Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tuesday in the Park in need of Sculptures and Shade

Come with me on a small journey. It's more of a walk really. It's not very far. It's just across Astoria. Start walking South on 47th Street until you get reach 31st Avenue. At 31st Avenue, take a right and walk West. We're going to walk all the way down 31st Avenue until we can't walk any more. We're walking in the direction of the Manhattan skyline. We're also walking toward the East River. Before we find ourselves in the river though, we are going to stop at the Socrates Sculpture Park.

Taken directly from the Socrates Sculpture Park website, the history of the park is described as follows: Socrates Sculpture Park was an abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite until 1986 when a coalition of artists and community members, under the leadership of artist Mark di Suvero, transformed it into an open studio and exhibition space for artists and a neighborhood park for local residents. Today it is an internationally renowned outdoor museum and artist residency program that also serves as a vital New York City park offering a wide variety of public services.

You can imagine my excitement to see the park. I had only recently heard about it from friends who live in Astoria. So I decided to take myself there on Tuesday. Now imagine you're me, full of expectations, imagining something on a grand scale. Large sculptural pieces that use the open air and space to breathe. Nothing to hold them back. Nothing to reign in the largeness. Well, it wasn't grand. I don't know if it's because Winter just ended and there is nothing new yet or if what is there currently is just what is there. I hope that as Spring turns to Summer there are more installations. Better installations.

As is, it was a park. That's for sure. There were people with dogs. The dogs chasing balls. Mother's with children. There were also ugly bare spots where the grass was completely warn away. There was a view of Manhattan, but only four benches on which to sit and look at it. None of those benches were in the shade either. It was a gorgeous, sunny day on Tuesday and all I wanted to do was sit in the park and read. I did sit and read when I finally found an unoccupied bench. What I left with though was a lovely red burn on the left side of my neck and on my left arm. I'm not complaining, really. I'm glad the outdoor space is there. I'm also going to go back and see if it indeed changes as the season progresses. As I am prone to do, I set myself up for disappointment with higher expectations than this park for creative expression could provide.

The trip to the park was not a complete waste of time. I did get to sit and read that book. I did find the bench in order to sit and read and stare at Manhattan. I also saw more of Spring in bloom. Again, I couldn't resist taking photos of what it looks like to be reborn after a cold, dormant winter.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Springtime State of Mind

I never know where inspiration is going to strike. Yesterday on the way to work I saw a bouquet of daffodils. Growing up we called them March flowers or Easter flowers. It being Easter Sunday morning I was moved to take a photo. They were such a perfect bouquet. They were in someones front yard behind a fence. I got close enough with my Blackberry to pass the bars of the fence and just capture the flowers. On the way home from work that afternoon I saw red and yellow tulips growing in a patch of dirt cut out of the sidewalk. One of those patches where a tree grows. The tulips weren't surrounding the tree, they were just there. Planted as a bunch of yellow and a bunch of red together, but segregated. I was seeing the yellow just beyond the red. From the angle I approached them, they looked so beautiful. Probably because they reminded me of my sofa and the Taittenger print that hangs behind it. Deep red and gold. Such interesting colors together. Maybe it's a subconscious memory of my high school colors of maroon and gold. I don't know. Of course when I see tulips I think of my mom. She loves tulips and has planted them since I was in high school. That means she's had tulips for more than 20 years. It's such a beautiful sign of Spring when the tulips bloom.

This morning I needed to run to the Trade Fair and pick up some coffee. You don't really want to be around me when I haven't had coffee. I'm not very easy to be around. Some might say I'm not easy to be around even with the coffee, but you don't want to find out the answer to that question. Trust me. I don't even like me without coffee. But I digress. On the walk to the grocery store I saw the most beautiful tulip tree in full bloom. I don't know exactly why, but when I see a tulip tree I am always reminded of my mom's parents. We lived in a trailer in the lot next door to them until I was 3 years old. I have a memory of them having a tulip tree. It could be real or fabricated. I don't know, I was 3. That house is no longer standing, it's just a memory. The tulip blossoms were blowing gently in the breeze this morning and I couldn't resist the photo. Then there was the lovely bouquet of hyacinth growing next to someones sidewalk on the walk home. The colors of Spring in full bloom: pink, purple, white, yellow, red. Gorgeous! Just try not to smile.

Such beauty can't go unnoticed. It needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be shared.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sondheim on Sondheim

"There's a hole in the world like a great black pit and it's filled with people who are filled with shit and the vermin of the world inhabit it..." A Stephen Sondheim lyric from "The Barber and His Wife" from SWEENEY TODD used to comic effect in the new revue, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, playing at Studio 54.

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote in this blog about Stephen Sondheim. I had just seen the first ever Broadway revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. I was floating somewhere above cloud nine as it was my first opportunity to see a production of the musical and my first experience seeing Angela Lansbury on stage.

This night was another first. I got to see Barbara Cook perform for the first time. She won the 1958 Tony Award® for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Marian the Librarian in THE MUSIC MAN. I've seen clips of her singing, but never experienced it live. She's 82 years old and her voice is amazing. There are phenomenal singers who, as they age, lose their ability to sing the way they once did. For Barbara Cook, that change is minimal. Oh sure, she doesn't move as easily across the stage as she once did. She's 82! But that voice was so lovely on most everything she was given to sing.

There have been many revues using the songs of Sondheim but what makes this one extraordinary and important is the participation of the man himself. According to a New York Times article from October 2009, James Lapine, who conceived and directed the show, described the revue as, "a kind of impressionistic view of him that’s put together with pieces of archival footage and interview footage. It’s a collage of his life, in which who he is and how he got there comes in to focus." That footage is what made seeing this show so spectacular. Sondheim was honest. Very honest. I don't know if it's because he's 80 now and doesn't worry about how much people know about him or what, but it was amazing. Some of the information was well documented and some of it was private, but hearing him say the words made is so personal. It was like hearing it all for the first time. Add to that the beautiful songs chosen to fill the more-than-two-hour piece and you've got me sitting on the edge of my seat. Alternating laughter and tears. Moments of shear exhilaration when Vanessa Williams sang "Losing My Mind" from FOLLIES then Barbara Cook sang "Not A Day Goes By" from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and then the two combined for a medley I've never heard or even thought of as possible. I've heard several medley's of his songs before, but this one blew me away, and the audience. It was the most cheered moment in the show. At least the most cheered at that moment. I know there are readers of this blog that will probably see this show and I don't want to give too much away. It's best to be surprised and enjoy it as it unfolds.

Stephen Sondheim has written the scores to and songs from the musicals that I listen to the most in my life. There is no other composer that gets as much attention from me. I learn something new from a song or just a lyric all the time. The pictures that he paints with the words blow my mind. I want to be able to paint pictures like that. I listen to a song by him and wonder, even knowing what the situation is that he has to musicalize, how did he come up with those words to tell the story. The perfect words to get across the feeling of the scene or moment. The man is a genius.

My friend Tynan attended the performance with me. My friend Mead got me a great deal on tickets and threw in a pass to the patron VIP lounge. It was downstairs at Studio 54. It was very modern in it's decor, but not cold. It was plush and inviting. When Tynan and I entered the lounge at intermission, I gasped and reached for her hand at the same time as she gasped. We were stopped in our tracks. It was a split second that seemed to last for five minutes. I let go of her hand so as to be inconspicuous, but there in the middle of the room was Stephen Sondheim. There were only about 10 or 11 of us in that room and one of them was Stephen Sondheim and he was talking to Mandy Patinkin who starred as George in Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. I could barely contain myself. It was an amazing moment. It wasn't over yet either. We still had Act 2 to look forward to. I overheard Sondheim saying to Mandy that the second act was better. He wasn't lying. That's were it got very personal. Tears personal. Well, tears for me.

I think you can tell that I had a very good time. The truth is that when I send a "Thank You" email to Mead for arranging the tickets, I will be asking if I can purchase another at the same price. I need the experience again. My favorite composer just turned 80. He may never write another new musical. I need to experience his words about his life and music coupled with his songs at least one more time. Then hopefully, it will be preserved as a recording that will allow me to access, easily, those memories.

"...And it goes by the name of London." That's the hole. London.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A "Puppet" of a Good Time

Okay, so last night was another one of those moments in NYC that I love so much. An opening night party. As Cole Porter wrote, "Another Op'nin', Another Show." Last night's party celebrated the opening of John Tartaglia's IMAGINOCEAN.

IMAGINOCEAN is a one-of-a-kind live black-light puppet show. It's a magical undersea adventure for kids of all ages. Tank, Bubbles and Dorsel are three best friends who just happen to be fish, and they're on a remarkable journey of discovery. It all starts with a treasure map. As they swim off in search of clues, they sing, they dance, and they make new friends, including everyone in the audience. Ultimately they discover the greatest treasure of all: friendship.

John Tartaglia who created the show is an old friend of mine. Our friendship dates back to 1998 when we were both cast in a reading of the musical CELESTINA. Celestina was a witch, and she conjured demons from hell to help her wreak havoc. There were four demons creating a quartet of very talented men. John and I were part of that very talented, handsome, sexy quartet. John went on to star on Broadway in AVENUE Q and SHREK, and I began a career as a ticket seller. We've remained friends all these years. NYC is smaller than you think. There are many chance run ins. We've never been "hang out" buds, but buds nonetheless. It made me very proud of and for him last night when his baby, IMAGINOCEAN opened at New World Stages. It was his idea fully realized on a New York stage. How exciting!

The opening night party was held at Carmine's on 44th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues. I've only been there once in my nearly 13 years of city life. It's a great family-style Italian restaurant. Legendary according to their website. And a family-style sit-down dinner is exactly what we had. Stuffed mushrooms, followed by salad, then eggplant lasagna, pasta with marinara, and lemon chicken, finished with tiramisu. Who's fat tonight? I'm not the only one! The meal was complemented with bottles of red and white wine, along with pitchers of beer and soda on the table. It was a lovely place to relax with friends. And that's just what I did. I had several friends there. At my table alone there was Coco, Schingy, Zane, Jamie, and JMM! There was also Coleen Zenk Pinter from "As The World Turns", whom I met many years ago at the opening night of PORTRAITS directed by her husband Mark. There was my friend Ben at the table behind me and his friend Donna Drake who I've come to know. Donna directed IMAGINOCEAN. She also happens to be an original cast member of a little show you may have heard of called A CHORUS LINE. It thrills me to know her. Of course John was there and his boyfriend Michael Shawn. I just love them both. Michael Urie was there. Not only is he on "Ugly Betty", he's starring in THE TEMPERAMENTALS at NWS. We chatted on the walk to Carmine's. There was also a famous puppet celebrity there. Madame. She was once the center square on Hollywood Squares and had her own sitcom in the early 80's called "Madame's Place." I wanted a photograph with her. She was fabulous. She looked gorgeous and she said I smelled nice. You gotta love a "doll" like that. They just don't make 'em like that old broad anymore!

So what can I say. Another opening night, another party, another chance to be my catty, bitchy, funny, sarcastic self in an atmosphere surrounded by friends, strangers, and free wine. What's not to love. Life can be amazing if you let it. I'm trying to remember to buckle the seat belt and enjoy the ride.