Tag Archives: Beyonce

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…

 

Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Not The King…I’m Just A Singer

3 Oct

There’s no real way to say this without sounding like a complete douche nugget, but…when you’ve worked on Broadway as long as I have, “celebrity” really loses its allure and mystery. Broadway is a very small community and you often find yourself working with, around and for some pretty famous people. Yes, I have only worked on Broadway as a merchandiser (and we are the bottom of the totem pole as far as most people are concerned), but I have worked on over 50 shows on Broadway alone, not counting off-Broadway, national tours and my years working at the Metropolitan Opera. One of the first things my boss told me when I was hired was, “We’re here to do our jobs, not to bother the actors or the patrons – no matter who they are.” And I’ve had interactions with some pretty famous people (hold on tight, I’m about to drop a lot of names here): Hillary Clinton, Ricky Martin, Kathleen Turner, Billy Joe Armstrong, Tyne Daly, Heidi Klum, Ben Stiller, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Earl Jones, Luciano Pavarotti, Ted Brokaw, Audra McDonald, Mario Lopez, James Franco, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes…blah blah blah. It’s hard to imagine that I could possibly be nonplussed by these people now, but I am. In New York, you get used to seeing Sarah Jessica Parker walking through Shubert Alley or standing in line at Starbucks with Kevin Spacey and you don’t freak out over them. They’re just people like you and me.

This is not to say that there aren’t still folks out there that would make even me starstruck. Barbra Streisand, Beyoncé and Julie Andrews are the first three that come to mind. I don’t know how I would react if I got to meet any of them. Especially Barbra. And part of me hopes I never do meet them. Julie Andrews came to see a show that I was working in New York a few weeks ago and I was stuck working the booth in the basement, so I never even got to see her. I would like to think that I’d have maintained my sense of professionalism, but…she’s Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp. I very well might have turned into a blubbering mess. But the fact is, they’re still human beings. They’re people who are fallible and vulnerable and tangible. They are still alive and for that I am very, very grateful. I fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing Barbra Streisand in concert last year – twice! – and I am certain that it will stand out as a highlight of my life even when I’m old and gray.

One celebrity that I will never get to meet, and one who seems to be so unfathomable to me, is Elvis Presley. He died only a few months after I was born, so I wasn’t around to experience him at the height of his glory. Or, more accurately, the many heights of his 20-year career.

While we were in Memphis last week, several of us paid homage to the King by visiting Graceland, his mansion located on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Of our group, I think I was the oldest and probably the only true Elvis fan of the bunch. I’d been to Graceland before – twice, actually – but this trip was somehow different. I think because I was finally old enough to really appreciate the man’s accomplishments. My previous trips were more for the camp value – the tackiness of the Jungle Room and the jumpsuits – but this time I went with a sense of reverence, awe and respect.

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Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, TN

Graceland itself is much smaller than people expect it to be. It even looked smaller than I remembered when we drove up to it. Walking in the front door and looking into the living room and music room, most people started commenting about the dated decor. The plush white carpeting and the 15-foot white sofa with blue velvet curtains and the stained glass windows separating the living area from the music room. It wasn’t included in the audio tour, but I remembered from the first time I’d been that Elvis’ body had been laid in state in that music room before his burial.  That also reminded me that he had died just above our heads on the second floor. The house was no longer tacky and laughable – it was somebody’s house. A family had lived here, played here, laughed, cried and died here. But there was no mention of his wake in the music room. The stairs leading up to the second floor have been closed to the public since Elvis’ death out of respect for him and his family, which also adds to the myth and the mystery surrounding him. Graceland is no tourist attraction – it is a shrine.

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The living room and music room at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, TN

Walking through the rest of the house, pausing to look at the awful (but original!) carpeting in the kitchen, the bizarre mirrored stairwell leading to the over-the-top blue and gold TV room with a giant lightning bolt painted on the wall, I stopped marveling at the early-70’s decor itself, but I started focusing on the amount of decor. Every last inch of the house is decorated – painted, carpeted, or, in the case of the billiards room, covered in pleated fabric. It became fairly clear that Elvis was making up for the things that he and his family didn’t have when he was growing up. That was also apparent when walking through the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum across the street. But somehow it didn’t come off as pretentious – it just felt like he wanted to provide his family with nice things because he was finally able to.

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The Trophy Building hallway at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, TN

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Left: Elvis wearing the black leather suit during the ’68 Comeback Special.
Right: The suit on display in the Trophy Building at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, TN

Next to the house is what’s now called the Trophy Building, and it may house the most awe-inspiring/intimidating hallway I’ve ever walked through. On both sides of the 80-foot hallway are Elvis’ gold, platinum and diamond albums (diamond indicates sales of 10 million copies or more!) and his three Grammy Awards, which incidentally were all won for gospel albums. It’s outrageous to think that one human being accomplished so much as a musician in 20 short years. It quite literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Turning the corner from the trophy hallway into the museum-like trophy building, you’re overwhelmed by another facet of Elvis’ success: the movie and TV memorabilia room. In this room are costume pieces and posters from Elvis’ movies as well as costumes worn in his concerts, including the famous black leather suit he wore in his incredible ’68 Comeback Special. In terms of sex appeal, no one can touch Elvis in that black suit. This was the King at his absolute peak physically, vocally and financially. On the walls of this room are also humanitarian awards given to Elvis for his charitable contributions and old checks that Elvis had written to dozens of charities around Memphis, including the Boys and Girls’ Club of Memphis and the Memphis Jewish Community Center. There’s also a plaque in honor of Elvis’ 1961 Hawaii concert that raised $64,000 to help build the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. This was a good man who gave back to his community, his friends and his family. People are quick to write him off as the overweight man in a too-tight jumpsuit and mutton chops, but he was the real deal: a celebrity – quite possibly the biggest celebrity ever – who remembered where he came from. How anyone could walk out of that trophy room without feeling humbled is beyond me.

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The trophy room in the racquetball court at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, TN

But it didn’t end there. From the Trophy Building you are guided to the racquetball court, whose walls are covered from floor to ceiling with more awards – gold and platinum albums from Elvis’ international and posthumous sales as well as a selection of some of his famous jumpsuit costumes. While you’re completely gobsmacked by the sheer number of awards on the walls, you’re listening to Elvis singing what has been called his most emotional and personally connected song, “If I Can Dream,” and “An American Trilogy.” “So hush little baby, don’t you cry/You know your daddy’s bound to die/But all my trials, Lord, soon be over.” It’s nearly impossible to not be moved. I couldn’t help thinking about his daughter, Lisa Marie, and what it must be even now to hear those lyrics sung by her daddy. And as we moved outside to the meditation garden and the Presley’s graves, I was overcome with a sense of sadness and gratitude and awe. There I was, standing at the grave of one of the greatest artists of all time – a man whose work I so admire and grew up on – missing someone I never even knew.

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Elvis Presley’s grave at Graceland in Memphis, TN

Elvis Presley still doesn’t seem real to me. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it must have been like to be him – to walk a mile in his blue suede shoes. His was the ultimate American dream come true – to come from nothing and become a legend. I often wonder if these huge superstars ever regret their stardom. Do they ever wish they could just hop in the car and run to Target and not be noticed? I remember a night when Britney Spears came to see Shrek The Musical on Broadway. She was in town doing her Circus tour at Madison Square Garden and had the night off, so she brought her two kids to see the show and it became a zoo. Paparazzi knocking people down trying to get photos of her and her boys, people screaming her name and scaring the children. She had to be walked into the theatre after the lights had gone down and had to leave before the end of the first act to make sure she got to use the restroom before anyone noticed her. Unfortunately, two young girls walked into the bathroom as she was walking out and started screaming, which started a domino effect and ultimately she and her entourage had to leave before the show ended. And all she wanted to do was take her kids to see a show. I can’t imagine what that life must be like or what kinds of sacrifices have to be made to maintain it or what kind of toll it must take on someone’s life.

I recently heard a story about a man who approached Elvis and said, “Oh, I can’t believe I’m finally meeting the King!” Elvis replied, “I’m not the King. Jesus Christ is the King. I’m just a singer.” I don’t know if that story is true, but I sure hope it is.