Saturday, October 29, 2011

"The Tragedy of Maria Macabre" - An Acid Trip to the Underworld

By Byrne Harrison

Many people imagine the afterlife as being filled with white, puffy clouds and cute, naked, baby angels.  Not Rachel Klein.  Her vision of the afterlife in The Tragedy of Maria Macabre is a creepy, kaleidoscopic fun house full of menace, darkness, and a fair share of humor.

In this exciting dance piece, Maria Macabre (Abigail Hawk), looking in no small part like a sexy, anime version of Strawberry Shortcake, finds herself in dark and dismal underworld full of nightmare figures - the King and Queen of the Dead (Michael Porsche and Elizabeth Stewart), a trio of skeleton-faced Mariachi (Preston Burger, Ethan O'Hara, and Brian Rubiano), a Ringmistress (Danielle Marie Fusco), a Débutante (Megan O'Connor), and a Clown (Eric Schmalenberger).  At first frightened by the creepy denizens of the afterlife, she becomes enthralled as they tell the stories of their deaths.  Each story leeches away some of her vitality (not to mention the lovely pink clothing that she is wearing), until in the end, she is indistinguishable from the ones who so frightened her in the beginning.

The performances are superb, with each cast member excelling as both actors and dancers (not always an easy feat).  Abigail Hawk is terrific as the naive and somewhat befuddled Maria Macabre.  Watching Maria's gradual, and almost unnoticed acceptance of her new fate is fun and exciting, and Hawk's interactions with the rest of the cast (especially Schmalenberger's Clown) are a treat.

Although The Tragedy of Maria Macabre has no dialogue, it tells many marvelous stories -- the Débutante's fiery death (which featured the best "fire" I've seen - see photo), the murder and betrayal of the King and Queen, and the Mariachis' run-in with some bulls at the Plaza de Toros (spoiler alert: the bulls win).  Like Maria, the audience can't help but learn to like these characters who appeared so odd and unnatural in the beginning of the play.

Maria Macabre contains several features that I've come to expect from Klein's work -- technically proficient dance that incorporates the mechanical movement of clockwork toys (her choreography for the dead is fascinating to watch - at once fluid and jerky, beautiful and disturbing), a disjointed, off-kilter and otherworldly feel to the show, glorious costumes and makeup, and a sly, winking sense of humor that lightens even the darkest moments.  This is why I will gladly continue to attend productions that Klein has had her hands on, be it her own plays/dance pieces or others.

Sadly, this particular production comes to a close on Sunday the 30th, however, since this play has been in development for two years, and has been featured in several different venues, I have no doubt there are more performances in the works.  But if you are free tomorrow, and don't mind getting out in the snow (snow!?!), I highly recommend seeing this current incarnation of The Tragedy of Maria Macabre.

The Tragedy of Maria Macabre
Story by Rachel Klein with Sean Gill
Conceived, Directed, Choreographed, Designed and Produced by Rachel Klein
Associate Choreographers: Danielle Marie Fusco and Preston Burger
Dance Captain: Preston Burger
Stage Manager: Marina Steinberg
Makeup Designer: Anita Rundles
Lighting Designer: Ben Kato
Sound Designers: Sean Gill and Rachel Klein
Costume and Wig Designer: Rachel Klein
Associate Costume Designer: Kae Burke
Costume Builders: Rachel Klein, Megan O'Connor, Stacy Maillet, Ashley Morgan Monroe, Olivia Warner and Make Fun Studios
Wig Assistants: Sara Bender and Jennifer Fusco
Calligrapher: Pak-Kei Mak
Graphic Designer: Sean Gill
Photographers: Michael Blase, Beau Allulli and Bruce Burger
Publicist: Emily Owens PR
Musicians: Borut Krzisnik, the Tiger Lillies, Devotchka, Phillip Glass, the Kronos Quartet, Bernard Herman, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Final performance - Sunday, Oct. 30th @ 5pm
At the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, Between Ave A and Ave B

Ain't No Party Like a Neo Party - NY Neo-Futurists' Third Annual Benefit on Nov. 14th

Celebrate Art & Play the New York Neo-Futurist Way at

The critically acclaimed performance collective New York Neo-Futurists, creators of the long-running phenomenon Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the sold-out run of The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume One: Early Plays/Lost Plays, and recent winners of the 2011 Innovative Theater Award for Performance Art for Locker #4173b are proud to announce their Third Annual Benefit honoring The Moth, New York's own organization dedicated to the art of live storytelling and celebrating the human experience.

The New York Neo-Futurists Third Annual Benefit will be held at The Maritime Hotel North Cabanas on Monday, November 14, 2011 from 8-10pm and will include desserts, drinks, beer sponsored by Peak Organic Brewery, Belvedere vodka, silent and live auctions of items such as tickets to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Atlantic Theater and Lincoln Center,  a vacation rental in Amagansett, a Nashville visitors package, personalized artwork and many unique, one of a kind New York Neo-Futurist experiences. The event will also feature performances by New York Neo-Futurists on the theme of “storytelling”. Accepting on behalf of The Moth will be Catherine Burns, Artistic Director.

The Maritime Hotel North Cabanas are located at The Maritime 88 Ninth Avenue New York, NY 10011 (at 17th Street), nearest train stations are the A, C or E at 14th Street.

Tickets to the party can be purchased at

Neos and Zombies and Swayze, Oh My!

The New York Neo-Futurists have offered up a Halloween deal.  Show up at tomorrow night's show (10:30 PM at the Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street) in costume and save a little money.

Arrive in costume,
get a discount!

We'll knock $2 off your ticket
to TMLMTBGB this Halloween weekend,
if you show up in costume.

Here are some potential costume ideas: 
* Zombie celebrity
* Zombie Nyan Cat
* Double-reverse fake zombie
* Slutty human caterpillar
* Pat Sajak
* COBOL programming language

Here's a video of true-life and fictional ghost Patrick Swayze in a fabulous PBR ad from 1979.  Come as him! 

We'll give you THREE dollars off if you do this dance.

"The Family Room" - What's the state of things?

Reviewed by Olivia Jane Smith

Have you ever felt like your therapist wasn’t really listening to you? His responses seem too rote, like he has heard your story dozens of times before. He can rattle off the right prodding question or reassuring phrase without being truly attentive to the nuances of your emotional state.

Unintentionally, there is a lot of this going on among the actors in  The Family Room, a play in which five out of seven characters are psychologists or psychiatrists (the other two are disqualified from the profession by virtue of being teenagers). The performances are assured but a bit too polished, to the point where it often doesn’t feel like the players on stage are genuinely listening and responding to each other in the moment. This isn’t true throughout, and indeed some of the most pivotal scenes feel quite alive, thanks in large measure to the excellent Tyler Lea as 15-year-old David, a standout in this ensemble. But combined with the acting, the overall effect of this play by Aron Eli Coleite, directed by Gwenyth Reitz, is of therapy that’s not working, skimming along the surface of problems while rarely penetrating to their roots.

The play opens with David (Lea) being interrogated by his parents (“What’s the state of things?” is a question the therapists in the play often open with). We gradually learn that dad (David M. Pincus) is considered a brilliant therapist, highly dedicated to his career, and mom (Nancy Stone) took up the profession to feel closer to her husband. It’s telling that it’s initially hard to discern if the opening scene is a family chat or a session with not one but two therapists treating a troubled adolescent. David is the subject of his parents’ clinical concern and expertise as much—likely more—than their parental support and affection.

David of course has his own therapist, and so do each of this parents and, in turn, each of their therapists, all of whom we meet in turn. Roughly 80 percent of the play unfolds in these various therapy sessions. We also meet Jennifer (Leah Baker), a classmate of David’s who is even more troubled than he. She is being treated by David’s dad, and David befriends her in an act that is one part simple yearning for connection and one part borderline pathological desire to get back at his father. His overture unleashes a cascade of consequences with the potential for a real tragedy, one that would leave almost none of these people unscathed. The budding friendship and love between the teens is by far the most compelling element here, and makes the play worth watching—the problem is we just don’t care that much about the other characters.

One reason for this—and an inherent problem in the play—is that we learn about them, their issues and histories, in large measure through their conversations with their therapists. Like therapy, it’s a lot of sitting around and talking. One of the reasons David’s character works the best may be that he actually has more to do. We get to learn things about him through his actions, as well as dialogue that extends beyond the couch confessional.

The play also takes it upon itself to make observations about the profession. Some we’ve seen and heard before—the over-medicated psychiatrist, the fact that a career helping people doesn’t mean you’re a nice person, and the idea that people choose this work because the magazines in their waiting room are far from their only issues. Some of it, like a section about patients’ suicide notes, which need to be kept in a file for insurance purposes, were new to me.

Nearly all the action takes place in the pastel living room/therapist’s office, capably designed by Jian Jung. One of the exceptions is the tender scenes between David and Jennifer atop a high-rise building overlooking the city, which are a refreshing change staging wise and overall the strongest in the show. The other is quick vignettes that take place in a waiting room-type area behind the main set, revealed behind a window when vertical blinds open in the main sitting room. While visually this is a nice idea, these moments, mostly little outtakes of the therapists waiting for their sessions, happen too quickly. At least from where I was sitting, I couldn’t really register what was going on.

Tyler Lea as David looks quite a bit older than 15 (and as we can tell from his credits in the program, in fact he is!). But through his voice and physicality, he manages to convincingly portray the whiny, slouchy, fidgetiness of a boy that age while hardly ever becoming annoying—not an easy feat. Moreover, nearly every time he opens his mouth, it feels direct and honest, like a shot straight through the heart. This is especially crucial for his character, who underneath the rashness and angst is in many ways the voice of reason here. We’ll be on the lookout for Lea’s next show.

There are other good moments—the confrontation between David and his blustery, arrogant father toward the end is the emotional showdown it needs to be, and Lea and Pincus play off each other well here. Jonathan Tindle is smarmy and sharp as the pill-popping Dr. Schwartz. Coco Medvitz as the young, insecure Dr. Goodwin delivers a reminiscence of her own troubled youth with both humor and regret. Nancy Stone as David’s mom is convincingly anxious and conflicted as a woman flailing in her efforts to move toward happiness. Jacqueline Sydney is wry as Dr. Durant, and Leah Baker plays Jennifer as an emotional girl who knows she’s supposed to hold herself together but is always about to burst. If only they all took a little more time to engage with each other. And if only the script had room to better flesh them out. They feel a bit more like character descriptions than real people, David being the exception.

It is to the play’s credit that some of David’s most pressing questions—Do you need therapy if you have love? If it works, why do so many people have to do it forever?—don’t get answered. I didn’t find The Family Room entirely satisfying, but I hope playwright Aron Eli Coleite keeps on trying to work things out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"A Charity Case" Starring Alison Fraser, Alysia Reiner and Jill Shackner Began Previews Tonight

A CHARITY CASE starring two-time Tony Nominee Alison Fraser, Alysia Reiner (Sideways) and Jill Shackner (Les Miserables) began previews on Friday, October 28th at The Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). This new play about adoption is written and directed by Australian playwright Wendy Beckett. Opening night is set for Wednesday, November 2nd.

Is it possible to find yourself when you don’t understand where you came from? A young girl struggles to come of age while caught in an endless tug of war between her loyalty to the imperfect woman who took her in and her curiosity about the troubled woman who gave her away. A CHARITY CASE delves deeply into the entanglements between a biological mother, an adoptive mother and their 17-year-old daughter.

The playing schedule for A CHARITY CASE is as follows: Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees on Saturday at 2pm and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $35. For tickets call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit

Sean Gill on His Latest Production, "Dreams of the Clockmaker"

By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Beau Allulli

Sean Gill is a playwright, filmmaker, and musician who has written over twenty plays including AenigmaGo-Go Killers!Laurie Deacon & the Night Caller, and Stage Blood is Never Enough. He has directed over thirty feature-length and short films including the Sleepy-Time Time cycle, Mustache PartyThursday Night, and Laughter is the Music of the Gods. His work has been screened in dozens of film festivals from the Canadian Film Centre to the Anthology Film Archives to the Staten Island Ferry. He has studied with Werner Herzog and Juan Luis Buñuel, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. You can find out more at

Your press release basically had me hooked with the words "mystifying," "dystopian," and "splinters and shadows."  Can you give me an idea of what Dreams of the Clockmaker is about?

In general, I’d say it’s about that ancient, mysterious art of storytelling, and the strange, brief, and intimate connection between the spinners of tales and their audiences.  Specifically, it’s the story of a performer who’s in equal parts a gaudy '80’s magician, a Dust Bowl raconteuse, a psychologically damaged little girl, and a self-assured jokester.  She regales us with tales of her possible clairvoyance, her act, the One-Thousand-and-One Nights of the Shadow Lady, and her captivity in the stately mansion of a master manipulator known only as “The Clockmaker.”

What inspired it?

I wanted to create a one-woman show that strayed very far from whatever we want to call the ‘usual fare’–  in terms of subject matter, scope, and bizarre tonal shifts.  I wanted a play that divided itself into distinct segments and very particular moods, yet possessed a cohesive, almost musical flow.  There’s a little bit of everything that I love inside Dreams of the Clockmaker, from H.P. Lovecraft’s madness-plagued narrators to Aldous Huxley’s sanctimonious power-mongers to Yukio Mishima’s utterly, frighteningly, suicidal committed protagonists.

You're once again working with your sister, Jillaine Gill.  Most of the siblings I know could never work together.  What is it about your relationship that allows you to collaborate so well on your plays?

Ever since we were children, putting on impromptu little theatrical revues for our parents in the living room or publishing a newspaper with a circulation of one copy, we’ve worked well together.  We grew up together, we’ve been unemployed together, we’ve made art together.  And somewhere, across several dozen of those plays and films, we’ve developed a sort of creative shorthand that takes most of the stress out of the production.  Also, she’s capable of hitting such (depending on the context) silly, affecting, or simply gutsy notes in her performance that writing for her is easy!

Was there anyone else involved in this production?

Jillaine and I took on several of the roles that would typically be assigned to others (I also did the sound and graphic design, for instance), but as always, I found myself surrounded by terrific collaborators: the brilliant Ben Kato devised for us some radiant, Italo-horror-style lighting, Brandy Rowell managed our stage with élan, some delightfully garish costume pieces were borrowed from the private collections of Rachel Klein and Danielle Marie Fusco, and Jeremy Karafin and Ana Mari De Quesada of the Wild Project were endlessly supportive.
You're known both as a playwright and a filmmaker.  Do you have a preference for one or the other?  Or do you see an overlap?

There’s definitely an overlap.  To me, it’s all sort of the same process, and whichever (filmmaker or playwright) term I happen to define myself as at any given moment is dependent on my primary project at the time.  I’ve made cinematic plays (adapting an entire genre like “the girl gang picture” in Go-Go Killers! or visually approximating the playback of a blackmailed videocassette in Aenigma) and theatrical films (adapting Rachel Klein’s dance piece The Tragedy of Maria Macabre or using theatrical staging and lighting in the Sleepy-Time Time series), and neither seems to overwhelm the other.

You've worked in the past with Rachel Klein on several projects.  Do you find a certain connection between your work and hers?

Rachel Klein is one of those rare individuals who is in equal parts a creative mastermind and a tireless workhorse.  She finds magic in the mundane and beauty in morbidity.  She overturns featureless stones and reveals their hidden grace.  We’ve worked together many times over, and her command of staging and her attention to visual detail are unparalleled.  I highly recommend her current show, The Tragedy of Maria Macabre, which runs concurrently with mine at the Wild Project through the end of the month.

If you could collaborate with anyone on your next production, who would you choose?

This is a tough one, so I’ll focus in the realm of acting.  I’ve always been drawn to undersung actors and actresses who are absolutely fearless, those connected, committed heroes of the stage and screen who can effortlessly tweak the elements of our subconscious like a virtuoso cellist might pluck his instrument.  Men and women like Clu Gulager, Linda Hunt, Brad Dourif, Michael Ironside, Lance Henriksen, John Glover, Susan Tyrrell.  I think I’d just about give my eye teeth to work with any of them.

What is coming up next for you?

Theatrically, I’m looking to mount a full production of a play of mine called Laurie Deacon and the Night Caller which we spoke about when it was featured as a part of Planet Connections’ reading series in 2010.  Filmically, I have a couple of short films on the horizon, including a particularly odd one concerning watery beer and urban archeology called Puttin’ on the Schlitz, and a freakish puppet-tale set in a cesspool called Fresh Piss.

Any final words to your potential audience?

The work is fluid.  Some nights it draws forth guffaws and a spit-take, other nights it extracts self-reflection and a sobering glance, and this is what I love about audiences and this particular work– it’s just you, Jillaine, and the darkened room, and your energy impacts how it will resonate on any given night.  And I suppose I just gave my real answer to your question about the difference between theater and film!

Dreams of the Clockmaker, presented by Junta Juleil Theatricals, will play a limited engagement at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street between A and B), October 17-30; Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30pm, Sundays and Mondays at 7pm.

Rachel Klein Takes You to the Land of the Dead in "The Tragedy of Maria Macabre"

By Byrne Harrison

Rachel Klein is a director, choreographer, producer, and costume/production designer. Miss Klein established the RKP Theater Ensemble in 2007 with her adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost and since has worked with RKP and other collaborators (including Junta Juleil Theatricals, the Jackie Factory, Disgraced Productions, HQ Rep, the House of Yes, Bluebox Productions, and Razors Edge Productions) to build and develop the full length productions The Tragedy of Maria Macabre, Metro, All Kinds of Shifty Villains, Sir Sheever, Aenigma, Go-Go Killers!, Hound, Princes of Darkness, Circus of Circus, and Lizardman, a Musical. Shorter works and dance pieces include: Our Prison, La Enferma, Medusa, Sisters of the Moon, Sweeter Than Wine, Killer Workout, Beat Girl, The Fairy Tail Chain, Act Up! Ballet, and Noche de las Munecas. The RKP Theater Ensemble’s choreographic work has been presented all over the city at several venues, festivals, art galleries, and nightlife events including the Kitchen, Dixon Place, Theater for the New City, DUMBO Dance Festival, Night of 1000 Stevies, the Highline Ballroom, La MaMa Moves! at La MaMa E.T.C. in 2009 and 2010, Banzai! at the Red Lotus Room, legendary rock ‘n roll club Don Hill's, the Hiro Ballroom, the Bushwick Site Fest, Bushwick Open Studios Festival, the World Famous Bob’s Give Thanks!, Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, the House of Yes, HOWL Festival, and Off-Broadway at the Bleecker Street Theater. Miss Klein was a 2010 recipient of the Emerging Artists’ Residency Grant from the Field in Association with the Tides Foundation and was nominated for two 2011 New York Innovative Theatre Awards for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Choreography/Movement for The House of Yes’ Circus of Circus. She currently curates a monthly performance art review at Bowery Poetry Club, will be working on a new dance commission from Dixon Place in 2012, and is set to make her Off-Broadway directorial debut with Gay Bride of Frankenstein this coming season. Most recently she directed a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream as part of the Second Annual New Brunswick Theater Festival.

I spoke with Rachel about her current project The Tragedy of Maria Macabre, currently in production at The Wild Project.

First, welcome back.  It's exciting to see The Tragedy of Maria Macabre back onstage.  Was it a difficult road from Dixon Place to the Wild Project?

Thanks so much, Byrne! The ensemble and I are thrilled to have a longer run of this piece. We have been developing it for the past 2 years, and excerpts of Macabre have seen many stages—from The Kitchen to the nightlife art event Banzai, from La MaMa to the LES Festival at Theater for the New City, and from 3rd Ward in Bushwick to Bowery Poetry Club. It has certainly been a long ride! As luck would have it, Ellie Covan from Dixon Place saw an excerpt and invited us to present at Dixon Place, which was exhilarating. We had such a generous audience, and from that point forward the decision to extend the production was solidified.

We are very grateful to the Wild Project for being so supportive in helping us to fully realize this piece.

Maria Macabre seems perfectly suited for this time of year as we close in on Dia de los Muertos.  I assume the timing wasn't accidental?

Not accidental at all. This time of year people are certainly up for watching dancing skeletons. However, our audience in general is up for dancing skeletons year round!

What inspired you to create this piece?  And what were your main influences when choreographing it?

We were fortunate enough to receive a rehearsal space grant from the Field in January of 2010. We had no idea what were going to build, but we did know that it was going to be on the darker side. I had a collection of music that I found inspiring, and first piece that we began to build evolved into what is now the opening number for the whole show.

The largest influence was definitely silent film—from Lon Chaney’s performances in "Laugh Clown Laugh" and "The Unknown" to Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss’ work in "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." It’s very important to me that everything be larger than life and overtly theatrical, something which they really knew how to do in the silent film era!

Tell me a little about your performers.

They are some of the best people on this planet. I have an eclectic ensemble comprised of actors, dancers, and circus performers, and they meld together magically.

The piece was originated by Abigail Hawk, Elizabeth Stewart, Michael Porsche, Danielle Marie Fusco, Preston Burger, Megan O’Connor, Eric Schmlenberger, Brian Rubiano, and Freddy Mancilla. Recently we have acquired the talents of Danny Mendoza, Ethan O’Hara, and Scooter Pie.

I was blown away by some of the photos from this production.  Who designed your costumes and makeup?

Thank you so much for the compliment! I designed the costumes and wigs for Macabre and personally built about half of them. Many nights of 3:00AM hand-sewing and nearly hot-gluing my fingers together. Spray-painting props in the alley behind my apartment and running up and down six flights of stairs to check on them—yikes! Other members of the construction team include Megan O’Connor, Scooter Pie, Stacy Maillet, Kae Burke, Olivia Warner, and Make Fun Studios.

The make-up design was created by the fabulous Anita Rundles, our resident make-up artist, who has been with us from the very beginning (The Canterville Ghost in 2007!)

Who else is involved on the technical side of the show?

The sound was designed by myself and uber-gifted renaissance man Sean Gill, who also did the sound engineering and editing, as well as our graphic design. Sean’s aesthetic certainly upholds the unearthly, uncanny tone I was going for.

We were able to snag the ridiculously talented Ben Kato to do the lighting design, whose color palette adds so much flair to our black and white world.

The calligraphy on the narrative placards was created by the House of Yes’s Len Pak Kei-Mak, a multi-talented designer and visual artist.

The feather accessories on both the Queen of the Dead and the Ringmistress were built by burlesque chanteuse Ashley Monroe.

Tell me a little about your theatrical background.

I have roots in theater, ballet, and rock n’roll. These are all elements that I enjoy blending together because they all support one another—a great rock show is super dramatic in style (like Alice Cooper or David Bowie), a great ballet has theatrical narrative (like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker) and great theater really should combine the showmanship of  a ballet and a rock show rolled up into one (with the added catharsis brought by the actors).

What is next for you?

I have several projects brewing. After first debuting Maria Macabre at Dixon Place this year, we have been granted a dance commission from Dixon Place to create a whole new work with a full run to debut next June.  This piece will go into development next month and will involve aerialists and circus performers, and the premise will depict the horrors of sleep paralysis.

Another project on the horizon is an amazing rock musical, The Gay Bride of Frankenstein, that I will be directing, choreographing and costume designing, slated to open Off-Broadway in 2012.

If you could say anything to your potential audience, what would it be?

To expect to have a good time. The show has its dark moments, some more somber than others, but it is gelled together by tremendous bits of levity. The characters in the Land of the Dead reflect upon their experiences with life and death as a plot device to help Maria Macabre, our heroine, accept her own fate. Each of these moments is a window into that particular character’s world, and as we have been developing this show for so long, the performers really experience these moments of morbidity, even if there is a splash of glitter in the blood.

And a similar question, if you could offer any words of wisdom to someone who was thinking of following a similar career path, what would you say?

Maintain your creativity and never cave to anyone. If the idea exists in your imagination and in your soul, then you are obligated to put it into this world, and do so with full force—and if that means self-producing, which it often does, you will need every shred of your energy and patience you can possibly muster!

The Tragedy of Maria Macabre continues on the following dates:

Friday, Oct. 28th, @ 8pm
Saturday, Oct. 29th @ 8pm
Sunday, Oct. 30th @ 5pm

At the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, Between Ave A and Ave B

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Queen of the Mist," Currently in Previews, Opens November 6th

Queen of the Mist is a world premiere musical with words and music by 5-time Tony nominee Michael John LaChiusa (The Wild Party, Marie Christine, Hello Again). Based on an astounding and outrageous true story, two-time Tony nominee Mary Testa stars as Anna Edson Taylor, who, in 1901 at the age of 63, set out to be the first woman to shoot Niagara Falls in a barrel of her own design. Navigating both the treacherous Falls and a fickle public with a ravenous appetite for sensationalism, this unconventional heroine vies for her legacy in a world clamoring with swindling managers, assassins, revolutionaries, moralizing family, anarchists and activists. Convinced that there is greatness in her and determined not to live as ordinary, she sets out to battle her fear and tempt her fate.

With a soaring score that incorporates turn of the century themes with LaChiusa’s signature complexity and insight, Queen of the Mist is the story of a single great fall, and how one woman risked death so that she could live. Directed by 4-time Drama Desk nominee Jack Cummings III (Hello Again, See Rock City & Other Destinations, The Boys in the Band), Queen of the Mist continues the long collaboration between Transport Group and Mr. LaChiusa, which includes the critically acclaimed Drama Desk-nominated productions of First Lady Suite and Hello Again.

Queen of the Mist was commissioned by Transport Group Theatre Company and is the first production of Transport Group’s ten-year cycle, “The 20th Century Project,” exploring themes from each decade in the 20th century. Queen of the Mist takes place during the first decade, 1900-1910.

Queen of the Mist was made possible through major support from The Shen Family Foundation.

Queen of the Mist

a new musical by

Michael John LaChiusa

directed by

Jack Cummings III


Mary Testa

Commissioned by Transport Group Theatre Company

with major support from The Shen Family Foundation

Queen of the Mist is produced in association with:

Sarah Ackerman

Sase Sham

Benjamin D. Goldberg & Jennifer Orr

Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis Talk About "Southern Comfort"

By Rob Hartmann

After seeing SOUTHERN COMFORT at CAP21, I sat down to have a conversation with the writers – bookwriter/lyricist Dan Collins and composer Julianne Wick Davis. We met at Incognito Bistro, next door to the CAP21 space, just before a performance.

ROB HARTMANN: So – how did you get involved with the project to begin with?

DAN COLLINS: Our show Wood was in NYMF (the New York Musical Theatre Festival) in 2008, and Tom Caruso was our director. He had optioned the rights to Southern Comfort a couple of years before with Bob DuSold, and he approached us after that production ended and asked us if we would watch the documentary and see if we could find a way into it as a musical.

RH: Had you seen the documentary before then?

DC: No, I had never heard of it before.

JULIANNE WICK DAVIS: I had seen it years ago on HBO – I don’t think I had watched the whole thing, but I saw the beginning with Robert in his truck, and I was really fascinated by it.

RH: So when you sat down to think about how to put this on a stage – what were you thinking?

DC: When we first watched the documentary, it was interesting trying to think of it as a musical. We weren’t sure how we were going to do it, and if we were even going to be able to do it - if it was even appropriate to sing – but we were certainly compelled by the characters and the story.

The first song we wrote was a song called “I’m Goin’”, which Robert sings near the end of the piece when he and Lola are going to the Southern Comfort ball. And I think that’s when we first felt we could maybe get into it.

JWD: Dan handed me a lyric, and I thought, I know what to do. And we presented that to Tom and Bob.

DC: The documentary is broken into seasons, which we used in the musical. We had this concept of having a folk band onstage, because we were trying to figure out how to bring music into it. When you watch the documentary it seems kind of awkward for these people to start singing. So we wanted to bring the music in somehow with this onstage folk band, and we had them just sing all the seasons, because the documentary is already divided into seasons. We gave ourselves a break from aggressive story songs.

RH: I don’t remember from seeing the documentary ten years ago – how much of the musical book is straight from the film?

DC: There were a lot of changes. It was really a challenge – I’d say in the early drafts we really tried to be as true to the documentary as we could. But there are some things that, you know, are compelling in the documentary for reasons that aren’t musical-theater-stage-worthy.

JWD: Kate gave us the transcripts of everything that she filmed.

DC: There were a couple extra characters in the documentary, too, that were truly the people who took Robert to all the different doctors, but we really just collapsed that into Lola. And Maxwell and Robert had had kind of a falling out in the documentary, but in the musical it’s much larger – we had Maxwell not go to Southern Comfort, which didn’t happen in the documentary. So there are some big changes like that, trying to give it a more dramatic arc.

RH: I saw the reading you had at Playwrights Horizons earlier in the year – it sounded to me like some things were adjusted musically since then.

JWD: Yes, we changed some keys for Annette (O’Toole.) We did that immediately after the Playwrights reading, when we knew we were going to be doing the production at CAP21. I did some note adjustments, too, on some things – not so much because I was trying to tailor it for her, but because it made more sense dramaturgically. She really wanted to work on it. She was totally immersed in it.

RH: She’s so amazing in that role.

JWD: She’s a real worker bee. She’s somebody who completely immerses herself in it. She was so dedicated to it. It’s a wonderful thing to watch because of that. She’s so into channeling Robert Eads.

RH: I’m curious, when you were first thinking about writing the show, how you decided on the gender of the actors. It’s interesting that Robert is played by a woman, but Maxwell is played by a man - when both are female to male individuals.

JWD: Well, you know that’s been through several different configurations of gender. One of the things that influenced us in casting was something we heard early on: when Bob and Tom acquired the rights from Kate Davis, she had just gotten those rights back from someone who was going to do a feature film of the documentary. It was going to star Sissy Spacek as Robert and Alan Cumming as Lola. We thought, “Huh. A female playing Robert Eads…” It made sense to us, because Robert Eads dying of ovarian cancer – it seemed right that Robert should be played by a woman. So it’s always been that way. And then of course because Lola is still in transition, it made sense for a male to play Lola. And for the others we were back and forth. Maxwell at one point was played by a female. A lot of different things have influenced us – one is, you watch the documentary, and these are guys.

RH: I had this experience watching the show, and I polled people I was with, and they were feeling this, too – about midway through the show, I had this experience where I started to forget whose gender was really what. It’s a real testament to the actors.

JWD: Our goal was to blur the lines of gender with the casting. People know when they walk in the door that Annette O’Toole is playing Robert – there’s really no way around that, other than that initial moment of seeing her transformed into Robert Eads.

RH: I understand that Cas and Stephanie [Cas and Stephanie Piotrowski, who are depicted in the musical] came to see it – what was that like? Had you met anyone involved with the documentary before?

JWD: We met Lola about a year ago. She was great – very supportive. She didn’t want to know all the details necessarily, but she had the script and the demo. We asked some questions about her relationship with Maxwell – her relationship with Maxwell was really strained after Robert died. And Maxwell just died about a year ago. With Stephanie and Cas it was interesting, they were kind of shell shocked.

DC: I think it was a little overwhelming for them.

JWD: Cas was feeling sensitive about the memory of Robert and Maxwell – you know, that there not be anything negative about them since, you know, they were gone.

DC: And in the documentary, I think that Robert comes off almost Christ-like in a way – he’s always saying wise things and is always very grounded. We did feel like in the musical we had to give him some more human flaws too. Nothing major – he’s still a pretty good guy.

RH: What was it like when you were trying to find song spots – was that something you figured out together?

DC: Originally a lot of it came from trying to bring the band in and figuring out how that could work, because “Bird” we wrote early on too – when we first thought about the band, we thought, oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have Lola sing a song with a female from the band – make that work together.

RH: And you have that effect in “Barbara” too – Robert singing with a guy in the band.

DC: “Barbara” we wrote originally just for a male member of the band. Actually it morphed from – I think originally it was for Robert, then we wrote it for a male member of the band – and then we worked it together. But having the band there was just really helpful for me to write a lot of the lyrics – it just kind of led us into it musically. We didn’t feel so cheesy having some of these characters who we knew so well from the documentary who would not sing – singing.

RH: It seemed very fluid, the transition into the music each time.

DC: We also got to work with the band from day one in rehearsal, which doesn’t usually happen. So we could try, “Let’s bring in the music here,” and “Let’s try underscoring this.” Of course there was a certain point where we couldn’t do that any more because they also had to memorize everything, so it was kind of a catch-22, because later in the process, any time you’d change a key or cut pieces out of the music, they would have to re-memorize all the music.

JWD: Those were not happy moments for the band. Especially about halfway through, when we realized one of Jeff McCarthy’s songs needed to go up a step – it really had more intensity in it up a step. It’s not like it was going to G flat or something like that, but they had already started memorizing – I just didn’t want anybody’s heads to explode. There were some changes that we actually wanted to do past the third week, and I said, we can’t do it. Because they had already memorized it.

RH: It makes such a difference with the band not having pages flipping in front of them.

JWD: It’s amazing what they were able to do. There’s a lot of meter change stuff in some of the songs – I just felt guilty, I thought, we just can’t do that to them. For this short of a rehearsal process, this is not a fair thing. So, you know, if there’s life for the piece, then it’ll be an easier thing to do later on.

RH: So let’s talk about your musical process … when you first sat down to think about the show musically, what were you thinking about?

JWD: Knowing the location of the show, I knew I needed to do something that was more folk based.

RH: Toccoa is north of Atlanta, right?

JWD: And it’s kind of backwoods.  So I drew on something that I really love to do and actually used to do before I came to New York, which is more of the singer-songwriter style – I grew up listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash, I love the Indigo Girls… You know, they say it’s a “folk-bluegrass score” – that’s what people have been saying. There are hints of things that are bluegrass, but it’s not a “bluegrass score.”

RH: I wrote that also – I think it’s that shorthand way to hang it on a peg – but nobody’s playing the washtub.

JWD: Nobody’s playing the washtub, we don’t have a banjo …

RH: I found the bluegrass influence more in the vocal style than in the instrumentation. Like the song “Barbara” feels bluegrass to me.

JWD: I thought it also needed to have a country influence. Although country crosses over into so many different things now, it’s like, what really is country anymore?

RH: It feels like there are some influences of pre-1970 country.

JWD: Right. There’s a little bit of a Johnny Cash influence. Especially in accompaniment figures. I was writing it on piano, but for so much of it, I was imagining a guitar would be playing this figure, and the only thing I know to do is kind of this on the piano (making an arpeggiation finger-rolling gesture.)  So the score was a combination of all those things, all the things that I really loved
 to be able to do and get an opportunity to do. That, I think, was one of the things that really excited me about doing the project before we even got deep into figuring out how we were going to do it – this could be fun to do this.

RH: Now, you’re from Texas.

JWD: I’m from Texas – San Antonio – but, you know, people that don’t live in Texas think that means something more than it is. You know, (laughs) I grew up in a city, just like everybody else –

RH: -- you didn’t ride your horse to the feed store.

JWD: No. But we did get school off the day that the rodeo came to town.

RH: We had that in Arizona, too. “Rodeo Days.”

JWD: “Rodeo Days”! Where the whole school could go and watch the parade when the rodeo came through town. And I was probably around a lot of people who wore boots and cowboy hats – more so than people who grew up around here would have been. But other than that -- I grew up in a family where my grandmother was an opera singer and my grandfather was a classical composer. I played classical piano. There wasn’t a lot of country music or folk music in my house. So I don’t know if “Texas” is a fair thing to say that influenced this score.

RH: But maybe it’s a familiarity with a certain culture. I mean, Georgia is very different from Texas  –

JWD: Yeah, but that “good ol’ boy” mentality is very similar. And that was something that I totally understood when I watched the documentary.  I completely understood “good ol’ boy” and how these guys – that’s what they were hoping to be, because that’s what they knew – good ol’ boys. I understood people like that.

RH: And it explains something in the story – I think it’s interesting that they don’t move away from Toccoa. Their feeling is, I want to create this life where I’m comfortable.

JWD: - because it’s home.

Southern Comfort runs through October 29 at the CAP21 Black Box Theater, 18 West 18th Street. Show times are Wednesday-Saturday at 7 PM.

Tickets are $18 and are available through OvationTix or online at

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Love Show Presents "Sex Magic"

Rather than the previously scheduled The Addiction Diaries: Dancing with Demons,The Love Show will present the NYC debut of Sex Magic. The show has wowed crowds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and DC, and now it's coming to New York.

The Love Show


Sex Magic

A Titillating Evening of Magic, Burlesque and Dance


Master Magician
The Great Dubini

and The Love Show Dancers

Come and get your rocks off

This will all be happening at


85 Avenue A (b/w 5th & 6th)
New York, NY

F train to 2nd Ave., 6 train to Astor Pl., N/R trains to 8th St


Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Doors at 9:30PM/ Show at 10PM

Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Doors at 9PM/ Show at 9:30PM

Thursday, December 1, 2011
Doors at 9PM/ Show at 9:30PM


VISIT DROM’s and THE LOVE SHOW’s websites at

The Love Show gets the sexy goin' with their tightly choreographed and costumed numbers, theatrical appeal and gorgeous girls and boys. A little cabaret, a little ballet and a whole lotta rock and roll, The Love Show has entertained all audiences from the glitzy nightclub life to the gritty downtown theater. Classically trained dancers and detailed choreography tell a story with every number... a story both intimate and universal. The Love Show has worked for such clients as Vogue Magazine and Cointreau liqueur, and rocked stages ranging from CBGB's Gallery to The New York Burlesque Festival. The Love Show has been followed exclusively by The New York Times and hailed by The New York Post.

...the always impressive director/choreographer/impresario Angela Harriell... manages to create some of the most eclectic performances out there.
– Michael Roderick,

...a show filled with hilarious satire, beautiful and elegant movements, and a chaotic orgy of sexuality... It's a show you can easily see again and again. It shakes things up and leaves you feeling saucy.
– Alana Gharzita, Debaucheri (, on The Love Show's Guide to Sex at Galapagos

The Love Show does the best burlesque group numbers I've ever seen, and it was a rare treat to get to see them at the 2009 NYBF Golden Pasties Awards this year.
– Monty Leman, burlesque photographer

Saturday, October 22, 2011

“GIVING THE NATION A NEW SYNCOPATION”: A discussion on “Ragtime”

By Anthony James Host

In January of 1998, at the age of 9, I was home from school on a snow day watching The Rosie O’Donnell show. She always had such wonderful guests and lots of funny bits, but the major draw for me was when she had casts of Broadway musicals grace her stage. She gave many wonderful musicals a boost, especially those that were struggling (Jason Robert Brown & Alfred Uhry’s Parade being the best example of that). The one musical that grabbed me, however, was probably somewhat bizarre for a nine-year-old: a period piece with very little movement and stuffy turn-of-the-century characters and costumes -- Ragtime, a new musical based on the amazing 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow (which had been made into a rather lackluster 1981 film by Milos Forman).  I didn’t know anything about the history of the source material at the time, but I was drawn to it -- especially after Rosie gave it such a glorious introduction, enshrining it with a handful of other musicals that were “timeless, classic masterpieces”.

I really loved what I saw, even though the epic prologue was shortened due to the constraints of performing on a television show. Shortly after that appearance, Rosie O’Donnell brought back two of the show’s talented cast members, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald, to perform what could possibly be the show’s most famous song, “Wheels of a Dream”.  I wouldn’t say it is my favorite song in the show, but seeing these two lovely performers really lit a fire in me that shouldn’t be normal for any young boy.

I wanted to see this show.


It took me quite some time to actually get to go to NYC to see it, because no one would take me. I didn’t have a theatre conscious family, but I did have a lot of dear older friends with whom I worked doing regional and community theatre, who wanted to introduce me to more theatre. One in particular, Peter, offered to take me to NYC for my birthday to see not only Ragtime, but Peter Pan, The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Cabaret, 1776, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I can’t even believe I was allowed to enter the theatre for Cabaret.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. That October (thirteen years ago this week), I saw Ragtime. I never realized how truly epic the show was going to be, and I was in awe of the massive sets, the large cast, and the lovely orchestra. I have seen many Broadway shows since then, but none had the same impact as this one.

One thing that really upsets me is how a lot of people claim the show is nothing but full-throated power ballads with very melodramatic titles (okay, that may be true to an extent, but they are still very stirring) and that the sets distracted from the flaws in the book (yes, there are flaws, the timeline is very hard to follow, and some of the dialogue is not exactly perfect), but the one criticism that stunned me was that of Ben Brantley, the famed New York Times Theatre critic. I think Mr. Brantley is a great critic/writer and I enjoy reading his reviews, but this was one occasion where I disagreed with him completely -- he accused the show of lacking soul, saying it had “mechanical efficiency.” I honestly felt this production was one of the most soul-stirring things I had ever seen.

To this day, I feel so attached to the actors in this show that it’s hard to separate them from their characters, especially in the case of Audra McDonald, who played the role of Sarah. Keep in mind, this woman has four Tony awards and by this point already won two before she even reached the age of 30. I honestly feel the legend of Audra McDonald, for me, is traced to one moment in particular, her performance of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s masterpiece, “Your Daddy’s Son”. I just have to say this was quite possibly the best performance of a song that I ever witnessed on Broadway, both in terms of acting and singing. It may have also been the first time I truly realized the power and impact that a performance could have on someone.  Ms. McDonald’s work as the tragic Sarah haunts me to this day. In such a short amount of time (she is primarily in the last half of Act One), she left me believing Sarah was a real person and I still find it hard to shake the image because her portrayal was so compelling and the fate of her character also deeply affected me.

The aura of Sarah is what also deeply affects that of the character of pianist Colehouse Walker, Jr., played by Brian Stokes Mitchell. The dashing, charismatic Mitchell still remains my favorite Broadway leading man: a modern day Alfred Drake, Robert Goulet, Howard Keel, or Ezio Pinza. While Mitchell sang many of these full throated power ballads that people criticized, he (and Ms. McDonald) sold these with the most intensity that never went over-the-top. Mitchell’s 11 o’clock number “Make Them Hear You” could be considered a cliché peace ballad, but its simplicity and the power make it stand out. Mitchell’s last note is stellar and I remember that he got a two-minute standing ovation after he finished the song (one of the 5 or 6 standing ovations the show received that night).

If it went through the rest of the cast one by one this article would be a lot longer than it already is, but I do want to recognize them in some way. Marin Mazzie has always had mixed responses from many people, but I must say no role has ever fit her like the role of Mother did: her look and personality more than made her right for the role. Peter Friedman is usually the forgotten cast member/lead but his work is absolutely wonderful, especially because he never once becomes a stereotype as Tateh, (a dream role of mine). The rest of the cast -- Mark Jacoby, Lynette Perry, and especially Judy Kaye, to name but a few -- are standouts.

This production of Ragtime lives on through its original cast album which preserves the music even though it can never fully recreate the beauty of the full production. All of the lush orchestrations and emotions of the cast are just as intense and they are live (though live will always be better, especially hearing such great music and vocals).

Thanks to the expensive running costs of Ragtime and an eventual dip in audience attendance, the expectations of Ragtime becoming the American Les Miserables, dwindled away, and it closed in 2000 after a 2 ½ year run.

Perhaps a show of that production’s size couldn’t last nowadays, which is very sad, but Ragtime can work on a smaller scale, as the recent critically praised revival showed.  It began as a Kennedy Center production, before its brief run at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway. I did get to see the production and while I agree that it was a very well put together production with much style and also good work, particularly from Christiane Noll and a unique take on Mother’s Younger Brother by Bobby Steggart, I felt the production actually lacked a certain spark that the original had, even though some felt it was an improvement over the original.

I don’t want to end this article without discussing the creative forces behind the show. Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens are up first. These two have created so many diverse scores that they can be compared Bock and Harnick (of Fiorello, She Loves Me, Fiddler on the Roof, The Apple Tree). Ahrens & Flaherty created Lucky Stiff, Once on this Island, My Favorite Year, Seussical, A Man of No Importance, Dessa Rose, and The Glorious Ones --all very different shows with different styles.  In my opinion, Ragtime remains their best work, and I really hope they write a new musical soon and bounce back to Broadway (they have not had an original musical there since Seussical closed in 2001).

Book writer Terrence McNally is more known for his plays like Master Class or Love! Valour! Compassion! He has written the books for other musicals like The Full Monty or more recently Catch Me If You Can. His work on Ragtime is great, but sometimes I feel like the dialog can be a little melodramatic, though that could be the fault of the director’s or actor’s interpretation. I do think Mr. McNally is a fantastic writer, nonetheless.

Frank Galati’s direction had moments of genius, but that year he was overshadowed by Julie Taymor and her gigantic vision for The Lion King. Mr. Galati managed to find the heart and soul of the piece amongst the massive moving sets and lighting effects (which were used to create a train track, silhouettes, a massive bridge that lowered down repeatedly, and several huge pictures of the Atlantic City landscape…and that is just the tip of the iceberg).

Due to my intense love for Ragtime, I jumped at the chance to talk about it in my first StageBuzz article. I feel that my views about theatre, why I love what I do, and why I aspire to do it in the future, stem from that first experience with Ragtime. I hope to one day meet Mr. Flaherty and Ms. Ahrens to express my respect and gratitude for them creating such a wonderful score.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interview with Michael Putman Estwanik of The American Songbook Project

By Byrne Harrison

Michael Putman Estwanik was raised in Cleveland and graduated from Boston College with majors in Psychology and Theatre Arts. In the 1970s he served as Dean of Admissions at San Francisco’s Lone Mountain College, well-known for its outstanding performing arts and fine arts programs. In 1978 he moved to Lake Tahoe to fulfill his dream of founding a theatre company - and being a ski bum. There he began giving historical tours of the Lake Tahoe region which led to his 30 year career in the global event planning industry which has now brought him to 62 countries and 49 states.

In 1991 he moved to New York City and continues to work as a global event planner and a volunteer in the entertainment industry. He offers exclusive invitation-only small travel programs called JAUNTs (Journeys for All Us Nice Travelers) to destinations such as Cambodia/Vietnam, African Safaris, Slovenia, Argentina, etc. For seven years he served as President of the Board of Directors of MAC, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs. He has been a producer/investor of a few Broadway and Off-Broadway shows including Urinetown and Charles Busch’s Swingtime Canteen. He is often asked to speak at industry events on the topics of creativity and current trends in incentives and meetings.

In 1999, he founded The American Songbook Project, a charity organization whose mission is to preserve the American Songbook for future generations. He noticed that most young people only had access to rap and hip hop recordings which can often carry messages of racism, sexism, violence, and homophobia. TASP brings Broadway and cabaret singers into New York City schools so that our young people can hear some of the great American songs (both old and contemporary) that are part of their heritage. With these programs, TASP hopes to be planting the seeds for new songwriters, singers, and if nothing else, new listeners.

On Friday, November 4th, at the historic Hudson Theater, The American Songbook Project will hold their annual "Name That Tune" benefit. At this spirited gala, guests are encouraged to wear a costume depicting a favorite song title. Those wishing to compete in the costume contest are judged by a celebrity panel of Broadway stars and fashion aficionados (the winner gets more than bragging rights - the Grand Prize is a trip for 2 to Monte Carlo). There will be stage performances as well as a live auction of fabulous items, including travel adventures around the world.

Despite his understandably busy schedule, Michael took a moment to talk with StageBuzz about the upcoming benefit.

I have to start by saying that last year's Name That Tune benefit was one of the highlights of my year. I was amazed at the clever costumes and the talent that was assembled there. How did you come up with this theme?

When I lived in San Francisco back in the 1970s, I worked as Dean of Admissions at Lone Mountain College which had amazing performing arts and fine arts programs. One year it was my turn to host the Halloween Party, and I came up with the idea of having everyone dress as a song title. It was such a huge success that I repeated it several times. Then when I moved to Lake Tahoe and founded a summer theatre company, I used this as our annual fundraiser. I have seen some very introverted people attend these parties and have a blast because there is no way you can walk by anyone and not want to meet them and learn what their song title is!

You started The American Songbook Project to preserve and promote classical and contemporary popular American songs. In particular, you bring this music to the schools in order to foster the next generation of songwriters, performers and audience members. What have the reactions been like among students who may not be very familiar with the traditional American Songbook?

You really have to see it to believe it. Kids, like anyone in the world, embrace songs and music. Many of them don't know any recordings but rap and hip hop, so when a great melody is given some playtime they sit and think “Where have I been?”

Last year's benefit honored the incomparable Margaret Whiting and Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer. Tell me a little about this year's honorees.

We are honoring Broadway composer Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, Milk and Honey, etc.) and Guild Hall in East Hampton. Both of them celebrated their 80th birthdays this year. You can listen to any of Jerry Herman’s scores and the one element that his songs have more than any other composer is this: so many of his songs contain lyrics that are not only uplifting, they are life-affirming. And beautiful Guild Hall has been presenting artists in concert of the American Songbook for 80 years. They are a model example of diversity in programming that any community arts center should admire.

With an honoree like Jerry Herman, I imagine we're going to hear quite a few of his songs at the benefit.

Not as many as we wish. There just isn’t enough time to do his treasury of songs justice. So we are only presenting three songs.

Who will be performing this year?

Our artists will include Andrea McArdle who starred on Broadway in Jerry’s Girls, plus Meredith Patterson (42nd Street’s Peggy Sawyer and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) and Jeffry Denman (White Christmas).

You also have a fairly amazing set of celebrity judges for the costume contest -- Bravo's Chris March, Tony Award-winner William Ivey Long, Jane Kaczmarek, NY 1's Frank DiLella, casting director Tara Rubin and Cindy Hoddeson from the Monaco Government Tourism Office. How did you assemble this year's eclectic group?

They’re all friends and some of them were there last year. They know what a blast it is to be involved.

I loved last year's costumes. If I remember correctly, yours was "Try A Little Tenderness" and the winning costume was "Cry Me A River." What were your favorite costumes last year?

Oh dear, I would offend if I mentioned any and left some out. Best thing to do is visit our website and view the video from last year and judge for yourself!

Can you give us a hint about this year's costume?

You just have to come and see for yourself.

What would you say to anyone who is still trying to decide about coming to the event?

If you are looking for a way to spend an evening that 1) supports an important charity, 2) guarantees hilarity, great food and drink, and once-in-a-lifetime entertainment, 3) offers an atmosphere where you and a few hundred strangers can become fast friends simply by saying “what song title are you supposed to be…?" and 4) gives you a chance to win trips to Monte Carlo, Argentina, Ireland, Costa Rica, Beverly Hills, and many more, this is the evening of which you have been dreaming.

If there are people who are out there who may not be able to attend, but would like to support The American Songbook Project, how can they?

I understand this question all too well. Make a donation of any size. The reason we have this benefit is because we pay the singers and pianists who perform in our school programs. Our culture is always asking artists to donate their time and talents. Do we ask this of anyone else: bankers, plumbers, mechanics, bus and subway drivers, etc ? Never. We ask schools for a donation to offset our costs, but if they have no budget, we come anyway. We have never turned down a school who wanted one of our programs because they didn’t have it in their budget. So a donation of $10, $25, or $50 means a great deal to us. It goes directly toward helping us bring these programs into NYC schools where we can introduce this unique part of our birthright to young Americans who would never have access to it if it weren’t for us and the donations of our supporters.

The American Songbook Project's Name That Tune benefit will be held Friday, November 4th, 2011, at the Hudson Theater (145 West 44th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues)

6:30 - 8:00 Reception & Silent Auction
8:00 - 10:30 Dinner, Program, & Live Auction

For ticket sales, please contact: Claire Cashman (914.834.2868) or visit