Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity

My first reaction to the idea of unity between Roman Catholicism and my beloved Episcopal tradition was, why? We don’t want to give up our women clergy and be subjected to the Pope’s authority, to name two stumbling blocks, and they aren’t exactly seeing it our way. To me it just seemed better to let us each do it our own way. I grew up in the Roman tradition, but my identity now is strongly Episcopalian; I like being Catholic but not Roman, loving the same tradition and sacraments, but in a way I find much more open and inclusive.

Mary Reath, author of Rome & Canterbury: The Elusive Search for Unity, makes a strong case for the importance of unity, as well as its possibility. Reath has served on vestries at two New York Episcopal parishes, Trinity Church and St. Luke in the Fields, and is a governor of the Anglican Centre in Rome. While working on this book, she was a visiting scholar at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.

Reath’s mother was Roman Catholic and she, herself, attended Catholic grammar school. Her interest in the idea of unity began during a course she took at the Anglican Centre in 1998. “I was fascinated and, more accurately, stunned to learn that the divisions in Christianity were seen not as a given, but just the opposite rather,” she writes. “The church’s redeeming message of love and hope for all is compromised, when it is itself divided. Furthermore, that there were and are determined high level talks working to rebuild relations and to bring the churches back together.”

She returned home “craving to understand more about what it was that really separated these two prominent and influential worldwide churches.” She found a great deal of scholarly material, but not much written for lay people, “and certainly nothing that covers this search for unity from the historical, doctrinal, and practical angles.”

She has written that book, and her work has led her to believe the efforts toward unity will bear fruit. She quotes Cardinal Walter Kasper who said that when Germans awoke on Nov. 9, 1989, after dreaming that their children might someday walk through the Brandenburg Gate, they had no way of knowing “that they themselves would do it that afternoon.”

My spiritual director, an Episcopal priest, used to pray everyday for the unity of the two traditions, even though she is a cradle Episcopalian. After reading this book I, who have lived in both worlds, also understand the value in finding unity. I’m just a bit more skeptical than Reath about it happening anytime soon. But then, as Cardinal Kasper pointed out, walls can come down when we least expect them to.

Reath says secular leaders are facing similar issues in considering bonds and boundaries between countries, and that this is part of the reason for the identity crisis between the two traditions. “We place enormous emphasis on personal choice and on private conscience; it’s hard for us to see the need for the universal, for the group. But when you get right down to it, individual freedom is meaningless in isolation. It only comes into play when we are in relationship and participate in the give and take of establishing the common good for all.”

With this book, she has made an important contribution toward this goal.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cry-Baby: The Musical

This latest John Waters-inspired Broadway musical is like candy, it’s enjoyable while you’re experiencing it and it leaves you with the equivalent of a sugar high for a couple of hours, but its pleasure doesn’t really stay with you. It is, though, a really good time while you’re there.

Of course, being the fact that this is a John Waters work, the humor is on a high school level, but a lot more fun high school than the girls’ prep school I went to in Baltimore County. Rob Ashford’s choreography also reminded me of high school; many of the moves are right out of gym class. That was OK because the dancers are good -- and so high energy.

This musical is based upon the Universal Pictures film by the same name written and directed by John Waters, which I had never heard of. This version has songs by David Javerbaum, the Emmy-winning executive producer and former head writer of “The Daily Show,” and Adam Schlesinger, Oscar-nominated for the song “That Thing You Do” from the film of the same name.  Cry-Baby’s book is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who received the Tony Award for best book for their work on that other Waters-inspired musical, HairsprayCry-Baby is directed by Mark Brokaw. John Waters serves as creative consultant.
Cry-Baby is set in 1954 in a lively and fun Baltimore that bears no resemblance to the one I grew up in,  other than it features the opposing worlds of blue bloods and “trash.” Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker belongs to the latter. (He got his name because he cried when his parents were executed for supposedly being communist spies, but let’s not get into that part of the “plot.”) Cry-Baby falls for Allison, a good girl from the Maidenhead Country Club who is instantly drawn to this bad boy who is so different from the boys in her circle. She wants to escape her world of bobby soxers and a barbershop quartet that sings songs like “Thanks for the Nifty Country” on the Fourth of July and “Squeaky Clean,” which they are proud to be.

There’s absolutely no suspense, of course, in wondering if she will end up with him. You saw Grease! right? (How many times have we all seen Grease!?)

James Snyder, making his Broadway debut, is winning as Cry-Baby; Elizabeth Stanley as Allison is fine in her acting, but she’s got one of those annoying Broadway shouting voices that is becomes tiresome. Harriet Harris, who was so fabulous in her Tony-winning role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, is a hoot as Allison’s grandmother, Mrs. Vernon-Williams.  All of the members of the ensemble are solid.

I think it’s funny that Baltimore is using this latest Waters musical as promotion for the city. An ad will run in Playbill that says: “You’ve seen the musical, now visit the set.” A site will direct tourists to John Waters hangouts; I used to see him from time to time in bars, restaurants and a movie theatre downtown when I lived there. My old hometown gets a lot of bad publicity for its high crime rate. I guess connecting to John Waters seems like a step up.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Take Me Along

Whenever I sit down to write a review of an Irish Rep production I think of the movie “L.A. Story.” Steve Martin played a TV weatherman who couldn’t get time off for a fling with a new girlfriend, so he prerecorded his forecasts and left town. He figured the weather in southern California was always the same, so with a change of sports jackets he recorded a few different spots, smiling and announcing how beautiful the next day would be. The humor, besides the idea of prerecorded weather, was that a huge storm hit the area and no one had taken in their lawn furniture, which flew through the air and caused much damage, causing him to lose his job.

The first half of that applies to reviewing an Irish Rep play. I know the acting will be excellent, the direction also will be, as well as the sets and anything else connected to the show. All I have to do is provide the appropriate names. In the case of the winning current production, Take Me Along, those would be the following: cast -- Ashley Robinson, Nick Wyman, Donna Bullock, Beth Glover, Don Stephenson and Emily Skeggs in the primary roles, backed by a skilled supporting cast; direction -- Charlotte Moore, who is also the theatre’s artistic director, and sets -- James Morgan, who was sitting in front of me, which was nice because I could tell him personally how much I liked the colorful, almost cartoon-like mural of a small town that is the dominant element of the set.

This production also needs a shout-out to the musicians, under the direction of Mark Hartman -- Steve Gilewski (bass), Nicholas Di Fabbio (banjo, guitar) and Jeremy Clayton (woodwinds) who play the songs of Bob Merrill's 1959 musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!.

Take Me Along is a refreshing change from all the current shows about highly dysfunctional families, portraying an idealized slice of life in a small Connecticut town on the Fourth of July in 1920. The mother and father love each other and show it, and the two romances end happily. A director’s note said this is the family O'Neill always wished for but never had.

I had never heard of this musical, but I probably should have because its creator was no slouch. Bob Merrill was an American pop songwriter ("How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?"), theatrical composer and lyricist, and screenwriter. He made his Broadway debut in 1957 with New Girl in Town, a musical adaptation of O'Neill's Anna Christie. His other credits as composer-lyricist include Carnival!, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Henry, Sweet Henry and Hannah…1939. His most famous musical is Funny Girl, for which he wrote lyrics ("People," included) to composer Jule Styne's score. Merrill was nominated for a Tony Award eight times. (Following years of ill health, he committed suicide in 1998.)

Take Me Along includes such charming tunes as "Staying Young" and the sweet duet "But Yours."

As predictably fine as Irish Rep productions are, I won’t “prerecord” my reviews because I wouldn’t want to miss a show. The only suggestion I have is to eliminate the intermission, which was so long people all around me were commenting. My friend Mary said she wondered if she’d still remember the story when we finally returned to it. I’m sure it had to do with trying to accommodate audience members waiting for the limited restroom facilities, but if people can sit through a two-hour movie without a break they ought to be able to sit through a delightful two-hour musical without one. Please think about it, Charlotte.

Take Me Along has been extended through May 4 at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Chelsea. For more information visit

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nancy LaMott DVD

I don’t usually like music DVDs because to me they’re like watching a play or musical on TV; they feel too distant. I had just the opposite reaction, though, to I’ll Be Here With You, a collection of live performances of my favorite cabaret singer, Nancy LaMott. It spans two decades, starting in 1978 and going until her death, at 43, of uterine cancer in 1995.

I am so grateful to David Friedman for compiling and producing this chance to be with Nancy again. She had sung many of his wonderful songs through the years, works I love so much like “Listen to My Heart,” “We Can Be Kind” and “I’ll Be Here With You.” He promised her she would not be forgotten and that he would get her music out there to a large audience. Her beautiful voice has been blessing my life all these years through four recordings she made and one of unheard performances assembled and brought out by her friends after her death. Now with this DVD of 24 live performances, I can appreciate her extraordinary voice as well as her lovely spirit and playful personality.

I knew a great deal about Nancy’s fascinating, and often painful, life, but the DVD made me feel I knew her personally, and I enjoyed watching her grow and change. It was delightful to see her in the early days as a San Francisco club singer, looking a bit like the young Princess Di with her short bowl haircut and chubby face, and then to see her transform into a bubbly New York cabaret star and finally a slimmed-down, poised, mature singer. At every stage, what is so appreciated is that rich, sensitive voice, captured now forever thanks to footage from appearances at the Algonquin's Oak Room and on "Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee." Songs include "The Waters of March," "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "Moon River." The latter was performed on the "Charles Grodin Show" just nine days before Nancy's death. The DVD also includes a photo montage and a "Broadway Beat" interview conducted with LaMott in 1994.

A TV movie about Nancy’s life is being made, and it was certainly a life that will make a compelling movie. Raised in Midland, Michigan, Nancy began singing as a teenager in her father’s band. Around this time she also developed Crohn's disease, a bowel disorder for which she would endure many surgeries over the years, causing her much financial hardship, and leaving her in pain a great deal of the time. I heard an interview with her brother after her death and he said she was often in so much pain she could barely made it to the stage, but she did, and always walked out with a big smile. He said she often sang her best when she was in the most pain.

Despite the illness, she knew she had to get out of Midland to pursue her dream, so at the age of 19 she and her brother, Brett, who was her drummer, headed out to San Francisco where she became one of the most sought-after cabaret singers in the area. Then, when she felt she was ready to try the big time of New York, she went thanks to a friend who bought her a plane ticket because he believed in her talent so strongly; she was too broke from her medical bills to fund the move. She arrived in NYC with $1,000, borrowed two lawn chairs for furniture and began looking for work as a singer while working as an office clerk during the day.

The success she had found in San Francisco reoccurred in New York. According to, from which much of this biographical information comes, “Nancy quickly became known in the small circle of the cabaret world as one of the great singers of her time, but her momentum toward success was always interrupted by illness, surgery and the resulting lack of funds. People were captivated not only by Nancy’s talent, but by her simple goodness and beauty of spirit, and she made many good friends, including David Zippel, Mark Sendroff, Bill McGrath and Bob Baker, who were there for her triumphs and helped her through the bad times.”

Up until now, she was a well-kept secret of the cabaret world, but in 1989 she met composer/conductor David Friedman who thought she should be making records and offered to produce them himself. Through her records, Nancy’s popularity spread to a wider circle and she began breaking attendance records at some the most prestigious clubs in New York, including the Chestnut Room at Tavern on the Green and the world famous Oak Room at the Algonquin.

With all this good fortune, Nancy still had to deal with her medical problems and surgeries. Finally, her disease became too serious, and she was forced to have an ileostomy, a life-changing operation. For the first time she felt well and could eat whatever she wanted. With her newfound energy and health, her career really took off.

She began touring extensively and was discovered by WQEW disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz, which led to her being played on 1,000 radio stations all over the country. Kathie Lee Gifford became a huge fan and played an enormous part in promoting Nancy nationally and also in personally supporting her toward the end of her life. During this time Nancy sang twice at the Clinton White House.

It was in March of 1995 that she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She chose to do hormone therapy as opposed to surgery so she could complete the greatest album of her career, Listen To My Heart, with a full orchestra led by the legendary Peter Matz.

Just after her diagnosis, Nancy was in San Francisco doing an AIDS benefit when she was introduced to actor Pete Zapp. They quickly fell in love and began a bicoastal romance.

In July, Nancy was told that the hormone therapy had not worked and that she needed to have a hysterectomy. She postponed it one month so she could play the Algonquin one more time. As soon as that engagement was over, Nancy had the surgery and was told the cancer had spread slightly and she would need chemotherapy. During this period, she kept performing, doing a sold-out week at Tavern on the Green, and even fulfilling concert dates around the country. Then she would have a chemo treatment and spend a week recovering at Kathie and Frank Gifford’s Connecticut estate.

The chemo and the disease began to take their toll, and just a few days after her last performance, on "Charles Grodin," Nancy was taken to the hospital and her friends and family were told that she had just a couple days to live.

Peter Zapp and her family and friends rushed to her side. On Dec. 13, President and Mrs. Clinton phoned her in the hospital to wish her well. David Friedman promised her that the whole world would hear her sing. And that night, in the last hour of her life, Father Stephen Harris performed a bedside wedding ceremony for Nancy and Peter.

Nancy LaMott had it all, if only for 45 minutes. She died with friends and family around her, married for the first time in her life, and knowing she was on her way to far wider recognition.

A public memorial service was held for her on Feb. 11, 1996, at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City, with 1,500 people in attendance, including Margaret Whiting, Tony Bennett, Peter Matz, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

I hope you will order this blessing of a DVD, and please do what I’ve been doing all these years when I listen to that ever-so-special voice, say a prayer for Nancy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda

What a beautiful and touching play. I was completely involved in this story of Juliette, a young survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and her attempts to find healing through writing. Susan Heyward isn’t just an actor playing a role, she is Juliette. I believed she was every step of the way.

The play is part of a multimedia arts event presented by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, St. Peter’s Church and Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project. A beautiful, life-affirming photo exhibit complements the show and can be seen, like the play, through May 4. The theatre and gallery are at St. Peter’s Church, 54th Street just east of Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

My only disappointment, and it was a deep one, was that fewer than 50 people were in attendance. Perhaps the subject scared them away, and that’s unfortunately because this is not a depressing play. Although the personal account Juliette eventually reveals to her writing teacher, played well by Joe Menino, is horrifying, the healing she finds through the telling and through their deepening relationship is affirmative -- resurrectional. I strongly recommend this play.

I also encourage you to stop in one day to see the photos, taken by orphaned survivors of the genocide. The pictures are of everyday life in post-genocide Rwanda, and they are a shining glimpse of resilience and hope. Photos of the young artists, aged eight to 18, are on display as well, and I could only marvel at their big, proud smiles, these young people who had lost their families and seen such staggering violence. My faith in God is badly shaken when I read about atrocious like those in Rwanda and Darfur, but looking at those smiling faces I can once again believe there is a God who cares. That remarkable capacity to live again and find joy could only come from God.

Juliette is the fictional demonstration of this, but she is based on a real person. British playwright Sonja Linden was inspired by a young refugee she worked with through the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. This woman, like Juliette, had been plagued by headaches and nightmares. What started as a testimony to the horrors her family suffered became her vehicle for healing. She told Linden, after two and a half years of writing her story and confronting her emotion and pain, that she felt “clean” and that the headaches and nightmares stopped. This, also, is Juliette’s experience.

Linden says when she hears criticism about the long title of her play she sees it as “symptomatic of the West’s indifference to a genocide taking place in a tiny country, off the map, in faraway darkest Africa. Similarly my long title is a deliberate challenge to our short attention span where Rwanda is concerned.”

In 2004 she wrote about another motivation for writing this play: “As the daughter of refugees from Nazi Germany, I have felt all the more compelled to draw attention to this appalling late chapter in 20th century history, a chapter that has such strong parallels with the Final Solution. Tragically, as I write this, a new genocide threatens in Western Sudan, transgressing once more the idealism of the post-Holocaust slogan of ‘Never Again.’”

To learn more about the Rwanda Project, visit For tickets to the play, visit

Monday, April 21, 2008

The art of mime

I met Carlos Martinez two weeks ago at a CITA (Christians in Theatre Arts) gathering in midtown. He and his wife, Jenny Findeis, were visiting New York for the first time. After they returned home to Germany, Jenny sent me “Hand Made,” Carlos’ latest DVD of mime stories. What a blessing it is to reconnect to this wondrous form of theatrical expression. I love this DVD.

It’s easy to see why Carlos was selected by the audience to win the prize of honour for the best show at the XXI Almada Theatre Festival in Portugal. He has such love for his characters -- he becomes them as he brings everyday experiences to life in shimmering detail. Mime “allows you to see what you do not see,” he explains, and it’s true. A trip to the barber, waiting for a bus, these ordinary things are lost to our consciousness through their very routineness. But not when Carols portrays them, with a twist. For more than 25 years he has been refining his art so that he can communicate easily around the world. “Hand Made” has subtitle selections so that Carlos’ setup commentaries in Spanish can be understood in English, French and German. But the DVD can also be played without the commentaries because none is needed. His calls his characters his “loyal travel companions and imaginative translators” who take over on stage and “speak” for him.

In his bio, Carlos says he was fascinated by the "woodcarving expressiveness of mime and its plain reduction to the essential.” Without words, props or ornamentation, he wants the audience to experience on a sensory level “the entire story of their minds.”

Carlos’ previous DVDs, also based on his touring shows, are “My Bible,” in which he brings to life stories from the Bible from a surprising perspective, and “Human Rights,” for which the Declaration of Human Rights becomes truly human. He also conducts seminars and workshops. You can see trailers on Carlos’ web site,, or on All three DVDs can normally be ordered through (for USA) and (for Germany and other European countries).

I first fell in love with mime at my beloved CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore. I started volunteer ushering there when I was in high school as a way to see all their shows for free.  Sophie Wibaux and Bert Houle, who as I recall were husband and wife, choreographed “Julius Caesar” in the 1972-73 season and included their mine. It was spellbinding to watch them perform their wordless dialogue of Shakespearean drama. As I remember, they were part of CENTERSTAGE’s resident company and were incorporated into shows over several years. That would certainly be in keeping with CENTERSTAGE’s creative approach to theatre. Wibaux and Houle have written that ''mime is the art of touch, not intellectual or physical, but emotional touch.''

I extended an open invitation to Carlos to perform at Broadway Blessing if he is ever in New York on the second Monday of September. Until then I will enjoy “Hand Made.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

Xanadu CD

The goodies have begun to arrive! A package from “The Xanadu Family” was waiting at my door when I came home Monday. Inside was a huge glossy souvenir book of the show and the cast recording. The book I’ll donate to the Performing Arts Library, but the music is fun. I put it right on and was dancing around my apartment.

This is an especially good time to be a theatre critic because we’re coming into voting season and producers shower us with reminders of their shows. This practice will pick up even more after our nominations are announced April 28 at the Friars Club. I love checking my mailbox at this time of year, or seeing what is in front of my door. I learned years ago not to go right out and buy a cast recording after seeing a show I love. I wait to see if a copy arrives with the spring flow.

It’s always fun to be courted!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The ability to make and understand puns is the highest level of language development. Here are the 10 first-place winners in an international pun contest, sent to me by my friend Merwin Goldsmith.

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, “Dam!”

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, “I've lost my Electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first replies, “Yes, I'm positive.”

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse.
“But why,” they asked, as they moved off.
“Because,” he said,' I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to Spain, they name him Juan; the other went to a family in Egypt and is named Ahmal. Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, “They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal.”

8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to “persuade” them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (this is so bad, it's good) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent 10 different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in 10 did.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Passing Strange

Given the choice, I think I would prefer water boarding. As a form of torture it doesn’t cause any permanent damage that I’ve heard of, but 10 minutes in Passing Strange is enough to cause hearing loss and profound mental distress. In more than 40 years of theatergoing I have never had a more miserable experience.

Never, ever would an aisle seat have been more desirable. I would have been out of there so fast. Instead I had to endure the BLARING rock music being blasted at us until intermission. I’ve been to painfully bad shows before, but never anything that was so downright physically -- and psychologically -- painful.

The show, with book and lyrics by singer/songwriter Stew, and music by Stew and his longtime musical partner Heidi Rodewald, is about a young black man who leaves the confines of his middle-class life in South Central L.A. on a self-discovery trip to Europe. As a story, it leaves a lot to be desired, although I was so traumatized by the decibel level I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

My friend Mary, who bolted out the door with me, didn’t just object to the musical assault, but this “story” as well. “I had no reason to care for this guy or anyone on stage,” she wrote later in a e-mail. “It was so unoriginal, as I feel I saw most of this in those plays in the Village I used to go to when I was in high school. But even then, they didn't drown out my thinking.”

Passing Strange is enough to drown out anybody’s thinking. Do yourself, and your ears, a favor and pass up Passing Strange.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kristin Chenoweth’s Memoir

I was thrilled to learn that Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth, who is part of the new ABC series "Pushing Daisies," is writing her autobiography, to be published by Simon & Schuster next April. I’ve been thinking for a long time that someone should write her life story; I figured Kristin would be too busy.

I first met Kristin six and a half years ago when I interviewed her for my book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors. She had so much to share she ended up in six of the 10 chapters. As a journalist I recognized a fascinating life and knew hers would make a great book.

Publishers Weekly describes the memoir as "a candid account of the Oklahoma-born actress's life, from her adoption shortly after birth to her Tony-nominated turn in Wicked to her work in Hollywood. Chenoweth will address the challenges she's faced in balancing her faith, family, private life and public persona."

This is one book I definitely will be reading!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

South Pacific

  Do EVERYTHING in your power to get to this show. Mortgage your home if you have to! It is perfection in every way, an enchanted evening if ever there was one. And this is a musical I’ve never been particularly fond of, at least not since we did it freshman year in high school when I was on the staging committee -- lots of blue paint on my clothes! -- and thought we had put together a Broadway quality show. I do have to admit now, though, this one is better.

Kelli O’Hara is as engaging as ever. I first noticed her in the disappointing production of Sweet Smell of Success, and I’ve seen her in all her Broadway roles since then. She really stands out, and not just because she’s pretty. She has a quality that’s real; she doesn’t seem like an actress in a musical -- she just is whomever she is playing. It’s such a joy now to watch her dance around that stage singing “I’m Gonna to Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” She’s sassy and fun, but also completely believable in all those wonderful romantic scenes.

Opera singer Paulo Szot, making his Broadway debut as Emile de Becque, is breathtaking when he sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” But he can also be convincingly playful, such as when he imitates Nellie singing “Wash That Man.”

I loved Danny Burstein as Luther Billis. The comic relief characters often get tiresome to me, but he never did. He was funny, but never to the point of being obnoxious. I also appreciated Matthew Morrison as Lt. Joe Cable. He hadn’t clicked with me when I saw him in The Light in the Piazza, probably because I had read the novella and pictured Fabrizio so differently. Here he seems just right.

Michael Yeargan’s sets and Donald Holder’s lighting give the feel of wide open and bright spaces in the Pacific islands, and I love the retractable stage that give full views of the magnificent 30-piece orchestra, under the direction of Ted Sperling.

The show is three hours long, but I was so mesmerized I didn’t realize. I could have sat through three more hours. I hated it to be over.

It’s hard to believe this is the first time South Pacific has been revived on Broadway since it premiered in 1949. (That production went on to enjoy a five-year Broadway run, winning nine Tonys, including Best Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.) With a less gifted cast (of 40!) and artistic team, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, any revival now could seem dated, but here it’s as alive as it must have been originally.

I loved the current productions of Sunday in the Park and Gypsy, but South Pacific gets my vote for best revival of a musical. I wish I could see it again and again.

Friday, April 11, 2008

From a Woman's Life

This is from a poem about Mary called "From a Woman's Life" by Sr. Maura Eichner, a much-loved former teacher of mine at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland:

Each one's journey is a thing
wholly without precedent.
She looked at the sky
for compass. None. She, too,
created a road to travel by.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jerry R. Curry

My dear friend Geri Forsberg sent me a copy of Jerry R. Curry’s CD Generally Singing. Curry as you may know -- but probably don’t -- is a Republican candidate for president. He’s been on the ballot in about a half dozen states.

In his former life he was an opera singer, and listening to him brings tears to my eyes, especially every time I hear him sing “I’ll Walk with God.” It is one of the most gorgeous pieces of singing I have ever heard. His “Danny Boy” is in the African-American spiritual tradition, and is the most unusual performance of this song I’ve heard, other than when I heard it in Yiddish at the National Arts Club many years ago. (Now that was different!)

I also love Curry’s interpretation of the American spiritual “Deep River,” as well as his opera selections, and I’m not an opera fan. His voice is so exquisite that I want to keep listening and listening; it’s hard to turn off the music and get to work. He sings with such depth and feeling -- it’s clear that a strong believe in God’s love and grace is at the core of every word.

The title of the CD alludes to Curry’s rank as a major general in the army, a position from which he retired in 1985. Later he spent three years as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He tells his story in the autobiography From Private to General: An African-American Soldier Rises Through the Ranks, published by Believe Books.

Curry and his wife live in Northern Virginia where they are active in their local Episcopal parish.

For more information, go to Curry’s web site at

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Judy Collins

The woman who sang "I've looked at life from both sides now" has finally found what she searched for through years of unforgettable music and profound personal challenges. This essay by JUDY COLLINS appears in Guideposts Magazine.

Grief is a blow that we all face, yet it feels like something we could never be prepared for. It’s a journey through pain. For me that journey began on January 15, 1992. On that cold winter’s day, my son, Clark, my only child, got into his family’s station wagon, ran a hose from the exhaust into the window, started the engine and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. At age 33 he took his life. In the minutes and hours and days that followed, I could not imagine that I would ever see a way out, a way through the grief. I couldn’t see how to live beyond my loss. It was as though time had stopped. Clark was the light of my life—a bright, handsome, creative young man, married, with a four-year-old daughter. Now he was gone, and I could never even begin to understand why.

Throughout my son’s life, he had experienced both great joy and great sorrow. When he gave up drugs and alcohol nearly seven years earlier, I had thought that, for Clark, the worst was over. I rejoiced. Now I couldn’t make sense of why he had killed himself—at least, Why now? But even as I couldn’t exactly grasp why Clark was gone, part of me understood all too well. Suicide is woven into the history of our family. Clark’s paternal grandfather had taken his life too. And as a young girl, I had made an attempt to end mine, so I understood the engulfing despair that brings someone to that desperate edge. But none of this really made sense to me at the time of Clark’s death.

My thoughts and feelings were refracted by my grief. And grief is, above all, a process—oftentimes a desperately hard struggle—one that for me goes on till this day, 17 years later. Yet it has also brought me closer to my faith.

In my book The Seven T’s: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy, I offer strategies for coping with loss. Here are some of the things I’ve done to deal with my sorrow. It’s my prayer that what I’ve learned will help others too.

1. Write It Down
A month after Clark died, I wrote in my journal, “I will live in the gap, live in the moment between the breaths, in that pause where wings of an angel pass, where the flowers bloom, where love is born out of trouble.” I felt a sense of clarity, of purpose, despite the fact that grieving is a task that requires time, and patience. But love can be born out of trouble.

Journaling and other creative outlets were crucial to my healing process. I put my thoughts into meditations to get me through the days, trusting that, at least when I was writing, I would continue to breathe and to think. One day I wrote, “My granddaughter is learning to dance. I bought her gold slippers and she is getting very tall. She seems to be healing, like a tall blond flower in a garden, growing in spite of her loss.” I had again begun to trust in the joy of seeing a child who was of my flesh and blood develop into a beautiful young girl, a reminder of her father, yes, but a total person in her own right. I began to trust in her ability to help heal me as well. Journaling offers both intimacy and freedom. You can write whatever you want and it can be incredibly cathartic.

2. Make Time for Your Friends
A gentle snow drifted over the bare branches of century-old trees and hovered over the New York skyline. It softened the outlines of cars coming down Fifth Avenue, trying not to skid on the fast-whitening street surfaces. I made my way from the taxi, tall boots with pointed toes and high heels, taking chances on the ice that lay under the soft cover. I had a date for coffee with an old friend, Isabel, who had also lost her son years before. Her loss, like mine, was unexpected and tragic. Over coffee in the tearoom of a midtown hotel, I tried to tell as much of the truth as I could to my friend. I wanted what she had—grace under pressure, valor amid difficulty.

“Did you love him?” she asked me gently. I told her that I had loved him beyond all imagining. “And did he love you?” I said yes, that Clark had loved me. “Then it is all right,” she said. In Isabel’s trusted company, I could take one step forward while the snow continued to fall outside. Make time for your friends as you embark on the grieving process—they will help you find your grace and valor; they will help carry you through.

3. Pray
We all grieve in our own ways. I believe that there are certain things that can truly help anyone. Prayer works—for oneself, and for others. It is powerful. I meditate and pray daily and give thanks for all of the people in my life. You must ask others to pray for you too. I have a friend, Lorna Kelly, who became a devotee of Mother Teresa, and spent a number of years visiting the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India. There, Lorna would work alongside the sisters and talk often with Mother.

After Clark’s death, Lorna was making another trip to visit Mother Teresa. She asked me for a photograph of Clark. In Calcutta, Mother asked about Clark, about his life and his death, and Lorna, who had known my son, told her all about him and gave Clark’s photograph to her. Mother Teresa put Clark’s photograph into the back of the Bible she always carried with her, telling Lorna that she would pray for him. And for me. This loving gesture gave me so much comfort. What if each of us were to make a gesture like that, say, just once a month, toward a total stranger? I like to think that the world would slowly shift away from the dark and toward the light. Prayer is that powerful.

4. Take Care of Yourself
People who are grieving often get physically ill—as though their heartsickness takes over their entire being. I know it’s difficult to focus on yourself when the loved one you have lost is foremost in your heart and mind. But, please try. Eat good, healthy food, don’t skip your exercise, get plenty of fresh air. Take long walks. Above all, be patient and gentle with yourself.

As soon as you can, get back to your work. I know that’s hard. I wanted to curl up in a ball and lock myself away. But I got a call from a dear friend who had also lived through a sudden and devastating loss. “Don’t cancel all your plans,” she said. “Keep working. Do what you love. If you don’t, you won’t heal.” She was right. It wasn’t easy getting back to performing and recording, but I did it, and now I’m so grateful. It helped me to stay engaged with other people and took me outside of myself. God, I believe, gives us work so that we can remain teachable. There is no education quite like working, doing the things that have been given to you to do, using the talents you have been blessed with and work on to improve.

5. Remember
The memories of your loved one may be painful, terribly painful, at first. But in the long run, they are going to help you recover, rejuvenate your inner life and take you to the new place that now beckons in the aftermath of tragedy. Treasure your memories; they are your friends. They will help to heal you. My son had red hair and a quick smile and loved to fish, to sing and to read. How I miss his smile, like sunlight, and his silliness. I miss his deep laughter and his joy at playing the guitar for me. I miss his quicksilver intelligence and his humor. I remember his enthusiasm for his family, for his work, for the band he played in, for the comic strips of Erik Larsen.

I recall his kindness to strangers, the joy he felt about living in Minnesota, his pleasure in thriving in the cold weather, wearing the furry hat that covered his ears. I miss his voice on the telephone, his face in the window, his figure at the end of the ramp at the airport, smiling and greeting me with open arms. Your loved one is alive in the details. Record them in your mind or on paper, wherever you can. It is through the treasuring of these small facts that we keep the people we have loved close to our hearts.

6. Have Faith in Your Faith
Not long after Clark died, I walked the 20 or so cold city blocks from my apartment to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It has long been a meaningful place in my life. It’s where my husband, Louis, and I were married, and where Clark, right there on the cathedral steps, experienced the epiphany that led him to sobriety. I was very close to Reverend Morton, the dean of the cathedral, and instinctively knew that I could talk to him whenever I needed to. He listened. And he cried with me.

Have faith in your faith. It will comfort you in the toughest of times. When I lost Clark, I did have faith—but it was conditional and unchallenged. I had to relearn the faith of my childhood, the faith of my unconscious moments, the faith that helps me sleep at night, that keeps my body breathing and functioning and healing. I had to trust that faith, knowing that God would always be there for me, and indeed was already with me—in churches and fields, in songs, in nature, in my heart. He was on every step of my journey from my tragic loss to ever deeper healing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


This really is a good musical. I had only seen it once before, and that was the original London production in 1982, although I’ve listened to the American recording with Patti and Mandy many, many times over the years. The music and the story are involving and, as performed by a national touring company Sunday at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, make for a great theatrical experience.

Malia Tippets was a beautiful-voiced Evita and Omar Lopez-Cepero was compelling as Che, the Argentine rebel who narrates the story, based on the life of Eva Peron, the charismatic, ambitious and often ruthless wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron, who was well-portrayed by Philip Peterson.

The story, as I’m sure you know, follows Eva’s single-minded drive to overcome her humble beginnings, transforming herself into an actress before setting her sights on Peron, advancing his career and securing for herself the role of first lady of Argentina. Hiding her duplicitous dealing behind a charitable foundation, she became a saint in the eyes of the working class and poor people of the country. 

The 1979 Broadway production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Besides the widely known hit “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” other memorable songs include “Oh What A Circus,” “High Flying Adored,” and “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” 

This current touring company did an excellent job, especially considering the difficulty of presenting a major musical for one performance only. The dancing and costumes were Broadway quality, making up for the scarcity of scenery.

My hat goes off to all of the performers and the production crew. As we were all leaving the theatre, sets and props were already being loaded into a huge truck parked out back. These people are really living an in-and-out, another-suitcase-in-another-hall vagabond existence. I know showbiz isn’t a stable profession, but the on-the-go life of touring companies is rough even when the run is for a week or two in each place. I interviewed an actor once who couldn’t remember if he was supposed to exit stage right or stage left in the theatre he was in -- he had been in so many -- that when he made the wrong choice and went the wrong way, he tripped over a prop in the dark and broke a bone in his foot.

I hope these actors, especially those three leads, get their big break soon. They’ve earned it!

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I got chills. Patti LuPone as Momma Rose, especially in the final number, is so powerful she’s almost frightening. I always knew she was a gifted singer and actress, but in this role she gets to prove it more emphatically than ever. She’s astonishing.

In Patti’s hands, Rose is far more human than I’ve ever seen her. She’s not just that toxic mother we all know her to be. Patti makes her playful and gives her a sense of humor, which really come through when she sings “Small World” to Herbie (the always wonderful Boyd Gaines). It’s much easier here to see why he falls in love with her and puts up with so much. And I can believe that she does love him and her children, in her way. It’s just not the way in which they need to be loved.

In contrast, I’ve never heard such darkness under the seemingly cheery “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” It’s clear any tenderness she has will always be smothered by her ruthlessness.

Laura Benanti is also compelling as Louise. It’s heartbreaking when she looks in the mirror the first time she dresses up as Gypsy and, with surprise and awe, says softly: “Mamma, I’m pretty.”

And it’s moving when, in her confrontation with Rose at the end, she tells her mother that all she ever wanted was for her to notice her. A light bulb seems to go off in Rose and for a moment she is filled with regret for all the years she missed really seeing her older daughter. When they embrace, it’s as two people who do love each other. But., as you know, a warm, intimate mother/daughter relationship is not to be. Rose will go down to the finish lashing out, still screaming to be heard.

In the hands of these two actresses, and the marvelous supporting cast, Gypsy is more than a story of one overwhelmingly controlling mother. It’s about heavily damaged people trying to conquer, and ignore, their emotional pain and move along as best they can. They are very real, and maybe a lot more like our own families than we ever realized.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Where heaven and earth meet

“The Spirit is given so that we, ordinary mortals that we are, can ourselves be, in a measure, what Jesus himself was: part of God’s future arriving in the present; a place where heaven and earth meet; the means of God’s kingdom going forward.”
-- N.T. Wright

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Some Gypsy history

I am really looking forward to seeing Patti LuPone tonight in Gypsy. I love the music and the story.

I’ve been reading Brian Kellow’s fabulous biography Ethel Merman: A Life, which offers fascinating information about the show and its original star. The role of Mama Rose was Ethel’s “most unusual and substantial project,” Kellow writes, explaining that although she had had a successful Broadway career for decades, “she had finally tired of playing blowsy, diamond-in-the-rough musical-comedy parts, and she was eager to show that she could do something of a serious nature.”

Kellow’s book is a must-read for anyone planning to see the current revival -- as well as for any lover of Ethel Mermin, of course. It’s interesting to learn that Jerome Robbins, Ethel’s choice to direct and choreography Gypsy, had conceived of it as “a kind of colorful, affectionate tribute to the long-gone world of burlesque, and had even signed up a string of novelty and animal acts.” Arthur Laurents, who was writing the book for the show, had other ideas. To him the truly compelling story was not so much that of the title character, based loosely on the life of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, as it was of her mother, “a willful, resourceful woman who would stop at nothing to see that her two young daughters met with show-business success.”

Luckily, Laurents’ instincts were dead-on. “Of all Broadway musical books, Gypsy’s may well be the best crafted, the leanest, the sharpest, the funniest, the most disturbing and revealing,” Kellow says. “Much of its swift pace and strong point of view no doubt stem from the fact that Laurents knew exactly where he was going along the way, because he had the sense to write the ending first. What he devised was quite unlike any other musical finale.”

Sick to death of her mother’s lifelong domination, Gypsy (Louise) tells Rose to leave her alone and go live her own life. “Rose’s armour begins to melt: for the first time, she examines her own youthful dreams of fame and applause and the life she had spent enslaved to her own desperate, gnawing need to be noticed,” Kellow writes. “It would be a scene and, eventually, a song, that would serve as both emotional breakdown and moment of truth, giving Gypsy the final piece of weight that Laurents had sensed the show needed.”

The trick was to find the right composer to do justice to the story. Irving Berlin was approached and refused because he found the show too dark and disturbing. Cole Porter was ill and dejected, having recently suffered the amputation of his leg following a riding accident. Laurents wanted Stephen Sondheim. Ethel would agree to having the young writer only for the lyrics; she wanted someone more tried and true for the composer, so the job went to Jule Styne, who was successful, but for romantic songs, not dark stories like Gypsy. Sondheim, angry and disappointed not to be considered as composer and lyricist, was ready to refuse, but his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, prevailed on him and Sondheim signed on as lyricist. As it happened, this creative team worked so well together they finished the entire book and score in “an astonishing four months.”

One of the reasons Ethel was against Sondheim was because she didn’t think he would know how to write for her voice; Styne thought of her voice as a trumpet, “and he wrote for it as he would be an instrument. What he came up with was an exhilarating score that felt as if it had been shot from a cannon.” Ethel loved the songs and wept when she first heard them. It would be the most taxing, demanding score she would ever sing, Kellow says.

“Rose’s Turn,” the closing song that is Rose’s big moment of self-revelation, was more “operatic scena than the standard eleven-o’clock number.” “All her life Rose has demanded that people pay attention to her. Now, all alone on the empty stage where Gypsy is a headliner, she realizes that no one is left to listen.”

Rose starts with her usual brash self-confidence, but midway through begins to crumble, “sputtering out, ‘Mmmmm-mmm-Mama,’ then starting up again, trying to regain her momentum before breaking down entirely as she at last stops moving full speed ahead and takes stock of what’s left of her life” -- scrapbooks full of her in the background and daughters and boyfriend gone. “It would be the most emotionally naked moment that the Broadway musical had yet experienced; Handel could not have written a more searing-rage aria.” Sondheim had been inspired by seeing Jessica Tandy’s mental disintegration as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. “By having Rose stammer ‘Mmmmm-mmm-Mama’ -- the thought of finally letting go of Louise is so terrifying that she can barely speak of it -- Sondheim was providing her with a Blanche-like collapse.”

These are just some of the marvelous behind-the-scenes gems Kellow shares. It’s interesting to know that Sondheim’s spark of creative genius came from watching Blanche’s breakdown. The intensity of this moment was lost in the most recent Broadway Gypsy revival. The normally powerful Bernadette Peters never really seemed powerful enough in the first place to carry off this final scene. I have absolute, complete confidence that Patti LuPone will make Ethel proud.

Stay tuned for my review!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Power of Positive Thinking

Today's Power Thought:
Get Close to Positive People.

Make a list of your friends to determine who is the most positive thinker among them and deliberately cultivate his society. Do not abandon your negative friends, but get closer to those with a positive point of view. Once you have absorbed their spirit, go back to your negative friends and give them your newly acquired thought pattern without taking on their negativism.

No. 93 in a series of 100 Power Thoughts from The Power of Positive Thinking, the all-time inspirational best-selling book by Norman Vincent Peale.

Courtesy of


Received this today from Merwin Goldsmith. I think you'll like it.

They walked in tandem, each of the 92 students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With their rich maroon gowns flowing .. and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt. Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and Moms freely brushed away tears.

This class would NOT pray during the commencements -- not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it.

The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families.

The speeches were nice, but they were routine.....until the final speech received a standing ovation.

A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened. All 92 students, every single one of them, suddenly SNEEZED. The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said, "GOD BLESS YOU, each and every one of you!" And he walked off stage.

The audience exploded into applause.

This graduating class had found a unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's

Isn't this a wonderful story? Pass it on to all your friends.........and GOD BLESS YOU!!

This is a true story; it happened at the University of
Maryland .

Something You Did

I had never seen a Willy Holtzman play, but I was familiar with the playwright’s name because my friend Merwin Goldsmith had appeared in a Holtzman play, Hearts, at Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE last fall and said the experience had been one of the most profound of his career. He had never seen anything like the audience reactions and involvement.

Now, having seen Primary Stage’s production of Something You Did at 59E59 Theaters, I also am impressed by Holtzman’s work. This edgy 90-minute drama, directed by Carolyn Cantor, about a former 60s radical had me completely involved every second. And 60s radicals are not usually a subject that would interest me.

Much of the credit needs to go to the brilliant Joanna Gleason who plays Alison Moulton, the now middle-aged former activist who has spent three decades in jail for her part in the accidental killing of a police officer. Alison had been part of a group that planted a bomb in a locker at Grand Central Terminal as a protest against the Vietnam War. The bomb went off prematurely before the group could call in a threat and have the place evacuated.

The play takes place 30 years later as Alison is coming up for parole. As portrayed by Gleason, Alison is so real. She made me care about this woman, and I would not normally care about someone like that. Yes, protesting the war is good, but people who destroy property, even if no one is killed, make me angry, not understanding.

Notice I did not say sympathetic. I would definitely not have sympathy for someone who did that, but Gleason’s Alison isn’t looking for sympathy. She acknowledges her guilt and she deeply regrets the death. “I am confronted by the past every waking hour,” she says.

But she still has a spark of idealism, believing she can and should help make the world a better place. She’s done that in prison, helping inmates with their G.E.D. preparation, listening to their sorrows and training puppies to be seeing eye dogs. Now she wants to get out, to do something as simple as sit on a park bench and watch a squirrel, but also because she feels she can still make a contribution. I wanted her to go free.

Gleason’s is by far the strongest performance, although I did really enjoy Portia as Uneeq, the corrections officer. The relationship between the two women seems genuine and I liked their interactions in the prison library where Alison works and meets visitors.

I was disappointed in Adriane Lenox as Lenora, the slain officer’s daughter. She had been so powerful in her Tony-winning role in Doubt, but here she is too one dimensional when she visits Alison in prison. She has the expected anger toward the woman who was partly responsible for her father’s death, but she didn’t reveal the pain that would still be there, even after 30 years. When she recounts how her last time with her father, who had raised her after her mother died, had resulted in an argument, I would have expected deep regret to show on her face and in her body language. It didn’t.

The weakest performance is by Victor Slezak as Gene, one of Alison’s former activists now a conservative commentator who is paid handsomely for his writing and speeches. “I don’t deny my past,” he tells Alison, “I just consign it to its proper developmental place, like acne.” His opportunistic sleaziness comes through, but nothing in him ever led me to believe he had once been willing to risk his life to go to Mississippi to register black voters.

Eugene Lee’s set is simple and effective. Lee, who has been the production designer for “Saturday Night Live” since 1974, has also created big Broadway sets, winning a Tony for Wicked. His prison library, surrounded by chain fencing and locked doors, has an institutional look, but also conveys some of the homey warmth of a library. Gene’s office is brought forth from minimal furniture shifts and Jeff Croiter’s lighting.

Holtzman’s play raises some interesting questions. In the 1960s, Alison and her fellow war protesters weren’t considered terrorists, but in the post 9/11 world is all bombing, no matter the cause, considered terrorism? Is dissent treason? What responsibility do citizens have in the face of their government’s involvement in a questionable war with no end in sight?

Performances of Something You Did run through April 28. Tickets may be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or online at