Singer/Songwriter Leslie Ellis

I love that I can say I have such talented friends.

I met Leslie Ellis at the beginning of our careers when we were both cast in the National Touring company of CATS back in the day. Kids, this was back when CATS was a ‘good’ credit, as I like to joke.

Leslie was our amazing “Grizabella” who sang “Memory” every night to wildly screaming audiences across the country.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this incredible talent. Since then, she’s gone on to release her own albums, sung back up for some world-class artists like Celine Dion (Leslie is the voice that mirrors Celine on “My Heart Will Go On” which earned Leslie a Grammy Award for her work on the recording), and become a mainstay singer/song-writer in Nashville.

But wait – there’s more! Leslie has the most fantastic sense of humor. About life, about the industry, about everything… she makes me laugh so much. A simple, short email can send me into stitches with no warning. AND on top of it all, she’s gorgeous – which really isn’t fair.

I want to share some of her music with you today. The first is a song she wrote with one of her writing partners Robin Ruddy – “Let Me Be The Hero”. After the video link, go check out her performance on “We Came Close” which kills me every time, and then her amazing “Flyer Song” dedicated to our incredible US Naval Aviators. And then finally, a very cool new song with the Consoulers – “Love Is A Mystery.”

I invite you to sit back and enjoy. This is a world-class talent. This is it, kids. It really doesn’t get any better. I promise you you’re going to head out to buy all her music. Just remember I told you about her…


Leslie Ellis – “Let Me Be The Hero” from Randy Slovacek on Vimeo.

We Came Close I have to say, this song and Leslie’s performance knocks me out. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s having “come close” before I met my husband but it’s a real knock-down drag out “deal with reality” kind of song. The first time I heard it I had to play it about 12 times over and over. It’s THAT kind of song and performance. Get ready to hear your new “favorite” song.

The Flyer Song  I have the utmost respect for our armed forces. Leslie really captures a unique perspective to what it must be like for the spouses and partners of our US Naval Aviators. Anyone who loves a “flyer” can relate to this personal and powerful performance.

Love Is A Mystery – excellent new song from Leslie and Steve Williams from The Consoulers.

Makin’ The Best of A Broken Heart – this is pure, strong country. I defy you to listen and not smile.

Indiana: Marriage equality ban moves forward

From The Chicago Tribune: “Republican lawmakers in Indiana have resumed their push for a constitutional amendment that would shore up an existing state law banning gay marriage.”

“A GOP-ruled House committee voted 8-4 along party lines today to advance the proposal, which now moves to the full House for consideration.”

“The amendment states that only marriage between one man and one woman is valid in Indiana, and prohibits civil unions by stating that a legal status “substantially similar” to marriage for unmarried people is not valid.”

So not only would same-sex marriage be outlawed, but civil unions and domestic partnerships would be dead in the water as well.

As in many other states, to put an amendment up for public vote, the bill has to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions. So this bill, poised to pass in both state houses this year, would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 to be on the ballot.

Amazing how state legislators, with many more pressing issues like unemployment and state budgets, choose to take up tax payers time with writing hate into a state constitution.

Super Bowl Ad: Thor is coming…

OK – so, yeah, I’m a comic book geek. A remaining vestige from my childhood. And all of these comic book re-imaginings with new film technologies just get me. X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America – I see all of them.

Last night during the Super Bowl, we got a brief taste of Chris Hemsworth’s upcoming starring role as Thor, god of thunder. Can’t wait.

(and he’s not bad looking either…)

AOL to buy The Huffington Post

Wow – this is pretty big.  News sources are saying The Huffington Post has agreed to be purchased by AOL for $315 Million. Founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington will become president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all Huffington Post and AOL content.

What’s amazing is the number of unique visitors at The Huffington Post, which aggregates articles and publishes its own content, has grown to about 25 million a month since its debut in 2005. Only 2005 this site began and is now being sold for $315 Million! Talk about a success story.

Just goes to underline my point – we all need to get out there and create something. Come up with a good idea, work hard at it and you could be the next Huffington Post.

Kickstarter & The Broadway Warm-Up

I love when ideas beget new ideas and someone is continually coming up with an idea I wish I’d had. Kickstarter is the new kid on the block with a great idea.

This website a great way for artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, writers, illustrators, explorers, curators, performers, and others to bring their projects, events, and dreams to life.

The word “project” is just as important as “creative” in defining what works on Kickstarter. A project is something finite with a clear beginning and end. Someone can be held accountable to the framework of a project — a project was either completed or it wasn’t — and there are definable expectations that everyone can agree to. This is imperative for every Kickstarter project.

The way it works is: you post your project on the site and come up with different “rewards” at different levels to encourage funding. Some “rewards” can be a simple as “At $10 you receive good karma for helping foster creativity” to “At $50 you get a copy of the finished CD autographed by the artist” to “At $1,000 you get VIP seating at the first screening of our independent movie and Associate Producer credit.” You choose the most interesting “rewards” you can think of, pitch your idea on the site and go.

And here’s the one caveat: If funding fails, all pledges are canceled and that’s that. There are good reasons for this.

1. It’s less risk for everyone. If you need $5,000, it’s tough having $2,000 and a bunch of people expecting you to complete a $5,000 project.

2. It allows people to test concepts (or conditionally sell stuff) without risk. If you don’t receive the support you want, you’re not compelled to follow through.

3. It motivates. If people want to see a project come to life, they’re going to spread the word.

There are lots of great success stories already.

A friend of mine from Broadway, Deidre Goodwin, is currently raising funding to develop a DVD called “The Broadway Warm-up” with her partner Kim Stern. Both are Broadway veterans and understand the need to warm-up thoroughly before a show. In addition to avoiding injuries, it gives you a time to center yourself before a performance. I think the idea is excellent – it’s a 30 minute combined vocal and physical warm-up. Efficient and focused. The girls tell the story much better than I do. I really encourage anyone – whether you’re a college performing arts student, a community theater participant or a theater professional – to check it out.

And if you feel it, donate something. I did. And it doesn’t have to be a lot. Even a little gets the “producers” of these projects to their goal. And you get to be a part of someone’s creative journey. AND at the very least you receive good karma in doing so.

Even if you only pitch in $15, that’s the cost of a cocktail or two. I say, sometime this week when you sit down to have a drink or dinner, order a club soda and lime, send the money you saved in that one sitting to The Broadway Warm-up and toast the creative spirit of Deidre and Kim. And feel good you did something to help.

Most of the people who read this blog have some creative or entrepreneurial spirit. Kickstart someone else’s dream today, then start your own. Get out there and make something happen instead of waiting for something to happen.

To see more about The Broadway Warm-up, click here. From there you can explore other projects and what Kickstarter is all about.

When I think of Reagan

When I think of President Reagan, the list of accomplishments in my head is not quite the same list running in most conservatives.

More than anything, when I think of President Ronald Reagan, I think of how his lack of leadership on the epidemic of AIDS caused the deaths of thousands and thousands of Americans.

AIDS research was chronically under-funded during the Reagan years. When doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health asked for more funding for their work on AIDS, they were routinely denied it.

Between June 1981 and May 1982 the CDC spent less than $1 million on AIDS and $9 million on Legionnaire’s Disease. At that point more than 1,000 of the 2,000 reported AIDS cases resulted in death; there were fewer than 50 deaths from Legionnaire’s Disease. This incredible lack of funding would continue through the Reagan years.

It wasn’t until May 31, 1987 that President Reagan would even voluntarily address the issue of AIDS in public. It was at an outdoor speech in Washington organized by AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Elizabeth Taylor, a lifelong friend of Ron and Nancy Reagan, persuaded the President to be there. On the exact night that he gave that speech, saying the word “AIDS” for the first time voluntarily in public, 21,000 Americans had already died from the disease.

There were calls throughout his administration to test the blood supply to help stave off the infections through blood transfusions. Calls to emphasize condom use. All of this was barely heeded. The explanations most often given were “we don’t want to scare people.” If ever there was a time or reason to be scared, kids, this was it.

By the end of 1989 and the Reagan years, 115,786 women and men had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States, and more than 70,000 of them had died.

At a time of crisis, we need leaders to LEAD. No – Reagan was not solely responsible for all those deaths. He didn’t create AIDS. But he did practically nothing to stop the spread of this disease. I honestly believe if there were tens of thousands of white, straight, wealthy men dying at that time MUCH more attention would have been paid and the CDC would have been ordered to work overtime to find solutions.

Reagan is credited with the fall of communism. I personally think that while he was a factor, it is a bit like giving the rooster credit for the sunrise. In some ways, he happened to be the man on duty, if you will.

Deficits also ballooned under Reagan. Reagan increased payroll taxes in 1983. History records that, alarmed by spiraling deficits, he signed tax increases during six of his eight years in office. Even so, his administration tripled the national debt, to almost $3 trillion. No one likes to mention that either.

But today, when I think of Reagan, I think of the loss of life, the spread of this terrible disease and his lack of leadership.

Happy birthday Mr. President.

“Disneyland” – Michelle Nicasto

One of the warmest and most talented performers I ever knew, Michelle Nicastro sadly lost her ten year battle with breast cancer last November 4, 2010.

Michelle started her screen career with “When Harry Met Sally” in the year 1983. She also had roles in 90210, Beverly Hills, Knight Rider and Full House. Michelle was also the voice behind the character of Princess Odette in all the sequels of The Swan Princess.

She created the role of “Eponine” in the Los Angeles debut of “Les Miserables” to outstanding acclaim and made her Broadway debut in “Merlin” fresh out of college.

As a singer, Michelle recorded four albums for the record label my husband worked for as VP of Publicity and Marketing, and she and Michael became very close. She was one of the very first people to welcome me to Los Angeles when I moved to LA to be with Michael. Warm and genuine don’t begin to describe Michelle.

Often, while Michael was at the office, she and I would meet for lunch or coffee and spend the afternoon laughing. I miss her smile, her laugh and her amazing talent. As I lived through my own cancer journey, I often thought of the courage that Michelle showed over her long battle. With her fantastic spirit in my mind, I worked to never complain, knowing I could only pray to emulate her grace.

This performance was at the “Unsung Musicals” Concert in New York City in the 1990s. Michelle was already scheduled to sing another song the night of the concert, while another singer was scheduled to sing “Disneyland.” But at the last moment, the scheduled singer unable to attend.

Michelle stepped at the last minute, learned the song and brought the house down with her heartfelt, full-voiced rendition of “Disneyland” from the short lived musical “Smile.”

When I watch this and think of Michelle, the words “gone too soon” simply aren’t enough.

Maryland: Marriage Equality headed to Senate this week

The issue of marriage equality heads to the Maryland State Senate this week, as the Judicial Hearings Committee takes up a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland.

Last week the movement picked up steam as the leading Republican Senator Allan Kittleman said he would support the bill. He had originally meant to submit his own bill for Civil Unions but found no support there. In supporting marriage equality, he stepped down from the position of Minority Leader in the state senate.

At present count, there are 20 state senators who have indicated they will vote to support marriage equality. 6 Democratic senators have not indicated where they stand just yet.

Among the undecideds, Sen. Joan Carter Conway said she is willing to be the 24th vote for the bill but does not want to vote for it if it is going to fail. Sen. Ulysses Currie put his chances of voting for the bill at 40 percent. And Sen. James Rosapepe said he will announce his intentions before the bill reaches the floor.

Anyone who lives in the following districts should call their state senator and let them you know you want to see equality in the state of Maryland.

Senators who said in interviews that they are undecided (6):
Sen. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel)
Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore)
Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s)
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County)
Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County)
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s)

Unemployment drops to lowest rate in nearly 2 years

Unemployment in the U.S dropped to 9% last month – the lowest rate since April 2009.

The last two months have seen a steep decline in the unemployment rate, dropping from 9.8 to 9.0 in just two months – the steepest two-month fall since 1953.

Economists had expected a better number in light of recent upticks in retail sales, consumers spending more and factories churning out more goods. However, bad weather across the country was blamed in part as the weather conditions in much of the country made for difficult working conditions. The construction industry shed 32,000 jobs, the most since May. Transportation and warehousing firms also reported large cuts. All three sectors were affected by the snowstorms much of the country experienced last month.

Many economists expect the unemployment rate to fluctuate throughout 2011, but eventually end below 9%.