Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The great Luke-ski

The second most wonderful thing that I ever discovered in piano bars (TLW being the first, natch) was a community of music/musical theater fans that I never knew existed. I don't think I'll ever forget the first time I walked into Eighty-Eights and heard Karen Miller play "Love is in the Air/ Comedy Tonight." Ten minutes later, I was swigging a Sam Adams, hollering along to "Corner of the Sky," and blissfully aware that I had found a home.

While Karen and Eighty-Eights have been immortalized elsewhere, there's a small handful of other performers on the piano bar circuit whose good humor, showtune knowledge, and personality make for a fun song-filled evening. Rarely acknowledged, these people gamely put up with off-key singers, the thousandth request for "New York, New York," and the general wackiness of late night New York City people, in exchange for a few bucks thrown into a bowl on the piano. Some are aspiring songwriters, others try to make their living accompanying cabaret performers or teaching, but many rely heavily on the cash in the bowl. Which brings me to Luke Sandford.

Luke's been playing at Rose's Turn and other piano bars around the city for the past half-dozen years at least, and has worked his way up from barely being able to sight-read a melody line to playing some of the most absurdly difficult arrangements out there beautifully. Always one with a quirky sense of humor, Luke was the first piano bar person who I knew who knew anything by Tom Lehrer, and a fellow Sondheim nut (actually, make that just plain "nut"... anyone who keeps a [empty] bottle of Viagra and a bunch of packaged moist towelettes on the piano is a few notes short of a symphony, IMHO). Playing double shifts between Rose's Turn and Marie's Crisis meant 11 hours' worth of piano playing in smokey dives, and I was known to spend quite a few of those hours there.

Why am I going on like this? Well, Luke's heading back to his native Canada to take a "real" job (to paraphrase Miss Gulch: To be left is one thing, but to be left for Montreal...), and I thought it appropriate to pay a small tribute to one of the finer examples of the working class schmos of show biz. Even though his CD doesn't include our favorite Sandford arrangement (a medley of "Anything Goes" and "Rubber Ducky"), it's still got some lovely stuff on it.

Have fun up north, Luke. We're gonna miss ya

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Let's Hear it for the "Boy"!

Okay, so the bank account has just taken a serious sucker-punch, I'm about to collapse from exhaustion at work, and every system in my body feels like it's taking its cue from AEA and threatening to walk out on me, but that's all fine. Y'see, The Lovely Wife(tm) and myself took my mother-in-law and her husband out to dinner and to see The Boy from Oz last night, followed by TLW and I spending a delightful couple of post-theater hours at the cast party.

Oz barely counts as a show: a bunch of creaky Peter Allen tuners, staged on one of the ugliest sets in recent memory, depicting a life that quite frankly didn't have all that much dramatic to depict, or at least not one that we haven't seen a million times before (poor boy makes it big and dies young). The show does, however, have a not-remotely-secret weapon: a charismatic quadruple-threat star with enough megawattage talent to blow the lid off the Imperial theatre at regularly spaced intervals. As I mentioned recently, Hugh Jackman deserves to have a star vehicle written for him every season. We're gonna lose him to the movies for the next few years, so maybe some writers can start working on something for him now, so that he'll have something to come back to in 2007 or so?

While Hugh's off in Hollywood, maybe we can give Raul Esparza a new role too. We finally caught The Normal Heart on Sunday, and Larry Kramer's play/rant is still searingly powerful, almost 20 years after it first opened. The entire ensemble is wonderful, but Esparza takes Ned Weeks on a screaming, rampaging journey through the tortured world of the '80s gay community, with AIDS claiming victims on a continual basis, and the gay and straight establishment keeping their hands in their pockets and their heads in the sand. Angels in America is more artsy, and has a lot of wittier dialogue, but Heart is the real thing: political theater, raw, passionate, and gutwrenching. The final scenes, played on a stage strewn with papers, food, and spilled milk, certainly count as among the most intense moments I've ever experienced. Amazingly, hardly a single critic mentions the fact that the play takes the gay community to task as much as the more fun targets (Reagan, Koch, the Times, etc). You'll get no idea from The Times Review or from any of the blurbs on the published script. Even one of Amazon's reviewers writes:
What I (a gay man) would love to see is a drama or movie that really shows the gay community of the 70's and 80's taking most of the blame for the AIDS epidemic, instead of foisting all of the blame on ignorant public health officials or the right wing.
Did this guy read the same play I saw? Both Ned Weeks and Dr. Brookner routinely rail against the attitudes of the gay community at the time, with one of my favorite monologues featuring Ned bemoaning the gay world's refusal to stand up and let itself be acknowleged for providing the world with more than just same-gender sex.

Two amazing actors, one amazing show.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Hey, old friend...

A few fun little things happening this week: caught a benefit show featuring three of the Avenue Q cast members sans puppets, sang my guts out at the not-so-sacred trinity of west village piano bars (Marie's, The Duplex, and Rose's Turn, for those who didn't already know), and watched a really fun documentary on Scrabble champions called Word Wars... if I ever needed proof that there were weirder people than me out there, I found it in spades. If Marlon Hill and Matt Graham can't make a living on the tournament circuit, they oughta just play Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple for the rest of their lives.

The most significant thing this week so far, though, happened on Monday morning, while I was folding laundry, and was playing the cast recording of Is There Life After High School?, one of The Lovely Wife(tm)'s favorite shows. Eventually we got to "Fran and Janie," a song of old friends meeting which always brings TLW to tears, and this time got me too. Funny, too, because the song gets every detail of my friendships wrong. I never planned my life with my friends, we never discussed who we were going to marry, and all the stuff the song mentions. All we did was share classes, playtime, meals, family events; argue about sports team, trade books, make fun of each other's music tastes, and share all the nonsense that was called life through my formative years. All they did was make my life liveable.

Now, I call them once in a while. I see them every now and again, I've been to their weddings, bought gifts for their kids (okay, TLW bought the gifts, and I signed my name to the card, but still), but they don't seem to be part of my life anymore. And I miss them. I want to learn with M1, mangle the words to "Take me out to the Ballgame" at Yankee Stadium with M2, throw a frisbee and quack with Y, discover a new show with T, discuss grammatical niceties with S1, play tackle football with S2, sing shabbat zemirot with P&F, sleep on a futon at J&M's the night before a physics final, then get into a literary analysis of ElfQuest that would be worthy of a doctoral dissertation.

Failing that, I'd settle for just thanking them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Tonight at Eight...

...Who knows where I'll be? We're back to the show-catching with a vengeance, after a ludicrously long absence. Monday was our return to Broadway by the Year, the first time we were there since the very first one. This one, featuring shows from 1963, was a great one for yours truly, since it featured songs from two of my all-time fave scores, She Loves Me and 110 in the Shade, as well as some tunes from a little known show called Oliver. Although there's been some of the usual kvetching from the ATC crew about the pacing and delivery of host Scott Siegel, TLW and I had a blast. Inspired by the surprise appearance of Toxic Audio at the show, we decided to catch them next, and score one for us! These guys are a-friggin'-mazing, kicking a capella style up a few dozen notches, with some of the funniest audience participation gags I've seen since Bill Irwin and David Shiner's Fool Moon. Get out there and see these guys and gals. Only complaint: the amplification is a bit overpowering in the second row where we sat, but I've really gotta pick up their CDs ASAP, and then figure out when we're catching this again.

Time for the "problems only a straight theatre queen has" segment of this blog: When you hear or use the expression "rush tickets," do you think of this, or this? I mean both (and I won't freak you out with my plans on someday staging 2112... we'll leave that for another time, ok?). Makes life so confusing (I mean, how many people know from Neil Peart and Kristin Chenoweth? Catherine, you don't count!)...

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Party Hearty, dudes!

Boyoboy, is this the week where I get to paint the town red or what? Monday night it was a triumphant return for me and The Lovely Wife(tm) to the new and improved Cast Party at the remarkably aptly named Pink Room (the place looks like a tragic explosion involving a super-economy-sized bottle of Pepto-Bismol hit it). Despite the decor, the sound is great, Billy Strich and Steve Doyle sound fantastic on the ivories and bass, and the talent level is just through the roof. Natalie Douglas blew the doors off the place, accompanied by Mark Hartman ("fresh" from an all-night Tony party and an all-day recording session for Finian's Rainbow), and a running gag involving the final vocalization in "Defying Gravity" had us in stitches all night. Tuesday night involved catching up on sleep, in preparation for yesterday's party celebrating yet another Tennessee wedding. I'm still trying recover the fact that I made quiche (a broccoli/salmon one, no less) for this thing... someone please get me a testosterone shot, stat!
And as if that weren't enough, tonight it's off to meet up with an old friend and her ex-ex-boyfriend/not-quite-fiance-yet-we-don't-think (aka her "Nu? So what's up with you guys?") for dinner and chats.
Hi-ho, the glamorous life...

Monday, June 07, 2004


Ahh, a day to savor in efrex-ville: First, a surprise early afternoon Mets game, courtesy of our friend whose company has season tickets and doesn't know what to do with them. The Mets won (go ahead and be snarky: "Well, you did say it was a surprise, didn't you?" Nyah to you too), and I got to savor a rare experience: buying kosher meat at the same price as the treif stuff. Of course, I'm using the word "meat" loosely, since we're talking about stadium hot dogs here, but it's still nice to see (although a $4.50 price tag on a boiled sack of miscellaneous beef parts is perhaps even harder to swallow than the dog itself). Then home for a quick nap, and then up to catch the 58th annual Antionette Perry awards (Thanks to Rachel & Tamar for letting us invade their apartments for the evening). Well, what can I say? It sure don't suck to be Q, not after they pulled off one of the more stunning upsets in recent years. Also great to see three different Rent alumni (Idina Menzel, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Michael McElroy) nominated (plus a fourth in the audience): I know there are many folks who hated the show, but I will always have fond memories of the XXXX times I've seen it, and it was great to play the "What the #@!@$ is Idina WEARING?!" game again. Okay, on to the show itself:

  • SOMEBODY write Hugh Jackman a new star vehicle now. Failing that, lock him up as Tony host for the next century. He simply made me forget all the horrors of the previous hosts, and has more charm, wit, and talent than is fair.
  • Sean Combs and Phylicia Rashad together simply embody "The ridiculous and the sublime" better than anything I will ever see. Rashad may always be Mrs. Huxstable, but that woman has every bit of grace, style, poise and genuineness that I would love to someday acheive. Brava, and what I just said about Jackman above goes for her too
  • Audra Mcdonald's gonna need a new mantelpiece if she keeps collecting these things. Maybe she can find out where Harold Prince gets his furniture.
  • If you can prove to me that ONE person out in TV-land bought a single theater ticket because they saw Mary J. Bilge torture "What I Did for Love," or LL Cool J rap "Hello Dolly" then I'll graciously accept the necessity of their appearance on the show. Otherwise, PLEASE stop trying to appeal to the "non-traditional" audience like this. If you want to attract new people, produce new shows, and market 'em to the right crowd, k? Someone on All that Chat made a great Freudian slip referring to Blige's "diva rifts" during the song. "Rift" is right; she tore the damn thing to shreds.
  • Tonya Pinkins may have had major vocal trouble, but "Lot's Wife" looks like powerful theatre to me, and I'm off to see "Caroline or Change" as soon as I can. Memo to Michael John LaChiusa: that's how you write a complex musical theatre song: Make the music serve the words and the character, not the other way around.
  • Glad to see the clip from "Big River." Too bad they didn't show the big climactic moment of the show, but still a fascinating take on what's usually considered a mediocre piece
  • The strict time limit on speeches actually has some major advantages, in that it lets the awardees go off in a burst of joy and emotion. Only one really egregious cut-off, and I can see why it was needed.
  • "Tradition" looked great, and the "Wonderful Town" number did not. 'Nuff said on that
  • Finally, congrats to Mark Hartman and the rest of "Q" town on the second biggest upset of the evening. That now makes two former Eighty-Eight's people playing for Tony winners... come back, Karen, we'll make you a star, too!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Just in case you needed proof that I obviously don't have enough to do at work: a quick discussion about Peeps, the perennially abused marshmallow Easter treats led to the observation that they weren't kosher, and that therefore a substantial market for them was not being exploited. Whereupon I immediately realized that a kosher product could be instantly marketed under the can't-lose name of "Chosen Peeps!"

Okay, so maybe you hadda be there...

Mazal Tov, Y'all!

Well, back from a great weekend in Nashville with The Lovely Wife(tm). Wedding kicked major tush, and my legs are going to be sore for a week after all that dancing. Major highlight of the trip: Saturday night spent at The Stage, a downtown honky-tonk. My dear lord, they really do dress like that! (Cowboy hats, boots, denim, and about a dozen Harleys parked outside). Being a long-time Mets fan, I actually knew a few of the country songs being played (ten points to anyone who understands why that's the case) to the great amusement of TLW and the shock of Destiny, the token southern gal in the group (the look on her face when I started belting along to the chorus of "Rocky Top" is one that I will probably take to the grave with me).

A daytime tour of downtown Tennessee yielded some fun times at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where we got to see some great memorabilia and some awesome clips (my personal fave was seeing an impossibly young Minnie Pearl at the Opry... "how-DEE! I'm jes' so proud to be here!" indeed). Also took a tour of the legendary RCA studio B, where Elvis, Jim Reeves, Charlie Pride, Roy Orbison, and a slew of others recorded more hits than you could even try to name. The Hall has a London-born usher, and I don't think I'll ever hear a more surreal sound than a British accent wishing me off with a "May the ghost of Elvis be with you." Even with my ridiculously meager knowledge of country music, there was much to appreciate, and it seems like Nashville hasn't heard about price-gouging for souvenirs. I can't promise that the denim shirt that I got won't fall apart after two washes, but it looks nice right now.

Time for the pre-Tony show rush... not sure what we're going for over the next few nights, but I'll be durned ("durned?" It's gonna take a while to get Nashville out of me)if we don't catch something between now and awards night.