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Hey, Old Friend…Whaddaya Say, Old Friend?

9 Nov

Dear Readers,

Are there any of you left out there? Have I been absent for so long that you’ve given up on me? On a day in which it seems there is little hope to hang onto, I choose to hope that at least one of you has stuck with me. I might even go so far as to say I hope that at least one of you has been looking forward to the day that I write something new. That might be pushing it a bit, but who said hopes had limits?

It’s been a trying few hours, friends. If I’m being completely honest with you – and what would be the purpose of this blog if I weren’t completely honest? – it’s been a trying few months.

It’s been so long since I wrote anything that I truly don’t even remember where I left off. But here’s where we are today: I am struggling to keep my hopes up right now, as many others are, as well. This election has taken its toll on all of us and the results have left me and so many others feeling unsure of our future – scared for it, even. I’ll not go into a political discussion here tonight because, quite frankly, I’m sick to death of politics and debriefings and analyses and pundits, but suffice it to say that my heart is heavy and I am scared. Perhaps a grown man shouldn’t declare that in a public forum, but it’s the truth.

On top of our nation’s current state of affairs, we in Florida, and particularly Orlando, have suffered through a lot this year. Between the shooting at Pulse earlier this year, which directly affected many of my friends and coworkers, and Hurricane Matthew, which thankfully turned out to be little more than a thunderstorm for many of us in Central Florida because of a fortuitous shift in wind, we’ve been through a great deal of stress these last few months.

And on a more personal note, I’ve recently been struggling with something that I never imagined would be an issue for me – my age. Next week I turn 40, and while I don’t think of myself as a 40-year old, my body has slowly started betraying me and has been not-so-gently reminding me through a series of ever-changing aches and pains that, while I may look 28, I am, in fact, not 28 anymore.

Then there’s the weight gain. After the Pulse shooting, I started comfort eating because…well, it’s what I do when I get stressed. Instead of turning to alcohol or drugs, I turn to cakes and cookies and pizza, and since mid-July, I have managed to gain back all 27 pounds that I worked so hard to lose earlier this year. Right now I feel so defeated that I have kind of given up on even trying to lose it again. And that makes me mad at myself and makes me want to tear into a box of Twinkies. I mean, I just want to destroy those snack cakes. It’s a vicious cycle and I wish I could just snap my fingers and have the metabolism I had 10 years ago and the willpower that I’ve always wished I had. And then I get frustrated at myself for complaining about having too much food when there are others who are less fortunate than me.

I’ve also been thinking about where I am professionally at 40 and I’m unhappy with it. I came here with a purpose and, just as in New York, I’ve become so focused on simply surviving that I’ve taken my eye off the prize and I’ve gotten stuck.

Things aren’t all as bad as all that, though. During the time of the Pulse shooting, I had the wonderful opportunity of performing in a production of Ragtime the Musical at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. Through that show, I met some of the most wonderful people in Orlando, I laughed more than I think I have in a very long time, we cried – no, wept – together and we made some incredible music together. I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience and those people. I’m also performing on a semi-regular basis in the dinner theatre show at the Titanic Artifact Exhibition on International Drive in Orlando. I get to play J. Bruce Ismay and I absolutely love it. Once again, I’ve found a theatre family that I love and it helps bring in a bit more money every month, which is a great help these days. And my parents recently got to see me in the show, which was fun and pushed me out of my comfort zone, because there’s nothing much more terrifying to me than having to interact and improvise with my parents in a British accent and fake moustache. But I did it!

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A very sunburnt J. Bruce Ismay.

Even with those steps toward what I want here for myself, I often find myself wallowing down in the dumps lately, criticizing myself for living what I think is a pretty lackluster life. I sometimes find myself thinking that I haven’t done much with my life…that I’m pretty boring, even. And then every once in a while, people in the break room at work will be talking about Hamilton or New York or Japan and I’ll jump in and add something that, to me, seems insignificant – interesting, but insignificant – and it always surprises me to see the looks of disbelief on my coworkers’ faces. And then I’m reminded that I have, if nothing else, had an interesting life.

I’ve recently become slightly obsessed with storytelling podcasts (The Moth and Snap Judgment are my favorites), and I hear some of the stories people tell and I think, “I could do that!” I mean, isn’t that what I’ve been doing here for years now?

So here’s a story.

Just a few months after I moved to New York, it was announced that the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, would be producing a summer-long celebration of Stephen Sondheim. There would be six shows produced that summer, all featuring big-named theatre stars, running in repertory, meaning the first three shows would be presented on alternating nights for the first half of the summer, and then the second set of shows would follow suit for the last half of the summer. The lineup was incredible – Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baranski in Sweeney Todd, Melissa Errico, Raúl Esparza and Florence Lacey in Sunday in the Park With George, Lynn Redgrave, Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and John Barrowman (yes, that John Barrowman) in Company, Judy “Pocahontas” Kuhn, Michael Cerveris and Rebecca Luker in Passion, Raúl Esparza, Miriam Shor and Emily Skinner in Merrily We Roll Along and Randy Graff, Blair Brown and Kristen “Princess Anna” Bell in A Little Night Music. For a musical theatre nerd like me, this was heaven on Earth. The problem was – it was all the way down in Washington, DC.

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Luckily, I had a friend named David, who I’d met in the old Theater chat room on AOL, and he and I had become friends in real life. David was in the original Broadway company of Merrily We Roll Along and, naturally, was forever a Sondheim fan. David was going to see each and every one of those shows and had a spare set of tickets – I just had to get myself down to DC! So I did, of course – twice.

The first show we saw was Sweeney Todd, and honestly, the whole thing was a blur. I remember the sound being a huge issue – during the Joanna trio in the second act, Stokes’ mic went out and suddenly we heard Hugh Panaro backstage vocalizing, and as soon as Hugh stepped onstage, his mic went out and we could hear Celia Keenan Bolger singing scales backstage. And I remember going to dinner at the restaurant on the ground floor of the Watergate Hotel (yes, that Watergate Hotel) and sitting across from Brian Stokes Mitchell, which was a huge thrill for me. I had no idea what was coming next.

David’s friend, Annie, joined us for the second set of shows, which included Merrily. Annie was also an original cast member of the show – in fact, she was the leading lady, and she was sharing a hotel room with us. Ann Morrison is also one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever met in my life. On the train ride over to the theatre, I asked Annie if she would sing something from the show for me and, as we ascended the giant escalator out of the train station, she sang, “Charley…why can’t it be like it was? I liked it the way that it was, Charley – you and me…we were nicer then,” and my head nearly exploded. (Hear her sing it on the Original Broadway Cast Recording here at around 1:42).

But wait…there’s more.

As we entered the huge lobby of the Kennedy Center complex, we were making our way to the theatre doors when someone yelled out, “David!” We all turned to see who it was and, standing there in the flesh was Anthony Rapp. Yes, that Anthony Rapp. I couldn’t believe it. I had never been a Renthead per se, but I loved the show just as much as everyone else, and I had spent countless hours listening to him on the cast recording. And then, after the show, once again at the Watergate, he was sitting across from me and David and Annie, talking about how he’d just returned from opening Rent in Japan. And then he started singing “Seasons of Love” in Japanese! Right there at the table. Annie and I both couldn’t believe what we were experiencing as we shared a caesar salad with sirloin beef (she and I bonded very quickly), and as I went to bed that night, I simply could not wrap my head around everything that had happened that night. It was all so wonderful. I mean, the only way it could possibly get better would be if I actually got to meet Stephen Sondheim himself.

And then I met Stephen Sondheim.

That Sunday night, after the closing performance of A Little Night Music, which was also the closing night of the Celebration, David got us into the closing night party. Sadly, Annie had had to fly back home early that morning – she left us all lovely notes under our pillows before she left, because that’s the kind of woman she is – but because of his involvement with Merrily, David was able to get me and some friends into the party that night. A few minutes into the soiree, we turned a corner and there he was – basking in a halo of heavenly light (well…maybe not) – Stephen Sondheim! David walked up to him and said, “Hi, Steve!” They had kept in touch through the years and they greeted each other as old friends and then David turned and introduced all of us to Sondheim. I shook his hand and we all stood around nervously for a few minutes while he and David chatted a bit more and then someone else walked up to “Steve.” I’m not sure who he was, but “Steve” introduced him to David and then proceeded to introduce each and every one of us to this person. By name.

“And this is Jason…”

Whenever I feel like I’m a nobody…that I’ve led an uninteresting life…that my voice isn’t being heard…I need to remind myself of this:

For one brief, shining moment, Stephen Sondheim knew my name.

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.

Sad News: The Cafe Edison Will Close

18 Dec
Cafe Edison will close on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Cafe Edison will close on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Despite our efforts to save it, the Cafe Edison will be closing its doors when the last customer leaves on Sunday evening, December 21, 2014.

Thanks to all 10,024 (!!) of you who have signed the petition, forwarded, texted, tweeted, Facebooked, handed out flyers, sung, done magic tricks, made signs, stood out in the cold and fought to keep this special place open.

The Strohl family is considering relocation and, if that happens, I hope each of you will lend them your support and business at their new location.

I knew when I started the petition that we were fighting an uphill battle – I’m sure contracts were in place for the renovations and new restaurant for months prior to the public announcement that the Cafe would be closing – but my hope in starting this was to at very least show our love, support and appreciation to the Strohl family and all the service and kitchen staff.

If you’re in the city and have a moment, please stop by Cafe Edison one last time before Sunday. Bring a card or some flowers or even just a hug for the staff there. Let them know how much they mean to you. And give Betty a big hug for me.

If the closing of Cafe Edison has inspired you to do more to help save what’s left of old New York, please check out Jeremiah Moss’ new Facebook group, “SAVE NEW YORK.”

These past few weeks, Jeremiah and a group of devoted Cafe Edison supporters have been tireless in their efforts to raise awareness of the Cafe’s closing. Jeremiah has done some amazing work to organize weekly lunch mobs and entertainment all while maintaining his blog, “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.” He has planned one final meal mob this weekend. Click here for the event information on Facebook.

If you aren’t reading Jeremiah’s blog yet, please do. Here’s the link: http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com

Again, thank you all for your support and outpouring of love to the folks at Cafe Edison. It’s been an honor to have been a part of this movement, and I hope to share a bowl of matzoh ball soup with you all if and when a new location should open up.

Best,

Jason

Pardon Me…I Believe You Dropped These Names

8 Nov

As I wrote last night, I started a petition yesterday to (hopefully) save the Cafe Edison in Midtown Manhattan, and I’m happy to say it’s going very well. So well, in fact, that I received an email today from Colleen Wilson at the Wall Street Journal, asking for a brief phone interview about the closing and the petition. Her article, “Lights Are Going Out At Cafe Edison,” was published online tonight and should be in the printed paper tomorrow. (If anyone gets a copy, save one for me!) Here’s a link to the article if you’d like to read it. (And just to clarify: I am the merchandise manager for the national tour of Kinky Boots, not the Broadway production…though I have managed there, as well.)

As I type this, we have about 3,700 signatures. Now, I’m new to this whole petitioning thing, but apparently that’s a very impressive number for a petition that’s been public for less than 48 hours. Still, I’m not sure it’s enough to achieve what we’re all hoping for, so if you’ll forgive me…I’d like to drop a few dozen names of people who have signed our humble little petition in the hopes of persuading you to sign it yourself.

::Ahem::

Glenn Close. Susan Sarandon. Sarah Paulson. Matthew Broderick. Alan Cumming. Michael Cerveris. Judy Kuhn. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Julia Murney. Martha Plimpton. Carol Kane. Bryan Batt. Karen Olivo. Billy Porter. Celia Keenan-Bolger. Howard McGillin. Karen Mason. Mary Testa. Gregory Jbara. Lee Wilkof. Amanda Green. Teal Wicks. Jonathan Freeman. Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Donna Lynne Champlin. Emily Skinner. Shuler Hensley. Rachelle Rak. Danny Burstein. Marc Shaiman. Christine Pedi. Harriet Harris. Jackie Hoffman. Lily Rabe. Harry Groener. Ron Orbach. Noah Racey. Kevin Cahoon. Francis Jue. Judy Blazer. Jim Stanek. Joe Iconis. Brad Kane. Steven Pasquale. Rob McClure. Leslie Kritzer. Steve Rosen. Jeffry Denman. Sam Harris. Ilana Levine. Mamie Parris…

I’ll stop there because I’m even embarrassing myself (and I’m waiting patiently for Audra McDonald, Bette Midler, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rosie O’Donnell, Jennifer Holiday, LaChanze, Sutton Foster, Andrea Martin, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris and even Barbra (Ms. Streisand, if you’re nasty) herself to join our cause. And yes…I tweeted each and every one of them.)

What’s the point of all this name dropping nonsense? To show you that this diner means something to not just the poor merch folk who can’t afford expensive meals, but to Broadway and Hollywood heavy-hitters, too. It’s an indication of how communal the Cafe Edison really is – where common folk can sit next to a 6-time Oscar nominee and enjoy a cheese blintz and a latke and it’s no big deal. If Broadway were a college campus, the Cafe Edison would be the commissary where even a freshman can mingle with the most popular seniors.

My new pal, Jeremiah Moss (@jeremoss), has a very successful blog called “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York,” which chronicles the sad demise of Old New York as icons and landmarks are torn down and gutted in favor of strip mall fare. He is officially the one to have broken the news about the Cafe Edison closing yesterday and he has organized a Lunch Mob at the diner tomorrow (Saturday, November 8, 2014) at 12 noon. He’s encouraging diners to bring large signs with supportive slogans like “Save Cafe Edison” or “Polish Tea Room Forever,” and he’s absolutely encouraging everyone to have a bowl of matzoh ball soup and a grilled cheese sandwich while you’re there. If you can make it, please go. I can’t because…well, I’m in Denver…but my heart will be there with the Strohl family (the owners of the restaurant) and the staff as well as the supporters. Here’s a link to the Facebook Event Page for the Lunch Mob. Please…go if you can!

And finally, I’m going say this: The folks at the Hotel Edison shouldn’t mess with that Glenn Close. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she’ll boil your bunny or make a coat out of your puppies. I’m just sayin’.

"I'm not gonna be ignored, Gerald Barad!"

“I’m not gonna be ignored, Gerald Barad!”

#SaveCafeEdison

Save the Cafe Edison

6 Nov
The Cafe Edison in New York City

The Cafe Edison in New York City

I don’t do this often, but today I feel it’s time to take a stand against something that has me and, quite honestly, a large majority of the Broadway community reeling. It was announced today that the Cafe Edison, also known as the Polish Tea Room, will be closing at the end of the year (or possibly sooner) after 34 years of operation in the Theatre District in Manhattan. The hotel in which the diner is situated, the Hotel Edison, is gutting the place to put in a new high-end restaurant with a celebrity chef-du-jour.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a diner…,” you might be thinking. Well…you’re wrong. The Cafe Edison is so much more to so many people. For me, it was a place to go between shows for a quick, tasty, inexpensive meal either on my own or with my friends from work – actors, wardrobe people, front of house folks, musicians and other merch people. The place is covered in theatre posters signed not only by a litany of theatre stars, but by chorus boys and girls who may never have been recognized on the street, but whose legacies live on on the walls of the Edison. It served as the inspiration (and physical setting) for Neil Simon’s play 45 Seconds From Broadway and Broadway lore has it that August Wilson scribbled notes for three of his plays on napkins at the Cafe Edison.

Since moving to New York in 2002, I have watched the restaurants, bars, theaters and stores that made up New York in my mind disappear, one by one, only to be replaced by commercial retail stores and chain restaurants. Colony Records – one of the largest, if overpriced, sheet music stores in the country closed just a couple of years ago and will be turned into a Build-A-Bear store. Times Square Bagels, one of my nightly haunts while I was working at Spamalot, is now a Ben and Jerry’s. McHale’s Bar and Grill is a new high-rise condominium building with a New York souvenir shop on the first floor. The Howard Johnson’s restaurant on the corner of 45th and Broadway is now an American Eagle Outfitters. The things that gave New York its distinctive character have been picked off or plowed down in favor of tourist-friendly fare while stripping the city of the things that the locals need and want.

Today I started a petition on Change.org. I’ve never done this before, but I felt that I had to do something.

Please consider signing this petition against the closure of Cafe Edison. So far we’ve gotten over 1,500 e-signatures in about 10 hours from people around the country and the globe, including notable theatre and film actors like Howard McGillin, Marin Mazzie, Martha Plimpton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Karen Mason, Judy Blazer, Mary Testa, Carol Kane, Greg Jbara, Teal Wicks and many others. As impressive as that may be, we’re going to need a lot more signatures if we’re to get the hotel management’s attention. I know that it’s an uphill battle we’re fighting – probably a futile one – but I just couldn’t let this one go without a fight. I have too many memories in that diner. I know the people that work there – Betty, the cashier, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. And…they make the best matzoh ball soup I’ve ever had. If nothing else, let the people there know that you support them and appreciate what that restaurant has meant to so many of us for so many years.

Thanks.

The MerchWhore

Sign HERE: Save the Cafe Edison

Your Kiss Is On My List, or My Grandmother Gave Me Herpes

19 Oct

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written – mostly because I’ve been so busy with this show that I can’t really muster up the time or energy to write. We’re in Seattle, Washington, now and business is significantly slower, but that is not to say that things are by any means slow. I’m sure my boss is disappointed in the sales numbers here, but honestly – I’m glad for the break before we head to Los Angeles, where I anticipate insane sales.

When last you heard from me, my paternal grandmother had passed away and I was stuck selling t-shirts in Tempe, Arizona. Well…unfortunately, this has been a bad year for grandmothers – mine and otherwise. I’ve seen so many Facebook status updates about friends losing their grandparents this year and on Thursday I received a phone call from my Dad to let me know that my maternal grandmother, who I call Grandmama, was in ICU following an emergency operation on her colon. Apparently she and my great aunt, Betty, were getting colonoscopies done (in separate rooms, I would assume – or at least hope) and Grandmama’s doctor found some areas in her lower colon that needed to be cauterized, which apparently perforated her colon wall, which is no bueno. They had to remove about 5 inches of her colon, but they were able to put everything back together again and she’s been in the ICU since, resting and recuperating, though my Mom says it’ll be at least 6 months before she’s back to normal simply because of her age.

Obviously she’s been on my mind since I found out she was in the hospital. When I got into work today, though, a rush of memories came back to me that I haven’t thought about in years. Our head audio guy, Ben, was checking the sound system by playing Hall & Oats’ “Your Kiss Is On My List,” one of my favorite songs as a kid, and I immediately had a memory of my family’s old house in Louisville. We had an above-ground pool in the back yard and in order for the pump to work, it had to be plugged into an extension cord that was run into the kitchen and plugged in near the washer and dryer. In retrospect, probably not the safest way to set that up…

Anyway, there was one day that Grandmama and my Aunt Betty were watching me and my cousin, April, while my parents were away at work. They were in the kitchen doing something – probably making lunch for us kids – and April and I were out swimming in the pool. The radio was playing, the orange Crush was flowing and we were having a great time. I needed to go inside for something, so I got out of the pool and, without drying off, walked to the side of the house and grabbed the handle of the storm door to go into the kitchen. The storm door under which the extension cord was running. The extension cord with exposed wires because of a tear in the rubber coating.

The electricity flowing through my body tightened every muscle in my body and I couldn’t let go of the handle. A girl who lived in the neighborhood just happened to be walking past and I managed to tell her to go get April, who was still in the pool, and she did. I’m not sure if she knew what was happening to me, but April came around behind me and grabbed my hand, trying to pull it away from the door or trying to pull the door open – I don’t know – but there the two of us were, getting electrocuted while my grandmother and her mom made deviled eggs just a few feet away.

Somehow my grandmother must’ve heard us outside the door and opened the main door to the house. When she saw us through the storm door, someone screamed for her not to touch it and either she or Aunt Betty unplugged the extension cord from the wall and we were able to let go of the handle and get inside.

My grandmother, Nellie, and her sisters have always had a flair for the dramatic – I come by it honestly – and so of course there was much screaming and panicking, but ultimately April and I survived. Whether or not there was permanent brain damage is still up to interpretation, though.

I don’t know what it was about that song that brought back that memory to me. Perhaps it was the one playing on the radio while I was being flash fried on our side porch or maybe I just remember hearing my Grandmama, in her best melodramatic, Scarlett O’Hara-esque delivery, say that she just couldn’t ever hear that song again without thinking about the time that April and I were nearly turned into tater tots. She also recalls our trip to Florida in that same over-the-top manor, which is usually worthy of an eye roll, but is almost always humorous. And, to be fair, she’s 1/4 of the reason I’m here. She gave me life. Twice, if you think about it.

She also gave me herpes. The mouth kind…not the genital kind. You guys are sick. She kissed me when I was a baby, not realizing she had a cold sore coming on and passed it on to me.  And every year since then, I had a big honking fever blister on my lip for every school photo until high school. So…at least when she goes, she’ll always be with me.

Herpes: the gift that keeps on giving.

MjAxMi01Mzc2ZjAzMGNlZTgyZjEx

Feel better, Grandmama!! xo

Just Be.

2 Sep

Viva Las Vegas!

Viva Las Vegas!

Here I am.

Here I am.

Greetings from 30,000 feet, somewhere between St. Louis and Kansas City, MO. Today a lot of friends have been posting pictures on Facebook of their little people’s first days of school, which I find to be completely adorable and a little bit baffling. How have my friends gotten so old as to have school-aged children while I haven’t aged a day in 20 years? Perhaps it’s best not to try to answer that question…

The first day of school was always exciting for me. I was/am a nerd, so I always enjoyed school. I liked learning and I liked being around my friends and, since I wasn’t into sports of any sort, I was also glad to be inside in the air conditioning. I especially loved going shopping for school supplies. I mean, who didn’t love the smell of a brand new Trapper Keeper? Starting school – especially a new school – was always tough, though. Because I lived on the border of a school zone, half of my friends from middle school ended up going to a different high school than me, including my very best friend, Shaun, and I was terrified of having to make new friends. It was out of my comfort zone, and like most people, I didn’t like that.

Today is very much like a first day of school for me. I’m heading back to Las Vegas to start loading in and to open the 1st National Tour of Kinky Boots The Musical and I gotta tell ya, friends…even after doing this for nearly two years and opening 3 shows already in that time, this part never gets any easier for me. Coming into a company of people who have already been working with each other for a month or two in rehearsals can be incredibly intimidating. Learning names and faces, not to mention personalities, can be tricky. Add to that the uncertainty of the actual job – prices, sizes, the layout of the booths and storage hamper – and it can be quite overwhelming. Luckily my boss, David, and co-worker, Brendan, will be joining me tomorrow to help me get set up and to help break the ice with people in the company. I always work better with a wingman or two.

What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like them? Will I spend the next 4 months eating, sightseeing and watching movies by myself? Will I meet my new best friend? My next mortal enemy?  Are these drag queens going to eat me alive? There are so many questions, friends. Questions with uncertain answers.

There’s a song in the show – the finale, actually – called “Just Be,” and the lyrics go a little something like this:

Just be who you wanna be.
Never let them tell you who you ought to be.
Just be with dignity.
Celebrate your life triumphantly.
You’ll see.
It’s beautiful.
Just be
Beautiful.

That’s the main message of this wonderful show, and that’s how I plan to go into this new adventure: by just being me. I look around at my life and my friends and that’s all the assurance that I need to know that I must be doing something right.

The Kinky Boots tour opens officially on Saturday night, August 6th, at the Smith Center in Las Vegas. Check out kinkybootsthemusical.com to find out when the tour is coming to a city near you!

Sara Bareilles, Kelly Osbourne, Josh Groban, Mario Batali, Martina Navratilova and James Earl Jones don their Kinky Boots in support of the "Just Be" Campaign

Sara Bareilles, Kelly Osbourne, Josh Groban, Mario Batali, Martina Navratilova and James Earl Jones don their Kinky Boots in support of the “Just Be” Campaign

 

 

Put Up or Shut Up, Pt. 2

1 Sep
DeQuina Moore: Singer, Actress, Dancer, Author and Amazing Human Being.

DeQuina Moore: Singer, Actress, Dancer, Author and Amazing Human Being.

I have to take a second to brag on my amazing friend, DeQuina Moore. Last week I challenged her to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and, rather than pour iced water on her head, she opted to make a donation to ALSA.org. Her friends and family, however, raised their voices in solidarity and finally convinced her to go ahead and make a video.

Even though I know she hated to do it, she finally did the ice bucket challenge tonight, but with her own twist. Rather than make it about ALS (remember, she already donated to them), she chose to bring awareness and donate to the Sickle Cell Disease Association in honor of some of her family members who suffer from the disease.

What is sickle cell disease? That’s a good question. To be honest, I didn’t really know a whole lot about it myself, but isn’t that the point of these videos…? To make people ask questions and do research and learn about these things? So here we go:

According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s website, Sickle Cell Disease (sometimes called Sickle Cell Anemia) is an inherited blood disease that affects red blood cells. The cells mostly contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin that causes the red blood cells to become sickle-shaped, which makes it difficult for the blood cells to flow through small blood vessels. As we all know, if blood doesn’t get to our body tissue, that tissue doesn’t get oxygen and it becomes damaged.

Sickle cells have a lifespan that is about 1/10 that of normal, healthy blood cells. When those sickle cells are destroyed by the body, it leads to anemia, jaundice and the formation of gallstones. When the blood vessels become clogged or blocked by sickle cells, there can be lung damage, pain in the chest, arms, legs and abdomen, organ damage and it could lead to a stroke. Also, because of sickle cell-related damage to the spleen, the people who suffer from this disease – especially kids – are more prone to bacterial infections.

There are treatments to help with the symptoms, including blood transfusions (which can lead to other issues) that can help reduce the risk of stroke, but there currently is no cure for sickle cell disease.

It is estimated that 70,000 people in the United States suffer from sickle cell disease with approximately 1,000 cases in newborns each year. The life expectancy for patients with sickle cell disease is in the mid-40’s, which is apparently an improvement over what it used to be.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not only affect people of African descent. It is also present in Portuguese, Spanish, French Corsicans, Sardinians, Sicilians, mainland Italians, Greeks, Turks and Cypriots and also appears in Middle Eastern countries and Asia.

So now you – well, we – know. In support of DeQuina and her family, I have made a donation to the SCDAA and hope that you will consider doing the same. I know – a lot of people have been asking for charitable donations lately, but at least consider it and, if nothing else, take the time to educate yourself about this disease.

And, while you’re at it, check out DeQuina’s website. Listen to that glorious voice. Order her book, “Under His Watch: 100 Reasons to Re-Elect & Remember President Barack Obama.” Follow her on Twitter: @DeQuinaMoore. Enjoy this video, which she made out on the road with some of our Flashdance friends. She is one the most beautiful people I’ve ever known, inside and out. See if you don’t fall in love with her, too.

Put Up or Shut Up

22 Aug

Well. It happened. I was challenged yesterday to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Considering my last entry, I felt like it was time to put up or shut up, so I did my challenge in my shower at the hotel here in Des Moines.

Here’s the video. Please watch. Please donate. Please forgive me for muddling the Broadway Cares section of the video – it was all very stream-of-consciousness and I was coming up with things to say on the spot, so I may have left a word or two out here and there. To be honest, I was proud of myself for being as “with it” as I was, considering I planned the whole thing out in less than 5 minutes.

Again, here are the links if you’d like to make a donation:

ALS Association: www.alsa.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255): www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS: www.broadwaycares.org
charity : water: www.charitywater.org

Ice Cubes Keep Falling On My Head

19 Aug

Well, not my head – at least not yet…I keep waiting to be nominated.

As I’m sure many of you have seen or even experienced, there is an internet craze going around of dumping a bucket of iced water on your head to raise awareness and money for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association. While I have found the videos to be quite entertaining and funny, apparently a few people are sick of seeing them and fundamentally disagree with what they’re intended to do. Others have taken issue with the wasted water being dumped over people’s heads because of the drought out west and the millions of people without fresh drinking water around the world. I think those people have valid concerns, but I also think this challenge has done a lot of good, as well.

To the others, though, who are just bored with the videos, my response is this: Get over yourselves. If you don’t want to watch the videos, don’t click on them! It’s that simple. Some people have also expressed that this is simply a gimmick for ALS to raise money. To those people I posit this: Isn’t that what Broadway Bares is? (For those of you who don’t know, Broadway Bares is a bunch of Broadway singers and dancers stripping to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS). Ironically (and sadly), many of the dissenters have actually performed in Broadway Bares.

In the defense of the people I know who have taken the ice bucket challenge in California, including many celebrities, I have seen them standing in their gardens or in or near their swimming pools when they douse themselves so that the water at least gets used to water plants or goes back into their pools. (If people are going to be upset about folks dumping a bucket of water on their heads, wouldn’t their outrage be better served focusing on those people in drought-stricken California who have gigantic pools of water in their back yards or the 22 million gallons of water used in the water fountain show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas – or, to be completely fair – the 15 million gallons used in Disney’s “World of Color” show? Isn’t that a bigger issue? But I digress…) That being said, I can’t deny that there are many people around the world who need clean water to drink. There is a link at the bottom of this entry if you’d like to donate to charity: water.

When the ice bucket challenge began, my initial understanding of the challenge was that if you were “nominated” to take the challenge, you had 24 hours to either pay $100 to ALSA or videotape yourself dumping a bucket of iced water on your head and post it online. You could then nominate 3 people to do the same. Many people chose to just go with the iced water and I think that’s where so many people were getting upset – if everyone dumped water on their heads, who was actually donating money to the cause? Well, apparently someone was donating – ALSA has raised over $20 million in a month. Many people chose to donate  and do the bucket challenge, including a lot of high-profile celebrities. Jimmy Fallon and his team at the Tonight Show did it. Ty Burrell from “Modern Family” has done it. Ben Affleck, Chris Pratt, Taylor Swift, Ricky Martin, Justin Timberlake, Tyler Perry, Lebron James, Jack Black, Matt Lauer, Gwen Stefani, Ashton Kutcher and Wilmer Valderrama, James Franco, Michael Bublé, the entire cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” and even Ms. Oprah Winfrey herself have taken the challenge in what is, honestly, one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen.

“But what’s the point of all this tomfoolery?,” you ask? Well…to not only raise money, but also to raise awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or what we Americans call Lou Gehrig’s Disease. According to ASLA’s website, ALS is a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.”

In laymen’s terms, what does that mean? According to MDA.org, it means your muscles weaken, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing – basically all of your voluntary muscles. Hearing, vision and your sense of touch is not generally affected, so it means you can see and hear what’s going on around you, but you can’t communicate because the muscles that allow you to speak have atrophied. Some with ALS suffer from uncontrollable twitching and/or painful muscles cramps. Many display changes in character and behavior and a few suffer from pseudobulbar effect, or uncontrollable bouts of laughing or crying which are more associated with the disease than the actual corresponding emotions of happiness or sadness. It can affect anyone of any age, but it tends to show up in middle age (40-70 years) and the life expectancy is 2-5 years after diagnosis.

ALS is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease because on July 4, 1939, New York Yankee Lou Gehrig, also known as the Iron Horse of Baseball, stood before a crowd of 62,000 people to announce that he would be retiring from baseball because just a few days earlier he’d been diagnosed with ALS, which most people had never heard of at the time. Just two years later he died of the disease. Seventy-five years later, there is still no cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

I know many people who have taken the challenge. One of the cast members of our show chose not to do the ice bucket challenge, but posted a video of himself chugging a beer and announcing that he’d donated to 4 charities of his choosing, including the ALSA. Many people have chosen to just donate money, as I have, and I haven’t even been nominated to do the ice bucket challenge. I’m not saying this to brag on myself – I couldn’t donate much, and I certainly wish I could donate to more organizations – but the point is that I probably wouldn’t have donated to their organization if I hadn’t seen these videos because I wasn’t really aware of it. Now I am aware, and here I am devoting an entire blog entry to the subject and hopefully now you know a little bit about it, too.

There are many organizations and charities that could use your help. Please consider donating either your money or time to a charitable organization today, whether you choose to dump a bucket of iced water on your head or strip to your skivvies or not. In addition to my donation to ALSA, I have also made a donation to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in memory of Robin Williams. To make a donation to ALSA, click here. To make a donation to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, click here. To donate to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, click here. To donate to charity: water, click here.