Guest of Honor Sorely Missed at Party of the Decade

Posted: July 12, 2011 in Cabaret, Culture, Entertainment, Music, New York City, Nightlife, Performance, Uncategorized

David Gurland

Your humble writer grappled with an extremely weighty matter all the way home on the bus to Rego Park from 60th and 2nd. It was part of my training over twenty years ago that when one delivers straightforward journalism, it should be written in the third person. If I’m writing a more personal account, doing so in the first person is perfectly acceptable. (One, I mean, I, do a little of both on this blog of mine, depending on the nature of the article). The article in question this time around, however, is/was this evening’s memorial service and subsequent reception for the late lamented David Gurland, who shuffled off his mortal coil in December just shy of sliding into his mid-forties, and who left behind not only one of the most solid marriages in town (to Rob Maitner) but literally thousands of friends and fans and a musical legacy nobody in cabaret will ever forget. Therefore, one had to reach into myself, conjure up an audience with David’s spirit (this was sometime after the bus left the 59th Street Bridge and we began to glide down Queens Boulevard, of all coincidences) and simply say, “Listen, honey, I want to write about tonight and what you meant to all of us, but I don’t know if I should tell it in first person like a personal account or third person like it’s journalism.” And somehow, somewhere, through the miasma, someone or something inside my head said, “Drew, sweetheart, this is DAVID we’re talking about. Write it as both people. You know that nothing ever made him as happy as when he was getting twice the attention.” So that’s how I’m going to write this, with apologies if one goes back and forth between the two.

Marie Grace LaFerrara

The first time I ever met David was in late ’88, at the old Duplex when it was still at 55 Grove Street. He’d come in with a bunch of friends from NYU to sling back a few and sing a few songs (including a “Suddenly Seymour” with Marie Grace LaFerrara that gave me chills), and he was very pleasant besides outrageously funny. He was also, your humble writer thought, a tremendous JAP, which I now know he’d be the first to admit, but that kind of thing never bothered me about anyone (your humble reporter grew up in the JAP capital of Queens, for God’s sake). I’m pretty sure we didn’t run into each other again until ’90, when I was already sort of full blown not only as a cabaret entertainer but also an entertainment journalist and cabaret reviewer, and though one always had a pleasant time making small talk with the gentleman, we unfortunately never found very much to talk about. It was sometime later that he completed his fellowship at the O’Neill Cabaret Symposium, and very quickly rise to the top of the cabaret ranks, not merely for his voice but his charisma and indisputable instinct for how to work a room, grab an audience and sell every moment from the first to the last. And for some reason, I think this caused a sort of unspoken jealousy between us; one absolutely felt that he had the superior talent on stage, but he always seemed to be working so hard to build up the kind of network I had, or the ability to walk into a roomful of people at an awards show or a Cabaret Convention and have almost every single person gravitate my way. So, whether or not we were conscious of it, we kept each other at a very long arm’s length for a number of years.

Natalie Douglas

Where your humble writer and David finally broke the ice and subsequently embarked on a most delicious friendship was around ’97. Our mutual friend Jessica Bass was doing her show at Eighty Eight’s, which I was set to review. I walked in, the room was packed to the rafters, and the only empty seat was at David’s table because he’d come alone. Erv Raible walked me over, and I’m pretty sure I saw David roll his eyes when he realized with whom he’d be seated, but one must pretend they don’t notice such things. So we smiled a polite smile across the table, I ordered my drink, and then said to him out of nowhere, “You know, I’ve always admired your clothes so much. You really know how to pull together the right look, and I’m absolutely terrible at it.” Well, apparently this was the right thing to say. He launched into a conversation about shopping that made one’s head spin. After the show, we went downstairs to the bar, went Dutch on a couple of rounds, and he started telling me how much he enjoyed my writing and how sorry he was that he’d never gotten to see me perform. So even though I wouldn’t say that from that night on we were thick as thieves, I’d say it was definitely the night one was welcomed warmly into his midst. We e-mailed a LOT, posted on each other’s Facebook pages a fair bit, and your humble reporter followed his career with tremendous eagerness, especially when he joined the vocal group Uptown Express for performances and recordings (they were already marvelous long before David was part of the equation, but he brought a spark into the mix that I’m not sure can or will ever be recaptured).

Alysha Umphress

The last time I saw him was in ’08, when I brought CaB Magazine back as a website and FINALLY had the opportunity to review a full act of his. One cannot more vividly remember his brilliance on stage that night at the Laurie Beechman in an evening of pop tunes deconstructed brilliantly into true cabaret communication, but it was never less than enthralling when Rob joined him on stage for a couple of numbers and the room became infused with the love these two shared, both professionally and privately.

And then…and then…came the news just before Christmas of ’10 that David had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and was on life support at Mount Sinai. Forty-three years old. All that talent. All that energy. All that niceness, and humor, and showmanship. Snuffed. Gone. Forever. Out out brief candle. But for a few recordings and vidclips, and a lot of memories from a LOT of people, probably more than he ever knew.

Julie Reyburn

Which brings one back to the subject of the memorial service at 7 PM on July 11th. The first and most ironic element is that it was held at the Laura Pels Theatre on 46th Street, which is the current home of the musical Death Takes a Holiday. It was a simply spectacular event; speeches both humorous and dramatic were given by such friends of David’s as Mark Zschiesche, Jason Cannon, Ryan Harrington, Greg Backstrom, Michael Mahan and Brian Farley (who also electrified the audience later with one of David’s favorite pop songs, “Sing,” by My Chemical Romance) aside from a truly side-splitting racont by the indomitable Phil Geoffrey Bond, and also song performances were in abundance as delivered by the likes of Natalie Douglas, Jonathan Whitton, Julie Reyburn, Alysha Umphress, Lisa Asher, Steven Ray Watkins, Eddie Varley,  Michael Holland, Michael Walker and Tracy Stark, before Maitner took the stage for a finale, encompassing a medley of songs from Hair, one of Gurland’s all-time favorite musicals. And of course the audience contained all manner of friends, such as Lorinda Lisitza and the aforementioned Ms. LaFerrara, besides other friends and a generous smattering of Gurland and Maitner relatives. A glorious reception followed afterwards at Lips, 227 East 56th Street. and a splendid time was most certainly had by all.

Lisa Asher

The only thing missing was David. But never before has a presence felt so strongly in a heavily-populated room of persons celebrating such a spectacular life, and one that was cut so unnecessarily short. Still and all, one can rest easy that it was probably exactly what David would have wanted. Although I can’t help shake the feeling that he would have been saying to Rob later, “Why was there no major production number? ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ with you and the singers at the very end? That’s IT? You couldn’t maybe have pulled a few strings and had Liza or Barbra come and sing a song?”

Go with God, beautiful pocket bear. Until we meet again.

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