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Remembering When the Lights First Went Up on Lin-Manuel Miranda

3 Jun

It was March of 2008. Barack Obama had not yet been elected President. No Country for Old Men had just won Best Picture at the Oscars. Among the most popular songs were “Low” by Flo Rida and T-Pain, “Love in This Club” by Usher, and “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles. And around the country, many Americans were unable to identify the Founding Father whose name and face were on the $10 bills they used every day.

That month, after a successful and Drama Desk Award–winning run Off-Broadway, a new show moved uptown to the Great White Way, carrying with it the hopes of producers and investors that it would bring new, younger, and more diverse audiences to Broadway and fill the void left when Rent closed later that year. As successful as this production was, though, no one could have predicted that over the course of the next decade, its creator and star would break boundaries and revolutionize Broadway.

That show, of course, was In the Heights, and its creator and star was a young up-and-comer named Lin-Manuel Miranda — who, as if you need to be reminded, would go on to write the pop-culture phenomenon known as Hamilton.

In March 2008, Miranda was just 28 years old and still largely unknown. He’d traveled the world and performed as part of Freestyle Love Supreme, the hip-hop improv group he co-founded, but Miranda surely wasn’t a household name yet. Nor was he the social media influencer he is today — though, at the time, he did have an amusing YouTube channel where he shared home-video clips of his younger self lip-syncing to songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” and freestyle-rapping about the heat with his friends.

Continue reading

Dennis Farina: Remember Me “Just as a Person”

22 Jul

dennis-farinaI had the great fortune of interviewing many actors, actresses, musicians, authors, and other celebs during the seven and a half years I worked for Continental magazine. (Yes, the inflight magazine of the late Continental Airlines.)

One of the coolest people I had the chance to speak with was Dennis Farina, who passed away earlier today in Arizona.

Dennis is, of course, best known for his performances in such films as Get Shorty, Heat, Out of Sight, and Saving Private Ryan, and on TV shows like Law & Order, Crime Story, Luck, and, most recently, New Girl, where his tough guy persona was often used to great comic effect.

When I talked with Dennis in 2005, he was promoting the HBO TV movie Empire Falls. We talked about how his 18 years as a Chicago cop informed his acting career and the performances he gave. Continue reading

I Just Can’t Let Go

12 Mar

delete-buttonLadies and gentlemen, I am a pack rat.

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, this will not be breaking news. But it’s still true.

I save nearly everything: Magazines, concert and other event tickets, posters, mementos, books, DVDs, CDs, promotional tchotchkes, hangers, etc.

I save clothes until they’ve either shrunk to the point of not fitting, faded to the point of being unrecognizable, or ripped so badly that they’re useless — and that applies to shoes, towels, and backpacks/messenger bags too.

I have 20 Newbury Comics pint glasses, and I still use them, even though I have plenty of actual, nicer glasses (and I live alone).

I drove my last car for nearly 11 years before getting a new one.

I still have my old computer, which I replaced in 2006, my old VCR, my old TV, and my old DVD player.

It’s March 12 and I still have holiday cards displayed on my refrigerator.

Something to Save” was one of my favorite tracks on the George Michael album Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1.

Maybe you get the point. I’m not exactly a candidate for Hoarders, but there’s a reason I have two — yes, two — basement storage units. Continue reading

Chatting About Culture with Mr. Crane

3 Dec

There’s a pretty good chance that David Hyde Pierce won’t see this. That’s because when I interviewed him for Continental magazine a few months back and I asked him about whether he uses social media and is on Facebook or Twitter, the erstwhile Niles Crane responded rather quickly and tersely, “I’d rather die.” Alright, fine. So that subject was a dead end. But thankfully, there was plenty else for us to discuss, and some of that conversation is now on planes and on the magazine’s website for all to read.

No surprise, the man folks know from his TV, film, and stage roles is not much different from the man I “met” on the phone back in August. He was well spoken, even-keeled, polite, and calm, and happy to chat about subjects as varied as Alzheimer’s research and the difference between theater audiences in New York and London. I thought he’d be turned off by a question or two about Frasier, the show on which he starred for 11 years, but instead he told me he’s always happy to talk about it. “I have only been blessed and not been cursed by 11 years of Niles,” he said of the role for which he won four Emmy awards.

Pierce and I conducted the interview so he could promote his role in the current Broadway revival of La Bête, which opened in mid-October and is scheduled to close in early January. In the play, Pierce plays a sophisticated director who clashes with a boorish performer, and that gave me the perfect opportunity to ask him for his thoughts on the current state of pop culture. I figured he’d have something to say about the gap between silly reality shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and more substantial fare, and I was right:

“There’s always going to be a large market for crap, and there’s always going to be a smaller market for high art. And the really great works of theater are the ones that manage to bridge the gap. Shakespeare did that. He had his clowns smack in the middle of Hamlet because he understood not only the theater, but that life is a mixture of extreme comedy and extreme tragedy. Life very seldom separates itself into one or the other. The things I’ve been drawn to, Frasier included, are things that mix both the high art and low art, or comedy and seriousness.”

It was truly a pleasure to speak with David Hyde Pierce. If you’d like to read my article, just click here.

Everybody Loves Kristin

3 May

Kristin Chenoweth — the original Glinda in Wicked, the boozy April Rhodes on Glee, the Tony-winning star of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and an Emmy winner for her role on Pushing Daisies — is one of those actresses who everybody knows and everybody loves. So when I got the chance to interview her recently for Continental magazine, it was definitely a thrill. Chenoweth was just as sweet and nice and fun and bubbly as I’d expected her to be, and she gave me “good quote,” which I used in the article I wrote about her, which is now live.

I interviewed Chenoweth because she’s back on Broadway in the first-ever revival of Promises, Promises. If you’ve never heard of this musical, it’s based on the Oscar-winning film The Apartment, which starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Chenoweth stars as Fran Kubelik (the MacLaine role), who is having an affair with an executive who will never commit to her. Sean Hayes, from Will & Grace, makes his Broadway debut as Chuck Baxter (the Lemmon role), a coworker of Kubelik’s who has a crush on her. Baxter rises up the corporate ladder because he’s gotten in with some horny executives, to whom he rents out his apartment each week so they can (individually) hook up with their mistresses. (Martin Lieberman fun fact: In high school, I was in a production of Promises, Promises, and I played one of those executives, a guy named Eichelberger.) Mix in a book by comedy God Neil Simon, great music from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and an early 1960s Mad Men-esque setting, and you’ve got a fun, poignant, timeless and yet totally current musical.

As I learned during our chat, Chenoweth and I were both in productions of Promises, Promises when we were younger. “I was Fran, and I had a very limited understanding of what this girl was going through,” she told me. “Now, I know.” Regarding Fran, Chenoweth continued, “this is a woman who has spent a lot of time with the wrong man hoping it’s going to be different. And I don’t care who you are, I know just about every woman in my life has a story like that. It doesn’t even matter how old you are. You can be 19 or you can be 40. That’s something that stands the test of time.”

Of course, I also asked Chenoweth why she thought Wicked has touched such a chord in so many people. “There is in every one of us a little bit of Elphaba and a little bit of Glinda,” she explained. “Elphaba, who is green and is immediately outcast because of that, actually has quite a tough little exterior but is not so tough on the inside. Glinda is pretty on the outside, but what drives her? Insecurity. And then she grows into heartbreak. The show is about love and forgiveness and friendship, and those are the reasons why it has become a classic. Nothing makes me prouder than to have been a part of something like that.”

So that’s just a taste of what we discussed. If you’d like to read the whole article, go right ahead and click here. Enjoy!

I Could Be Stamos’ Wingman

2 Nov

Over the course of the nearly 7.5 years that I worked on Continental magazine, I was lucky enough to interview a fair number of big-name celebrities, including Nathan Lane, Jennifer Hudson, Mitch Albom, Jesse L. Martin, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idina Menzel, Jason Lee, Joan Allen, Jason Mraz, Roger Bart, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

But I have to say, none of them was as much fun to chat with as John Stamos, who I recently interviewed for a freelance article in the magazine (my first such assignment since I left that job). And of course, I’m telling you this because the article is now online. Continue reading

Lights Up on Washington Heights

15 Jun

Just a quick public congrats to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won a Tony Award Sunday night for Best Original Score of a Musical for his In the Heights.

His show also won Best Musical.

And while Lin did lose Best Lead Actor in a Musical, I’d say he still had an impressive evening.

Why do I care about this? Well, in case you’ve forgotten, I interviewed Lin for Continental, and his win continues a decent streak I’ve had of picking Tony nominees and winners. So yeah, congrats to Lin and congrats to me. Continue reading

"King" of Broadway

8 May

The announcement today that Whoppi Goldberg will host the Tony Awards this year reminded me that I never put up a link to my story about likely nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the Broadway show In the Heights.

Lin-Manuel, who is only 28, started writing his show when he was a sophomore at Wesleyan and never expected to act in it.

But his collaborators found that no one knew the show’s freestyle raps as well as he did, and thus, somewhere along the way to Broadway, Lin-Manuel became the star.

The rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading

Raise this Roof

2 Mar

Hey there. Just a quick plug because an article I’ve written is now live on the Interweb for you to read and enjoy. It’s about the new Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which for the first time features an all-African-American cast. I interviewed Debbie Allen (who you most likely know from the TV show Fame), and, well, you can see what she had to say right here.

Bart and Martin

8 Dec

Mitzi, Fetus, and I went to see Young Frankenstein on Broadway Thursday night. The show’s been so heavily hyped and it has such a great pedigree and it’s based on such a classic movie … so how could it not be a disappointment?

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I’ll say the conventional line that while YF is entertaining, it’s no The Producers: it’s not as funny and none of the songs are as memorable.

That said, the sets are huge and impressive, as are the special effects, and Andrea Martin, who plays Frau Blücher, and Christopher Fitzgerald, who plays Igor (pronounced “eye-gor,” of course), are both really good. And Roger Bart … Continue reading

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