At the Piano: Maestro Dan Furman

Interview by Jen Bush

Dan Furman is a Tennessee born and Brooklyn based jazz pianist and composer.  His musical journey began at a tender age when he began playing and composing which led him to study jazz, music composition and musical theater.  He is the artistic director of The Brooklyn Tavern Theater where you will soon be able to see his exciting new work, Impossible But True for which he was the composer, lyricist and bookwriter. 

“I am a jazz pianist who writes musicals. I studied composition back in college, but realized that post-modern classical music just doesn’t reach that many people. And I believe that art has to connect with society in order to really bloom and flourish.”

“Luckily, I had been exposed to jazz in high school and had begun writing for my own bands. After a decade or so working in factories as a political activist, I went back to jazz piano and led World Mambo Mission in Atlanta, GA and the Primordial Jazz Funktet here in NYC.”

 “While looking for work as an unemployed pianist in Manhattan, I also discovered music theater. I was lucky enough to get into the BMI Music Theater Workshop, which gave me a good introduction to writing musicals.  Impossible But True began in that workshop as a collaboration with Mary-Liz McNamara. (Mary-Liz’s lyrics are still an important part of 4 songs from this show!). When the collaboration ended, I decided to finish the show and it eventually found its place as a tavern musical in 2018.”

Mr. Furman recognizes that there are many colorful characters and scenarios in this world and that’s what he likes to write about.  He likes his work to reflect the positive aspects of life and living with the notion that change for the better is possible.  “I don’t really like writing songs about myself. I like to have characters to write for–characters who have a reason to sing. I know it’s a bit contrary to the fashion of diving deep into personal experience and identity–but my philosophy is, write what you don’t know.  It’s a big world out there and there are so many interesting subjects and stories to write about–to learn about–to discover.”

“But one thing about me that has influenced my writing is the belief that things are possible–that the world can be changed for the better and it’s up to us to do it. Several of the shows I’ve worked on have this as one of their central themes– from Impossible But True to Ybor City (co-written with Anita Gonzalez) to The Joe Hill Revival.”

Some deep thinking outside of the box went into the creation of Impossible But True.  The source material for the book was kind of sleepy, pun fully intended.  Once the story was spun and told from a different point of view, it worked. “I’m going to tell you what should have inspired me NOT to write this musical. I was a composer in the second year of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop.  My collaborator, Mary-Liz McNamara, and I decided to write our first show based on Washington Irving’s short story, Rip Van Winkle. We had a lot of fun writing it–but after a while, we ran into book trouble.

The main problem was, Irving’s story is a terrible script for a musical.

Here’s why:

–Rip Van Winkle is a nice guy who doesn’t do much of anything except fall asleep and then wake up 20 years later. What kind of hero is that?

–There’s very little action or almost no dialogue in Irving’s story. Some nice descriptions of the Catskills and the quaint residents of the little town. But there’s no romance and no villain. What kind of musical is that going to be?

–Finally: not only are we missing romance, but in Irving’s short story, Rip hates his wife, who is described a terrible nag. When he comes back to the town 20 years later, he is relieved to discover that she is dead. And he lives happily ever after. His wife doesn’t even merit having a name in the story. Just wife.

That is not a story we want to tell today.

So, as I worked on it, this show moved further and further from the quaint confines of Irving’s story. Since Rip fell asleep in the hills before the American revolution and then woke up years after it was over–some interesting possibilities are raised. Revolutions are more interesting than long naps. In our show, the revolution becomes the engine–or, horsepower– propelling the whole story. Although Rip is still a lead character, It became more of a story about how the revolution affected him and his small town in the Catskills.

Impossible But True is different from other shows that deal with the American Revolution–like 1776 or Hamilton—it’s not about the Washingtons, Jeffersons and Hamiltons—it’s about ordinary small-town people who carried out the groundwork during a great historical change. And through that process, what seemed impossible–became possible.

We had to make it clear from the beginning of the show that this is not going to be quite the Rip Van Winkle story you’re used to. We did it like this: our acting troupe welcomes the audience into the bar where you’re seeing the show. The character of Nicolaus Vedder is in charge. He’s introducing the characters and thinks the show is going to start with a song from Rip. But we discover that Rip’s wife, Rebecca, has rewritten the script. She’s given herself the opening song, which she proceeds to sing. In fact, she also leads the final song of the whole show–so if you want, you could look at this as the story of Rip Van Winkle and the American Revolution–as told by Rebecca, his wife.”

Mr. Furman would like people to leave the show with the message that one change can produce a wonderful and positive domino effect leading to bigger and better things in this world.  “I’ve been a political activist for most of my life. There are always people who say that fundamental change, let alone revolution, isn’t possible. We grow up in American schools learning about the founding fathers–these great enlightened men who framed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and tend to assume that if we were all living back then, of course we’d be for the revolution, right? Well, no. It started out as a minority. If you grew up in a small town in the Catskills in the mid-1700s, you might think it was insane to take on the British army.”

“When the pandemic hit in 2020, many of us found ourselves temporarily trapped in our homes and apartments, contemplating the world outside our windows–and we didn’t always like what we saw. To those who said the American revolution was impossible, this show has an answer: as soon as we start to change the world, new things we could not have imagined can become possible. After a night full of music, dance, tragedy and comedy, this is the message that we want the audience to walk out the door with.”

Covid is still present, but Mr. Furman agrees that the timing was right to see the return of the performing arts.  “I think it’s time to open back up. Unless there is a significant upsurge, we will notbe requiring negative COVID tests or proof of vaccination. Everyone should look out for their own safety, and certainly wear a mask if they like.”

Post-Covid Mr. Furman thinks that we should dispense with the tunnel vision of the past and embrace inclusivity in all aspects of theater.  “Coming out of the pandemic, I think theater should continue the movement toward inclusiveness in casting and what is produced. I do not  think we should throw out the Western canon–but this is a great time to break free of the limitations and narrowness we’ve inherited from the past.”

There is no sleeping on the job for this talented artist who has plenty in the works for the future of the Brooklyn Tavern Theater and beyond.  “Brooklyn Tavern Theater premiered The Joe Hill Revival last fall and I would like to bring this show to a larger venue. It is a revival of the story of Joe Hill–a retelling of the story of the union activist and songwriter Joe Hill in the light of what’s going on in the world today. There’s real activity going on in working class politics now and I think it’s a good time for this show.”

“I’ve also been working with director Christopher Noffke on The Proust Virus, a musical about video game characters who come to life inside a young woman’s computer. This is a much more contemporary show than Impossible But True!–one that we’d like to workshop and move towards a production.”

“But Impossible But True is a really fun and moving show to do–so we’ve discussed making it a regular Fall tradition of Brooklyn Tavern Theater if we can find the venues and financial support to do so.”

From Israel to New York – it’s Noy Marom

Noy Marom Interview Part I by Jen Bush

Say Shalom to Noy Marom!  Hailing from Israel, she came to New York to pursue film and theatre opportunities.  Ms. Marom honed her craft on two continents and is a graduate of the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting.  Ms. Marom is an advocate for female voices in the performing arts via her all-female theatre company which she will discuss in more depth during the interview.  In October you’ll be able to see her perform in a piece she co-produced called Yerma.  That is just one of several exciting projects she has in the works. 

Ms. Marom’s passion for performing and visual arts began at a young age.  She feels the strongest pull toward acting and has worn the hat of a producer in recent years.  Ms. Marom feels that there is magic in storytelling.  “I always felt the arts calling my name. Ever since I was very little. I used to spend all my waking hours creating and immersing myself in art- acting, dancing, singing and just performing and creating. I also loved drawing and painting- I guess you could say that even then I loved choosing the different colors in which I paint my reality- and honestly, I think that’s the way I still see my artistic voice now- just using everything in my toolbox to paint pictures and tell exciting and raw stories.”

“I am first and foremost- an actor. That is my absolute favorite thing to do in the whole entire world.  My passion is to tell stories through words and through movement and through complex and raw characters. During my acting career, I was lucky enough to take part in a variety of different projects: films, theater productions, commercials, music videos, photo shoots and more.”

“In recent years, I also find a lot of joy in producing and having a broader control over the projects that I take part in. I started this path when I co-created the Virago Ensemble – an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers. We started working together in 2017, fresh out of acting school and produced a number of successful projects performed in NYC.”

“I absolutely love that I have both options- to bring different characters created by talented writers and creators to life and give them a voice, and also, to carry that voice while taking part in establishing the broader image and agenda of the project and contributing to its general success.”

“I’ve also always loved writing and being that a lot more these days since the pandemic.  To describe it in a few words- I am a storyteller.”

There is a recognition among creatives that certain geographical locations provide abundant opportunities in the arts.  New York is considered a prime place for that.   All the wonderful elements were in place for Ms. Marom to make a life in this vibrant artistic city.  “I always loved New York and the artistic life in it, shining from every street corner. It always felt larger than life to me, and after calling it my artistic home in recent years, I have come to know just how true this statement is.”

“Everything is always happening at once, in high-speed and there are countless challenges to face, but also countless opportunities to discover.”

“I knew that with my passion for acting and on my constant journey towards living a beautifully full artistic life, New York would be the right choice for me, and it proved to be right. The minute I got to this intense city I knew that I’ve arrived home. The people, the energy, the art, the atmosphere, the industry- it speaks to my heart and it nurtures my passion to create.”

 Ms. Marom was inspired to act by watching movies from a young age.  There was not only an interest in the stories and the characters but a level of self-discovery through viewing them.  Producing not only gives her more control over projects but provides further opportunities to work on projects.  “I vividly remember myself as a very young girl, sitting in the living room at my parent’s house and constantly watching movies. It was my favorite thing to do.”

“I remember that I was constantly in awe as to how invested I was in these stories and characters, and I got to know myself and understand things about myself and about the world through the work of these actors and the creators behind the stories.”

“It gave me a language and an outlet to the world around me. I also loved going to the movies. Something about the presence of a single character (actor) on this larger-than-life screen and having it move me, or amuse me or shift something from within, just made me fall in love with it. As I started developing it and taking classes, I also realized that I can actually be good at it and then I knew that I have found my thing.”

“The producing part came along later and I am very thankful to be able to have another creative outlet and to simply be artistically active and constantly involved in projects I am passionate about.”

Part II in the pages of Showtones

Jane Austen’s Persuasion at The Warwick Institute of Culture

In early September, The Warwick Institute of Culture and The Holy Theater presented an out
of town workshop of Sarah Rose Kearns’ new play adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Persuasion was presented to an invited audience Saturday September 3rd at 2 PM and Sunday
September 4th at 2 PM in Warwick, NY at the Theater at the former Kutz Camp (46 Bowen
Road, Warwick, NY 10990).

The workshop of Persuasion was directed by Ran Xia (Orlando, Prometheus Bound), the cast
features Sarah Rose Kearns (Manydown) as Anne Elliot, Marc LeVasseur (The Importance of
Being Earnest) as Anne’s love interest Frederick Wentworth, James B Kennedy (“Lovesong
(Imperfect)”)as Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliott, Laura Rocklyn (Pride & Prejudice) as Lady
Russell, Amanda Jill Robinson (The Gift of the Magi) as Elizabeth Elliot, Andrea Terrasa (Fefu
& Her Friends) as Henrietta Musgrove, Macy Lanceta (Prometheus Bound) as Louisa Elliot,
and Mitchell Gordon (The Three Musketeers) as Charles Musgrove, with Musical
Arrangements and Direction by Amanda Jill Robinson and Assistant Direction, Stage
Management & Movement by Emilee Dupré (Chaplin, Venice).

Persuasion is the final novel completed by Jane Austen, published posthumously in December
of 1817. It follows the story Anne Elliot whose family must move to lower their expenses.
Anne gets engaged early on to Captain Wentworth only to be persuaded by her friends and
family to break it off. We follow the Anne’s journey with her family over the course of a decade,
when Wentworth and Anne are at last reunited with an opportunity for a second chance at
completing their love story.

Playwright Sarah Rose Kearns Rose is a Jane Austen Scholar and the most recent recipient of
the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) International Visitor Program fellowship.
Rose serves as a member of the JASNA committee for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Kearns’ play adaptation gorgeously re-imagines Austen’s novel – the audience witnesses the
story through Anne Elliot’s eyes as she steps in and out of her memories. Ran Xia’s innovative
direction invites the audience into Anne’s world, sweeping us up into her journey. Nearly all of
actors play multiple roles, highlighting a dynamic and multi-faceted ensemble.

Next event will be the inaiguation of a new reading series at the WIC. Doug DeVita’s new play, FABLE
will be discussed and excerpted at the event.

The non-profit organization The Warwick Institute of Culture (warwickinstituteofculture.com), founded by Emilee Dupré, serves as an incubator devoted to nurturing the voices of emerging and established playwrights, screenwriters, and directors. Another part of “The Wick’s” mission is to cultivate and celebrate Warwick’s local community through Arts & Culture events. The Warwick Institute of Culture & The Holy Theater will co-produce a fully staged production in 2023 in Warwick, NY. For more information about Persuasion by Sarah Rose Kearns should contact Artistic Director, Emilee Dupré warwickinstituteofculture@gmail.com or call 845-545-9123.

Coni Koepfinger: “…life really IS a play”

Coni Koepfinger Interview by Jen Bush

Coni Koepfinger is an award-winning playwright, poet and librettist.  Her work is prolific.  Ms. Koepfinger is professionally associated with some of the most prestigious arts organizations in the world.  She is the radio host of AIRPLAY which brings artists together from all over the world.  She is a creator, educator and advocate for the arts and artists.  Her newest work is called Auditioning for Eternity which she co-wrote with Dan Carter.  It’s about two friends who reconnect only, one is dead and one is alive.

Ms. Koepfinger’s inspiration for writing this play is quite profound and poetic.  “My inspiration was Shakespeare. I sense the truth is that life really is a play.  Eternal Rest lies in our dream state. The curtain rises each morning as we enter a new scene – even if the same old scenery there’s something quite similar to the stages of waking life and theatre. And what has always fascinated me, is the occasional peek backstage – to see what really is going on in the cosmos.”

Ms. Koepfinger is hoping that this play will provoke the audience to ponder deep questions about existence.  “I’d like the audience to take away a deeper understanding of life perhaps- how all life is connected. We come from and go back to love. But then, what is love?” 

Ms. Koepfinger is delighted that the performing arts are back despite the fact that Covid is still around.  “ I feel, “Wonderful and full of wonder.” Yet as Socrates said, in wonder comes wisdom- we need to be mindful of others and kind in speech, thought and deed. 

Ms. Koepfinger took some wisdom from the Ancient Greeks to share what she thinks theatre should look like post-Covid.  “Theatre should continue to entertain, educate and exult the human spirit, to quote the Ancient Greeks.” 

Not surprisingly, there is a lot more artistic greatness in the works for this talented wordsmith.  She’s got plays and musicals premiering into 2023 in the U.S. and internationally as well. “Next is a lot of hard work !!!! Which I really look forward to.”  Below are some of her upcoming exciting projects.

Hot off the Press: My Dinner with Mary,  published by Next Stage Press, Fall 2022.  

Eve of Beltane, a new play, with Joe Izen , a virtual staged reading directed by Victoria Rae Sook, Fall 2022.

JAK, Beyond the Beanstalk , a new family musical with James Scheider, currently in development in NYC.

Josie in the  Bardo, a workshop directed production directed by Maria Olan, Blue Skye Productions 2023.

Kingdom Come, a new musical with Joe Izen directed by Sia Koskina, premiering 2023 in Athens, Greece

STORIES, a play on humanity, with Cynthia Peters Arnold, directed by Matt Matthews, produced by Lois Saperstein at The Artshouse, NYC in 2023

Experiencing Ayanda!

Ayanda Dube Interview by Jen Bush

Ayanda Dube is an actress hailing from South Africa.  It seems that acting was an ideal career choice for Ms. Dube.  It requires a great deal of emotion and she’s got plenty of it to share.  “I am a seeker of emotional experiences and encounters. I think I became an artist from the moment I was born because I’ve always been such an absorber of other people’s energies. I mostly act on emotion and have been interested in how other people feel too. From a young age I was in dance classes because I needed to direct my energy somewhere. I started teaching kids my age English and stories I’d hear at school because I wanted to share with others. Stories gave me such immense joy and being a part of them, an even greater joy. I started going to acting classes with my cousin because we just thought it’d be fun, all of these things happened very naturally which is why I was surprised when I thought this path wasn’t for me. It’s always been for me. I was an avid reader and creator from a young age, and this fostered my creativity.” 

 As many international artists do, Ms. Dube recognized that coming to America to study and work would give her more prospects and visibility.  “There are roles of a lifetime here and America is the land of opportunities. I came to an acting school in Los Angeles because I wanted to get out of comfort zone and challenge myself. I needed independence to truly flourish and figure my own voice for myself. My favorite performers are here, best acting teachers are here and ANY artist in the world knows that this is where dreams really come true. I wanted to dream big, bigger than where I am from, and my dreams led me here. But my heart will always belong in South Africa because that’s where I became an artist, I can’t wait to show America the wonderful talent back home.” 

Ms. Dubes was drawn to acting as a means to channel and convey her energies and emotions.  “I knew at a young age that I was an individual with a deep emotional well but I am naturally shy. I knew that I needed to express all of these feelings and ideas somewhere – that’s how I got into acting. I always say that acting is a very personal thing to me, it’s like therapy. The stage and camera are the only two places where  I can fully express myself without feeling judged – which is ironic right? But I can just let it all out and might inspire others to do that too.” 

Ms. Dube’s creative process contains traditional and innovative approaches.  In real life, if a person is deciding who to date or who to befriend, they often observe how other people treat and interact with that individual.  Ms. Dube does that with the characters she is creating.  “Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.  When I tackle a role, I read the script about 10 times so that I get familiar with the world. Because when you know the world, you can be free enough to truly explore it. And then I observe what other characters say about my character, how do they treat them? What’s their relationship? Because that’s how you know people, through other people. This may not be accurate though, well most often. Then I finally meet my character and pay attention to how they are introduced in the script. What mannerisms can they have, how do they walk, how do they deal with conflict? How do they make me feel? Then the exchange happens where I see what we have in common – I offer myself to the character. A sort of emotional merge happens where I adopt the most private traits that they have, and work forward. It’s emotionally exhausting, but I love it.” 

Ms. Dube was fortunate to have an abundance of support, encouragement, and inspiration from her family.  “I owe them everything because they pushed me when I couldn’t do it myself. They always encourage me to embrace my sensitivity because that’s what I offer to the world. Genuinely couldn’t be here without them.” 

Women and ethnic people in the entertainment industry are still facing challenges in terms of how they are perceived and treated.  Being an ethnic international woman trying to navigate this industry came with some obstacles for Ms. Dube.  “How much time do you have? Being international has been both a blessing and a curse. There’s definitely an individuality that comes with being an international actress here, yet that individuality can be a bit isolating at times. You often feel that you can’t really cater to the American audience.  I’ve learnt that you can be something new and fresh and exciting. Being a black woman here is more of the bigger obstacle. People talk down to you or you feel like you have to conceal a bit of your true self. I’ve also learnt to use that to my advantage. Gotta keep a thick skin on you so you can make it here. Or even try.” 

 The pandemic impacted every industry in the world.  Ms. Dube has some opinions on both the positives and the negatives resulting from the pandemic.  “Opportunities. Opportunities. Opportunities! Self-tapes have made it accessible for EVERYONE to have a shot.  You have the chance to really “perfect” your audition. However, the chemistry that comes with in person auditions has been lost.  I also think the world went through some sort of cleansing and the industry realized that hey, there’s more than just white people in the world.  There are more opportunities for poc and queer actors now. All I can say is, it’s about damn time.”

Ms. Dube has some stage and screen opportunities that are coming up next for her.  With her positive attitude, drive and work ethic, there should be plenty more after that!  “Growth. I just want to learn more and grow as an actor and a creative in general. But for a more tangible response, a sitcom show might be in the works with a few friends of mine. I’m falling more in love with theater and I have a couple of plays up for next year. I’m at a place where I’m really hopeful for the future, and that feels great.” 

The company of “Antlers” buck a few comments

Jen Bush talks with Marie-Louise Boisnier, Shaun James, and Don McManus

Marie-Louise Boisnier is bringing an international flair to the production of At Least He Didn’t Die With Antlers On His Head. She had solid training in the arts and is an accomplished vocalist.  “I am a Slovakian, French Singer and Actress born and raised in the United Kingdom. I moved to New York and studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and Lee Strasberg. Singing is a huge part of my career. I released two songs in 2021 that are both on Spotify and Apple Music and I am currently working on releasing more music in the coming months.”

Ms. Boisnier was attracted to this piece for many “sound” reasons.  “I loved the idea of playing a southern belle! I really enjoy exploring and working with accents. Coming from a person who grew up in Europe, the time period and the place in which this play is set is very intriguing and foreign to me and I love working on it.”

With some hot button topics mixed into this show, Ms. Boisnier feels an added responsibility to address these topics as meaningfully as possible in her portrayal.  “Yes I definitely want my character to come across as truthful as possible to elevate these topics.”

Though Covid is far from gone, Ms. Boisnier is elated to be able to resume live performances again.  “I honestly am very comfortable to be back and have enough of staying at home and not being able to connect and interact with people. I am over the moon to be able to connect with different artists and so grateful to have the opportunity to do that. Being able to see people and react to their visual expressions without having to use technology and actually being moment to moment is the best thing.”

Ms. Boisnier has some excellent ideas for what theatre should look like post-Covid.  She is spot on in her notion that theatre is an escape from reality.  “I honestly think it is each person’s preference. I personally believe that if people want to wear a mask, they are welcome to and if they don’t want to then that’s totally okay too. Theatre is supposed to be a space where people can relax, switch off their brains and venture into a new world without having to worry about any disease. We must be cautious, but I believe that it should be a happy place and not seen as something dangerous.”

Ms. Boisnier has a lot on her artistic plate after this play is finished.  “I hope to release my music within the next few months. “I am going to be taking part in a Horror Film Feature that will start in October and a short that will be filmed in Connecticut. I am hoping to meet more people, make more connections and create more!”

Shaun James will be portraying the character of Tubby in the exciting new stage work, At Least He Didn’t Die With Antlers On His Head.  He acts, he writes, and he can throw a punch and take a fall if need be, with his background in stunt work.  “I’m a theatrically trained actor and writer based in New York City working in film and on stage. I began this journey doing stunt work moving into acting shortly thereafter, and I enjoy all aspects of the creative process of this world.”

Mr. James scrutinizes the script and invokes the techniques of the greats during his creative process.  “I begin with reading the script or play over and over, then once more, in order to put myself inside the world of my character. Then I begin developing my character, utilizing Stanislavski, Adler, and Malmgren techniques during this process. All while looking to become the role.”

Mr. James was attracted to this piece for the subject matter and level of complexity within the work.  “I was drawn to the complexity that can be found in such a seemingly simple play, and the universals that we all contend with such as family, acceptance, and ignorance.”

This play has some hot button topics which sometimes makes an artist feel an added sense of responsibility in the presentation of the material.  Mr. James feels a strong responsibility to honor the character he is playing.  “I feel the responsibility to do my character justice allowing the audience to interpret these concepts how they see fit.”

Covid is not past us yet, but live performances have returned.  Many artists and audience members alike have notions about what theatre should look like in the age of Covid and beyond.  Mr. James has some straightforward ideas on that topic spoken like a true actor.  “The show must go on, with added precautions until we are past the danger.”

For his next project, Mr. James will be hopping from the stage onto the screen.  “I will begin working on my next character for an upcoming indie film.”

Don McManus is portraying the character of Mr. Kinshaw in the exciting new production of At Least He Didn’t Die With Antlers On His Head.  He is thrilled to be a part of this production.

During his creative process Mr. McManus starts with the physicality of the character and then creates his backstory.  “For a role, I  go from the outside in. I start with the character’s voice first and mannerism he may have. Then I develop a backstory from information in the play.”

Mr. McManus was drawn to this play because it was relatable to him geographically and because he knew real life people similar to the characters in it.  I can relate to all characters in ‘Antlers’ because I come from a small town in the south. I had four brothers, several of them worked in construction. I Also knew several people like Travis., a little slow but kindhearted people who wanted to fit in.  

Covid has not left but theatre has triumphantly returned.  Mr. McManus shares his thoughts on Covid in relation to the theatre and theatregoers.  “I think covid gives people the sense of what they missed. As for theater, I do not think it has affected the quality of it but maybe quantity.” 

 Mr. McManus is enjoying his time with this production will be seeking more exciting and challenging roles after this run is over.  “I am looking daily for more opportunities to perform. Hope that I will be lucky enough to meet the high standards of actors and management of this project.  I thank everyone for the opportunity and time spent with them.”

Stage notable, David Arthur Bachrach plays film legend John Huston in Carson & Huston

Interview by Jen Bush

David Arthur Bachrach is a New York actor, singer and dancer.  A noted classical actor, Bachrach is credited with acclaimed productions of Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet, The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters, Much Ado, Cymbeline, and – after this play – As You Like It.  He will be appearing as John Huston in the upcoming production of Carson & Huston. The play is   based on a true story about a meeting between novelist and playwright Carson McCullers and film director John Huston in Ireland.

 Mr. Bachrach has a tried and true creative process that has served him well throughout his artistic journey.  “The steps in my creative process are to research the role(s), gloss all references, understand the context in which the roles appear in the play. Next, assimilate the director’s vision for work, then begin memorization.”

Carson Mccullers and John Huston are instantly recognizable names with a vast body of wonderful work between the two of them.  This is what attracted Mr. Bachrach to this play.  “What drew me to Carson and Huston was a familiarity with Huston’s work and an eagerness to acquaint myself with Carson’s.”

 Regardless of the subject matter, actors have a responsibility to honor the work and provide a genuine portrayal of their character.  A seasoned actor like Mr. Bachrach takes this responsibility seriously while also using his skills to make the role his own. “While I feel a responsibility to represent John Huston fairly and accurately, this is nonetheless a work of fiction so, within that, I feel free to leaven the role with my own wit and personality.”

Live performances have returned though Covid is still an unwelcomed guest.  Mr. Bachrach has done his part to ensure the health and safety of himself and others and is working in an environment where proper health and safety protocols are fully in place.  “My understanding is that Equity requires that the audience show proof of vaccination and wear a mask in the theater.  I’ve tried to take all personal responsibility and cautions (vaccinations, tests).  That’s what can be done, for now.

Theater by definition is a ‘large tent’ – broad, encompassing many variables and talents.” 

Covid is a global unwanted shared experience.  Post-Covid, many artists including Mr. Bachrach feel that this will spawn future artistic works.  “In my view, post-covid is similar to any shared life experience and ought to be reflected when appropriate in theatrical works.”

 After Carson & Huston, The Bard will be keeping Mr. Bachrach occupied at the beginning of another beautiful New York fall.  “Next for me is As You Like It by Shakespeare.Frog and Peach Company, Lynnea Benson, director.  Theater 71 at 152 West 71st Street, Manhattan.  September 29, 2022 – October 23, 2022.  Thursday-Saturday nights at 7:30pm, Sunday afternoons at 3:00pm.”  

A Great American Musical from Portland

Review by Alice Greenwald, PhD.

There is a style of musical (pre-dating the golden age of musicals slightly) that’s was called “the musical play” as opposed to musical comedy. It is a solid and serious piece exploring important social content through a book that could stand alone and music that complements the mood and the players. ThreePenny Opera heads a list of this type that would include Lady in the Dark, Showboat, Pal Joey, and Cradle Will Rock (I’ll include Carousel as well). This type of musical play is all but extinct in my eyes.

Until now.

A Symphony For Portland deftly explores a post-pandemic America forced to resort to drastic means to survive. A world that looks uncomfortably like depression-era America. We meet a cacophony of working homeless (those individuals that have jobs and academic lives but go home to an abandoned building or shelter), unwilling sex-workers (the fodder for every exposé on sex-trafficking) and those middle-class parents who are sure this cannot happen to their children – until it does.

One might digest this synopsis and shy away for fear of sitting through a dower declamation. You’d be wrong. A Symphony for Portland is a joyous, uplifting inspiring evening of exquisite writing coupled with an old-fashioned opera-into-musical theatre score and some genuine and exuberant performances.

Christina Hemphill gives us a harsh scenario but well-peppers it with genuine faith and perseverance in her words and music. Strains of her lilting melodies stick in your head as you find yourself feeling for each character as if you knew them well. Her journey into the operetta style musical was daring, but bountifully paid off.

Jay Michaels, a familiar name on many fronts in the New York theatre scene, directed the 90-minute opus with clever subtlety in conveying the messages of play and characters but handed us just enough of his trademark physical humor and “schtick” allowing the message to shine while handing the audience necessary moments of humor and customary musical theatre catharsis.

The main plotline involves Starr and her father, a busy businessman unable to love his daughter due to the death of his wife. Starr falls in with the wrong crowd (of course) in the form of Jesse, a smooth talking flesh-peddler and Nick, a good old-fashioned malcontent – crooked cop and dealer in all things illegal. Coming to her rescue are a gaggle of good-natured indigents including Jordan, an abandoned son who has now found God; his lover, Aaron, a wild-haired free-sprit who always hears music. They are the leaders of a “Hair”-like tribe of sex-workers, bible-thumpers, and fellow homeless. The ending is predicable, how they get to it will make you cry.

Kristen Smith and Demetrius Kee well-inhabited the role of disinterested dad and innocent child. Smith’s beautiful voice and wide-eyed wonder made her interactions with deadpan dad humorous. Kee found his stride after Starr goes missing and his odyssey of search and song became heartbreaking.

Mathew Cohen and Jamiel Burkhart as unlikely lovers were quite brilliant – together and separate. The bespeckled Cohen kept us grounded with a solid, thoughtful performance while Burkhart was a singing dancing ray of sunshine culminating with an 11:00 number worth the price of admission alone.

Isaac Williams was simply perfect as Jesse, the flesh peddler. Williams’ stage presence allowed the audience to hate him and feel for him at the same time. He also packs a powerful voice. The number “Love in the Rain” showed the power of his and Smith’s voice as well as the beauty of Hemphill’s lyrics. And to have the number done amid a sea of umbrellas enhanced the mood perfectly.

Ashlyn Prieto as the obligatory nun endeavoring to help those around her was a bright spot among bright spots. A superb voice and flawless comic timing made her a joyous addition to any scene. She was shadowed by a do-good-or-at-least-trying novitiate sweetly played by a silent Sarah Rosa. Caitlyn Sommerville and Lauren Rathbun offered a look into the souls of ladies-of-the-night with two diverse and truly engrossing performances. Adding Ava Tyson as another sex-worker who, simply by reaction, told both their stories deeply, enhanced all their performances. John Stillwaggon as the bereaved parent of the abandoned Jordan never left the stage, allowing us to see the events through his eyes, solidly rooting us to the message. An excellent asset to the proceedings. Hannah Bonnett as a homeless woman who showed signs of mental illness become a powerful social commentary and – believe it or not – great comic relief.

Musicals of this nature must have an irredeemable character. Ross Pivec as Nick, who sets all crime in motion, handed us the great villain of yesteryear with glee. I was waiting for him to twirl his mustache.

Larry Daggett conducted and coralled a chamber group of musicals so smoothly as to make us feel as if the artists were sharing their thoughts, not singing. Not an easy task in such a space. Another not-so-easy task is lighting such a box. Kudos to Zach Dulny for mood and visibility.

With that in mind, Jay Michaels should be praised for stuffing so much action into such an intimate space. With Covid rules still in effect, even staging needed to be paired, yet, we, in the seats, felt like we were sitting in the abandoned warehouse with a group of pure-souls. And pure they were. When the prostitutes discuss prayer; when the homeless give what they have to others; when those in the dark see the light, you cannot help but feel uplifted. This was another gauntlet thrown before Christina Hemphill. Religion is not fashionable anymore but, in this play, Hemphill lets us believe that souls can really be saved.

A Symphony for Portland runs one more weekend, closing August 28. If Heaven is listening then it needs more time and a bigger space.

https://www.asymphonyforportland.co/

The World of Juson Williams

Interview by Jen Bush

Juson Williams is one of the busiest and hardest working people in show business.  He is the landlord of his wheelhouse!  You can see him starring in SOLEDAD, a compelling prison drama opening soon.  “I’m an Actor/Singer/Songwriter/Director/Choreographer/ Teacher/Executive Director/Artistic Director/PRODUCER! I like keeping my hands in various facets of this crazy, yet beautiful business”

 Mr. Williams is not tied down to one specific creative process.  He does what is necessary to bring a character to life while being open to collaboration and wonderful discoveries along the way.  “LISTENING and research! That combination together is absolutely instrumental in bringing nuances to the work, that you are building and creating! I don’t have a specific process because I work with different artists and directors who may not work the way that I work, so I keep myself open so that the collaboration is epic and uniquely organic. Of course I have things I bring to the table but I’ve learned that if a being is leading the scene, rock with them while adding YOUR  few cents to the scenic party! I believe in living in the moment and allowing your soul to transform and move with the tide!”

For Mr. Williams, artistry is like a delectable box of chocolates!  He was drawn to this play for many wonderful reasons.  “The fact that it was a chocolate piece,(Yep! I’m voting for everything chocolatey) and of course directed by the courageous Patricia Floyd! When I got the call from the director asking me to read it for the possibilities of being a part of it, I said OK! You don’t say no to one of the most fierce directresses that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, as an actor, as well as, a choreographer and musical director. We’ve known each other for at least 15 years, have created many works and have collected some awards to boot. I then read it that night and was like WOAH!!!!!!  EJ Robinson is someone whom I need to know! I’ve heard of his piece SPADES, but was unavailable to check it out, due to my schedule, but the poetry and language of SOLEDAD Feels authentic with a mix of Shakespeare and August Wilson. I fell in love with the character because I’ve never truly brought a character like Floyd to life, in a play! EJ’s use of language and through lines cause for such good story telling through a rough lens that we ordinarily do not discuss. It’s bold and brave and needs me so I said YES! HECK YES! And here we are!”

When a piece has serious subject matter, artists sometimes feel an added responsibility to present the material in a more cautious manner.  Mr. Williams feels an all-encompassing responsibility to any work he is a part of.  “Hmmmm! That’s hard to say because I believe that as artists, it is our duty to tell our truth while making the characters and their journey that is represented, authentic and true to life, ALWAYS. I believe in the power of impacting, especially if it represents the time! I’ll always choose my participation in a work, only if it has something to say. So a true answer would be anytime I do something, it’s my responsibility to believe that the subject matter relates to the time or makes a huge impact on its audience!” 

Live performances have made a triumphant return in the face of COVID which still persists.  Mr. Williams feels the way many artists feel having a combination of fear and excitement.  “COVID has been a rough thing since 2020 for me! I was working in Miami when it came into full fruition, When theatre closed down March 13th 2020. COVID was running rampant in NYC at that particular time. I’ve avoided COVID thus far and have been extremely careful, but it’s still scary. My first gig, in a theatre since COVID, was September 2021 and I’ve been running ever since, so although I am weirded out about this thing looming in the air, I’m excited about life trying to come back to the theatre.”

People are divided on mask wearing.  Some people are thrilled to be liberated from them while others remain vigilant and still wear them.  Mr. Williams thinks the latter is the way to go post-COVID.  “What it should look like???? People should still be required to wear masks! It’s crazy that we are not following that protocol anymore! Shows are still closing without enough coverage to keep them open because cast members are STILL getting this! There needs to be more implanted! What that is? I don’t know, but at the least, patrons should wear mask!”

Given Mr. Williams’ talents, skills, experience and overall exuberance toward life and the arts, it is no surprise that he has a plethora of exhilarating projects happening next!  “Oh wow, I have a few things coming up!  The day after SOLEDAD ends (for the moment) I start rehearsals for this immersive piece called LOVE AROUND THE BLOCK  it will be outside on Madison Avenue, near the Hermes store! I can’t speak too much about it, but it will be a good time on Madison and 52nd. Lol

I am also working with my Choir JW’s Inspirational Singers, who was on Americas Got Talent last season, is working on an album and documentary or reality show! Anyone out there want to help? Lol check us out on Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter! We even have a Gofund me!  

I’m also The Director of a new Ella Fitzgerald Play in Poughkeepsie NY!  it’s in pre-production right now and goes up in December! 

Passion projects and financial projects are in full bloom! I want more! Lol. I’m just moving towards my shining light!”

Come to Vegas with Brian Alejandro

Part I of Jen Bush’s exposé on legendary cabaret icon, Brian Alejandro

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless you’re Brian Alejandro with some Vegas vignettes that will ring the bell on your slot machine!  You can hear his velvet voice as he croons the tunes at Pangea on August 27th.  He was entertaining and schmoozing during the heyday of Vegas and boy does he have some stories! 

Brian Alejandro is the consummate charismatic entertainer with a captivating stage presence.   He wants to use his artistic gifts to bring joy to his audiences.  “My greatest joy as an artist is watching people laugh, smile and look happy. No matter what is going on in their lives I want them to forget about their troubles and become fully engaged in enjoying themselves. If I am able to do that, then it makes me very happy.”

Mr. Alejandro literally sailed into the arts.  He had amazing teachers and mentors who guided him along his successful path.  He is a multi-instrumentalist who is proficient in many aspects of the performing arts.  “My family came to the U.S, on the QEII and there was a fancy dress party and I was dressed as a sailor. At the time I didn’t know there was also a talent portion of the night I participated in but I had no clue what I was going to do, so I just told a joke and everyone laughed. It was at that moment that I began to contemplate pursuing a career in show business, but I wasn’t sure what my forte was. My aunt was a classical pianist and she started teaching me how to play the piano, although I wasn’t very good at it, I did learn how to read music. I later learned to play the clarinet in junior high school under the guidance of Mr. Fishkind, and quickly became first seat 1st clarinet, which was a big deal. He is still alive today and I am always thanking him for encouraging me to play in the band (Clarinet and the tuba).  At the same time I began singing with different choruses in the NYC area and landed a solo for a Bicentennial Performance that was to be held at Carnegie Hall.  As for dance, that came to me under the recommendation of my Gymnastics coach and I started studying ballet and for many years the Katherine Dunham technique performing all around the NY area. It was then that I revisited singing on a more professional level.”

Throughout his career, Mr. Alejandro has met and worked with some very impressive artists.  “Indeed I have met many great entertainers. The most surprising  person I met was Mitzi Gaynor. Her being a dancer gave me a lot of tips and ideas and few contacts. Meeting Joan Collins several times was memorable because we both came from England, the best advice she gave me was “always have a proper pen to sign an autograph.”

“I had a great opportunity to work with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. I danced back up and sang back up with the Vandellas. I couldn’t believe it. It was so surreal because it just happened by chance. Throughout the years Lois Reeves who has been a Vandella since 1967 has coached me, helped me develop my voice, my movements and how to understand the feel of a song. She also taught me that not everything you do everyone is going to like, so just give it your best and move on to the next gig. She has given me a lot of life lessons and moral support. We speak on the phone at least once a month.”

Mr. Alejandro’s most powerful moment on stage was not Dancing in the Street.  It was dancing for the group who made that song famous.  “My most powerful moment on stage: That would definitely be when I danced backup for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Martha Reeves when she needed dancers for a special event in NYC. I never danced so hard and so fast in my life!!! I also can’t forget another special moment which was being called to dance on stage with Sarah Dash as her “Sinner Man ” which was a big hit for her. After that, whenever she sang it, I was asked to dance.”

The candy man can…and he did touch the life of Mr. Alejandro along with some other notable people in the industry.  “That is a very tricky question because so many people have played a part in touching my life. I’d have to say Sammy Davis Jr. for taking a chance on me and teaching me things about show business that I would not have learned without having a mentor. Miss Gloria Lynne who sang the 1965 hit “I Wish you Love, for teaching me how to take a song and make it yours, and to follow my instinct and pick songs that work for my voice; she later gave me lessons and became a mentor as well.  My dance teachers Eugene James and Joan Peters Dunham Master Teacher) taught me discipline, to be on time (15-30 minutes before a rehearsal), to be prepared, to be patient and to work hard. Believe it or not Lana Turner, she always spoke about having your look together whether you were on or off the set. She also said that people want to see fantasy and glam, the same is true for men. The minute you set foot on the stage the entertainment begins.”