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Carrie Fisher: Drowned In Moonlight, Strangled By Her Own Bra

28 Dec

There has been a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in grief.

I’ve spent the entire day trying to figure out what to say about Carrie Fisher’s death, and I still don’t know where or how to begin. Not since Whitney Houston has a celebrity death gutted me the way that Carrie Fisher’s has today.

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2016 has taken many celebrities from us – Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Gene Wilder and, most recently, George Michael to name just a few – but losing Carrie Fisher today feels different. I feel like I’ve lost a member of my family. Of course, I am not related to Carrie Fisher, nor did I ever meet the woman, but I did grow up with her…or at least with the character who defined her career.

“Star Wars” opened almost exactly 6 months after I was born, and the characters from those movies have been a part of my consciousness for 40 years. As a kid, I had almost every Star Wars toy you could think of – ships, figurines, the Dagobah System and even Star Wars sheets on my bed. One side of the pillowcase was the Dark Side, featuring Storm Troopers and Darth Vader and the flip side of the pillowcase was the Light Side with Luke, Leia and the droids. Darth Vader so terrified me that I would make sure each night that I was sleeping on the Light Side of the pillow, confident in the fact that Luke and Leia and the Rebels had my back, so to speak.

As a kid, I didn’t know what Leia really represented in terms of the Big Picture – I just thought she was pretty and pretty awesome – but as I’ve gotten older, I appreciate her as a strong female character who is intelligent, strong and capable in addition to being gorgeous. She even saved the life of the man she loved. I didn’t realize it at the time, but through Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, I learned women can do anything – even save the galaxy. Sadly, 40 years later, we still rarely see female characters as strong and independent as Leia. I’m watching Episode IV as I type this, finding it hard to believe that one of my heroines is now gone.

Of course, Carrie Fisher was so much more than Princess Leia. She was a celebrated actress, author, sought-after script doctor, and perhaps most importantly, she put a spotlight on mental illness and addiction, giving voice and encouragement to so many who struggle from bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol addiction by bravely sharing her own struggles with incredible candor and humor. She was also a mother, and my heart goes out to her daughter, Billie, as well as her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

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But to me, she will always be the Princess with the honey bun hairdo and giant brown eyes who led a rebellion and saved a smuggler.

A bit of my childhood died today, and I am so sad.

May the Force be with you, Ms. Fisher.

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I Am Thankful For The Happiest Place On Earth

7 Dec

I have failed you, dear reader. I told you I’d recount my Disney Thanksgiving yesterday, but the day got away from me and…well…that’s the only excuse I’ve got. I’m sorry. And I can’t believe I didn’t post anything yesterday about it being Walt Disney’s birthday! I’m really slipping here… Well, Happy 113th Birthday, Uncle Walt!

As some of you may recall, I recently spent a week at Walt Disney World completely on my own, enjoying the parks on my own schedule, at my own pace and on my own budget. Several people were shocked that I would want to go to an amusement park by myself – especially for a full week – but I had the absolute time of my life. I rode what I wanted, I met the characters I wanted to meet, I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted and I took the time to take photos and soak in the world famous Disney atmosphere and attention to detail. I found myself talking to strangers and laughing and walking around with a smile on my face. It was heaven.

So, when I found out that we had Thanksgiving day off in Los Angeles, I decided to forgo a traditional theatre orphans’ Thanksgiving, which usually consists of 5 or 6 people who haven’t any friends or family nearby getting together and cooking (and is, for the record, always fun and a wonderful way to spend the holiday), to treat myself to a day at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

My mother always asks me, “What exactly do you do there all day?” Obviously she has never been to a Disney park, though not for my lack of trying to get her to one.

Rather than tell you what I did, I’ll just show you. Nothing more exciting than looking at someone’s vacation photos, eh? Enjoy!

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The Final Countdown

5 Dec

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since my last entry. My apologies for being negligent of my tens of adoring fans.

A lot has happened in the four weeks since I last wrote – including, but not limited to, my 38th birthday, a screening of “Big Hero 6” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, three trips to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Thanksgiving, a 3-week run of Kinky Boots in Los Angeles and the addition of nearly 6,000 signatures to the Save Cafe Edison petition. And now, here I am in San Francisco – my first time playing this town and also the last city on this two year journey. That’s right, kids…the Merch Whore is hanging up his kinky boots on December 29 to go pursue his own dreams, and it feels really good.

"Big Hero 6" at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

“Big Hero 6” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

I’m still not really sure what this means for this the future of this blog – I still have many stories to share, and I expect my future endeavors will provide much fodder, as well, but I may need to change the name of the blog since I will no longer be whoring myself out as a merchandiser. I don’t know – there are much more important things to consider at this stage in the game, like getting through the next 28 1/2 performances without strangling someone.

Since day one of this particular tour, things have been more stressful than the last three I’ve done. It’s a bigger show, yes, so that’s to be expected, but there has been a lot of unnecessary and avoidable stress, as well. Having a legendary pop star come up and tell you that all of the merchandise you’re selling is “fucking ugly” (sorry, Dad, for the profanity) and that I should be selling in drag on my first day should have tipped me off that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. My grandmother dying two weeks into the run and not being able to go home for her funeral…? Pretty shitty. The immediate and overwhelming increase in workload, while also expected with a show that does the sales that this one has, has been unpleasant and I’m pretty sure has done some damage to one of my shoulders, leaving my fingers numb in my right hand. Add to that a new feature with our credit card system that allows for immediate customer feedback (against which I have no willpower and feel compelled to read everything they have to say about me) and I’d say I’m pretty burnt out.

“What kind of feedback are the customers leaving?,” you might ask. Well…here’s a smattering of the bad ones.

The person working yr [sic] promotion table had no customer service skills at all!!!! Very rude!!!! Selling products is a no brainer but I expected more personality!!!!

“Selling products is a no brainer?” Really? I have a feeling they’d feel differently if I miscalculated their total and overcharged them… Oh, wait…someone did:

I was overcharged by $10.00. I was charged for 1 ornament (20), 1 vocal selections (28), 1 little black book (12), 2 black hoodies (45×2). I purchased and actually received 1 ornament (20), 1 vocal selections (28), 1 little black book (12), 1 black hoodie (45), 1 black t-shirt (35).

I made a mistake. That’s my fault. But rather than just contact our office and request a refund, they decided to complain about me. Forget the fact that the prices are clearly posted on each item and, if they’d taken the time to do the math or, even easier, check the contents of their bag before walking away, there wouldn’t have been an issue. But consumer responsibility doesn’t exist anymore. It’s always the salesperson’s fault.

And one last one…

The salesman that was there was brusque and unfriendly. I almost didn’t buy because of his behavior.

The operative word in this statement is almost. It is quite possible that I was brusque and unfriendly, but as one person selling a few thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise to 500 people in a 25 minute time frame, there isn’t much time for dillydallying. I’m not sorry I don’t have the time to unfold (and refold) every size of every shirt for you. I’m not sorry that I helped the three people behind you in line while you dumped the contents of your purse out on my booth, looking for your credit card. I’m not sorry that I asked you to step aside while you decided what you wanted while I helped 10 or 15 other people who did know what they wanted and had their money out and ready. What I am sorry about is that I’m not sorry, because this job has made me dislike people, and that makes me sad. Some specific people, to be sure, but I’m speaking in more generic terms. This has never been a secret – I’ve never been a big fan of the general public, and from that dislike and frustration came this lovely blog – but this show has been the final nail in my patience’s coffin. I’m done.

But I still made the sale.

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To be fair to myself (and to make myself sound like less of an douche bag), it should be noted that of the 142 feedback entries received, only 5 have been “Not Satisfied.” Five. There are many comments about how fast and efficient I am (and how I need help) and even some noting how pleasant I was to talk to. The thing to note about people is that they generally can’t be bothered to praise, but they leap at the opportunity to complain. And I understand that…I’ve been guilty of that myself a couple of times. I hope that one of the things I take away with me from this job is the ability to understand that not everyone is having a good day (perhaps their grandmother died just hours before they had to come to work, so you wanting a synopsis of what you missed because you were late isn’t very important to them in the grand scheme of things…) and to just let it go.

I am one with the wind and sky.

In addition to the daily stress of the job, like coming in and finding 5 or 10 boxes of merchandise waiting for me at the stage door when I wasn’t made aware that it was coming, there’s also been some internal drama here at the show with people wanting their significant others to come out on the road as my replacement. To the point that one company member actually defriended me on Facebook and has apparently been talking trash behind my back to cast members…many of whom are my friends. Now, this person has never actually spoken to me about the grievances that he holds against me – I’ve just heard it all through the grapevine and he won’t even look me in the eye now – and I feel skeevy and prepubescent even writing about it because I feel like I’m perpetuating the non-existent drama and being just as passive aggressive as he is, but it’s really been weighing on my spirit lately. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people are willing to turn on you when you are no longer useful to them. I don’t make the hiring decisions when it comes to who gets hired, and honestly, I can’t really believe that anyone who knows me would want to take this job from me. I mean, isn’t he one of the ten people who read this blog? (He’s not). No one ever says, “I aspire to be the merch person!” In fact, our head carpenter just said to me a few minutes ago, “Merch and Stage Management: two jobs I would never want.”  I may not make the hiring decisions, but there’s one thing of which to be sure:  I can certainly recommend to my employer that certain people not be hired.

All this drama, and I don’t even get a curtain call.

Alright, so this has turned into one big, negative entry and that wasn’t my intention, though unfortunately, that’s kind of what I’ve been reduced to with this show. So, it’s time to go. I have 28 shows to go – only 25 days – and then I’m free. I’ve already started getting “nesty,” searching for kitchen and living room and bathroom necessities and looking at deals for one of those newfangled flat screened TVs. I’ve started researching housing in Orlando and I’m formulating a plan to get myself down there by February 1st or so. I’m so excited for this new chapter in my life – a complete reboot. I’m nervous, too. Not only will I be leaving my tour bubble after two years (what do you mean, I have to buy my own toilet paper again?!), but I’ll also be looking for a new job, making a car payment and all the other stuff normal grownups around the country have to do. As Little Red sings in Into the Woods, I feel excited. Well, excited and scared.

In the meantime, I hope to enjoy my time in San Francisco, see some sights (I have yet to see the Golden Gate Bridge) and spend some quality time with my friends Toni, Amy and Matt, who all live in the Bay Area.

Tomorrow I’ll do my best to recap what was, quite possibly, the most fantastical Thanksgiving I’ve had in years, including a visit with my future boss, though he doesn’t know it yet…

Me and my future employer...he just doesn't know it yet.

Me and my future employer…he just doesn’t know it yet. Look at the joy on my face!

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

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.