Deborah Voigt is one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of modern times. I have seen her sing opera and lieder at the Met Opera and Carnegie Hall. I saw her in my first Wagner,
Aside from loving her singing, Debbie is a personal heroine of mine: she has shared her journey of conquering her compulsive overeating and addiction, weight issues, and other personal hurdles. She published her memoirs, Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva
, in January.
Voigt Lessons, a lovely evening of song and story, is a beautiful companion to her published memoirs. The piece was created by Deborah Voigt, Terrence McNally (Tony award winning playwright and book writer) and opera and theatre director Francesca Zambello. Richard Jay-Alexander staged the evening. Debbie was accompanied on piano by her music direct, Kevin Stites.
Debbie talked of learning to sing in the choir as a little girl in church to her time in high school musical theatre to learning to sing opera on the largest stages in the world. She punctuated her very personal history by sharing some of her favorite songs from The Carpenters, musical theatre, old hymns and even Strauss and Brahms lieder. She teased us with the opening bars to the second act of Tannhäuser.
She especially wowed us with her rendention of the tenor aria Nessun Dorma. She even thru in a 'Ho-jo-to-ho'! She closed the evening with the old gospel, His Eye is on the Sparrow.
She is warm, funny and beautiful. She worked from a script for the evening, but at times spontaneously and to our great delight, went off book from time to time bring even greater joy to the evening. Debbie did say shes still has some of the great roles in her, for which I cheered as loud as I could: Kostelnička (Jenufa
), Ortrud (Lohengrin
), Dolly (Hello Dolly!
) and Mame
(Hell Yes!). This was an evening of range - range of music and emotion - and I have no doubt she's up to any and all of these roles.
I found the evening to be quite cathartic. I found myself in tears from the honest emotion and stories she shared. I'm very grateful that she has been brave enough to own up and tell us all about all of this. It's not easy. As a woman who has struggled with compulsive overeating for as long as I can remember, I identify with her story and I know it's the hardest thing to work on much less talk about. Everything and anything is easy compared to this, at least for me. After the concert, I waited in line to have her sign my copy of her book and I'm so glad I did. I felt a boost to continue working on my goals just being able to tell her thanks for being so brave. Thanks very much indeed, Debbie.
|Debbie Voigt with Kevin Stites, photo by Richard Termine|
Bonus: Because it's adorable and because my pal Jesse North is also in this video:
I was so delighted to see Keen Company's
new production of John & Jen
on Friday night. The two-hander musical stars Kate Baldwin
and newcomer Conor Ryan.
It is a sweet, charming, funny, poignant musical with a great score and clever lyrics by Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald. Orchestrations are by another Broadway composer, Jason Robert Brown.
I loved the inventive music - from fun and very catchy to heart-string pulling.
The production is slight, leaving the actors to convey all of the changing times with their craft and they manage it very well. Both actors have to play children to young adults, little brother and big sister in the first act and son and mother in the second act. It's a beautiful coming of age story set during the 1960s into the 1980s.
Conor is adorable at all times. He does funny very well and his smile is contagious. He had me laughing so much with his antics, which seems effortless. He's got a great voice too. I can't wait to see more of him.
As for Kate, she never disappoints me. Seeing her in the tiny space at The Clurman in Theatre Row is a magical experience. The opportunity to see her on this stage is not to be missed - she's transcendent. Her character - big sister then mother - ages from 13 to late 30s. Her transition is seamless and breathtaking. She played all of the emotions so well and had me on the edge of my seat. I really think there's nothing she can't do.
John & Jen
plays until April 4th and I really think I will have to revisit this one. Tickets are available at the Theatre Row box office at 410 West 42nd Street (btw 9th and 10th) or via Telecharge. I used a Broadwaybox
discount for $50 tickets.
This is Keen Company's 20th Anniversary Production and to that they deserve many happy returns. I have seen so many of their productions over the years and am never disappointed. They offer a satisfying variety of drama and comedy, plays and musicals (their production of Marry Me A Little
with Lauren Molina and Jason Tam is one of my favorite things ever and they also gave me a chance to see the incomparable Kathleen Chalfant in Painting Churches
Henry James' thriller The Turn of the Screw
is currently on at Everyday Inferno Theatre Company
. This stylized production is adapted by company member Jamie Wylie and is eerily set in the Morris-Jumel Mansion
, Manhattan's oldest house.
Setting the production in the Morris-Jumel is certainly inspired. It was built in 1765 and served as headquarters to General Washington during the Revolutionary War. It is said that ghosts are in residence and on a chilly night in a very quiet section of Washington Heights, I certainly felt a chill.
Ms. Wylie has set James' tale in the late evening after a dinner party: a well heeled guest shares a supposedly true story of suspense over after dinner drinks. It's far past dark and the only lighting is moody and fraught with anticipation. The production is simple and elegant, nuanced by Anais Koivisto's direction and period costume design. She allows the evening gloom at Morris-Jumel be a character in this production.
The piece moves seamlessly and swiftly and is very well acted, particularly by Meg Kiley Smith as the Governess slipping into madness and Victoria Blankenship as the well-meaning Mrs. Grose. The are joined by a fantastic company of Leslie Gauthier, Leslie Marseglia, James McCloskey, Graham Miles, Sam Ogilvie and Scott David Reeves. Ms. Marseglia is admirably calm as the eerie Miss Jessel. Most of the company does double duty portraying characters and effectively transition. Suprises in scenes had me gasping and jumping in my seat, a testament to the execution of this company.
The combination of execution of this classic story, an inspired destination setting and the season guarantees a satisfying evening for any thrill seeker....much more satisfying and immersive than any contrived haunted house during this Halloween season.
Everyday Inferno Theatre Company offers this production The Turn of the Screw
at the The Morris-Jumel, just two blocks off the C train stop at 163rd Street, through November 2nd. Tickets are available via Brown Paper Tickets .
|photo by Anais Koivisto|
|photo by Anais Koivisto
On Monday night, after experiencing one of the most thrilling nights of live performance, I returned home to learn that Marian Seldes had passed away. My first thought was: perfect symmetry.
The thrilling night of theatre was Andrew Lippa's I AM HARVEY MILK at Avery Fisher Hall. I was transported to so many nights of thrilling theatre and live performance and the fact that my friend Noah Himmelstein had much to do with so many of them - either sitting at my side, recommending a show to me, or in this case, directing the piece.
Dear Marian Seldes. She lived, breathed, and fairly exuded theatre - either on the stage since the 1940s or in seats, almost every day. She officially taught acting at Julliard and at other theatre programs, but also by her actions and her enthusiasm. Any day with a theatre ticket was a good day for her. She was kind, beautiful and always wore purple, possibly a subconscious choice to reflect her inner regalness.
In the summer of 2007, I finally had the great pleasure of seeing her perform on the Broadway stage in DEUCE, starring opposite Angela Lansbury. It was a dream to see these two actresses and I went many, many times. From memorizing their lines - their delivery even - to greeting them at the stage door, it was my perfect Broadway summer.
On July 4, 2007, Noah Himmelstein accompanied me to see Marian and Angela in DEUCE. He was already an associate theatre producer but he was working toward his goal of directing. I know he was taking in more than just the performances of those two theatre legends. We naturally gravitated to the stage door after in hopes of greeting them.
It was one of those perfect serendipitous moments of being in the right place at the right time when I made Noah's photo with Ms. Seldes. To me, the photo captures all of the volumes of love and knowledge passing from the great actress to the next generation of theatre professional.
Later that fall, I had the photo enlarged and asked Ms. Seldes to autograph it for Noah. She agreed to do so only if I would, in turn, provide her of a copy autographed by Noah. Via associations, Noah went on to occasionally accompany Ms. Seldes to various theatre productions. The learning between master and student continued.
We would occasionally run in to Ms. Seldes around the city - usually at the theatre - after the run of DEUCE finished. One special occasion was after Barbara Cook's birthday concert in November, 2007 at Avery Fisher Hall. Before we entered the hall, we saw our dear Ms. Seldes who said "Aren't we lucky to be here? I'm so excited. Barbara's so wonderful and I think she's such a great actress."
Ms. Seldes caught up with Noah and me as we were leaving. I said, "Marian, well, what did you think? Wasn't it perfect?" She replied, "Oh yes, it was perfect. Now we know there is a Heaven and she is an angel."
On Monday night, seven years later, I was celebrating after another glorious night involving my dear Noah Himmselstin at Avery Fisher Hall. I couldn't help reflecting that certainly our Marian Seldes was there, this time as an angel, in that Heaven of live performance.
|Noah Himmelstein & Marian Seldes, July 2007||