to hear it again and again and again. And that is NOT an easy song to sing; it’s extremely rangy, and requires an inherent precision. She really nailed it on every level, and I was among the very first to go up to her after that day, chills running down my back, and tell her how absolutely brilliant she was, for which she thanked me profusely. Gradually over the rest of the summer, we got more friendly; I found out she lived in Greenlawn, had a younger brother Daniel (who later also became a Usdanite after my time), and had every intention of working in entertainment for the rest of her life if she could possibly make it happen. In the last week, we were all exchanging phone numbers and she gave me hers, which made me happy.

Before I continue, I want to explain about the last day of camp, because this was a Usdan tradition. At the end of the afternoon show (one musical was the morning show and one was the afternoon show and we always traded off, so that the cast of each show could see the other show), and on the last day the afternoon show happened to be Rainbow, after which the chairman of the department (Ronald Marquette, a lovely man) gave a speech and then we all gathered upon the stage to hug each other and cry our eyes out. I couldn’t imagine crying about the last day of camp, but I guess once the pressure was off from doing the shows and we all knew we wouldn’t see each other again until the following summer (if any of us were returning), it just made sense to turn on the water works. And I held it together until my friend Francesca Klein came running towards me with tears streaming down her face, and then I lost it but good. But I’ll never forget that hug with Michelle; we were crying like we were off to the showers at Auschwitz.

Michelle and I spoke on the phone a few times during the year, and it became obvious that she and I were both returning for the summer of ’82. To which I very much looked forward. Once again we weren’t in classes together, but it made me happy to see her at lunch and say hello. Then came the end of the two weeks, the shows were chosen and cast, and they turned out to be Once Upon A Mattress and Guys and Dolls. Now, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t getting cast in Guys and Dolls because they probably needed all the really good dancers for that. I also didn’t know anything about Mattress or that it also needed good dancers. They announced the casting, it turned out that I’d be playing the Wizard in Mattress (which I was thrilled to learn was a REALLY good supporting role) and then…and then…they announced that Michelle would be playing the lead as Princess Winifred. We were all overjoyed, and she knocked it out of the park in rehearsals and performance and sang “Shy” like nobody’s business, besides being an utter joy to work with and having no attitude whatsoever about starring in the show. Mattress actually turned out to be the better show that season, although, to be fair, it was a wonderful production of Guys and Dolls and they all worked like dogs to make it as perfect as possible. Last performance came, we all hugged, we all cried, yadda yadda. Michelle and I spoke a few more times during the year and looked forward to the summer of ’83.

That season, they changed things up on us a little; this time, we were being cast based on actual auditions as opposed to the teachers deciding who should get which role. So they ran it like an open audition. There were sixty-three of us in the company, and we all had to watch everybody else audition. Which was fun, to be truthful. The first day was dance, where they put us up on the stage in eight groups of eight to do a combination (and which I failed miserably, if memory serves). The second day was vocal, and I’d gotten a LOT more brave about my voice and showing what it could do, so I got up there and sang “Macavity” and brought the house down, which felt fantastic. However, Michael Lamb also brought the house down with a heartwrenching and celestial “On the Street Where You Live,” and then Michelle took her place on stage. She opened that mouth of hers and one of the most beautiful, strong, incredible versions of “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” burst forth, and by the third line I couldn’t even see because my eyes were brimming so heavily. The third day was monologues, and I did the mouthwash commercial from Christopher Hampton’s When Did You Last See My Mother?, which also got a great response. The shows were announced as Li’l Abner and Grease, and once again I was certain I wouldn’t be in Grease because I figured that would need the dancers. Sure enough, they cast me in Abner as Pappy Yokum, which is a decent role although he barely sings other than to sing along, which didn’t make me happy. But the bigger surprise was that Michelle was cast in Grease as Frenchy. This caused a rash of immediate whispering. “Why would they cast her as Frenchy? Frenchy doesn’t sing! Why on earth…?” But she seemed very happy with it, and she played the part with her customary aplomb. Final day, hugging, crying, the whole she-bam, and then she and I lost touch, because she didn’t return in ’84 and neither did I (I was busy that summer doing my first professional show in the city as a founding member of the TADA! Youth Theater, although the show ended a week before Usdan did, so for the final week of camp I stowed away and snuck in to watch them do that summer’s musicals, which were Pippin and The Boy Friend. And Pippin was not only the better of the two, to this day it’s still being talked about as legendary).

Now, here’s where things get interesting. By ’90 I was established as an entertainment journalist besides an entertainer and a cabaret personality. And I’ve always been a huge fan of Schoolhouse Rock, the animated Saturday morning series on ABC-TV that educates about grammar and math and history. I’m still such a fan that I have the entire series on DVD. So in ’92, I suddenly get a message on my machine, saying, “Hi, Mr. Martin. I’m one of the producers of a very exciting musical revue coming Off-Broadway to the Atlantic Theatre in two weeks. It’s called Schoolhouse Rock Live, we have a very exciting cast and what I think are marvelous orchestrations of the music, and it’s all based on the series. I’ve seen your magazine and I think you’d probably enjoy it very much, so I’d be very happy if you’d like to come to opening night and review it, and to join us at the party afterwards. Please call me, my name is Michelle Cohen and my number is (insert number).  Thanks so much in advance whatever the answer.”

I blinked. It can’t be. It just can’t be. But it has to be. It sounds just like her. So I called her and was very businesslike, said that yes, I’d love to come to opening night, I’d be coming alone, I was a huge fan of the show and I’m sure I’d enjoy it thoroughly. And then, as we were winding down, I said, “I have to ask you something. I realize that Michelle Cohen is a common name, but do you happen to be from Long Island?” There was a pause and she said, “Ummm…yes. Yes, I am.” I said, “Did you happen to grow up in Greenlawn?” She said, “Ummm…yes, I certainly did,” now sounding utterly confused. I said, “Would you happen to be the same Michelle Cohen who played Winifred in Mattress in the summer of ’82 at Usdan, when I played the Wizard? I had a different last name then.” There was a pause, and then she squealed, “Oh, my GOD!!! ANDREW!!! I know EXACTLY who you are!!! Oh, what a funny coincidence!!!” And we laughed, and we cried, and we reminisced, and then it turned out that she was co-producing the show with another girl with whom we’d gone to Usdan, a wonderful gal named Nina Lynn who played Miss Lynch in Grease. So of course I had to come see the show on opening night, and loved it, and then saw it again a few times when it moved to the Lamb’s on 43rd Street. But in the meantime, because I was booking musical acts into Le Max on 43rd Street just down the block from the Lamb’s, she met me there a few times for a drink and a bite and we had a complete blast.

Then the show closed and we lost touch, until (and this is the only time anyone will catch me publicly thanking Marc Zuckerberg) the magic of Facebook brought us back together once and again. I found a marvelous group on Facebook specifically designed for Usdan alumni who attended for theatre in the ’80s, and threw myself into it so enthusiastically and recruited so many new members (people I had kept in touch with or found through careful research) that they made me the Membership Director. By the time Michelle joined, we were a united team yet again. And we were all delighted to learn that not only had she produced the short film Beyond Belief and the Mary Pickford biopic The Girl Behind Hollywood, but was also still our same good ol’ Michelle, thrilled to be our friend with the gentle humility but strength of character that has always served as her hallmark. As we speak, and at the risk of turning this into a commercial (because that’s not the point), she’s also just published the book Of Course You Can Sing!, which is now available on Amazon Kindle and is absolutely brilliant.

But whether or not she’s done any of this, she’ll still always stand forever in my memory as my sweet Michelle from Greenlawn. And I couldn’t wish her stronger success in whatever she chooses to pursue. I know now that she’ll always be my friend, and I couldn’t be happier.

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When your humble writer interviewed budding Broadway starlet Hannah Rose DeFlumeri in May of 2010, she was seventeen years old, just about to graduate from high school, and caused a sensational splash by posting a YouTube video of her performance as Mamma Rose in a school production of Gypsy, in which she proved so stellar that the clip went virtually viral and garnered her impressive national coverage, in Playbill and other publications. Very shortly thereafter, she landed her first professional job, as the backstabbing Vivienne in a national tour of Legally Blonde (the role was created on Broadway by the luminous Kate Shindle). Shucking her plans to attend Ithaca College as a theater major to the somewhat consternation of her family in Connecticut, DeFlumeri set off on a whirlwind journey that took her to theaters throughout the country and naturally managed to cop all the notices in every local paper in the land. Now nineteen, and with the tour having just played its final performance on Sunday the 15th, she’s planning to settle back into normalcy in Newtown while embarking on a round of auditions, and hopefully beginning the first step on the ladder to theatrical success with a move to mighty Manhattan. And, as would be expected, she has a LOT to tell about the last year she’s spent on the road.

ANDREW MARTIN: How did you happen to get cast as Vivienne? Was it a direct result of posting the Mamma Rose clip on YouTube?

HANNAH ROSE deFLUMERI: It was actually Joy Dewing, from Dewing/Clemmons Casting, which was Clemmons Casting at the time. They called me after seeing my videos and asked me to come in. I read and sang for Vivienne before the part was actually offered to me.

AM:  Did you already know the show, and did it make you nervous at all to know that you’d be stepping into a role created by Kate Shindle?

HRdF: I knew the show extremely well, actually. I saw it on Broadway during my freshman year of high school, and fell in love with it. My friends and I listened to the soundtrack on Repeat for years. And of course stepping into any role, that’s been played by someone so iconic, is going to be daunting. But you just have to use it as inspiration. Inspiration to bring something different to the character, and inspiration to make it your own.

AM: How did your folks feel about you bypassing college, to go on the road at such a young age?

HRdF: At first they were wary, as any parents would be. They already had it in their minds that I would be going to Ithaca in the fall. I had a hard time at first, explaining to them what a big deal this was; I don’t think they actually understood it, until they came to see the show for the first time. I remember giving them a backstage tour and seeing the looks on their faces. Like, “Oh, this isn’t just community theater, this is the real deal.”

AM:  Were you nervous about touring? Did your castmates help you to make the transition smoothly? Did you make any friends that you think will be long-lasting?

HRdF: I was really nervous jumping into the project. I didn’t know how I would get along with the cast, given how much older they were than me. I knew I had a lot to prove, being just out of high school; I was literally shaking when I was walking to rehearsal that first day. But I can’t even explain how amazing and welcoming the cast was. And not even just the cast, but the orchestra and the crew. It got to the point where I actually forgot how old I am, or how young I am; I’m an equal in their eyes, which I thoroughly appreciated. I know that I made long-lasting friends on this tour. Just today, I went into the city and met with a bunch of the cast. We lived together for nine months, we spent and shared our lives with each other. We became a family, and spent holidays together, on Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Easter.

AM: What were your favorite cities to play? Which audiences did you particularly like?

HRdF: I have three favorite cities. The first is Columbus, Ohio. That was the first time my parents came out, so that’s a fond memory. And the nightlife there was insane. I remember they threw an opening-night party for us, and transported everyone by limo. It was amazing. The second was San Antonio, Texas. Everyone should get there at some point; the Riverwalk is breathtaking, and the food is divine. And, of course, the third is New Haven. I can’t even tell you how amazing those audiences were. After “Legally Blonde: Remix” on closing night, the applause stopped the show. It was the most amazing moment of my life. Oh, and the audiences in Vancouver were amazing as well. I just love when the audience gets involved and vocal. That gives us so much more energy.

AM: Was it ever uncomfortable to get so much press while you were on the road?

HRdF: Not at all, I love getting fan mail and messages, and all that stuff. Because that was me writing all the fan letters not too long ago to people I admire, and it still is, in a lot of ways. I also always made sure I signed up for every talk-back, as well; I remember how much I loved being part of those when I was younger and in the crowd. And I think it’s important to give back to the audience, after they just gave you two-plus hours of their time.

AM: Now that the tour’s over, what happens next for you?

HRdF: Audition, audition, audition. I’ll also be moving to New York in the fall, which I am very excited about!

Excited she may be to be “out here on her own” and needing “one good break.” But it’s those of us sitting expectantly on the sidelines and preparing ourselves to watch Hannah Rose DeFlumeri begin her much-deserved ascent to Broadway stardom alongside such women as Idina Menzel, Kerry Butler and Sutton Foster before her, who will absolutely be the ones at the ready with a much-repeated standing ovation and raucous shouting. Nothing less would be rightfully hers. And so, to her on this evening, all that’s left to say is a resounding “Bravissimma!” and a secure rest in the knowledge that we’ll see her starring on the boards before very long.

From the very beginning of my career as an entertainment reviewer, one phrase I have always heard repeatedly is, “Oh, you simply must check out so-and so; their act will blow you away.” And I almost always check out their act just because I love discovering new artists, and whether or not they blow me away is another matter, because sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. So it went in the summer of 1990, when someone (I don’t remember who, which is odd for me because I’m usually great with those sorts of details) said to me, “There’s this new singer who just came into town from Albuquerque, and you simply must check her out. She’s much more jazz than cabaret, but her communication is absolutely flawless, and the voice is beyond superb. Her name is Martha Lorin, and she’ll be playing at Rose’s Turn next week. PLEASE try to make it.” So I wrote it down and filed it away and didn’t really give it any other thought.

By sheer coincidence, the next night I was reviewing someone’s act at Eighty Eight’s, and after the show, as I was saying hello and goodnight to people, someone else came forward with another person in tow and said, “Andrew, this is my friend, Martha Lorin. She’s brand-new in town, she just arrived from Albuquerque, she’s a jazz singer, she’s at Rose’s next week, and you don’t want to do yourself the disservice of not catching her act.” I smiled warmly at the woman, a tall, very thin creature with a flame-red pageboy haircut and flawless bone structure, who was looking at me with an unending stare that seemed almost mistrustful of me, and said, “Hello, Martha. I’m Andrew Martin. I’ve already heard marvelous things about you, and I’ll definitely be catching you next week at Rose’s,” and stuck out my hand for a shake. She looked down at my hand, then looked me in the eye again, shook my hand weakly as though she couldn’t wait to get away from me, then nodded and softly said, “I’ll see you there, then.” And her reaction left me absolutely baffled; I wasn’t sure if I’d done something to get on her bad side or if this was just the way she was, but she was definitely intriguing. In any case, I made my reservation for her show at Rose’s and caught her the following week.

I learned a very important lesson on the night I saw her show, one that would serve me up until today and beyond, which is that sometimes what flies out of town doesn’t always fly in New York. Martha took the stage dressed in a black unitard without any glamor, with a team of fantastic musicians beautifully backing up her gorgeous voice on selections from the Great American Songbook, and while it was jazz performance of the highest degree, it simply wasn’t a “finished” presentation. If I knew nothing else, it was that she looked all wrong; had she simply chosen a glittery outfit and some tasteful jewelry and done the same show all over again, she’d be a winner. And I was somewhat fretful about this, because I just had no idea what to say, especially given the attitude she’d already shown. After the show, I went downstairs to the bar for another drink, and all of a sudden she walked past once she was out of costume. I said, “Hello, Martha.” She stared at me again, with the same look of mistrust, and coldly said, “I’m glad to see that someone in New York keeps their word. So many don’t, you know. Thanks for coming to my show.” I said, “Oh, no, thank YOU for a lovely evening. There were some things I might have done differently, but your voice is absolutely spectacular, and there’s no doubt in my mind that you have a stupendous future.”  That, for some reason, was the moment she softened.

For the rest of our lives, Martha and I have never been anything less than utterly delighted to run into one another. She’s since changed her appearance on stage, released five CDs, and one of the greatest pleasures of my life is discovering that while she takes her work on stage extremely seriously, she’s one of the most fun and fun-loving people I have ever known. More than this is that she really knows her stuff when it comes to music; I’ve often thought that she should have been a reviewer. Many is the time that we’ve been at shows together and afterwards she’ll ask me what I thought of the singer; invariably I’ll say, “Well, I think she’s very young and not quite ready for this, but she did a nice job on ‘I’ll Remember You,'” and Martha will reply, “Why are you being so kind? She’s ridiculous.” Or, conversely and much more often, even without asking me, she’ll walk up to me afterwards and say, “You had BEST be giving that woman a rave review. I haven’t been that moved by anyone in years.”

At this writing, Martha just completed a run at the Milford Theatre in Pennsylvania with her tribute show to Ruth Etting, entitled Love Me or Leave Me and produced by Eric Bufano and the illustrious Ralph Lampkin, and she’s preparing to bring the show into West Hollywood this weekend at the world-famous Gardenia on Santa Monica Boulevard. THESE are the moments, the momentous moments as it were, when I become so proud of a friend. And I daresay that she will ALWAYS be my friend.

From the early 1970s, one of the truest landmarks of the LGBT community in New York City was Craig Rodwell’s Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, at 15 Christopher Street. It was unique in that it was strictly a place for pursuing Gay literature; there was no backroom, no peep show, and the sole purpose was simply to learn about the work of such authors as Quentin Crisp, Armistead Maupin, Aaron Fricke, Robert Patrick and Doric Wilson. An additional hallmark of the space was that the recorded music of Gay artists was continuously piped through the sound system; besides such established stars of the women’s music movement as Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Holly Near, Teresa Trull and the vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock, one would become exposed to the likes of Lynn Lavner, Elliot Pilshaw, and the team of Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips. If such a haven still existed, the sounds of singer/songwriter Garry Novikoff would most certainly and rightfully join the ranks with his 2008 CD A Normal Life. This humble reviewer, while recently hosting an evening of LGBT entertainers at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, introduced Novikoff as “the Gay Jewish James Taylor.”  What he proves himself to be with this disc is in fact the Gay Jewish male Christine Lavin, apropos because of his already-vibrant association with the legendary lady of humorous folk music, appearing as a guest artist for her concerts and garnering a mention in her prodigious memoir Cold Pizza for Breakfast. But the brilliance of the recording and the compositions therein wholeheartedly prove that Novikoff’s time is now to stand alone as a singular sensation.

The assortment of studio tracks and live recordings kick off with “The Dumbest Song I Ever Wrote,” and from there the remaining sixteen selections become a most delectable thrill ride on a rollercoaster of emotions that evoke the listener into tears one minute and hysterical laughter the next. His more well-known compositions as the folksy “I Like Men” and the haunting ballad “Lenny” are here, and blissfully so. But the remainder are what truly showcase Novikoff’s oft-irreverent genius for communication; an easy standout is the tango-esque “Instant Passion” as well as “The Human Body” (written in tandem with Julie Minasian, who also provides outstanding backup vocals on several songs), “God Said No” (by Dan Bern), and “Spiteful.” And his love of animals comes through loud and clear with both “Dog on the Moon” and “Good Night, Rabbit.” What is regrettably missing is his marvelous “We Are the Meek,” which was nominated for a much-deserved 2011 MAC Award for Special Musical Material (losing by a very narrow margin to Mary Liz McNamara for her delicious “Christmas in Michigan”). But the remainder, which also include “Secrets,” “Stupid Man” (written with Geoff Sobel), “Valentine Bride” and the title track, combine to create a listening experience that won’t soon be forgotten. Aside from his own instrumental talents on both piano and guitar, additional musicianship is provided by Danny Mallon (not just on drums and percussion but glockenspiel). James Jacobs (on both cello and recorders), Dale Cinski (also on guitars both electric and acoustic), Richard Barone (on bass, digital Les Paul and Hammond organ besides occasional backing vocals), Eva Atsalis (on additional percussion and also violin), Tim Ribner (on additional piano), Joseph Bishoff (on additional cello) and Michael Moricz (on keyboards). And further background vocals are supplied by the lovely Brooke Ferris and Lorraine Ferro.

A Normal Life, and Garry Novikoff, may easily be considered one of the finds of this or any other season. To not acquire a copy as quickly as possible is not merely shameful but should be punishable.

For the better part of four decades, acclaimed cabaret chanteuse Vickie Phillips has dazzled audiences, most often with theme shows dedicated to such artist-composers as Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Charles Aznavour and Eric Blau, as well as the songs of both her longtime director Bob Ost and musical director Gerry Dieffenbach, and makes the most of her theatrically-sopranic tones while effortlessly communicating the meaning of lyric. It was for this reason that her four-person revue, American Cabaret, European Roots, received a MAC Award nomination in the early ’90s. Which it why it was equally a complete surprise when, in mid-March, she brought a brand-new show to Don’t Tell Mama, which possessed a theme but didn’t concentrate solely on the opus of one sole songwriter. Entitled Songs of Life, Love, and Other Moments, the show hopes for a triumphant new performance at the Duplex on the evening of  Saturday, June 18th, and while those already members of her cult-like fan base are certain to be nothing less than delighted to the hilt, new devotees of cabaret will want to attend strictly for the purpose of education in how to really pull out all the stops on an intimate stage.

Brel’s music and Blau’s lyrics are, as always, a familiar and vibrant part of the proceedings, with “Madeleine,” “Marieke” and “Carousel.” The team of Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber are also represented herein with both “Humphrey Bogart” and “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots,” originally a ’50s pop hit in Europe for Edith Piaf as “L’Homme a la Moto.” Ost’s work is here with “A Special Place,” and there’s Dieffenbach’s beautiful ballad, “He Taught Me to Dance,” plus “A Song is Like a Friend,” which is a gorgeous composition between both gentlemen. But equally impressive are “Sho’ Biz” by Dennis Tracy, Craig Carnelia’s “Old Movies,” and a coupling of  Neil Diamond’s “Songs of Life” with “Celebrate” by Steve Lawrence. Phillips also shows her wares as a songwriter herself, with “Love and Illusion,” and the lovely “Time” as an encore, after literally slaughtering the audience with Sheldon Harnick’s “In My Own Lifetime” from The Rothschilds.

Vickie Phillips once again proves with this show that some artists have got the stuff but good, and never fail in their ability to bring it with abundance. A few pundits might argue that after so many years, such an artist would be considered old hat, but she’s an eternally-glittering diamond in cabaret’s most gilded chapeau. One couldn’t be better served than by going to the Duplex to catch the show’s return.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not talking about Shea Stadium, which is no longer even called Shea Stadium but has apparently been renamed CitiField. Which is fine by me, but having grown up half a mile from there and being a Mets fan from very earliest childhood, it’s still not the same and I haven’t yet been there for a game since it was renamed. I still love my Mets, though. Which many of my gay compadres don’t understand for the life of them. But I digress. The Shea to whom I refer is my brother’s daughter. My niece. My actual niece. My parents’ granddaughter. Who is two years old, and whom I only learned about recently after an old friend inevitably spilled the beans, and who even without meeting yet, I am burning with love. Allow me to elaborate, because right now I’m feeling like an adopted child who relocated their birth parents, or something at least very vaguely similar.

I should explain a few things about my brother. His name isn’t important and will not show in this article because it needn’t. He’s fifteen months older than me, was very much my parents’ little blond Crown Prince, pretty much got anything he asked them for, and even though he clearly loved me and my twin sister unconditionally, he more or less resented us for stealing his thunder when we were born. Which is fine with me; I’ve been taking care of myself and my quests for importance since I was a very small child and let very little stand in my way. But in young adulthood, he changed noticeably; he hated everybody and everything and was escaping into sub-realities any way he could, whether through Illuminati philosophy and quantum physics, or hardcore heavy metal music. Many was the night, when he and I shared a room and I had to be up for an Equity audition the next day at 6 AM, that he would set a boombox next to my ear and blast me awake at three in the morning with Def Leppard at full volume just because he found it amusing to do so. Or when he’d make me feel stupid in front of his friends because I didn’t know this or that passage by Aleister Crowley. Or when he’d bring a gang of noisy metalhead friends home in the middle of the night and start broiling steaks for everyone. None of this matters; he was my brother, I loved him, I would and will always love him.

My mother asked him to leave the home in November of 1988. The reasons why don’t need to be discussed, although it should be mentioned that shortly before that he treated my grandmother, my sainted Nana, absolutely horribly when she lay here dying in my mother’s bed and threatened to throw her out into the street with only the clothes on her back to fend for herself. From there, things went steadily downhill with him, and suffice to say that my mother kicked him out with the notion that he was twenty-one now and would be fine on his own. What I know now, from bits and pieces gathered over the years, and he’d be furious if he knew I knew all of this, is that he wasn’t fine on his own. He struggled, he starved, he shivered in dark doorways, and above it all, he hated and apparently still hates not merely my guts, but the quicksand I walk upon.

And for twenty-two years, I have implored whatever gods would listen to please give me back my brother, if he was still in there somewhere. The brother who loved cars, and talk of automotives, as much as I love theater and cabaret. The brother who could broil the tastiest steak I ever ate. The brother who was absolutely consumed with a love of CB Radio. The brother who taught me how to cook with a wok. The brother who allowed me to appreciate Zebra, the only heavy metal band I’ve ever liked. The brother who, somehow, was always so proud to come see me in a show even though he thought it unseemly. And the brother with whom I could always have a really great laugh when something struck us both as hilarious, which was often.

And then, last year, a close mutual friend of ours died of a very severe liver cancer. This was a guy I knew well, was very close with in our days at the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the 8th Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village during the mid-1980s, who was probably closer to my brother than I was ever allowed to be. I thank the Lord every day that I was able to visit him at Sloan-Kettering one last time in the summer of ’10 and not only share closeness but a lot of laughs. When he passed a few months ago, it brought up a whole new and rather uncomfortable situation, because my brother and I still have a lot of mutual friends and I couldn’t imagine that my brother knew nothing about this. He certainly did know about it, as it happened, and then, as it additionally happened, somebody let it slip to me that he’s living on Long Island, has a lovely wife named Raina who is apparently absolutely terrific, and has a beautiful little daughter named Shea. My niece, as I said at the top of this article. My actual niece. My parents’ granddaughter. Who is two years old, and whom I only learned about recently after an old friend inevitably spilled the beans, and who even without meeting yet, I am burning with love. And as if none of this was enough, apparently my dad has known all about this all this time, although he claims he doesn’t, and I’m not going to push the point.

Our friend’s memorial service is on June 4th, and I am attending. Whether or not my brother will be there, I have no idea. And whether or not his wife and child will be there, I have equally no idea. Whether he and/or she and/or she will be united/reunited with me, and my doubts are high, doesn’t really matter to me. I have a niece. I have a beautiful, blonde, darling niece. My mother and father finally have a grandchild. I have a niece. My sister has a niece. I have a sister-in-law and a family-in-law. And if I knew where my brother was right now, I’d walk into his arms and have a good cry for about a half hour. And I daresay, if I knew him as well as I once did, he might do the same.

God bless my golden niece. Good night, darling Shea. And her mommy and especially her daddy.

Christine Pedi

OK, so…it was pointedly unclear as to whether or not I’d be attending the MAC Awards this year, which was a milestone in any case because it was the ceremony’s Silver Jubilee, commemorating twenty-five years since the very first one at the Village Gate. But we didn’t know if I’d be in attendance; I’d done extensive advance coverage in my weekly broadcast on WPAT, and wrote my predictions piece here on the blog (all of which came true save for Kevin Dozier winning Best Male Vocalist and Gary Novikoff NOT winning Best Special Musical Material for “We Are the Meek”), but having been fired from NiteLifeExchange.com seven weeks ago left me unsure as to whether or not I was still considered a viable journalistic presence. It was, therefore, delightful beyond words when Julie Miller, the radiant producer of the event, offered me tickets for myself and a friend, and since Bill was unavailable and Shelley was busy with final exams, I took my old friend (and long-ago-paramour) Eddie Lawrence, the brilliant pianist and singer, whom it was wonderful to see again after so long. Donned my tan silk suit (a gift from ex-bf Halley before he up and left for Palm Springs to live there permanently a few months ago), my smoke-gray mock (a gift from ex-husband Gary), black socks and my black Dexter loafers, and the most tasteful of my most tasteful jewelry. (What I completely forgot to wear was my goldtone MAC stickpin, which I got last year when I accepted the award for Danny Cohen when he garnered Best Male Comedian and he graciously offered it to me as a gift, but I got over  forgetting it by the time I was a few subways stops way from the event at BB Kings, and anyway, I didn’t want to put holes in the silk suit).

Well, we got there, said hello to Ruth Kurtzmann and Mary Lahti (who were manning the ticket table) after a lovely greeting outside with Kevin McMullan and Annette Hunt, and then said hello to Raissa Katona Bennett and her wonderful husband Garrett Bennett (the plastic surgeon, whom I lovingly call Doc, and who did such a terrific job of repairing my face when I got shot by the street gang on the subway two years ago). We then said fond hellos to Joe Regan Jr and Miles Phillips, and it wasn’t long before the show got underway. A marvelous opening number of Manilow’s “One Voice” opened the evening, performed by the aforementioned Mr. Phillips besides Sue Matsuki, Natalie Douglas, Karen Mack and Lorinda Lisitza among others, and then the evening truly unfolded when Christine Pedi took her place on the stage to sally forth as the Emcee, and did a brilliant job from start to finish.

What took place last night may well be the single greatest MAC Awards in

Lennie Watts and Julie Miller

history. The evening was punctuated by video clips of the original celebration in ’87, which was an inspired touch, and the near-miracle of it all is that Lennie Watts directed it with such aplomb that it finally came in under less than four hours. Highlights included Nate Buccieri’s acceptance speech for Best Piano Bar Singer/Instrumentalist, an absolutely outstanding duet between bassist Ritt Henn (this time on ukelele) and the aforementioned Mr. Watts, and a splendid performance by Annie Ross as a Lifetime Achievement winner, punctuated with anecdotes about her life and also her time spent with the late lamented Blossom Dearie. There was also the delectable surprise of Julie Reyburn winning Best Major Music Engagement, marvelous appearances by Johnny Rodgers both as a presenter and a performer, Liz Lark Brown snaring Best Female Debut, and Rick Jensen’s turn at the piano as a video clip spun the names of those no longer with us in the cabaret community, as well as Best Female Vocalist winner Sarah Rice performing a number by Yma Sumac, not to mention George Sanders, who won the Board of Directors Award. I likewise couldn’t have been happier that Marcus Simeone and Tracy Stark won Best Song for “Haunted,” and it was lovely beyond words to say hello to his longtime lover Gregory Kennell outside, for whom the song was written. And for me personally, I was delighted to run into old friends I hadn’t seen in years, most notably Vicki Sander, who looks absolutely as fantastic as always.

Also, an amazing thing happened midway through the show. I went upstairs and ran into Scott Barbarino, who until recently had been my publisher at NiteLifeExchange.com. We went outside for a cigarette, talked over a few things, and after I tendered yet another apology for the mistake that got me fired, he asked if I might like to consider returning to NiteLife. I said of course I would, he said they could only let me do a couple of articles a month and they’d need to be discussed in advance, but I very happily agreed. (Readers, I’ll continue to do the blog and my radio broadcast, but this was very much a splendid moment for me last night. I’m BACK!!!).

Annie Ross

There were two afterparties, the first being at Don’t Tell Mama, where Sharon McNight was absolutely delighted to see me, as were Jamie deRoy, Erv Raible, Ruby Rims, Bruce Barnes, the delightful Klea Blackhurst (who it seems has forgiven me for never recognizing her when she comes up and says hello, which will never happen again), and a wonderful chance to meet Patricia Fitzpatrick (hanging out in front with Helena Grenot) besides Kit Lo, whom I only really knew as a Facebook friend but is one of the warmest people I ever met and just adores cabaret no end. Julie Wilson, resplendent as always, came up and hoped my mom was well. I was also very happy to

tell Randy Lester sincerely that I really thought she deserved the award for Technical Direction, no matter how happy I was that David Colbert had won it. It was at that point Eddie headed for home.

The second afterparty was at Iridium, to which the aforementioned Regan Jr and I walked over together, and once there, as he busied himself in a parfait glass of vanilla ice cream (hear that, Barbara Cook? LOL) I got to say hello to friends old and new, including Daryl Glenn, Rob Lester, Suzanne Peebles, Ricky Ritzel, and had the most wonderful conversation with Christine Pedi, besides amazing catch-up sessions with the aforementioned Mr. Sanders and Robert Peaco, and Penny Landau, who welcomed me warmly back into the NiteLifeExchange fold. And I saw Patricia West for the first time in years, who gave me the unfortunate news about her son Andrew perishing from juvenile diabetes (and I’m completely crushed; the kid was my opener when I did my MAC-nominated show Open to Criticism at Stand-Up New York in June of ’94).

Oh, and JP Perreaux walked me to the subway. Always a lovely touch to end an evening. And so, here we are tonight. The show is history. Truly history. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to have taken some small part in it.

And the winners were:

FEMALE VOCALIST

SARAH RICE, Screen Gems: Songs of Old Hollywood
Laurie Beechman

MALE VOCALIST

KEVIN DOZIER, Take Me to the World
Feinstein’s, Laurie Beechman, Don’t Tell Mama

MAJOR ARTIST

JULIE REYBURN, Live at Feinstein’s; Summer Night; So Many People …a Sondheim Show
Feinstein’s, Laurie Beechman, Urban Stages

CELEBRITY ARTIST

MARILYN MAYE, Her Own Kind of Broadway; The Merriest; In Love Again
Metropolitan Room, Feinstein’s

NEW YORK DEBUT – FEMALE

LIZ LARK BROWN, Tarnished
Metropolitan Room

NEW YORK DEBUT – MALE

SEAN HARKNESS
Metropolitan Room, Top of the Rock

COMEDY / MUSICAL COMEDY PERFORMER – FEMALE

AMY WOLK, Amy Wolk Sings Divine Madness
Don’t Tell Mama

COMEDY / MUSICAL COMEDY PERFORMER – MALE

ADELMO GUIDARELLI, Operation Adelmo – The Clown Prince of Opera; The Adelmo Guidarelli Christmas Special
Duplex, Don’t Tell Mama, Triad, Brook Arts Center

DUO/GROUP

SCOTT COULTER, STEVEN RAY WATKINS, LENNIE WATTS, 3 Play The 70s
Don’t Tell Mama

VARIETY PRODUCTION/RECURRING SERIES

CABARET CARES, Produced by Joseph Macchia
Laurie Beechman

OPEN MIC

SALON, Created and hosted by Mark Janas, produced by Tanya Moberly
Etcetera Etcetera

HOST – VARIETY SHOW/SERIES OR OPEN MIC

RAISSA KATONA BENNETT, The Concerts at Tudor City Greens
Tudor City Greens

SPECIAL PRODUCTION

FAYE LANE’S BEAUTY SHOP STORIES, Created and performed by Faye Lane, directed by Jay Rogers, produced by Adam Magazine
La Mama ETC, Huron Club at Soho Playhouse

PIANO BAR/RESTAURANT SINGING ENTERTAINER

KRISTINE ZBORNIK
Don’t Tell Mama

PIANO BAR/RESTAURANT INSTRUMENTALIST

NATE BUCCIERI
Don’t Tell Mama, Brandy’s

MUSICAL DIRECTOR

ALEX RYBECK – Liz & Ann Hampton Callaway: Boom! (Town Hall), Todd Murray (Feinstein’s, Metropolitan Room), Kevin Dozier (Feinstein’s, Laurie Beechman, Don’t Tell Mama), Liz Callaway: New Year’s Eve (Metropolitan Room), Donna McKechnie (Laurie Beechman), Faith Prince (Caramoor)

DIRECTOR

LENNIE WATTS – Julie Reyburn (Feinstein’s, Laurie Beechman), Kevin Dozier (Feinstein’s, Laurie Beechman, Don’t Tell Mama), Liz Lark Brown (Metropolitan Room), Jackie Fornatale (Don’t Tell Mama, Laurie Beechman)

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR

DAVID COLBERT – Karen Finley, Sarah Rice, Coco Peru (Laurie Beechman)

SONG

“HAUNTED” – Music by Tracy Stark, Lyrics by Marcus Simeone

SPECIAL MUSICAL MATERIAL

“CHRISTMAS IN MICHIGAN” – Music and lyrics by Mary Liz McNamara

RECORDING

KAREN OBERLIN – Live at the Algonquin – The Songs of Frank Loesser