BOOKED: “Strange Fruit” with the New York City Opera

February 27 – March 1, 2009
Sierra is part of a staged reading of “Strange Fruit,” by Joan Ross Sorkin and Chandler Carter, at the Harlem School of the Arts, in association with the New York City Opera. The event was covered and reviewed in The New York Times on March 3, 2009.

Presenting Kay “ThePal”

Pete bought us some Whatnot Muppets for Christmas – and here’s mine in her very first public appearance. Only…she’s not too happy about how she presents herself. Some attitude there, as well! Enjoy – she’s in the midst of coming to life, so this may not be her final “personality” matrix.

Big Night Out February 26th – and I’m Guest Hosting!

Join me Thursday, February 26th, at 9pm for BIG NIGHT OUT!!! This bi-monthly celebration of music is part open mic, part composer showcase this time! In addition to the regular hosts Jennifer Wren and pianist-musical-genius Bill Zeffiro, I will be guest hosting the evening and singing two featured composer songs. More information for the event can be found at Broadwayworld.com.

“Big Night Out featuring Composer Potpourri will play Thursday, February 26th at 9:00pm – in the Reprise Room at Dillon’s (245 W. 54th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenues). Big Night Out will occur at 9:00 PM on select THURSDAYS following this performance. There is a $10 admission ($5 for MAC, AEA, and EMC Members) and a 1 item minimum. More information can be found at www.jenniferwren.info.”

The garlic naan bread is always my favorite for the 1 item minimum…but they have great drinks as well. So come down with your sheet music and be prepared to enjoy yourself with music, old and new!

-Sierra

Inauguration Day 2009 in Washington DC

ThePete has uploaded and YouTubed and posted Part 1 of his documentation of our gloriously wonderfully exhausting and exuberant experience during Inauguration Day 2009. View his blog entry and website here.

“Divorce: The Musical” has quite an opening weekend!!!

“Divorce: The Musical,” written by Erin Kamler, has had quite a number of events to be happy about this Valentine’s Day weekend. For reference, this is the show I helped workshop for a number of months, from four songs to a complete show until it culminated in a staged reading at the Edgemar for the Performing Arts last year. I feel very proud to have been a direct influence and inspiration on my characters – Erin herself said she created a song and delved deeper into one of the parts because of my work. So, I’m very excited by the recent developments of this show.

The events were:

1. “Divorce! The Musical” opened at the Hudson Theater on Santa Monica Blvd on Saturday the 14th, with cast Gregory Franklin (Mediator, Don Hughes), Leslie Stevens (Lisa Groper, Annie Hughes), Gabrielle Wagner (Laureen Grub, Therapist, Minister), Lowe Taylor (Penny Bailey-Hughes), and Rick Segall (Rich Hughes). Directed and staged by Rick Sparks with musical direction and arrangements by David O. Go see it if you’re in the LA area! Through March 29th, 2009 – Tickets through plays411.net.

2. All Things Considered on NPR interviewed Erin and did a piece on her and the musical (“Singin’ With the Pain: ‘Divorce!’ Takes Center Stage”), which aired this Saturday. You can hear songs by the current cast on this website and a bit about the backstory on why Erin wrote the show.

3. Rick Culbertson, the producer of the show (who has been with Erin every step of the way in this production, and through all previous backers auditions, staged readings, etc) PROPOSED to Erin at the end of last night’s show, right after the curtain call!!! Notwithstanding the irony of proposing to one’s girlfriend on the opening night of her musical “Divorce!”, it was on Valentine’s Day and Erin said “Yes.” I was not personally there to witness, but was there, and blogged about it this morning on KCET.org. Congrats to the happy couple!

Congrats indeed to all involved – the cast, crew, and the lovers and ex-lovers out there. May we all mediate our way through each others’ lives and hearts with compassion and care. This goes for you too, lawyers!

-Sierra
*UPDATE 2/25/09: Backstage.com reviews “Divorce!” with “joyful energy and surprising tenderness”
*UPDATE 2/17/09: LA Weekly gives “Divorce” a GO! Click here and scroll down halfway.
*UPDATE 2/16/09: Kate West Review blog entry can be read here.

Booked: “Strange Fruit,” an American Opera – The Harlem School of the Arts in Association with New York City Opera

Come see me in the ensemble of “Strange Fruit,” an American Opera by composer Chandler Carter and librettist Joan Ross Sorkin. Ticket information can be found at the Harlem School of the Arts website here. Performances are Friday, February 27th, 8 pm and Sunday, March 1st, 2 pm at the HSA’s Gathering Space at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue, New York. Price is $15. To reserve tickets, call: 212 926 4100 x325

“Strange Fruit,” is based on the controversial book of the same name by Lillian Smith, which was in turn inspired by the famous Billie Holiday song (wikipedia article here). It tells the “tragic story of an interracial love affair between a young black woman and a young white man in a small town in Georgia in 1920.” More information about the show and its creative team can be found at the New York City Opera pressroom online here.

“Book of Crazy” — best Cabaret comedy duo show EVER!

Monday night, I had the ultimate pleasure to witness the opening night of “Book of Crazy: Kevin & Johanna Present The DSM-IV in Song”. Before you read any more, know that it’s also performing (Friday the) 13th and the 16th both at 7pm at the Duplex at 61 Christopher Street. I’m actually going again the 13th – my husband will be videotaping it, and I’m happy to see the show for a second time!

I cannot tell you how brilliant the concept of this show is. I heard about snippets over the last few weeks, but it wasn’t until I saw it actualized on stage that I realized what a great idea the DSM-IV-inspired structure is. Part of the brilliance is that it is perfectly chosen to highlight the talents of Johanna Weller-Fahy and Kevin Scott Collins (the one behind the concept). They are good singers, but even better improv comedians. Unless it was directly inspired by an audience interaction, I could not tell what was scripted and what was improved. And the obvious improvs were hilarious. It helped that there were a lot of musical theater friends in the audience on Monday night; Johanna and Kevin bounced off of the Audience in a seemingly effortless manner. Plus, the mental disorders were general enough not to offend or turn people off from the performances.

In fact, the conceptual structure of the DSM-IV allowed for a large range of song choices and reknewed interperetations (all accompanied by Musical Director Eric Sedgwick). It also included the opportunity to sing songs uncommon to Cabaret as well. They all could be reconnected by lyrical theme to specific mental illnesses (is that a PC term?) from the book. In fact, the evening was also a “contest”: audience members who picked the correct mental ailment after each song (the options were handed out as a list within the program) vied for points towards a prize at the end of the evening. I was happy to note that our table split the prize…a gym grab bag full of goodies. 🙂

I’m tempering my enthusiasm to disclose all the song choices; part of the joy of the evening was being surprised by each song as it came out of the humerous banter between Kevin and Johanna. Some songs seemed “obvious” by title (ie. “Crazy” by Willie Nelson), many of the duets highlit the friendly competition between the two singers, others featured the comedic or vocal abilities of them as soloists, and others turned out to be fabulous twists on familiar songs. Props and surprises were put into the mix as well. Oh damn I really can’t reveal the one song that implemented these the most…but I will say that it reminded me that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote dark songs too.

If you have time Friday and Sunday night, go here, buy discounted tickets ($5 cheaper online than at the door) and purchase 2 drinks at the event for a really, really, really fun show. Lots of laughs, mental illness humor, song, and even dance! I highly recommend this! I encouraged Johanna and Kevin to take this introductory run of their show and take it to other venues, other states, and to develop it even further. I will post video if it is given to me in the near future. It certainly deserves to be seen…no matter how crazy you are.

“Marry Me America: an evening of songs by Daniel MatĂ©”

*UPDATE 2/14/2009: Clips of this very night can be seen at Daniel MatĂ©’s YouTube page:

http://www.youtube.com/user/danielmatemusic Thank you *

As previously blogged, I went to see the composer showcase of Daniel MatĂ© on Friday. This time, the venue was at the Laurie Beechman Theater. I don’t particularly like the Beech, unless you’re seated in an area where waiters and waitresses aren’t walking in front of you every minute. It’s very distracting; when I saw “What’s the Point?” a few months ago, I sat in the very front row of tables and was undisturbed; this time, I was 1/2 way back from the stage and had to turn my foot away every time a waiter went by with a few plates of food. Highly distracting to say the least, especially when you’re in the mood to pay attention to the music – that’s what you’re there for, right?

Luckily, Daniel MatĂ©’s music and lyrics (as well as his collaborative composers and lyricists) are hard to be distracted from. He has a lovely turn of phrase, especially. MatĂ© himself hosted the evening, and sang a number of songs himself. However, he left most of the singing to a wide range of singers, all of whom were terrific. The night was directed by Rob Heller, with musical direction and piano by Christopher D. Littlefield. Added to the stage on some songs were Eric Day on bass guitar. Of particular note was Donna Lynne Champlin, of Sweeney Todd fame. She sang two of MatĂ©’s songs I have heard previously: “I Don’t Think of You” (comedic looney) and “Three Sisters” (dramatically dark). In both songs, and probably due to the fact that they are so actable in nature, Champlin made strong acting choices – she was a real master class to watch and learn from. The entire room was stunned silent by the end of the final notes of “Three Sisters,” and even the waiters knew to halt movement at that time.

MatĂ© kept the room’s easygoing but brisk pace moving, and even had an audience participation quiz thrown in on the song “I Come in Peace,” about his Canadian struggles getting past the United States border guard. Danny Gardner sang “Ali Abu Jeffrey’s Great Escape,” a dark comedic song that I particularly found funny and politically pointed. Two songs from his upcoming musical The Trouble With Doug: A Modern-Day Metamorphosis were also featured during the second half. This show will be premiered at CAP21 this Spring. A beatboxing vocal – care of Rob Broadhurst – was added to the second to last song, “All I Want,” which complemented the comedic pop sensibilities of singer Jason Tam.

The title song of the event, “Marry Me America” was performed by MatĂ© at the end of the evening, just himself at the piano. The song was a bittersweet love poem to America, characterized as an old, worn out lady yearning for love and change. Frankly, it was a bit uncomfortable for myself, an American, to hear my country described as such by someone looking in from “outside” her borders. But the truth in MatĂ©’s lyrics are poignant, painfully real and relevant. The discomfort gave way to bittersweet acceptance that in this day and age (well, probably in every day and age), the beauty America has can be looked at as somewhat worn and in need of repair and a honeymoon with a handsome Canadian lover with TLC.

Keep an eye and ear out for Daniel Maté and his upcoming shows!

P.S. Of particular musical theater geekiness of note, William Finn (writer of Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) was in the audience, and was referenced by MatĂ© as his teacher and mentor in songwriting. Quite a number of songs, when introduced, were revealed to be influenced by Finn’s instruction and guidance. So, that was…uh…neat!

Two (count ’em) TWO Shows to See: “Marry Me, America” and “Book of Crazy”

Two new cabaret/revue shows are coming up; both feature the artistic prowess of friends, both have intriguing constructs, and both are shows I’m going to!

The first is a composer showcase of the work of Daniel MatĂ©, a Canadian-born maestro. His show, “Marry Me, America,” will feature singers Alexander Gemignani, Jason Tam, Donna Lynne Champlin, Alysha Umphress, Katie Thompson, Brandon J. Ellis, Heath Calvert, Brittney Borgstedt, Auri Marcus and Jordan Price (amongst others) and is music directed by Christopher D. Littlefield.

I’ve blogged previously about Daniel MatĂ©’s confrontationally funny writing style. I look forward to seeing another evening of his work, and hope there are new songs to be discovered in this showcase. I also love the title!

Show starts at 8pm on Friday, February 6th at the Laurie Beechman Theater, the West Bank Café at 407 West 42nd Street at Ninth Avenue. $10 charge, $15 food/drink minimum. Email marrymeamerica@gmail.com or call for reservations at (212) 695-6909.

AND!

The second show, “Book Of Crazy: Kevin And Johanna Present The DSM-IV In Song” is the brilliant brainchild of singers Kevin Scott Collins and Johanna Weller-Fahy. They have taken the DSM-IV (or the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness”) and have constructed a cabaret revue inspired by neuroses, mental problems, and other conflicts of the mind. However, this is not a revue of any song that has the word “crazy” in the title. For example, Johanna will be singing the hilarious comedy Gershwin song “Vodka,” a clear example of alcoholism and loose morality under inebriation. The tag line “come see just how crazy musical theatre can be” is certainly one to pique my interest. Musical Direction is by Eric Sedgwick.

The show has multiple performances – February 9, 13th, and 16th, 2009 – all at 7:00PM at The Duplex cabaret space, 61 Christopher St. (7th Ave. South). General admission tickets are $15 with a 2-drink minimum.

Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, NYC

February, 2009
Sierra is now a proud member of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, or MAC, of New York City. For more information on MAC, visit www.macnyc.com.