Friday, April 17, 2020

QUARANTINED MEMORIES #2: MY FIRST DREAMGIRL

So as the YouTube spiral continues during these quarantine times, another video has me in a nostalgic mood connecting threads of my theater loving life. I recently saw the clip from the Tony Awards© with Jennifer Holliday and the cast of Dreamgirls.   






I remember seeing it on TV at the time, processing its fabulosity, while the signature song from the show, And I’m Tellin’ You I'm Not Going, climbs the charts. It made Texas native, Jennifer Holliday, a breakout star.  While living in P.Y.T. Texas (Pre You Tube) , my theater experiences were very limited.  It wasn’t until I moved to Austin from Galveston that I felt comfortable enough to see and participate in more theater locally.  Since my Texas days, I have had many opportunities to meet and interview legends of the American theater and see their work on stage.  However, there are great performances that happen in places other than the Great White Way. They are just as compelling, riveting, and memorable, as if you were walking out of the Imperial Theater on a chilly winter night in 1982. 


For me, it was a Sunday matinee performance of DREAMGIRLS at the Zachary Scott Theater, Spring 1995. I, along with one of my dearest friends, Len, were volunteering as ushers so we could see the show. Another one of my dearest friends, Ms. Treens, was also the stage manager for the show and kept saying to me, “you are not gonna believe how good this show is!”  She also said “black folks are gonna lose their minds when they see this show.” She was right, because I did not know what was going to happen.   For a community theater, we were living with only having The Wiz, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,  and Ain’t Misbehavin’ to fall back on as black musical theater performance options.  Once On This Island was performed in the previous seasons, but it was still new to us. It had not earned its current status in black musical theater history just yet. 


From the moment the house lights went down and those voices and music turned up, I lost my ever loving mind. Chile, Dave Steakley directed the *ish out of that show.  The gowns, the wigs, and the moving sets turned me OUT! Seeing people of color just sassing it up while singing their faces off was amazing, but I can not forget the performance of the actress who embodied my First Effie White, B. Iden Payne© Award Winner, Jacqui Cross. Honey, I had never seen anyone like her.  At that performance baby, she SLAYED!! She blew the roof off of that house.
With Emmy Award© Winning, Loretta Devine
 In that climactic moment near the end of Act One when everyone gangs up on Effie about her size, missing shows, etc., and Deena is acting all innocent knowing full well she’s been sleeping with Curtis right behind Effie’s back, stealing her place as lead, all while being careful enough to not get pregnant in her quest for fame.  As that scene started, I felt goosebumps because my empathy for Effie was growing. By the time the bells chimed in to start that famous anthem, I was a wreck. It was the first time that I cried in a live performance.

At that time, I was winding down my days in Austin, as I prepared to take the big leap and move to NYC.  I have always been in the battle of the bulge my entire adult life, and this quarantine is not helping. I knew then that moving to New York was the right thing to do. However on that day, the only questions marinating for me: where was Jacqui Cross in that moment, and who did she channel to find the character? Why? Because an angel came out of those vocal chords that day.  The lights came up, and there was not a dry eye in the house, except for my friend, Len. Not that he wasn’t moved, but theater is not his jam like that. I have never forgotten that moment. Don't even get me started with her costume change DURING the I'M CHANGING number. In the audience at that same show was one of Austin’s premier cabaret/piano bar goddesses and local celebrity, Margaret Wright, and even she was doing the Oprah ugly cry at her seat.
Tony© and Drama Desk© Award Nominee, Author, Activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph


At different times during my radio career, I have met and interviewed the 3 Original Dreamgirls, Tony© and Drama Desk© Award Nominee, Sheryl Lee Ralph (Deena), Emmy© Award Winning Loretta Devine (Lorel), and Tony© and Grammy© Award winning Jennifer Holiday (Effie). Each and every one of them could not have been kinder, more generous, and funnier. These sisters are still working on a screen or stage near you.
Tony© and Grammy© Award Winning, Jennifer Holliday
Looking back, I now know that I needed to experience that performance as a boost for my love of theater. It also reminds me that for every diva that I have seen grace a Broadway stage, there is a Jacqui Cross in their hometown bringing folks to tears, too.  Being blessed to see so many AMAZING performers and shows, I will never forget my first Dreamgirl. FYI, Ms. Cross is still turning it out in Austin, Texas. She still stays very active on the theater and music scene.  Her talent is a testament that great theater performances anywhere will stay with you forever.  Now go wash your hands.
©2020 Keith Price

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

QUARANTINED MEMORIES #1: SWEET CHARITY

During this pandemic madness and the awaited return of Broadway shows,   I am doing what every theater geek is doing: spending endless hours on You Tube, watching clips of every damn version of every damn thing that we have ever heard, seen, or done, multiplied by 1000.   If you are a theater enthusiast having lived in NYC long enough, in addition to Broadway and Off Broadway, then you know that there is something so amazing and so unique happening on a regular basis, especially with organizations like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund, (which, by the way, are both raising funds to help the many whose profession is the basis of many of our favorite moments. If you have a spare fiver to donate,  and know others who can, collectively you will be helping). Back to me.  


In my spiral, I ran across this clip from the Actors Fund production of SWEET CHARITY in 1997, featuring three Tony Award© winning legends, Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth, and Donna McKechnie, in one of my favorite numbers, There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This



I immediately flashed back to actually being in that audience that night. I had been in NYC for about 2 years, and my survival job at the time was being a bouncer/dj/emcee/janitor/house mother and sometimes choreographer at a strip club. 


Yes, I know it might be hard to believe, but at that time many of the older comedians that I admired had worked in a strip club in the early days of their careers.  I felt like I was following a tradition. Not to mention, who would you trust hanging out with female strippers? Lecherous straight guy or fabulous gay guy who can fight, too?


Anyway, after seeing the big event postcards in the rack (remember those?)  at a coffee shop near the strip club, I went back to the club and immediately called the Actor’s Fund and asked for ticket prices.  Cheapest ticket was $150 in the Mezzanine, but Orchestra seats started at $250, so I waited because I had to think about it, because I barely had enough for a mezz seat.  I told one of the “exotic” dancers how bummed I was, because I wanted to go as close to full out fab as I could. That dancer went back to the dressing room and told the other girls. At closing, they ALL went out of their way to tip me extra so I could afford an orchestra seat.  


When I called back the next day to order the ticket, I told the woman on the phone my whole life journey from Texas, and how much I LOVED the movie, and how I was a comedian who worked at a strip club, and how lap dancers were the modern day Taxi Dancers, including the story about the ladies and the generous tips. I know that I exhausted her.  I went to pick up the ticket and pay for it with my stripper tips because I did not have a credit card. That fabulous woman gave me a front row center seat, which was misleading, because it was Row AA. In my mind I thought it was the 27th row, after passing through the alphabet once. Imagine my surprise that night at Lincoln Center almost like Cher in MOONSTRUCK?  


Cy Coleman came out to play the overture.  The ladies from THE LIFE were singing Big Spender with Chita and Bebe.  Theater Goddess, Gwen Verdon, made her final stage appearance that night. She also fell while smoking a cigarette and hiding in Vitorio’s closet.  Dom Deluise and Charles Nelson Reilly were among the other stars on stage. Debbie Allen’s off book moment cracked up the house. Hearing someone scream, “You better work that ponytail, gurl!” as that young dancer made her entrance for the RICH MAN FRUG number.  Looking back some 23 years later, it still feels amazing.

Because I did not know where my life was taking me after that night, I marvel about how many connections to that night continued so many years later.  At that time, I had been in NYC for about 2 years still trying to figure it out. It was before 9/11, social media, and the beginning of the flip phones. After making my way around NYC as a comedian and a hospital clerk for about 10 years from that magical night, I landed a dream job of working in radio.  One of my first BIG assignments was to cover the book launch party of…..Donna McKechnie

Tony Award© Winning, Donna McKechnie's Memoir, TIME STEPS: My Musical Comedy Life

Guess who else was at that party? Bebe Neuwirth.  I know right?  It was right before they were to announce that Bebe was to return to the cast of CHICAGO in the role of Roxie Hart. Later on in my career, I also got the chance to connect with the great Chita Rivera.


Chatting with the amazing 2x Tony Award© Winner, Bebe Neuwirth.

Stage door with Chita Rivera at The Dancer's Life in 2005 holding the pic from the 1997 SWEET CHARITY
2019 Chita Rivera Award Nominee Reception with Chita Rivera

As magical as that night was, it came up again in the most unlikely of places.  My first big relationship lasted shy of 7 years, and began with a few theater conversations.  Upon spending my first night with him at his place, I saw this awesome display on his wall. It was a signed poster from that same SWEET CHARITY concert along with pics of him with some of the stars of that same night.  It was such a sweet moment to realize that we were at the very same event meeting people and possibly passed each other and not even knowing it. No matter how the relationship ended, I will never deny that theater was one of the things that made our relationship fun, and we both can admit it was a good run, and yes, we are still friends.  As this quarantine continues, it seems that I will have plenty of time to remember some really great moments involving the theatre, and I think that I will. In the meantime, do the same and if you can, please check out Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund.
Please enjoy some memories from that magical night, too.

Meeting Emmy Award© Winning Debbie Allen after 1997 SWEET CHARITY
The Original Pic from 1997 SWEET CHARTY with 2x Tony Award© Winning Chita Rivera
Dom Deluise (center), My Friend Bruce and His "friend" 1997 SWEET CHARITY
3X Tony Award© Winner, Hinton Battle, at 1997 SWEET CHARITY

Friday, March 27, 2020

REMEMBERING TERRENCE MCNALLY


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  • After just celebrating the birthdays of theater giants, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim while the world deals with a pandemic, theater lovers are now mourning the loss of four-time Tony Award-winning playwright, Terrence McNally. He passed away due to complications brought on by the COVID19 virus. The loss to the world of American Theater is deeply felt.   

    I discovered Terrence McNally later in life.  Not being formally trained as a thespian has given me the opportunity to learn about many things in and about theater through the joy of living, learning, and Google. Shortly after coming out of the closet in the 90’s,  I was doing improv comedy in Austin, Texas, and there was a guy on our team who used to mimic Rita Moreno’s Tony Award© winning character, Googie Gomez from The Ritz.  As I was slowly learning about gay culture, this gem was brought to my attention.  I was not familiar with that part of the lifestyle just yet, but my Texas eyes were opening to a life that fear was no longer going to keep me from living.  


    As I started to learn more about him and his exodus from Texas to New York City in the late 50’s, I realized that there was a little bit of his story in mine. Imagine discovering that you are gay in South Texas during the 50’s?   I mean it sucked for me, but in Austin during the early 90’s, it was a little bit safer because more of us were out of the closet.  We did the same thing by leaving our humble beginnings in Texas for a better life to redefine and reinvent ourselves personally, creatively, and professionally.  Through his work, Mr. McNally gave a voice to many of us in a way that we did not even know that we needed.  He brought plenty of his own personal pain into his work.   

    I met him only twice.  The first time was at a NYC Heritage of Pride Rally.  I was an out comedian making my debut at the highest profile gay event of my career at that time, and  Mr. McNally and I were on the bill.  I was so nervous because by this time, I knew he created Googie Gomez.

    My friend, Angela came with me. She is in the biz and very savvy.  Between running my set over and over in my head, fixating that Mr. McNally is only ten feet away from me, and holding back anxiety and pit sweat, I felt great.   I kept running back to Angela saying , “OMG it’s Terrence Mcnally. I want to talk to him, but I am too nervous.” And with the same tone as the conversation between Lorell and Effie in Dreamgirls right before “MOVE” , Angela asks me “Are both of your pictures on the same page of the PRIDE magazine?” I said, “yes.” She further pushed, “Are your guest badges the same color?” I said , “yes”, and she said, “Then shut up and go talk to him, you BOTH are invited guests.”  I took her advice, and I gushed a little.  I walked over to him and introduced myself.  He was so kind to me. 

     
    His latest memoir, Selected Works: A Memoir in Plays  had just dropped, and I got the chance to interview him.  I got to chat about the need for his Texas exodus, the importance of his work, and listen to him gush about Nathan Lane.  Unfortunately, I did not get to air that interview, and the file was later corrupted, so the physical conversation is lost forever. Although our moments together were brief, the impact of those meetings has stayed with me.  I am sure that each and every theater geek and reporter in the world will have something great to share about him and his legacy, too. Although he is gone, his legacy will never be forgotten.  Rest in Power. 



      Sunday, March 22, 2020

      Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

      As many of us quarantined theater geeks living in NYC are trying to get through not having live performances, one of our giants, STEPHEN SONDHEIM, celebrates his 90th birthday.  Thanks to COVID-19, many planned events to celebrate him have been cancelled, including the highly anticipated opening of another revival of Company.  I will admit that I was a late bloomer to the genius of Sondheim. I thought his music and shows were something that only the white theater folks would shame me for not knowing well.  Of course, there were many moments in my life that my ignorance of WHO he is, allowed me to appreciate him unconsciously. He wrote the lyrics to 2 of my favorite musicals WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY.  2 shows that I first saw as movie musicals. I hold them both responsible for awakening my inner show queen, along with Wonder Woman, but I digress. His vast musical theater cannon of shows exhibit a mastery of drama, comedy, and the macabre. 

      I remember seeing Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd on PBS, and not seeing the big deal at first. Fairy tales and a serial killer who kills people and then gives them to the lady downstairs to make meat pies, were not big on my radar.  At the time, I gravitated to things closer to my experience: The Wiz, All Black Casts of Hello Dolly and Guys and Dolls, Jelly’s Last Jam, and 5 Guys Named Moe. Over the years and out of context, I would randomly hear songs like Losing My Mind, Broadway Baby or I’m Still Here, especially with a big orchestra, being sung by a grand diva like Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook, or Barbara Striesand, and I would get carried away by those lyrics, big finishes, and buttons. Like Blanche Devereaux on the Golden Girls said to the wedding planner, “you just wanna fly right out of here!” 

      It was not until I was in my first real relationship with an even bigger theater geek than myself that I started to understand the genius of Steve (I heard that is how he signs his personal notes). My ex and I went to see so many shows, and when we scored great seats to see the 2011 FOLLIES revival. All of the sudden, things made sense from a universal place. The longing loss of love along with the other complicated emotions of life are on full display, even with the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Once my understanding of his universality came to me,  hearing artists later like Billy Porter and Heather Headley interpreting Sondheim's music, I soon felt a new level of soul. The real aficionados of Mr.Sondheim will agree that his work speaks differently to everyone. I admit that his funny and sassy tunes get me every time, and depending on my own state of being, the other tunes are just as powerful. So in honor of his birthday and my endless need to be trendy, I would love to share with you some of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs.


      Gotta Get a Gimmick- GYPSY ( lyrics only)


      Broadway Baby from FOLLIES



      Everybody Ought Have a Maid, from A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM


      You Could Drive A Person Crazy, COMPANY


      The Ladies Who Lunch from COMPANY

      AMERICA from WEST SIDE STORY ( lyrics only)


      Have a Little Priest from SWEENEY TODD


      The Boy From “...”  from THE MAD SHOW



      LOSING MY MIND from FOLLIES



      Buddy’s Blues from   FOLLIES 


      Let Me Entertain You from GYPSY

      Sunday, September 1, 2019

      Fall is Coming With A Crop Of Amazing Talent This Month at Feinstein's 54 Below

      The end of the summer is nigh and fall is coming. Feinstein's 54 Below is starting to get the pre-fall season jumping off with some fabulous folks doing AMAZING shows!!!  Shoshana Bean  Jason Danieley,  Nicole Henry, and Krysta Rodriguez  are bringing their individual vocal stylings to the fame supper club.  Please enjoy my conversations with these amazing artists and watch them live from Feinstein's at the press previews.






















      Thursday, July 11, 2019

      So Happy For Juan Pablo Di Pace

      The Totes Adorbs International Actor, Juan Pablo Di Pace. 
      Now the gossip about the gorgeous International, hunk of man, actor, Juan Pablo Di Pace, coming out of the closet is wonderful news for many of us.  Trust me.  I am not mad at all.  In our brief 8 minutes together, I was so flustered, because chile, he's HAWT! He looks right into your eyes as he speaks to you with that Argentinian accent.  It is almost impossible to handle all of that with any kind of grace, especially when you are not prepared for all of that hotness wrapped in kindness.  At the time, I chose not to get all in his business, because honestly, it is none of my business.  Although, our mutual love of Chita Rivera should have been my clue, but I let it slide as Latin Pride.  Yes, I can totally see him in a revival of Kiss Of The Spiderwoman.   In any case, he is delightful. So, I hope that whatever prompted him to public ownership of himself was rooted in positivity.  I also hope that the industry lets him continue to be a commercially successful artist, and he gets to use his platform to make this world a little brighter.  Bienvenidos a La Familia, Juan!!!
      Juan Pablo Di Pace at Fenstein's 54 Below. 
      My 8 minutes of Heaven with Juan Pablo Di Pace.


      Check out his Ted Talk, too. 

      Wednesday, July 10, 2019

      To The Actors and Creative Team of Camp Morning Wood




      To the Cast and Creatives of Camp Morning Wood,

      I hope that you know that my earnest conversations with you fab guys has been very popular on my podcast. I believe it is because after the tittering and kiki about the camp factor of your show, we also talked about what was absolutely genuine, brave, and wonderful about your show.  Sometimes, grabbing for low hanging fruit is just easy.  Obviously, he did not try to talk to any of you before seeing the show, because that would have given him a better perspective, instead of reaching for snark.  Remember that unfortunate moment of shadiness is going to haunt him a lot longer than it will bother you.  Heads up, teets out, and keep stepping, cuz huntys, ain't nobody got time for that.  I adore you all.
      XO