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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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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.

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…

 

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.

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Feel better, Grandmama!! xo