Monday, January 7, 2019
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Photo credit: Photo by Henry DiRocco.
A story about nine African-American teenaged boys who are wrongly accused of raping two young white women in 1931, every single element of 'Scottsboro' is carefully manipulated to make you reflect on your sense of what is right, what is wrong, what is comfortable, what is entertaining and what makes you squirm in your seat.
In the same way Roberto Benigni’s 'Life is Beautiful' layers the Holocaust in singing and dancing, 'Scottsboro' lays lynching, the electric chair, sending innocent children to prison and black-faced minstrelsy over tap dancing, lush vocal harmonies and humor.
READ THE REST OF MY REVIEW ON EXAMINER.COM
Friday, March 23, 2012
Thursday, June 16, 2011
A conversation with Wesley Taylor of the American Conservatory Theater’s “Tales of the City: A New Musical" by Armistead Maupin
I have had the good fortune of having gone to school with some fabulously talented people. Many of these people have fabulously talented friends. And it was with pure glee that I emailed former classmate Lauren Molina whom I have written about here and here when I saw her friend and Rock of Ages co-star Wesley Taylor appear on the stage of A.C.T. a couple weeks ago.
Starring in Armistead Maupin’s staged production of Tales of the City: A New Musical" at the American Conservatory Theater has changed Wesley. He is 24 and has been out of college for three years. During that time he has worked continuously on Broadway, landing central roles in a handful of enormously successful shows including Rock of Ages and The Addams Family alongside Nathan Lane. He has also become known through his satire YouTube series Billy Green.
But it wasn’t until being cast as a Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, a young hopeless romantic gay man in San Francisco during the early 70s, that Wesley really began to feel a greater responsibility than to just the art of theater itself. Not only does he feel a connection to an older generation of men who have come to love and identify with Mouse, but also responsibility to the next generations that continue to struggle for gay rights.
Below is part of an interview I conducted with Wes yesterday about three weeks into the run. We talk about the magic of San Francisco (even today), the responsibility of playing Mouse, where the show might go from here, Armistead Maupin, Jake Shears, the process of being part of a new production, marriage equality, mustaches and on-stage nudity.
To see a shorter version of the interview, click on the examiner.com article here. I am also hoping to eventually post an audio file of the interview, so check back.
Tales of the City is now running through July 24th. Buy tickets here.
Jamie: First things first, so I see that the ‘stache is real. You could walk down Mission Street and no one would know the difference.
Wes: I went to New York for twenty-four hours last weekend which was crazy, and for the first time I was a little embarrassed about the mustache and was noticing people looking at me funny. It’s interesting because San Francisco is so embracing of every kind of oddball. Like that’s what this city kind of stands for, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what you wear. And that’s why there’s so much personality in this city. It’s really a sanctuary of people who are different. Which is really special, it makes this city so magical.
And yeah, my friends at home keep making fun of my mustache in all the pictures. But I love it. For the last three years I’ve been playing eighteen-year-old characters and I’ve been shaving my face every single day and it sort of sucks. So I’m really jazzed about the fact that I can do something different.
JF: Yeah, you look normal to me, but I live in the Mission.
WT: Exactly! When we first started the rehearsals, (director) Jason Moore wanted us to grow facial hair. And I didn’t know if Mouse should have a mustache. Marcus D'amico in the miniseries didn’t have one and I wanted him to stay twinkie and innocent. Sometimes when I grow facial hair I have the tendency to look sinister or edgy.
But Armistead said, “Mouse has a mustache. I had a mustache in the 70s, Mouse has a mustache.” And it was at that moment that I realized Mouse was Armistead. And I actually didn’t know that before. I had read the books and watched the miniseries, but it just hadn’t dawned on me that he was telling his story mostly through Michael. It was pretty surreal when I figured that out, and it was very intimidating.
I was also really intimidated when I first got the part because I didn’t know what a huge deal थे books were। But when I started telling people that I got it, every middle-aged gay man in New York freaked out. It really scared the hell out of me that so many people identified with this character. But what made me feel really comfortable was that Armistead had the final say on the casting. He gave us his blessing. JF: I love how involved he's been in making this production; I mean how often does that happen? WT: It doesn’t। I mean on the first day of rehearsal, he said that this is one of the happiest days of his life. He was so excited and such a part of it. But, still kept his distance respectfully to the writer Jeff Witty who made Armistead’s books into a musical. He couldn’t have been better to me through this whole process.
JF: Did he offer up any other words of wisdom that you can share?
WT: He told me once that there’s something about Mouse that’s hard for some people to get: which is this quirk that he is both light and dark. He said that I was really embodying that. And because as an actor you can really get neurotic about getting into a character, it was really comforting to hear from its creator that you’re on the right track.
JF: You’ve said before that playing reserved characters, like the one you played in The Addams Family, is more difficult for you than playing really crazy characters, like Franz in Rock of Ages. What was it like to play Mouse then, who is definitely on the more reserved side?
WT: The thing I love about Michael is that he’s a little of everything. He’s very much like who I am, which can sometimes be the hardest thing to play on stage because it’s the most exposing. You can feel naked and horrified because at the end of the day it’s about telling the truth. And telling the truth can be the hardest thing in the world.
But yeah, Michael is a lot like me: we’re both from Orlando, Florida, we both have conservative parents, I grew up very religious in the Baptist world just like him, it took us both a while to come out to our parents, we’re both hopeless romantics and we both like our vices.
JF: My brother, who’s straight, said he got really emotional during Michael’s coming out scene. It’s a really amazing number.
WT: I like how simple and subtle that scene is. I kept wanting to make it more dramatic, but the director kept telling me to stop and just read the letter. Just love your mother. I was also playing the scene kind of defensive, you know, ACCEPT ME GODDAMIT! And he kept saying, no, you love your mother. You feel for her and you get it. It’s more, Thank you for making me who I am, which is more heartbreaking because it’s killing them with kindness. I feel like that song is a gift and the character has been a gift. I’ve been so lucky to stumble across it.
JF: And I’d imagine people have been reacting very strongly to your performance?
WT: Yeah, it feels really great. I’ve never been in that position before. I mean Franz was super gay but I’ve never been in the position of having gay men telling me how I’ve helped and affected them. That’s been very special to me and it means a lot. And I didn’t care about that stuff before. I don’t want to say I was selfish, but I was really focused on being an actor on my own terms. I wasn’t really interested in being a role model or helping other people’s lives. I was just interested in doing good art, but the older I get I realize what’s the point of that ?
Like when I first moved to New York my agents told me that it’s probably better off that you don’t come out for television and film. But I think that’s changing dramatically; you know with people like Neil Patrick Harris, I mean things are changing in a great way.
JF: That couldn’t have even been that long ago, what 3, 4 years?
WT: Yeah, I got out of school three years ago. But they did say that they would be completely open to it if I wanted to.
JF: But they were just recommending…
WT: Yeah, and they’re all gay too. It’s just one of those hard decisions to make as an actor, deciding weather or not you want to sacrifice the possibility of putting you into a box as a gay guy. But I think it’s getting easier to be a gay man and being able to do it all. But I started to realize that if I wasn’t going to get cast in something because I’m gay, I don’t want to be part of that project. You start growing up and you start seeing these things. And now I’m trying to be as active as I can in the gay agenda. I mean we are so close in New York to getting marriage equality right now. This is such a big deal! It’s made me really passionate, it has to get done! So yeah, it’s affected me. I love how it’s affected other people. I love that it’s made a difference, I think this piece is really special in that way. Even though it’s dated, it takes place in the 70s, but we’re still dealing with the same issues.
JF: It’s from the 70s, but I think the San Francisco in this show is still here. Have you felt that?
WT: Yeah, you can feel it. And everywhere you go in this city is research for the show! All of these locations are all over the books and the lyrics. Even the street names, it’s everywhere. I love working on a show and being in the world of the show while you’re working on it. I’ve never had that experience before.
JF: Everyone is talking about if they’ll be able to take this show out of San Francisco and on the road. What do you think?
WT: Because of all the inside jokes? I think that the show has the heart and I think it’s good enough to be able to transfer anywhere and work. Sure, you might have to tweak some of the lines and jokes. I actually think it would go over really well in London it would be super successful. The books are huge; Armistead is very popular over there. And the Scissor Sisters are everything in the UK! They’re way more known there than they are here. The demographic in London is right up our alley. But we won’t know what’s going to happen for a while. I mean, we got extended here until July, and it might even get extended until August. We just don’t know and as an actor is a little scary. Do you look for more work? Can you rely on the show?
JF: It’s like dating two people at once, and geez! Everyone should have these problems!
WT: It’s exactly like that! It’s awful! And yet exhilarating and great.
JF: What was it like working with Jake Shears (Jason Sellards)?
WT: He sort of became my big brother while he was here. We got along really well. We partied like rockstars, The Scissor Sisters don’t fuck around! They had a concert here and the whole cast went, it was really fun. He’s never written a musical before, but he’s such a natural at it. And he was so not precious about anything. He was cutting songs left and right. He probably wrote over fifty songs for the show and there are only nineteen or twenty in it. There are so many great songs that got the chopping blog. There was a song that Mona and I sing together called “Who’s your Mama?”, and after one week of previews, it wasn’t working for them, so he wrote another one called “Everything Gets Better” in twenty-four hours and put it in. I mean, that’s previews. It’s pretty stressful.
JF: They should make a B-sides album.
WT: Yeah, like bonus tracks. There was another song called “Show Me How to Love You” and it was so gorgeous. My verse was my favorite thing that I got to sing in the show, and they cut it! People need to hear this stuff!
JF: So this was all in two months? You guys learned double the amount of material?
WT: When we started previews, the show was something like four hours long. I mean it’s three hours right now, which is also too long for a musical comedy. But they’ve taken a lot out and changed even more.
I remember the first time Mary and I sang our new song for an audience, we were shaking because there were people sitting there hearing a song you had only sung three times. It’s terrifying. I think putting up a new musical is one of the most terrifying things you could ever do.
JF: Earlier you mentioned that playing the role of Mouse is “revealing” makes you feel “naked”. You like getting naked don’t you?
WT: As soon as they made us sign that nudity clause…
JF: There was a nudity clause?
WT: There was a nudity clause that all of the men signed. There was supposed to be a lot more nudity in the show. But, I mean, obviously you have to show flesh in the show, it’s Tales of the City, it’s a big component of the show. But Jason didn’t want it to look like an excuse to please to the gay community.
JF: So all we get it is your butt.
WT: Yup, that’s it. I’ve never gotten to even take off my shirt in a show, I love it. As soon as I signed that clause I stopped eating fried food and starting hitting the gym every day and doing five hundred sit-ups. It’s a fun challenge to be working on something outside of the show, whether it is growing out a mustache or going to the gym more! It’s a cool experience to have to change something about your appearance for a show, it really makes you feel like you’re earning your paycheck.
Monday, April 5, 2010
One of my favorite things about Davies Symphony Hall is the variety of performers that grace its stage: like ukulele musicians and big band orchestras. But it’s a special treat when the Symphony itself invites someone extra special to be its guest.
This week, Wednesday to Saturday, The San Francisco Symphony slips something a little different between Poulenc and Gounod classics: selections from a new musical called Whisper House, composed by so-called “one hit wonder” and Grammy winning Duncan Sheik with a book written by New York City’s “hipster playwright" Kyle Jarrow.
Don’t be too surprised: Duncan Sheik went onto receiving a 2007 Tony for his masterpiece Spring Awakening and Kyle Jarrow won a prestigious 2004 Obie Award at the age of 24 for A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. The two were introduced by a mutual friend and dove right into writing the musical Whisper House. The musical has just come off a successful six week World Premier run at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego.
Last week I was able to chat with Kyle over email and ask him some questions about working with Duncan and his experience with Whisper House...
TO READ MORE, CLICK HERE
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Because I'm not being assigned stories by an editor, I usually choose to write about things I already like. Makes sense right? I'm not doing this for a ton of cash (long way off there) so of course I'm going to write about things I will be able to say nice things about. Even if there are elements I don't like, I can usually stress the parts that were good over everything else. Some have called this "sugarcoating," fine, I can live with that.
But what happens when I really can't think of anything nice to say, and I really don't recommend that people go spend their money on it. It's certainly my responsibility to say it, even if I feel bad about it. If I never wrote anything bad ever, why would anyone trust my opinions? I end up feeling bad because the artists usually give me free tickets which even after a year of writing I'm getting used to, but then I feel guilty for saying bad things. Well, this is when being a critic and journalist (a term I'm still getting used to when referring to myself) is all about. So, I say "bring it." I can take it. It's good for me!
So, I just saw this musical called Mahalia: a Gospel Musical over the weekend. It was, well, very disappointing. I mean, I LOVE gospel music. I wrote a freaking 100 page master's report on the topic. I've seen incredible musicals like Crowns and A Color Purple that blew my brain right out of my head (ew).
I would figure that if you cast a singer to portray one of the greatest voices, you would find someone who can really sing. Considering that Oakland has a large African American community, you figure it wouldn't be that hard. How many female gospel singers live a stones throw away from San Francisco?
Anyway, the singing was what I decided to focus on in my review. Other reviewers tore down the acting, the directing and the blocking (yes, it was bad, folks). But I would be very interested to see what you think of my review, even not seeing the show (don't please, save your money). Was I TOO nice? Did I say anything below the belt?
Read my review here
Thanks for reading by the way, I am so lucky to have such awesome fans.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I can't wait to hear the entire recording of this show. The arrangements are incredible. You'll see.
Here's a silly video someone made with the audio track edited over it.
See my article on examiner.com
Saturday, December 12, 2009
On Tuesday Espinosa performed a set list inspired by friends and family, featuring everything from Garbage’s sizzling “I Would Die for You” to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Unfortunately there was no printed set list and Espinosa didn’t identify many of the songs, so I can’t tell you what else she sang other than a tune from the film An American Tail.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Evolution of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going": Jennifer Holliday, Jennifer Hudson and Amber Riley from Glee
"I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" has, since the film version of Dreamgirls become the song for divas. American Idol contestants have sung it, Bianca Ryan has sung it, even the Filipina Divas have sung it (and quite well I might add). If you’ve got a big voice, and you want to show it off, you sing this song. You CAN’T sing this song badly, if you do, everyone will notice.
Last night we had the pleasure of hearing Amber Riley sing "And I'm Telling You" on Glee. Gawd, I love her ("Bust Your Windows"? Yeah!). But before Riley and J-Hud, there was Jennifer Holliday. She is the Godmother of them all. Holliday played Effie in the Tony winning production of Dreamgirls in the early 80s.
When Holliday performs this song, it's more like watching an emotional purging. I've never seen a performance like it before, especially the one below at the Tony Awards. You can see and hear the anguish emanating from her. I really enjoy Hudson and Riley's performances of the song, but both are lacking in the way that Holliday makes you feel her pain. Both Hudson and Riley can sing, no doubt about it, but Holliday really embodies the song when she does it.
Let me also just say, if I've done the math correctly, Holliday was the YOUNGEST of the three when she performed the song: she was 21 or 22. Hudson and Riley were a couple years older.
So, without further ado, I give you Jennifer Holliday at the 1982 Tony Awards. Please skip to 3:30 unless you want to see the scene that leads up to the song. She won a Tony for this performance.
Click here to hear Jennifer Hudson and Amber Riley's performance
Thursday, November 19, 2009
According to cast member and star John Gallager, Jr's twitter the cast of American Idiot at the Berkeley Rep went into the studio yesterday to record "21 Guns" with Green Day. It is rumored that the production will spread onto Broadway and the big screen.
Personally I'm looking forward to the cast recording of American Idiot. The arrangements are spectacular. I saw the show opening night just over two months ago. READ MY REVIEW HERE and can't quite remember who sings "21 Guns" (it might have been one of the female characters), but the cast was terrific and it's bound to be good.
Green Day's singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong is producing the track, which will hit the radio at the end of November and be made available for purchase through all digital retailers. With bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool the band will also shoot a video for “21 Guns” with the American Idiot cast. The digital version of the "21 Guns" has gone platinum, selling more than one million downloads, while the video won three 2009 MTV Video Music Awards in September, including “Best Rock Video.”
Monday, November 16, 2009
Okay, hopefully my obsession with this show is nearing an end. But I've watched this video so many times I just had to share it with you. And yes, I saw the show again in Sacramento last weekend. I wanted my parents and friend from out of town to see it.
While there are plenty of good songs in this show, for some reason this performance of "Touch Me" on The View has become my favorite.
Spring Awakening takes place in the 1890s, and while many of the buttoned-up/prude Victorian era-like themes are present in the show, the main theme, teenage sexuality, is something that is very much present today. I was 14 once, I remember thinking about it all the time. What it's like? Who will I have it with? When? Who is having sex? Is it like in the movies?
At this point in the show, Moritz, played by John Gallagher Jr. has asked his friend Melchior, played by Jonathan Groff to tell him what he knows about sex (he's not had sex yet, he just reads a lot). And they sing about it, of course, it's a musical.
This is a beautiful song and the lead characters are great, but it's the performance of the secondary characters that just stop me dead in my tracks. First you hear the sweet, sensitive, rich voice of Gideon Glick. Then a second solo by Brian Charles Johnson, with a rockish, raspy voice (now in the cast of American Idiot and whom I'm trying to get an interview with). And then, oh-my-god, Skylar Astin and his amazing solo. The hair-do might fool you, but don't let it. This kid can sing.
Anyway, enjoy. I now release my obsession, hopefully soon to move to something else worthy of my attention.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Teenage sex, masturbation, abortion, child abuse, suicide... sounds like another night of bad television right? Wrong. Spring Awakening is a musical based on a play by the same title by Frank Wedekind that was banned in 1891 for portraying all of these situations, many of them graphically.
Western society has come a long way since the Victorian era of zipped lips (and flies) when it came to sexuality. I figure, it was hard enough being a teenager in the 1990s when we had sex ed and 90210 to teach us, what must it have been like in the1890s when kids had nothing?
Right now, Spring Awakening is playing in Sacramento at the Community Center Theater just until November 15th. In 2007, Spring Awakening received eleven Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including best musical, direction, book, score and featured actor.
READ MORE OF MY REVIEW HERE
T.R. Knight stars in "Parade": a sobering reminder of Red/Blue State politics, racism and anti-semtism. Jamie's Dad reports
This blog entry was written my my Dad, Jeff. Every so often I ask him to write a review of a show he's seen in Los Angeles. Check out his review of "Howling Blues & Dity Dogs."
Who was Leo Frank? No, he was not Ann Frank’s father. And, while he was also a Jew, he was an American and not a German. And no, he did not die at the hands of the Nazis. He was lynched by Georgia whites in 1917 for a murder he may not have committed and after the Georgia Governor had reduced his sentence from death by hanging to life imprisonment.
Why are we talking about Leo Frank? It’s because the play with music Parade is currently being performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles . Fresh from runs in New York and London, where, respectively, it won a Tony award and was nominated for an Olivier award, an ensemble of about two dozen talented men and women deliver a powerful performance of this “musical” about a subject which, although almost 100 years old, still has relevance today in our “red state vs. blue state” reality.
Here’s a quick summary of the story...
READ MORE OF JEFF'S REVIEW HERE
Sunday, October 18, 2009
For seven hours this past Friday I waited in line for $20 rush tickets for the musical Rent at San Francisco's Curran Theater. Yes my friends, this is the fun I have on my furlough Fridays. I am one of those crazy music theater lovers who would do such a thing.
The Curran Theater has been (I believe today is the last day of the short two week run) graciously saving the first two rows of the orchestra (rows AA and BB) for rush tickets buyers. There were only 26 seats. After those were snatched up they offered up some remaining seats for $30. We got the last $20 seat and the first two $30 seats in one of the boxes. The view was obstructed and we couldn't see anything that occurred in the back of the stage (missed all of Mimi's "Take Me Out") and anything upstage right.
HOWEVER, we were close enough to see facial expressions and to feel the full emotional force of these gorgeous songs. I cried when Angel and Collins expressed their love for each other in "I'll Cover You" and again when Angel died. Man, I love this show. Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, the originators of the characters Roger and Mark. 13 years later, they sound better than ever. In fact, Adam Pascal's voice was one of my least favorite from the original Broadway recording. His voice has filled out and improved by leaps and bounds since then.
This was a fantastic performance and it was well worth the wait. I know the original Broadway recording well, so seeing Pascall and Rapp play the parts was a huge treat.
Furlough Fridays can be fun!
Friday, October 2, 2009
Much like an actual visit to Burning Man, “How to Survive the Apocalypse” is a musical production with no obvious plan: you must experience what’s in front of you as it presents itself and just go with it. There is beauty you will be transfixed by and ugliness you will want to turn your attention away from. Sometimes you might not sure what’s going on, but it’s sure fun to watch.
A Burning Man blog describes it best:
The rock opera is a little bit Hair in that it tries to capture the zeitgeist of a movement, and a little bit Rent in the joyful exuberance that sometimes comes along with incredible hardship, and maybe a little bit Jesus Christ, Superstar in the way it touches your spiritual buttons."My favorite line: "when we stop consuming, we create."
To read more and see more photos click here
Saturday, September 19, 2009
“It’s like watching someone else making out with your girlfriend” said Green Day drummer Tré Cool to the women in front of us at the bar, with his trademark bleached blonde hair spiked up about three inches. They had asked about what it was like to watch someone else play his music in the new Berkeley Rep’s production of American Idiot.
The after party of the Berkeley Repertory Theater’s 2009-2010 season was the night for punk hairdos of all types. Along with food and drinks, the Levi sponsored event included a photo station with costumes and a hair salon. Guitarist/vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong even shaved one guy’s hair to a fine looking mohawk (See photo and slideshow).
For a few minutes I was tempted to track Armstrong down and ask him to shave my head, that’s how inspired I was by this production of American Idiot, and I’ve never had punk tendencies. I'm more of a hippie if you must know. After recently seeing the Tony nominated Rock of Ages and Tony winning production of Hair (and thoroughly enjoyed both), read that article here I am convinced that American Idiot will easily slide onto Broadway and do very well there. This is not the last you’ll be hearing about this show.
READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE
Thursday, August 27, 2009
We had amazing seats at the musical Rock of Ages starring Lauren Molina (also a University of Michigan Music School alum, read more about her here). She got us backstage! Check out the backstage mockumentaries she's been producing and directing. They are hysterical. Here's the first one:
The length and style of one's hair is a symbol of fashion. But in recent decades it has also been a symbol of ones politics and lifestyle.
In the 60s, having long hair (usually for men) meant that you were one of those hippie freaks that protested the war in Vietnam and smoked the marijuana. But in the 80s, the “sexier Regan era,” it meant that you wore leather, drank a lot and listened to loud guitar music. And according to the musicals Hair and Rock of Ages (ROA) you also had a lot of sex. Or at least you wanted other people to think you had a lot of sex. When I saw both shows last week during my visit to the Big Apple, there was a lot of hip motion on stage. A LOT.
Click here to read the rest of my article on examiner.com
Lauren Molina (Michigan classmate and star of Rock of Ages) and I backstage
Tamar and I outside of Hair
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The internet is buzzing with clip featuring Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Andy Richter, Maya Rudolph, John C. Reilly, Allison Janney, Kathy Najimy Jennifer Lewis, Neil Patrick Harris and more.