Wednesday, September 28, 2011

May you always find a friend.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"We shake with joy,
We shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body."
-- Mary Oliver

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"I have a cause. We need those, don't we? Otherwise the darkness and the cold get in and everything starts to ache. My soul has a purpose, it is to love; if I do not fulfill my heart's vocation, I suffer."
-- St. Thomas Aquinas

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dale’s the Name, Jim Dale

And should this sunlit world, grow dark one day, the colors of my life, will leave a shining light, to show the way...”*

The son of a foundry worker and shoe factory employee from the tiny English town of Rothwell roamed the stage of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild’s attic-like performance space last night sharing stories, jokes, songs and dances with a standing-room-only crowd. In his new one-man show, “Just Jim Dale,” the Tony-winning star recalled his childhood start in British music halls, his days as a teenaged comic, then pop singer and songwriter turned Academy Award-nominated lyricist (“Georgy Girl”) and his recent gig as audio-book reader of the Harry Potter series. The colors of his life have, indeed, been bountiful and bold.

Young Jimmy Smith was 6 when he was seized by the showbiz call while watching a local variety show. The following year his father took him to London to see Me and My Girl and he declared that’s what he wanted to do. And as we know, he did exactly that, starring in a revival of that show decades later in New York.

But let’s not jump ahead -- back to childhood. His father, with amazing understanding for a laboring man, told him if musical theatre work was what he wanted, “you have to learn how to move.” So Jimmy was enrolled in tap, ballroom and “the dreaded ballet” lessons. “I was the Billy Elliot of our town.”

In the blown-up black and white photos of himself he held up, the lad in black pants and white dress shirt was a dark-haired, chubbier version of the lean, gray-haired 76-year-old man he is today. And he proved he not only learned to move back then, he also developed impeccable timing for story and joke telling and, of course, cultivated that golden voice.

A Jim Dale show would not seem complete without songs from his hit Broadway shows, Me and My Girl and Barnum, and he did not disappoint. His gift to us of the title song from the first show was enchanting, as was his “The Lambeth Walk.”

From Barnum, he not only sang “The Colors of My Life” as a tribute to his wife, Julie Schafler, and “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute,” but also gave us a breakdown of all the thrills his carnival-promoting P.T. Barnum had to offer in “Museum Song”. First he had pianist/musical arranger Mark York play the music slowly so we could hear each enticement, a few of which are: “Armadillas, clever caterpillas, reproductions of the Cyclops' ret'na, crystal blowing, automatic sewing, Venus on a shell and other works of art.” Then he let them fly RAPIDLY, just the way they sound on my 1980 cast album. Whew! What a joy.

He is certainly a giving man. This is the second benefit he’s done in two years for the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, an organization that provides same-day relief for actors in need. And he didn’t just do the show, which was directed by Broadway producer, director and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., with musical direction/arranging by Aaron Gandy, he hung around at the reception to the bitter end, chatting with audience members.

No quiet browns and grays for this performer. He’s taken his days and filled them till they over flow, with rose and cherry reds . . .

*The Colors of My Life
from Barnum
Lyrics by Michael Stewart
Music by Cy Coleman

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kristin Chenoweth -- Some Lessons Learned

Musical theatre and TV darling Kristin Chenoweth digs deep into her Oklahoma roots for her latest CD, Some Lessons Learned, a lively mix of the usual country fare -- cheating lovers and broken hearts, sung with a swagger worthy of the best Nashville singer.

Kristin proves once again what a multileveled talent she is. Well-known for her comic acting, which has made her one of the biggest draws on Broadway and earned her a Tony and an Emmy, and also as a classically trained coloratura soprano, with this CD Kristin proves she’s a skilled songwriter as well, having penned two of the recording’s 13 selections, "Mine to Love" and the hilarious "What Would Dolly Do?" (or "WW Double D").

Despite her opera training, she sounds right at home in the world of country music, which shouldn’t be surprising given her southern background and a summer of her college years spent singing at Opryland.

In her tribute song to one of her childhood heroes, Dolly Parton, she proclaims she’s “got a lot of Dolly in me” and tells her two-timing man just what he can do: “Take your truck and shove it/ I know how much you love it/ And it’s a good thing ‘cause that’s where you’re moving to./ I’m gonna pull that wig down off the shelf. / Go high heel up with someone else/ ‘Cause I asked myself/ What would Dolly do?”

Another funny song is “I Didn’t” about a couple who seemed to disagree about everything -- he wanted the covers pulled own, but she didn’t; he thought she should gain a few pounds, but she didn’t. What finally drove them apart, though, was a matter of religion: “He thought he was God/ But I didn’t.”

I also like “God and Me”: “If God and me sat down for tea/ I would ask him why he made a heart/ that could break so easily./ If God had time, would it be crime/ If I said I saw one tiny flaw in his grand design?” And I really like "Bitch About," which was released this past summer as a music video. She wants somebody who will love her and bug her and who she can bitch about and not live without. I haven’t seen the video but I would like to because she does a rousing turn on the CD.

My favorite, though, is the inspirational “I Was Here.” “I wanna do somethin’ that matters, say somethin’ different/ Somethin’ that sets the whole world on its ear./ I wanna do somethin’ better with the time I was given/ I wanna try/ to touch a few hearts in this life/ leave nothing less than somethin’ that says/ ‘I was here.’”

All but one of the songs are original compositions, all backed by an excellent group of musicians. Most of the music was recorded in Nashville.

This is Kristin’s fourth CD on the Sony Masterworks label. The first, Let Yourself Go, consists largely of American Songbook and Broadway numbers, reflecting the life she’s been living since moving to New York to pursue a theatre career. As I Am, which I especially love, features mostly Christian music, springing from her Southern Baptist upbringing, and A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas is the favorite of all my holiday music.

Luckily her contract with Sony calls for six more recordings. I’m betting the next will be of opera music. With her master’s in opera performance, that was the career Kristin was headed for before she helped a friend move to New York and while here auditioned for a musical comedy. She got the part and that was the end of her opera career, although she now makes occasional guest appearances with opera companies around the country.

Kristin will be back on TV this season in a new show, “Good Christian Bitches,” (the clip I saw of it doesn’t look too promising) and in the not too distant future back on the Great White Way in a revival of the musical On the Twentieth Century. I have higher hopes for that. And I look forward to those next six CDs!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

May your day be filled with wonder!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Richard Maltby, Jr. Speaks at 15th Broadway Blessing

Richard Maltby, Jr.

By Lauren Yarger
Those who are in the theater business are blessed, because they have an opportunity to discover what they have been put on the earth to do.

That was the message Monday from Broadway director/lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. who spoke at the 15th annual Broadway Blessing held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He encouraged those in the arts to take risks -- "it's the invention that it's all about," he said. "If you are not taking a chance, you're not doing anything worth doing."

The award-winning Broadway veteran of Fosse, Miss Saigon and Ain't Misbehavin' among others, defined theater as "the human spirit reacting to life and creating a story," and urged those who are in the business to realize that they are living in a golden age.

The inter-faith service also featured Natalie Toro, (above, recently of A Tale of Two Cities) singing "Where is it Written?" from Yentl, backed by the Broadway Blessing Choir, which also performed a medley of Broadway songs under the musical direction of Daniel Beckwith, assisting organist at St. John the Divine.

Project Dance performed to "Amazing Grace" by Bel Air Presbyterian Worship Team with choreography by Amanda Brewster and Tony Haris performed "I'll Carry You" by Phil Hall (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Matthew Passion), a song he wrote to commemorate the Blessing's 15th anniversary.
Rabbi Jill Hausman of the Actors' Temple sang "If I Can Stop My Heart from Breaking" (by Richard Hagemen with words by Emily Dickinson). She, the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean of the cathedral, and The Rev. Canon Thomas Miller, canon for liturgy and the arts at the cathedral, officiated at the service.

Retta Blaney, producer of the event, also received a 2011 The Lights are Bright on Broadway Award, presented by Masterwork Productions., Inc. A reception featuring a variety of mouthwatering refreshments provided by the cathedral's Trustees and Society of Regents Members followed.
Retta Blaney and Lauren Yarger, executive director of Masterwork Productions, Inc.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Enjoying the light

Monday night was a glorious evening for me not just because it was the 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, the interfaith service of song, dance and story I started and have been producing all these years to bring the theatre community together every September to ask God’s blessing on the new season. I also had the honor of receiving one of this year’s two The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Awards given by Masterwork Productions and presented to me by executive director Lauren Yarger (right in photo with me.)

“Masterwork Productions is a non profit Christian Performing arts organization,” Yarger said during the event at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. “Our mission, through a variety of ministries, is to equip, support and serve Christians using the arts as a tool for outreach in their communities. Several years ago we began presenting The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Awards to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through their faith. I am thrilled to be here to present one of our 2011 awards to Broadway Blessing producer Retta Blaney because she has been an encourager and mentor to me and has become a close friend. Part of the reason that she is receiving this award is because I suspect that most of you here this evening can say the same thing. It's my pleasure to present The Lights are Bright on Broadway Award to Retta Blaney, for her work exploring the intersection of religion and theater, for being a support and inspiration for artists of faith and for uniting persons of faith through the annual Broadway Blessing.”

I haven’t put the award on a bookshelf in the hall with my other awards yet because I want to look at it frequently. It sits on my coffee table facing my wing back chair and whenever I look up from my book or newspaper, there it is, a joyous reminder of many years of hard work that made my dream of uniting theatre people in pray come true.

Thank you Lauren and thanks to all those who supported my vision -- clergy members, the actors, singers and dancers who have come every year to perform for free, the wonderful volunteer Broadway Blessing Choir and everyone at the Cathedral for their enthusiastic embrace of this unusual little service.

Here’s to the next 15 years!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tony Award winner Richard Maltby Jr. to speak at Broadway Blessing

Producer, director and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. will deliver a theatre reflection at the 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Cathedral Church of St. the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street.

Currently serving as creative consultant for the Off-Broadway musical play The Magdalene, Maltby holds the distinction of having conceived and directed the only two musical revues to ever win the Tony Award for Best Musical: Ain't Misbehavin' (1978, also Tony Award for Best Director) and Fosse (1999:). He was director/co-lyricist for the American version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, starring Bernadette Peters, and was co-lyricist for Miss Saigon.

In a partnership that began when they were students at Yale, Maltby and composer David Shire have collaborated many times over the years. Their first Broadway credit was in 1968, when their song "The Girl of the Minute" was used in the revue New Faces of 1968. In 1977 the Manhattan Theatre Club produced a review of their earlier songs, written for other works, titled Starting Here, Starting Now.

With Shire as composer, Maltby directed and was lyricist for Baby and the lyricist for Big. Also with Shire, he conceived and wrote the lyrics for Take Flight, which had its world premiere in July 2007 at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.

He also conceived and directed Ring Of Fire, The Johnny Cash Musical Show and was co-bookwriter/lyricist for The Pirate Queen. He was most recently represented on Broadway as the director of the new, original musical The Story of My Life by composer/lyricist Neil Bartram. That musical had a brief run at the Booth Theatre in February 2009 and received a 2009 Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding production of a musical.

Maltby will be joined by Broadway singer/actress Natalie Toro who will sing the Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman song “Where Is It Written,” backed by the Broadway Blessing Choir, and Tony Haris will perform a new song by composer/playwright Phil Hall written in honor of the anniversary.

Following a tradition established at the 10th anniversary celebration, Project Dance will perform and Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors’ Temple and the Rev. Canon Tom Miller, the Cathedral’s canon for liturgy and the arts, will lead the annual candle lighting ceremony.

As with all announced guests, Maltby’s availability is subject to change. Broadway Blessing is the free interfaith service of song, dance and story that has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997 to ask God’s blessing on the new season. Reservations are not necessary.

Broadway Blessing was founded and is produced by journalist and author Retta Blaney.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An autumn blessing

"May this fall season reconnect us to the ever-changing aspects of our lives: color, complexity, beauty and mortality."
-- Kenny Moore, The C.E.O. and the Monk

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

“Put you ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”
-- Anne Sexton

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Prayer to Achieve Inner Peace

Slow me down, Lord.
Ease the pounding of my heart
by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace
with a vision of the eternal reach of time.
Give me, amid the confusion of the day,
the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles
with the soothing music of singing streams
that live in my memory.

Help me to know
the magical, restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations --
of slowing down to look at a flower,
to chat with a friend,
to pat a dog,
to read a few lines from a good book.

Remind me each day of the fable
of the hare and the tortoise,
that I may know
that the race is not always to the swift --
that there is more to life
than increasing its speed.
Let me look upward
into the branches of the towering oak
and know that it grew great and strong
because it grew slowly and well.

Slow me down, Lord,
and inspire me to send my roots deep
into the soil of life’s enduring values
that I may grow toward the stars
of my greater destiny.

-- Cardinal Richard Cushing