28 August 2011

Exclusive: Joyce DiDonato Takes Up Macramé!

Quick Study:
The stylish sweater Joyce models here is just one
of her many macramé creations.
Among her other talents: Making me feel the way she looks here.

Having conquered so many of the arts already — music, acting, photography, writing, and cinnamon rolls — it was only a matter of time before Joyce DiDonato turned to something new. Well, she’s found it, a completely different outlet for her creative energies, and it’s my exclusive privilege to share the results with you.

Macramé, or knotting yarn to create textiles, is a time-honored art, believed to have arisen in the Arab world in the 13th century. It gained widespread interest in the United States during the 1970s, when macramé belts, vests, handbags, and other accessories frequently turned up in fashion magazines.

During her spare time, Joyce started out small, with this cute little macramé bookmark.

Next, Joyce tried something larger-scale: this classic 1970s-style macramé wall hanging — perfect for anyone’s off-campus den.

Now Joyce was ready to go three-dimensional: wearable art! This comfy macramé vest is the result.

By this time, Joyce was ready to give free rein to her self-expression. Having spent so much time in France lately, she devised a macramé project that would allow her to make a personal statement about a nation that has welcomed her so warmly and so often.

Not bad for a beginner, eh? Honestly, I’m not pleased with the texture, which is perhaps the most significant feature of any macramé project, and I’ve suggested that she use a thicker grade of yarn in the future, possibly one of the many artisanal, unbleached wools that are gaining in popularity now. But she gets points for trying. Keep at it, kid!

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27 August 2011

James Franco Could Break Up Street Fights, Too, If He Had More Spare Time

“Hey, you there! Stop fighting! Okay, cool, thanks.”
See what I mean?

Everybody’s been talking about the actor Ryan Gosling, who apparently broke up a street fight in Manhattan the other day. Somebody recorded the whole thing on a cell phone, or something. Well, big deal! James Franco could break up lots of street fights! And fights that were a lot bigger than Ryan Gosling’s street fight, too! Like, with maybe hundreds of guys fighting, in different streets, even!

He wouldn’t even have to say a word to the people who were fighting, he could probably just look at them, deep in the eyes, and then smile in that way he has, and they’d stop fighting, just like that! Because, really, who could resist Jib-Jib?

It’s just that he doesn’t have enough time to go around looking for trouble. I mean, if he doesn’t have time to marry me, or even to acknowledge my existence, how do you expect him to go around playing superhero, like that poser Gosling?

Serious Poser: What’s going on with Gosling’s pant legs?
Jib-Jib would never be seen in public like that.

And what’s so great about Ryan Gosling, anyway? It’s not as if he negotiated peace in the Middle East, or anything, which Jib-Jib totally will do, one of these days, when he gets around to it. Face it — Gosling’s a lightweight!

No, sir, Ryan Gosling is not out there, earning multiple graduate degrees, recording music, teaching classes, doing performance art, writing fiction, starring in and directing and producing movies, toying with my heart, earning merit badges in basketry and farm mechanics, and getting his name in the magazine columns every single day.

Oh, no. Ryan Gosling is just an actor. An actor. A person whose job description consists of one single word. That’s Ryan Gosling for you. Feh.

And I’ll bet those deltoids were photoshopped. Just saying.

See? Jib-Jib knows how to work a tanktop, too!
It’s just that he’s so busy!
(Moreover, his shoulders are real.)
(Probably. I’ve never actually seen them in person.)

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26 August 2011

Hurricane Irene Prompts Unprecedented C.H.U.D.-Related Evacuations in New York

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
at his press conference today.

NEW YORK CITY -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg this afternoon issued an unprecedented order for the evacuation of about 250,000 residents of low-lying areas, warning that Hurricane Irene-related flooding could drive thousands of C.H.U.D.s into the streets and pose such a threat that living people there simply had to get out.

This could be the worst attack since 2004, the Mayor’s Office warned, when swarms of C.H.U.D.s, or Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, disguised themselves as tranny hookers at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and devoured an undisclosed number of delegates to the Republican National Convention in late August and early September of that year.

A representative of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission present at the Mayor’s press conference declined to provide an estimate of the number of C.H.U.D.s currently living in New York’s sewers and subway tunnels.

New York City officials made what they said was another first-of-its-kind decision, announcing plans to shut down the city’s entire transit system on Saturday — all 468 subway stations and 840 miles of tracks — due to the increased risk of C.H.U.D. attacks.

A typical Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller [File Photo]

Even in higher-lying areas, New Yorkers were advised to avoid manhole covers, basements, all plumbing fixtures, and the new remake of Conan the Barbarian, “which is just terrible,” Mayor Bloomberg said. Dog runs and playgrounds in the city’s parks will be closed, as well, due to the C.H.U.D.s’ taste for small animals and children.

The latest forecast has Irene beginning to hit New York early Sunday, and making landfall around eastern Queens as a Category 1 hurricane, with the expected C.H.U.D. invasion to begin sometime around noon, and not expected to end until the middle of next week, at the earliest.

“I urge all New Yorkers to take this situation seriously,” Bloomberg said, adding, “Oh, my God, they’re coming! Run for your lives! For the love of God, save yourselves!”

Evacuation Map [Detail]
Orange Areas (Zone A):
You’re doomed.
Yellow Areas (Zone B): You may as well start slathering yourself with barbecue sauce right now.
Green Areas (Zone C): Whatever you do, don’t use the toilet.
White Areas (Zone D): This would be a very good time to visit friends in Wyoming — start running.

[Courtesy of New York City Mayor’s Office]

UPDATE: For the benefit of Spanish-speaking New Yorkers, Mayor Bloomberg has released the following warning: “¡Cuidado con los H.A.S. — Humanoides Antropófagos Subterráneos! Muchas gracias, por favor.”

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Hurricane Alert

Yes, the name is Irene, but as the hurricane bears down on the East Coast of the Atlantic, I’d like to take this time to urge my readers to choose Debbie Reynolds as their role model in the coming days.

After all, Debbie Reynolds starred in the Broadway musical comedy Irene — and in the Hollywood classic Singin’ in the Rain — and in another, lesser Hollywood classic, The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

So as the wind rises and the rain falls, as the floods are unleashed and the roof flies off, my friends, I hope you will do what Debbie would do, and start singing and dancing.

Would Debbie be afraid? No, sir! Would Debbie back down? Not likely! Why, if any hurricane ever tried to get the best of her, she’d just look it in the eye and entertain it into submission!

And when the storm has passed, please take a moment to pay tribute to this lady, too.

Irene Dunne

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25 August 2011

In Book, Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Kitties

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush to bomb kittens in June 2007. But, he wrote, Mr. Bush opted for a different approach after other advisers — “pussies,” as Mr. Cheney calls them — expressed misgivings and refused to believe evidence of “significant accumulations of weapons of mouse destruction.”

“I again made the case that a swift, merciless attack on cute, fluffy, innocent kitties would have sent a clear message to America’s enemies that we meant business,” Mr. Cheney wrote about a meeting on the issue. “It was a necessary show of strength, I argued. But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the President asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice-president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”

One of the adorable victims Cheney hoped to see.

Mr. Cheney’s book — which is often pugnacious in tone and in which he expresses little regret about many of the most controversial decisions of the Bush administration — casts him as something of an outlier among top advisers who increasingly took what he saw as a misguided course on national security issues.

While he praises Mr. Bush as “an outstanding leader,” Mr. Cheney faults “weaklings” among the Bush inner circle, “who refused to crush the kitty menace, or even to make surgical strikes against the movement leaders,” whom he identifies as actresses Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters.

Throughout eight years in Washington, Bush and Cheney engaged in regular, private meetings.

“I had reason to believe that [former National Security Adviser and later, Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice owned a few cats herself,” Mr. Cheney writes. “I could not bring her to understand that, by allowing the kitty menace into her home, she had exposed the United States to grave risks. ‘But they’re so cute!’ she said to me in that effeminate voice of hers. Well, what do you expect?”

Failing to win authorization from the President, Mr. Cheney writes, he has pursued an independent program of “de-pussification” in his spare time.

“Typically, the Obama Administration has turned a deaf ear to my warnings. But I shall continue to speak out about this important issue, now that I am once again a private citizen. We dare not show weakness at this time; extreme vigilance is the duty of every American. Never waver, never relent!”

America ignores the kitty menace at its peril, Cheney writes.

Read more!

24 August 2011

Perry Finds Sermon on the Mount ‘Interesting’ but Objects to ‘Gaps’

CORNBRIDGE, IOWA -- Texas Governor Rick Perry accidentally read the Sermon on the Mount yesterday, the candidate for the Republican nomination for the Presidency told reporters, when the Bible he keeps under his pillow fell open to the Book of Matthew. The Sermon is “interesting,” Perry said, “but it’s got some gaps in it. I don’t know the guy who wrote it, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas, if he ever came there.”

Among the “gaps” Perry cited are the Sermon’s omission from the Beatitudes of blessings for the energy industry, the wealthy, and the powerful. “All this stuff about the meek and the persecuted, and loving your enemies, that’s just crazy talk,” Perry said. “Warren Beatty-tudes, that’s what they ought to call them, a lot of left-wing Hollywood bullfeathers. And there’s nothing about cutting basic public services — not one word. That’s not the way I pray.”

With regard to prayer, Perry said he found Matthew 6:5 and the following verses particularly objectionable. “I’m a big believer in praying on the street corner, in auditoriums, in sporting arenas, in science classes, in any place where God and the voters can really see how devout I am,” Perry said. “Instead, this guy is telling me to pray in a closet. Let me make this clear: there’s nothing in the closet about me. I’m a 100 percent he-man Christian hombre.”

Perry to Foreign Jewish Rabble-Rouser:
“Don’t mess with Texas.”

Perry did say he approved of Matthew 6:25 and the following verses, since he himself has been encouraging Texans not to worry about what, or whether, they’re going to eat, ever since he took office as Governor: “God will give you what you need, stop worrying about it. The government’s not going to give you what you need. That’s God’s job. You want food? You want schoolbooks? Ask God! That’s sound policy.”

Overall, Perry said, “What’s this thing even doing in the Bible? I can’t endorse any sermon with this many gaps in it. I like things with zaps in them, like Creationism: Zap! There’s light! Zap! There’s trees! Zap! There’s Adam and Eve!”

Perry, who earned an undergraduate degree in Animal Science at Texas A&M, added, “You take Darwin’s theory of evolution, and it’s got too many gaps and not enough zaps. It’s just a zapless theory that’s out there.”

Perry declined to take further questions from reporters, explaining that he had to get back to executing innocent people. “It’s the Lord’s work, when you think about it,” Perry said. “I’m just out there making new Jesuses every chance I get. Shoot, some of ’em are even named Jesus. That’s how good a Christian I am.”

“God bless America, y’all,” Perry concluded, “and here’s hoping He answers that prayer a little quicker than He answered my prayers to end the drought and the economic crisis. Amen.”

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Earthquakes I Have Known

The East Coast of the U.S. is abuzz with reports of yesterday’s earthquake, registering 5.8, with an epicenter in Virginia. As my brother helpfully notes, that places the quake directly in the Congressional district of Rep. Eric Cantor, who earlier this year advocated slashing funding for the U.S. Geological Service.

Our father was an expert in earthquake damage, which meant going on site inspections, which meant riding out quite a few aftershocks. When I experienced my first quake, in New York City in 1985, I felt as if I had undergone a rite of passage: at last I could look my dad in the eye.

My first quake was pretty insignificant in itself. Early in the morning, I awoke to a low rumbling sensation. “My, the train is passing early this morning,” I thought, only then remembering that we didn’t live terribly near a railroad or subway and that, in a six-floor walk-up, we were unlikely to feel a passing train in any case. Just as it flashed across my mind that this must be an earthquake, and I’d better hop out of bed and stand in the doorway (a precautionary measure recommended by Dad but more recently disputed by my brother, who lives in San Francisco) — it was over.

More noteworthy was the Northridge Earthquake in January 1994, to which I flew with Dan Rather in order to report for CBS News. As usual, we had been all over the map in the days preceding the quake. We were wrapping up a summit-related tour of Moscow, Prague, and Tbilisi before stopping off in Barcelona — and so we had to scramble to the scene in California, taking several planes and tugging all our winter gear behind us. Los Angeles was a mess, and my room (at the Beverly Wilshire, thank you very much) looked as if the previous occupants had been an especially rowdy rock band. Forget about using the bedside lamp, which lay in pieces on the floor. The housekeeping staff, overwhelmed, hadn’t gotten around to my room.

But the worst of the Northridge quake was over. I didn’t have to worry about waking up — as one friend in L.A. had done — to find the bed moving around the room, and the books and bibelots crashing off the shelves. Marcee was so startled that she forgot that she wore contact lenses: unable to see clearly as she looked around, she reasonably concluded that she must have been blinded in the accident, and began screaming. (She laughed about it when she told me a few days later, in that way Californians have.)

The location chosen for Dan’s standups was a stretch of freeway just outside the city, where an entire section of elevated roadway had fallen. It was terribly dramatic-looking. It was also not the safest place on earth at that moment, and our little Range Rover was parked about four yards from the edge of a dizzying precipice. “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” indeed.

While the crew was setting up, Dan and I took a break. Dan stood outside the car, scanning the horizon, drinking a diet soda, and trying to revive himself — we’d had almost no sleep in the past 48 hours and were still on Moscow time. I sat in the front seat and called the office in New York, using the car phone (because of course we didn’t carry cellphones yet, in those days).

Deep in conversation, I felt a little jiggle. Then another. Jiggle jiggle. The car was shaking. That goofball Rather was having his fun. Such a cut-up. Telling me airplane horror stories every time we flew, just to watch me squirm, and you don’t want to know what he did the first time I crossed the Equator. Now he was trying to scare me into thinking we were in an earthquake.

“Will you knock that off?” I snapped as I hopped out of the car. “I’m on the phone!”

“It ain’t me, chief,” Dan said.

We looked at each other. Then at the devastated freeway. Then at the valley below. Then at each other again. By now the aftershock had ended.

“Sorry,” I muttered, and resumed my phone call.

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22 August 2011

A Short List of Other Perrys Who Might Run for the Presidency

A better kind of Perry? It’s not a dream, it’s a reality!

Hardly had Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race for the Republican nomination for the White House — ostensibly as the Great Lily White Hope in a field crowded with flawed candidates — when members of his own party began to express misgivings.

I’m not talking only about liberals, who’ve been gleefully digging up old Molly Ivins columns about “Governor Coiffure,”or plaintively wailing about his views on religion, science, capital punishment, taxes, and — well, there’s really not much we do like about the guy, actually. (And in some quarters, that’s a selling point.)

No, the great surprise is how many conservative and Republican commentators have been quibbling about the (widely presumed) new frontrunner. Is Perry conservative enough? Is he too conservative? Is he sufficiently Bush-like, or excessively so? And so on.

Indeed, it seems clear that, though Perry clearly hoped instantly to win over voters who were waiting for “somebody better” to enter the race, there are now many Republicans who would prefer to see a better Perry throw his Stetson in the ring.

Such candidates are hard to find, however, requiring at least ten exhausting minutes on Wikipedia, and that’s not including the time spent on disambiguation. And so, as a public service, I would like to offer a few suggestions, along with my personal assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

Father-son Actors
John Bennett Perry & Matthew Perry
Pluses: And you think Mitt Romney looks presidential? Take your pick of these two! (But Dad used to be the Old Spice guy, and Old Spice guys are popular right now.)

Minuses: Pernicious Canadian influences; may even support health care for poor people.

Composer William Perry
Pluses: Tremendous potential appeal in Mid-America thanks to his career-long interest in the work of ever-popular Mark Twain.

Minuses: Come on! He’s obviously an intellectual elitist. He’d probably make music education mandatory in the public schools, for mercy’s sakes!

Filmmaker Scott Perry
Pluses: Successful businessman with great media savvy. Based in Texas.

Minuses: May believe in evolution. (“Catgirls”? Sounds Darwinian to me.) Strong likelihood that Bill Clinton would endorse him (or at least his movies, anyway).

Naval Captain Oliver Hazard Perry
Pluses: War hero, strong on defense issues.

Minuses: Dead.

Sideshow Luke Perry
Pluses: His face, his valuable face.

Minuses: Depends on how you feel about Dick Cheney. As Sideshow Luke Perry’s Vice-President, Krusty would obviously seek to follow in Dick’s very large footsteps.

Singer Katy Perry
Pluses: Nobody seems to care when she says dumb things. Strong likelihood she’d come up with a catchy campaign song and a really hawt running-mate, possibly Darren Criss of TV’s Glee.

Minuses: Too young. (See Constitution, Article II, Section 1.)

Actor-writer-director-producer Tyler Perry
Pluses: Strong on family values. Successful entrepreneur.

Minuses: Is rumored to wear men’s clothing.

Football Player Fred Perry
Pluses: Released from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last year, he understands the needs of the unemployed. Also, football is very, very popular.

Minuses: As a black man and an Arkansas native, he may remind Republican primary voters too much of our most recent Democratic Presidents.

Newspaper Editor Perry White
Pluses: Proven leadership skills.

Minuses: Card-carrying member of Lamestream Media.

Perry Logan
Pluses: Great hair. Is a friend of my brother.

Minuses: Is a friend of my brother.

Secret Agent Perry the Platypus
Pluses: Excellent grasp of national-security issues.

Minuses: Birth records unavailable; may have been born in Australia.

Attorney Perry Mason
Pluses: More than half of all U.S. Presidents have been lawyers. That’s got to count for something, right?

Minuses: Is a fictional character portrayed by an actor who’s dead and, what’s worse, gay.

American Theatre Wing
Antoinette Perry Award
Pluses: Virtually no chance that, if elected, it would try to raise taxes or to increase the size of the federal government.

Minuses: From New York. Enough said.

Musician Joe Perry of Aerosmith
Pluses and Minuses: I have addressed these in an earlier blog post, and I stand by that assessment.
Of course, if none of these good folks decide to enter the race, we have this consolation: there’s really nothing to stop us from referring to this guy as “Sideshow Rick Perry.”

My hair! My valuable hair!

Read more!

21 August 2011

‘Rags,’ 25 Years On

“I remember summer evenings, sitting you and I,
While the cranes were calling in the eastern sky.
Sometimes we don’t love things, ’til we tell them goodbye.
Oh, my homeland, my homeland,
-- “I Remember,” lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Sung by Andy Gale, as the curtain rose on each performance.

Twenty-five years ago, one of the greatest adventures of my life was drawing to a close: the Broadway musical Rags opened in New York on 21 August and closed, three days and four performances later. Many members of the company, sensing that the end was nigh, had begun already to think of the next project, putting into practice the time-honored “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” philosophy, and for many the next show was Les Misérables. Victor Hugo’s novel was a best-seller among our company, to the point that it was almost a joke. In the event, several members of the Rags family wound up in the show — but only this summer, a quarter-century later, have I begun to read the book.

I’ve written often here about Rags: how Bob Straus overcame his perfectly reasonable reservations to hire me as the lone production assistant on the $5.5 million musical; how the show’s associate producer, Madeline Gilford, befriended me; how Joe Stein tirelessly revised the book he’d written but never really completed; how Marcia Lewis took me to dinner; how Jack Gilford sang “Give My Regards to Broadway” for me; how Larry Kert sang “Johanna” for me. For Opera News several years ago, I tried, in my most dispassionate style, to sum up the most passionate experience I’ve known. But ultimately Rags was an adventure too big to fit into a single account, or even to depict in a mosaic of short prose. Really, it’s a book-length saga — Les Misérables on the Great White Way.

A Playbill bearing Marcia Lewis’ and Evalyn Baron’s autographs.
Idiotically, I didn’t ask for any signatures,
and my own Playbill and poster are spotless.

If only one could find a reading public sufficiently interested in all the tragicomic, gorgeous, amorphous and messy details! But Rags was a flop, the most expensive in Broadway history at the time — and then, a short time later, Carrie lost even more money than Rags had, proving that our hapless band didn’t even know how to flop right.

Why then am I still so fascinated by the show? I was and am in awe of the creative team: writer Joe Stein, composer Charles Strouse, and lyricist Stephen Schwartz; the directors, first Joan Micklin Silver, then Gene Saks; and above all, the star, Teresa Stratas, my longtime idol and muse, who brought me along for the ride. That so many talented people, once assembled, couldn’t get their act together — literally — is fascinating to me.

“Absa-lootly, hawnee”: Teresa Stratas.
She was photographed for her record album Stratas Sings Weill
while we were in Boston tryouts. I have worn that cap.

They spoke from the heart, each and every one of them, and somehow that wasn’t enough. All of them came from immigrant families, some quite recently arrived. Teresa declared that her performance was an homage to her mother, who came from Crete and who, when times were tough, went hungry to keep her children fed in this “Brand New World.” Stephen Schwartz got choked up until he could hardly sing for us a new lyric he’d written for “Children of the Wind,” in which Rebecca imagines the future, with grandchildren running through her kitchen and never knowing the kind of suffering she endured. And so on. With one notable exception, you couldn’t find a member of the company who didn’t have some sort of profound personal connection to the subject matter.

And that lone exception was this writer, the last of whose family emigrated from Germany in the early 1830s. (Most of the rest got to America during the 17th and 18th centuries.) Ellis Island might as well have been the moon, for all my family knew about it. And thus the show was a means of exploring a culture that, from an early age, exerted a powerful hold over me — part of the process of my becoming “an honorary Jew,” as Madeline later certified me.

Disney’s Pocahontas is just the latest show
Stephen Schwartz has written about my ancestors.
(Pippin and, more debatably, Godspell are the others.)

Broadway musicals have been an important influence, too, starting probably when I was a baby, and my mother used to dance me around the room while playing the original cast album of My Fair Lady. Since then, I’d devoted considerable study to the art form — most recently at my first job, at the Kurt Weill Foundation — and here was a chance to see one show as it was created. For example, in Rags I was able to observe what Kurt Weill had long ago seen, appreciated, and exploited: that Broadway performers are the most versatile on earth, for whom nothing is impossible. (Can you wonder that I’m so frustrated, then, when the average Broadway musical nowadays is so ordinary, so characterless and lacking in ambition?)

At the time, I kept thinking of an old Disney movie, Toby Tyler, in which a little boy (Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran) runs away and joins the circus. It’s terribly exciting, but ultimately he’s obliged to go home again: somehow I knew, almost from the start, that Rags would be my one and only Broadway-musical experience. Even before it became clear that only a miracle would save the show, my senses were heightened: I wasn’t just learning (because everything was new to me), and I wasn’t merely studying. I was savoring, recording, storing away the memories, to look back on, years later, as I do and have done.

The lobby of the former Mark Hellinger Theater.
“It looks like Franco Zeffirelli designed it,” Teresa and I joked.
Maybe we should have taken that as an omen.

Ultimately it’s people who made Rags so special for me — even though I see very few of the company anymore. Lonny Price tried to warn me that these relationships were fleeting. A few years earlier, I’d admired him in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, another legendary failure with a feisty, talented, close-knit cast. Though I could hardly believe it was possible, already the Merrily gang had moved on, Lonny told me: from time to time somebody would try to host a little reunion, but they never amounted to much, he said.

Lonny and I worked on three shows in 1986: Rags; a production of Room Service at the Roundabout (on which I worked a total of three nights as an assistant to the director, Alan Arkin); and a staged reading of two short plays that Lonny himself wrote and directed, pointing the way to his subsequent career. “You are my theatrical year,” he said at the time. We were friends. But the years have built up a distance between us, and now I reintroduce myself when I see him, or (once or twice) I walk past him anonymously. There will never be another Lonny Price in my life, but there have been plenty of Bill Madisons — dozens of eager assistants in the wings and on the fringes — in his.

Lonny had an impressive résumé already by the time we met.
“What’s it like, working with the Muppets?” I wanted to know. “It’s like working with a piece of felt,” he answered.

Lonny isn’t a Toby Tyler; he has dedicated a great chunk of his life to musical theater. That was true for just about everybody in the company: even those who didn’t stay much longer in show business had devoted years of training and study to acquire the skills necessary to a career. They are pros; I was a dilettante.

And yet what impressed me most about them was not their talent but their fortitude. As one hardship followed another, as directors came and went, and as rewrites piled up, and nothing, absolutely nothing made any material difference or improved the show and its chances of survival, they bonded together, very much like a family — very much like the sorts of families they portrayed and paid tribute to in each performance.

Boston’s Shubert Theatre, where Rags played in tryouts.

This isn’t to say that the cast and crew went around being heroic all day long, or that tempers didn’t sometimes get the better of us, or that we were consistently smiling and uncomplaining. But as a group, our company was ever brave and honorable, and true even when blue, until the virtues urged on by Kipling’s “If” seemed easy and commonplace. I admired these people, but even more, I loved them.

The means of holding onto the memories are meager, really. I meant to keep a journal during the rehearsals and tryouts, and even at the time I knew I was making a mistake when I didn’t record each day’s events. I looked on enviously as Evalyn Baron carried her journal with her everywhere and meticulously noted each development. But I was never much of a journal-writer, certainly not so in those days, and thus my own impressions are lost or unverifiable.

There are hardly any production photographs, for example: we closed so suddenly. The father of Devon Michaels, one of the little boys in the show, took a few pictures, and so did a professional (I can’t remember who — one of the usual suspects in New York theater, I think), but we dispersed before we could get the chance to purchase any for ourselves, and they are seldom if ever published. It took work to find the illustrations for my Opera News article. And while in this age of camera phones and digital everything, it may be hard to believe, it’s true: I have not one single backstage photo, not one record of the kid I was and the friends I knew.

There’s an original cast album, but Teresa declined to participate, and so it’s Julia Migenes who sings the leading role. I’m told that she recorded her numbers in Los Angeles, and that only Terry Mann flew out to join her; this would explain in part the sense of disconnectedness I get when I listen to her: she’s separated from the rest of the gang. But more than that, she hadn’t lived with the show, as Teresa had, as the others had, and as I had.

At Tony time, in 1987, Judy Kuhn and Dick Latessa performed the title number, in the familiar costumes and something that suggested the set. But by then Les Misérables had taken hold of Judy’s artistry, and a different music flowed in her bloodstream. Good as she is in the clip, she’s offering just a distant echo of what she achieved during the run of Rags. I had hoped that Teresa might sing “Children of the Wind,” one last time, but she didn’t want even to attend the award ceremony. “I’ll be your date,” I said hopefully, but she was obdurate (in this, as in so many other matters).

Judy Kuhn sings “Rags”: Screenshot from her Tony performance.
Good Lord, she was lovely.

In the Lincoln Center Library, there’s a video recording of one complete performance of the show, made during the Saturday matinée. The tape concludes with Lonny’s speech to the audience, asking them to join us in a march down Broadway to the TKTS booth — a protest demonstration of sorts, though what we were protesting wasn’t entirely clear. (Bad luck, maybe.) Anyway, hundreds followed us, singing and chanting, and we wound up with excellent press and a sold-out final performance — too late to do us any good.

Because I knew the show so well, I was enlisted to “help” the director, and told him which cameras to use when, in order to catch the best shots and to preserve the best bits. It was hard work, made all the more difficult when the Hellinger’s house electrician, a drunkard, decided I wasn’t paying enough attention to him. Flirtatious at first and then violent, he had to be dragged away, and Madeline Gilford always referred (half-seriously) to this as the day she and her friend Betty Corwin, the Lincoln Center librarian, saved my life.

Several months after the show closed, most of the company gathered at Lincoln Center to watch that video. Most of us cried, at least a little, but not so much for the plight of Rebecca Hershkowitz as for our own, more immediate struggles and losses, and the broken hearts of Broadway that beat inside every one of us. It’s as close to a full-on company reunion as we ever managed.

From the Whorehouse movie: It’s hard to be sure, but I believe that’s Mark Fotopoulos, just to the right of Dolly Parton.
(His head is level with her bust. Not that anyone would be looking there.)

Too many of them are gone now; our company began to dwindle even as the curtain fell. The dancer Mark Fotopoulos was sick already, and knew it. Not long after Rags closed, we saw his picture in the newspaper, at a protest demonstration in Washington, carrying a sign: “Ten Years Living with AIDS — No Thanks to You, Mr. President.” The last time I saw him, on a subway in New York, his skin was frighteningly discolored, but his smile and the gleam in his eyes remained unchanged. Now I go back and watch the locker-room number from Best Little Whorehouse to remember him as he was, and as I think he would want us to remember him.

Larry Kert is gone, too, and Ron Field, and Joel Tropper, and so many others. It seemed almost a relief whenever a member of our company died of something normal, like cancer, as Rex Everhart did.

And those of us who are still around are older, by far: Josh Blake and Devon Michaels must be grown men now, though in my mind’s eye they’ll always be little boys. Yet no matter what else we do in life, all of us will always be “Children of the Wind.”

Teresa, as Salome, when I first saw her: Strauss, not Strouse.
Now you know why she intimidated the hell out of me.
(She still does, too.)

Here are a few more things I remember:
  • The morning sun glinting off Scott Frankel’s rumpled hair as he sat at the piano in the rehearsal studio at 890 Broadway.

  • Teresa’s finding her high F — and singing the Queen of the Night for me alone — and the look on her face when she heard little Devon sing the same notes with terrifying ease.

  • The intense physiological reaction I got when Teresa sang “Blame It on the Summer Night,” making it necessary for me to conceal myself. (I think I used a broom. Nobody said anything.)

  • Teresa, singing “Children of the Wind.” Judy, singing “Rags.” Marcia and Dick, singing “Three Sunny Rooms.” Andy, singing “I Remember.” Terry Mann, singing “Desperado” — during breaks, of course.
Marcia Lewis’ smile.
  • The thrill whenever the whole company lifted its voice — in “Penny a Tune” for example, or the Kaddish — but especially when they sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Boston.

  • Those days when Bob Straus’ voice was the most beautiful sound in the room.

  • Making an out-of-this-world experience seem more real by sharing it with friends: inviting Andy Weems to a rehearsal, and Melia Bensussen to opening night; enlisting Steve Biel to help with research; knowing that people like Sue Klawans were seeing the show, too, and regretting that my parents, who were passing through New York that August, assured me they’d see the show “some other time.”

  • Sneaking cigarettes when Teresa wasn’t looking.
Virtue Triumphant I:
Teresa returned to the Met, where she enjoyed
some of her greatest successes.
Here, in her comeback, as Puccini’s Suor Angelica.
  • Peggy Eisenhauer’s imitating her light-board conversations with Beni Montresor, our set and lighting designer: “More color.” “What color? Amber? Red?” “Color. Over there.” “Where? Downstage? Stage right?” “Over there. Make it … epic.”

  • The taste of the ramen noodles I lived on while we were in Boston. (Twenty-five cents a pack at the convenience store around the corner from the Shubert.)

  • The soothing perfumed air of Evalyn’s dressing room.
Virtue Triumphant II:
Scott Frankel went on to write the musical Grey Gardens.
Here, Christine Ebersole as Little Edie.

  • Combatting the dry air in the rehearsal rooms at 890 with an uncooperative spray-pump bottle until my hands ached from spritzing. “I’m getting a callous for Stratas,” I said.

  • The way Lonny used to have fits whenever I used the word “Yankee” to describe anyone other than a baseball player. He couldn’t believe I was from Texas. But then, neither could I, in those days.

  • The voluptuous way John Aller used to lie on the floor in the green room, “resting” during breaks at 890. He was so beautiful, and he knew it, but we were all more interested in the actor Thomas Gibson, who was rehearsing Twelfth Night with Shakespeare in the Park, down the hall, and quite possibly the most stunning man in New York at the time.
Virtue Triumphant III:
Dick Latessa in Hairspray, with Harvey Fierstein.

  • Taking Teresa to the doctor, after she missed opening night in Boston, and thinking she might really die, and that somehow it would be my fault.

  • Paula Kalustian’s homecoming, when she came backstage to the Hellinger, and I fell sobbing into her arms. It wasn’t in her power to save the show, but at least when she was around I didn’t feel quite so helpless.

  • The wordless, aimless way Joan Micklin Silver used to wander out of the rehearsal room. “You’ve got to tell us where she’s going,” the stage managers told her assistant, who snapped at last in exasperation: “Do you think I know?”
Virtue Triumphant, IV:
Terry Mann as Inspector Javert.
Others of our company who wound up in Les Miz include Judy Kuhn, Joanna Glushak, Evalyn Baron, and Peter Samuel.

  • The way the rats in the parking lot next to the Shubert used to get agitated during certain numbers, notably “Rags.” I suggested that we rename the show after them — Rats. (A short time later, the animated movie An American Tail opened, with themes similar to ours, only with mice.)

  • The way Gene Saks (a nice guy, actually, and a certifiable pro) “saved” the show in New York by cutting its heart out when he turned the ensemble into a chorus — and the way the audience sensed the difference and responded less warmly. We used to be scruffy and lovable, and then we were streamlined: it couldn’t be the same.

  • The late-night conversations with Scott, or with Paula, or with Lonny, or with Teresa, or with Madeline — with everybody — when we really thought we’d hit on the way to fix the show.

  • The way Frank Rich began his radio commentary on WQXR, the day after we closed, with the remark, “It’s a shame more people won’t be able to see Rags.” Gee, Frank, as theater critic of The New York Times, what might you have been able to do about that?
Virtue Triumphant V:
Marcia Lewis in Chicago, with Bebe Neuwirth.
(Many others of the Rags company have known triumph, too.
But these are the ones with good pictures.)

  • How sad I felt for everyone else when it ended. The show had so much potential, and the company was so brilliant, they deserved a long-running hit — and many of them got one, later (Les Miz, Chicago, Hairspray, etc.) — but I knew it was time for me to leave, no matter whether the show closed.

  • Only later did it occur to me that this was reason enough to feel a little sad for myself, as well as for everyone else.

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