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.

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 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 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:


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


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


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


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


Metropolitan Room


Metropolitan Room, Top of the Rock


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


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


Don’t Tell Mama


CABARET CARES, Produced by Joseph Macchia
Laurie Beechman


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


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


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


Don’t Tell Mama


Don’t Tell Mama, Brandy’s


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)


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)


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


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


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


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

I had never really heard the term ‘Off-Off-Broadway’ until I was about eleven years old, and only learned it because I was leafing through a copy of New York Magazine and saw it in the listings. Thus, being a very inquisitive little person who was dying to be a serious thespian, I started doing what little research I could within the limited confines of the Queensborough Public Library’s Rego Park branch. Needless to say, I didn’t learn much, other than the fact that there were little theatres scattered throughout New York City where new playwrights and new directors were producing plays with unknown actors, some of whom could easily go on to be the great stars of tomorrow. One name that kept coming up again and again was Theater for the New City, which at the time was located on Second Avenue and Tenth Street. And so, after three summers spent studying Musical Theatre at the Usdan Center on Long Island, and then getting my first professional job as a founding member of the TADA! Youth Theater in 1984 (and aging myself out of the company by the following summer when I turned seventeen), I was beyond thrilled when I opened a copy of Back Stage and saw a casting notice for Theater for the New City’s summer season of street theater, where a musical would be written organically and then performed on the streets of New York throughout the five boroughs. I auditioned, I got in, it wasn’t just the first time I was being paid a little money regularly but also got rehearsal pay, and I made some wonderful friends that I’m happy to say are still close, like Scott Lilly, Marian Rich, Stephen Landsman, Ellen Korner, Michael Naishtut, Joel Marks, Michael-David Gordon, Victoria Linchong, and Dan Kelley. But more than anything else, that was the summer I really learned of the foundations of Off-Off-Broadway, and of wondrous places with the intriguing names of LaMama, the Living Theatre and the Caffe Cino. I sat at the feet of actors who had really been there and lived through it, people like Joe Davies and Margaret Miller and Amber (no last name), and soaked up every bit of knowledge I possibly could. And being a member of the company also afforded me the marvelous opportunity to see the work of some of the greatest Off-Off-Broadway playwrights of any generation, including Ron Tavel, Maria Irene Fornes, and Sebastian Stuart. I was also already familiar with a playwright named Robert Patrick, because I’d seen a production of his play Kennedy’s Children on PBS and it fascinated me that it was written entirely in monologue, so I picked up a copy at Drama Book Shop and absolutely devoured it. (It would be a few years before I really understood what it was about, but I loved it from the start).

A year later, TNC lost their lease but acquired a new space a block away, the site of the old First Avenue Market building at the corner of Ninth Street. The first step of the exodus from the old space to the new was the day hundreds of us volunteered to move everything over there, and of course I went along because, to me, this was a chance to be a part of theatre history. What struck me was one gent in particular, a middle-aged fellow in a snappy T-shirt who had a certain delicacy to his movements but muscles like an ox, who was effortlessly carrying very heavy boxes out to the street. I had no idea who he was until he made some jokey remark to somebody and the person replied, “I’d slap you for that, but I forgive you because you wrote Kennedy’s Children,” and I nearly dropped the sound board I was carrying. “You’re…you’re Robert Patrick?” I asked timidly. He smiled and said yes, he was, and I spent the rest of the day following him around like a lovesick puppy and tried making as much small talk as possible.  In retrospect, Bob probably wasn’t particularly happy about having this teenager yapping at his heels all afternoon, but he was very polite about it. Near the end of the day, he said, “You know, you should meet Doric if you don’t already know him. I have a feeling you guys would really get along well.”

I asked, “Who’s Doric?”

He replied, “Doric Wilson. The playwright. He’s not here today, but you should really meet him. And read his play, it’s called Street Theater. I think you’ll love it.”

So the next day, I took myself to Drama Book Shop to ask if they had a copy. They didn’t, it was out of stock, but if I took myself downtown to A Different Light, I could probably find it there. I did, I found it, I read it, and I thought it was one of the most powerful plays I’d ever read. This was at a time when I was really coming to terms with my sexuality; I’d been more or less out of the closet since I was eleven and I was always pretty obvious, but until I read Doric’s play I was never really conscious of the whys and wherefores, and certainly not of the normalcy of why I felt the way I did, fetishistically or otherwise. He wrote it with such fearless abandon that it literally came close to warping my mind, and from that day forth I became a serious devotee of Doric’s work. And told myself that somehow or another I would most certainly meet him one day.

A couple of years later, after I discovered the Five Oaks supper club on Grove Street and immediately settled in to become a regular fixture there every night, I struck up what became my now-infamous friendship with the great actress Shirley Stoler. Once we’d graduated to the point of my visiting her at her apartment on West 17th and talking about anything and everything for hours at a time, one day out of a clear blue sky she said to me, “You know, I really think you should meet Doric Wilson. He’d probably dig you. Your energy is so similar to his, and you both have such reckless abandon. I don’t see you guys being involved romantically or anything, but I think you could be great friends.” I said that it was a funny coincidence, because Robert Patrick had told me three years earlier that he thought Doric and I should meet. She said, “Well, you see? Great minds think alike.” We never really brought it up again, but it was interesting to me that she’d say that.

Now we jump to 1993. Francine Trevens, a lovely lady and tremendous theatre publicist, whose daughter Nina just happens to be the founder and artistic director of the TADA! Youth Theater, was throwing her annual New Year’s Open House at her apartment in the West 30s and invited me to come. Of course I needed no persuasion; I hadn’t seen Nina in years and I knew she’d be there, and probably some other very interesting folks. And there were; one of them happened to be Victor Gluck, who had just completed his tenure as a critic for Back Stage, and was not only a very nice man but turned out to live a few blocks away from me in Rego Park. But about an hour after I got there, a new wave of people showed up. One of them was a tall, burly gentleman in a leather jacket, with gray hair and a marvelous face but a very softspoken voice, who looked like he could decimate a motorcycle gang with one solid punch. He looked at me sort of semi-seductively, and I looked at him (I hope) the same way, and I went over, outstretched my hand and said, “Hi. I’m Andrew Martin.”

He smiled and said, “Hi, Andrew Martin. I’m Doric Wilson.”

I nearly died. “You’re…who…what did you say?” He repeated it, and I glued myself to him, telling him how much I loved Street Theater, that I was good friends with Shirley, that I’d once had the pleasure of meeting Robert Patrick, that I’d worked at Theater for the New City, and everything else I could think of. And he was, I daresay, absolutely entranced with me. We spent the next two hours talking about everything from Ionesco to our favorite flavors of ice cream, and had the most marvelous time. And then, when the sky outside the windows started turning dusky, he said, “I’m going over to the Spike. Wanna join me?”

I gulped. The Spike? THE Spike? The SPIKE? I knew all about the Spike, and had been dying to go there one day because I’m into certain things that I knew would jell with the men who populated it, but I was scared stiff (in more ways than one). And also, I knew I wasn’t dressed for it; I was wearing a sportsjacket and slacks and a turtleneck sweater. I expressed all of that to Doric, and he said, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be with me. Nobody’s gonna bite. Unless you want them to.” So we said goodnight to Francine and Nina, got in a cab, and went downtown.

Once inside, and seeing all the leather-clad butchies, when my eyes adjusted to the darkness I was actually amused by the fact that the jukebox was blaring “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” by the Partridge Family. Doric ordered us some gins, and then started unburdening himself, telling me about how tortured his childhood was in the Pacific Northwest, how he always felt that New York was where he belonged, and how hard it sometimes was to separate the public Doric Wilson from the private Doric Wilson. And, in one of the few times of my life I’ve ever done this, I simply sat and listened and didn’t say a word. And it became very clear that there was no romantic attraction between us, but that was fine. About an hour later, some cute guy came in, fixed his eyes on Doric, Doric fixed his eyes on him, and I excused myself and left, after giving Doric a big hug and a smooch and telling him that I hoped we’d always be friends. He said, “Of course we will. We should have met years ago.” I never called him, he never called me, but something told me it would be OK.

About a year later, a friend of mine called me. He was involved with a theatre company called InCoAct (short for In the Company of  Actors), and they were producing an evening called Magic Time: Plays from the Caffe Cino at the Greenwich Street Theatre. It would be short plays by Lanford Wilson, Robert Patrick and John Guare. And since I was such good friends with Shirley Stoler and she’d been such a big part of the Caffe Cino, could I possibly call her and ask if she’d like to attend, because the cast would love to meet her and know that an actual legend of the Cino was in the audience that night. I called her, explained all this, and she said, “Yes, but I have a few conditions. You’ll have to come get me in a cab, bring me back in a cab, and I won’t do it alone. Call Bob Heide, and also call Doric Wilson. These are their phone numbers.” Now, I already knew Bob Heide from the Five Oaks because he hung out there all the time, so I had no problem with calling him, but for some reason I was a little shy about calling Doric. I called Bob, who absolutely agreed to take part and that he would bring a lady friend who also acted at the Cino from time to time. Then I nervously called Doric. He picked up the phone and said hello, and I said, “Ummm…hi, Doric. This is Andrew Martin. I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but we met at Francine Trevens’ New Year’s party last year, and then we went to the Spike, and…” and he said, “Stop, you silly boy. Of course I know who you are. What’s this about?” So I told him, and he was delighted by the prospect of not only seeing the plays done once more on a stage but of hanging out with Bob and Shirley. That night is still, to this day, one of the proudest of my life. I was so delighted to be part of it and to have brought these people together, who were as overjoyed to see each other again as the cast was to see them sitting out there in the first row. And Doric spent the whole evening being a playful clown with me, making angry faces and then laughing, and then at one point, at the reception afterwards, sidling up behind me as I was eating a fruit salad and coyly whispering, “Yeah, that’s right, boy. Get those big lips down on that beautiful fruit. Yeah, boy. Show the fruit you mean it. God, that fruit thinks you’re so hot,” which almost made me choke on a chunk of peach.

Last summer, the summer of 2010, I was privileged to see Doric for the last time, when he was selected to receive a Golden Pineapple Award, at the Cringefest at the Producers Club on West 44th. I walked in, bumped into Charles Busch and his partner Eric Myers along with Julie Halston and said a big hello to them, and then Doric grabbed me from behind and pulled me to him in a big bear hug. We had a few drinks and a lot of laughs, and I was so, so happy for him that night. Since that time, we e-mailed back and forth constantly, and he kept sending me notices about his theater company, TOSOS, but I never really had a chance to catch any of their productions because the timing was always unfortunate. Then, a few months ago, I asked him if I could possibly interview him for the book I’m writing about Shirley, but he said he really didn’t have very much to offer, he really only knew her as a character who was on the scene but the truth was that they weren’t really that friendly. I also made it a point to regularly read his blog, at, where as recently as a month ago he was singing the praises of Harvey Fierstein and Christopher Sieber, in the regrettably-closed Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles.

This morning, I woke up and logged on to Facebook to learn that Doric died in his sleep yesterday, while taking a nap before a reading of a new play at TOSOS. I pray that he went quietly and didn’t suffer, and I wish that I’d had one last chance to say goodbye, because he touched my life and my soul in a way that I’m not sure many would understand. But I also know, as sure as I’m sitting here typing this, that he’d be the first to say, “Stop, you silly boy. I’m not worth crying over. Just make sure the Times spells my first name correctly. The last time, they put an H at the end.”

Alas, poor Doric. I knew him. Well.

It is nothing less than an abject joy when a young newcomer to the performing arts, living their life for all the world to see, truly seems to begin getting somewhere in their chosen line of entertainment. And that victory is made all the more sweet when not only does said newcomer go completely against the grain of what many would perceive to be the so-called norm, but manages to be free of affectation in the process. So it goes with nineteen-year-old Lindon Warren, a young Black gentleman from the Chicago suburb of Round Lake Beach, whose impersonations of Judy Garland and other personalities quickly went viral through a series of YouTube videos. He’s not only recently relocated to Hollywood, appearing in shows in Jim Caruso’s popular Cast Party at the Magic Castle series in Los Angeles, but also spontaneously won a chance to serve as a warm-up act for a taping of Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show. As if none of this was enough, Warren will officially be launched upon the big screen as star of  the documentary film Finding Judy, developed by filmmaker Gary Riotto, and premiering as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival this Saturday, May 7th, at 3:30 PM at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. Screenings in similar festivals have already been scheduled through the end of August, and deservedly so.

How does someone so young have such an appreciation for a performer like Judy Garland?” “Well,” he tells me, “I first found out about her on February 25, 2001. I was nine and in the third grade, and Me And My Shadows: Life With Judy Garland came on TV. I already loved entertainment history, but until then I really didn’t know who she was, so I thought it would be interesting to watch. I came in late that night, so my folks wouldn’t let me watch TV, as a punishment, but I snuck. I missed a lot of the first night, but I loved the second night and watched it all, with Judy Davis playing her. Then I tried finding it in a video store, but it wasn’t available. So I said, ‘What the heck? I’ll look for the real Judy Garland.’ That’s when I became hooked.” His path into live performance began shortly after. “I started to sing when I was about ten, in fourth grade. Then, when I was in sixth grade, my music teacher wanted us to write a poem about medieval times and entertainment, so I asked if i could write a song instead, and she said yes. I named it ‘Troubadour,’ and I made it into a sort of a jazzy ballad. About a week later, the teacher said we were going to have a talent show, so I asked if I could sing the song I wrote, and she said I could. So the day I performed that song was the first time I ever sang by myself in front of an audience. Which was the WHOLE school,” he laughs. A thirst for performance also runs though the Warren bloodline. “My brother Jeff is already doing extra roles,” he says. “He’s been on TV in ‘Numb3rs’ and ‘CSI,’ and a few music videos.”

Warren eventually discovered that he not only loved performing for an audience, but that he could do other celebrity impressions and character voices. “It sort of came to me at once,” he says. “I didn’t really recognize that I could do impersonations until I was a freshman in high school. I knew in fifth grade that I could do the voice of the older Judy, and by seventh grade I could do the younger Judy, but it was freshman year that I found I could also do Carol Channing,  Ethel Merman and Louis Armstrong. And it’s only very recently that I discovered I could also impersonate Liza Minnelli. But I also started doing voices like a church pastor, or an old man. I did the announcements at school on the loudspeaker with my pastor voice, and I would say, ‘Hello, everybody, this is Pastor Lindon Warren and I want to tell you the announcements for today.’ That made the whole school know who I was. I can remember being outside after school to get on the bus and someone was asking people, ‘Who’s Lindon Warren?’ and I said ‘I’M Lindon Warren.’ Then, that year we had a variety show that I wanted to be in, and I was figuring out what I was going to do that would be memorable. I said, ‘I’ll sing and do impersonations of people!’ So I practiced, and got in the show.” He continues, “That night was one of the greatest nights of my life. I started out singing ‘Blue Moon,’ then went into singing ‘Taking A Chance On Love.’ I then did Ethel Merman singing ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’ Next was Louis Armstrong singing ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street,’ which I’d never even heard him sing before. Lastly, I did young Judy singing ‘Over The Rainbow,’ and the crowd went wild. Now, this talent show was on February 9, 2007, and that was the day after Anna Nicole Smith had died. And I wanted to give a little memorable tribute to her, that I thought about before I went on stage. So I said, ‘Since I’m giving tribute to the movie stars of yesterday, there’s one star that we lost twenty-four hours ago, Anna Nicole Smith. We will never forget her movies, her shows, and we will never forget her saying ‘TrimSpa, Baby!’ Then the crowd went crazy with laughter and excitement, and I got my first standing ovation. It was the only standing ovation that night, and the loudest applause of the evening. That’s what motivated me to keep going, and adding more impressions to my resume.”

That talent show would serve as Warren’s impetus to begin “selfcasting” on YouTube. He tells me, “I met someone who saw me performing that night, and she said ‘I’m your biggest fan! I saw you at the variety show, and I recorded it!’ I asked her if I could have a copy of it, so I gave her my e-mail address and she sent them to me. I created a YouTube account under the name ‘puffpuffy’ and posted them, and those were my first videos. I don’t broadcast anywhere else,” he says, “but I had a podcast show during freshman year. It was only three episodes, but I’m thinking of starting back up again.”

It’s never anything less than refreshing to acquaint oneself with someone so young and yet so focused. Suffice to say that those of us who are already devoted fans of Lindon Warren will be standing by, waiting and watching for the stardom that will surely be his in the very near future. And especially after the debut of Finding Judy. Thus, the world couldn’t be happier to have found Lindon. And we’ll all be watching very closely as he climbs every blessed rung on the ladder to fame and fortune.

Those who are not native-born to New York City, and even a sizable number of those who are, often have difficulty making head or tail of the pattern of the streets in Greenwich Village’s westernmost portion. West 4th Street actually bisects West 10th, West 11th and West 12th, and West 12th then bisects itself into Little West 12th Street and Gansevoort Street, a holdover from whence the city was cobbled by the Dutch. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, West 9th is in fact followed by West 10th as far east at 7th Avenue South (to differentiate it from 7th Avenue proper, which begins at 14th Street), but Charles Street and Perry Street follow immediately thereafter before one reaches West 11th Street, which is in turn followed by Bank Street (and sometimes Horatio Street and Jane Street depending on the avenue) before reaching West 12th Street. It is, therefore, perfectly logical for one to hear of the intersection of Waverly Place and Waverly Place, one block below Christopher Street just west of Gay Street, for nightlife history was indelibly reached there with the creation of the legendary piano bar/cabaret Waverly Waverly in 1981, where the party raged with reckless and wild abandon late


into every evening for the next four years.

The club became an overnight sensation as governed by owners Johnny Savoy, Johnny DeMaio and Johnny Pool, and with the employment of singer/instrumentalist Jerry Scott as its top attraction, along with the encouragement for visiting singers, both of renown and obscurity, to take the microphone and belt out a few tunes. Pool, a vibrant personality by nature and an impresario to the core, came south to New York in 1963 from his native Boston and quickly set up shop in the burgeoning pre-Stonewall scenes of both the Village and Fire Island (initially establishing himself as a

George Sardi

lifeguard on the beaches of Cherry Grove) and also the quickly-growing bar community on East 53rd Street besides the Stonewall enclave, before teaming up with Savoy and DeMaio, to launch their collective brainchild when the opportunity arose to acquire the space. “It was an extremely exciting time to be doing what we did when we opened Waverly Waverly,” he says. “Cabaret was just taking hold, everything was changing in New York, and we had a great location. We were in the right place at the right time and everybody helped make it even more so. Everybody worked there or stopped in to sing,” he continues. “Ricky Ritzel played, Charlie Lindberg played, Steven Lowenthal played, George Sardi hosted brunches on Sundays, Jill Cohen did her first cabaret act there, it just didn’t stop. We had a beautiful four years.”

Singer-pianist Tug Wilson agrees. “Waverly Waverly was the piano entertainment club we all frequented, if we had aspirations in the business. The clientele was mixed, and not necessarily gay. Jerry Scott, the quintessential host of the piano bar genre, was the entertainment. I met Jerry when I was sixteen years old in Houston, in a club he played there. My father would take me there to get experience listening to, and singing with, what he called a true professional in the entertainment business. It was a magical time, and Jerry was always very supportive to all of us with

theatrical and cabaret aspirations. He had no ego concerning this, because he truly had no aspiration to be anyone else than who he was; a singing pianist entertaining people. This was always the key to his success. At

Dawn Hampton and Robert Peaco

twenty-one I moved to New York City, and I followed Jerry, playing with small groups on the East Side hotel circuit. By 1983, I had completed three national tours, and was playing piano and singing at Rounds on East 53rd, where everyone played at one time or another. Every time I was not in a show I would return there over the years, but that’s a different story. At the onset of Waverly Waverly, I was doing Off-Broadway musicals, and my friends and I would go there and sit in to support Jerry. He was always humble, and made everyone so comfortable.  I didn’t even know who owned the establishment, because it was all about what Jerry Scott had created for the scene. It was place for us to gather and hone our craft, no matter who you were in the business. It was inspiring, and the customers were faithful to the club and to Jerry personally. He had absolute magic when it came to performing in this genre, and the people he

Frankie Lee Winter

attracted were diverse and felt comfortable being themselves. Pure gold.”

Award-winning cabaret artist Jill Cohen (now Jill Cohen-Wilson) offers her own take.  “I did my very first cabaret show with Jerry Scott at Waverly Waverly in 1985 . It was a Sunday brunch, and I was actually paid a flat salary of seventy-five dollars, which was amazing. But it was tough singing over the sounds of plates banging, loud waiters and people who were there to eat, not to listen to a show. John Hoglund had introduced me to Jerry, and that’s how I got the booking. The next time I did a Sunday brunch, Paul Sportelli played for me. This was the beginning of my foray into the cabaret scene.” Legendary cabaret journalist John Hoglund elaborates, “In the Waverly Waverly days, I was Andy Garcia’s manager and had just started writing for Private Lives.  I had quickly come to know many

Eartha Kitt

eclectic club performers, including everybody from famed impersonator Charles Pierce and the campy George Sardi, to Margaret Whiting, who was so welcoming. Jack Wrangler, Rohn Seykell, Rick Page, Tug Wilson, Marta Sanders, Mercedes Hall, Lynn Lavner, Julie Sheppard, Bradshaw Smith (when he was still primarily a singer!), Celeste, Claiborne Cary, Danny Apolinar, Charles DeForest, Jill Cohen (who became a lifelong friend), Randy Lester (she and Jill became my real first piano bar friends), Bruce Hopkins, Jeff Ide, Dick Gallagher, Mark Nadler, Erv Raible, Jan Wallman, Mario Cantone (I gave him his first NYC review), Steve Gilden, Val Ryder, Jim Luzar, Annie Hughes, Sebastian Hobart, Julie Wilson (I first interviewed her in her dressing room backstage at Legs Diamond), Ruby Rims, Jamie deRoy, Jerry Scott (my beloved friend), Marie Blake, Pudgy,

Deb Armelino

Betty Buckley…you get the idea. The list is endless,” he finishes.

Of course the club’s regulars have a wealth of favorite memories. Singer-entrepreneur Joni Rapp chimes in, “There are so many. Jerry Scott at the piano, playing for almost anyone who was able to carry a tune from celebs to up and coming stars. That’s a great memory. And the sheer beauty of the design by Richard Tautkus blew me away when I first went there; it was so 1930s nightclub.  The camaraderie was amazing, too. I made many friends there that are still like family to this day. And I played many Sunday brunches, at least twenty-five times, with Jerry and other accompanists I brought in. I will admit that, like Jill, I found the brunch crowd to

Ed Linderman

sometimes be a bit boisterous at first, but it was a wonderful challenge to have them quiet down and enjoy.” Tug Wilson adds, “My favorite memory of Waverly Waverly was watching someone come out from the kitchen and sing with Jerry. That was Andy Garcia, whom John Hoglund was managing. He had a consuming passionate tenor that actually would make people want to touch him from their seats. A rare, God-given, natural operatic gift, which Mr DeMaio helped cultivate. He would be the only man I ever attempted to logistically have a relationship with, but it was doomed for failure; he had problems accepting his sexuality, even though at first he openly loved me in front of all his friends. The more I invested in his career and well-being, the more he resented me. It was passionate and sad. He got to a certain level with our guidance, but he turned his back on all of it. He was not literate or polished, and wound up feeling very self-conscious about himself compared to me

Jerry Scott

and others, even though I worshiped the ground he walked on. He wound up going back to sweeping hair in our friend Kaye’s hair salon in Brooklyn, and I have never attempted a relationship with a man again. It was that devastating. But I also do have fond memories of taking my teen-age cousin Lori Lynn there, and she was so excited to meet and trade nail tips with the female impersonator, Anthony Cardinale, who sang as Connie Francis. There are PLENTY of stories about her.” And John Hoglund says, “I agree with Joni; the best memories are of Jerry Scott. And also Andy Garcia having to stand on the piano because of the crowds on Gay Pride Day, singing “Battle Hymn of The Republic” with an overflow crowd in tears. Andy started out as a cook, and Scott Barbarino was a waiter. I also very fondly remember Sandy Doane, a very heavy, glorious soprano who sang with Jerry a lot.”

Ted Hook

But as with any shared experience of a space so dearly loved by so many, there are also memories not quite so fond. Tug Wilson mentions, “My least favorite memory is bearing witness to Sandy Doane, who inherited a lot of money but literally ate herself to death at Waverly Waverly. She had a lovely soprano voice, but as time went on she ballooned to over five hundred pounds and she couldn’t even fit through the doors at the end of her life. She went there because we accepted her, and she died there for the same reason.” Joni Rapp says, “My least favorite memory, and it wasn’t even a bad memory but it was just so funny, was the nuns in the convent across the street, who always complained about noise on Sunday afternoons. It was a constant battle, with them opening and closing windows and us alternately not caring.”

After the club’s closing in 1985, and with the three growing restless to recapture the success of Waverly Waverly, as well as the fact that it had been Savoy and Pool’s first chance to open a club and they wished to be back at the helm, they lucked into finding a new space on West 14th Street a year later in 1986. “It was just a big factory room, honestly,” says Pool. “There was NOTHING there, and we all just had no idea what to do with it. But, and I guess this shows you how sometimes people will get the same thought at the same time, Johnny and Johnny and I said, ‘Let’s build an

Bob Harrington

uptown bar in a downtown space. We’ll make it really chic, like Waverly was, but let’s really blow it up.'” Two bar areas, a piano bar and a circular bar, were installed as quickly as possible, while Pool made arrangements for hiring staff and musicians (of which, once again, Jerry Scott would serve as headliner), and the new club was christened Oh Johnny. “It was the most wonderful underground nightclub of all time,” Pool says today, “and anybody who was ever there will agree. I felt like the Sol Hurok of the underground. Patti LuPone would stop in, Joan Rivers came in, Sue Simmons, Catherine Deneuve…there’s not enough room to mention everybody. It was complete magic.” It should be noted that it was around this same time that Pool and George Sardi, along with Jewish lesbian cult legend/singer/pianist Lynn Lavner, began producing a leased access show from the club on Manhattan Cable Network entitled Gay Morning America, which not only hosted such guests as John Wallowitch but also followed the immensely popular The Robyn Byrd Show. Here Lynn Lavner chimes in, “My introduction to Johnny Pool came while I was


playing piano bar at Blue Skies on West 10th Street. I had just turned down a Provincetown gig that would have taken me out of town for months, and I didn’t want to leave my partner and daughters. I think it was George Sardi who came in with Pool to check me out. That led to three seasons at the Pool Bar in Cherry Grove, an opportunity to book other performers into the cabaret there, and a couple of years on the cable TV show. And,” she adds, “Pool was a dream to work with. He was always accessible and generous, not to mention handy with a rubber chicken. His are still the only martinis…oops, I mean Pool-tinis…I ever liked. Off-season, there were the Sunday brunches, where so many of the Village gang performed for the fun of it. But the party was over with the AIDS epidemic. I began to travel with my act in 1984, playing gay venues, festivals, resorts, and fundraisers for the guys. After thirteen years of travel to forty-one states and eight foreign countries, I retired. But I’d give a year’s social security for one night in the old days of the clubs or the Pool Bar, if I could only see some of those handsome faces again.”

A whole new crop of fond memories would begin in full flood at Oh Johnny.  John Hoglund, who by that point had become cabaret editor for The New

David Drake

York Native and Theater Week, says, “There are way too many memories to list. Andy Garcia came into his own during that period, and I got him into cabaret, where he won awards. I will always remember his first standing-room-only brunch show, with most of the cabaret community there to see this awesome singer everyone was talking about. I also remember the night Patti LuPone came in, slightly inebriated I must say, with Dick Gallagher, and was persuaded to sing “I Dreamed A Dream” at almost 2:00 am. She shouldn’t have,” he chuckles. “But seriously,  I lived in both clubs, many nights till closing. Saw many notables and unknowns. Probably one night sticks out; it was the night I produced the very first benefit for a little known organization called God’s Love We Deliver. Later, I also produced one of the very first benefits for Broadway Cares. Oh, and I also had a great talk there with Joan Rivers, who was carrying her dog Spike, and thought she was in Nell’s, which was right next door!” Joni Rapp agrees, “It was great fun, and always hilarious, when people thought Oh Johnny was Nell’s and used to just wander in by mistake…and stay! The whole

Charles Pierce

experience was wonderful;  I was deeply involved there between two clubs of my own I had opened (Trivia and Rappsody), and all three Johnny’s were awesome! Not only did I do many shows at Oh Johnny on a regular basis (Johnny DeMaio had been my accompanist on and off since the early 70s, so we had a great musical connection), but I also was a singing bartender there. And cook, and any other odd thing they needed. What a great bunch to work for and with! And again there was the beauty of Richard’s beautiful design. I already knew Johnny Savoy from the old days at Gypsy’s, when he played with Judy Sexton. And George Sardi was a good friend, and he interviewed me on Gay Morning America.” And Tug Wilson finishes, “It was primarily gay, and had two owners instrumental in its success. DeMaio and Pool had a vast gay following, and we became his stars in the gay world. Not only in NYC, but in Fire Island every summer. Jerry,

Johnny Savoy

of course, was the backbone of the entertainment, but by this time I was capable of holding my own. But we were all supporting stars in my opinion. The club had a jungle motif, and it was fun; Waverly Waverly has a serious look to it, while Oh Johnny sold drinks and a completely different feel. My favorite memories were of Johnny DeMaio actually playing piano. Rarely, but sometimes, he would accompany us. Also, the joy our friend and comedienne Pudgy got from frequenting the establishment. My favorite memory was the first time I kissed Andy Garcia at that bar for the world to see. They were shocked. He was supposedly straight. Yet, he said he wanted to love me, that I looked like Jesus Christ to him. That should have been a sign. I was dating Maureen Davis at the time, and had recently taken over the helm of Stamp Out AIDS and what was to become my legacy, the birth of Broadway Cares. This was all done in its infancy thanks to Oh Johnny. I was so confused and tortured by what I was doing, but I don’t think anyone ever questioned my motives. I was just one of the gang. But in my heart I knew I didn’t truly belong. I did not have the joy and staying power of Jerry Scott. I knew he was forever, and this was passing fancy for so many of us.”

Rohn Seykell

It would remain a gilded era until the nightlife scene began rapidly changing in the late 1980s. Tug Wilson says, “I remember the day the scene changed. By this time, Jerry Scott and I both had made it to playing in Atlantic City. I worked at the Forum Lounge at Caesar’s under contract and Jerry played at Resorts International, I believe. We were still important to the casino. Because attracting stars who liked music attracted money to the tables. This would all change with the onset of electronic music. I fought it, because it would destroy what I knew how to do, and it did. As soon as casinos adopted this new form of entertainment, it became standard in the business. Piano bars were replaced with bands and electronic music, and it dissipated the whole scene where we honed our craft. Young people were turning to this thing called karaoke bars, instead of supporting piano bars. It was a shame, because they never really had the experience to learn or appreciate music in its fundamental form. When you take away the track, young singers are lost; they are not musicians, students of the art as we were. I think it’s high time to introduce the genre back to the public. It would be embraced, because the older patrons miss it, and the younger ones will have the opportunity to

Lenny Babbish

experience what we did in those years. It was our way of life, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the tea in China. It would take finding the new Jerry Scott to be the quintessential success, but I’m sure he’s out there like Jerry was, just waiting for his chance to make a difference to an audience of friends for an entire lifetime.” Joni Rapp contributes, “It was a sad time. And it was the second time I’d seen it happen. In the early 70s, things were blooming on the cabaret and club circuit, until the death knell of disco. It closed every cabaret in town, making way for even the smallest of places to hang that damned silver ball. That’s when I headed upstate and found most of my work in the mountains. I watched it begin to return in the early to mid 80s; although a few places like Marie’s Crisis had weathered the storm, they had lost mucho business to disco too. The Five Oaks lasted as long as they could, but I think when Eighty Eight’s closed in the 90s, it ended the era.”

Oh Johnny was forced to close its doors in 1988. Pool considered and still considers this a particularly black period for the fact that he not only lost his longtime lovematch, but also business partner Johnny Savoy, within twenty-four hours of one another, and DeMaio not long after. The question then becomes whether or not a Waverly Waverly or an Oh Johnny could lucratively exist in today’s nightlife climate of New York? Hoglund offers. ” I don’t think either would work as well today if they appeared. Today’s crowd is much different,  and so many incredible personalities who made those places so memorable are

Joni Rapp

all gone. Most of today’s nightlife is diminished; all too many in that crowd have more style than substance. Like Tara, most of it is gone with the wind. But at least some great memories linger. ” Joni Rapp, however, disagrees.” I think Waverly Waverly would be a HUGE hit if it were to open today and have that same look and feel; the big grand piano, the nightclub atmosphere, and the mixed clientele. Oh Johnny would as well, although the layout was a bit different. But it could also work. I firmly believe that every twenty years, it’s time to bring things back, and if they were based in a good location with really good management, this would be a grand time to revive one or both. People are craving the nostalgic atmosphere of places like those, with good music, good food and drink, and good friends in a beautiful atmosphere. You can bet I’d be there with bells on if it happens.”

Whether or not such a prophecy will ever come to light, remains to be seen. However, still as spunky and feisty and devil-may-care as ever, Johnny Pool can rest comfortably in the knowledge that he created at least one brief

Johnny Pool, wearing everybody’s favorite outfit

shining moment in the gleaming crown of cabaret’s history books, and that he, as well as Waverly Waverly and Oh Johnny, will always live on in the memory of all fortunate enough to have walked through the portals of either club and savored each moment.

(Note: Interviews with Johnny Pool were conducted and submitted in November of 2009, originally intended to be part of “It All Happened Then: A Walk Down Cabaret’s Memory Lane,” the monthly cabaret history column for, written by Andrew Martin and published by ScoBar Entertainment. The interviews were regrettably never published therein; thus, The Andrew Martin Report recently expanded the piece by interviewing additional subjects in late April of 2011, and incorporating those interviews into the finished article as seen above. All photos were provided courtesy of the private collection of Johnny Pool).