Friday, February 29, 2008

God's writing

“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.”
--Martin Luther

“Beauty is God’s handwriting.”
--Sisters of All Saints Convent, Catonsville, MD

“When God erases, he is preparing to write.”
--Sisters of All Saints Convent

Thursday, February 28, 2008

J. Mark McVey

Les Misérables in Concert.

I was delighted to learn that Mark has been cast in a concert version of “Les Miz” to be performed this summer at the Hollywood Bowl. Mark is one of my favorite people in show business, and he’s a terrific Jean Valjean, as I know from seeing him twice in the role on Broadway. I wish I could be there to hear him again.

The concert also will feature Brian Stokes Mitchell as Javert and Rosie O'Donnell as Madame Thénardier. Richard Jay-Alexander, the Broadway producer-director who has staged concerts for Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Betty Buckley and Bette Midler, will direct the Aug. 8-10 performances. The concerts will also feature musical direction by Kevin Stites, who was the musical director and conductor for the recent Broadway “Les Miz” revival; Stites will conduct the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Melora Hardin, the singer-actress who plays Jan Levinson on TV's "The Office," will be Fantine; “Spring Awakening”'s Lea Michele, who played the young Cosette in the original Broadway production of “Les Miz,” will be Eponine and Aaron Lazar takes on Enjolras, a role the actor played to much acclaim in the “Les Miz” revival.

The original Broadway production, directed and adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird with Richard Jay-Alexander as associate director, ran from March 12, 1987 to May 18, 2003. It won eight 1987 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The recent Broadway revival, also directed by Caird, played Nov. 9, 2006 to Jan. 6, 2008. I think it should have played forever.

For tickets to the Hollywood Bowl concerts, call (323) 850-2000. Visit for more information.

Just in case you missed my review of Mark’s CDs, posted last spring, I’m moving it up so you will know about these great recordings. I listen to them often, especially the one of Christian music.

I met Mark in early 2003 when I interviewed him about the unfortunate closing of the original production of “Les Miz.” He was a longtime, and wonderful, Jean Valjean. We sat in the quiet theatre before an evening performance and talked of faith and theatre -- two of my favorite subjects. Before I left he gave me his CDs “Broadway and Beyond” and “If You Really Knew Me, The Music of Marvin Hamlisch.” Recently he sent me a much earlier collection of spiritual songs, “One Among Few.”

Composer Phil Hall, whose songs Mark has frequently recorded, says Mark has an angel in his voice. I would go even higher. Mark has God in his voice, and in his life and work as well.

For “One Among Few,” he wrote the words and music for the title song and “Let the World Know.” The first is a passionate song of praise -- “He is the glory./Jesus makes me whole./He’s one among few I can count on in this world./Jesus, I love you.” It’s a song about believing in yourself, and when you find that hard, all you have to do is turn to Jesus for a helping hand. The faith that this song conveys must surely have been challenged -- and strengthened -- through living the difficult life of a performing artist.

“Let the World Know” is one of those rousing commissioning songs I love. He starts off with some advice -- “The trick to living this life is keeping it together,/believing in yourself,/that’s the major key.” -- and he offers some advice for doing just that: “Trust your instincts./Know your weakness./Don’t let another man’s words ever get you down./Stand up tall and be proud for what you believe in./Build your house on solid ground.” And then the jubilant chorus: “Let the world know that you’re out here./Set your sights and goals a bit too high./Keep your faith and your courage growing./Seek the truth and your soul will fly.” Listening to Mark sing these songs will definitely make your soul fly. Also on the CD are songs by Phil Hall and classics like “Amazing Grace” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The other two CDs feature show music, which also lifts my soul. I love the way Mark blends songs on “Broadway and Beyond,” pairing “Anything Goes with “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” and “I’ve Got Rhythm” with “Fascinating Rhythm,” to name two of my favorite selections. He ends with a song he sang so soulfully for all those years as Jean Valjean -- “Bring Him Home.” I’ve seen him leave an audience in tears with that one.

“If You Really Knew Me” is the first CD collection of Mr. Hamlisch’s music. Some of these songs I knew because they’re from shows, others I didn’t. I enjoyed encountering the new ones, starting with the first number, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” a lively song that always lifts my spirits. The first time I heard “One Song” on this CD, I shouted, “That’s a Broadway Blessing song,” and so it was that fall when Mark sang it for us at this interfaith service I have been producing since founding it in 1997. Mark sang it again for United Nations Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and really impressed the UN folks. He was supposed to sing “Ordinary Miracles” at last year’s Blessing, but work got in the way so he sent us a terrific replacement in John Tracy Egan. They’re both beautiful songs on a CD of lovely music. Mark and Mr. Hamlisch tour extensively performing these songs, by the way.

To find out more about Mark, his CDs and where he will be performing, check his web site at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

7 Ways to a Joyous Day

Ever have one of those bad days? You know—not kind of bad, but bad. You mess up at work. You have a terrible fight with your spouse. Your doctor calls you in for some tests that sound pretty scary. A day seemingly beyond all redemption. When you have a day like that (and let’s face it, we all do sometimes), you have several choices. You can retreat into paralyzing fear, act out inappropriately or just go into complete denial.

But there’s actually another choice: You can rejoice.

Rejoice? Why? you ask.

Because it’s the only real way out. “This is the day the Lord has made,” the psalmist tells us. “We will rejoice and be glad in it.” This day? This messy, painful, frustrating day deserves a chance? Yes. Every day, whether it includes a lost wallet, a dented bumper or the funeral of a loved one, deserves our full presence. They all come from God’s drawing room.

Still not convinced? Try these seven strategies the next time you find yourself trapped in a day that holds more than you think you can bear. You’ll be surprised at how freeing they are.

Fret Not

Anxiety will ruin your day. And it can be a real confidence-killer. I know. I get plenty of opportunities to fret: Was I too long-winded in my talk? Is my latest book any good? Do I have any business telling people how to live? The drumbeat of worry can be deafening.

I like the approach of a friend who once told me, “Well, Max, I always assume everyone likes me.”

What a crazy idea, I thought. But I decided to give it a try—not just once, but to make it a regular thought habit. I started by giving myself and my audience the benefit of the doubt: We’re all here because we’re comfortable with one another.

That habit has changed how I view the world. It’s not such a menacing place anymore.

You can’t add one more day to your life or more life to your day by fretting. Worry doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it only rids today of its strength.

And why should you worry when you are surrounded by friends wherever you go?

Forgive Freely

I forgive easily. Or so I like to think. But some years ago a Christian leader publicly criticized me without giving me a chance to defend myself. This leader was offended by something I’d said on my radio show, misinterpreting my words, I thought. He wrote an article about me, inferring untrue things. I was angry and hurt. Really hurt.

I moped for a few weeks, until I realized I was letting this man’s accusations rob me of joy. So I wrote him a letter, telling him how I felt. He never wrote back. Maybe he never got my letter. I don’t know. But what I realized was that by writing that letter, I forgave him. Forgiveness is not about saying that what a person did is okay or that they’re right. It’s about making a decision, a choice to let the hurt and anger go. It frees you up to move on. Forgive someone and you’ll discover that that person has virtually no power to hurt you anymore. Then you’ll be able to focus on what you really care about: the joy of life.

Fear Not

Heart trouble runs in my family. Mom, Dad and my older brother have all had heart problems. I was so scared about having a heart attack, I became an exercise fanatic. I’m taking care of my health, I told myself, gritting my teeth. I even trained for the grueling half-Ironman triathlon. That should fix things.

Then about a year ago my cardiologist told me that I would probably still need to have heart surgery. All those miles of jogging and skipping desserts and stressing about my health, and my heart was no better off than it was before!

I’m not saying that exercise is bad. In fact, it’s very good for you. I still run. My mistake was to think that I could run from my fears.

Fear is a joy-killer. It can make me stressed out, short-tempered, unhappy.

What’s the opposite of fear? Trust. I do better when I trust in God—and go for a short jog. He’s in control of my life.

Place your fear in God’s hands and you’ll find that you have greater peace each day.

Live Passionately

I was a senior in high school when I made one of the most important discoveries of my life—I loved to write. My English teacher assigned us to write a short story. The whole class groaned, but inwardly I thought, Yes! I wrote that first story through the night. It wasn’t very good. But it was a great effort.

And from then on in my career and in my life I’ve always looked for opportunities to write. Writing is something I do from the soul.

Discover your passions by looking back over your life for those sweet-spot moments where you’ve had ‘Yes!  experiences. String those together, and you’ll begin to see new possibilities for your life.

Nothing gives the day greater joy than a good wallop of passion that comes from doing something from the soul.

Get Over It!

Sometimes I’ll have a bad day just by waking up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed. I don’t know why I’m grouchy, but I stay that way for the rest of the day.

If you look long enough and hard enough, you’ll find something to bellyache about. So quit looking!

If you have health problems like I do, you probably feel justified in complaining. Being in pain is no fun. But try this instead of griping: Take a break from your problems. Face each day determined to dwell on the positives. Think about what you have to look forward to. Write a list and put it where you can see it. Try lending an ear to someone in need. Be especially kind to people with whom you have only one encounter—a waiter, a taxi driver, a store clerk. You may have only one chance to be kind.

When you start living for others, it’s pretty hard not to get over whatever’s bothering you.

Collect Your Blessings

Recognize all that you have, and finding blessings to collect will become easy. The key to a joyous day? Make gratitude your default emotion. Say, “I can find things to be grateful for in this day.” Let your thoughts be positive. Expect good things to happen. Seek out people who can encourage you. Over time, you’ll find that God’s list of blessings is longer than your list of burdens.

Once in a race, I was running next to a 66-year-old grandma. I was about to give up, but she urged me on. “Just hang in there, you’re doing really well. Look how far you’ve come.” I ran next to her and started congratulating myself for all the miles I’d run, not the ones that were still ahead. It worked and I finished the race strong.

Color Your World

One day I was at the beach, enjoying the balmy day I had so looked forward to. The sand was soft and cool. Tufts of clouds drifted across a deep blue sky. I leaned back in my beach chair and closed my eyes. That’s when a seagull decided to use my chest as target practice. Yuck! I poured water on my shirt, trying desperately to get the stain out. And just like that, I’d lost the color of the day. Almost.

Maybe you were caught in bad traffic or your flight was cancelled or you haven’t gotten over that nagging cold. How can you see the world in vibrant color on a day like that? Many of us can’t. There I was on the beach…about to allow one errant seagull to ruin my day. I moved my chair, trying to regain the magic of the morning. And then I practiced all these steps I’ve been writing (passionately) about: forgiving the bird (after all, it was only doing what came naturally), not fretting or fearing, counting my blessings (what a beautiful beach) and mostly, getting over it! No, it wasn’t too late for my day to be a joyous one.

The world is full of vibrant color. Don’t let it lose an ounce of its luster. Assume this day is going to be good, and it will. God made it so.

This article by by Max Lucado originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Guidposts Magazine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Living the questions

“Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.”
-- Virginia Satir

“Have we as Christians forgotten the transforming value of a question? When we extinguish questions from our lives, there’s little if any developing consciousness. We block ourselves from new truths and possibilities.
Kierkegaard distinguished between Christendom and Christianity: he said that the former is what we’ve made of the latter. Like our fear of the dark, the fear of questions in the spiritual life belongs to Christendom, not Christianity. . .
Jesus was a master at using questions to pull people into self-confrontation and growth.
--Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions


"The longest journey is the journey inward."
-- Dag Hammarskjold

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George

Glorious. From start to finish, absolutely glorious! And I say this as one who LOVED the original. Seeing it for the first time back in 1985 was an iconic experience that has remained with me in spite of all the musicals I’ve seen in the decades since then.

Luckily this revival has been brilliantly re-conceived by British director Sam Buntrock, who staged a highly successful run of the show two years ago in London. He uses projection, animation and computer-generated imagery in place of the former cardboard cutouts, and he uses them perfectly; I was afraid they might be overdone. Timothy Bird and the Knifedge Creative Network deserve much praise for their projection designs.

The wonderful music is the same that I have loved all these years. I wore out the cassette tape of it that I had at first and now have the CD; I can still cry listening to “Move On.” In the revival, Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell don’t have quite the vocal force of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, but I have no complaints.

Stephen Sondheim’s amazingly creative work, with its book by James Lapine, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1985, and is just as moving as ever. Inspired by the life of George Seurat and his painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” Sondheim imagines a relationship between George and one of his models, Dot. George can never fully commit, though, because his art has such a hold on him. He always has to “finish the hat.” He consoles himself with the pride of creation, “Look I made a hat, where there never was a hat.”

In the second act, set in 1984, an American sculptor, Seurat’s great grandson, also named George, is similarly tormented by the need to create something new, something of his own, and his feeling of loneliness and isolation.

The show has so many wonderful lines; among my favorites are:
“The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. You have to move on.”
“Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision, they usually do. Just keep moving on.”
“Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see.”
“White. A blank page or canvass. His favorite. So many possibilities.”

If you can only see one show this season, make it this one. And if you weren’t planning to go to a show, change your mind. Do anything you can to see this production. Let it be your iconic experience of great musical theatre. You won’t forget it, I assure you.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spiritual gestation

“God makes us ask ourselves questions most often when He intends to resolve them. He gives us needs that He alone can satisfy and awakens capacities that He means to fulfill. Any perplexity is liable to be a spiritual gestation, leading to a new birth and mystical regeneration.”
-- Thomas Merton

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A. C. Grayling

This interview of mine with A.C. Grayling appears in the Feb. 22 issue of NCR. My review of “Grace” can be found here on the Feb. 11 posting.

Grace Friedman is a wife, mother and brilliant professor. Her bold assertions on the “absurdity” of religion have propelled her to center stage in the public debate over the existence of God. But Grace's private calm is severely shaken when her son, Tom, announces a career change from civil rights attorney to priest.
The people are fictitious, two characters in “Grace,” a new Off-Broadway play by Mick Gordon and A.C. Grayling. The questions it raises, however, are real. “They are the issues of this age,” said Mr. Grayling during a telephone interview from his hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Mr. Grayling, a writer and philosophy professor in England, has penned numerous books and essays on this topic, but says his urgency to bring real debate to the forefront has grown since Sept. 11, citing “religious-inspired terrorism” and calling religion “a cloak for extremists.”
He hopes the emotional impact of presenting the argument in dramatic form, showing a family split apart over the importance of religion, will help people “try to think their way through.”
The play is not trying to proselytize, he says, but rather confront people’s emotions rather than just their intellect.
“Theatre presents a window into a kind of reality that can prompt people to think in a more concrete way. It’s really important to show the desperate division and how people nevertheless get along with each other and are kind.”
The London premiere in 2006 was well-received, selling out for its entire six-week run. “We’re interested in what kind of reaction people will have here,” Mr. Grayling said, noting the contrast between England, which is largely secular, and America, where a great number of people practice their religion.
Mr. Grayling’s views are well-known in England. In an interview last year in the London “Telegraph,” he equated belief in God to believing in fantasy. “Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies,” he said.
The “new climate of religious assertiveness” makes it important for nonbelievers to speak out now, to be less conciliatory, he said.
What “Grace” will show, Mr. Grayling hopes, is that the humanistic tradition is just as rich in its emphasis on the importance of relationships, finding fulfillment and being kind to others as religions are.
“Humanism energizes people to think for themselves and make good choices,” he says.
The play may also clarify terms, such as the word atheist. Grace, who is being played by Lynn Redgrave, strongly rejects this label. “Atheist, young man, is a religious term,” she tells Tom. “Like pro-life. Like intelligent design. The word itself gives credence to the idea it is pretending to criticize. It’s pernicious. Atheist is not a description; it’s advertising. I’m a naturalist.”
Grace believes religion gives cover to “the nutters,” the extremists. But Tom sees it differently. He is convinced that “the dangerous situation to get into is to see the world as a battle between those that have religion and those that don’t. Where those that have religion are defined as zealous. Whereas for me, there’s a really important role for those who want to say, we need to have /better/ religion. . . . I don’t provide cover for sexist, homophobic, bigoted people who put bombs on planes. I did that when I was a lawyer!”
When he tells Grace he’s an enlightened person and religious, she calls that a contradiction in terms. “You can’t have it both ways. It’s faith or reason. You have to choose.. . . Rigorous rationality, proportioning belief to evidence, is not cold, simplistic, logic-chopping! It’s the only outlook we can truly rely on.”
She maintains that religion is “the most pernicious source of conflict in our world today and you, my son, are one of its salesman.” To which he replies: “And you’re a fundamentalist.”
While Grace and Tom represent extremes of belief, the play’s other two characters, Tony and Ruth, offer the middle road. Tony, Grace’s husband, would rather ignore the discussion by having a drink and looking the other way.
“That’s the old way of doing it,” Mr. Grayling says.
Ruth, Tom’s fiancé, emphasizes the need to be kind in the face of deep disagreement.
Mr. Grayling says he has never been religious, but is happy to count three archbishops, one of whom is Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, as friends with whom he has many discussion about religion. He hopes “Grace” will prompt similar debates among members of the New York audience.
“They’re an intelligent family, principled. They have outlooks they believe in deeply. That’s why such sharp divisions of view are both intellectual and emotional. I hope great passions will be engaged on both sides.”

The American premiere of “Grace” runs through March 8 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Related web site
MCC Theater

Mental Resilience

“Most of us do not accept. or even believe in, the continual flux of life. However strange this may seem, once we truly accept this at a physical level, we will not need to search for certainty. . . As you tackle the tribulations of life, insight helps you refrain from taking yourself, your challenges, and life itself too seriously, because you will know that no matter what situation you are in, good or bad, it will change. This insight into the changing nature of the world will give you equanimity and joy.”
-- Kamal Sarma, Mental Resilience: The Power of Clarity

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Doing our part

“’It is not your obligation to complete your work,’ the Talmud says, ‘but you are not at liberty to quit it.’

“We come as part of the long chain of humanity, each one of us with another brick to lay in the edifice that is humanity. Stopping before we’ve done our part in the building up of the human race is to betray the entire chain.”
-- Sister Joan Chittister, Living Well

Monday, February 18, 2008

3 Mo' Divas

This show deserves a long run in Manhattan, not just one night in Brooklyn. Everything about it is fabulous -- the women’s voices, their presentation and personality, the back-up band under the direction of a dynamic pianist. It would be impossible for them to make this show any better than it is.

The Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts placed this concert in its Blockbusters series, which is appropriate because that’s just want it is, a blockbuster. Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Laurice Lanier (in photo) and Jamet Pittman hold nothing back; they are amazing. Saturday night’s concert was two hours long and I could easily have sat through two more. Those women radiated with the joy of performing. The Brooklyn Center is a big place, but they filled it with their talent -- and the audience LOVED them. The energy from stage to audience and back again was thrilling. 3 Mo’ Divas put on an even better show that Three Mo’ Tenors, and that’s going some because the Tenors are great.

Billed as “an evening of class, sass, and feminine style,” the Divas perform some of the most inspiring and challenging music ever written for the female voice. Like the Tenors, they sing through the genres of opera, Broadway, soul, gospel, spirituals, new school, jazz, and blues. Their selections include “Quando m’en vo” from La Bohème, “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera)” from Carmen, “Seasons of Love” from Rent, “Let the Sunshine In” from Hair, “Lady Sings the Blues,” “It’s Raining Men,” “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in his Kiss),” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” I’d go hear them anytime they’re playing in the area.

3 Mo’ Divas was created in 2004 following the success of Broadway writer/director Marion J. Caffey’s Three Mo’ Tenors, a show he crafted for black opera singers after being inspired by The Three Tenors -- Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti -- in concert. The success of Three Mo’ Tenors, which recently finished a five-month engagement Off-Broadway at the Little Shubert Theatre (see my Jan. 3 posting), led to the creation of this sister ensemble. Employing only versatile singers with “serious classical training,” Caffey has created in 3 Mo’ Divas a concert that spans 400 years of repertoire and eight musical genres.

Not only are the Divas fantastic, but so are the musicians who accompany them. Unfortunately their names are not listed in the program, which they certainly should be because they’re terrific. It was a glorious evening.

Brooklyn Center’s Blockbusters series concludes March 15 with a performance of Mandy Patinkin: In Concert. I hope to be there for that, as well as for “Evita” on April 6.

Founded in 1954, the mission of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts is to present outstanding performing arts and arts education programs, reflective of Brooklyn’s diverse communities, at affordable prices. Brooklyn Center’s presentations explore both the classical traditions and the boldest contemporary performances, embracing the world culture that defines Brooklyn. Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts welcomes more than 70,000 people annually, including 42,000 schoolchildren from more than 225 schools, in the 2,400-seat Walt Whitman Theatre at my beloved Brooklyn College.

For the schedule of upcoming shows, visit

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Two Thousand Years

Last Friday I saw a play about a secular Jewish family in England that was thrown askance when the son turned to religion. Last night I saw a play about a secular Jewish family in England that was thrown askance when the son turned to religion. I enjoyed last night’s a whole lot more, though, because “Two Thousand Years” has something “Grace” doesn’t -- IT HAS MERWIN GOLDSMITH!

In “Two Thousand Years,” Mike Leigh’s new comedy making its American debut on Theatre Row, Merwin (in photo, center) plays Dave, the grandfather, an aging socialist generally displeased by everything and everybody in the current government, and in his family. Merwin, who is one of the most thoughtful, genial people I know, is so much fun to watch as this impatient curmudgeon -- the “New York Times” singled out his performance, citing “an amusingly cranky Merwin Goldsmith.”

I waited for Merwin, who is definitely amusing but definitely not cranky, after the show. My friend Carolyn Hearn, Merwin and his three friends and I then went across the street to the West Bank Cafe, a great theatre hangout where other cast members were gathering, and caught up over drinks and snacks until midnight. Merwin told us Mike Leigh said his British accent was dead-on, something Merwin attributes to his four years studying and performing in England after college. I already knew Merwin was great as a Brit because his answering machine message is my all-time favorite. He plays an English butler and is just a hoot.

As is typical for an actor, Merwin had some good news and some bad news, the bad being that he lost his recurring role as a judge on “Law and Order” when the show replaced all its judges with ones under 50. But the good news really lit up his face. After auditioning and not being cast for Broadway’s recent revival of “Cyrano,” Merwin was cast in “Hearts” at Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE and experienced a professional high point, with audiences responding so strongly to this play dealing with war-related post traumatic stress that they wanted to stay and talk about it well past the final curtain. He said it was one of the most potent theatrical experiences of his life. He then whispered to me how good it is that God works things out -- had he been cast in “Cyrano” he would not only have missed the CENTERSTAGE production, but he would have been out of work because of the stagehands strike that shut down Broadway for weeks.

I love people with faith perspectives like that. It was faith and show business that brought us together in the first place. Actually, it was first my friend Loraine Heller who did the matchmaking. Loraine, who knew I was looking for spiritually inclined actors for my book Working on the Inside, was worshiping at Park Avenue Synagogue one Saturday morning when she heard a gorgeous voice singing behind her. A singer herself, Loraine can be really critical of other singers, especially those Broadway shouters who are cast so often today. She turned around to ask the owner of that voice if he was a singer. He said yes, and that he was also an actor. Loraine turned back, but then thought -- actor, religious, Retta. So she turned back again to the singer and told him about her friend’s project. Merwin introduced himself, gave her his card and said he’d love to be part of the book.

Loraine’s discovery proved to be a real blessing to me. Not only did Merwin provide much insight into the importance of ritual in Judaism and acting, but at the end of our interview he told me he is also a photographer and offered to take my book photo. When it was time, he did, and we had a blast for four hours doing the photo shoot in Times Square and the Theatre at St. Clement’s. We’ve been friends ever since. (You can see one of those photos on the upper right side of this blog.)

“Two Thousand Years” was originally scheduled to close March 8, but the run has been extended to March 22, when it will have to close to make way for another show. It had its world premiere at the National Theatre on London’s West End in September 2005 and enjoyed a sold-out run through January 31, 2006.

I asked Merwin what’s next and he cried out in typical actor despair: “I’ll never work again.” Other great roles will be coming his way; there’s not a single doubt in my mind about that. In the meantime, he plays Mr. Monopoly in promotions for that game and is Ben Franklin in ads for Chevy Chase Bank in the Washington, D.C. area.

I’ll close today by sharing some of Merwin’s wisdom from “Working on the Inside:” “Acting is a talent. What that talent is is not a mystery. Where it comes from is. It’s scary sometimes because you seem to be in touch with something beyond you. You’re hit with emotions or feelings that have been buried so long and maybe you can’t identify the source of them. It’s that touch of the divine. It’s a little scary to get close to something really powerful.”

Scary, yes, but wonderful too. I know another great role will follow this one for you soon, Merwin.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Crimes of the Heart

I was really looking forward to seeing this production of “Crimes of the Heart.” I had seen this play a couple times before and always loved it; this production was supposed to be especially good. It got raves last summer in Williamstown and was moving to Off-Broadway intact -- the same cast and Kathleen Turner once again directing.

So what happened? The show I saw Wednesday afternoon was lifeless and plodding. I would never have guessed that Sarah Paulson, Jennifer Dundas and Lily Rabe (left to right in photo) had played the Magrath sisters together before, and apparently so successfully. They seemed as if they were feeling their way with their roles in rehearsal. And their accents -- not only did they not sound as if they were from the same family, they didn’t sound as if they had grown up in the same town or even the same state. Their southern accents were all over the map, with none sounding authentic.

Luckily I like this play, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981, so the afternoon wasn’t a total waste. I’m a sucker for southern gothic, maybe because I’m technically a southern, Baltimore being just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Baltimore’s not that easy to classify, though. It’s been called a northern city without the vitality and a southern city without the charm, which isn’t entirely true. Baltimore does have some pockets of charm. It’s not elegant charm like in Charleston or Savannah, but it does have a sort of down-home and quirky charm.

Possibly I just caught an off performance of “Crimes.” Matinees are often not as lively as evening shows, although this was a press performance so that usually ups the presentation.
“Crimes of the Heart” plays at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., through April 13th.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More from When the Heart Waits

I’ve written before about the wonderful book When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. I am reading it in bits because I want to savor all she has to offer. Here’s a passage I especially like.

Ms. Kidd cites the children’s song “I’m a Little Teapot.” You probably remember it: “I’m a little teapot, short and stout./Here is my handle; here is my spout./If you turn the heat up, I will shout,/’Tip me over and pour me out!’” Then she makes the comparison with times of darkness in our lives:

“We’re containers filled with an ego elixir we’ve brewed ourselves. When the heat is turned up inside and the old begins to burn away, we must offer God the handle and the spout of our lives. God tips us over and pours us out. The ‘me’ is poured out: the self with a lower case s, the old way of being, the old way of relating to God. We’re emptied so that we can be refilled with new and living waters.

“Mid-life is a time for tipping over. . . We’re receiving a loving call from God to move into a wider and deeper dimension of the spiritual life. We’re being EMPTIED of the old. It become darkened to us. As John of the Cross wrote, the purpose of the dark night is to purge us. . .

“Transformation depends on this stripping away (or ‘denuding’ as John of the Cross called it), a process that involves undoing ego patterns, recasting the old story we created for ourselves to live in, and unraveling illusions not only about ourselves but about God.

“This stripping away both demands and creates a temporary darkness. . . Too many of us panic in the dark. We don’t understand that it’s a HOLY dark and that the idea is to surrender to it and journey through to real light.”

Isn’t that lovely?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ethel Merman

I first became aware of Ethel Merman as a child when she made a guest appearance on my favorite TV show, “That Girl.” She played herself and Ann (Marlo Thomas) had been cast in a Broadway show with her and was thrilled because she admired Ms. Merman so much. It all seemed so glamourous to me that it really made an impression.

When I later discovered the cast album of “Gypsy” I responded to the songs on a soul level, and so was once again drawn to Ethel Merman. When I saw that Brian Kellow was speaking to our Dutch Treat Club at the National Arts Club yesterday about his new biography, Ethel Merman: A Life, I knew I wanted to be there.

As it turns out, Mr. Kellow, who writes the popular “On the Beat” column for “Opera News,” also was fascinated by Ms. Merman when he was a child growing up in Oregon and saw her on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” At first his interest was partly a “childhood rebellion” because his parents couldn’t stand her voice (neither could my mother). “I thought she was astounding the first time I heard her,” he said. So did I!

He was inspired by songs like “Some People,” which talked about longing to get away and have a better life. He knew that feeling living in Oregon and I knew that feeling living in Baltimore. Lyrics like “some people sit on their butts, got the dream, yeah, but not the guts” were a clarion call to me. I had the dream and I was going to have the guts.

Ms. Merman’s dream, according to Mr. Kellow, didn’t require a lot of guts at first. “She caught on right from the beginning,” he said. “She started at the top and she stayed there.”

When she held a note in “I Got Rhythm” for 16 bars while performing in “Crazy for You,” the audience was wowed. “There was never an ovation to meet it,” Mr. Kellow said. “Ethel thought she had snapped a garter and kept looking behind her. There was so much applause.”

And she was never in a flop. She fit perfectly into five Cole Porter shows, even though Ethel Merman and Cole Porter “were not an automatic combination.” (She also wasn’t an automatic combination with the men in her life, chalking up four failed marriages.)

Mr. Kellow said many people tried to discourage him from writing this biography, saying that almost everyone connected to Ms. Merman was dead. But he found nearly 130 people more than willing to talk about the legendary star. “It was a fascinating journey for me. There’s nothing I like better than finding people who were there for Broadway history.”

And there’s not much I like better than musical theatre, so I am looking forward to reading this book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Castles in the air

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dream
and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
If you build castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put foundations under them.
-- Henry David Thoreau

Monday, February 11, 2008


I liked “Grace” better when I read it than when I saw it Friday night. It’s a play about ideas, actually one main idea -- whether God exists. In performance it comes off as a debate and is lacking in theatricality.

This could be because one of the author, A.C. Grayling, is an ideas person, a philosophy professor in England. His co-author, Mick Gordon, is a respected director in England, but they let the ideas overwhelm the play, making it too talky.

I still found it interesting, though, and it was good to see Lynn Redgrave back on a New York stage, where she hasn’t been since her Tony-nominated turn in the delightful revival of “The Constant Wife” in the summer of 2005. Here she plays Grace, a wife, a mother and a brilliant professor. Her bold assertions on the “absurdity” of religion have propelled her to center stage in the public debate over the existence of God. But her private calm is severely shaken when her son, Tom, announces a career change from civil rights attorney to Anglican priest.

I interviewed Mr. Grayling, who has penned numerous books and essays about the nonexistence of God, for NCR and will run that feature after it appears. He told me his urgency to bring real debate to the forefront has grown since Sept. 11, citing “religious-inspired terrorism” and calling religion “a cloak for extremists.”

Grace voices this opinion, saying that religion gives cover to “the nutters.” In her opinion, religion shouldn’t be treated reasonably because “religion is not reasonable. Rigorous rationality, proportioning belief to evidence, is not cold, simplistic, logic-chopping! It’s the only outlook we can truly rely on.”

But Tom is comfortable with the undefinable aspect of faith. He cites the story of Moses meeting with God at the top of a mountain shrouded in clouds while the people on the ground were worshiping their own creation of the golden calf. “And the whole story is saying that God isn’t like any THING we expect. And that’s what pisses me off when the atheists keep on trying to tell me what sort of God I believe in. It pisses me off that they assume what I believe. Because they want me to believe in a thing called God. But I don’t. I don’t believe God is a thing. I just believe in God.”

I’m with Tom. Even with meditating twice a day I know I’ll never penetrate the cloud of unknowing, and that’s OK. I don’t need or want “rigourous rationality.” I experience God’s presence in my life. That’s evidence enough for me.

I’ve had the Grace/Tom argument with my friend Gina Hermans in Germany many times. Like Grace, she is a nonbeliever and wants all the world to be rational. And I say, why would anyone want to live in a totally rational world, even if that were possible? There’s nothing rational about love or the arts, to name two things I wouldn’t want to live without. As Ed Herrmann said when I interviewed him for Working on the Inside, “What’s the point of the arts as a discipline? It’s absurd to pretend to be somebody else, a rabbit or Hamlet. It’s silly, but it isn’t. We don’t begin with reason, we begin with feeling and insight. All of life is 99 percent nonrational. Reason is nothing compared to God’s love. That’s what makes us who we are. Reason is the first thing that should be dropped when you start exploring the spirit. You can bring reason to bear on what you find, but truth simply doesn’t happen that way.”

“Grace” sold out its run at London's Soho Theater and is now making its American premiere at the Lucille Lortel, running through March 8. Tickets may be purchased by calling (212) 279-4200 or online at


“The world can be saved by one thing only and that is worship, for to worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
-- William Temple

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Project Dance

I wrote this feature for the April 20, 2007 issue of "National Catholic Reporter."

Six young women, barefoot and in sweats and t-shirts, gathered in a dance studio one Wednesday evening in late February, and began stretching and limbering up. From all appearances, it looked like one of dozens of classes going on everyday in Manhattan’s theatre district. But the reason these dancers had come wasn’t typical -- they came to pray.

They brought no Bibles, prayer books or rosaries. Instead, they leapt, they spun, they bent and swooped, praying to God through movement, using the gifts they were given, the gifts that had brought them to the hard, competitive world of a professional dancer in New York City.

“Your time here is in addition to whatever you do on Sunday or in your small group Bible studies,” said Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance, which was offering this new class, called Atmosphere, free for any experienced dancer. “This is meant to be a time for you personally, your personal time with God. Find a place and create the atmosphere for the Lord.”

As the CD player in the corner poured out inspirational music -- “Oh, sisters, let’s go down to the river to pray” -- Ms. Cutlip led the group in prayer. “Father, we offer to you the thoughts that weigh heavy on our hearts and the things in the world we don’t have solutions for yet. We take this time out to honor you with our dancing. We ask to be in an atmosphere of spiritual holiness, that when we go out from here tonight we will feel we have been someplace different.”

As she prayed, the dancers began improvising, moving in their own way before coming together as a group to follow Ms. Cutlip’s instructions.

“Whatever you want to do with your arms is so fine with me,” Ms. Cutlip said as she winged hers in and out and up and down. Gradually she led the group into a choreographed dance that was to evolve into a performance the following week at House of Roses, a program that takes dance to inner city children.

At the end of two hours, as the dancers started to cool down, Ms. Cutlip asked them to break into two groups of three for prayer. “Let’s hit it in prayer,” she said, still energetic after the vigorous workout. The dancers then sat cross-legged on the floor and quietly offered their needs and their praise.

In the hall outside the studio after class, the women said the evening had offered them something they don’t find elsewhere, a chance to dance as fellowship, without being judged.

“Here we go specifically to worship God,” said Amy Osgood. “We don’t have to get caught up in how we look. We give up ourselves and it’s totally for God.”

Atmosphere is Project Dance’s latest offering. In the six years since Ms. Cutlip founded this international movement of dancers, Project Dance has produced performance events in New York City, Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia. Its goal is to “share hope and healing through the language of dance.” At least 900 dancers have participated.

“I believe dance can be an expression of worship,” said Ms. Cutlip over a supper of Mexican chicken salad and bottled water at a Ninth Avenue restaurant after the class. “When you’re doing what you’re created to do in His presence, something significant happens.”

Ms. Cutlip has been doing what she was created to do since she began taking dance lessons in Archdale, NC, as a child. Believing anything is possible for one who works hard and sticks to it, Ms. Cutlip, at 15, set out on a six-week summer tour in which she danced eight hours a day. The experience solidified her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

After one semester of college, she left to pursue that dream in Nashville where she danced at Opryland USA. A stint on a cruise ship followed, then it was on to Tokyo Disneyland, a European tour of “42nd Street” and a national tour of “Crazy for You” before she reached what could be the pinnacle of dancing success, becoming a Rockette at age 22. As such she has danced the last 14 seasons of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, performed for a presidential inauguration and danced in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The Rockettes have a legacy of camaraderie, of belonging to this really special group of elite dancers,” she says. “Every year I’m at somebody’s engagement party, wedding or baby shower. I’ve ended up having 40 sisters I wouldn’t have had.”

Not everyone in Ms. Cutlip’s life has seen being a Rockette as a positive thing. Right after their marriage in 1996, Ms. Cutlip and her husband, Ron, lived in Ohio where she danced with a church group. One member of that group refused to dance if Ms. Cutlip was involved because she couldn’t reconcile the idea of a Christian being a Rockette.

“My first reaction was anger, that how could she judge me. Even among dancers there wasn’t an understanding.”

That was the impetus for Ms. Cutlip to create Project Dance as a “bridge” between people of faith and the dance world. A secondary goal is to take dance out of the studios and theatres and present it in the streets for all to see. The latest example of this will be the sixth annual Project Dance Times Square, when 44th Street between Broadway and Avenue of the Americas will be closed April 21 for a day of public dance.

“There’s no conflict in doing art to its fullest potential. The greater purpose is to be a messenger of hope wherever you are. If you’re in a Broadway show, then be a messenger of hope in a Broadway show. To me it’s not where it’s done, it’s what you bring to it.”

Related web site
Project Dance

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Can do!

"If you think you can do a thing, or think you can't do a thing, you're right."
-- Henry Ford

Friday, February 8, 2008

Faith and haste

“They that believeth can live for today a life unhampered by the claims of tomorrow because they are living for the forever. They will not be afraid of missing anything really worth having. They will not clutch with too eager hands at life as it seems to be rushing past them, for their faith will teach them -- the Christ will teach them -- that life is not something that rushes past us and might be grasped at or missed, but something that dwells in us, and the true name of it is the peace of God through Jesus Christ the Saviour and the lover of souls. . . They shall know that they have time in which to do their best because the highest faith of their soul, the deepest desire of their heart, the most real significance of their daily toil, goes on for ever into the eternity of God.”
--Percy C. Ainsworth

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Christine Pedi

Christine Pedi is a terrific mimic. All her years with “Forbidden Broadway” have shaped her into an accomplished comedienne, singer and satirist. “Great Dames,” recorded live at the the Metropolitan Room, is her hilarious take on songs made famous by, inspired by, or about great ladies of the stage and screen.

You have just got to hear her as Patti LuPone singing “Just You Wait Henry Higgins.” You would swear it’s Patti singing, that is if you can imagine Patti as Eliza Doolittle.

And then there’s her version of “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miz”:

“There was a time when shows were fun
and used bright lighting
and the shows weren’t so long
and the songs weren’t so biting.
There was a time, then it all went wrong.

I dreamed a show in days gone by
where pathos wasn’t overstated.
I didn’t sing one song then die.
I didn’t act so constipated,
but now that misery’s in style,
it’s artistic if you suffer,
so they tore my dress apart
and the chorus girls walk lame.”

I was fortunate to hear Christine perform a selection from the CD at the National Arts Club last week where she did Barbra Streisand singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” complete with Barbra’s gesturing, posturing and dragging the song out sooo long. It was a riot. The CD doesn’t allow you all those visual quirks of the great ladies, but Christine’s vocal renditions give you a full enough picture. She’s a hoot.

Christine has just been named winner of the 2008 Nightlife Award, judged by New York critics. For more on Christine, visit

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Here’s another great movie, previously unknown to me, that I found at the library. I was interested when I saw it on the stands because it features Joan Plowright and I love her movies. “Enchanted April” and “Tea with Mussolini” are two I can watch again and again. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont now falls into that category too.

This is the lovely story of a chance meeting between a lonely widow and a young man who plays music in the subway while hoping to become a writer. They develop a deep friendship that changes both of their lives.

The story begins as Mrs. Palfrey arrives in London, having left Scotland in search of intellectual stimulation and new acquaintances in the city. The hotel she booked, the Claremont, turns out to be quite different from what she expected, rather drab and gloomy. The residents all seem pathetic, and Mrs. Palfrey wonders what she’s gotten herself into. But when she meets the handsome young man, her life blossoms in a way she never could have expected. She shares with him the happy memories of her life with her husband, and he recognizes those stories of love in an earlier era are the perfect subject for any writer.

This is a really special movie. Look for it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The present moment

I love the interview with Pema Chodron in the February issue of “O, the Oprah Magazine.” She offers much wisdom and healing. I especially like this quote: "The journey is all there is, really. The future never comes, because it's always the present moment."

I put that on my calendar as a reminder. Being present is so important. I have a whole chapter in my book Working on the Inside devoted to being In the Moment. As Vanessa Williams told me when I interviewed her for that chapter: “Being present is a gift you have when you’re a child and you don’t have a past or a future. Then society gets to you and anxiety and remorse creep into your life and they don’t allow you to be present. I try to incorporate it everyday, to not remind myself of past failures and learn to forgive and trust the future. It makes life easier to be in the present, it’s just hard to do.”

As actor and Jesuit George Drance told me for the Prayer chapter, awareness when practiced becomes a habit. It’s a habit I will keep trying to acquire. Kristin Chenoweth was right when she said, you miss a lot of blessings if you're not in the moment.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Akeelah and the Bee

I had never heard of this movie, which isn’t surprising since I know little about movies; I haven’t seen one in a movie theatre since the revival of “Little Women” about a dozen years ago. But during this slow theatre time I love actually being able to stay at home at night, especially on these cold, dark winter nights. It’s fun to get a movie from the library and I got Akeelah and the Bee out last week. It’s always nice to find a treasure, and this is one.

Akeelah is a little girl who loves words, but is afraid of being laughed at if she seems too smart in her hard-luck school. Laurence Fishburne is the tutor who challenges her to succeed. Keke Palmer as Akeelah is so winning, and I don’t just mean in competition. She’s a little personality kid, so nature and believable.

One thing I found interesting was a quote that factors strongly in encouraging Akeelah. It’s hung on the wall of her tutor’s house and it come through as a voiceover when she’s facing her toughest competition. Unfortunately it’s unattributed. I love this quote, and ran it here last fall. I’m moving it up now so that if you watch the movie, you’ll know the source of those inspiring words.

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson
(quoted by Nelson Mandela in his Inaugural Address)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet

This book is a gold mine of information. Author David Nevue has poured more than a dozen years of research and experience into this how-to book for independent musicians.

A pianist and composer, David starting working for a software manufacturer in 1993, and not long after the Internet began appearing on the horizon. He saw this as a way to promote his music, putting up a web site in 1995. But he only sold two CDs that first year.

“I put my energy into testing new and creative ways to market my music online,” he writes. “I knew I was on to something when I started selling four and five CDs a week. That gave me the idea to write this book, the first edition of which came out in November of 1997.”

In 2001 he accomplished his long-term dream -- quitting his day job. Ever since he’s been doing “the music biz" on the Internet full-time. By 2006, he was making $6,000 a month in total sales just from the Internet (that doesn’t include gigs and CD sales at gigs). This income is from sheet music, books, partnerships, advertising and other revenues in addition to the CD sales. “Everything I do online is related to the music business I love,” he writes.

“Of course, money isn’t everything. There’s still the question of using the Internet to advance your music career. I’ve been able to generate a lot of publicity for my music online, and as a result not only do I sell CDs, but I often receive requests to have my music used in independent film and media projects. I’ve negotiated three distribution deals overseas as a result of someone finding my music online.”

He also was approached by NBC to have his music used for a made-for-TV movie and has photographers who want to use his music for their web sites.

“Finally, I’m playing a lot more gigs in a lot more places as a direct result of marketing my music online and, as you know, the more you play live, the more doors get opened up for you. You, like me, can use the Internet to create a huge amount of exposure for your music. The more exposure you generate, the more likely you are to gain new fans, sell more music, get more gigs and, of course, make those contacts you want to make within the music industry.”

This is important because many musicians want to be signed by major labels. “But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that record labels aren’t looking for fly-by-night musicians to turn into stars. They are looking for musicians who are already DOING THE WORK. They are looking for artists who have created a huge fan base, sold thousands of CDs and played sold-out shows all ON THEIR OWN.

“What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is this: If you want to make it big and get signed to a major label, the best way to do that is to forget about being signed to a major label and do the work yourself. Your goal should not be to ‘get signed,’ but to bring yourself to a point to where you don’t NEED the backing of a major label anymore.

“If you are seeking only FAME, then yes, you need the backing of big money to help you achieve that. But if you’re just wanting to do music full-time and be the quintessential artist, that’s something you can do all on your own, and the Internet can help you reach that goal. I’m living proof of that.”

David does caution that promoting your music successfully on the Internet is hard work. “The Internet is not a shortcut to success -- it’s simply another tool, one that can be very effective in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.”

He says creating a web page to sell your music is not enough; that the average musician sells between two to five CDs a year from their web site. “Sales that low do not justify the expense of putting your music online.”

In the book he shows you what marketing ideas worked for him, and which to steer away from. “I will show you how to target an audience MOST LIKELY to buy your music. I will show you how to convert visitors to your web site into sales, and how to increase your fan base. I will show you how to sell more CDs, and how and where to distribute your music online. I will also tell you what not to waste your time and money on.”

Because the Internet changes so quickly, David updates the book annually and offers readers a “Lifetime PDF Update” option.

I’m impressed with how much information David has gathered through persistence, trial and error, business savvy and, of course, lots of time. It’s amazing that he’s gotten it all in a 160-page book. Check it out at

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Talent Behind the Scenes

Lighting designers like to be involved with a production right at the beginning of the creative process, from the earliest discussions. I would never have thought that. If I thought about lighting designers at all I would have thought they probably arrived at rehearsal and started devising their plans then. I learned about this and a great deal more last night when the Drama Desk presented the panel discussion, "The Talent Behind the Scenes," with Signature Theatre Company's artistic director James Houghton as moderator.

As theatre critics and Drama Desk voters, we’re pretty good at evaluating whether a performance or script are good, and we more often than not notice the set, but we aren’t always so knowledge about the whole creative process, which is why this discussion was informative. The panelists were lighting designer Peggy Eisenhauer (“The Ritz,” “Assassins”), set designers David Korins (“Bridge & Tunnel,” “Passing Strange”) and James Morgan (artistic director of York Theatre Company) and costume designer Mimi O'Donnell (MTC's “Where's My Money?”, LABrynth Theatre's “In Arabia We'd All Be Kings”).

A song would have been appropriate to sum up the theme of the discussion, “No One Is Alone,” Stephen Sondheim’s lovely song from “Into the Woods.”

“If I put an idea out, it’s our idea,” Eisenhauer said. “There’s no pride of ownership of an idea. You have to give it to the big ball of clay. You’re not seeing the set without the lights and you’re not seeing the actor without the costume. It’s one combined whole.”

But, of course, working together can take finesse.

“The costume designer is a bit of a therapist,” O’Donnell said. “The actor has an idea of how they see themselves, their image. Some want to be movie stars rather than actors.”

Besides dealing with the actors, the costume designer also has to consider the directors’ opinion and how her creations will relate to lighting and scenery.

“There are moments in the fitting room when everyone loves it,” she said. “You have this moment of ‘that’s it.’”

Morgan said his collaborations are “often over a martini or two,” sketched on a cocktail napkin.

But they always involve considering the whole picture.

“I create an environment for people to live in,” Korins said. “I ask a ton of questions” to find out who the people are. “I really get into the psychology of the characters. It’s the purest, most successful when everyone is weighing in on what it should be.”

Houghton used the image of a sculptor who discovers his creation as he works with the clay. “What does it want to be? We’re creating it, but it has a life of its own.”

Korins said this collaborative effort is rarely acknowledged in reviews, that sets often get mentioned, but many people’s ideas go into shaping that set. As a designer he doesn’t just come to the theatre with a model and have everyone say, “’Well, that looks wonderful. Let’s do a show on that,’” he said. “I didn’t do it in a bubble. Keep in mind that we create this together.”