Monday, October 10, 2011

The Savannah Seven

Sometimes life throws you a curve and you have to be resourceful to hit it back up the middle. And sometimes strangers cross your path that make you smile and see all that is good in the human race.

A few weeks ago, I lost the planner that I use for both work and major home events. This planner has important work meetings,notes and some non routine home events and commitments. I was NOT happy about losing it.

I received a call about 5 days later from a woman who said her husband had found it on the road about a half mile from my work. I must have driven off with it on my roof. She gave me her address and said I could pick it up after work. I drove to their home, which was in a rundown neighborhood full of duplex homes that had seen better days. I knocked on the screen door and saw a rather cluttered home at first but the smiles of the occupants quickly took over my view. I told them my name and they knew why I was there. A petite woman with full sleeve tattoos came out and handed me the planner. She said they knew it must have been important and that the owner was probably looking for it. (I had put my name and cell phone number in it.) I couldn’t thank her enough and walked back to my car with a smile on my face and a spring in my step that two people who couldn’t be more different from me had just gone out of their way to help a stranger. I’m going to drop off some toys for the children.

This past weekend, two friends and I began what was a girls’ weekend in Savannah. We’d planned it earlier in the year using vacation days that we typically save for concert trips. We’d even planned it so that we could leave from three different home airports, connect in Charlotte and take the same flight to Savannah.

On Thursday morning, I headed to Hartford airport ready for a fun four days. These two friends came into my life through our mutual interest in Clay Aiken but they have become dear friends and we get together even during non concert times. It’s hard with homes in Massachusetts, Alabama and New Orleans but we’ve managed to always find a way to meet in the middle.

The bad news started when USAir gate agents announced that instead of beginning our boarding, we were going to be looking at a long delay because apparently our aircraft hadn’t left Charlotte yet to take us back there from Hartford. (We won’t get into how incompetent you can be to not realize that the plane you are supposed to be preparing for boarding your passengers in ten minutes was 300 miles away.) The delay kept getting longer and longer as I texted with Peggy, who was on getting ready to take off. Thank goodness for my tech savvy mother who was at home receiving text messages from me and trying to find information on later flights to Savannah. (Here is when I seriously started considering buying an iPad or Motorola Xoom tablet as trying to do this on a smartphone when I'm aggravated just wasn't working.)

Miraculously, we finally began to board and it looked like I was going to be able to make it. A last minute text from Peggy, now in Charlotte announced that not only was our flight to Savannah canceled but all flights to Savannah have been canceled. I frantically texted to her and TechMom to find a one way car rental.

The rest of the afternoon was a wonderful experience that resulted from what could have been disastrous. Peggy and our other friend, Cissy managed to find four other women (all strangers to us and each other) who were in the same boat. I guess we all made a quick mental assessment and ruled out serial killers and decided to go for it. We rented a large Grand Caravan, picked a driver and a navigator (me, as I had my GPS) and boarded the airport rental bus for Alamo while beginning introductions. We crammed seven suitcases into the van, programmed Savannah airport into the GPS and headed out.

What followed were four hours , 250 miles and seven women getting to know each other; sharing interesting stories, personal stories and fascinating stories all while cheering for important highway signs. In many ways, we were very different but found a lot of intersections in our lives from colleges to mothers facing terminal illness. I wonder why God/fate/karma brought us together and safely brought us to our destination. We even debated whether we would have made the trip if it had been six women and one man who wanted to take the trip with us. That debate took a funny turn when Chelle told the story of attending college in Florida and meeting Ted Bundy! (We wanted to rub her head for good luck.)

So, any other cars driving along the highway toward Savannah that day would have seen these seven women:

Marilyn-A nurse who decided to pursue her passion and is now in cooking school training to be a pastry chef (and on her way to visit her daughter in college in Savannah)

Cori-A business person working at a famous company (with free samples in her bag) but whose crime stories of her CSI forensic police detective husband were a matter of greater interest

Cathy-An obstetrician who also devotes a lot of time to her sorority at the national level. She voted for Ruben but we won’t hold that against her. In fact, we’ll send her some videos from the Timeless Tour.

Cissy-A small business owner and one time college English professor

Erin-A former ballerina who chose to teach dance after an injury and who works for a recruiting company

Chelle-The almost Ted Bundy victim who now rides in biking marathons all over the country (including Alaska)

Peggy-A single mom who works in schools assessing young children for behavioral and learning disabilities so that they can get the help they need at an early age

One of the girls asked us how we had met. It seems silly to say we met on a Clay Aiken message board in 2003, but we did. And he’s taught us about inclusion of children with disabilities, the plight of the night walkers in Uganda, how the simple acoustic version of a song by a great voice can soothe what ails you and how a common interest in a singer can not only bring you three wonderful friends but indirectly introduce to you, even for a few hours, four other extraordinary people that shined a little light into what had been a dismal day.

We grabbed a guy at the rental drop off to take a quick snap with an iphone in bad light!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Natural

Last night I attended Clay Aiken's concert at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando. It was the second show of his tour supporting the Tried and True Album. I had a second row seat so I knew I would enjoy the show but I honestly didn't know how much because my preference is for his pop performances.

The Hard Rock is not raked and they jammed those seats so close together, I felt like a model on Tyra's show where they bend their shoulders forward in that weird pose . It was tight but oh so close to the stage, which was very high and did not afford a good look at his shoes until he sat on the stage.

The music began with the curtain down and he started to sing softly “Where do I begin”. He sang a few lines like that and then the curtain opened. It sounded like he stumbled just a bit, maybe he was mouthing “why is the curtain still down!”

I can’t describe that song. The original Andy Williams version is kind of overly lush. He started this one out softly, the way he did Home the other night. But it built up into a vocal tour de force that seemed to lift me out of my seat like I was weightless. It was an amazing way to open the show. It was almost as if he threw down the gauntlet to all the rest of the pop crap out there. If Ben Cohn did that arrangement, I salute him because it blew me away. I almost grabbed my phone to simply type Holy.Shit. to Nan. I tweeted that it was Steve Perry-esque. I'll add a youtube of it when the video is ready.

We went through training at work about how to hold a great meeting. One thing is “hook them from the start.” Well, damn you Clay, you hooked me from the start. I was so hooked I would have even welcomed It’s Impossible without complaint. (With that said, I was thrilled he tossed it and substituted some great stuff.)

The band was really far over to the sides-Ben and his mini Radio Shack with new guitar prodigy Adam Fallen on one side, and my favorite drummer man Felix Pollard and a new bassist, Del Atkins (?) on the other. There was a giant white screen as a backdrop, presumably used for videos and other special effects for other shows. I wish it had been another velvet curtain. That would have been perfect.

He did Kind of Hush and Can't Take My Eyes off of You with a little groove to his body. I don’t think he realizes that his body moves naturally like that, the man has dance in his limbs if he just lets go.

He talked to the audience quite a bit, talked to a woman who had her share of bloody Marys, they kept count as the concert went on. He talked about Aguilera's Super Bowl and how “sometimes it just happens”. He mentioned that he had a really hard time at the Miami concert with a bad echo and that tonight’s sound was good so he already felt like we were really together in this.

He was wearing a lighter gray sweater with white shirt and what looked like a white/gray tie. Jeans and shoes that sometimes looked gray to me and sometimes more of a mixture of tan/gray. Very stylish. The hair looked just fine in profile but had a ton of gel in the front and was straight up, almost at perfect attention. Profiles were all cheekbones but it's really atrocious straight on. Knowing Clay, I think he’s doing it to toy with us. Just comb it over to the side Clay. It will look better and will be less work.

He left off It’s Impossible which is my least favorite song so I was happy. I can’t remember if he did Moon River or Breaking Up is Hard to do then or later but he really does an exquisite job on Breaking Up. I loved it in Chicago and I loved it tonight.

You know how Clay often sings to a camera when someone is taking a picture. Well the people on either side of me were taking still pictures so it felt like he sang the entire first verse of Moon River to me.

The medley was clever, although some of it started to all sound the same to me. Invisible is really quite fun in that style, especially with our “secret handshake” aka the tug. Quiana Parler was in great voice as usual and I’m so glad she went back to the shorter hair that she has now versus that long weave she had over the summer. This haircut frames her beautiful face. I also have always wondered if she has perfect pitch. They remind me of a doubles tennis team; always knowing where and what the other one is doing or going to do.

I think the can’t remember the name of fan favorite album On My Way Here is part of the tour schtick. Tonight he called it A Thousand Different Ways, which was two albums ago! (Come to think of it, I think that’s when he talked about Aguilera).

He does a very interesting section of the show where he shows that you can autotune anything and make it sound like music and that's how some people get on the radio today. (Look for a more editorial blog on that topic later.) He said that every night, Ben will not tell him which lyrics they will give him. They did Lady Gaga's Bad Romance and it was very funny to hear Clay say Rah Rah, etc. Before they did that, he asked who people listen to and someone said Bieber. He said Quiana listens to him in her dressing room. Quiana, girl. I thought you had more taste than that. Another person said Kei$ha and he made her stand up. He said something about having a dollar sign in her name (I was impressed he knew). I have some comments on Kei$ha too but that's definitely for my editorial blog.

He talked to the audience a bit more and then came over by us and sat down on the stage. He sang Sammy's What Kind of Fool am I and Misty right there. An older couple in the second row about 6 seats down from me were filming and he asked the man about it. The man said Misty was their song. It was so nice that it worked out that way. A woman in the front row was filming him and he commented about it and assured her that she wouldn’t get thrown out. He then started talking again and said “I feel like I should talk to the camera” and proceeded to do it like a TV interview for a few seconds. He asked her what her screen name was and she wouldn’t tell him. He said “you guys don’t tell your screen names?” and my friend Cissy said “not to you”.

He said that they were going to put in Who's Sorry Now but realized that it was a lot of slow songs in a row and that was the slowest. He asked for song genres and the first one was Disco. Quiana sang most of it while Clay did the Travolta move. Someone said country but he said it was a country song already. When someone said rock and roll, he thought for a minute and whispered an idea to Quiana. They were both talking and nodding and then he grabbed that mic and did a Quiet Riot version of WSN. He rocked that mic back and forth, he was freaking awesome. The crowd went mental. He said later that it was tough on his voice.

He sang Mack the Knife and mentioned that he sang the same verse four times last night. He did pretty good tonight, only messing up one small place. It’s a hard song to sing because the words aren’t really “normal” in some cases. The end was great.

Quiana did her second solo and then he came out to do Crying. He looked at her with such tenderness and at the end, he said how great she was and he didn’t know what he would do without her. She had left the stage by then and came back carrying her (kick ass)shoes. He mentioned that she’d done 8 tours with him because she didn’t do one Christmas. Then he introduced the band again and he and Felix discussed how many tours they were together and Clay said he hoped that Felix would be back with them again. Each time he talked about one he mentioned that he hoped they would be back with them again. Couple that with mentioning that he had toured with Ruben Studdard about four times and it is things that make you go hmmmm.

He talked about Unchained Melody and he mentioned Dave Novik three times, twice just as Dave as if the audience was supposed to know who that was. He said when Ben sent the new arrangement of UM, he didn’t know what it would sound like since he can’t read music. So the first time he heard it was when he went to London to have the symphony record it. He said he called Ben from London because he almost cried at how good it was.

When he started UM, that first verse where he sings “are you, still mine? And he usually just sings it as a pretty ordinary semi long note. Well tonight, he started it soft and then got louder and louder with it. Not changing the note itself like in the airplane note, but in a way that showed just absolute amazing control.

He left the stage and we all stood and clapped until they raised the curtain again. He was sitting in an office type chair and sang IML without any mentions of teachers. Then he told a story about Rita in the M&G who had won last summer but couldn’t make it so they got her in today. She was with her granddaughter who wanted a picture of herself with Clay since Rita had replaced all the family pictures in the house. She asked him for Solitaire and he said he didn’t tell her that it was already planned anyway. He sang it and he played with the melody a little, singing lower in some cases, minor key all in all making it even more interesting.

The crowd jumped to its feet again and the lights came up. And I exhaled for the first time in almost two hours.

The venue was perfect for this type of show. The set list was great between the songs and the banter and I liked this set list 1000X more than Miami. I really wonder what kind of album he could have had if he took away some of the older songs and replaced them with Where Do I Begin, Both Sides Now, In My Life, Breaking Up and added some up tempo.

And I want him to write and have Ben do the arrangements.

Vocally, he surpassed himself. It’s funny, but no matter how much clack you watch in between tours, it simply doesn’t compare to seeing him perform live and even then, it’s still almost shocking at how well he can sing. He hit some low notes tonight that vibrated within me.

I’m a big baseball fan. Robert Redford made a baseball movie years ago called The Natural in which his character, Roy Hobbs is asked how he wants to be remembered. He said he would like to be walking by someone on the street years from now and hear “there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.”

Tonight, I saw Clay Aiken…The Best That Ever Was

, , , , , Felix Pollard, , , , Concert,

, , , , , Christina Aguilear, Kei$sha, Gaga, Bad Romance, Tyra Banks, Ruben Studdard

Thanks to dc4clay for the photo and Scarlett for the crystal clear video.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Broadway Backwards: Oh What A Night!

I wanted to put my thoughts together about last night's Broadway Backwards and Clay Aiken's participation. It's a little hard because they are more feelings than thoughts and also kind of jumbled.

I love the theater. As a child - ever since I was 6 years old, my parents would take me to see a musical. My first Broadway show was Mr. Wonderful with Sammy Davis Jr. I went to Performing Arts HS and lived in Manhattan since I was 14. I used to second-act shows, get student tickets, do standing room. Whatever I could. I think I saw Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele 9 times and Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd with Anthony Newley at least a half dozen. I know, compared to Claymates and Spamalot - I was a slacker. But still. . . College and beyond - not just musicals. I loved dramas. Half-priced tickets were cheap back in the 60s and 70s. I saw Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nightown, sitting in the balcony for $17. I remember the first time I ever saw John Malkovich and Joan Allen in Burn This - I was overwhelmed by their brilliance. Went four times and took everyone I could find. The original Equus with Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth (first time I had ever witnessed Anthony Hopkins) took my breath away. Agnes of God with Elizabeth Allen, Amanda Plummer and Geraldine Page - spellbinding. Long way of saying that I am bewitched by the theater, find Broadway (and Off Broadway and regional and every form of theater) magical.

So I was excited to be going to Broadway Backwards - whether Clay was a part of it or not. I've lost so many dear friends to AIDS and have heard so many stories from my gay and lesbian friends of their journey, I've been supporting organizations like God's Love We Deliver and Broadway Cares for years. So this was a special evening for us to be in the audience.  From the first number with Alan Cummings singing "Don't Tell Mama" from Cabaret - I was so happy to be a part of this incredible event.

Each number was strong and each performer was charismatic and exciting. When Hinton Battle came out to sing Will I ever Tell You? from Music Man . . . oh my goodness I was ecstatic. That man is amazing.

Debra Monk followed him to sing an emotionally captivating On The Street Where You Live and exited to thunderous applause.

At this point, I turned to MrNan and said "I'm nervous for Clay". It's not that I don't think Clay has a gorgeous voice and tons of charisma. It's just that the performers on that stage were so full of confidence and owned the stage. Their voices were incredibly strong. They moved with such assurance. And most of all, their ability to tell a story with their voice and body was intense.

Dan Butler and Kirsten Wyatt (also the hosts) performed I'll Never Be Jealous Again from Pajama Game - a song I used to sing (out of tune always) with my father -- and were sheer joy.

Then Lillias White (from Fela) tore it up with a Ray Charles arrangement of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific and was followed by Brian Charles Rooney's impassioned version of One Halloween/But Alive from Applause to close the first act with a bravura performance.

By this point I was more than nervous. I was worried. These people were such pros. So much talent on that stage. Everything about this show was first-rate. The orchestra was wonderful. The staging of the numbers were great. The dance ensemble was perfect. It was everything I love about live performance. The audience knew these performers. They had seen them in shows. There was so much respect. Every time they brought a standing microphone out onto the stage - I grabbed MrNan's hand thinking . . . "this is Clay".

The second act started and I fell in love with Bobby Steggert who (along with Robin De Jesus) sang The Trolly Song from Meet Me In St. Louis. I just read he's going to star in the 2012 Broadway show of Disney's Dumbo. This young man is a-mazing.

So next they bring out the standing mic - hand grab - but it's Len Cariou. I have seen that man in countless shows - the first time in Applause with Lauren Bacall and most recently in last season's Damages on tv. He is the epitome of a professional to me. He blew me away with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey. What a story teller. Touching, funny, poignent.

The mic stayed there and I almost didn't want it to be Clay because I didn't want him to have to follow the applause Len Cariou got. Someone I was not familiar with at all walked out, Tituss Burgess and he sang a song I was not familiar with called Stars and the Moon from a show I'm not familiar with -- Songs For a New World. He originated the role of Sebastian in Little Mermaid and he's got a high tenor voice. He was mesmerizing. The song started and I wasn't sure where it was going and he had such amazing voice control and then there were punchlines and funny stuff and his timing was brilliant and the end hits you with an emotional pop. Wow.

They clear the mic away for Bebe Neuwirth to kill on All I Care About Is Love from Chicago - and at this point I'm thinking . . . "maybe Clay is sick and he can't perform".

Tony Yazbeck blows the audience away with The Music and the Mirror from Chorus Line and Brooks Ashmanskas and Denis O'Hare are totally adorable doing Marry The Man Today from Guys and Dolls and it's getting late.  But now they bring the mic out again and I grab MrNan's hand.

Previously, for every performer - Dan and Kirsten give a short introduction with what shows they did or are doing on Broadway and what Tonys they have been nominated for or won.  But now they start talking about a young gay woman who committed suicide and the plight of LGBT youth and said the next song is dedicated to her. Then simply, Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Clay Aiken. And BAM.   He sold it. His voice has such nuance. It's not a straight "Broadway" voice. There's a bit of "pop" to it. But he had power and range and beautiful texture to it. I remember thinking when they announced his name - there was nice applause but not the kind of name recognition and excitement you got when Len Cariou or Bebe Neuwirth were announced. Or Debra Monk or Karen Oliva (from West Side Story). This was a Broadway crowd. They weren't excited that it was Clay. They were waiting.

My fandom has changed over the last year or so. I adore Clay but I don't listen to him as often as I used to. I'm happy when his songs come up on my iPod but I don't usually seek them out. I don't download clack very much. But when I see him live and he delivers like he did last night - I remember how he touches my very soul. He reached that audience. He sang for that young woman and all all the youth who have been bullied or felt alone and wanted to know there was a safe place called Home. He made a believer of those people sitting in the audience and when he was done they showed him their love and appreciation - not just for his talent - but for his story as well. And I felt it all over again.

No video does justice to live performances.  Support the arts.

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Please support  Broadway Cares and thank for them for wonderful work they do.

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Thank you toni7babe for the photo and gingerscarlett for the video.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Skate Where The Puck Is Going To Be

Wayne Gretzky once said that he doesn’t skate where the puck is, but rather where it is going to be. He anticipated the next move, took the risk and that is what made him stand out from his peers.

Singing the Star Spangled Banner is a risk in and of itself as most singers who have attempted it will tell you. It’s a densely written poem that doesn’t lend itself to easy memorization of words or cadence and its got a few killer notes sprinkled amongst the 1.5 octaves of the song. The Urban Dictionary calls it the “sorting hat” of songs as it separates the great vocalists from the flash in the pan pop fad of the moment. Many contemporary singers change it up because they simply can’t sing it as written. Singing the anthem at a sporting event is even tougher because it is often done a cappella. Of course if you’re in an indoor venue, you have the lovely challenge of a 2-4 second audio delay so your voice reverberates back in your face. You’re singing one verse yet hearing another. I’ve had to give a presentation with that problem, it’s massively confusing and all I had to do was read the PowerPoint slides, not get my vocal chords to stretch in ways that probably make them angry. So a tip of my hat to all who sing it and sing it well.

But those are the known risks. And those should be all there is, especially when you’re singing in your hometown. The hometown where you grew up and where you returned despite hitting the big time and it probably behooves your career to live in LA and NY instead. The hometown where you intend to educate your child. The hometown where your support local arts and local children's charities. Yet, in the case of the NHL All-Star game, that very scenario actually created risks. Risks of being booed, risks of people being so full of themselves who think that standing there in a protest as tiny as their…..ears…and not applauding somehow makes anyone look bad but themselves.

So Clay Aiken skated where the puck was going to be. He walked out, tall and proud and sang that ridiculously difficult song-the one ironically (or perhaps fittingly) about persevering while under fire. And he nailed it like Zdeno Chara nails a slapshot. And the vast majority of the fans in the audience applauded; for the song, for the singer and for their gladiators on the ice. And then he walked out with his head held high to prepare for a charitable event on Broadway next Monday and his tour which begins on February 10th. The same tour where VIP packages are being auctioned off at every venue and he’ll give up part of his personal time to raise money for his children’s charity.

I’m no Pollyanna. He’ll drive me crazy at times when he digs in his heels against things that are good for him. I was as relieved that he didn’t have unflattering mile high spikes as I was that he sang so well and had just the right amount of stubble. But I know a good man when I see one. And I saw one yesterday standing on the RBC ice.

On a secondary note, I need to follow hockey again. Most of the guys I remembered when I followed the Bruins didn’t look as good as those guys yesterday. Besides, I need something to watch until baseball season starts, right?

, , ,, , RBC Center, , , , Wayne Gretzky