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I Always Feels Like Somebody’s Watching Me

11 Feb

Well…maybe I don’t always feel like somebody’s watching me, but sometimes it’s fun to give myself the creeps.

As I wrote in my last entry, I have started walking. A lot. I’m averaging about 3 miles a night now, not including the mileage I get just walking in everyday life, so I’m getting in anywhere from 5-9 miles a day now. It’s during those nightly walks that I really get in the steps, though, and to keep myself entertained while I’m walking, I’ll typically listen to whatever music pops up on my iPhone (SEE ALSO: Beyoncé, “Formation.”) But a couple of times a week, I get a special surprise when two of the podcasts that I’m following release new episodes.

I’m new to the world of podcasts, and I’ve recently discovered Fireside Mystery Theatre and Chilling Tales: The Podcast, and I gotta tell ya, guys…I’m hooked. Fireside Mystery Theatre is a storytelling podcast based in the tradition of radio dramas from the 30’s and 40’s. They perform their stories live from September to May at the Slipper Room in New York City’s Lower East Side and they have a whole slew of back episodes to choose from. Recently I listened to Episode 8 (April 10, 2015), which included three Irish ghost stories and I was completely taken in by them. The musical interludes between the stories were wonderful, too.

Chilling Tales is another storytelling podcast, but it has less of a “radio drama” feel about it and is more straightforward storytelling with actors voicing the characters or a single narrator. The first night I discovered the podcast, I was at home, cooking in the kitchen with only a couple of lights on in the house, and by the end of the second episode (Horror S’more-er: Chilling Tales Goes To Camp), I was checking the locks and windows in the house and turning on as many lights as possible.

It takes a lot to genuinely scare me. After living in New York City for as long as I did, there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen or experienced and, believe or not, after years of terror threats and heightened alerts and raids on your apartment by the FBI, one becomes desensitized to a lot of things. Or at least one tells oneself. After some time in the city, I became less worried about being blown up in the subway than I was about being blown away in a hurricane or bodies falling on me from the high-rises in Midtown. (This actually happened, by the way – not a body falling on me, but I happened upon a suicide scene on 6th Avenue one day on my way to work. The body had landed on the sidewalk just next to an outdoor café. The police had brought in city buses to park on each side of the corner to block off foot traffic and onlookers. It was not a pretty scene. And I would have expected my pastrami on rye to be comped.)

All that being said, one of my favorite things to do at one point in my time in New York, was to walk from work at the Metropolitan Opera House, where I used to work coat check, to the subway on 57th Street, while listening to a suite of music from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” You should try it sometime. It’ll really freak you out. So now, while I’m walking around my darkened neighborhood late at night, I listen to people telling spooky stories. And I find myself looking over my shoulder. A lot. Because the one thing that does scare me is people jumping out from behind things or sneaking up on me.

When I was in third grade, my next door neighbor’s dad took me and a few of the kids in the neighborhood to a radio station-sponsored haunted house. We were all far too young to get in, but Kevin Ray’s dad knew some people who let us in – or he convinced them that we were old enough…I don’t know – and we got into this place.

Looking back on it, I don’t really remember many of the specifics of the place – it felt like there were a hundred different rooms that we went through and I remember thinking we were never going to finally be done with it, though the reality is there may have been a dozen or so different rooms and scenes. But what I do remember still haunts me.

The first room I remember walking through was a large, open space, with a walkway on the left side of the room, and Satan pacing the floor on the right side of the room. Now, I know, that sounds kind of hokey, but I was maybe 9 years old and, in addition to Satan, there were also dozens of fallen angels behind bars, reaching out into the walkway, begging us to save them. As a kid who went to church regularly, this terrified me on so many levels. I may have cried…I can’t remember.

The next room I remember featured a doctor eating the guts out of a body on an operating table. Just, y’know, yanking them out and shoving the slimy, bloody entrails into his face. And then he sawed off their head. Duh.

And finally, the last room we came to was a huge space with just a coffin set up near the wall at the far end of the room, furthest away from the door. The tour guide told us to form a circle in the middle of the room, holding hands and closing our eyes, which immediately made me suspicious, but I closed my eyes, anyway, so that maybe I wouldn’t have to see what was inevitably about to happen. A few seconds later, there was a lot of screaming and I heard someone passing behind me, so I opened my eyes to find a mummy in the center of our circle, getting in everyone’s faces and making mummy-like sounds (I’m not even sure what those are), and Dracula, who had risen from his coffin, running around the outside of our circle, thrusting his head between us as if he were going for our throats.

Well, I was done. I bolted for what I thought was the door, only to find that I had accidentally run myself behind Dracula’s coffin, which set me into a panic. Kevin Ray’s dad came and rescued me and we proceeded to leave through a giant door that had black plastic hanging from it, like a meat locker. That’s the last time I’ve ever willingly set foot in a haunted house.

That night, perhaps in an attempt to apologize to all of us for subjecting us to that nightmare, Kevin Ray’s dad took us to Pizza Hut, where we all sat at a booth. We didn’t all fit, so we had to pull up a chair to the end of the table, which is where I had to sit, and as we were waiting for our pizzas to arrive, I remember hearing Hall & Oates “Private Eyes” playing over the PA system.

Private eyes (clap!)
They’re watching you! (clap! clap!)
They see your ev’ry move…

I’ve never been able to listen to 70’s soft rock the same way since. (If only I’d developed a similar aversion to pizza…) I was convinced that someone was behind me – Satan or perhaps that weird-sounding mummy. Convinced that they had followed us to Pizza Hut and were planning to finish me off before the pepperoni pan pizza had even arrived. That they were watching me (clap! clap!)…that they saw my ev’ry move. Like demons and mummies do. I think I maybe ate half a slice which, even at that age, was unheard of for me. I couldn’t be bothered to eat – I was on poltergeist patrol.

To this day, I have never wittingly stepped into a haunted house again. I’ve been that guy who holds people’s bags while they go through the house or runs down the hall with his eyes covered, screaming, “I’ll punch you! I swear, I will!” when the dorms decided it’d be fun to have a haunted floor. I flat out refused to go to Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights this year, even though I could have gotten in for free and all my co-workers begged me to go, but I am 99% certain I would have gotten myself fired for assaulting the first performer who jumped out at me with a chainsaw. Homie don’t play dat.

But I can creep myself out with ghost stories and Bernard Herrmann scores and that’s enough for me. Because I can turn it off whenever I want.

I still get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear that song, though. And a craving for Pizza Hut pan pizza. Not today, Satan! Not today…

 

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

The Show Must Go On.

17 Sep

I know the quote. I’ve said it, even, but I’ve never hated the phrase, “The show must go on” more than I do tonight.

You see, tonight at about 7:30, my 92-year old Granny passed away and I’m 1,700 miles away from home selling t-shirts. I’ve been in this position before – I was on tour doing Junie B. Jones when my Grandpa passed away four years ago – and I feel just as helpless as I did back then. Add guilt to that, too. A lot of guilt. Guilt because I can’t simply drop everything and fly back home. I didn’t even know she was in the hospital until last night and before we’d even had a chance to try to figure out a Plan B for someone to manage Kinky Boots, she was gone.

I’m naturally very sad that my grandmother is gone, but even more than that, I’m sad that I can’t be home for my Dad. He and the rest of my family have apparently agreed that I shouldn’t try to come home for the funeral – they all know how difficult that would prove to be – but the idea of not being there overwhelms me with guilt. A person typically only gets four grandparents in their life and to miss her funeral seems so disrespectful. I will likely be the only grandchild not there – all so I can sell some t-shirts and shot glasses to people who have no idea how hard it is to smile through all of the feelings that I’m feeling right now.

My Granny – Ruth Helene Craig Bratton – wasn’t the warm and fuzzy kind of grandma you’d see on an ABC Family Christmas Special. She didn’t typically invite us kids over to play or take us to the zoo or the Ice Capades or to spend the night (though, to her credit, she and my Grandpa did take me to a cave in Indiana once, which is still a lovely memory). She didn’t bake cookies and read stories and she wasn’t overly affectionate – she wasn’t much of a hugger. But I knew that she loved me and my cousins. She may not have been very demonstrative with her affections, but I knew. Dad says she was a wonderful mother, but she was older when the grandkids came along. She was often ill, whether real or imagined, and so a lot of what I remember about her revolved around going to doctors and taking pills and having surgeries, but I also remember going to Granny and Grandpa’s mobile home (Grandpa apparently lost money on a house once and swore never to buy one again) and sitting at the bar, coloring in the coloring books that she kept for me and the other kids in the hall closet while her favorite Box Car Willie or Conway Twitty 8-track played. I remember the Swiss Miss hot cocoa she would make for me, summer or winter – it didn’t matter. I remember the bowl of sour ball, butterscotch and green peppermint hard candies, the seemingly hundreds of tubes of cherry Chap Stick she had on the table between their two recliners and the excitement I felt the few times I did spend the night with them because I knew the next morning I would get a big bowl of Smurfberry cereal (she herself had an affinity for Cap’n Crunch). I remember crossword puzzles and seek-and-finds and her false teeth popping out of her mouth and how important it was for her to get her hair done, regardless of how she was feeling. I still crave her beef and noodles recipe, even though she hadn’t made it in decades and I am sad that I never learned to make it myself. And you would never find a bigger fan of University of Louisville basketball on the planet. That’s the Granny I want to remember – not the sick, worn down woman I saw when I was home a few weeks ago who was just biding time til she got to see my Grandpa again.

Smurfberry Crunch cereal was always in the pantry at Granny and Grandpa's when I'd come spend the night.

Smurfberry Crunch cereal was always in the pantry at Granny and Grandpa’s when I’d come spend the night.

There’s a story my Mom tells about when Granny and Grandpa came to visit us in England back in the early 80’s. Granny went into a store and bought something with traveler’s cheques and when the girl behind the counter asked if they were sterling, Granny answered, in her very loud southern Indiana accent, “Lands’ sakes no, they ain’t stolen! I bought these in the U-nited States of America!” That was my Granny. I love her and I will miss her and I hope that she and my Grandpa are young and healthy and together again up in that mobile home park in the sky.

Me and my grandparents at their mobile home circa 1983.

Me and my grandparents at their mobile home circa 1983.

 

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.

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.”

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.