Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jennifer Muller’s The White Room


Don’t go to the white room. I’m serious.

The White Room, the latest full-length dance work by Jennifer Muller presented at Cedar Lake Theater last week, started out well, with Hsing-hua Wang, a lovely company apprentice (who got her job the Sutton Foster way, and deservedly so) appearing as the essence of innocence, dancing joyfully about the wide stage. Well, you knew that wasn’t going to last. A second woman entered and they danced happily as friends, with tenderness and joy, until (uh oh) a man entered. (I am tempted to bring in the dialogue from Little Mary Sunshine: “A man! [gasp] Another man!”) He picks a favorite, switches to the other (who was so hurt), and the dynamics seems very high school, but Very Important to Those Involved.

Okay, that sardonic tone came in this early without my really intending it, because I was engrossed during the first part of The White Room. Emotions were clearly defined, even at the turn of a dime, and the dancing was excellent. Dancers hurled legs, arms, and each other, in a way that I knew precisely what their feelings were.

The remarkable energy and stamina of the dancers do not, however, make up for a lack of forward thrust and dramatic competence on the part of the choreographer.

As the cast fills the stage, the relationships become rough, even violent and especially bad for Wang, who takes the brunt of it. Women compete for men, are hurt, betrayed, and go back for more. So, you think, the second part will bring some resolution. Nope. The same emotions and relentless power happy violence from the men against the women was ongoing. It felt like what people used to call angry, militant feminist propaganda of the 1960s, which I always thought was a myth. Dividing the dancers into the all powerful men who hold the winning cards and the powerless women, victims of brutality, whose only defense is seduction is a pretty appalling design and exhausting to watch.

The music helped somewhat, adjusting the mood when the steps were the same aggressive, brutal thrusts over and over. Projections (the latest toy in dance) designed by Kevin Harkens did not provide much guidance or lucid commentary for the audience to understand where we were and why we were there. A question I kept asking myself during the second part.

Every time I thought the end was coming, more dancers would appear on the sides of the stage preparing to enter, and I briefly fantasized that I might die in that uncomfortable seat (second time I felt that, recently; first was at Spiderman last week). When dancers changed clothes and drapes floated down, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to figure out what on earth was going on.

When a technician appeared at the side scaffolding to adjust some lights, he bent over them in a very graceful way, and I thought, “Oh, no, a new character.” But he was just trying, in his own way, to shed some light on the dance.

I stopped caring for people I had cared for in the beginning. My seat grew more uncomfortable, and the sightlines more annoying. I grew less forgiving as audience heads in front of me cut off the feet and lower bodies of the dancers, or as often happened, dancers who flung themselves on the floor. I didn’t care to strain to see what was happening.

The dancers, I must say, were solid. The men in the company, even though playing despicable characters, proved a powerful presence, and I much liked Pascal Rekoert in his hard-to-like role. A character who appeared to be a sort of matron in the madhouse/powerless Mrs. Danforth character (Susanna Bozzetti), Rosie Lani Fiedelman as a more experienced and sexually charged woman, and Elizabeth Disharoon’s poignant depth, proved exceptional in the large cast. Gen Hashimoto was quite creepy. The dancers worked hard and I wish I could speak better about the piece and the time we all spent with it.

My friend Kathryn Buck observed that no one changed in the course of this long piece; the women returned to abusive men, which made it painful to witness. I thought I detected some sort of change in Wang at the end, for she turned away from one of her worst tormentors in the “whiter” ending (after it seemed that she had died), but the gesture was almost a throwaway, and this final section was so short (I shouldn’t complain) that it seemed unimportant compared with what had gone on before. Since the same people were in the room, the whole mess would all start up again and then again and then again. Ah, but someone new did enter – nope, not much hope for her, either.

This work has been in development for a while, and I suspect the creator simply lost track of the forest. It happens. Every so often, the company would release some tidbit about the work, and one such tidbit indicated that the dancers played wives, mistresses, and henchmen. Not that it mattered, but who knew? The company’s press material stated that, “The piece concerns the corruption of innocence, contrasting purity with heartless self-interest and questioning the value systems of our time.” (Dance that, fools!) I would rephrase that as “the corruption of talent with self absorbed, pretentious, and stereotyped choreographic design, both dated and damaging.”

Jennifer Muller/The Works Presents The White Room. Choreographer: Jennifer Muller; Music: Compilation of works by Apocaliptica. Costume design by Anaya Cullen. Set design: Stageworks. Presented at Cedar Lake Theater, New York City June 22 to June 26. For more 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 musician discovering that her mother is a healing woman of the Washo tribe.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less."
— G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
– Marcel Proust

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Lights Are Bright on Broadway

Playwright David Davalos, Journalist Retta Blaney Receive Faith-Based Awards
Playwright David Davalos and journalist Retta Blaney have been named recipients of 2011 “The Lights are Bright on Broadway” Awards presented annually by Masterwork Productions, Inc. to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through faith.

Davalos is being honored for his play Wittenberg, a witty battle of wills and philosophies between Dr. Faustus and Martin Luther as they attempt to influence star pupil Hamlet at 16th-century Wittenberg University. The play was presented March 11 - April 17 by Off-Broadway’s Pearl Theatre Company. It also received the 2008 Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play and will have its London debut at the Gate Theatre this September. Davalos also is the recipient of the National Theatre Conference’s 2008 Stavis Playwriting Award. He is a graduate of the theatre programs of both the University of Texas and Ohio University. Some of his other plays include Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo da Vinci; The Tragedie of Johnnius Caerson (a comedy in blank verse chronicling the Late Night TV Wars) and Darkfall (a modern sequel to Paradise Lost).

“I'm so gratified (and relieved!) by Wittenberg's receiving The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Award as it offers confirmation that the play's engagement with the question of faith is resonating with audience members who have a real stake in the issue,” Davalos said. “It has always been my hope that the play would speak meaningfully to the ‘Lutherans’ in the audience as much as it does to the ‘Faustians’ one tends to see in abundance in the theatergoing community -- this award helps me to believe that may indeed the case.”

Blaney is a journalist and theater critic and writes Life Upon the Sacred Stage, a popular blog about theater and faith. She is the author of "Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life through the Eyes of Actors," featuring interviews with Kristin Chenoweth, Edward Herrmann, Liam Neeson, Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams and many other Broadway actors discussing their faith as well as "Stories from the Real World” with a forward by Walter Cronkite. She also directs the annual Broadway Blessing, a free interfaith service at St. John the Divine Cathedral, which brings together the Broadway community each September to ask a blessing on the new season. Her award will be presented at this year’s service 7 pm Monday, Sept. 12. Among the performers who have taken part in the service over the years are Lynn Redgrave, Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines and Edward Herrmann.

“I am honored to receive the Lights Are Bright on Broadway Award on behalf of all those who have taken part in this event and helped it to reach its 15th anniversary,” Blaney said. “I started Broadway Blessing in 1997 to bring people together to celebrate theater and also to offer comfort and encouragement to those who make their living in the challenging world of show business.”

Previous recipients of “The Lights are Bright on Broadway” Awards are Kia Corthron for her play A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick (Playwrights Horizons), Max McLean for The Screwtape Letters (Westside Theatre), Dan Gordon for his play Irena's Vow on Broadway and Radio City Rockette Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance.

Masterwork Productions, Inc. is a faith based, non-profit performing arts organization, which among other services, provides the only resource for professional Broadway and Off-Broadway theater reviews with an added Christian perspective.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The living is easy

Henry James said the two most beautiful words in the English language are summer afternoon. I think you only need one word -- summer!
Hope yours is great.

Marriage equality


It is PRIDE week in New York City, and still we wait. The state legislature did not pass the gay marriage bill yesterday as many of us had hoped. But neither did the lawmakers go home. There is still hope for this week.

A number of our clergy colleagues went to Albany to visibly support one side or the other. Though all who know understand that we are a bit thin on the ground at St. Bart's, I have felt some guilt for not rallying. Honestly, though, it is not our practice to be quite that publically political, arguing that if we preach and teach the gospel of Jesus, good and faithful people will come to the right conclusions. By and large, I believe that and support our quasi-policy in this regard, though in the "what-would-Jesus-do" world, I am pretty sure Jesus would be a little less cautious than I generally am.

Sadly, the most vitriolic discourse around the issue comes from religious quarters. Sometimes when I have heard NYC's most visible religious leader pontificate about this bill, I have marveled that we share the same world religion, much less similar outfits. Once again I am reminded of Anne Lamott's classic line: "It is enough to make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish."

I don't recommend that as a course of action, particularly not out of the cat dish.

But it is time. It is time for this to be a done deal. Legislative changes don't magically change hearts. We need only talk to persons of color in this country to know that. But it is a crucial step. It was fifty years ago this summer (I was eight years old) when the freedom riders poured into Mississippi and other southern states to register voters and stir up all kinds of trouble. Thank God for them. By the time the civil rights legislation was passed a few years later, I was old enough to realize that change really was going to happen. And it did - imperfectly but emphatically. Changing the law matters.

The right to equal marriage under the law will not change every heart, but it is the right step. The table around which we gather each week in the Eucharist is wide and expandable with plenty of room for people on all sides of this issue, but the sacraments of the church, including marriage, can't just belong to one kind of group. These sacraments, these graces for God's sake, convey God to us; and they are God's to give - not ours.

"To love a person is to learn the song
That is in their heart,
And to sing it to them
When they have forgotten."
-- Anon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Farewell, Ira Kleinman

I just learned that radio talk show host and longtime Drama Desk member Ira Kleinman passed away yesterday morning. The funeral is 10 a.m. tomorrow at Woodlands Community Temple, 50 Worthington Road in White Plains.

I always enjoyed talking to Ira at Drama Desk gatherings -- he was a great source of news and gossip. I was honored to be interviewed by him for his radio show about my book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors.

God bless you, Ira.

The Wise Man of Nyokodo

Hello Friends,

I wanted to share the YouTube link to a video of excerpts from our recent production of The Wise Man of Nyokodo which I wrote, directed, and acted in. (Click here for video)

The Wise Man of Nyokodo is a Japanese style Noh Play in English. It is based on an imagined meeting in the rebuilt Nagasaki Cathedral between the Japanese Catholic peace activist, Dr. Takashi Nagai, and the pilot of the Bockscar, Charles Sweeney, years after the dropping of the Bomb. The performance features professional NYC theater and film actor, Yoshiro Kono; traditional Noh choreography by Sachiyo Ito; Butoh choreography and performance by Fordham Theater Professor, Dawn Saito; and original music composed and performed by the Japanese music ensemble, Wafoo.

If you or folks you know are interested in hosting a performance of The Wise Man of Nyokodo, please contact me at or at (917) 969-8698.

Many Thanks,
Casey Groves  

“Through The Wise Man of Nyokodo, I hope many people can deepen general understanding of the brutality of war and the inhumanity of nuclear weapons and work to realize a world free of nuclear weapons.”
 -Tomihisa Taue

(Photo, by Lauren Yarger, of Casey Groves and Karen Lehman, executive director of the Episcopal Actors' Guild.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jewels at the New York City Ballet

By Mary Sheeran
         There’s an apocryphal story, repeated so many times it may as well be true and maybe it is, a little, that George Balanchine visited Van Cleef and Arpels and was inspired by the gems on display to create what became the first full-length plotless ballet, Jewels. Don’t try this yourself. Inspiration like this only works if you happen to be George Balanchine. As jewels take years to form and be finished, this ballet represents the enormous range, style, musicality, and resources Balanchine had accumulated in his own jewelbox by 1967.
         For resources, he had the dancers of the New York City Ballet, the company he’d been making dances on since 1948, and the theater he’d designed for dance, the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center. As for stylistic range, one could divide the ballets of his vast repertory into categories of Emeralds (romanticism), Rubies (brassy, jazz, Stravinsky), and Diamonds (distillation of Russian imperial style – a typical Balanchine approach that looks forward even while looking back. There’s a reason he was born in January.)
         For the record, Balanchine did say of Jewels, “The ballet had nothing to do with jewels. The dancers are just dressed like jewels.” (They are, and beautifully, thanks to the brilliance of costume designer Karinska.)
         Jewels may be considered a three-act ballet, but each section is performed separately, and there is no “mix and match” finale. It begins subtly, with Emeralds. The more you see this piece, the more you grow to love it and the more its music (from Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Shylock) haunts for days after its hearing. Some may feel this section is too slow (company ads refer to the music as being at a “mesmerizing pace,” whatever that means), but it seems to me an essay about time, love and loss, its subject being an aspect of woman that cannot be captured in the other two sections. Some of Emeralds appears to be youthful frolicking, especially that impish pas de trios (Erica Pereira, Anthony Huxley, and Ana Sophia Schiller at Saturday’s matinee performance). There are two delightful solos for women: Rachel Rutherford danced my favorite of the two, delightfully discovering her arms and feet; the applause from her colleagues and her solo curtain call confirmed that this lovely dancer is leaving the company.
         In watching Balanchine’s work, one needs to interact with music and dance more than usual. In Emeralds, the music is slow, but the dancers move fast, capturing the music’s inner pulse. The result is an innocence mixed with longing that permeates the piece, a sense of the fleeting nature of time even when it seems to move slowly. In the final moments, as the women disappear, the three men are left reaching after them into the empty air.
         Bam. That would be Rubies. The piano shoots out Stravinsky’s jazzy “wake ‘em up” chords from his Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, banishing the ethereal green forest (a little too green, I’d say) of Emeralds, and we have eight women, brassily flashing in red. (Susan Walters was the jazzy pianist.) The women’s legs seem to have grown longer, certainly they become powerful weapons; you wonder if they let Teresa Reichlin take hers on airplanes. The music insists on her centrality; and she is central.  Whereas we had three men reaching for their ideal in Emeralds, now we have four men who leap forward, each taking a very real leg or arm. They proceed to (take your pick) a) attempt to manipulate her, moving her limbs – a frequently used Balanchine motif; b) be the four partners she has picked to dance with. Whichever you choose, their suggested capture doesn’t last long. This section is a brilliant blend of the Siren from The Prodigal Son and the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. And by the way, Gonzalo Garcia, while admirably understated here, proved a dynamic gem when he needed to be. Watching him, I was reminded that the role was made on Edward Villella.
         And, speaking of The Sleeping Beauty, the final segment is its sophisticated distillation, Diamonds, an extended pas de deux (interrupted by other dances), whose lead couple are generally considered to be the company’s royalty (here the marvelous Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard). The man must be strong alone and as a support for his partner, who doesn’t seem to need him much. However romantic this section seems, and however it may appear to be a “wedding” pas de deux  from The Sleeping Beauty (implied by the diamonds and white costumes), the man here is as longing for the ideal, elusive woman as his earlier companions at the end of Emeralds. The finale here, a lively processional that fills the stage with dancers, followed by a solemn and courtly reverence, pays homage to the land of Petipa and Tchaikovsky, and certainly to the woman who rules over all at the end, but also to the men of Jewels, with their arms outstretched, reaching for her. Taking his place among them is Mr. Balanchine himself.

Jewels. Choreography by George Balanchine; Scenery by Peter Harvey; Costumes by Karinska. Emeralds: Music by Gabriel Fauré (from Pelléas et Mélisande and Shylock); Rubies: Music by Igor Stravinsky (Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; Diamonds: Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky (from Symphony No. 3 in D major). Premiere: April 13, 1967, New York State Theater, with additions to Emeralds in 1976). For  information about New York City Ballet, 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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can You Live Without Labels?


"What do you mean when you say you are a progressive?" It is a good question, posed by someone in one of the Transition Forums we had last Sunday. Though I was pleased enough with my answer, maybe too pleased, I have given it some more thought over the last couple of days.

The truth, of course, is that when I say that I am progressive, the real message is that someone else is not. Progressive=good; not progressive=bad. That seems so "last decade". Surely we can do better.

This is what I have decided: I am finished with labeling myself. I can't stop others from doing it to me, but I am not going to make it easy for them by slapping it on myself like a badge. And I am going to attempt not to label them. That will be harder, and I am realistic about my possibilities for succeeding. It is marvelously easy to dismissively say, "well, she is such a 'you fill in the blank.'" Easy and dismissive but also lazy and always somewhat incorrect, certainly partial. It is a shorthand way of interacting with one another that does not benefit us in the long run. Surely we are insightful enough to know that each of us is infinitely more than some primary identification.

So much of what we know about Jesus comes through the lens of narrators with clearly defined group identities and agendas. (The Matthean Jesus, for example, is quite different form the Johannine Jesus.) Despite that, the picture we have of him is of a man who just didn't go there. I don't think he talked to the Samaritan woman because she was a Samaritan or because she was a woman. He talked to her because she was present at a well where he stopped for a little break. Beyond a doubt, his interaction with her is a remarkable and didactic moment, but I don't think he was deliberately crossing boundaries to teach us something. He wasn't being a hip, progressive Rabbi; he was just being Jesus. Maybe that is the real lesson.

Buddy just being Buddy is not nearly as good as Jesus just being Jesus. No doubt about that, but all in all it is the best I have got. Living without labels isn't really going to happen. I do know that. But it is early summer and the living is easy; it is cool enough to pretend it is never going to get really hot again. We can imagine anything we want-and maybe even make some of it come true.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Little Journey

When A Little Journey opened on Broadway in 1918, a critic for the New York Herald wrote that audiences were so moved they lingered in their seats afterward “to cling to the men and women of Miss Crothers’ imagination as one would hold onto friends.” 

I felt the same way at Monday night’s opening of the Mint Theater Company’s revival of this sacramental play by Rachel Crothers, which is expertly directed by Jackson Gay. As we were standing to leave I said to my friend Brenda, “I want to see this again.” The next morning I started e-mailing my Drama Desk friends to ask them if they were going and had an extra ticket would they please take me. And dear Brian came through -- I went again last night and was so grateful to be back in that world with those special characters.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this play, and don’t want to. It’s a simple story, set in 1914, of people thrown together on a westbound train from New York in what will end up being a life-changing four-day journey for each of them. The first two acts are charming as we get to know the characters -- Julie Rutherford (Samantha Soule, in photo left), a dispirited young woman who is ready to jump from the train because she feels the future holds nothing for her; Jim West (McCaleb Burnett), a young man who has reformed his life by giving up alcohol and opening a ranch to help others get sober; Mrs. Bay (Rosemary Prinz) a hard-of-hearing grandmother traveling with her granddaughter, Lily (Chet Siegel); Annie (Jennifer Blood), an unwed mother with her baby; two college students, Frank (Ben Hollandsworth) and Charles (Ben Roberts); Mrs. Welch (Laurie Birmingham, in photo right), a demanding busybody; Mr. Smith (Douglas Rees), a cantankerous old man who prefers to stay holed up in his cabin and the ordered-about porter (Anthony L. Gaskins). The acting is first-rate across the board.

Martha Hally’s Victorian costumes, Paul Whitaker’s lighting and Jane Shaw’s sound design enhance the mood perfectly, and Roger Hanna’s set is a joy -- train seats on a revolving stage that allows each of the characters some time in the spotlight as their stories unfold.

As delightful as the first two acts are, it was the third that really did it for me. Up until then I had been enjoying the play immensely, which is my typical reaction to a Mint show. That company consistently presents the highest quality productions of any Off-Broadway theatre. In Act Three, however, the tone becomes deeply spiritual as the characters are brought together by an event that strips them of their egos and status (jewelry and expensive clothing gone), their loneliness and even their racial differences. With no private compartments to escape to, they form a primitive gathering around a bonfire, presenting a vision of the Kingdom where everyone is united and “there’s plenty of room.” It is so quietly powerful that my heart fills whenever I think of it. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you by saying more, but in looking back on it and then experiencing it again I can see how skillfully Crothers set the stage for this journey’s end.

A Little Journey, which was a nominee for the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is the second Crothers play I’ve seen at the Mint. My friend Peri and I were moved by her Susan and God in 2006, but Journey has affected me more deeply.

  This kind of reaction has followed the play from the beginning. Its original production was greeted by the New York Times as “a simple, moving story deftly and very convincingly told.”

Crothers was inspired to write the play while riding on a train. She was struck by how travel “brought together such characters as I required.”     

After playing for 252 performances on Broadway, A Little Journey toured the country, making notable stops in Washington and Chicago. In 1927, it was made into a silent film (now lost) starring Harry Carey, Billy Haines, and Claire Windsor. A handful of amateur and stock productions followed in the 1920s and ‘30s, but then it was the end of the line. The train stopped, and A Little Journey hasn’t been seen since. 

Finding and resurrecting these lost gems is the mission of the Mint. Plays like this shouldn’t be allowed to be lost to history. Like any well-written work of literature, A Little Journey is perfectly at home in any era.

As for Crothers (1878-1958), she was among America’s most successful and produced playwrights during the first three decades of the 20th century. Nearly 30 of her plays opened on Broadway between 1906 and 1937. 

“Although it rare now to find anyone who has heard of her,” wrote the New York Times in 1980, “Miss Crothers at the apex of her career was a symbol of success in the commercial theater.”  

Program notes offer interesting insights into the writer and her plays, which often highlighted her interest in strong women characters and social concerns.   A Man’s World (1910), heralded by one New York critic as the “first great American play,” followed a young woman’s struggle to establish an artistic career while raising an adopted son.  Nice People (1921) examined the flapper phenomenon through the eyes of three young women and provided Katharine Cornell and Tallulah Bankhead with their first important roles.  In Susan and God (1937), a socialite discovers the difference between public façade and personal faith while reconciling with her husband and daughter.   

According to the notes, Crothers directed her own work.  Her consistently high standards helped professionalize the role of director in American theater.  She was also a dedicated philanthropist.  She helped found many important charities, including the American Theater Wing for War Relief (established 1940), which evolved into today’s American Theater Wing.    

By the late 1940s, the program notes continue, Crothers’ comedies fell out of fashion.  She continued writing, but she did not produce any new plays, preferring to focus on her charity work. She died in her sleep on July 5, 1958.  The Times wrote in her obituary “She was as skillful as she was prolific.  Miss Crothers mixed an enormous amount of common sense with smooth craftsmanship and a rare knowledge of and faith in human nature.”

For tickets and further information call (212) 315-0231 or visit The Mint Theater Company is located at 311 W. 43rd St., on the third floor.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Burst of Enthusiasm that Changed the World


Creative people make me less tired. Even when I feel as though I have been run over by a truck, in the presence of real creativity I am suddenly back - alive and hopeful, earnest and insightful, and amused and playful. All things once again can be imagined.

Earlier this week I spent some time with a truly creative spirit, one whose life oozes enthusiasm. She is no Pollyanna; life for her has had some hard edges. On more than one occasion, circumstances have required that she recreate herself. From my vantage point, it seems that each newly tweaked incarnation has gotten better and better.

Putting a fine point, or even a dull one, on precisely what set of dynamics, genetic or environmental, create such a composite of personhood is not possible. But the more of these wonderful characters I encounter, the more I am able to identify some things that seem to be common to them. With all due respect to the proverbial moody, miserable, and misanthropic creative genius, the folks I am talking about are the exact opposite, seeming to live from a place of joy that no amount of cynicism lurking about them can extinguish.

In our scripture there are frequent references to the idea that God is up to something new, creating again and again within the people of God a spirit of newness, of hope, of joy. I know that does not mean that we are guaranteed to be happy campers every minute. Heavens, I have been a testy camper a couple of times already today, and it is not yet noon! But it is not too much to hope that our faith will generate in us a sense of joy that lasts even when life is far from peachy. At its best, our faith, our experience of Christ in one another, develops within us a reservoir of joy that allows us to bounce back, to keep on hoping and loving and imagining.

It helps to remember that the Church, this lumbering, perplexing and often maddening entity, began in a burst of enthusiasm that changed the world. Far from the stodgy uptight reputation we have managed to earn and cherish, the church began with some wild and crazy carrying on! On Pentecost, I don't think there was one speck of meanness to be found; people were filled with joy and absolutely nothing could stop them from spreading some really, really Good News. Through all the twists and turns of the church, many of which, old and new, make us cringe, the Good News remains an invitation to a new thing, to a new life, to a life of creativity and joy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Kelli O'Hara, Always Enchanting

Three-time Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara launched her new solo CD, Always, Friday night at Manhattan's Town Hall with a 90-minute, intermission-less concert of nearly 20 songs from Broadway and the American Songbook, with a little taste of rock and roll thrown into the mix.

O’Hara has been one of my favorite Broadway performers since I first noticed her onstage, in Sweet Smell of Success in 2002. In the years that followed she continued to charm me in The Light in the Piazza, Pajama Game and South Pacific. I even ventured out in blizzard in January just to see her in Knickerbocker Holiday.

Looking festive in a blue, green and white print sarong dress with strappy high heeled sandals, her blond hair in a shoulder-length bob, she didn’t disappoint, at least not in a major way, in Friday’s concert.

I appreciated her creativity in song selection, choosing several of what she called “man songs,” numbers from shows or recordings that have traditionally been sung my men. Two of these in particular are ones I’ve always loved, “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George and “How Glory Goes” from Floyd Collins. It also was nice to hear her sing “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific, which she listened to “hundreds of times” when her costar, Paul Szot, sang it during the critically acclaimed run of the show at Lincoln Center in 2008.

Another highlight of the evening was when she was joined by her father-in-law, singer/actor James Naughton, and husband, singer/songwriter Greg Naughton, for a moving a cappella version of James Taylor’s “Lonesome Road.” Later Kelli and Greg shared the stage with Broadway performers Sherie Rene Scott, Gavin Creel and Julie Foldesi for a spirited “Carry On,” a Crosby, Stills and Nash song that took me back to my youth.

While I was drawn into all of the numbers O’Hara sang and the way she sang them, what I wanted more of was her. Her interaction with the audience consisted mostly of talking a bit about the songs. Even when some technical difficulties with the bass player kept her improvising conversation while a technician worked away onstage, she still steered clear of the intimacy that some personal stories would have given.

I wanted anecdotes about what she called her “schizophrenic musical biography,” more than just the mention in passing that she had grown up on a farm in Oklahoma singing country and gospel while listening to Frank and Ella at her grandparents’ house, before majoring in opera in college. I knew most of that but would have liked to see that life more fully. Did her parents and siblings sing and if so, did they sing together at home or church? What were some of her early singing experiences?

I also was left wondering what it was like to be part of a musical family now. She said Naughton gatherings often include singing and I wanted a window into that world, a story or two of how that happens -- is it spontaneous or do they plan these times together? I craved some snapshots of that talented family singing together.

But other than that, the evening was all I could have hoped for. When she sang she was the same enchanting singer who has always captivated me, and she was well served by her band -- musical director Dan Lipton on piano, Howard Joines on drums/percussion, Antoine Silverman on violin/fiddle, Mark Vanderpoel on upright bass and Matt Beck on acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin.

She sent us away with a shimmering “I Could Have Danced All Night,” which was appropriate because that’s exactly how I felt.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Little things mean a lot

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and to change the world."
- Harriet Tubman