2014: The Year In Review

2014-new-yearAs 2014 comes to a close, I can’t help but take a little time to think back on what an awesome year it was.  I always try to be optimistic, so I’ve never looked back on a particular year and said “well, this one really blew.  Let’s hope the next one is better.”  But this year in particular was really exciting.

I had a ton of fun, I got to do a lot of cool things and meet a lot of cool people, and in general, I was just loving what I was doing…most of the time.  (I’m sure if you talked to my roommate, she’d be able to point out a few times where all I did was bitch about what I was doing.)

RIght now, I’m in Ft. Myers, Florida, having a breakfast sandwich and a hot cup of black coffee at Panera Bread, one of my favorite places to just sit and relax.  I was thinking of going through, month by month, with my Google calendar open, but that just seemed obnoxious, so I’ll just shoot from the hip.

To start, I’m a teaching artist!  At this time last year, I didn’t even know what a teaching artist was (or that I had been one without knowing it); I had heard the term thrown around a lot but thought it was someone that had a masters in education who went into schools to do special programs.  Little did I know that a teaching artist could also be someone who dropped their education major after the first day of Classroom Instruments in college (though I don’t advertise that when applying for jobs).  Fast-forward to now and I’m working as a teaching artist for Disney Theatricals, Broadway Classroom, A Class Act NY, and starting in two weeks, The New York Pops, all which happened in 2014.

At the start of the year, I took a little cruise with Jim Brochu, playing piano for his show Character Man, which took us to St. Barths, St. Maarten, Jost Van Dyke, and San Juan.

I got to photograph a ton of celebrities I adore including Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, Aaron Tveit, Matthew Morrison, and Debra Messing.  And my favorite shot of the year was at The New York Pops gala honoring Scott Whitman and Marc Shaiman, when I was able to get “the three Tracys” in one photo: Ricki Lake, Nikki Blonsky, and Marissa Jaret Winokur.

With Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA, I had the privilege of singing with the chorus two more times at Carnegie Hall, once in March and once in Novemeber.  A small group of us also spent an evening with John Bucchino, singing through an arrangement of his piece Grateful that my friend Jeremy created.

For film and TV, I shot (acted in) an episode for Discovery ID and another one for The Travel Channel, I did my first voiceover work for Lucky and the Pirates, shot a short film, and recorded a little music for a web series I acted in last year, but finished up with the music this year.

And at the piano, I was a rehearsal accompanist for Broadway Backwards, musically directed Warp Speed for the Midtown International Theatre Festival, accompanied a couple cabarets, and had a blast working with Will and Anthony for several concerts.

And now?  I’ve run away and joined the circus!  I could not be more grateful for everything that’s been going on.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t take some time to be thankful for all of the blessings (and insanity) in my life!

Another reason for this list is to segue into my next post, which will be all about figuring out what my plans are for 2015.  I still want it to be wacky and exciting, but as you can see, I tend to spread myself a little thin.  I think I’m going to hone in a little and put more energy into fewer things.

What will they be?  Patience, my child.  I’m still figuring it out.

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Newsies: The Final Performance on Broadway

Newsies-the-musical_143236This afternoon was the final Broadway performance of Newsies, and man, what an exit these boys made!  If you didn’t get to see the show, you definitely missed something great.  The energy on stage is unsurpassed, the choreography is thrilling, the voices are breathtaking.

Thanks to my friends at Disney Theatricals, all of the teaching artists were invited to the final show; it was a gift I was thrilled to receive. I literally giggled when I got the email invite and ran above ground from the subway platform so I could RSVP instantly before losing reception.

One of the things I loved most about Newsies is it turned these chorus boys into rock stars!  It’s the most ensemble-focused show I’ve seen and the audience goes wild for these guys.  If you just listened to an audio bootleg, you’d think you were at a One Direction concert.  And the autograph line at the stage door is unreal.  A lot of these guys are making their Broadway debuts, while others have been on Broadway since they were in elementary school.  And every single one of them now has a fan base like you wouldn’t believe!

Take that, the daily energy at the show, and multiply that by 50, when the house is packed to the brim with the most dedicated friends, family, and fansies Broadway has ever seen.  I lost track of how many standing ovations there were during the show.  After almost every number, when all the guys hit their final pose, the audience was on their feet, cheering and clapping.  All of the teaching artists were sitting near each other and we would just look at each other and laugh during these ovations because you’ve never seen or heard anything like that before.  And every jump, turn, split, barrel roll, and high note brought screams and applause from hundreds of fans.  Seriously, rock star level.

I brought my friend Arseniy as my +1, and he was in awe.  He’s a Russian cinematographer whose film I was in last year, and it was his first Broadway show.  While it was definitely a great one to start with, I hope he’s not disappointed the next time he goes to a show with expectations that the audience will be be on their feet cheering every seven minutes.  Maybe I should find a production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night to take him to so he can see the other end of the spectrum.

While I’m incredibly sad that I won’t be able to see this show on Broadway again, I am so thrilled that everyone involved with the production got the accolades they deserved, and more encouragement from an audience than they ever thought possible!

Seize The Day!

 

 

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The Bridges of Madison County

bridges setIt is always sad when a show closes, and this one was no different.  The Bridges of Madison County closes this evening after 37 previews, and only 100 performances.

I’ve musically directed two of the cast members previously: Aaron Ramey in The Night Of The Living Dead, and Whitney Bashor in Nevermore, so I definitely wanted to support them and all the hard work and intensity they bring to the stage.  I’ll also be in the chorus for a holiday concert this December at Carnegie Hall that Kelli O’Hara is headlining, alongside Matthew Morrison.

All I can say is that I am stunned that no one else will have the chance to see this beautifully moving production at The Schoenfeld Theatre.  This isn’t a review of the show, nor a criticism of the fact that for the first time, five shows could have been nominated for best musical, instead of four, and yet only four made the cut.

All I want to say is that from the second I stepped into the theatre, I was absolutely mesmerized; every detail was captivating.  The sets, the costumes, the score, the musicians, the actors’ voices and performances–it was an incredibly beautiful evening that I wish I could repeat.

I applaud everyone involved in bringing this production to Broadway, and am so thankful that I could be in the audience to share in the experience.  While this may be the end of Bridges Broadway run, I am certain the show will have many more lives on tour and in theatre across the globe!

 

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Carrying The Banner with Newsies

newsies“It’s a fine life carrying the banner through it all.”

It’s no secret that Newsies is one of my favorite shows on Broadway, and it was also one of my favorite movies growing up.

Long before I knew Christian Bale as the naked guy running down the hallway with a chainsaw, I knew him as the guy riding a horse and singing about New Mexico.  Talk about versatility!

And now, thanks to Disney Theatricals, I get to work on Newsies.  We teach workshops for Aladdin, Newsies, and The Lion King.  While I absolutely love all of them, Newsies is my favorite.  I mean, how many get to wake up and say “today I’m gonna go to work and teach some excited tourists how to dance on newspapers while yelling ‘Strike! Strike! Strike!'”? (did I punctuate that correctly?)

This morning I was facilitating a workshop with my friend Steven, who is an incredible director, choreographer, and dancer.  After some introductory games and exercises, I teach them the music to Seize the Day, and then Steven teaches them the choreography.  And then for the big finish, we bring out the newspapers, adding that to the choreography.  I don’t know who’s more excited, me or the kids?  And if you’ve seen the show or at least a clip of the number online, it’s even more thrilling because that part of the dance is iconic!

To end the day, I was facilitating a talkback for Newsies after their evening show.  It was for a different group, and they loved the show.  And I love doing the talkbacks.  It’s always fun for me playing talk show host before the cast comes out because I get to ask them about their time in NYC, what their favorite moments were in the show, and get them all excited for the Newsies who are about to come out.  And then during the talkback, I always learn a lot, too.  Sometimes it’s something about the rehearsal process, or a cast member’s audition story, where they went to school, or a challenge they had to overcome.  Whatever is brought up during the talkback, it’s always inspiring.  There isn’t a single member of the cast that isn’t having the time of their life and it’s so infectious.  Seeing these guys living their dreams reminds you of all the reasons why you’re pursuing something similar, and it also pushes you to work a little harder.

And Tommy Bracco, who plays Spot Conlon in the show and is pictured above, is a friend of mine.  I musically directed him in High School Musical for Interlakes Theatre in Meredith, New Hampshire.  I had no idea at the time that it was his first ever musical.  And here he is, just a few years later, shining brighter than ever on Broadway!

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The New York Pops Gala

IMG_9458Carnegie Hall has never seen such a star-studded lineup as it did last night.  It was the New York Pops 31st Birthday Gala, and everyone was out to celebrate the orchestra, and the musical honorees, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman..  The theme this year was “make it big,” and that they did.

Martin Short, Christian Borle, Patti LuPone, Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee, Aaron Tveit, Laura Bell Bundy, Andrea Martin, Jane Krakowski.  And that’s just the beginning.

One of my favorite moments of the evening was Good Morning, Baltimore, from Hairspray.  Here’s what made it so special: the song opened with Marissa Jaret Winokur reprising her role from Broadway; then at the top of the second verse, Nikki Blonsky entered, reprising her role from the 2007 film; then lo and behold, enter Ricki Lake, reprising her role from the 1988 film.  Tracy, Tracy, and Tracy were in the house and in full voice.  My picture of the three of them with John Waters is one of my all-time favorites.

My other favorite moment was getting to tell Capathia Jenkins how I’ve admired her for years, and listed everything I’ve ever seen her in.  And when I told her how much I loved “Kiss and Make Up,” she said “I wasn’t in that one.”  When I started singing the song that she sang to effectively stop the show, titled “God and Pills.” a lightbulb turned on and she said “The fringe show?  You saw that.”  Oh yeah.  Twice.

And my final favorite moment (so many, I know) came when I had the chance to chat with Montego Glover.  Not only did I adore her in Memphis, but I am hopelessly addicted to The Following.  And while I tried my best to get her to spill some secrets, her lips were sealed.  So if anyone from Fox is reading this, your secrets are safe with her!

If you want to see the photos I took from the step and repeat as well as the dinner dance, you can see them on my photography blog here!

And don’t forget to see all the gems posted on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

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Grateful for John Bucchino

grateful-watercolourLast night, I had the great pleasure for spending 2 1/2 hours in a rehearsal with John Bucchino.  A little over a year ago, I wrote an article about his body of work, and how great his music is for auditions, which you can read here!  A couple months after that, I audited a Master Class he was teaching in New York, where singers would perform his pieces for his critique, and then they’d perform them again, accompanied by John, himself.  When I got to the workshop, he remembered the article, and thanked me for writing it.  What a sweet man!

Last night was something completely different but equally exciting.  My buddy Jeremy Robin Lyons wrote an arrangement of Grateful, and a group of us were assembled to sing it through and workshop it with John to see what works and what might need to be tweaked before it gets published.  So we all assembled ourselves around the piano, singing Grateful, while Judy edited and conducted, and the composer himself listened and took notes.

It was really interesting to see the three of them working like this.  It wasn’t your typical rehearsal where the goal is a performance.  This was to work out all the details of the arrangement so that it can be published.  The length of notes, rhythmic changes, breath marks–all of this was discussed in regards to the arrangement.  If the majority of us were making the same mistake, they needed to look at it to see if there was a way to fix it; if we were all making that mistake, it’s like that other groups that purchase the arrangement will do the same.  Detail also had to be paid to the style guide of the publishing company, which is something I hadn’t ever considered before.  It makes sense, when you think about it, that every publishing company would have their own style guide.  And luckily, Judy know the ins and outs of all of them, so the music can be prepared just the way the publishing company likes.

And of course, the best part of the evening was after the rehearsal, when we had red velvet/chocolate chip cupcakes and wine!  Quite literally, the icing on the cake!

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My dad and Idina’s Dad

IdinaOK, this was just too good not to post right away.  I just got off the phone with my dad, and I’m still in shock.  He left yesterday to spend a week with his brother, my uncle Kenny, in Tampa.  As soon as I saw it was him calling, I thought he’d be rubbing in the fact that it’s 80 degrees in Florida, as we have mountains of snow in New York.  But as soon as I answered, he said, “Kevin, have you ever heard of a woman named Adelia Menzel?”

“Do you mean Idina Menzel?”

“Yeah, Idina.  I just played 18 holes with her dad.”

What???  My dad, who knows as much about Broadway as I do about NASCAR, just spent a few hours with the father of one of the biggest names in musical theatre.  And thanks to Disney’s Frozen, her star power is growing exponentially!  I was floored!

About an hour before he called, as I was leaving an audition at the Equity Building in Times Square, I cut through the Marriot Marquis passageway that had a larger than life advertisement for If/Then. My dad was “on the green” with Mr. Menzel as I was staring at a 15 foot picture of his daughter!

Apparently they were walking about their kids, and my dad mentioned that his son was a musical director in New York.  Stuart then mentioned that his daughter also did theatre in New York.  Oh yeah, we’re totally in the same category there.  Dad still had no idea.

Then Idina’s daddy mentioned that they just found out that she would be performing at the Oscars!  Would you believe that my dad was still unimpressed?  He’s seen me perform in an ensemble at Carnegie Hall so his first thought was that she would be in a chorus of some sort, too.  Riiiiiiight.

After a little more chat, my dad finally realized what a big deal Stuart’s daughter was.  When my dad showed no recognition, Mr. Menzel showed his a video on his phone of Idina singing, and then things started to sink in.  They chatted some more, and by now my dad knew I’d be excited to hear this story, so he kept asking his new golfing buddy about his daughter.  When I told him about her Tony-winning performance in Wicked, he said “Yeah, Stuart mentioned she played a witch in something.”  Oh yeah, just a witch in some show.

I’m just excited to wait at the stage door of If/Then to say hi to Idina and tell her that my dad played golf with her dad!  How many fans standing in line will be able to say that?

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Murder For Two cast album release

Murder For TwoIf you know anything about me and my current obsessions, you know there are three things I can’t imagine life without: Barry Manilow, Cadbury Creme Eggs, and Murder For Two.  In case you’re unsure of my thoughts on the show, you can read my review of it here!  (and I take no responsibility for the sideways graphic.  When I submitted the content, it was right-side up, I swear!)

Basically, the composers sat down and decided that they wanted to write a show for me where I could play either male role, in addition to astonishing the crowd with my piano playing.  The only problem was the composers didn’t know I was alive at the time.  But now that the show has been created, it’s only a matter of time before I get to do it somewhere.  I’m sure it’s going to spread like wildfire on the regional scene, and I’ll be ready.  Until then, I read the script about once a week on the off-chance that everyone that’s ever learned the suspects track has lunch together, ingests some bad shellfish, and an emergency call goes out on the for “anyone ready to perform in Murder For Two tonight, please respond!”  Weirder things have happened…haven’t they?

Anyway, I digress.  The cast album was released today, with a CD signing and performance at Barnes and Noble.  It’s the same Barnes and Noble where I performed for the book release of Marvin Makes Music, by Marvin Hamlisch.  After the creators, Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, introduced the show, Brett Ryback sang “Protocol Says.”  Jeff Blumenkrantz followed with “A Perfectly Lovely Surprise,” and Joe and Brett concluded with the four-hand duet that serves as the show’s encore.

After having the four of them sign my CD, I was walking through Central Park to catch the C train, and had this Prince inspired deja-vu.  I was back in 1999.  Back in the day, I’d take the bus from Ithaca College to New York, see a couple shows, and then run straight to Virgin Records to buy the cast albums, listening to them on my Discman on my way home.  Now that we have Russian download sites iTunes, I can’t remember the last time I bought a physical CD (except for one from my favorite subway singer who’s usually working the uptown A/C/B/D platform at Columbus Circle around 11pm).  It was fun to have that nostalgic excitement again.

But it’s not 1999, and I’m a little more grown up.  So rather than listening to my new cast album while sitting on the Shortline, snacking on Zebra Cakes and a Cherry Coke, I’m singing along while waiting for a double batch of crispy, baked chickpeas to come out of the oven and right onto my salad.  Times, they are a-changin’.

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Master Class…Finally

mariacallasEver since my senior year of college, when I wrote my thesis on Terrence McNally, I’ve been wanting to play Manny in Master Class.  Today we just had our first rehearsal out at Music Theatre of Connecticut, and it was incredible.

The woman playing Maria Callas–holy sh*t!  She is intense.  We were just doing a table read and she was unshakable!  She was Maria Callas, head to toe.  If someone giggled at one of the humorous lines as she was delivering them, she would sharply turn their way and deliver the following lines right to them, as if they were a student disrupting her class.  She would not break.  It was mesmerizing.  I don’t know who she is or what she’s done, but she is unbelievable (and a little frightening if you were the one snickering).  I would have paid to attend the read-through today because it was a show, and she’s only getting started!

So now it’s time to get my act together.  This woman, Irene, was 90% off-book, and she never stops talking.  I have about twelve lines and I had to look down and read every single one of them.  I’d write more but I’m afraid if I’m not off-book tomorrow, Callas is gonna kick my ass!

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Trouble in Kansas City

kansas_cross_out_symbol_hand_towel-rfcc12a28c19f4cbfbcb95bd45487d923_2c81h_8byvr_324Well, it was a good, long run; 48 hours after my pledge to blog daily and I fell asleep without writing a word.  To make up for it, I’m writing from the LIRR on my iPhone.  If you’ve ever tried to write more than a short text or email on an iPhone, you’ll know how typo prone these suckers are, so I’m really going out of my way to make things right! And I refuse to be one of those clowns who uses the signature “please pardon any typos, I am sending this from my mobile device.”. That’s basically the same thing as writing “I wanted to get back to you right away, but I don’t care enough to watch what I’m doing. Deal with it!”

Yesterday started off with four hours of auditions for Oliver. A company I had musically directed for in the past asked if I was available to play the auditions for the kids coming in; the adults were scheduled for a later date. What does that mean? Four hours of Where Is Love! Apparently, a music teacher at an adjoining school taught all the kids in his chorus that song–and only that song– to help anyone wanting to audition.  And as much as I wanted to roll my eyes every time a little brat performer walked in, I kept it to myself.  First, I know how intimidating it can be to walk into a room full of strangers and sing a song; I still get intimidated and I’m 34 years old.  And secondly, these kids were much better than I was at their age, which is a post for another day. And actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I should probably start a Blast From The Past category because there are some great stories I should jot down before the dementia kicks in!

Lots of kids, Oliver, blah blah blah.  You get it.

Then it was off to Character Man again.  A “friend” of mine came to the show, and as you can tell by the quotes, this wasn’t your typical friend.  In this case, someone I’m hoping will soon be more than a friend.  Everything was going great, until one moment, during “Trouble” from The Music Man, I remembered that my “friend” was in the audience, and had never heard me play piano or sing before.  I started to smile a little, thinking “I bet I look pretty darn sexy up here playing this Imperial Bozendorfer”  And in that very moment, I leaned into the microphone, ready with my backup vocals, and loudly proclaimed “Oh we’ve got trouble.  Right here in KANSAS city.”  Apparently everything wasn’t up-to-date in the Oklahoma/Music Man hybrid I was singing.  The rest of the number it was all I could do to keep from completely cracking up.

“Wait! This story has a moral.  All my stories have a moral.”  If you really want to try and impress someone, don’t!

 

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