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The Most Beautiful Thing In The World

29 Feb

Tonight has been a night, friends, and it’s got me in an emotional frenzy.

For the first time since I left the tour, I caught up with my Kinky Boots family (or at least what’s left of it) at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando for their closing night performance before they head off to Fort Lauderdale.

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Friends, I was not prepared for the whirlwind of feelings that would come over me seeing the show as an audience member. I first headed backstage at the recommendation of the Company Manager to help say “Happy Trails” to one of our original tour cast members, Ricky Schroeder (not that Ricky Schroder). Because I was always out in the front lobby selling merchandise, this was the first time I’d ever actually been backstage for a Happy Trails (with the exception of my own Happy Trails for Evita), and even though I’ve been away from the show for over a year, I was so moved to hear everyone singing Ricky off just before his last show.

I was able to see a few of my old tour mates backstage before I had to head out to my seat, including two of my dearest friends from the show, J. Harrison and Patty, and, of course, Ricky. While I was thrilled to see them, it was a little bittersweet that I was only got a few minutes with them before they’re off to another town. Because of our schedules, I just wasn’t able to see them at all while they were here this week and somehow 5 minutes tonight didn’t seem like enough time. But I knew that was the best I could get, so I was somewhat prepared for that and had come to accept it.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, were the feelings I had being backstage in a theatre again with those folks, getting hugs from people I haven’t seen in a very long time and feeling as if absolutely no time had passed. People were hugging me, asking me how I’ve been, how I’m liking Orlando…and for some reason, that surprised me. Yes, I’d been on the road with these people for several months, but for some reason, I was shocked that they would actually remember me for some reason. I know that sounds absurd, but the fear of being forgotten or feeling insignificant is something I think I’ve always struggled with, and tonight it reared its ugly head.

In the time it took me to walk from the stage door to my seat inside the theatre, a lot of feelings started to come up and a lot of memories came flooding back. And surprisingly, none of them were bad memories, despite what you may have inferred from all of my previous posts. I didn’t immediately think of the stupid questions and irritating customers and endless double show days with no breaks – my thoughts went to the trip that some of us made to somewhere in the woods in Washington, just outside of Seattle, or when some of us took a road trip to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, or when J. and Patty would come and hang out at my booth during the show when they were still swings and I became incredibly nostalgic.

I was only with the Kinky Boots tour for four months, but I just realized tonight that in that short time, I had become part of a family that I am so proud to be a part of, and I was welcomed back as if no time had passed.

When the show started, I sat back and thought to myself, “I think this is the first time I’ve seen the show all the way through since I saw it on Broadway three years ago!” And then my friend Joe, who plays Don, walked out onstage and started his pre-show scene reminding patrons to turn off their phones and I started to get choked up. But it wasn’t until J. and the Angels (including the last two original Angels, Juan and Ricky) came out for “Land of Lola” that I lost it. The song is fun and upbeat and I was sitting there weeping. I was so, so proud of J. and Juan and Ricky, but especially J., who started out as a swing and literally never set foot on a stage for the first 3 months we were on the road and has since moved up to brilliantly playing the lead in the show. Patty, too…she moved up from a swing to playing Pat every night, and she’s wonderful, as well. (A swing, for those who don’t know, is someone who fills in the gaps when an understudy has to go on, which is a grossly understated description of what they actually do…it is probably the hardest job in theatre).

I was proud of them all. Even the new cast members that I didn’t know, but especially my friends, and seeing J. shine onstage just moved me so much because honestly, no one on earth deserves this kind of success more than J. does. He is one of the kindest, sweetest, funniest people I’ve ever met and he’s stupidly talented to boot. His heart is so genuine and he has high expectations of people, which I appreciate, and all of that heart comes across in his performance as Lola. He is joy personified and I love him dearly.

It was strange, though, to see the show with a new cast. As wonderful as the new cast is, I missed the faces, voices, timing and nuances of the people that I heard and sometimes saw in the time that I was with the show. And suddenly I started to miss everyone terribly. I especially miss our nights gathering in someone’s hotel room to watch American Horror Story. I miss opening night parties. I miss being part of that family.

During the bows, I was of course one of the first people on my feet, and I was a mess. Tears streaming down my face and my heart full of love, and then I saw Ricky’s face and he was going through his own breakdown as the cast gave him a special bow for his closing show. Kinky Boots won’t be the same without him and I believe that, like the rest of us who’ve left the show, he won’t ever be the same because of Kinky Boots.

I went to the stage door again after the show to give out a few more hugs and catch the people I hadn’t been able to see backstage earlier, and I was able to chat with Ricky just a little more before he headed back to his hotel. We talked about Orlando and what it was like to work down here and how things at Disney were and auditions and that kind of thing and then he said something that I just loved. He told me that when people ask him what his favorite memory of the tour was, he tells them it was our little group trip to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The “Murder House” trip, so called because we also stopped in Boulder on the way to see the Jon Benet Ramsey murder house on our way to Estes Park. We all sat in our ZipCar outside the house and chanted, “MUR-DER HOUSE! MUR-DER HOUSE!” while we listened to the most epic 90’s playlist I’ve ever concocted. We’re weirdos. Now, I know that Ricky has a billion amazing memories of this tour to take with him, but that he even considers that trip to be one of the highlights makes me so happy, and it makes me miss the camaraderie that comes as part of being on the road together.

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What I didn’t get to tell Ricky is that he is also one of the highlights of my time with Kinky Boots. As I’ve written before, my grandmother died only three weeks into the tour and I wasn’t able to go home for her funeral. The entire company was so kind to me – Joe Coots came up to me at the opening night party in Tempe the night she died and gave me a huge bear hug and then introduced himself to me, because he’s that kind of guy – but one of the many acts of kindness that still stands out to me during that time was Ricky posting something on Facebook about seeing a movie that Friday – the day that Granny was being buried – and allowing me to invite myself along to keep my mind off not being at home. I hadn’t actually met Ricky in person yet – I’d seen him backstage briefly – but it wasn’t until we went to the movies that I actually met him and he welcomed me as if we’d known each other for weeks. Because that’s the kind of person he is. Whether he realized it or not, he helped me get through that awful day, and I’ll never forget that. I’ve never seen Ricky without a smile on his face, I’ve never heard him say a bad thing about anyone, and I’ve never seen anyone work quite as hard and consistently as he does onstage. He’s a good egg and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things await him when he gets home to New York. And I’m so glad I could be there to see his last show.

The ride home tonight was a long one because there were a lot of things going through my mind, remembering some of the wonderful times we had and thinking, strangely, that I kind of miss being on the road and wishing that I was in New York again so I could audition more. Anyone who knew me on the road, including the Kinky Boots gang, would know that this is the complete opposite of what I wanted when I was actually on the road, and I know well enough that even if I did go back out on the road, it wouldn’t be the same. But I wonder, is that chapter of my life completely done? I don’t know… I just don’t know anymore.

Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore

3 Feb

Greeting and salutations, Dear Reader. I’m so glad you’ve decided to stick with me, despite my lengthy absence. So much has happened in the last year and I’m anxious to tell you all about it.

In last year’s big cliffhanger (OK…it was more of a series finale with the possibility of a spinoff), I was about to leave the Kinky Boots national tour and move to Orlando, Florida to pursue my dream of performing at Walt Disney World. You’ll recall that I was quite anxious about the move and the return to the “real world” after being on the road for so long, and those fears and anxieties were for good reason, and unfortunately, many of those fears have become reality.

Now, I don’t mean to start this reboot on a negative note. Let me first start off by saying that I did, in fact, get myself a job at Walt Disney World, but not as a performer. Within a month of moving, I was hired as an Attractions Host at Magic Kingdom, working at Big Thunder Mountain – the wildest ride in the wilderness! I spent nearly 10 months at Old Man Thunder before I was transferred to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where I am now an Attractions Host at the new Star Wars Launch Bay. I enjoy my job at Disney very much, though it is not by any means where I want to be in my career. Performing in the parks is still the goal, and I’ve been auditioning as often as I can, time and health allowing, for Voices of Liberty, the Dapper Dans, Finding Nemo: The Musical and other shows around the parks. More on those auditions later.

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Me on my last day at Big Thunder Mountain.

In addition to working at Walt Disney World, I also landed a job selling merchandise – surprise, surprise! – at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which admittedly I knew nothing about when I interviewed for the job. Many would agree that I still don’t, but I do a very good job of faking it. I still can’t tell you what the horcruxes are. I’m not even sure that I spelled “horcruxes” correctly. Don’t you judge me!

Adjusting to life in the real world has been difficult. Money is, as always, a constant struggle for me, which was one of my greatest fears of delving back into reality. My money management skills are pretty much non-existent. Of course, I had to have a car, so I got a cute little green Kia Soul and named him Elliott (SEE ALSO: Pete’s Dragon), and then I realized that 90% of Kia Souls on the road are also Elliott Green, but I still love him. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out how much my car payment was going to be, though. I hadn’t had a car in 14 years and had just quit my job and had no prospects on the horizon. It was no exaggeration when I dramatically exclaimed to my Dad, “It’s fine! I’ll just get a third non-existent job to pay for it!” Even though I work nearly 55 hours a week between the two jobs, it still isn’t enough to cover all my expenses. I’ve fallen way behind on my student loan payments – again – but on the bright side, one of my credit cards is nearly paid off thanks to the credit consolidation plan I started before I went out on the road. Once that’s paid off, I can start applying that money to my loans. So there’s that.

There’s also my health. I would like to go on record to state that I never missed one show while I was on the road. Not one in two years. I was healthy as a horse. But here in Florida, I have been sick with something almost from the day I got here. Allergies, colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, strep throat, the flu…you name it, I’ve had it since I moved here. I’m sick now, in fact, getting over some sort of malady that laid me out at home for two days. But I can’t afford to call out of work, so I plow ahead, shortening my lifespan by a few years with each mucus-filled shift. I know that most of this illness stems from the other thing that has been difficult to adjust to: the weather.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Floridians…we live in the Devil’s Armpit. It’s hot, moist and, frankly, sometimes smelly down here. I’ve never lived in a place where a summer rain shower (and by “shower,” I mean “deluge”) actually makes the temperature hotter than before. I have accepted Swamp Ass into my life and should just go ahead and buy stock in Gold Bond powder to foolishly attempt stop the chub rub and chaffing between my thighs. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t work. It’s a fool’s errand to try to soak up all the moisture, so just accept the Swamp Ass and move on with your day.

It took me about three weeks to accept that every time I stood up from my seat on the shuttle bus from the parking lot or from a chair in the break room, I would leave a stamp of sweat behind. Sure, you can try to slide out of the seat to wipe some of it away, but after a while, you just give up. It’s a sad, sick, disgusting part of life down here and I hate it. I worked a parade shift once in August in which I sweat so much that I was sent back to change clothes because it looked like I’d wet myself.

I miss the snow! I miss the cold! I miss the air!

“But what about the good things,” you ask? “Surely something makes it worth being there!”

Yes. The people I’ve met down here make it worth it. I’ve made wonderful friends at both of my jobs. Getting to go to Disney World pretty much whenever I want to makes it worth it. Mickey and I are very tight, and I get to talk about Star Wars all day long. I even run into Darth Vader – sometimes, quite literally, run into him – backstage and he scares the bejesus out of me, because I get to be an 8 year old again. At work. And that’s awesome. I’ve met some of the most incredible Guests and made Magical Moments for people and

Me and Neil

That’s me behind Neil Patrick Harris.

have gotten choked up over meeting the coolest little kids on the planet in their cute Princess gowns and their little Darth Vader costumes. I’ve seen people weep over being chosen by a wand. I even got to perform at Epcot this Christmas as part of the Candlelight Processional, finally singing again and getting to do it behind people like Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Dae Kim. And one of my best friends in the world, Brance, moved down here this summer and we’ve played mini golf and watched movies and played in the parks and shopped for Star Wars t-shirts and I’ve loved getting to spend that time with him. I’ve hung out in the parks with my college friend, Sara, and her wonderful husband and totally amazing daughter, Nora. I’ve seen old friends from all aspects of my life when they’ve come to the parks on vacation and I get to see my Mom and Dad more often than I did when I lived in New York because my Dad works in Tampa for a few days every month, and we meet up for dinner when he’s near.

So things aren’t all bad, and part of the reason that I’m rebooting the blog is to remind myself of that. Don’t get me wrong, y’all – the struggle is real – but I’m not alone in this. And I’m still pursuing my dreams. I’ve started taking better care of myself and taking control of the enormous amount of weight that I have gained over the last 3 years. Oprah and I are doing WeightWatchers and I’m making excellent use of my new FitBit Surge, walking an average of about 14,000 steps a day. More, if I’m able. It turned out to be one of the best Christmas gifts I could have asked for. And I’ve lost 11 pounds in the last month.

FitBit Report

Almost every night, I take a screenshot of my FitBit summary and post it to Instagram (jasonb1976) and Facebook, mostly to keep myself accountable and excited about going out to exercise, but hopefully to also encourage others to do the same. Tonight, a friend of mine from the Evita tour sent me a message on Facebook to let me know that she was inspired by my FitBit posts and that she’s about to embark on a 28 day fitness challenge that’s making her a bit nervous. She wrote, “Long story short..it’s going to be hard for me but I was thinking about your posts and they just put a smile on my face and made me excited to work toward a healthier me.” Guys. Pick me up off the floor. I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. I have inspired someone to work toward being healthier!?! That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me. If I can inspire her, maybe I can inspire someone else on here, too. And then I can inspire the world! Or at least take over the entire tri-state area!

Next month I’m moving into a new living situation that I think will be better for me both financially and emotionally and, as you can see, I’m writing again, which excites and scares me. I’m under very strict guidelines regarding what I can and cannot write about with both of my jobs, so please understand if I don’t mention work very often. You won’t get any secrets out of me. Nor will you get free tickets, but that’s another entry for another day.

So there it is, folks! Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore. I look forward to seeing you again very soon. May the merch be with you.

 

 

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

27 Aug
Mary Poppins and me at Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Mary Poppins and me at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Today is the 50th anniversary of the world premiere of “Mary Poppins.” As I’ve written before, “Mary Poppins” is one of my favorite movies in not only the Disney canon, but of all time, so this is an exciting day for me.

Just a few weeks ago, as I was traveling from Pittsburgh back to New York, I got stuck in Chicago when my connecting flight was cancelled. As luck would have it, the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit, presented by D-23, was at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, so I had to go. Imagine my excitement to find that one of the focal points of the exhibit was “Mary Poppins” memorabilia, including the carpet bag and one of Julie Andrews’ costumes from the film. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I had to take a few deep breaths and just bask in the glory of it all.

Happy Anniversary, “Mary Poppins!” Don’t stay away too long.

Julie Andrews' carpet bag from the movie "Mary Poppins."

Julie Andrews’ carpet bag from the movie “Mary Poppins.”

One of Julie Andrews' costumes and Matthew Garber's Pavement Drawing jacket from the movie "Mary Poppins."

One of Julie Andrews’ costumes and Matthew Garber’s Pavement Drawing jacket from the movie “Mary Poppins.”

The "Feed the Birds" snow globe from the movie "Mary Poppins."

The “Feed the Birds” snow globe from the movie “Mary Poppins.”

I’m Going To Miss You, Genie or, Oh Captain! My Captain! or, Good Morning Vietnam! or, Nanoo Nanoo

11 Aug

Crying Genie
There are no words that seem adequate to express my shock and sadness over the announcement just a few hours ago that Robin Williams was found dead from an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old – just 3 years older than my Dad.

I’ve written a couple of entries about celebrity deaths that have affected me, but this one has thrown me for a loop, not only because his work has been a part of my life almost since birth – “Mork & Mindy” debuted in 1978 when I was 2 years old and I won’t even tell you how many times I watched “Popeye” as a kid – but also because I want to believe that his death could have been prevented.

Perhaps his death hits closer to home than others because we have a long history of depression in my family. My grandmother has struggled with it since I’ve known her, as has my brother, and I believe almost everyone in my family has, at one time or another, been on an antidepressant. I never went that route, but I have spent many years working with a wonderful therapist to help me learn to cope with my problems. I’m sure my parents, if they read this, won’t appreciate me airing our family’s dirty laundry for the world to see, but that’s kind of the point of me writing this. Depression has such a stigma attached to it – people are ashamed – embarrassed of a legitimate illness that can be treated. Depression is not an illness exclusive to young or old people, rich or poor, clean or dirty, male or female. It is nondiscriminatory. It happens to the best of people.

As I’ve been watching coverage of Mr. Williams’ death, Dr. Drew Pinsky, also known simply as “Dr. Drew,” pointed out that depression is a mental illness that should carry no more stigma than a heart defect or an astigmatism. I don’t generally give much credence to TV doctors, but what he said made sense. You wouldn’t be ashamed to find out that your heart didn’t pump properly or that you inherited a thyroid problem – you’d go to the doctor and get it fixed – but for some reason mental illness is something that society is afraid and ashamed of. If my writing about it somehow helps someone, encourages them or prevents them from doing harm to themselves or someone else, then I feel obligated to talk about it.

I think it was pretty well documented that Mr. Williams’ struggled with depression, alcoholism and drug use and even as recently as June of this year checked himself into rehab to maintain his sobriety. He also had heart surgery in 2009, which, according to Dr. Drew, has been known to intensify feelings of depression in people who already suffer from it. If you or someone you know is suffering from this debilitating illness or might be having suicidal thoughts, please seek help.

Be well, poppets.

Robin Williams Cover Photo
www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_tips.htm

National Suicide Prevention Helpline
1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Alcoholics Anonymous
www.aa.org

Narcotics Anonymous
www.na.org
 

Edit: The original title of this entry was “Genie, You’re Free or…,” but after reading this article from the Washington Post, I decided to change it. In no way, shape or form would I ever intend to imply that suicide is a viable “out” or a key to emotional freedom as I hope you have gathered from reading the body of this entry.  

Ladies, What Can I Say? It’s Been A Fine Afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks Again For Turning Me In For Murder.

29 Jun

We learn at a very young age to associate certain people and things with comfort and security. For me, it was a blanket that I would hold in my fist as I sucked my thumb. As I got older, I started associating other things with comfort: donuts, music, our cat, fried chicken (my Dad’s is the best) and, as a latchkey kid in middle school, certain TV shows. My attachment to certain movies, TV series and characters continues to this day – I am likely to watch “Clue” if I’m feeling a little down or just want something playing in the background as white noise, and if “The Golden Girls” or “Designing Women” are on TV, I will always choose them over newer, unfamiliar shows.

What does one do, though, when one’s go-to security blanket begins to fall apart? Betty White is the only remaining Golden Girl and the death of Dixie Carter (Julia Sugarbaker on “Designing Women”) in 2010 genuinely upset me. And last night we lost another, though not a designing woman at all. Last night, Emmy-nominated Meshach Taylor, who played Anthony Bouvier, the ex-convict who was “unfortunately incarcerated” on “Designing Women,” died at the age of 67.

The show was called “Designing Women,” but Taylor’s character – sometimes the only on-screen male in an episode – was as much a part of that show as Julia, Suzanne, Mary Jo, Charlene and the subsequent ladies who joined the cast. His Anthony was funny, smart, diligent, sincere, kind-hearted, hard-working and long-suffering – a fine role model for any man, in my opinion.

Of course, Anthony wasn’t his only success as an actor – many will also remember him as Hollywood Montrose, the flamboyant window dresser in “Mannequin” or from his recurring role on the TV series, “Dave’s World.” He also toured in Hair and made his Broadway debut in 1998 playing Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opposite Toni Braxton’s Belle.

According to CNN, during the run of “Designing Women,” Dixie Carter described Taylor as “a good man who is confident and strong. He’s absolutely grounded.” I’m sure he’d rather be remembered for that than his resume.

RIP Meshach Taylor 1947-2014

RIP Meshach Taylor
1947-2014

 

Stop The Presses! “I Used To Sell Merch!,” Says Roxie!

29 Jun

I know it’s been an unforgivably long time since I last posted anything, but I read this today and my first instinct was to put it here on the blog.

One so rarely ever hears of success stories coming out of the merch booths or the usher’s rooms or even from behind the bars at Broadway theaters (although Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young, who won for Best Actor in a Musical for playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, was once an usher himself, he rarely ever speaks of it). It’s an encouragement to know that one of us made it happen. It means there’s still a chance for this old MerchWhore, too.

Edit: Another success story that comes to mind is that of Ben Rappaport, who used to sell bottles of water and candy next to me at Shrek the Musical. Ben was the star of the television series “Outsourced,” based on the film of the same name, and he was also in the film “Hope Springs” with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carrell. He now has a recurring role (Carey Zepps) on “The Good Wife,” as well. Congratulations, Ben!

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/actress-souvenir-stand-chicago-lead-role-article-1.1847979

Lindsay Roginski, who used to sell merchandise at Chicago on Broadway, will step into the lead role of Roxie on Monday.

Lindsay Roginski, who used to sell merchandise at Chicago on Broadway, will step into the lead role of Roxie on Monday.

 

Lindsay Roginski, who used to sell merchandise at Chicago on Broadway, will step into the lead role of Roxie on Monday.

Lindsay Roginski, who used to sell merchandise at Chicago on Broadway, will step into the lead role of Roxie on Monday.

Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch!

13 May
"Here Lies Love" is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

“Here Lies Love” is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

Today on my way in to work I had my iPod plugged in and on shuffle. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with it, but it tends to play the same song rotation over and over again, but today it switched things up and surprised me with a few forgotten treasures. One of them was, admittedly, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” which I may have sung full-out with shoulder-ography down I-45. A couple of times. Don’t judge me! As exciting as that was, I got even more excited when it started to play the opening bars of “Here Lies Love,” the title song from an incredible show with music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim that’s currently playing off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in New York City.

While I was back in New York last summer, my boss informed me that he was treating me to a night at the theatre. He had two tickets to a musical at the Public called Here Lies Love and all he knew was that it was about Imelda Marcos, the widow of Ferdinand Marcos, the former President of the Phillipines. I didn’t know anything about her other than she was famous for having several thousand pairs of shoes, so you can imagine that I was a little less than enthused about seeing a 90-minute show about her. Especially after we got to the venue to find out that it was an experiential theatre piece, which I typically hate. I enjoy the fourth wall, both as an actor and as an audience member. Set in a Filipino karaoke dance club, we entered the space to find a giant platform on wheels in the middle of the room and we were instructed to fill in the space around it. There were ushers in coveralls with fluorescent reflective tape all over them and we were told to pay attention to where they directed us to go throughout the performance. On one end of the room was a very small stage, but other than that and the big platform, there was no set to speak of.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos' shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos’ shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

Suddenly the show started with a DJ up on a platform and cast members entering from all different areas of the room and the ushers started herding people and moving us around the room as smaller platforms were moved in from – well…nowhere, it seemed – and suddenly there was Ruthie Ann Miles, the actress portraying Imelda Marcos. David and I both looked at each other incredulously, not sure how she got in the center of the large platform, but he and I were both completely absorbed by the show in a matter of minutes. For the next 90 minutes or so the entire room moved and morphed and changed, with platforms and actors and lights moving and changing. The story of a young Imelda unfolded in front of, behind and beside us, only briefly giving a nod to the root of her obsession with shoes in a single lyric, but providing mounds of insight in to this woman’s past:

At least we have each other.
The neighbors pass us food.
No clothes, no bed, no jewelry.
Sometimes I had no shoes.

It occurred to me midway through the show that this show was to Imelda Marcos what Evita was to Eva Perón, which could have been a tired concept, but this show was so fresh and engaging that it stood no chance of being just another bioplay. Alex Timbers’ (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher) direction focused the audience’s attention to various areas of the performance space while other, less interesting things (like set changes) were happening behind us and suddenly our attention would be directed back and there’d be a new piece of scenery that hadn’t been there a moment before. During one scene, rain drops were projected on every surface of the room – walls, ceiling, set pieces – everywhere and one by one, the cast came out with umbrellas and stood on a stage as Natalie Cortez (A Chorus Line, West Side Story) sang the haunting “Just Ask the Flowers.” We – the audience – watched from a second stage on the other side of the room and suddenly in the middle of the song, the stage on which the entire cast was standing starting slowly moving toward us, creating the feeling of a slow zoom in on the scene. It was simple, but so cinematic and breathtaking. When the number was over, the cast passed through the crowd and we were ushered forward onto the stage that had just moved toward us. On the back side of that stage were a set of steps and we were asked to sit for the remainder of the show, and when it ended, we were encouraged to stand up and join in a dance party with the cast as they sang a reprise of the title song.

David and I are pretty seasoned theatre professionals and we’ve both worked with some major talents in our time working on Broadway, but both of us were so gobsmacked by the show that we decided to stick around and meet the cast – particularly Ruthie Ann Miles – to congratulate them on such an incredible theatrical experience. We both downloaded the concept album before we’d even gotten home that night and until just a few days ago, we were anxiously awaiting the release of the Original Cast Recording of the show, but unfortunately, due to the Public Theatre’s schedule, Here Lies Love had to close just a few weeks after we’d seen it, which made us worry that a cast album wouldn’t happen. Well…it’s finally out and it’s fantastic, and I’m happy to say that the show re-opened in its original space at the Public for an open-ended run, which means more people will get to experience this strange, wonderful and surprisingly moving piece of musical theatre. Hopefully that will include you, Dear Reader.

Go see this show. In the 13 years I’ve lived in New York, Here Lies Love ranks in my personal Top 5 Best Theatrical Experiences and I encourage you to experience for yourself.