Ah Yes, I Remember It Well

Today’s blog entry is the first one that has had a deadline. There is one really good and fun reason.  I have, as you can see, had a logo designed for The Danieley Digest!!!

cropped-danieleydigest75%.jpg

Talented and gifted artist Justin “Squigs” Robertson, who does caricature sketches for Broadway.com, designed a flattering likeness of me to grace this page.  I am forever grateful for his help.

5.165949

I wanted to share this handsome sketch this week as we are gearing up for the opening of THE VISIT on Broadway this Thursday, April 23rd 2015.

10917468_688797841218553_180271102422930728_n

I’m loving writing. It is something that is as satisfying, in a very different way, as the theatre.

typewriter-writing-my-truth

I started blogging as a fun way to get my creative juices flowing, to share my experiences in the theatre so that others can glean whatever they can from my successes and failures.

Success and Failure Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

There are other benefits to putting this out there in the e-universe too. It may generate interest in a show I’m doing on Broadway or at a regional theatre or a concert I’ll be performing in Florida or Prague.

bullhorn

A life in the theatre and most live performing arts is not easy, it never has been, but in the days of instant entertainment and instant gratification it is maybe even a harder form of art to sell than in the past.  It’s hard enough to get the word out about big million dollar budget musicals on Broadway let alone a cabaret concert you may be doing for a weekend at 54 Below. Hmm…

54 Below Cabaret Space

This deadline for the blog comes at the crux in the journey of our Broadway show. Comes the time – after all the rehearsals, readings, workshops, creative discussions, production meetings, out of town productions, work calls, technical rehearsals – all that is the blood, sweat and tears of the process, is over.

photo 1

Now, we have to give up our child (the show) that we have collectively been nurturing for months, others for a few years and others still for up to 15 years; we have to let it out into the world not knowing what people will think of it.  We are proud and happy but cautious and hopeful.

timthumb.php

Our deadline awaits. Now is the time that we are doing publicity and promotional events to let people know about the extraordinary work that has been accomplished. Our hope is that our show, and we aren’t the only ones on Broadway doing this at this time, will have a good and respectable run. This is the finish line of the theatre season. THE VISIT is, in fact, the last show opening before the cutoff of the season. We are tweeting, face booking, Instagraming and BLOGGING to get the word out.

PageGraphics_SocialMedia

Remembering why we work in the theatre in the first place, especially at this crunch time, can sometimes get lost in the melee. But this is the time that remembering will keep you sane. It’s a time to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate all the work that is going on around us.

11041666_10152854402121871_418588845505281139_n

My best wishes to all of the creative team, cast, crew and orchestra at the Lyceum Theatre on W. 45th St. as we bring this historic piece of music theatre art to the world. We are an exceptional lot!

 

 

A Different Kind of Challenge

I shudder to think what people might consider to be a stereotypical actor.

I have a feeling it would be something like:

“Likes to be the center of attention.”

tumblr_n2qzhcIUmr1qfn43to1_500

“Probably was the class clown.”

Williams_Robin_04_1984_4437_0019.jpg

“Has a healthy and huge ego.”

sean_penn

“Cares only about themselves.”

elmo-660

And the general public has good reason to think this to be true.  Drama (with a capital D) is much more interesting than the reality (with a small r) of the actor’s personal life.

As a rule our performance personas have a heightened reality in order to make the stories we are telling interesting, funny, dramatic, compelling, entertaining… otherwise why go to the movies, watch TV or visit the theatre.  Our work involves being paraded out in front of hundreds or thousands of people at a time to transport the audience to another place and help divert their attention from the “real world” for a few hours.

Colonial-Theatre-1930s-big

We also get to perform on television, sing and dance on world stages, are asked to be involved in all sorts of seemingly glamorous situations.

M&J w_B-Pops bow

 

(My wife Marin and I in one of our many appearances with the Boston Pops)

 

And they are glamorous but all of that has a very perfunctory and practical element to it that you don’t see that makes it just like any other blue collar job.  Truly.

Jason cooling off

(Cooling off after my big number in The Visit backstage in the alley. Pants are highly overrated not to mention overheated.)

So, we are conditioned to be able to go to that heightened reality quickly and almost as a default mechanism, possibly more so when you work on stage.  Every gesture has to read to the back of the house.

Now for that “Different Kind of Challenge” that I mentioned in the title of this blog…

For our production of The Visit our esteemed director John Doyle has been influenced by and applied to our production, elements of the classic Greek theatre, Yiddish theatre

920x920

and a little of the theatre of the absurd, to make for a very unique theatrical experience.

godot7

(Roger Rees and Ian McKellen in Waiting For Godot.)

The trick in using these highly stylized theatrical ways of storytelling is that the audience can sometimes feel a little removed from the heart and emotions of the characters.

Mr. Doyle has wisely and craftily designed our production to use the exciting and theatrical elements of these styles BUT asked us to employ a realism inside of these parameters to tell the important heart of the story; the love and morality of the tale needs to be gently stated but able to cut through the grotesqueness of the moral of the story.

Visit, The Lyceum Theatre

This may all be a little technical but I’m sure there are some who will appreciate the difficulty in at once, wearing highly stylized make up and costume, walking in an overstated physicality but then delivering lines with a sincerity and intimacy that draws an audience in.

Visit, The Lyceum Theatre

The challenge of combining all of these elements makes it thrilling for us as actors to perform and, I think, what makes it unusual and exciting for the audience. Using these historic theatre styles and marrying it with a contemporary way of presenting theatre is what creates something that is at once an homage but also forward thinking and cutting edge.

But don’t take my word for it.  Come see us at the Lyceum Theatre on W. 45th St. just off Times Square and judge for yourself.  You’ll be very glad you did.

 

“You be good… and I’ll try.”

 

Jason

 

 

 

Making Faces

If I try to put a starting point in my life to the moment I felt like I was acting it was probably when I was a toddler sitting in my high chair making faces at my grandma and grandpa. They thought it was the cutest thing they had ever seen.  I had a distinct advantage over my younger sisters as I was the first born so everything I did they were seeing for the very first time.

I would imagine that in the history of the world the most basic and earliest form of storytelling involved “making faces”.  Before there were musical instruments, stages, curtains, falling chandeliers or projections we had our faces.

(First class-photo of The Actor’s Studio)

caveman

The ancient Greeks used masks to transport the actors and therefore the audience to a different place and time.  Often creating a heightened sense of joy, fear, anger etc… by the exaggerated facial features sculpted or painted on the mask.

golfo

There have been a variety of ways to “make faces” throughout the ages and nothing is more timeless than this “simple” way of telling a story.

Not all stories can support this deceptively simple way of theatre. If you don’t have a text that is well written and well crafted then it can just look foolish or childish.

 

(Ain’t she cute though?)

il_570xN.387143860_nk3q

But with the right story, a timeless story, told with well drawn and universal characters you can heighten the audiences experience to another level.

John Doyle, the director of The Visit, to a degree, had this way of story telling in mind when constructing this version of the musical written by Terrence McNally and John Kander & Fred Ebb. It’s a timeless story of love, romance and passion destroyed by greed and materialism and the destruction and possible redemption that comes through, of all things, revenge.

Sounds complicated… don’t it.  But that’s where using this simple but very specific form of storytelling is so perfect.  It’s really a boy loves girl, boy ruins girls life, girl returns in the twilight of her years to exact revenge.  And those versions of young love are the beautiful and fresh, unpainted faces of Young Anton and Young Claire.

Visit, The Lyceum Theatre

The townspeople of Brächen Switzerland who allowed the ruination of this innocent young girl have reaped the ravages of their iniquity on their faces.  And John along with our incredible costume designer Ann Hould-Ward and our makeup designer Jared Janas have come up with their take on a contemporary mask.

Based partly on the work of theatre designer Boris Aronson and partly on the art work of Ivan Albright. Boris known for his work with the Yiddish Theatre and his collaborations on musicals like Cabaret, Zorba, Fiddler on the Roof, Company, Follies.  Annie’s mentor was a student of Boris’ so we have a direct line of style and design ethic to our production.

the-fiddler-1913

The artist Ivan Albright may be most widely known for doing the portrait of Dorian Gray for the 1943 movie The Picture Of Dorian Gray. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, along with his identical twin artist brother Malvin, and was of the school of the American Magic Realist.  His style really captures the grotesqueness that Dürrenmatt describes and writes in the original play of The Visit.

(Self portrait of the artist)

selfportraitface

So combine these two inspirations as well as folding in the idea of the Ancient Greek masks but trying to make it feel contemporary and allow the actors to be seen and able to act through these painted masks and you get what we have on the stage eight times a week at the Lyceum Theatre.

The Visit is dramatic, romantic and emotional. It evokes a timelessness that makes this piece of theatre exciting and able to stand the test of time.  Only the future knows that for sure but if I were a betting man I’d say that this musical will be around and admired for many years to come like that of other playwrights that have come before and whose stories we tell over and over in order to get a new look on our own deepest hidden truths buried behind our own faces.

(Chris Newcomer as one of Claire’s eunuchs.)

IMG_3219_2

(Matthew Deming as the other of Claire’s eunuchs – you gotta have a pair.)

IMG_3220

(George Abud as Anton’s son Karl. He’s a young man but still has inherited a bit of the hard living courtesy of his father’s indiscretions.)

IMG_3223_2

(Rick Holmes as Father Josef. One of the town fathers who was around and complicit in the banishment of young Claire. He’s an older character but as a holy man who has done wrong, very wrong, he probably has some of the more grotesque features going on stage.)

IMG_3218_2

(Finally myself as Schoolmaster Kuhn. Although he is the good friend of Anton and the last hold out to comply with Claire’s heinous demands he still allows his intellect and morality to be corrupted by greed. Though the years weigh heavy on his face nothing compares to the festering blisters on his soul. A fun musical for the whole family!  (Ha! just kidding) a musical for the those who are looking to be enlightened and seeking some sense of truth to life.)

IMG_3222_2

 

“You be good… and I’ll try.”

 

Jason

Steak or Cake?

I was a fat kid.

Well, for a short time in my life I hadn’t had that growth spurt I needed to lengthen all of this God-given-goodness up into a taller leaner me.  😉 As I waited for that day, that never seemed to come, I ate a lot of crappy food and didn’t exercise. My eating choices consisted of Little Debbie snack cakes for breakfast, junk food lunches of cheese curls and ding-dongs with a healthy dose of potato chips and ice cream as an after school snack.

Little_Debbie_1983

Not my parent’s fault, I was a sneaky little chub. Supper included all of the truly healthy foods that I had to eat as I was under the watchful eye of my mom and dad. Foods of substance that would ensure I didn’t become obese and acquire diabetes at the ripe age of 12.

healthy-diet

 

From then on out it was very important to read the ingredients of what I put in my body. It started a routine for me that I keep to this day.

It also is a practice I apply to forms of entertainment that I choose to see or even to participate in.

CURT.ABC

I like cake, I like pie, I am partial to a really good chocolate chip cookie but I can’t survive on that alone.

03-cookie_monster_face

I need a balance of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins… something of substance that nourishes my body and mind.

I like pure comic entertainment, I love singing and dancing and corny jokes I am partial to comedy of the baser variety at times (a dark “blue” joke goes over well with me).

life-lewisblack-edited1

But what do I live off of, what do I crave?… Entertainment of substance that engages my mind and stimulates conversation for hours if not days after I’ve seen it. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with a point of view of a character, if I am challenged to think and consider all sides of an argument I am hooked like that piece of salmon that I’m craving in another way.

Also the “cooks” of a production are important. Would you rather eat a meal by Eric Ripert or Chef-boy-ar-dee?

20080729-eric-ripert-burgerChefboyardeepic

 

I’ll give you that after a night of drinking you may want to tie into a can of spaghettiOs but if you are sober you may think twice… or maybe just once.

Now consider the chefs in a “kitchen” of a Broadway show like THE VISIT!

Songwriting team of Kander & Ebb: Cabaret; Chicago; Kiss Of The Spider Woman; “New York, New York” etc…

Playwright Terrence McNally: Ragtime; Love, Valor, Compassion; It’s Only A Play etc…

Star Chita Rivera: West Side Story; Chicago; Kiss of the SpiderWoman etc…

Star Roger Rees: Nicholas Nickleby; Cheers; Robin Hood: Men in Tights etc…

Choreographer Graciela Daniele: Ragtime; Marie Christine; Once On This Island etc…

Director John Doyle: Sweeney Todd; Road Show; Company etc…

Already, you can tell that these cooks know what they are doing.  I haven’t even listed our design team Scott Pask (The Coast of Utopia), Anne Hould-Ward (Into The Woods), Japhy Weideman (Of Mice and Men)… the list does go on and on.

Each and every one cooking on all four burners and at the top of their game. A team like this doesn’t happen every season or every several seasons and chances are this may be your last chance to experience the creative brilliance of this particular team.

So do yourself a solid and make sure you take advantage of this cornucopia of music theatre delights now in previews at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway and opening on April 23rd. You’ll have something to talk about and to gnaw over for quite a while.

 

“You be good, and I’ll try”

 

Jason