Tag Archives: Disney

I Am Thankful For The Happiest Place On Earth

7 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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Nicole Never Bothered Me, Anyway

21 Jan
Elsa, the Snow Queen, in Disney's "Frozen"

Elsa, the Snow Queen, in Disney’s “Frozen”

I wonder how long it will be before people start blaming Walt Disney Pictures for the freakishly cold weather we’ve had across the country this year. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these snowstorms and polar vortices have been clearly imagineered  by Disney to help promote “Frozen” and its soundtrack. Heck, the last snowstorm was even named “Hercules,” a Disney feature length animation! It’s no surprise that the storm blowing through the eastern half of the country happened just a few days after “Let It Go,” a Disney anthem unlike any other, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. In lieu of sending gifts to Academy voters to sway decisions, Disney has sent a full-blown blizzard care of Elsa herself. The cold temperatures are also helping to keep Uncle Walt’s head nice and chilled, as well, until it’s time to thaw him out.

But seriously – I am so excited to watch the success of not only the movie which, according to IMDB.com, has grossed nearly $337 million domestically in less than two months, but also the soundtrack. It has consistently outsold even the Queen Bey herself on iTunes for the last four weeks, and I am so thrilled to hear so many Broadway voices on that album, including Kristen Bell, who I love. Yes, Kristen was on Broadway in the early 2000’s in a short-lived musical called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which she played Becky Thatcher before she booked “Veronica Mars” or adorably freaked out over a sloth.

Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Maia Wilson, Alan Tudyk, Josh Gad…all Broadway folks. The songs were written by Robert Lopez, the composer of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. More Broadway folks. And, of course, Idina Menzel, who basically broke the vocal mold of Disney heroines with this film. There’s some honest-to-goodness screlting going on in this film, and it’s thrilling! I remember sitting in my seat and gasping when I heard her sing, “Tell the guards to open up…the gaaaaaate!” (at 2:48) because I’d never heard singing like that in a Disney film before. Obviously I know how Idina sings – I saw her in Wicked and See What I Wanna See in New York – but I half expected that she would be asked to bring it down a notch for the movie. I’m so glad that she was allowed to do her thing. I like seeing theatre people being recognized for the hard and exceptional work that they do.

And then there’s the song. “Let It Go” has become a sort of cultural phenomenon, spawning thousands of YouTube videos of people screaming their guts out and dozens of Buzzfeed articles featuring foreign language versions of the song, parodies and What If… alternate versions. There’s a reason the song is resonating with so many people, though. It’s a song of self acceptance, self forgiveness and embracing your own uniqueness and seeing where you can go with it. Sung by someone who has been hidden away from the world because she was born different. Locked away out of shame and fear by her parents, the two people who are supposed to love her the most; told to suppress not only what makes her different, but her feelings, as well. And finally, when it all comes out into the open, she realizes that there’s no taking it back and she decides to let go of the shame and fear and be who she really is. I know a lot of people who can relate to that. The sequence is thrilling and cathartic and incredibly moving. I called it as we walked out of the theater that chilly night in Tempe – the Lopezes have won themselves an Oscar. They didn’t win the Golden Globe, unfortunately, but I have high hopes that Oscar night they will win.

As much as I want “Frozen” to do well at the Oscars, I’m still mad about “Saving Mr. Banks” not getting more nominations. Especially Emma Thompson. But I guess I have to let it go.

Did I really just write that?

This video has been trending online today. It’s the “Let It Go” sequence sung in 25 different languages. The Latin American Spanish version is called “Libre Soy,” which means, “I Am Free.” I really love that. Enjoy!

Happy New Year-versary!

31 Dec

I can’t believe it, but one year ago today my adventure on the road began with a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a dream. One year. I really can’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d make it 6 months, but here I am, back at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be out on the road, but I know that 2014 is going to bring some big changes and I can’t wait.

So, what does one year on the road mean? Well…for me it means this:

318 Performances (including tonight)
3 National tours
2 Broadway shows
1 off-Broadway show
33 Cities
21 States
29 Hotels
29 Flights
11 Buses
10 Rental Cars
23 Zoos and Aquariums
5 Trips to Disneyland
3 New Suitcases
…and a partridge in a pear tree.

I’ve said it before and I maintain to this day that taking this touring job was the answer to about a hundred different prayers and I am still so grateful to have the job and the opportunities it affords me. I miss having a kitchen, yes, and my own bed, but what a joy to be able to see my friends around the country, to go to Disneyland so many times, to eat such wonderful food everywhere we go and to have the memories of a wonderful year-long road trip.

To celebrate my year on the road and all the wonderful things that I got to experience and all the friends I made and reunited with, I made this slideshow of photos. I do hope you’ll take the time to watch and enjoy it!

Happy New Year!!

 

Please See “Saving Mr. Banks”

29 Dec
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Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L Travers visit Disneyland in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

I’ve been meaning to write a post about “Saving Mr. Banks” since I saw it a couple of weeks ago at a screening at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. I meant to write about it after I saw it again this past Thursday with my family. But I haven’t. I have not been able to find words that were eloquent and succinct enough to express the deep emotional impact it had on me. So I have given up and I will let someone else do the work for me.

Today I came across this review from Mark Hughes, a contributor at Forbes.com. I believe his review is about as close to everything that I would wish to say about this film as I could have written, but his is more precise and far less rambling. (I wrote a 4-page draft about my feelings regarding the movie. You can thank me later for trashing it).

My personal connection to the film is very different from Mr. Hughes’ – I am lucky enough to still have both of my parents (neither of whom are alcoholics or abusive, for the record) – but the film’s message of self-forgiveness and letting go of the past spoke to me on a very deep level because of my own traumatic experiences. Perhaps someday I will be brave enough to share my childhood trauma here for you, but today is not that day. Not yet. Beside…that’s not the point of this entry. The point is – you really should see this movie.

Who’s The Leader Of The Club That’s Made For You And Me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

22 Nov

Someone just had a birthday! He’s cute, sweet, funny, rich and incredibly famous. Those last two adjectives clued you into the fact that it’s not me, right? No, folks…I’m talking about Mickey Mouse’s 85th birthday, which was this past Monday! Can you believe it? He doesn’t look a day over 63.

My love of Disney and the Mouse started as a kid. As I mentioned in my last post, my grandparents had a lot to do with that, taking me to the movies to see re-releases of the classic animated features or to meet-and-greets with the Mouse himself. My parents spoiled me with dozens of Disney albums (remember LPs?) that featured classic Disney tunes or told the stories that we all know so well. I had Picture Disc albums of “The Lady and the Tramp,” “The Fox and the Hound,” which still breaks my heart, and “Mary Poppins.” I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and had a big pin to prove it. I used to Mousercise. Don’t judge – it was a thing!

When I was 8 or 9, my Grandmama and Popaw decided that we should take a road trip to Orlando so I could meet the Mouse on his home turf. My uncle, who’d just gotten out of a stint in rehab, and his friend were going to join us. The plan was to go to Fort Myers first, hitting the beach before we headed up to the Happiest Place on Earth. It was the first time I’d ever taken a major trip without my parents and honestly, I wasn’t terribly excited about it, even with the looming opportunity to meet Mickey and friends.

My Mom bought me a brand new (expensive) pair of Reebok high tops (that was a thing, too) and packed my case full of matchy-matchy Bermuda shorts and button down short sleeved shirts and we were off. On the way down to Florida, we got a flat tire somewhere around the Georgia/Florida state line. It was a real doozy of a storm, and I’ve always had a paralyzing fear of being caught in a tornado, and as my Popaw and uncle got out in the storm to change the tire, I sat in the front seat with my grandmother, sobbing and begging them to get back in the car before they were killed. They lived, of course – it would be inappropriate to write such a macabre story on Mickey Mouse’s big day – and we continued our trip down to Ft. Myers.

It was in Ft. Myers that I developed a distaste for beaches. It’s not the beach itself that I dislike – I think they’re quite beautiful – but the experience ruined me on beaches for life. We found a choice parking spot in the beach’s public lot and in my excitement, I ran ahead as my grandparents got the beach bags and towels and things and locked up the car. I was still wearing my Reeboks and my grandmother didn’t want me to traipse through the sand in them and told me to take them off and put them in the trunk of the car. Well, who had time to run all the way back to the car when we were losing precious time on the beach? Not me! So I took my shoes off and hid them next to a garbage can and ran back out to the beach. I hastily slathered on some sunscreen and headed straight out into the water.

Grandmama asked me several times if I had applied sunscreen – and I had – so I always answered, “Yes.” Had she asked me if I’d reapplied after being in the water, things might have turned out differently… We had a great time at the beach, running in and out of the water and building things in the sand, but all good things must come to an end, so we packed up our things and headed back to the car. On the way, I went back to my secret hiding spot to pick up my shoes. They weren’t there.

I immediately started to panic. My grandparents quickly caught on to the fact that something was up, but I was scared to death to tell them what had happened. It had never occurred to me that anyone might even find my shoes, let alone take them. My Mom had made such a fuss over how much the shoes cost that my first thought was, “My Mom is going to kill me!” and I started to cry. We looked all over Ft. Myers beach for those shoes, with my grandmother even going so far as to ask the people at the hotel (where my not-so-secret hiding place was) if she could dig through their dumpster to see if they’d been thrown away. The hotel wouldn’t allow it, of course, so we were forced to leave with me in tears and barefoot.

We drove to the nearest K-Mart and my grandmother bought me some cheap – CHEAP – sneakers (which lasted me forever, by the way) as I followed behind her, still sobbing and mumbling, “My Mom is going to KILL me!” I hated the shoes Grandmama picked out, but beggars can’t be choosers. We went back to the hotel to clean up before dinner and I calmed down a bit, though I was still certain my Mom was going to disown me when she found out that I’d lost my Reeboks. We went out to eat and when we came back to the hotel, my grandmother told me to get ready for my shower.

I started to take my shirt off and couldn’t get my arms over my head. I knew I was sunburnt – I could feel it – but my grandfather couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get my shirt over my head. He was, understandably, a little fed up with me by that point, and started to yank the shirt up over my head as I started to scream in pain. By the time he finally got my shirt off, my grandmother gave a little shriek (she’s a bit dramatic) and started to cry. On each shoulder were blisters that covered the entire tops of my shoulders and they were probably a quarter of an inch thick. I was still crying from the pain as my grandfather put in me in the bathtub and started pouring cold water over the blisters. My grandmother was still a blubbering mess in the bedroom. I guess I know where I get my excitability and inability to function well in times of crisis…

The next day we drove to Orlando. I have a long history of car sickness, and about the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, I started feeling a bit green around the gills. My grandmother grabbed my sand bucket and I puked in the front lobby of the hotel. I’m classy like that. I felt better a few hours later, but my grandmother was still a mess. The next day we headed to the Magic Kingdom.

I don’t remember much about our trip to Walt Disney World. Mostly I remember wondering why all the costumed characters were putting their arms around me and patting me on the shoulders. I was wearing a red button-up cotton shirt, and the first character that patted me on the shoulder popped the blister and it oozed all over my shirt, leaving a dark red stain. And I cried. But at least I didn’t puke.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

The next day we went to EPCOT Center, which I also don’t remember well, but I do remember feeling much better that day. I vaguely remember riding the ride inside the big golf ball and Captain Nemo’s submarine ride, and I remember Figment, the little dragon. Other than that, I don’t remember much of EPCOT, either.

My mother obviously did not kill me over the shoes and I didn’t die from sun poisoning, but my interest in Disney ceased as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to set foot in another Disney park again in my life, and I was approaching the age where the animated features didn’t interest me much anymore. Like Wendy in “Peter Pan,” I was growing up.

In 2011, I was hired to sing in a concert tour of Disney music in Japan. I was incredibly excited to visit another country, but I really couldn’t have cared less about singing Disney stuff. I was a serious singer/actor! Who had time for that bibbidi-bobbidi crap? It didn’t take long to get wrapped up in that bibbidi-bobbidi goodness and at the first mention of going to Tokyo DisneySea, something that had been buried deep inside me for a long, long time got very, very excited. A few weeks later I got to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It had been more than 25 years since I’d been to a Disney park, and this time around I made sure I did it right.

The joy that I felt seeing the costumed characters – that I still feel – continues to baffle me, but it’s there. My friends Eri-san and Saya-san stood in line with me for 30 minutes to get our picture made with Mickey Mouse and throughout the day at Tokyo Disneyland, we stopped and took pictures with each character we met. They didn’t judge me – they loved it! I felt like I was that 8-year old boy again. We rode every ride, we ate tiny little Japanese turkey legs, we watched the Electric Light Parade, we sang “It’s A Small World” in our native languages as we went through the attraction and we went to our laughing places. It truly was magical and for the first time in years, I felt carefree and, as silly as it sounds, nourished.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

This past May I was lucky enough to take my first venture to the original Happiest Place On Earth – Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, with two of my best friends who now live in San Diego. I arrived at the park before they did and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got my picture with the Big 5 characters – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto – and I took my time marveling at Main Street, U.S.A., taking as many pictures as I could before Tom and Anthony arrived. Since that first visit, I’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure five times with another visit planned the week before Christmas. It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t feel silly. It’s wonderful. And it all started with a mouse.

So, to my friend Mickey Mouse, I wish a very happy 85th birthday. I’ll never leave you again, and I know you’ll always be there for me, too.

See ya real soon!

Disney Character Collage

10 Things You Probably Don’t Care To Know About Me

16 Nov

So there’s this thing happening on Facebook now where someone writes a few things about themselves that no one supposedly knows about them, and if a friend “likes” the post, the writer of the post assigns the liker of the post a number. The liker is then expected to write his or her own post chock full of facts that no one cares about. The number of facts they’re supposed to write directly corresponds to the number the writer of the post that they liked assigned to them. Confused yet? It’s really much simpler and more unnecessary than it sounds, but I actually find it to be kind of interesting. Who knew that so-and-so’s grandfather was one of the motorcycle cops riding alongside JFK’s limo when he was shot in Dallas? How interesting that that person knows how to change the brakes on her car! As fun as these things are to know, I’m not sure that Facebook is the forum in which to share them. It seems more like a thing that one would share in say…a blog. Like this one here. As opposed to posting it on Facebook where everyone is forced to look at it as they scroll past it, you can choose to read this or not here and you never have to look at it again. No harm, no foul. So…here goes.

1. When I was 5 years old, my family moved to a little village outside London, England, for my Dad’s job. Dad was the international quality control manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the early 80’s and we were relocated to a village called Bookham in Surrey for two years. I started school at Eastwick First School, where on my first day of class we went out to pick blackberries. The next day we made blackberry jam as a science project. Our headmistress was named Mrs. Rump. I don’t really remember her much, but whenever I hear her name, I have visions of Miss Trunchbull from “Matilda.” We were required to wear uniforms at Eastwick, which I actually liked a lot and I looked very cute if I do say so myself. Our gym outfits were another story for another day. (Always leave ’em wanting more, right…?)

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Me in my Eastwick First School uniform.

2. I have a very healthy respect/fear of authoritative figures, though I hate to be told what to do and have no tolerance for abuse of power. I believe it is possible to be an authority figure without being a bully or condescending. The second I feel you’re taking advantage of your position or condescend to me, I start bucking up and getting sassy. But if there’s any chance you might be able to throw me in jail, I will probably cry and be as cooperative as possible (See Below).

3. I have been investigated by the FBI. It’s a long story that I don’t have the time or energy to go into again, so just read the post I wrote about it this summer. The One About the FBI.

4. I am absolutely terrified of “haunted” houses, but I am fascinated by haunted houses. When I was 8 years old, my next door neighbor’s dad took some of us to a local radio station’s walk-through haunted house and I haven’t set foot in one since. Again – another post for another day. I am, however, fascinated by houses that may actually be haunted by spirits…not by people jumping out from behind things with chainsaws.

5. I am nearly 37 years old and I have never smoked a cigarette – tobacco or otherwise. I’ve also never done drugs and I don’t drink alcohol. None of it has ever interested me. Honestly, if I’m self-medicating, I’d rather have a cake or cookies. Also, I’ve seen and felt the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on my family. I’ll stick to Twinkies and pie, thanks.

6. My love of Disney began – and was temporarily halted – by my maternal grandparents. My grandparents used to take me to see Disney movies at the cinema when they were being re-released in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Specifically, I remember seeing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and being terrified of the Evil Hag. My grandmother also took me to meet Mickey Mouse at a mall meet-and-greet in Lexington. A few years later, they took me to Walt Disney World and EPCOT, but I was so badly sunburnt from our trip to the beach in Ft. Myers the day before that I cried and/or vomited my way through Orlando. It was 25 years before I set foot in another Disney Park and now I’m obsessed, reliving my childhood as I wanted it to be the first time.

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Timidly introducing myself to Captain Hook at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom circa 1986.

7. I am a self-diagnosed misophoniac. According to Wikipedia, “people who have misophonia are most commonly angered, and even enraged, by common ambient sounds, such as other people clipping their nails, brushing teeth, eating crushed ice, eating, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, chewing gum, laughing, snoring, typing on a keyboard, whistling or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds.” Sounds that are particularly annoying to me include people who eat as if they are chewing cud, clicking jaws, nail clipping, unwrapping hard candies and the sound of hard-soled shoes and heels clicking on tile or concrete in an otherwise silent environment. Specific, huh?

8. When I was in 5th grade, I threw up in front of the entire school. It was during our Christmas show. The principal had just gotten up to give her greeting and we had just finished singing an interminable holiday tune during which I found myself slightly swaying back and forth. At some point during her speech, I tossed my cookies – or, more specifically, the broccoli casserole they’d served at lunch – down the front of my new holiday sweater. And yet I chose to pursue a performance career…

9. When I was in 7th grade, I began working in the school cafeteria to get out of gym class. Connie Fisher and I were the only ones who raised our hands to get out of P.E. In my opinion, coming home smelling like spaghetti casserole and spoiled milk was way better than coming home smelling like sweaty gym socks and B.O. In 25 years, this has not changed.

10. I am terrified of tornados. As a kid, my Dad told me a story about the tornados that ripped through Louisville in the mid-70’s. He was on his way home as the storm was building and, according to what I remember from the story, he basically saved his family’s house by opening the door and regulating the air pressure. From that point on, I would lay awake in my bed at night during thunderstorms, worrying that we would sleep through the tornado sirens and be blown away. I would even make sure that my stuffed animals slept on the side of the bed nearest the windows in the hopes that, should the windows be blown in, they would protect me from the flying glass.

On that fateful trip to Florida (See No. 6 Above), we got a flat tire and my grandfather and uncle had to get out in the middle of a storm to change the tire. I sat in the front seat with my grandmother and sobbed, begging my Popaw to get back in the car because I was certain he was going to die in a tornado. Ironically, the first show I ever did was The Wizard of Oz and I played Uncle Henry. I was the one who had to run onstage screaming, “It’s a twister! It’s a TWISTER!” Even more baffling is the fact that I chose to move to Oklahoma City – the very heart of Tornado Alley – to go to graduate school, just three months after the huge tornado outbreak in Oklahoma in 1999. I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

The World Is A Carousel Of Color

11 Aug

I have been severely remiss in my blogging this past week. Most of that has to do with my being home in Kentucky this week – I simply haven’t had time to do much writing and life here this week has been pretty run-of-the-mill. The most exciting thing to happen since I’ve been home so far, really, is that we’ve caught two mice in the house this week. My mother is freaking out about it. “I can’t stand to be in this house, knowing that they’re running around pooping all over the place!”

I need – and want – to get into the habit of writing every day. It’s difficult sometimes – I have personal and professional obligations that keep me from it, sometimes I’m just lazy and sometimes I simply can’t think of anything interesting to write about. So, I’ve started checking out the daily prompts that WordPress provides. Basically, they give you a topic or word and you go from there. A few days ago, for instance, the prompt was, “Write about something you tried that you swear you will never do again.” My best response to that would be brussel sprouts. Today’s prompt was something that immediately got me excited to write: “Moved To Tears: Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.”

I have referred to myself in past posts as a Disnerd, a term which I first heard from my friend Katie, who traveled with me and a handful of other singers to Japan to perform Disney music with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, I grew up on Disney. Disney records, Disney movies, Disney Underoos. I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club (the real one – not the Britney Spears MMC thing). Today as I was talking with my grandmother, she reminded me that she and my Popaw took me to a mall in Lexington once to meet Mickey Mouse. She said I never once took my eyes off him. For some reason, however, I wasn’t able to meet Mickey or get my photo with him. A few years later they took me on a trip to Orlando to meet the Mouse on his home turf. That vacation turned into a Class A disaster (that’s another story for another entry), and I still didn’t get my picture with Mickey. But in terms of my level of Disnerd, I’d rank myself as a fledgling novice.

In November 2011, while we were in the middle of our concert tour of Japan, one of the Japanese executives from Disney Music Group purchased passes for us to go to Tokyo DisneySea, which is a park themed around water. The park features a huge lagoon where “Fantasmic!” is presented as well as various themed areas such as the American Waterfront, Port Discovery, the Mermaid Lagoon, the Arabian Coast, Mediterranean Harbor, the Mysterious Island and the Lost River Delta. It’s a truly spectacular park, and it’s very un-Disney. We weren’t able to make it into the park until 2:00pm and we had to be at the lagoon for “Fantasmic!” by 7:15, so we pretty much rushed through to get everything in before the show. Because we were singing a 12-minute arrangement of the Tokyo DisneySea version of “Fantasmic!” in our own show, we were given seats in the VIP section, and it was very important that we see the show.

While I loved Tokyo DisneySea, I was a little let down with my first Disney park experience since the early 80’s. Because we were so rushed to get through everything (and we spent a good deal of the day waiting in lines), I didn’t get much of an opportunity to soak in the “magic” of the place. The only characters I recall seeing the whole day there were Pinocchio, Geppetto and Jiminy Cricket, and I was certain to get a photo with Jiminy. The only other characters I recall seeing that day were in “Fantasmic!,” and thereby inaccessible for photos. Don’t get me wrong – I had a great time at TDS, and I would love to go back there again, but I was hoping for more.

Me with Jiminy Cricket at Tokyo DisneySea

Me with Jiminy Cricket at Tokyo DisneySea. Pardon the crazy eyes.

Three days before we left Japan, I got what I was hoping for. We had reached the end of our tour, which meant lots of last minute gift-buying, sightseeing and packing. We only had one real day off that week, so when I suggested we maybe go to Tokyo Disneyland, it wasn’t surprising that the response was less than enthusiastic. People were tired and broke. I got that. But I also didn’t want to be that guy who went to Tokyo Disneyland by himself.

I had mentioned to our company manager that no one really seemed to want to go to TDL with me and I asked if he would speak to some of the orchestra members to see if perhaps they’d like to go with me. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he came back to me with two of our contrabass players who wanted to know if they could take me to Tokyo Disneyland. Neither of them spoke English well, and I certainly didn’t speak Japanese well enough to communicate with them, but it didn’t matter. We figured it out. That’s the magic of Disney – happiness has no language barrier. We spent the entire day at the park, riding every ride at least once, seeing a show and eating to our heart’s content. I even introduced them to the famous Disney turkey legs, which are significantly smaller in Japan.

It was at Tokyo Disneyland that I finally got my picture with Mickey Mouse. Saya-san, Eri-san and I waited in line for half an hour to meet the Mouse and let me tell ya…it was totally worth it. The two of them seemed to have more fun finding characters for me to get my picture taken with than I did…and that was saying a lot. I felt like a kid again. For that day, it was completely OK for me to be a 10-year old again. I was euphoric to the point that I actually found myself bouncing up and down during the Main Street Electrical Parade and “oohing” and “aaahing” as my favorite characters would pass by. “Mary Poppins desu! Minnie-san desu!! Sugoi ne?!” I would shout to my two friends and we would all snap pictures. Leaving the park that day was unspeakably difficult for me. I wasn’t ready for it to end.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

It would be another year and a half before I made to another Disney park. This time, it was the original – the Motherland of Disney – Disneyland in Anaheim, California. My friends Tom and Anthony, who live in San Diego and have annual passes to the parks – came up to meet me on my two days off from Flashdance (yes, we went two weeks in a row) and the second time we went, we made sure to get our Fast Passes to see “World Of Color” at Paradise Pier in the California Adventure park. I had no idea what the show was, but I’d had such a wonderful time up to that point that I didn’t really care. I knew it involved water fountains and lights, but beyond that, I was clueless.

An aerial view of "World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

An aerial view of “World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

What it is is breathtaking. With California Screamin’ and the 160-foot tall Mickey’s Fun Wheel as a backdrop for the show, “World of Color” is a 25-minute laser-light-water-fire-projection show set to a soundtrack of some of the greatest hits (and a few obscure tunes and visuals) from the Disney canon including “The Little Mermaid,” “Up,” “The Lion King,” “Fantasia,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Brave” as well as Broadway’s Eden Espinosa singing the main theme. (Ms. Espinosa also recorded the female vocals for “Fantasmic!” at Tokyo DisneySea and the Magical fireworks show at Disneyland).

"World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

“World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

From the second the show started, I was moved to tears. I was overwhelmed by the day – the friends, the fun, the sun, the food, the rides, the characters, the music…all of it. The lights all around Paradise Pier were part of “World of Color,” twinkling and dancing as the synchronized water fountains began their dance of color and light. Mist curtains provided the backdrop for high definition projections of Ariel and Simba and Dory and all your favorite Disney characters to become a part of the experience, much as they do in “Fantasmic!” The water fountains are capable of shooting 200 feet in the air, making it impossible to avoid being sprayed with mist at some point and the heat from the flame effects used in the “Pirates” section could be felt from 100 feet away. My description of the show is insufficient to describe how magical it really is, but if you ever have the opportunity to see it, you should. It’s pretty brilliant. I look forward to going back to both parks in December and seeing “World of Color” again. I know it probably won’t have the same effect on me the second time around, but I’m sure I’ll be moved by it all the same, and I can’t wait!

California Screamin' and Mickey's Fun Wheel are part of "World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

California Screamin’ and Mickey’s Fun Wheel are part of “World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

Update: Eden Espinosa just informed me that she was not, in fact, the female vocalist for “World of Color” or TDS’ “Fantasmic!” Just “Magical.” For the record, whoever did do those tracks does a heck of an Eden Espinosa imitation.

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This just in from Eden Espinosa.

Hana Wa Saku

19 Jul

Today at lunch I was talking with a friend who had recently traveled to Japan. He spent a week there last year, mostly staying in Tokyo with a short trip to Kyoto. Anyone who knows me knows that I will talk about Japan until I’m hoarse, and he made the mistake of asking me what I liked about Japan. He wasn’t being critical – he just wanted to understand why I loved my time there so much.

I gave him the only answer I could come up with: I loved everything. I completely fell in love with the country, the people, the architecture, the landscapes, the culture, the language, the order and structure and, as I would come to realize midway through our tour, I fell in love with Japanese tamashii, or spirit.

A few months ago, as I was flipping through the channels on our television, I came across a new channel – NHK World – which basically featured all things Japanese, just in English. I love to watch their news broadcasts to find out what’s actually going on in the rest of the world as opposed to hearing more about Jodi Arias or what the Kardashians are up to these days. It’s nice to have another perspective on the world. And their cultural programming warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes because it often reminds me of the wonderful friends I made while I was working there.

The more I watched, the more I noticed a tune in the background of all of the NHK World commercials. It was beautiful, but I’d never heard it before and I had no way of identifying it. Shazaam certainly was of no help, so I did some investigating by way of Google. Finding a Japanese song title is incredibly difficult when you don’t read or write kanji, so I used the listening skills I learned in Japan to write out a line of the song phonetically so I could search it. Turns out, it was either incredibly easy to find, or my Japanese is better than I thought.

The song was written and produced by NHK – the Japan Broadcasting Corporation – in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of eastern Japan in March, 2011. The version I’d been hearing on NHK World was sung by a children’s choir, but I found this video of various Japanese celebrities lending their voice to the song. It’s called “Hana wa saku,” which roughly means, “flowers will continue to bloom.” It’s a song about strength and hope and faith. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of our time in Kuji, Japan.

As I mentioned in “You Gotta Have Heart! Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart,” I went to Japan in September of 2011, just six months after that devastating earthquake and tsunami, to do a concert tour with the Tokyo Philharmonic “Neverland” Orchestra. All of us involved in the show had been keeping a close eye on the State Department website regarding the nuclear crisis happening in Fukushima, worried that our government might find it unsafe for us to travel there. But mostly I kept watching and wishing that there was something that I could do to help. I didn’t have any money to send, and I wasn’t entirely sure that money was what they wanted or needed, anyway. I felt helpless. I wanted to help them and couldn’t. I saw booking the concert tour as my opportunity to do something – even if it was just to make someone forget for a minute or two or to make them smile with a song. That desire to be good for them drove me to study my music and to do the best I could at each and every rehearsal and performance.

There was one show in particular that stood out from the rest. We had been in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life, and we traveled south by train, back to the main island of Honshu. At the time, we still weren’t allowed by the U.S. government to travel within 50 miles of Fukushima, so we weren’t able to perform in any of the hardest hit areas, but we were able to perform in Kuji, a small town about 250 miles north of Fukushima.

From the train station, we transferred to a bus that would take us to Kuji. Japan is a country of overstimulation – color and lights everywhere – but we could tell something was different about Kuji. It was dark. Most of us didn’t even know we’d passed through the downtown area. There were no lights – not from houses, not from businesses, not from billboards or street lights. It was just dark. I think it was then that we realized that the town had taken a serious beating. It was dark because they still didn’t have enough power to illuminate the whole town.

The next day we went to the theatre to do our show, and in the daylight most everything where we were looked alright. We were told, though, that a few miles out toward the shore was a completely different story.

Before every performance, we would arrive at the theatre approximately four hours before the curtain actually went up. (That would never fly in the States). During those four hours, each and every instrument on the stage got its own private sound check. Every triangle, every flute, piccolo and penny whistle…they all got a sound check. Then each section of the orchestra would have a sound check together for balance. And then the entire orchestra would have a sound check for balance. Then it was the singer’s turn – each of us got about 30 seconds to sing whatever we wanted as we wandered the stage, checking to make sure they could hear us and that we could hear ourselves in the monitors. Then our Navigator (emcee), Francesco Sasaki-san, would get his own sound check. And then we’d have a rehearsal. Depending on what needed to be run, we would spot check songs or do entire pieces – with choreography – to make sure everything was right. The Japanese aren’t known for being perfectionists for nothing! After our rehearsal, we would be fed. The orchestra would get pre-packaged bento boxes, but the singers and our conductor got hot catered food – usually something the caterers thought Americans would like, which typically meant some form of a hamburg steak (a beef patty smothered in a Worchestershire-esque sauce) and/or a piece of grey, chewy chicken. There was also often salad or fruit of some sort, which is incredibly expensive in Japan, and there was always miso and rice. We also had a fantastic snack and drink table where we’d have all kinds of cookies and rice crackers and chocolates. They took great care of us.

In Kuji, we were still called four hours prior to curtain, but that day, our rehearsal would be an open one, meaning there would be people there watching us. We had a set list, and instead of spot checking numbers, we would basically give an hour-long performance. The audience members would be people who had lost their homes in the tsunami as well as many children who had been orphaned in the disaster. Backstage, next to the snack table, was a book about the tsunami and someone had marked the section with photos from Kuji.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

The devastation was unreal, and to think that we were there to sing some Disney songs made the whole situation seem ridiculous. All through rehearsals in New York we had made jokes at the expense of some of the lyrics we were singing. In the opening number, “One Man’s Dream,” we sang about Walt Disney’s dream “to give to us a Disneyland where young and old can play” at a breakneck tempo. The next number was a song that had been written for the 10th anniversary of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. It was called, “Be Magical!” and featured lyrics like, “Friends will be near for you./It’s all here for you./The perfect place to be,/Tokyo DisneySea!/It’ll be magical!” and “Worries behind you/Here you will find excitement instead.” That transitioned into “Fantasmic!”, in which we had to sing, “Imagination!/Follow your dreams/Imagination!/Catch a ride upon a moonbeam!” And then, of course, we closed the show singing “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Japanese, complete with a violin solo that would make even the hardest heart explode into fairy dust. It just seemed so trite. So…silly. Or maybe we were just jaded New Yorkers…

Those songs and their silly lyrics took on a whole new meaning that day. Standing out there, singing to kids who somehow were able to smile and laugh after all they’d lost; seeing grown men and women – Japanese men and women, who are notoriously stoic – openly weeping, either from joy or sorrow, or both. It suddenly made me realize that all they had were dreams and hopes and wishes and imagination, and we were telling them to follow those dreams. That nothing was impossible. And we were telling them that somehow, everything would be alright. Uncle Walt would make it so. And standing on that stage as Aoki-san started playing the all-too familiar, all-too sentimental melody of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as thousands of colored lights began to rise up all around us on stage, I found myself weeping, too. That’s what I had come to Japan for. That’s why I was there. I had finally found my way to help. I had never felt so fulfilled and satisfied in my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much gratitude and humility.

The rest of the tour took on a new feel for me after that, and I think for some of my cast mates, too. That day changed the show for us. We were all a little more committed to those lyrics. They felt a little more relevant and substantial. It was…magical.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Cream Of The Crop, Tip Of The Top, It’s Mary Poppins, And There We Stop!

12 Jul

Greetings from Kansas City (still here…) where the temperature has significantly dropped since my last entry. It’s a cool 86° – a full 20° cooler than it was two days ago when we opened the show. I’m still looking forward to temperatures in the 60’s, but I’ll take this for now.

Today while I was trolling Facebook I came across a link for the first trailer to be released for Disney’s upcoming “Saving Mr. Banks.” The film centers around P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) – the author of the Mary Poppins books – and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) struggle to get her to release the rights and to approve the production of the film, which would go on to earn 13 Academy Award nominations and 5 wins, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Julie Andrews.

“Mary Poppins” is maybe the first movie I remember actually seeing in the theater (or at least it’s the one I’ve been thinking I saw for 30 years). In the late 70’s/early 80’s, we didn’t have VCRs or DVD/BluRay players yet, so we didn’t watch movies at home unless they were on TV. I suppose it’s possible that “Mary Poppins” had been broadcast, but I specifically remember seeing it at the Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road in Louisville. The way I remember it, the movie was cut short because of a tornado warning, and we were all sent home to hide in our bathtubs. That’s my first real recollection of going to the movies – a tornado coming through town. It’s a wonder I ever set foot in a movie theater again!

I feel like I must have seen “Mary Poppins” before then, though, because from as far back as I can remember, my family has told me that I was always hopping off the ledge of my grandparent’s fireplace with an umbrella in my hand, claiming to be Mary Poppins. I also liked to pretend I was C3-PO and R2-D2, but I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw “Star Wars,” either.

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“Mousercise” was one of my favorite LPs as a kid.

Back in the day when we had record players, I had a huge collection of albums for a 5-year old. I had all sorts of Disney-related storytelling albums and “Disco Mickey Mouse” and “Mousercise.” I also had Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John and I’d borrow my Mom’s Motown records sometimes, too. But I mostly listened to those Disney albums. I knew every word to every song – “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “It’s A Small World,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Lavender Blue (Dilly-Dilly).” When we moved to England, they had something we didn’t have in the States yet – something called Picture Disc. It was a clear album with pictures sandwiched between the two sides, and on the record was the full story and songs of whatever you were listening to – “The Fox and the Hound,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and my favorite – “Mary Poppins.” I would listen to it for hours on end. Even today, when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up, “Mary Poppins” is usually my first choice to lift my spirits.

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I knew every word of this “Mary Poppins” Picture Disc LP.

I don’t know what the connection is for me. Perhaps it’s just the nostalgia – maybe it takes me back to being a child again. Maybe it’s Julie Andrews. She can do no wrong in my book. Maybe it’s the magic. Who wouldn’t want to slide up banisters and leap into chalk drawings and have a tea party on the ceiling? What I wouldn’t given even now to just snap my fingers and make my room clean itself. I think it’s a combination of all of those things, I guess. Whatever it is, Mary Poppins – the movie and Mr. Disney’s vision of the character – mean a great deal to me.

A few months ago, our tour was in Costa Mesa, California, just a few miles from Disneyland in Anaheim. My good friends Tom and Anthony live in San Diego and they have annual passes to Disneyland, so I was lucky that they were able to drive up and spend two days with me at the park. It was my first time at Disneyland or California Adventure, though certainly not my first time at a Disney park. I had been to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea when I was in Japan, and back in the mid-80’s, my grandparents took me to Disney World, back when there was only the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Yeah, I’m old school.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

While we were in Disneyland, Tom and Anthony – two of the biggest Disnerds I’ve ever met – were talking about the changes they made to the park when the film “Saving Mr. Banks” was being shot on location. Tom pulled up some pictures on his phone and they were was really remarkable. The old character costumes had been pulled out and dusted off, some of the colors had changed, the guests were all dressed in their best early 60‘s clothes (Side note: If people really did wear dresses and long pants to Disneyland, I can’t imagine what Uncle Walt would think about what people wear to the park today), but it was still Disneyland.

When the Broadway production of Mary Poppins opened in 2006, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a press event at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where Poppins was going to move in when The Lion King moved to the Minskoff Theatre. It was a big to-do for industry folks, introduced by the President of Disney Theatricals, Thomas Schumacher. The writers of the new material for the show, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, came out and sang through a couple of the new pieces and then, as a surprise, the surviving composer of the film score, Richard Sherman, was introduced and he sang through a few of the original songs and told one or two short anecdotes about his involvement with the film and the new stage production. Just as we thought the event was ending, a curtain raised up and a full orchestra was onstage playing a suite of music from “Mary Poppins.” It was so beautiful, and I won’t mind admitting that I got a little choked up. On our way out the door, Disney one-upped themselves by giving each of us a Mary Poppins umbrella, complete with a parrot head handle. It was maybe the most amazing piece of merchandising I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I have no idea where that umbrella is now.

As a child, I believed there was magic in that umbrella. Even after 12 years of living in New York, which is enough to make anyone jaded, I still do. Watching Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke – bad Cockney accent and all – dancing through cartoon farmyards still makes me think, “How did they do that?!” “Step In Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (or “dociousaliexpiisticfragilcalirupus” backwards (kind of), but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?) take me back to a time when I wanted to recreate those numbers step by step on a stage for people to enjoy as much as I did. “Stay Awake” still gives me that melancholy feeling of knowing it’s time to go to bed, even though you don’t want to. And watching Mary Poppins fly off into the sunset always makes me feel a little bit as if she’s leaving me – not the Banks children. What a comfort to know that I can always hit PLAY and there she’ll be again, sitting in that cloud, powdering her nose.

Needless to say, I am very excited about “Saving Mr. Banks.” I’ll be in Costa Mesa again the week it opens. If there’s anything happening at Disneyland to celebrate the premiere, I plan to find a way to be there. Now get off your computer and go fly a kite!

And for those of you who are keeping up: I’m now 93 hours diet soda free. Woohoo!

You Gotta Have Heart! Miles And Miles And Miles Of Heart

1 Jul

I’ve just returned to the hotel from a truly wonderful going away party/company roast (think Comedy Central roasts Bob Saget…not Sunday dinner) and, even though I have to be up in seven hours to drive to Oklahoma City, here I am…writing.

Tonight was a celebration – not only of those six company members that played their last performance tonight, but also of the six new actors who are joining the family. It was  a celebration for those of us who have been here since we opened the show exactly six months ago today in Pittsburgh. It was a celebration for the company, as well, for getting through an incredibly difficult week of learning new material during the day and actually doing it at night. We were due for a celebration.

After our musical director’s brilliant roast which, somehow, I was lucky enough to evade, we sat around talking, laughing, and eating. Some danced. Most drank. I was talking with one of our cast members, Ariela, who is a staunch supporter of me writing this blog, and our show’s executive producer. We were talking about the blog and what direction I wanted to take it and how I planned to get it out to a wider audience. And finding a niche. Dani, our producer, asked me what I considered to be my niche. After a couple of seconds, the only answer I could come up with was “Heart.”

I suppose that there are many things that we, as actors and singers, hope to be known for in our careers… He’s funny. She’s “fierce” and can “belt her face off.” So-and-so has a lovely legit voice. I guess I’ve always wanted to hear someone tell me my voice was “sick” or “stupid good” or whatever, but one of the kindest – and enigmatic – compliments I’ve ever received came to me from a very dear friend while I was singing in Japan.

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be chosen to go to Japan for three months to sing a concert tour of Disney music with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the most life-changing thing I’ve ever done, and it almost led me to quit the business because I figured nothing could ever be so good again. It was such a wonderful experience that it deserves its own blog entry – or four.

Our show’s director/my cast mate/my dear friend Tony and his partner Rob and I had worked together in New York selling merchandise, and I had heard them talk about this concert tour that they did in Japan, but I was so incredibly intimidated by them both (now I realize I was intimidated by their résumés, which certainly do not make a man) that I never dreamed of asking them to audition. My friend Michael did the tour in 2010 with Tony and, even though he denies it, I think he suggested to Tony that I be seen for the 2011 cast. Tony and Rob had never heard me sing. Come to think of it, neither had Michael. I was desperate to make a good impression on them both because they were sticking their necks out for me by bringing me in.

Tony walked me out of the first audition, gently laying his hand on my shoulder, and when we got out into the hallway he hugged me tightly and said, “I had no idea you could do that.” It was one of the few times in my adult life when I felt like it was OK to be proud of myself (which makes me think I need to explore this further in another entry). I hadn’t made Tony look like a fool in front of the Japanese producer and I felt really good about the work I had just done. I mean, I had just sung 5 songs in my first audition, ranging from Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid” to singing high Ds in “So Close” from “Enchanted” without even flinching. And I made the Japanese guy with the big hair in the back of the room dance. (I would later find out that his name was Francesco Sasaki, and he would become one of my favorite people on the planet). The callbacks were the next day, and when I got the call that night that I’d been chosen to go to Japan, I wept in my room. And then I started telling everyone I knew.

I was so excited and grateful to have booked a job, but there was more to my excitement. Just a few days before our auditions in New York, the great East Japan earthquake and tsunami destroyed a huge chunk of northeastern Japan’s coastline, wiping out entire cities and towns and causing some serious problems at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. I was surprised that they even had the auditions, but as it turned out, the Japanese contingency had already flown into the States to meet with the show’s conductor in L.A., so they were able to make it to New York. Whether the U.S. government would allow us to go into Japan with the threat of nuclear fallout, though, was anybody’s guess. After seeing the devastation on the news, I wanted to do anything I could to help, but I had no money to send. I had nothing of any material value to offer as aid. But I had my voice and my heart, and I was being given a chance to hopefully help, even if it just meant making someone forget their troubles for a few minutes by singing a song.

Rob came to visit us in Japan in November. Knowing Robbie was in the house watching us made me a nervous wreck. Not only would he be out there judging us on our musicality and voices like everyone else, but he was also one of the only people in the house who actually understood the words we were singing. One of the things I love (and fear) about him is that he will tell you exactly what he thinks – no sugar-coating. So when he came backstage during intermission his first night seeing the show, I was terrified. And I had to know what he thought. Immediately.

I happened to be in the hallway with Tony when Rob started toward us, and when he saw my face, he opened his arms, wrapped himself around me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with so much heart as you have onstage. Every moment is sincere.” The insecure actor-y part of me at first thought, “Is that the best compliment you could come up with? Am I that awful?,” but then the saner part of me stopped for a moment and realized that Rob’s was one of the best compliments I could have possibly received.

Two weeks before the tour ended, I started having meltdowns at rehearsal and soundcheck. I’d get choked up at soundcheck, people! I specifically remember the orchestra running the Princess section of Fantasmic!, and as I heard the strings and crashing cymbals swell and swirl into a frenzy, as I watched the 72 people who had somehow, unimaginably become my dear, dear friends despite language and cultural barriers, I turned to my friend Katie and buried my face into her shoulder and sobbed. In front of everyone. I quickly became known in the orchestra as a crybaby. At our final soundcheck, it was suggested that as a surprise to the orchestra, we – the singers – should run the opening number facing them as opposed to facing out into the house as we would in performance. It was an opportunity for the orchestra to actually see the number as the audience would, instead of just the backs of our heads. The Japanese love surprises, and to see their faces light up as we made our entrance – and to see tears coming down some of their faces – turned me into a blubbering mess and I couldn’t sing a note.

Backstage, we exchanged gifts and notes. I somehow managed to keep it together after I got over my initial soundcheck breakdown, but I knew there was a whole ocean of tears waiting to be let loose. I also knew once they started, those tears would not stop. Tony and I had been friends before Japan, but he and I had really bonded while we were there along with our youngest cast member, Joey. I have been part of shows before where I’ve become close with people, and despite the promises to keep in touch and call and write and email and Facebook and tweet and Instagram and everything else we promise to do, it’s inevitable that you will never have the relationship in real life that you had on tour with your cast mates. People go home to their lives, their families, other gigs and, try as you may, you lose touch. I knew this going into our final show. I knew this could happen with Tony. I knew it would most likely happen with the rest of the cast. I knew it’d be almost impossible to keep in touch with my new Japanese friends from the other side of the world, and I knew there was a good chance I’d never see those new friends again.

In our dressing room, Tony gathered us up and started handing out closing night gifts to us. As he presented them to us, he said a few words about each of us, and when he got to me, he got a little choked up and said that in the five years he’d worked as part of that concert tour he’d never met anyone with as much heart as me. That’s all he had to say and I went into the ugly cry. I’m talking the hideously ugly cry. It was coming to an end and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My heart was broken.

Throughout my life, my heart has been a recurring theme. Not the actual organ, mind you. That is, as far as I know, and in spite of the food that I eat, still in good working condition, but my heart isn’t always working as well. “Sensitive,” “emotional,” “tender-hearted,” “weak,” “sappy,” “sentimental,” “soft”…they’ve all been used to describe me. I used to think that was a detriment to my character. “Real men” aren’t supposed to be sensitive or emotional. New Yorkers are tough – they don’t cry. Just suck it up. Toughen up. Be a man.

The truth is…I liked myself better in Japan. I liked feeling things again. I’ve done the tough New Yorker thing for almost 12 years and honestly, it doesn’t work for me. In the song “Tennessee Homesick Blues,” Dolly Parton sang “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” Preach it, Dolly. How can I be the performer or writer I want to be if I close off my emotional well just to survive in a city that doesn’t give a damn about me? Would I ever have a performing job that would be as emotionally and artistically fulfilling as the one I’d just had? Should I just quit while I was ahead? These questions plagued me for the months following my return to the States. Honestly, they’ve haunted me until just a few weeks ago when I made the decision to leave New York. I thought it would be a gut-wrenching decision. Actually, I never thought I’d choose to leave New York, but I’m following my heart rather than continuing to be stubborn because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do. Clearly other people can see that my heart is one of my greatest assets, so I’m going to trust them and in doing so, trust myself. That I have had no second thoughts about leaving since I made the decision just proves to me that I’m making the right choice.

Tonight’s going away party was a lot less emotional for me than it would have been if I were a cast member. As the merch guy, I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with the performers in the show. There are full weeks that have gone by without me seeing even one of them, even though we stay in the same hotel and work in the same building. It’s the nature of the job, I suppose. That being said, I will miss each of them. I myself will be leaving the tour in two weeks, so another round of goodbyes is in short order. In six weeks, I’ll meet another cast and I’ll open another show in another city. And that’s showbiz, kid.