Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The way to begin healing the wounds of the world is to treasure the Infant Christ in us, to be not the castle but the cradle of Christ; and in rocking that cradle to the rhythm of love to swing the whole world back into the beat of the Music of Eternal Life."
-- Sisters of Baltimore Carmel

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


On the eve of hope, come, let us be
silent as joy, certain as change,
here before this Christmas tree.

Tassels of wind hang secretly
among berries and fruit and winter sun
that warmed the boughs of this tree.

Ghosts of butterflies delicately
shadow a branch, melt like snow
in the intimate dark of this tree.

A nest where robins were epiphany
clings to the flesh of the trunk
of this music and moon-gilded tree.

With carols and quiet let us be
reawakened to faith, purified,
giving us branches of this tree.

Circled about love’s mystery,
O for a moment fulfilled in light,
we are one in a word, a tree.

--Sr. Maura Eichner, S.S.N.D.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Poem

to be


O Come.”

to be


in Me.

-- Sr. Maura Eichner, S.S.N.D.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Alec Baldwin and Singers Forum are pleased to announce their partnership in the Alec Baldwin Fellowship at the Singers Forum, a program that will support playwrights in the development and advancement of original theatrical works. Singers Forum, 49 W. 24th St,, 4th Floor, is a non-profit organization committed to providing the highest quality vocal training in New York City. Baldwin is a New York-based actor who has received two Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and six Screen Actors Guild Awards for his work on “30 Rock.”

“In this age of digitized movie making, it is our duty to find a way to nurture the next generation of great theatrical storytellers, Baldwin says. “I'm excited to lend my support and guidance to the Fellowship at the Singers Forum as it seeks to stimulate the community through unique voices and groundbreaking ideas.”

Singers Forum's mission has always been to create opportunities for artists of every level, artistic director Don Rebic said.

“The Alec Baldwin Fellowship at the Singers Forum will create the opportunity for promising new theatrical projects to get personalized attention, while giving performers the invaluable opportunity to help in the development of an exciting new work,” he said. “It's the perfect marriage of writer and performer and we're thrilled to have Mr. Baldwin's support!"

At a time when the commercial viability of theater has superseded its artistic merit, The Alec Baldwin Fellowship at the Singers Forum will be a year program devoted to the development and advancement of groundbreaking and original theatrical works. With the assistance of Baldwin, Singers Forum will provide professional mentorship, fine-pointed dramaturgy, and a rigorous, individualized workshop process for each chosen project. Culminating in the Fellowship Festival, where each piece is presented in a highly staged backer's auditions, with the goal to create four pieces ready for production by the Summer of 2013.

Important Dates for the Alec Baldwin Fellowship:
Early Applications Due -- Feb. 1
Final Applications Due -- Feb. 29
Finalists Announced -- April 25
Fellows Announced -- May 23
Orientation -- June 6
Fellowship Festival -- June, 2013

About the Singers Forum:

Located in the historic Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan, Singers Forum, which was founded in 1978, is a non-profit musical oasis committed to providing the highest quality vocal training for New York City residents. Our continuing mission is to engage a diverse student body of singers in an situation dedicated to the development and appreciation of the vocal arts. With a strong emphasis on vocal technique, combined with numerous performance opportunities in a safe and supportive environment, Singers Forum strives to offer a full array of private instruction and group classes for both professional and personal growth. Utilizing a roster of dynamic and successful teaching artists who each have their own professional singing and musical backgrounds and successful careers in the arts, we have developed our students? performance skills in a wide variety of vocal styles and genres that range from opera to cabaret, musical theatre to jazz, folk to pop and all genres in between!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

James X

I wrote this feature for the Dec. 23, 2011 issue of National Catholic Reporter

The middle-aged man entering the waiting room with a bulging manila folder looks anxious. In his sage-colored pants and jacket, white shirt with no tie, he appears as bland as the room, which is empty but for a straight chair and a sign with an arrow pointing to the left. It is the words on that sign, though, that indicate any trace of blandness is only superficial. White letters on a blue background foreshadow the fire beneath the surface: Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

“I have to go into that courtroom soon, into my past,” the man known as James X says as he waits to be a witness before an Irish government tribunal’s inquiry into institutional child abuse. “Tell them what happened back then when I was 11, but I just want to run and run and run.”

In his one-man play, “James X,” Gerard Mannix Flynn reveals one harrowing incident after another of physical and sexual abuse in Ireland’s Catholic and State institutions. A popular and critical success when it premiered in Dublin in 2009, it is playing at Manhattan’s 45 Bleecker Street at least through Dec. 18. Given the subject and its high-profile backers, I can easily see it traveling to other American cities, Boston and Philadelphia to name two.

In the play’s foreword Flynn, who first introduced the character of James in his 1983 novel, Nothing to Say, holds agents of the Church and State accountable -- “a Church that profited from the forced manual labor of 150,000 children, and a State that supplied then with these child workers,” he writes. “This is not James’s story, it is the story of all the children that went through to rooms of hell and horror in institutions run by the congregations of religious Brothers and Nuns, under the license of the State. It is the story of those who suffered in these cruel places and those who were witness to that suffering. We all had a childhood. Let this be our common bond when we read “James X” or Nothing to Say.”

Flynn’s journey through the system began when he was 11 and sent to St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Lettefrack in the 1960s. James X’s travails begin similarly and lead to stints in reform school, prison, a mental institution and 20 years of alcoholism. He was beaten and molested by priests, nuns and most especially Christian Brothers.

Produced in New York by Irish-born actors Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne and Off-Broadway’s Culture Project, and directed by Byrne, “James X” is an intermissionless 80-minute journey into hell, a hell endured by countless Irish children, one of whom was Flynn, who spent 15 years writing this play.

While waiting to give testimony before Ireland’s High Court, James reads aloud the file, which he has just received, the case history that was compiled on him over the years by doctors, psychiatrists, welfare officers and others, reports filled with lies, inaccuracies and indifference, reports that sentenced him to a life of horrendous abuse. Realizing the irony of trying to expect justice from this same prejudicial system, James looks back over his life to find the truth, which Flynn tells and often acts, usually at manic pace, often with dark humor and occasionally in rhyme.

Born in Dublin in 1957, Flynn is a man of about 5’ 7” with balding gray hair who looks a decade older than his 54 years. After too many years of silence, his passion to uncork the memories of cruelty and inhumanity he and others suffered explode in a nonstop monologue that leaves him frequently mopping perspiration from his face with a handkerchief. Nothing stands between him and his character.

His 1983 novel, Nothing to Say, was the story of James O’Neill, later to be James X in the play, a child sent away by the courts to an industrial school in the West of Ireland. “Even at that time, these industrial schools and reform schools were places that sent a shudder of fear through Irish society,” he writes in the foreword to “James X.” “They were situated in the heart of Irish towns and villages and many people must have known what went on there, yet nobody openly talked about it. Nobody really talked about sex, never mind child sex abuse, and to level the accusation of abuse at the State and the Church and their religious congregations was an outrage.

“Twenty years on, Irish society is on the verge of moral bankruptcy. The Catholic Church and its congregation is breaking up upon is own rock, by its own hands and deeds, by its own lack of honesty. It is nothing more than floating debris and all that keeps it from sinking down into the darkness is the tissue of lies and the frightened faithful who cling to these lies. The issues brought up by Nothing to Say are still unfinished business, unhealed wounds.”

The play’s premiere in New York is timely. The Irish Times Times reported Dec. 8 that Dublin’s former archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, who was one of Ireland’s most powerful prelates before his death in 1973, was accused of serial child sexual abuse in a state-sponsored investigative report.

The performance is accompanied by “Impact,” an exhibit of Flynn’s work related to child abuse in Ireland’s institutions that takes viewers through James X's journey from age 6 to the present.  ”James X” and this exhibit are part of Imagine Ireland, Culture Ireland's yearlong initiative of Irish art in the United States.

My request for interviews with Flynn and Byrne was denied. Flynn, who besides being a playwright, actor and visual artist is also a former independent councilor for the South East Inner City area in Dublin, did speak with the Irish Examiner in 2010 to discuss the motivation behind his play and exhibition.

“The Irish are a triumphant people,” he said, “who have overcome dreadful events throughout our history and now we need to take ultimate and complete responsibility for what happened, move forward and let the trauma resolve itself.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yale Institute for Music Theatre accepting applications for development workshop

The Yale Institue for Music Theatre (Mark Brokaw, artistic director) will select up to three original music theatre works to be developed in an intensive lab setting in New Haven June 4-17. Submissions will be accepted Dec. 15 through Feb. 1. 
Established in 2009, YIMT is a program of the Yale School of Drama (James Bundy, Dean) that endeavors to bridge the gap between training and the professional world for emerging composers, playwrights, lyricists, and librettists. YIMT seeks distinctive and original music theatre works by emerging composers and writers to be developed in an intensive lab setting. During a two-week summer residency in New Haven, the Institute matches the authors of the selected works with collaborators, including professional directors and music directors, as well as a company of actors and singers that includes professionals from NYC and current Yale students. The residency culminates with open rehearsal readings of each project, presented as part of the 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas.
The Yale Institute for Music Theatre accepts applications for projects at various stages of development but focuses on work that is ready to be explored musically and dramatically with performers and directors. Submissions cannot have had a professional production.
Book musicals and other imaginative music theatre projects are welcome. Only composers, playwrights, lyricists, or librettists who are current graduate students; or  who have graduated from an accredited degree granting institution (undergraduate or graduate) within the past five years; or who are current Yale students (undergraduate or graduate) are eligible to apply.
Applicants may only submit one work for consideration. Composers and writers may apply as individuals or as part of a team.
Participants must be available for the full duration of the residency. Each member of the writing team will receive an honorarium of $1,000, as well as round-trip transportation and accommodation.
All submissions must include the following:
1-      three copies of a script with lyrics or a full libretto (no DVDs, videotapes, or photographs);
2-      three copies of a synopsis of no more than one page, with a list of characters and instrumentation;
3-      three copies of a CD (no audio tapes) of at least 20 minutes of music, including a minimum of five songs accompanied by the sheet music for those songs. Piano and vocals are sufficient, and a composer’s demo is acceptable though not preferred. Studio demos are not necessary. No midi recordings will be accepted. Songs must be in sequence on the CD and clearly noted in the script;
4-      three copies of a one-page biography or resume for each creative artist; 
5-      three copies of the history of the work’s development and a brief description of what the creative team hopes to achieve at the Institute; 
6-      a completed application form signed by all collaborators (book writer, composer, lyricist, librettist). If the proposed project is an adaptation of an existing work that is not in the public domain, proof of fully secured rights must accompany the submission.
Application forms are available at
Submissions should be addressed to:
Yale Institute for Music Theatre
c/o Yale School of Drama
P.O. Box 208244
New Haven, CT 06520-8244
For more information about the Yale Institute for Music Theatre or the application process, please email or call (203) 432-1591.
All applicants will be notified of selection by April 1.
For more information, visit

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Love is the sign through which the world should be convinced that we believe in Jesus."
-- School Sisters of Notre Dame

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Godspell's midlife crisis

I wrote this review for the Dec. 9, 2011 issue of National Catholic Reporter

Godspell is showing its age, at least as represented by director Daniel Goldstein’s production at New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre. This first Broadway revival of the beloved 1971 “rock musical” is like a middle-aged person trying to recapture youth. In people the result is sad to see, here it’s just boring.

What seemed fresh and light 40 years ago -- 20-something actors cavorting around in colorful ragtag costumes singing and acting out Jesus’ parables, with him leading and joining in the fun -- now seems like a church pageant aimed at getting the youth group more interested in religion. Nothing in this revival is of Broadway quality except the songs, which were adapted by composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz from the Episcopal hymnal and biblical passages from the Gospel of Matthew.

Even the songs suffer here because of choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s formulaic dance moves, which in the case of the show’s breakout hit, “Day by Day,” look more like a cardio class warm-up. I also thought of the gym during “We Beseech Thee,” which had cast members bouncing on mini trampolines. This is what we do at my health club in Urban Rebounding, a vigorous hour of working out while jumping on small individual trampolines. The performance was about as involving as watching someone else exercising. The one exception song-wise was “All Good Gifts,” nicely sung by Telly Leung and the company and presented simply.

The fitness center motif continued with Goldstein’s bizarre staging of the Last Supper with Jesus and the disciples gathered around a hot tub. For the life of me I don’t understand the significance of that. Maybe if they had all hopped in it might have made a point, if a bit of a kinky one, of communion and fellowship. As it was, they sat there passing around some pita bread and a chalice while the water bubbled and steamed in front of them.

Another major problem I had was the failure to use inclusive language. I understand that the songs are already set to King James, but the spoken scripture needed someone with a New Revised Standard Version. Attempts were made throughout to update the jokes, such as having the judge in the Good Samaritan parable hurry on by with the excuse of having to get to court for a Lindsay Lohan appearance “again,” but then all the scriptural references featured the “God and men,” “every man who humbles himself” and “nurses a grudge against his brother” viewpoint.

I had this same complaint when I reviewed the 30th anniversary Off-Broadway revival in 2000 for National Catholic Reporter. I mentioned this to Schwartz during a telephone interview then and he told me inclusive language “fails as art” and that he has always felt men represented everyone. I told I had never felt included in the word men. Why would I? I’m not a man. I suggested substitutes like neighbor or brothers and sisters and he said he liked the idea of using neighbor and would speak to the director, Shawn Rozsa. I didn’t revisit that production so I don’t know if the changes were made, but here we are in 2011 for the trumpeted first Broadway revival and the language is as exclusive as ever.

It’s a shame this production is so limp because Godspell meant a great deal to many people. It ran for five years Off-Broadway before transferring to the Great White Way in 1976 where it ran for another year. It has been produced widely throughout the world and its song "Long Live God" was used in Catholic liturgies until at least the late 1980s. “Day by Day,” based on a 13th century Catholic prayer, spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Godspell even had the distinction of breaking the color barrier in South Africa when, in 1974 at Schwartz’s insistence, it was performed with an integrated cast before an integrated audience.

The audience when I attended this revival was largely middle-aged, probably Boomers with great memories of the show. I had seen the original production Off-Broadway when I was in high school and admit I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of seeing it again, but figured I’d get into it once I was there. I like the songs and still listen occasionally on the original cast album, but the staging here is so bland that the songs would have been better served in concert form.

The revival’s marketers must be hoping to draw in young people rather than just depend on nostalgic Boomers because ads proclaim it as being by the author of Wicked, Schwartz’s 2003 musical still playing to large audiences at the theatre next to Godspell’s. I wonder, though, if today’s generation can be drawn in to this story about the teachings of Jesus after having cut their musical theatre teeth on the current comedy blockbuster The Book of Mormon, which features a song about female genital mutilation, and a hit from several years ago, Spring Awakening, in which the teenage characters were either talking about sex, having sex or masturbating.

Godspell was conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak who died in 1985 of a heart attack at the age of 35. He left his royalties to my church, the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where he was an Artist in Residence. Lisa Schubert, vice president for Cathedral events, marketing and communications, said that over the past decade the Cathedral has received royalties of between approximately $50,000. and $75,000 a year, which are applied to the general support of the Cathedral's arts activities.  With that in mind, long live Godspell!

Tickets are $125 for all performances except Saturday evenings, which are $135, and are available by calling at (212) 239-6200 or by visiting  For more information, visit