This Is Pride Joy: ‘I Am What I Am’ Dance Redux Featuring J. Harrison Ghee

J. Harrison Ghee in 'I Am What I Am'
J. Harrison Ghee in 'I Am What I Am'
J. Harrison Ghee in ‘I Am What I Am’

As we celebrate the last weekend of Pride Month 2021, hit play and bounce-bounce-bounce along with this totally infectious remix of that gayest of gay anthems, ‘I Am What I Am.”

Broadway legend Jerry Herman delivered unto us his glorious theme song of self-love in his 1983 Broadway blockbuster, La Cage aux Folles. And while there have been many disco-tastic takes on the upbeat theme bop, this takes Pride joy over the top!

J. Harrison Ghee and company serve up some seriously up-to-date beatsbeatsbeats along with some subtle (but recognizable) shades of characters from Broadway musicals and plays.

Victor Borbolla and Javi Perez as ‘Tony and Maria’

I spy some Dorothy Gale & Toto (Wizard of Oz), Tony & Maria (West Side Story), Jenna and Dr. Pomatter (Waitress), Danny & Sandy (Grease), Dolly Levi (Hello, Dolly!), Joseph (of Dreamcoat fame), Les Miz patriots and more. Plus, there are cameos by Marti Cummings, Ianne Fields Stewart, and Davon Williams.

The whole magilla was directed & produced by Jimmy Larkin; James Alonzo White delivers fierce choreography; and Devin Lewis skillfully handles music production duties.

And let’s hear it for the terrific company that represents in all-shapes, all-sizes, all-ages, all-shades of rainbow Pride joy!

A little Les Miz anyone…?

Dancers: Nick Alvino, Andrew Avila, Keely Beirne, Bo Belza, Michael Ivan Carrier, Michael Graceffa, Abigail Isom, Derek Johnson, Andre Malcolm, Jarred Manista, Ryan Miller, Stanley Munoz, Anthony Murphy, Myke Myklegard, Tony Neal, Lucas Parada, Dobbin Pinkney, Becca Robinson, Lexie Sahagian, Hamly Tavarez, Spencer James Weidie.

Also featuring: Jeff Heimbrock, Brian Martin, Sean Potter, Tony Tillman, Liz Pryce Davies, Nick Eibler, Kerri George, Jonathan Gomolka, Lindsay Griffin, Jay Grogan, Evan Lacombe, Laura McCormack, Yassi Noubahar, Devon Perry, Karen Joy Pangantihon, Aidan Triola, and Bradley Allan Zarr.

As regular readers of The Randy Report may recall, I knew and worked with Jerry Herman. I know he would have LOVED this.

Bravo!

Remembering The Genius Of Jerry Herman

L-R Leslie Uggams, Lee Roy Reams, George Hearn

Thinking of dear Jerry Herman this evening and fell into a YouTube wormhole of his awesome music.

This is just a tiny sample of the depth, range, and power of Jerry’s music.

All of these performers need no introduction. Just listen to them bring Tony Award winner Jerry Herman’s music to life in first-class form.

Broadway Legend Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles) Dead At 88

Broadway composer Jerry Herman (image via official website)

Broadway legend Jerry Herman, who wrote blockbuster musicals including Mame, La Cage aux Folles, and Hello, Dolly!, has passed away at the age of 88.

The Associated Press reports Herman was taken to the hospital Thursday night after experiencing chest pains. He died of pulmonary complications in Miami, Florida, where he had been living with his longtime partner, Terry Marler.

He made his Broadway debut contributing songs to a revue titled, From A to Z (which included material by Woody Allen and Fred Ebb) in 1960. His first full-fledged Broadway score (and first Tony Award nomination) was for Milk and Honey, about a couple on vacation in Israel.

But in 1964, he penned the songs to mega-hit Hello, Dolly! which snagged a record-breaking 10 Tony Awards including one for Herman for ‘Best Score,’ and one for its luminous leading lady, Carol Channing. The production ran for 2,844 performances becoming the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time.

The show would be revived several times on the Great White Way, most recently in 2017 with Bette Midler earning the Divine Miss M a Tony Award for her performance as the indomitable Dolly Levi. Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters followed Midler in the show-stopping role.

 

And, of course, it was Barbra Streisand who brought “Dolly Levi” to life in the film version.

 

He scored again with Angela Lansbury starring as the glamorous title character in Mame in 1966. Winning several Tony Awards (including trophies for Lansbury and Bea Arthur), the show went on to run for 1,508 performances.

As the 1970s came around, musicals began to become darker and more experimental, and Herman’s shows (Dear World, Mack & Mabel, The Grand Tour) didn’t fare as well.

But in 1983, Herman found the inspiration for his next hit in the French film, La Cage aux Folles, about a gay couple living on the French Riviera running a drag nightclub.

He would win his second Tony Award (among six awarded the production) for the score of the groundbreaking La Cage which gave the world one its first gay anthems written to be a gay anthem, “I Am What I Am.”

I am what I am
I don’t want praise…I don’t want pity
I bang my own drum
Some think it’s noise…I think it’s pretty
And so what if I love each feather and each bangle
Why not try to see things from a different angle?
Your life is a sham ‘til you can shout out loud, ‘I am what I am’

The song not only packed a punch on stage but also in discos as Gloria Gaynor’s version (which reached #3 on the Billboard Dance chart) resonated with the LGBTQ community everywhere as the gay pride movement was hitting its stride.

Connecting theatergoers with a loving, openly gay couple, the show touched audiences in New York City and around the world.

The production’s storyline also put drag front and center. In the end, it’s the nightclub’s star Zaza that saves the day leading a conservative couple out of a tight situation decked in glamorous drag.

The show would run for 1,761 performances and return to Broadway twice reminding audiences of the power of drag and the depth of love held by the leading characters for each other.

Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for La Cage, saluted his colleague on Twitter today:

 

“I’m certainly aware of how different popular music is today from when I started in this business, and I realize that my songwriting is not generally in fashion,” he shared with the New York Times in 1985. “But ‘La Cage’ made me feel secure about going on and just being what I am, and writing simple, hummable tunes.”

There were other projects following La Cage, including songs for the television movie Mrs. Santa Claus reuniting Herman with Ms. Lansbury. The effort would snag him an Emmy Award nomination.

In 2009, he was honored with a Special Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Tony Awards. And the next year, he was celebrated alongside Sir Paul McCartney and Oprah at the Kennedy Center Honors.

In full disclosure, this writer will share that, in another lifetime, I was an actor in New York City, and the 1995 revival of Hello, Dolly! was my Broadway debut.

Jerry was very involved in the production as the only living creator of the show at the time, and I was fortunate to witness Jerry’s genius first hand. I give Jerry and Dolly! a lot of credit for my life, both professional and personal, taking a great leap forward.

It was on October 17, 1994, at Paisley Park recording studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that I met my future husband during the pre-Broadway tour of Dolly! We were recording our Broadway cast album prior to heading into New York City and my Michael was the 24-year-old Vice President of Marketing and PR for the record label.

Hubby Michael Caprio with Jerry Herman in October 1994

I won’t go into the details but suffice to say, by the end of the day “Dolly” had worked her matchmaking magic. We’ve been together for over 25 years now.

Jerry was always very fond of taking credit for our relationship and we happily saluted him for it.

After the show closed on Broadway, Jerry was involved in the decision to ask me to stage the dances for the ensuing national touring company of Dolly. Jerry’s belief in me propelled my career forward again, this time as a choreographer.

Since that time, I’ve staged nearly a dozen productions of the show with Jerry’s blessing.

Jerry Herman (center) with me on the right in 1995

And in 2011, Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and director Jack O’Brien were in talks to mount a new revival of Dolly! One Saturday morning, my phone rang and it was Jerry. He shared the news of the possible revival and asked me to choreograph the new production.

At the time, he wanted the creative team to explore new ideas for the show, but there were a few concepts from the Gower Champion original he wanted integrated into the new production. He told me, “I know you’ll have my back.”

As if my life hadn’t been blessed enough by Jerry, his confidence in me was surely the crowning moment we would share.

In the end, LuPone and O’Brien exited the production and for several months the lead producer and I thought of a raft of leading ladies to approach, including Midler who would finally say ‘yes’ to the role a few years later.

The production never happened, but I’ve never forgotten the buoyant, upbeat confidence he instilled not only in me but in everyone he worked with.

The constant theme throughout his work – his songs, his shows, the characters he wrote for – was that life was meant to be lived.

The titles of just a few of his songs – “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It’s Today,” “I’ll Be Here Tomorrow,” “The Best of Times,” “Tap Your Troubles Away,” “We Need a Little Christmas” – tell the tale of someone who found his truth in hope and celebration.

 

Even in the late 1980s, when he was diagnosed with HIV and lost his partner Martin Finkelstein to AIDS, he never stopped embracing the power of positivity.

In 2010, he seemed content as he reflected on his long, successful career telling the Washington Post, “It’s a very long, colorful parade. With lots of balloons. And banners. And confetti. And all of that. But it’s also kind of near the end of it. That’s very moving and very rewarding.”

Along the way, Herman gave us fabulous, bigger-than-life diva characters to cheer for including a drag queen who told the world (and us) how to love ourselves.

Rest in power Jerry Herman, Broadway’s gentle giant.

It’s Today! Jerry Herman’s 86th Birthday!

Jerry Herman, the man who gave the world such incredible Broadway scores for “Hello, Dolly!”, “Mame”, “Mack & Mabel” and “La Cage Aux Folles” turns 86 today! And is still going strong!

Celebrate this wonderful icon who has given the world such incredible music and Broadway shows.  Jerry’s music not only entertains us but reminds us to never let life pass us by.

I have spent some of the most thrilling moments of my theater career being moved by Jerry’s work in a theater.  His body of work sends a powerful, positive and beautiful message out to the world.  I’m so honored to know Jerry.

Thank you, Jerry Herman, for always reminding us that while we remember our “Song On The Sand”, we need to always get back into life “Before The Parade Passes By.”

I’m thrilled that his beautiful “Hello, Dolly!” is going gangbusters again on Broadway with Bette Midler breaking box office records.

On a personal note, I’ll add that were it not for “Hello, Dolly!” (my first Broadway show as an actor), I’d have never met my husband of 23 years. “Dolly Levi” and Jerry Herman once again brought their musical magic to bear, and I’m all the better for it 🙂

When Jerry Herman & “Dolly Levi” Worked Their Magic Into My Life

‪#‎TBT‬ I got this photo recently from Bruce Blanchard, my HELLO, DOLLY! cast mate from the 1995 Broadway revival. I’d never seen this before.

Back in late 1995, the cast made an appearance with the Tony Award winning composer/lyricist Jerry Herman at a record store (Tower Records I guess?) in support of our Broadway cast recording.

Amazing to see this all these years later. I should add that it was the BCR of HELLO, DOLLY! that introduced me to my husband, Michael. We met at the recording session for the album (he was VP of Marketing & Publicity for the record company that recorded the album) and have been together ever since.

I’ve often thanked Jerry for that.

Dolly worked her magic yet again 🙂

Reviews for Charing Cross Theater’s DEAR WORLD starring Betty Buckley

Review Round up for the new production of Jerry Herman’s “Dear World” at Charing Cross Theatre in the UK:

Michael Billington from the Guardian writes: Betty Buckley, whom I last saw in Promises, Promises half a lifetime ago, lends the heroine the right air of dreamy dottiness, as if still inhabiting the Paris of the Belle Epoque. There is good support from Paul Nicholas as a benevolent sewerman, Peter Land as a leanly rapacious capitalist and Annabel Leventon as a park-bench habitue who hears more voices than Joan of Arc. It is not one of those Broadway failures like Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle that quickly acquires cult status, but Lynne stylishly evokes a fantasy Paris, and it’s hard not to warm to a show that suggests corporate greed and environmental destruction can be actively resisted.

Fourthwall Magazine writes: The score is stupendous from the get-go though. I’d never heard a note of it and could hum you great swathes and that’s before I downloaded the original Broadway cast recording this morning; Angela Lansbury stars, bonus! Betty Buckley stars here (double bonus) as a warm and wonderful, cookie Countess Aurelia. There’s a moment in Act 2 when the Julian of Stuart Matthew Price (top of his game, again) descends the stars holding a feather boa before role-playing Emile, the lost love of the Countess. I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Wow, what a scene!” I wonder who she was? We’re all going mad. She did agree, though.

Giles Cole from whatsonstage.com says: The remarkable Betty Buckley, as Countess Aurelia, presides over the stage with grace, aplomb and sheer Broadway presence, but it is only in the scenes with her fellow ‘madwomen’ that the show fuses into a true delight. Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock are glorious as sisters Constance and Gabrielle, and when these three ladies are onstage, one sits back happily and drinks in the wit, silliness and charm of the piece.

David Nice from theartsdesk.com states: Where it only took Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along 11 years to progress from flop to classic, Dear World has taken 44. Its time has finally come underneath the arches of Charing Cross in the intimate setting Herman always wanted, crowned this time by the supreme grace of Betty Buckley.

Visit charingcrosstheatre.co.uk for ticket information.

Photo by Dominic Maxwell

 

New music: Betty Buckley “Ah Men – the Boys of Broadway”

 
Available today, new music from Tony Award-winning Broadway star Betty Buckley: AH MEN – THE BOYS OF BROADWAY, based on her critically acclaimed concert of the same name.

Like Betty, I’m from Fort Worth, Texas, and we both attended the same high school – although not at the same time.  But in the 1970s – with successes on Broadway and TV already – she made a stop by Arlington Heights High School and spoke to our drama class.  She spoke about acting and then, in an impromptu moment, sang for us unaccompanied.  I was transfixed, and a fan of her voice (and acting) from that moment on.

When I was appearing on Broadway in Hello, Dolly!, Betty was giving her breathtaking performance as “Norma Desmond” in Sunset Boulevard.  During the run of Dolly! many stars came backstage to say ‘hello’ to Carol Channing.  I’d see them meet her on the stage after the curtain came down after the show as I had to cross the stage from my dressing room to the stage door.  The only time I ever stopped and stuttered a ‘hello’ to anyone was when Betty Buckley came backstage. It was my chance and I took it. And she was as gracious then as she is today.

I recently discovered that Tennessee Williams admired Betty’s work. On the blog “Follies of God,” James Grissom shared with his readers that Tennessee had this to say about Betty Buckley:

Her singing voice is a wonderful example of that intercourse that exists only with a singer: When a singer is in possession of a great talent and an honest intensity of purpose, nothing can prevent the relationship between song and singer from taking place, with all of us voyeurs to the consummation.

She owns her material, but she doesn’t grasp it so tightly that we can’t also share in it, love it, feel to it. I find her a radiantly pure singer.

She helps me to the fog. I feel she belongs to me now.

I recently had the chance to interview Betty about her new CD, her current appearances around the country and her upcoming UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s Dear World at Charing Cross Theatre.

You can listen to the interview tomorrow night on The Candi & Randy Show, but here are just a few of Betty’s thoughts on the new CD:

• The inspiration for the new CD goes back to her young crush on Russ Tamblyn in the movie of West Side Story: “When I first saw the movie of West Side Story, I was about 14 and I was just in love with Russ Tamblyn who played “Riff.”  Everything about him as “Riff” – I thought he was the coolest guy ever.  And it went way beyond a crush.  I wanted to dance like him, walk like him, talk like him.  I wanted to be a Jet.”

• Betty had a short list of songs she knew she wanted to sing in this show/CD: “I knew I wanted to sing “I Can See It” from The Fantasticks, I knew I wanted to sing “Hey There” from The Pajama Game, “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin… I knew I wanted to sing “Venice” from Elegies and “Maria” from West Side Story, and I knew I wanted to sing “I Won’t Dance.”

• When asked if there’s a male role in the music theatre catalog she’d like to do, she doesn’t hesitate: “I think I could be a really dangerous Sweeney Todd.”

• On heading to London to star in the UK premiere of Dear World: “I’m really excited about it.  I’ve known about this for about a year and a half.   It will be a revised/new version of the show.  It’s going to be really beautiful, I think.  I’m really excited.”

I reached out to Broadway legend Jerry Herman for his thoughts on Betty starring in the new production and Jerry had this to say:

“Dear World requires a superb singer; Dear World requires a superb actor; and Betty Buckley is both. I so look forward to the London premiere with Gillian Lynne at the helm.”

Betty has been appearing across the country singing songs from the new CD.  Find the nearest concert date on her website – www.BettyBuckley.com

Lucky for me, she’ll be performing at The Smith Center here in Las Vegas November 15-18.  Can’t wait to see her sing these great songs.

You can hear the full interview and several of the songs from the new CD by listening tomorrow night on The Candi & Randy Show – 9pmEST/6pmPST.

Check out the new CD on Amazon by clicking here.

Review: La Cage Aux Folles at The Smith Center

The Smith Center’s offering of the national touring company of “La Cage Aux Folles” is definitely a must-see theater event for Las Vegas.

Starring George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber with a superb score by master Broadway composer/lyricist Jerry Herman, the opening night audience was treated to a terrific evening that ranged from touching to comic hysteria.

Georges, played by Hamilton, runs a slightly tattered St. Tropez nightclub that’s a showcase for female impersonators. The ‘star’ of the showcase is his husband, Albin, the local star ‘Zaza.’

Their domestic life is upset when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, arranges a meet-the-family dinner with his new fiancee and her parents, who are conservative, politically powerful and disapproving.

Hoping to re-write history and avoid embarrassment, Jean-Michel invites his long-absent biological mother to take the place of Albin who raised him, and ask that Albin demote to the role of “Uncle Albert.” When Jean-Michel’s mother fails to show at the last minute, Albin appears in female garb in an attempt to save the day for all. From there, hilarity and chaos becomes the order of the day.

George Hamilton performs the role of “Georges” with dignity and quiet strength as he tries to maintain balance in his family – his love for his son and his husband. His rendition of “Look Over There” is especially effective as he points out to Jean-Michel the sacrifices Albin has made over the years for his adopted son.  While his primary skill may not be as a singer, he handles his songs with confidence and grace.

However, the evening belongs to Christopher Sieber, whose “Albin/Zaza” is a star-turn that keeps the entire evening spinning. His command of comedy is masterful, and his voice is powerhouse. He knows when to use all these strengths, and when to pull them back. During “The Best Of Times” he subtly but clearly communicates a message of living life “in the now.” But it’s his powerful and moving “I Am What I Am” that brings the house down at the end of Act One.   Vocally and emotionally, he triumphantly makes a statement for himself and a community.

Praise must also be given to the fantastic men of the ensemble – “The Cagelles” – who deliver at every turn.

Director Terry Johnson and choreographer Lynne Page do an excellent job of bringing Harvey Fierstein’s award-winning libretto to life.

It also bears mentioning that Jerry Herman’s score is still as winning as the day it won the Tony Award in 1984. “La Cage” remains one of his best. On top of the artful story-telling he brings to the score, his songs leave a message true to a continuous thread of Herman’s work: that life is meant to be lived. From “Before The Parade Passes By” from HELLO, DOLLY! to “It’s Today” from MAME to “The Best Of Times” from LA CAGE, you leave the theater with a smile and a sense of looking forward.

And the show’s message of love and “non-traditional family” resonates even moreso today, in this time of marriage equality acceptance, than it did in the early 1980s.

I give this show 4 stars (out of 4). Go see this show.

The production runs through Sunday night, August 19th at The Smith Center.  Click here for more info.

Christopher Sieber as “Zaza”

George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber – photo by Paul Kolnic

The Cagelles – photo by Paul Kolnik
backstage with Christopher Sieber (“Albin/Zaza”) and Christophe Caballero (production dance captain)