Saturday, January 31, 2009

With the art of mime no one is illiterate

New show "Books without words" by Spanish mime actor Carlos Martínez

A visit to the library. The actor pokes around between book covers that get his attention, here and there he thumbs through a book, and slowly he gets lost among endless bookshelves. Suddenly the imaginative scripts and letters change into movements and action. The body and hands of the mime speak volumes. Known and unknown heroes conquer the stage. Episodes of stories appeal to the viewer’s capacity to remember and recall long-forgotten moments of famous literary works. How did Sherlock Holmes solve his most intricate case? And what was the name of Don Quixote’s helper? Sometimes a sequence resembles a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. And we feel the urge to rush over and have a look at the huge tome on the shelf.

Based on the scene in the library, Carlos Martínez offers his audience a mesh of narrative yarns that intertwine his own with well-known stories. The driving force of the show is the joy of discovering and experimenting. It’s not always clear if the actor is just spinning a tale or diving into the story himself like in the piece “Aquarium”. From the high spheres of literature, the mime takes us down to the more mundane occurrences of daily life. He clearly shows us the culinary morsels you find between the covers of a recipe book and the exquisite delights hidden inside a box of chocolates. And then he allures us into the lowlands of human nature where the bittersweet lurks as others stumble over a stone that we put in their way.

Finally he lets us participate in a very intimate discovery in front of a mirror. He lets us see that behind all the masks that we have put on during our lifetime a unique individual is concealed. As we leave the hall at the end of the show, after we have broken free from the spell of the enchanting mime, we feel like an open book ourselves from which the actor has just read.

Between the covers of a book endless treasures are hidden. So much knowledge and wisdom, and more than a few deep secrets can be revealed. However, books are made for people who can read. According to UNESCO estimates, on a global scale one in five adults cannot read nor write and 776 million people are illiterate, two-thirds of these being women. That is why the UN declared 2003 until 2012 as the Literacy Decade. The goal of this decade is to increase the literacy rate 50% by 2015 with a focus on the 35 countries with the lowest literacy rate in the world.

The show “Books without Words” links very directly with another mime show of Carlos Martínez: “Human Rights”. Literacy is a Human Right, as it is a basic prerequisite for any kind of education. Educational opportunities depend on literacy. And literacy is a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.

This is the secret power and fascination of mime. When it comes to reading body language and broadening our minds through the art of mime, no one in the world is illiterate.

Throughout 2009 Carlos Martínez can be seen in different theatres and countries around Europe (Germany, Latvia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal).

For more details on venues:

For movie clips of shows and workshops:

Trailer of Books without Words:

As a mime actor from Spain, Carlos Martínez creates a world of imaginative silence that combines his Mediterranean spirit and humour with precise technique and rhythm. However, his very personal language is also universal, giving him an open stage in conventions, festivals, television, theatres and trade shows around the globe. He is constantly moving the boundaries of silence in his own shows such as Books without Words, Hand Made, My Bible, Human Rights and Time To Celebrate, with which he celebrated the 25th aniversary as mime actor in 2007. Carlos Martínez runs an elite summer mime school, tutors advanced students and gives Master classes at corporate events.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to Handle Tough Times: Realize Your Potential

By Norman Vincent Peale

Experts generally agree that the average person uses only a fraction of their mental capacity. Some fix this at about 10 percent; a few raise it to 20 percent. No matter which percentage of brain power we use, it’s still a tragic situation. We should always aim to be all that we can be.

Here are three steps you can take to maximize your potential.

1. Believe in yourself.
We do a terrible thing to ourselves when we limit ourselves. Many of us say, "I can’t go beyond this point." Then we start to settle for those limitations. 'This is what I am. Might as well accept it and be content."

Some people even go so far as to say, "It's God's will." But God never willed that we should be less than we can be.

Thus, a truly tragic fact that we must face is that many of us settle for—and actually practice—our limitations. We practice them so constantly and for so long that the limitations become habits. The first step to realizing your potential is to believe that you have potential.

2. Know that nothing is impossible.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once had a boy come to him and say, "The things you write about may work for you, but they don't work for me."

"Why should they work for me and not you?" Dr. Peale asked.

"You aren't the product of a broken family, but I am," the boy replied.

Dr. Peale tried to talk to him but, like a broken record, he kept coming back to the fact that he came from a broken family. His mind held onto that idea and wouldn't let it go. But Dr. Peale’s persistent message gradually broke through his mental barrier. He finally “got” that nothing is impossible when you have faith.

Now, there are egotists whose bloated self-esteem is unpleasant but equally unpleasant is the self-deprecation that you hear from people. They explain over and over how little ability they have and constantly affirm their lack of talent.

What would this world be like if everyone facing a difficulty, handicap or infirmity were to sit back and accept his or her circumstances? Everything would grind to a halt. We all have some problem or deficiency that could hold us back.

Bob Wieland, a man who lost his legs stepping on a landmine in Vietnam, is someone who could have accepted his limitations. Instead he returned to the United States to become a champion weight lifter, marathon runner, tri-athlete, motivational speaker, television actor and an outspoken advocate for those who have no voice: the homeless, the hungry, and the spiritually confused.

Bob's greatest challenge came with a walk across America—propelling himself on padded knuckles—to raise money for the hungry. His handicap was not a hindrance; it was an incentive, a stimulus.

The varieties of self-imposed limitations are legion. Particularly widespread are those that have to do with growing old. Medical specialists and surgeons at a Midwestern clinic came to the conclusion that anyone who expects to lose vigor or experience debilities or degenerative disorders as they age may in fact be producing the precise condition that they fear. Perpetuating the idea that we have to become old and infirm is a self-imposed limitation.

So to achieve our potential we need to stop telling the world and ourselves that we don’t have the capacity to live a good life.

3. Ask for help to break self-imposed limitations.
We must also realize that we cannot conquer big limitations ourselves. God has freed people from self-doubt, a sense of inferiority, from shyness and being overwhelmed by life's difficulties. He has freed them from lust, dishonesty and from limitations of every kind.

So ask yourself: What are you a captive of? Name it, and then turn it over to God. Surrender it to God. Faith in God sets us free. 

Positive Affirmation
God never willed that I should be less than I can be.

This article appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


“Service is the act of doing what you love for the sake of loving it. This is the highest work you can do in the world. Service is the divine multiplier. When you perform an act of genuine service, giving of your time, energy and resources as an act of love, the universe will multiply what you do and reward you with greater results than expected. . . When you trust yourself and the universe enough to give yourself over to the passion of what you love, you are serving humanity and the Divine.

“. . . when you give yourself over to acts of love, passionately spending your time giving of yourself, you are never at a loss or lack for the things that you need. . . Service keeps you alive and well.

“There is also a big chance that the passion you exude will attract someone’s attention and you will be moved, advanced. promoted to a position in which you can provide a greater service.

“. . . you are making a valuable contribution to yourself. Shift your focus from money to love. When you have love, you want to give of yourself. When you give of yourself for the sake of love, the impersonal, immutable, perfect laws of the universe demand that you must be rewarded tenfold. Stop worrying about survival! You have survived! You will survive! . . . Do not compare yourself or what you do in love to what anyone else is doing. . . You must love your divine self enough to know that everything you do must be an act of love.”

from One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dreamgates: World Lullabies

My acquisition of this charming CD falls into the timing-is-all category. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time heading home through Central Park one day. As I was approaching Strawberry Fields, I saw a young man handing out something, certainly a common sight in New York. When he reached out his hand to me, I did what I always do -- smiled politely, said “no thank you” and kept walking. Then I heard the words “free CD” and doubled back. Music-lover that I am I couldn’t resist that offer.

After listening to “Dreamgates: World Lullabies” I think it will soothe parents even more than their little ones. Husband and wife team Tessa Lang and Johannes Schwaiger have beautiful voices, whether singing a comforting classic like Schubert’s “Cradle Song,” a gorgeous “Ava Maria” or the old world sounding “Weber Wiegenlied.” They are accompanied by musicians on piano, flute, cello, violin, harp and bendir and, for the final number, the voices of nearly a half a dozen children.

On their web site,, Lang and Schwaiger say the recording of lullabies “grew out of our heritage, inspired by a love of poetry and music. . . They may accompany a child to sleep, as well as create a universal comfort and connection to one’s heritage and family. As a friend so poignantly expressed, ‘lullabies are desserts at the end of the day when a child, in a state of slumber, is at peace with the world.’”

The complete listing is:

1.) Hush Little Baby
2.) Weber Wiegenlied
3.) That’s an Irish Lullaby
4.) Hitrag’ut
5.) Schubert’s Cradle Song
6.) Dandini
7.) Les Berceaux
8.) Ava Maria
9.) An die Nachtigal
10.) All through the Night
11.) Mozart’s Cradle Song
12.) Nana
13.) Hush-a-by-Baby
14.) Oyfn Pripetchik
15.) The Little Sandman
16.) Brahms’ Lullaby
17.) Dreamgates -- World Lullaby

A press release explains the motivation behind the recording: “Our CD is a multicultural collaboration of timeless lullabies that brings nations together through the power of music.” It is produced for Dreamgates Children’s Movement, a nonprofit foundation “dedicated to helping our youth find their voices through quality cultural and performing arts events and education, teaching our children to work together.”

Dreamgates: World Lullabies is a perfect gift to have on hand for the next time you’re asked to a baby shower. Then again, it also could be a darn good stress buster for any adult, with a child or without. It’s lovely.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Natalie Toro

I love discovering a new artist. I first became aware of Natalie Toro when she played Madame DeFarge last fall in A Tale of Two Cities. I encountered her again in December at James Barbour’s Christmas concert at Sardi’s. Now I’m enjoying her on her new CD, “Natalie Toro.”

I’m impressed with both her creative interpretations of standards and inclusion of rarely recorded Broadway songs. She starts off with “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, with a swing arrangement making it sound like a romantic number from the 40s. I wouldn’t have imagined this song sung in such a different way and I really, really like it.

I also love “Where Is It Written,” which begins with a choir and the prayer “God, our merciful Father. I’m wrapped in a robe of light, clothed in your glory that spreads its wings over the soul. May I be worthy. Amen.” Toro picks up the Amen and then sings a song about questioning -- why is a bird given wings if not to fly; what’s right and wrong and “where do I belong within the scheme of things;” why have a mind if not to question; why have a thirst if not to drink the wine? She demands to be told where it’s written, “if it’s written anywhere.” The choir closes with “God, our merciful Father. Amen.” What a good, theologically sound song! In my Episcopal tradition we place great value on questioning. It’s a bold move to include this song, a new one to me, although with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman it shouldn’t be.

Other selections are welcome because they’re good songs from good shows, but aren’t part of the usual fare from Broadway and cabaret singers. I’ve long loved “Unusual Way” from Nine and in recent years have enjoyed “Here I Am” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I have both of these on the original cast recordings, but it’s nice to hear them performed with Toro’s flair.

She remains consistent in pursuing a novel slant with her concluding arrangement of “Get Happy/Happy Days,” a duet with Sutton Foster that is part Americana and part church with the inclusion of a chorus of Hallelujahs.

The full program is:
1. Something’s Coming
2. Unusual Way
3. Where is it Written
4. I Dreamed a Dream
5. Here I Am
6. I Remember
7. Someone Like You
8. Another Hundred People
9. Easy As Life
10. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
11. If I Could
12. Get Happy/Happy Days

I look forward to following this singer now that she’s on my radar screen. Order a copy of Natalie Toro to enjoy Broadway with a new beat.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Solid as Barack

Did you hear that Ashford & Simpson are rerecording their hit Solid (as a rock) with new lyrics that include “solid as Barack”? I loved that song so much back in the mid-80s when it was popular that I bought the tape and have almost worn it out over the years. I was listening again this morning and singing along with the new words.

Only one more day!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Violinist in the Metro

My friend Dudley Stone sent this story to me. It makes me think of lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel song, "Slow down. You move too fast. Got to make the morning last."

A man sat at a metro station in Washington, DC, and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the child stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston, with tickets averaging $100.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by The Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mary-Mitchell Campbell

Just saw this on "Day One: An Evening of Celebration," presented by Lance Horne and Mary-Mitchell Campbell (in photo), will be held Jan. 20 at Joe's Pub. The 9:30 PM concert will feature songs of hope and change to help celebrate the inauguration of America's 44th President, Barack Obama. Proceeds will benefit Artists Striving To End Poverty (ASTEP), the organization whose mission is to "to create positive change for young people in need across the globe." The performance will boast the talents of composer Horne and music director Campbell as well as Seth Rudetsky, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Debra Barsha, Nathan Lee Graham, Lauren Kennedy, Jenn Colella, Jenn Foote, Scott Sowinski, Lea DeLaria and Lauren Flanigan. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. There is a $20 cover charge; for reservations call (212) 967-7555 or visit

ASTEP is a great cause, and anything Mary-Mitchell Campbell is involved with will be first-rate. Click here to read my interview with her from two years ago.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked

While reading the first half of this book I hated to put it down. Carol de Giere is a detailed reporter with a storyteller’s gift for narration that makes this biography of Stephen Schwartz a delight, especially for anyone in love with musical theatre.

It was in the second half, which is devoted entirely to one show -- Wicked -- that the book began to drag for me. I enjoyed Wicked when I saw it when it opened in 2003, but not enough to read 15 chapters about its creation and development. This is really almost enough for a book of its own, and certainly out of proportion with the first 15 chapters which cover Schwartz’s childhood on Long Island, his education, personal life, theatrical career ups and downs and his success as a songwriter for animated films.

As a whole, though, the book is a good read. It’s a gift to be able to see into the creative process of someone as immensely talented as Stephen Schwartz. De Giere, a freelance writer, did extensive interviewing with Schwartz, his friends and family, and people he’s worked with on many levels -- collaborators, actors, directors -- to put together a portrait of the development of such musicals as Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show, Working and, of course, Wicked. She includes lyrics to many of his songs, as well as great photos of Schwartz with his family and production shots and backstage photos from his shows.

De Giere has written Defying Gravity in such a way that it will appeal to a wider range of readers than just Schwartz fans, although that category alone is legion. Pippin, The Magic Show and Wicked have all played more than 1,900 performances on Broadway, making Schwartz the only songwriter in the history of the Great White Way with three shows that have reached that milestone. Not to mention how many times Godspell alone has been performed around the world! Defying Gravity goes beyond just one man’s legacy to offer hope and a roadmap for others on the creative journey. I especially like the Creativity Notes, separate commentaries in which Schwartz offers insights, humor or painful lessons from the experience of getting a show to the stage. These are worthy reading for any theatre professional.

I’ve been recommending Defying Gravity to all my theatre friends. Check it out for an in-depth look at a gifted artist of our time and the world of stage that so many of us cherish.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pal Joey

What was director Joe Mantello thinking? I love the idea of promoting the understudy to the leading role, but Matthew Risch is not only incapable of carrying this show, I’m surprised he was ever even cast as an understudy for the starring role.

I hate to be so harsh, but this is show business and when you’re staging a major Broadway revival and expecting people to pay about $100 a ticket, you need some star quality. That certainly doesn’t have to mean a bold face name -- look at the pizzazz Cheyenne Jackson gave to Zanadu when he took over for an injured lead -- but Risch hasn’t an ounce of Joey Evans’ sleazy sexiness, the magnetism that causes so many women to make fools of themselves over him. Risch as Joey wouldn’t even stand out in a room full of computer programers.

Christian Hoff had been scheduled to play Joey, the womanizing, smalltime song and dance man in 1930s Chicago in this Rodgers and Hart classic. The official word is that he sustained a foot injury during previews that necessitated his leaving; the unofficial word is that he wasn’t a skilled enough dancer for the role. Well, Risch, who took over the lead in November, is a competent hoofer, but his singing is weak and his acting even weaker. Having seen Hoff twice in his Tony-winning role as Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys, I can imagine him in the part even if choreographer Graciela Daniele had to tweak the dancing a bit. The producers should have kept him or recast entirely because the whole show revolves around Joey and Risch hasn’t got what it takes to pull it off.

Another miscast leading player is Stockard Channing (in photo with Risch) as Vera Simpson, the rich, older married woman whom Joey charms into fronting him in a nightclub of his own. She seems to be phoning it in from some place as distant as 1930s Chicago, which is especially disappointing when she drags through the show’s most well-known -- and provocative -- number, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” I’ve heard advertising jingles sung far more seductively.

Jenny Fellner is effective as Linda English, the nice girl who falls for Joey, but the only real shining star in the production is Martha Plimpton as Gladys Bumps, an aging singer and one of Joey’s cast-aside lovers. If the producers wanted to recast the lead from within, they should have just put a tuxedo on her and let her play Joey. She could carry the show, and she does whenever she’s onstage. The best scene is when she sings “Zip,” about brains versus the dumb stripper’s image. It’s almost as delectable as Christine Ebersole’s hysterical performance of “Revolutionary Costume for Today” in Grey Gardens.

This revival of the 1940 musical features a new book by Richard Greenberg based on the original by John O'Hara. Music direction is by Paul Gemignani, the minimalist set by Scott Pask, shadowed lighting by Paul Gallo and showbiz and Depression-era costumes by William Ivey Long.

Pal Joey had been scheduled to play a limited engagement through Feb. 15 at Studio 54, but has been extended through March 1. I’m assuming the extension is fueled by the recent closings of more than a dozen Broadway shows, meaning theatregoers have fewer offerings to choose from. Just look at last Sunday’s ABCs (theatre listings) in the New York Times and you’ll find only a half a page instead of the usual full page. Not a lot out there. Sorry times on Broadway all around.

For Pal Joey tickets, call (212) 719-1300 or visit

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mind Training -- The Power of Positive Thinking

"Change your thoughts and you change your world."
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Amazing Grace video

The beautiful new musical Amazing Grace: The True Story now has a fascinating video featuring the stars and producer, Carolyn Rossi Copeland. It's online at and, as the show's creator Christopher Smith says, "gives a great overview of just how close we are coming to realizing the dream of getting a truly inpiring musical focused on real world spiritual struggles and victories to Broadway."

The sooner the better, Chris!

Monday, January 5, 2009

More James Barbour!

Due to overwhelming audience and critical response to James Barbour's holiday show (see my Dec. 26 rave review), Sardi’s management has scheduled additional Saturday evening performances with this charismatic Broadway veteran.

The new concert series, entitled “LOVE SONGS,” will premiere on Saturday, Jan. 31 and continue through Saturday, Feb. 28 at
SARDI’S (234 W. 44th St. – between Broadway & Eighth Avenue). Special Valentine’s Concerts are scheduled on Friday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 15.

For this latest offering, Barbour will sing "Loving You Keeps Me Alive," "If Ever I Would Leave You," "If I Loved You," " If I Can’t Love Her," "If Dreams Come True," "My Funny Valentine," "Embraceable You," "On The Street Where You Live," "Unexpected Song," "Autumn Leaves" and others.

The concerts are being presented by Treehouse Entertainment Inc. and Roberta Nusim for TMA (Theatrical Marketing Associates). Jeremy Roberts is the musical director.

In his most recent theatrical role, Barbour ignited audiences to thundering standing ovations for his emotionally blistering portrayal of Sydney Carton in “A TALE OF TWO CITIES” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. I was one of those who was wowed, and I was delighted again in a new way at his Christmas concert. If you missed those performances, make it a point to get to this one. You won't be disappointed.

For tickets, visit or call 212-868-4444. Prices are: $60 (Premium Seating), $45, $25, and there is a $25 a person food/drink minimum.