Thursday, March 31, 2011

True Grit

"Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."
-- Harriet Beecher Stowe

"If you really want something, and you really work hard, and you take advantage of opportunity, and you never give up, you'll find a way."
-- Jane Goodall

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Elixir of Love Available at New York City Opera

By Mary Sheeran
            I was at a writing conference recently, with the “hot genres” being hocked around me as if they could cure the ills of publishing. That means I was seeped in time travel, alternate universes and parallel time concepts. So I felt right at home when the curtain went up on New York City Opera’s production of The Elixir of Love and found a 1950s diner on some southwest rural stretch of American road, with everyone was jitterbugging to – of all things – Donizetti. In Italian! (So why don’t they call it L’Elisir d’amore?) I’d never realized how up with the times opera could be. This production of Jonathan Miller’s is one alternate universe with subtitles trying to bring Donizetti up-to-date. But the trouble with wandering through the quarks of time in most works of art is that it really doesn't matter. Donizetti already was up-to-date. 
            As I sat back to watch Nemorino (David Lomeli) in his blue collar work uniform sadly pining for the owner of Adina’s Diner with a Coke in his hand, I supposed that the diner could be a parallel to an Italian pastoral setting, but I had already been caught up by Nemorino’s plight, which takes just a few moments to recognize. With Nemorino, you don’t need anything else. Without him, no production design will make sense.
            Maybe this could have been one of the “jump the shark” episodes of “Happy Days” with the Fonz as Belcore and Tom Bosley as Dulcamara. I can almost see it now (although they’d probably don Italian pastoral costumes…). But no, his opera translates to us without a cent to spare on making it somehow more recognizable and relevant.  Felice Romani’s libretto is ditzy enough for Lucy, but it is believable because of the poor, ignored Nemorino, who just picks us all up with his engaging sweetness and his gorgeous voice, and sure, we’d believe anything. He is the reason why this production gains our affection. We’d even believe he loved that cold money loving Adina (Stefania Dovhan) and maybe he was right, because she was hiding the fact that she loved him. Well, if you believe her, Nem, I will!
            The story has several stock characters from 19th century comic bel canto operas, the sort Donizetti (La Fille du Regiment, Don Pasquale) could write with both hands tied behind him. You’ve got the snake oil doctor and the handsome braggart of a soldier. We all get these two no matter when in time we're placed. And yet, as we laugh, the composer can deliver the most beautiful music so that comedy turns to pathos or human drama on a 16th note. So throw a zippy convertible on stage (and it hogs the stage, I assure you) or dress the guys in leather jackets, no matter. If you don’t feel anything for Nemorino, nothing else will work. Because Nemorino is you and me. So Nemorino had better be good.
            Not a problem in this production. Lomeli plays the ardent, slightly bumbling fellow to perfection. He has a rich, generous voice that does not overpower but has a firm center, so that his music floats around you like a caress. He sings and acts with great feeling, without even looking as if he’s carrying us along at every step. His famous Act 2 aria, the well loved “Una furtive lagrima,” is a star making aria (see Enrico Caruso or Luciano Pavarotti), and he sings it beautifully, straight to us.
As entertaining as the other characters are, they’re pretty much living in one dimension. Dovhan sings Adina with a lovely voice, but Adina is one of Donizetti’s least sympathetic characters. When she can finally display deep feeling in her Act 2 aria, “Prendi, per me se libero,” it’s a shame because the aria never gets going, it’ s all starting and stopping, very tough to carry over. She does well, a bit uneven at the top, but the aria’s almost a no go, except we trust that Nemorino loves her. José Adán Pérez’s Belcore (an army guy here) swaggeresjust fine as Belcore, although he could have projected his voice and his acting more. I could say as much for Marco Nisticò’s Dr.  Dulcamara, who played the sly quack  -- who just happens to have a stock of Tristan’s love potion in his convertible  -- but he didn’t take full vocal advantage of the fun Donizetti gave him musically.
            I’m not sure why Miller felt he had to move the opera to our 1950s, and it’s been done before with other operas. But Miller couldn’t disguise Donizetti’s world or convince me that people in the 1950s were as isolated from the world (Radio? Jukebox?) as 19th century peasants. Nor could anyone could disguise the charm and whimsy of this opera, which is a happy elixir for anyone with a heart no matter where and when it’s set. 
The Elixir of Love. Music by Gaetano Donizetti. Libretto by Felice Romani. Production by Jonathan Miller (2006). Conducted by Brad Cohen. Set and costume designer: Isabella Bywater. The opera was first performed in May 1832, in Milan.
New York City Opera’s production of The Elixir of Love plays through April 9 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. For tickets and information, go to
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet ( and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a pianist discovering that her mother was a healing woman of the Washo tribe ( She is also a singer, having sung in several operas in New York City companies as well as in recital halls  and cabaret rooms throughout the city. 

Monday, March 28, 2011


This year, July has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays. This happens once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So, forward this to your friends and money will arrive within four days. Based on Chinese Feng Shui. The one who does not forward .....will be without money.

I am taking no chances!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

I expected I was going to either love or hate Priscilla Queen of the Desert because it sounded too outrageous to experience mildly or with mixed feeling. I’m happy to report I had a fabulous time and would go again in a heartbeat.

I hadn’t seen the 1994 movie on which it is based but I just ordered it from the library. The Broadway version, written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott and directed by Simon Phillips, takes its plot -- and I use the word loosely -- of three drag queens on a road trip through the Australian outback, and turns it into a jukebox musical, that easy-way-out form that takes popular music and builds (contrives) a plot around it rather than create original music to support a story.

Jersey Boys is by far the best of the jukes I had seen previously because it tells the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, so it’s natural to blends in their hits.

Priscilla wisely chooses the opposite approach, devising hilarious ways of incorporating songs, such as having one of the queens, in full makeup, sing “Say a Little Prayer” at his vanity while looking at a picture of the 6-year-old son he has never met. Another features that 80s disco hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way” sung by a middle-aged queen mourning at the funeral for her 25-year-old husband. So wacky. Do not go to this show expecting anything serious.

One of the most uproariously funny scenes is played to “MacArthur Park” and offers dancing cupcakes and plenty of sweet green icing flowing down. Costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzie Gardiner and lighting designer Nick Schlieper should start writing their Tony speeches now. (Chappel and Gardiner won Oscars for their movie designs and an Olivier Award for the London stage production, which is still running.)

The two dozen songs are hits of yesteryear by artists as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Donna Summer, Madonna and Pat Benatar. The actors sing -- and belt -- some and lip-sync others.

Tony Sheldon, who plays the man-hungry, middle-aged transgendered Bernadette, also should start composing an acceptance speech, as should Nick Adams, who plays Adam/Felicia, the youngest and most flamboyant of the three. Will Swenson (in photo) as Tick/Mitzi doesn’t have the vocal strength or energy he had in Hair, but he’s just so likable as the secretly married but estranged husband and father whose desire to meet his son prompts the journey from Sydney to remote Alice Springs on a battered old bus they name Priscilla. The folks they encounter along the way have never seen the likes of this flashy trio.

The musical had its world premiere in 2006 in Sydney, moved on to Melbourne and New Zealand, becoming the most successful Australian musical of all time. Its North American debut was in Toronto before it journeyed down to Broadway's Palace Theatre where it opened March 20. Sheldon has played Bernadette since the show’s inception and was nominated for a Best Actor in a Musical Olivier Award in London.

Bette Midler is one of the show’s Broadway producers, which is appropriate since she’s a favorite of drag queens and female impersonators.

For more information visit

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Individual greatness

"Each of us has an individual greatness. God would not be our author if we were something worthless.  You and I and all of us are worth very much, because we are creatures of God, and God has prodigally given his wonderful gifts to every person."

-- Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on this date in 1980 while saying Mass in El Salvador. He had been openly critical of the United States for its support of the dictatorial government and the day before he was shot had preached a sermon calling on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights.

He is one of the ten 20th century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London, a testament to his wide respect even beyond the Catholic Church

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fear not

A Sermon for Lent II (A) preached Sunday, March 20, 2011, by The Rev. Thomas Miller, Canon for Liturgy and the Arts at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.                                                                                                                   
"If I say, 'Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,' darkness is not dark to thee, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to thee are both alike."
That verse from Scripture, from Psalm 139, is one of the sentences we read at the beginning of Evening Prayer.  And it comes to mind more and more these days.  These days, as the darkness threatens to overcome us, as anxiety and fear creep into our consciousness, and as we realize just how afraid of the dark we are.  There is so much upheaval and calamity in the world that there sometimes seems to be no escape, try as we might to look the other way or to convince ourselves it’s not really as bad as it is.  Well, I’m sorry to say, it is pretty bad, which may be all the more reasons to remember Psalm 139 and the first chapter of John, and all scriptural witness to the divine light of life that rescues us from darkness and from the shadow of death, and not only rescues us but gives us new life.
One of Lent’s more bracing challenges may be to encourage us, not to turn away from darkness, but to face right into the darkness and to dwell in the shadows for a time: the shadows in our own lives and the darkness that seems always to be threatening the world around us.  We are able to look into the darkness, that place of unknowing and uncertainty, that place of nothingness, when we believe that God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist,” as Paul proclaims to the Romans, and that Christ came into the world not to condemn it but to save it.  To save us, Jesus looked into the very depths of human darkness, even into the darkness of death, and he did not turn away.  And through that darkness he showed to us the light of life.
It’s easy to forget that the dark and the shadows are as much a part of life as the light.  If we fail to acknowledge and face the darkness, to see what lurks in the shadows, we may fail to see what needs to be amended in our lives so that we can move through the darkness to the fuller light of God’s glory within us and all around us, and to appreciate its power to illumine our path and to lead us even when the days seem darkest.  And yet fear of the dark persists.  It pervades the history of the world at least as much as our sense of enlightened progress.
It is now just coming up on 100 years since the beginning of the Great War, World War I, that war to end all wars, which started in 1914.  On the eve of that horrific, and often said pointless, conflict, Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, famously said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe.  And we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”  And he was not far wrong.  The years 1914 to 1918 were among world history’s darkest days, and we have been living with the legacy of that war ever since.  After the giddy and nearly delusional respite of the so-called Roaring Twenties, the world was plunged into a decade of financial collapse and the resumption of war.  Just 70 years ago, London and Great Britain were being devastated by the Blitz, which began in September 1940.  The world was again being subjected to the darkness that can threaten to extinguish the light of life and enlightened civilization as we know it.  But the light was not extinguished. 
And today, though not the result of war, our brothers and sisters in Japan are facing a great darkness, both literally and figuratively, and yet, hundreds of nuclear technicians are looking into the face of death so that millions might be saved.  The light has not gone out.  Perhaps one of the reasons we are shocked and sobered by the breadth of this devastation is that it is not the result of conflict among nations, but the result of an uneasy and essentially unstable alliance between humanity and the Earth.  As the rolling blackouts plunge Japan into darkness, and the death toll rises, we become more and more aware of our own vulnerability to the dark and our own fear of dwelling in the shadows, the shadows of life and the shadow of death.
Now, in some ways, you would never know this.  The other morning, as I summoned up my e-mail, the MSN home page offered up the usual flash of news stories which the user might want to click on and read more about.  The first flash asked the question, “Scared of omelets?  There’s an easy answer.”  Before I could quite comprehend what fear of omelets might actually be, it disappeared, and another flash said, “Japanese Reactor Out of Control.”  Well, now, I thought, that’s something to be really afraid of, but before I could click on it, another flash came up, which read, “March madness invades the office.”  Is that anything like the monster that ate Cleveland?
In this country, despite our denial and distractions, we are living under a fearful shadow.  Almost ten years ago, we experienced something so dreadful that many of us still don’t quite know what to make of it.  The horrendous criminal acts of September 11th, 2001, disoriented the country and there was wide-spread fear, fear of the darkness that might hold more surprises than we could ever imagine.  As a nation, our leaders put on a defiant face and retaliated against an unseen enemy with the sanctioned violence of war and an extensive scheme of homeland defenses.  And by doing so we admitted just how afraid of the dark we were.  Almost a decade later, fear continues to be one of the instruments that drives our national psyche.  It is often an instrument used unashamedly to advance a political agenda.  We are told to be afraid:  afraid of deficits, afraid of immigrants, afraid of unions, afraid of anyone different from us, afraid of anyone who wants to regulate us or take away our guns.  It seems we’re even afraid of omelets.
People’s fears are real enough, but the cynical manipulation of fear is a blot on the nation and all nations where it persists.  There are forces in the world that foment fear, even feast on fear.  We must see them for what they are, expose them, and reject them.  We see them at work abroad, most prominently today in the tragedy of Libya, and we see them at work at home.  Fear is too real to be exploited.  Such exploitation is morally reprehensible and not even remotely related to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
We can face up to our fear of the dark.  The good news of Christmas and Epiphany has not been revoked.  The angels who encouraged the shepherds with the good news, “Fear not,” are still proclaiming that message.  Gabriel’s reassurance to Mary to fear not is still at the heart of the good news of God’s beloved incarnate son.  The Epiphany star still leads us.  And that assurance is ours to take to heart as we confront the darkness before us and the darkness we perceive within ourselves.  God is waiting for us, even in the dark.  The writer of Psalm 16 observes:  “My heart teacheth me, night after night.  I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not fall.”  God is waiting to lift us up and to reassure us even in the midst of our fears, perhaps especially in the midst of our fears.  It’s a revolutionary thought, but it’s a reality that lives among us as the Risen Christ.  Fear not.  Having faith in the Lord who entered into our darkness so that we might see the light may indeed be our salvation in these dark days, our hope for getting through the night.
I close with this prayer from Evening Prayer that might serve us in the daytime as well:  “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.” 

Monday, March 21, 2011


There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
Can circumvent or hinder or control
The firm resolve of a determined soul.
Gifts count for nothing; will alone is great;
All things give way before it, soon or late.
What obstacle can stay the mighty force
Of the sea-seeking river in its course,
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?
Each well-born soul must win what it deserves.
Let the fool prate of luck. The fortunate
Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves,
Whose slightest action or inaction serves
The one great aim. Why, even Death stands still,
And waits an hour sometimes for such a will.

-- Poetical Works of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1917

My birthday numerology report

Just received my free birthday numerology report from the Rev. Craig Wright who I listen to each morning online on WEAA, 88.9 FM in Baltimore. He says I am a old soul who has been here many, many times. I have come back now to help uplift the planet.

My numbers indicate that I should work in the arts and communication, which I do, and that I have the ability to manifest through visualization, which is just what my hero Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote about so often.

My birthday also indicates the liberator vibration, that I am to offer advice and council to help set the captives free, especially young people. It is time for me to take on a leadership role by either being self-employed or pioneering an new concept that will help people gain their path. This is why I have been manifested at this time, I’ve come to bring new ideas and create something that has never been done before.

This is fascinating because this man knew nothing about me but this is so exactly what is happening in my life now, something I want to propose when I go an a second interview for work I want to do that is pioneering and will liberate/help young people. And I have been visualizing myself doing this work since my interview last month.

Last week I was meeting with one of the priests at my church who has been offering me council and prayer during this difficult time of looking for work and living off of savings and when I mentioned to her what I was planning to propose for my second interview she got really excited and said, “This is your calling.” My numbers would certainly seem to back that up.

Listen to the Rev. Wright’s daily numerology report every morning on WEAA and visit his web site for more information about this fascinating science --

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stage Door Canteen: Broadway Responds to WWII

I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the songs in 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists “Stage Door Canteen: Broadway Responds to WWII” concert Monday afternoon. While it’s nice to hear new things, I would have liked more of the standards because the music from that era is the most beautiful and romantic music ever written.

Performances in the first act were uneven and the much better second act was a bit heavy on Army songs, but generally it was a satisfying afternoon of entertainment. Theatre historian Ted Chapin’s narration was a big factor, lending insight into the times, the songwriters and that magical real-life theatre district spot called the Stage Door Canteen, where A-list stars like Bette Davis, Ethel Merman and Ingrid Bergman entertained servicemen during the 1940s. (Interesting tidbit: no alcohol was served, but in a typical day 3,000 cigarettes were smoked and 25 pounds of candy eaten.)

Music director Andy Einhorn allowed for some unusual interpretations. One that didn’t work for me at all was Betsy Wolfe’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” especially given Chapin’s introduction. He said when Oscar Hammerstein heard in 1940 that Hitler had invaded Paris he did what poets do, he sat down and wrote a song. I whispered to my friend Trixy, “Oh, I love this song,” because I knew what was coming. It’s a song about someone who cherishes memories of a city whose “heart was warm and gay.” It’s sung with longing mingled with sadness that such a place could be occupied by such ugliness, but Wolfe (right in photo) sang it with a big smile and sounded like someone recounting a great vacation, missing the point entirely. Earlier she had sung a glorious “All the Things You Are.”

A far better experience of reinterpretation of a classic was Brandon Victor Dixon’s “God Bless America.” Usually sung in the Kate Smith boisterous style, Dixon offered a gentle, prayerful rendition that was so moving. Absolutely beautiful. I also liked his “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Jeffrey Denman’s “White Christmas” and Anderson Davis’ “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Each was presented first as a solo and then together as a harmonious medley. Charming.

Other highlights: Debra Monk’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” Denman’s dancing (anyone who was fortunate enough to see him in Yank! knows how he can dance) and an audience sing-along to “Mairzy Doats.” (Monk is at left in photo, Denman center). I also liked the black and white photos that showed America at that momentous time in our history, pictures of Times Square, Broadway theatres, workers and soldiers.

The Stage Door Canteen, run by the American Theatre Wing, was a theater district club for servicemen with dancing, entertainment, food and a chance to hobnob with celebrities. Although it is long gone, a memorial plaque dedicated to its efforts can be seen on West 44th Street near Sardi’s. Chapin’s grandmother began volunteering at the Stage Door Canteen on its very first day.

“On the one hand, before Pearl Harbor Broadway provided escapist entertainment in which, for example, Winsocki was urged to ‘buckle down,’ and Cole Porter listed what celebrities might do when they go ‘Farming’”, Chapin said in press notes. “Then Broadway began to respond to the war with shows like Irving Berlin’s extraordinary This Is the Army. In the middle of the war, Oklahoma! opened and really captured the spirit of the country we were fighting for. Lyrics & Lyricists gives me a chance to explore the American Songbook of this era and to see the lasting effect WWII had on Broadway.”

Coming up in the Lyrics & Lyricists series:

April 30, May 1, 2

Debby Boone, Vocals
La Tanya Hall, Vocals
James Naughton, Vocals
Billy Stritch, Vocals
Karen Ziemba, Vocals

May 21, 22, 23

Mary Testa, Vocals
Max von Essen, Vocals
Zakiya Young, Vocals

Special Guest: Leslie Uggams

Additional artists to be announced

For more information, visit

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Breastplate

Saint Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer

This prayer is often called "St. Patrick's Breastplate" because of those parts of it which seek God's protection. It is also sometimes called "The Deer's Cry" or "The Lorica".

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cactus Flower

Describing a play as dated is usually a putdown, but the Off-Broadway revival of Abe Burrows' Cactus Flower is dated in the best sense of the word. It’s a shimmering romp back in time to my favorite decade, the 1960s. I loved every moment of it.

The time travel begins as soon as you enter the Westside Theatre/Upstairs. Anna Louizos’ sets capture the energy and modern look of the era -- shining color block panels rise above rooms that transition smoothly with the scenes, from a small Manhattan apartment, to a dentist’s office and a nightclub. The New York skyline hovers over it all.

The story is light and breezy, and even if you’ve never seen it before you’ll know exactly where it’s going from the start, which doesn’t matter at all because getting there is so much fun. Director Michael Bush and the cast with its superb timing make the two and a half hours fly by.

The plot is typical of romantic comedies of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sensibilities. Julian Winston (Maxwell Caulfield, left in photo), a handsome, middle-aged Park Avenue dentist and determined bachelor, has found the perfect way to dodge commitment -- he tells his much younger girlfriend, Toni Simmons (Jenni Barber, center), that he’s married.

This arrangement works just fine for him until he decides he really loves Toni and wants to marry her. Only problem is the kindhearted Toni wants to meet his wife to make sure she’s OK with the “divorce.” Needing a quick, temporary wife, Julian talks his sharp-tongued and efficient nurse, Stephanie Dickinson (Lois Robbins, right), into playing the part and the real farce begins.

All three are excellent, as is Jeremy Bobb as Toni’s neighbor Igor Sullivan and the supporting cast: Anthony Reimer, John Herrera and Emily Walton.

Greatly enhancing my enjoyment of the show was the inclusion of 60s hits played during set changes, on the radios in some scenes and at the nightclub. I knew every song and really flipped when I heard “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle. That’s one that I never hear on oldies stations. It was on my first LP. (Remember when we called them LPs?)

The mood -- and my good memories -- were furthered by Karen Ann Ledger’s costumes, those bright and bold -- and short! -- clothes we used to wear. I loved my rainbow mini dress and loved Toni’s too. And I also had a Twiggy haircut. Ah, the 60s!

Philip Rosenberg’s lighting and Brad Berridge’s sound design round out the atmosphere. I left the theatre feeling happy and younger.

Cactus Flower premiered on Broadway in December 1965, starring Lauren Bacall, and was one of the biggest hits of the decade. It was made into a movie in 1969 with Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, and earned Goldie the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Tickets are available from, by calling (212) 239-6200, or in person at the Westside Theatre box office, 407 W. 43rd St. For more information visit

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Michelle LeBlanc's New CD Brings Sultry Jazz Interpretations to Classic Love Songs

Much to my delight, Michelle LeBlanc has just released her long-awaited new CD, I Remember You, 11 standard love songs given new life through her characteristic sultry and evocative jazz interpretations. With her rich voice and dynamic band, LeBlanc’s recording calls to mind the intimate world of sophisticated nightspots. It’s sexy and it’s joyful, and a welcome follow-up to her first CD, Now or Never.

Many of the selections were familiar to me, starting with with Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” Others were new, such as “But Beautiful,” Johnny Burke and Johnny Van Heusen’s 1947 song sung with a dreamy romanticism: Love is funny or it's sad,/ Or it's quiet or it's mad;/ It's a good thing or it's bad, /But beautiful! /Beautiful to take a chance /And if you fall, you fall; /And I'm thinking I wouldn't mind at all.

I also like the wistful “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” the soulfulness of “The Masquerade Is Over” and “Never Will I Marry,” the sense of longing in “That Old Feeling” and the title track, which is nostalgic but with an upbeat tempo.

LeBlanc’s working band is featured on “I Remember You,” and includes Tom Kohl, piano and arrangements; Bill Crow, bass; Joe Stelluti, sax, flute and clarinet; David Jones, drums; and special guest John Arrucci, hand percussion. The arrangements for “Preacher Boy” and “That Old Feeling’” were created by jazz composer and arranger Michael Abene. 

LeBlanc has been a popular personality in jazz clubs, on concert stages and for private events for more than two decades, and is especially well-known in New York’s Hudson Valley.  In New York City, she has performed at The Rainbow Room with The Cab Calloway Orchestra, at The Friars Club, at Town Hall for the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Foundation Showcase and at Riverside Chapel.

She has been performing the songs of “I Remember You” in concerts in upstate New York. I hope it won’t be too long before she brings one down to NYC.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An antidote for every defeat feeling

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13

"This is an antidote for every defeat feeling. If you feel downed by situations, and the going is hard, this statement will remind you that you do not need to depend upon your own strength entirely, but that Christ is with you and is now giving you all the help you need. Teach yourself to believe that through Christ’s help you can do all things. As you continue this affirmation, you will actually experience Christ’s help. You will find yourself meeting problems with new mental force. You will carry heavy burdens with ease. Your new 'lifting' power will amaze you."
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Paul Taylor’s Cosmos: Orbs and Promethean Fire

Paul Taylor’s Cosmos: Orbs and Promethean Fire
By Mary Sheeran
The ancients spent considerable time contemplating the universe. You could do the same, happily, with Orbs.
The ancients would have understood Orbs, the chock-full-of-richness cosmos designed by Paul Taylor. Louis XIV would have understood it it, too, having, like Taylor (when the piece was new in 1960), danced the role of the sun because he was, well, the boss. Orbs is a rich piece, in four seasoned parts, one section being a sideways step into the humor of a wedding complete with a real live rubber chicken. It’s a sly, less toiled over humor in Orbs, though. The piece affords a theological blend of humor and divine, where the sun rules the planets and then descends to earth to play the part of the minister, without losing his touch for either of his aspects. The Tayloresque quirks are thankfully less nervous and fewer, and when he does visit humor upon us (as does the cosmos), he sustains it. Taylor lets his cosmos dance, and that could only be called good.
            The most beautiful section comes toward the end, where the four moons sleep at the feet of the planets. It is a breathtaking segment; it looks as if the light on the moons reflects on the planets as the music revolves around them – yet, all is still.  Gorgeous.
Throughout, the dancing is rich. The dancers’ leaps are full, and their landings are unbelievably soft. You don’t hear anything but Beethoven. Many of the moves originate with long, long lines, resembling the semi-circular orb across the sky (or the rope sliding down in the second half of the piece). Even when silence interrupts, the movement continues in rhythm, just as it would in the universe, silent bodies circling each other.
            One might quibble that in Orbs, only the sun (James Samson) has a distinctive character and comes alive, and toward the end of the piece he takes on a two-sided mask, as if he were Janus. One can see him as a fully defined Greek god, at times Olympian, at times very human. Then again, Taylor originated this role himself, and that may explain it. Otherwise, you don’t see Taylor’s gods as the ones who had any strong ideas, such as withholding the gift of fire from humans. Well they might have pondered that gift.
Taylor’s Promethean Fire is an emotional experience, even without the idea that it is his response to Sept. 11. Here, dancers – that is, we, are connected – one body, several members – in an almost theological insistence that strikes emotionally whether or not one is aware of the tragic subtext.  The music is Bach’s, as orchestrated by Stokowski. Taylor could have clipped it right off Walt Disney’s “Fantasia,” and he may well have wanted us to image the bold red that rises from Stokowski’s orchestra in that cartoon. Taylor then gives us a joyous, tender pas de deux that salutes the glory of the human spirit and of human courage.
But it was the consistent imagery of birds in flight that caught my heart. Not because of imagery that may have signified the phoenix resurrecting. No, because I remembered that, for weeks after 9/11, no birds’ songs were heard.
But they came back.
Orbs: Music by Ludwig van Beethoven, sets and costumes by Alex Katz, lighting by Jennifer Tipton, first performed in 1960. Promethean Fire: Music by JS Bach, orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, costumes by Santo Loquasto, lighting by Jennifer Tipton, first performed in 2002.
Paul Taylor Dance Company. Artistic Director: Paul Taylor. Rehearsal Director: Bettie De Jong. Principal Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton. Set & Costume Designer: Santo Loquast. Executive Director: John Tomlinson.
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet ( and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a pianist discovering that her mother was a healing woman of the Washo tribe (

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Orangutan and hound -- best friends forever

Check out this precious video. What sweet animals orangutans are. They love to share. If you give one a candy he’ll break it in half and share it with you. Watch how instantly he bonds with this stray hound

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Paul Taylor’s Phantasmagoric Wonderland

By Mary Sheeran

     For Paul Taylor, even those engaging in the most innocent of activities – cavorting in a seaside resort or dancing in a ballroom – have within them the seeds of evil or corruption.  They can come out dancing with Klan hoods (Oh! You Kid [well, it’s not me who is kidding]), commit sexual abuses (Dubious Memories), or acts of stupidity and cruelty (Phantasmagoria). Even compassion cannot save them/us. We are all sinners, even when we are beautiful, even when we are in love, even when we are simply dancing a fling. The only time (so far, it seems) that we are not deceitful humans, pretending to be glorious when we are not, is when we are running, tumbling, and blissfully heading into wondrous forgetfulness. Ah, but where do they end up? Is there redemption in this world?

      In Taylor’s Polaris, it appears that nothing matters. Dancers begin in a box and dance in and out of it, but does it matter? It doesn’t seem so. They leave and are replaced. The dance begins again. Change the music, change the lighting, change the people – but it’s still the same movement. One damn thing over and over as Edna St. Vincent Millay sweetly remarked. And yet, our eyes strain to find something different, even just a little bit. And yes, actually, it does seem that the dancing is shaped with a different feeling, this phrase is held just a bit longer, this arm extends more slowly. The whole sense of the work changes with the music. And there is something else. Even in a dance as impersonal and mechanically designed as this one, different bodies with different energies and responses to music and movement are different. Mine, too, just sitting in the audience.  Is it an illusion? Naïve? Inspiring? I haven’t a clue. Just a hope, that we, those nameless, replaceable dancers are passionate, compassionate, and feeling people who make a difference even when we all move with the same steps and in the same paths.

     Taylor’s Cloven Kingdom is a bent elegance. It bursts out with the energy you find in his Esplanade. Evening gowns swirling, men in tuxedos. But some wear strange, glimmering headgear that refracts the light, and in fact, I have to shield my eyes at one point. Men in tuxes shape themselves into machines or – what? Strange creatures, these. A strain of Corelli, a strain of something more primitive. Back and forth. Too easy, this bent elegance, but beneath the elegance lies the creature with horns. Well, for some of us.

     In Phantasmagoria, a fantastic collection of vignettes, Taylor cannot tell a story without calling out our physical and spiritual weaknesses. It opens with a mood as if children had died. A woman in medieval garb stretches, her head arched back, then writhes in lamentation, since she cannot wail. There are others who join her, and yet, through this grieving group fly the young and vigorous, uncaring, as they almost always are. Unseeing, yes. Grieving, flying, folks but then the ridiculous must also come in. I don’t know why. It just does with Taylor, who is like a nervous teenager. I also don’t know why there’s an East Indian Adam and Eve (Why? Why not?) playing silly, adolescent jokes with a serpent. A forbidding nun takes the serpent and plays with it herself. Oh, another stereotypical stupid nun character. Does Taylor intend this to be cheap and stupid commentary to lead us astray or to his point or is it that his humor is cheap and stupid --  and beyond any redemption?

     And as in a classically staged piece, here come the character dancers. Michelle Fleet (I love her name, and she so personifies it!) hops out to do a highland fling, not caring in the least about what’s going on around her. Four fellows, reaching back to the rowdy Renaissance, gallop out, engage in horseplay, and are suddenly brawling. (My friend Sandi Leibowitz, an early musician, leaned over and whispered, “It’s a brawl.” –That’s actually spelled “branle”, and is a type of Renaissance rustic dance). Quite clever of Taylor, yes.

     Next on the stage are the Isadorables, women in Grecian dress, one two three Grecian urns, the type who ended Mr. Peabody’s parade on the "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." And their dance is interrupted by a “Bowery bum.”

     And then (yes, there’s more) one person is affected by the St. Vitus dance. Well, actually, it’s called Syndenham chorea, a disease that is manifested by jerky, twitching movements. One woman reaches out in compassion to touch him, and she is also afflicted. Cruel, yes. Even compassion cannot save us. All right, that is true. Our bodies disintegrate and we lose our control of them. Soon enough, the whole stage is filled with dancers twitching and jerking.

     The Phantasmagoria of life is meaningless, isn’t it? As it is in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which Carroll also used as satirical comment, which may well be the case with Taylor. Carroll was entertaining, albeit nasty, and he had a sly humor. Perhaps there is a connection between the meaningless bizarre nature of Wonderland (which does seem to recur in our entertainment these days) and the constant interruption of our natural wonder and joy with corruption and decay. We watch, bewildered, and that’s part of it too.

      But somehow, beneath this, I do feel a strong artist pushing at us to wake up, to think about what we’re seeing, to put it together and not be lured by the too easily grasped. That’s the dancing of Paul Taylor: You can’t stop thinking about the many levels of meaning he is handing us in a few short minutes.

Polaris: Music specially composed by Donald York, Sets and costumes by Alec Katz, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, First performed in 1976.  Cloven Kingdom: Music by Arcangello Corelli, Henry Cowell, and Mallory Miller; Lighting by Jennifer Tipton; First performed in 1976.  Phantasmagoria: Music by anonymous Renaissance composers, Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, New York City premiere.
Paul Taylor Dance Company. Artistic Director: Paul Taylor.  The company is performing at New York City Center through March 6. For information, visit
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet ( and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a pianist discovering that her mother was a healing woman of the Washo tribe (

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."
-- Thornton Wilder

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Music from the Ashes

I wrote this news piece for the March issue of American Theatre magazine.

When Elizabeth Swados was commissioned to write the music for a show to commemorate the 100th anniversary of New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, she didn’t expect to feel a personal connection to the tragedy that killed 146 people, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrant girls in their teens who had been locked in a garment factory near Washington Square.

But when she learned more about the workplace tragedy—the deadliest in New York’s history prior to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center—“I flipped out,” Swados recalls. “I knew about it, but I had no idea of its importance to my Jewishness.”

In addition to composing the music for Triangle: From the Fire, Swados shares credit for the lyrics with Cecilia Rubino, the show’s book writer/director. Poet Paula Finn also contributed four poems for Swados to set to music. Some characters are fictional, while others are modeled after real-life victims, survivors and witnesses of the events of March 25, 1911.

The story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, moving between scenes of life in New York at the time of the fire—especially in the tenements where most of the victims lived—and the ripples caused by what became known as the fire that changed America. The Triangle tragedy inspired the formation of unions to protect workers’ safety, and propelled women’s suffrage and other social reforms. As Swados puts it: “Something so awful completely changed the workforce of the United States.”

More than 75 percent of the musical is sung oratorio, interspersed with bits of spoken text and short scenes. Using the voices of 10 lead singers, along with a chorus and instruments, Swados set out to capture the spirit of early-20th-century immigrants’ music, as well as the sounds of their work: machines humming, fabric ripping and cutting, women gossiping. Her greatest challenge, she says, lay in the question, “What does a devastating fire sound like?”

Ultimately, Swados says, the collaborators sought to infuse what might otherwise be an overwhelmingly sad story with strength and humor—to praise “the poor working spirit” as well as to depict injustice. “It will reflect a love for the women and what they went through,” she avows, “and be a tribute to what was accomplished in the name of the lost women.”

Triangle: From the Fire will be presented March 23–27 at Judson Memorial Church, two blocks from the site of the fire. For more information, visit and for other commemorations, visit

(Photo, by Andrew Smrz, of Elizabeth Swados developing the piece with New School students.)