The Seth Concert Series through August 24
For over 10 weeks now, Broadway’s merriest mensch, Seth Rudetsky, has been bringing theatrical stars into our bedrooms and living rooms live on Sunday nights (and repeated the following Monday afternoon) with his cabaret/concert/interview series.
What’s been interesting to watch is that while Seth and his guests are all performers, veterans of stage and screen, unlike his Broadway@NOCCA series, these shows have been much more intimate as though we’re listening in on a semi-private conversation between friends (that just happens to include some phenomenal singing as well).
I’m usually able to give my full attention to the program, but a few weeks ago, when Megan Hilty was on, my internet had gone out (thanks ATT!) and I found myself at Ambush headquarters feverishly editing the paper while listening to Megan and Seth (hey, I told you it was intimate hence I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with them).
I actually knew of Hilty (ok, back to proper journalistic form) by name only having missed her stage appearances as well as her star turn in Smash (I know, bad boi for that). A beautiful blonde she is, but she also came across as modest, sincere and down-to-earth, not to mention incredibly talented.
She had fun tales of doing Wicked and Kristin Chenoweth, and starring on Broadway in 9 to 5: The Musical and Dolly Parton, but my favorite part was her getting every last bit of humor out of the specialty number, Alto’s Lament. Can’t wait to see her next in person!
The following week, with internet still out, I viewed Cheyenne Jackson’s concert with friends at their home which made it an even more festive experience.
That he’s handsomely cute is a given.
That he sings wonderfully, from Stand By Me and West Side Story’s Something’s Coming to Besame Mucho and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, came as no surprise.
What was fascinating, though, was his backstory. Named after the TV series (his two older brothers got “regular” names), Jackson grew up in a little town on the Washington/Idaho border, population 1,200. His family lived on 20 acres “out in the woods,” he said, adding that they were “very, very, very poor and, for five years, had no running water, just an outhouse.” The rule of thumb was “when ya gotta go, go out in the snow.”
He knew from an early age that “music would be my ticket out” even though he didn’t see his first show, Les Misérables, till he was in 8th grade during a school trip to Spokane. In his mid-20s, he moved to Seattle where he wound up understudying Marc Kudisch in The Prince and the Pauper.
Inspired by 9/11 to pursue his dream, he relocated to New York the following March, had his first audition there for Thoroughly Modern Millie, and was cast as an understudy even though he didn’t know how to tap dance at the time. (He learned fast.) Six weeks after that he went on opposite Sutton Foster who had just won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.
Who else was in the cast? Marc Kudisch who had encouraged the move to NYC and helped Jackson get an agent. Referring to Kudisch, among others, Jackson said with a winning generosity “People who think there’s room for other people, are my favorite kind of people.”
Other entertaining stories included hitting Foster’s teeth during a Millie performance, an inappropriate blonde wig in All Shook Up, and why he wore a pair of shorty-short cut-off jeans on the Tony Awards.
That was for the campy musical Xanadu for which he had done workshops and readings but had dropped out before its move to Broadway. Yet in a crazy, headline-making twist of fate, the new leading man broke his leg during previews, and Jackson got a call in the middle of the night asking him to return to the production. He jumped back in, relearned the role in three days, and said “it was the most fun I ever had.”
If my favorite number was a dreamy Old Devil Moon from Finian’s Rainbow (he had starred in the fantastic 2010 Broadway revival), a song that Jackson wrote as a tribute to his Dad, who recently passed away but had always been very supportive of his artistic son, was very sweet and touching. Which seems an suitable description of Jackson himself; in fact, one viewer aptly commented during the show “Cheyenne’s face is gorgeous, but his heart speaks volumes.”
Other than a momentary sound problem that was quickly overcome during Jackson’s show, these two programs were the smoothest technically of the series so far. And, while Rudetsky has had a tendency to ramble sometimes, he stayed on-topic for Hilty and Jackson preventing our attention from ever slacking.
At the end of the all-too-fleeting 90 minutes, Jackson said that he hadn’t sung in six months and seemed truly appreciative of Rudetsky and producer Mark Cortale for giving him the opportunity to do so in public again. For giving us Jackson, Hilty and all the other stars of this terrific series, so should we all.
Next up on August 16/17 is Stephanie J. Block, who won last year’s Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for The Cher Show. She’ll be followed on August 23/24 by Rachel Bay Jones, best known for originating the role of Evan’s mother in Dear Evan Hansen for which she received a Tony Award as well.
To purchase tickets to Stephanie J. Block’s and Rachel Bay Jones’ shows, go to thesethconcertseries.com
Curtain Up…and Down
There’ll be an opening and a closing in Slidell in the next few weeks. Pete ‘n’ Keely opens on August 14 at Café Luke Dinner Theatre, but when it closes on August 29 the curtain will come down on Rickie and Ginger Luke’s final production.
I’ll be sad to see this dinner theater go. I first encountered the Lukes in pre-Katrina 2005 when they were running Minacapelli’s Dinner Playhouse and had taken an old abandoned church off the I-10 Service Road and converted it into an attractive venue. The name would change to Luke’s Brisket [in recognition of Ginger’s specialty] & Broadway Dinner Playhouse; the culinary fare, lovingly prepared by Chef Ginger, continued to be scrumptious, winning her three Ambie Awards for Best Food.
The theatrical fare was lighter, featuring comedies like The Owl and the Pussycat, Romantic Comedy, Any Wednesday and Natalie Needs a Nightie, all of which received Ambie nominations, winning a Best Ensemble nod for Any Wednesday; Rickie was nominated for Best Director for The Owl and the Pussycat.
Along the way I wrote, “As Owl/Pussycat’s director, Luke captured both the play’s broader humor and its prickly yet sensitive terrain of two mismatched souls trying to get to know one another”; “Any Wednesday was a thoroughly delightful, laugh-out-loud evening”; and “the dinner served up by Chef Ginger (Mrs. Rickie) Luke was a runaway hit, all delicious and saturated with the warmth that only truly homemade cooking has.”
Eventually, the Lukes would relocate to their present site in Old Slidell, 153 Robert St., a spacious and lovely old home. “Ginger and I want to thank all our patrons who visited us over the twelve years we were open here and on the Service Road,” wrote Rickie recently to the theater’s patrons. “It has been a joy to serve you. You are cherished and will be remembered fondly.”
As for Pete ‘n’ Keely, James Hindman’s small-scale musical comedy portrays a divorced Steve-and-Eydie-like singing couple who reunite for a “live” 1968 TV special. Complications ensue as these onetime marrieds recount their romance and musical careers. New standard-like songs mix with a number of actual standards (Besame Mucho, Fever, Rodgers & Hart’s Lover, etc.). The New York Times called the original 2000 off-Broadway production “a show aimed at nostalgic belly laughs.”
Pete ‘n’ Keely stars Lori Molinary as Keely and Rickie Luke as Pete, and runs Friday & Saturday nights with a staffed buffet beginning at 6:30pm followed by the show. Reservations can be made by calling (985) 707-1597.
PAST PRESENT FUTURE V
In the fifth PAST PRESENT FUTURE, Chris Kaminstein and Shannon Flaherty let us know what was going on at Goat in the Road Productions when things shut down, what it’s doing now, and what plans they have for its future.
Reviewing KindHumanKind last year, I noted that “Director Chris Kaminstein created a series of visually gorgeous tableaus that fluidly segued from one song into the next in ever-surprising ways.” In January, I described his work on The Uninvited (along with co-lead writer & co-director Kiyoko McCrae) as having “created a phenomenal intimacy between actors & audiences, and, through the script’s language & overall playing style, an excellently evocative atmosphere that takes us back nearly 150 years.”
I have admired Flaherty’s work onstage for over a decade from The Madwoman of Chaillot to The Stranger Disease and, most recently, in The Uninvited of which I wrote “as Gallier’s widow Aglae, Flaherty combines delicacy with strength in a finely wrought, complex portrayal.” As an administrator, she is one of those unsung heroes who enables a theater to run smoothly.
On Wednesday, March 11, we participated in a “Gallier Gathering” at 1132 Royal Street. It was a “Making Of” panel with a few members of Goat in the Road’s The Uninvited team, an original play we had built that was experiencing a long run at Gallier House.
The Uninvited is an immersive show designed to drop audience members into the drama of Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Viewers follow different storylines through the house, watch characters up-close, and experience this fictional-but-based-on-nineteenth-century-history almost like a ghost in the home.
The play was our second in our Reconstruction series, and the motto for the audience experience was MAXIMUM CHOICE. What happens when the viewer can choose what to watch and whom to follow so that each and every audience member’s experience is entirely different? We were fortunate that audiences had responded and were in the midst of planning an extension through April.
So, the panel. The panel was a nice intimate conversation between a small group of history buffs who had been to the show, and Goat in the Road ensemble members Denise Frazier, Kiyoko and Chris. A regular Wednesday night.
After, we got on a call with the show’s cast to discuss whether we should cancel that weekend’s performances. We conferenced with the group, chatted about the hysteria over coronavirus, and hubristically decided that we would move forward and perform. Our audience sizes were necessarily small because of the nature of the production, and we were excited about beginning a ninth week.
But by the time Thursday night rolled around, the mood had changed in the company, the city, the country. We cancelled the weekend. Chris biked down to the House to stand outside the venue and make sure that no unassuming audience members showed up. But no one did. By then, it was clear to everyone, time to shut it down.
It’s remarkable how quickly things moved.
Not only were we planning another month of shows for The Uninvited, but on Wednesday we had also had a rehearsal for KindHumanKind. This was a CAC remount of a concert performance that Goat in the Road had created with musician Aurora Nealand. The remount was slated to go up at the CAC in early April, and for a few precious days we thought it might still do so.
We got on the phone with the CAC and with Aurora. We talked about the schedule, naively making plans to move forward…and then, no. By the following Monday it was agreed, we must postpone at the least, or outright cancel. During that Wednesday rehearsal for the show, one of the musicians joked about needing to sell some instruments if things got bad with the virus. We laughed. Little did we know…
For all of us, and especially for the performers who had planned their Springs around these shows, there was real disappointment and a sense of loss. As a performer, you build your life around live events, and now there was a giant blank space in the calendar going forward.
Meanwhile Play/Write, the educational program at the heart of our work, was contending with the school shutdown. Play/Write, now in its second decade, teaches playwriting in New Orleans schools, and then brings a selection of student-written work to life with local professional performers.
In March and April, we worked assiduously with the schools to relocate the program into the virtual realm, with mixed success. Many students didn’t have access to computers, and recreating the classroom atmosphere on Zoom was a challenge. It’s hard to make a connection with students, to inspire and encourage, through the digital wall.
But there were real bright spots as well.
Many of our students had already started their final plays, and continued to work on them in the digital realm. We communicated with them over the computers, gave notes and thoughts, and watched as they pushed diligently forward.
Mary Guiteras, GRP’s Education Director, worked with the local theater companies to produce fourteen of these plays online. It was fascinating to see how the various companies brought plays with titles like Mac and Cheese or Rubix Man and the Very Hungry Computer-pillar to glorious life. Who knew that Zoom backgrounds could prove so versatile, or that digital puppetry so useful?
And in the midst of all this Chris and his wife Laura had a baby. Lia Rebecca Kaminstein was born on April 23, 2020 Y.O.C. (Year of Covid). Oh, the stories she will hear about this time…
Before COVID, Goat in the Road’s calendar teemed with people, scheduled meetings & shows, and the busy hustle of moving things (the main job of a theater company is moving things from one place to another, it turns out).
During COVID, our calendar is like a ghost town; a single meeting blowing through on a Tuesday. Or a Zoom play-reading on a random Thursday. Dust settles on entire weekends. The wind blows. Impossible plants repopulate the city streets.
Like so many people in the arts and hospitality industries these days, we are trying desperately to figure it out. The plans we had for September were pushed back to October, and now to January. And maybe they will be pushed back again. We are people who fundamentally believe in the power of real human gatherings, and as producers we want assurance and schedules and timelines. But none of those things make sense during the endless question mark that is COVID-
19. One thing that has become abundantly clear during this time, however, is the need for reconciliation, accountability, and healing around race-based harm.
In the wake of the ongoing George Floyd-related protests, it’s clear for every white theater maker in town that it’s time for some deep reflection and plans for action. BIPOC theater makers in the city have spoken loudly and clearly. As white theater makers, we are working through this challenge to re-evaluate our assumptions around ‘being good people’ and ‘trying our best’, and to really think about the ways we have failed.
This is a big part of our current focus. In particular, we are looking at the necessity of ongoing BIPOC leadership in the company and really thinking about the way we lead rehearsals. The material we’ve been covering with the history-based shows is complicated and difficult. It confronts the often hidden historical realities of everyday racism in our city. In order to work with this material, we must emotionally and spiritually support the amazing group of BIPOC and white actors who are embodying these realities.
On the program front, in September we’ll be re-starting our Play/Write classes, either in person or virtually (maybe a hybrid of the two!?), depending on the state of things. We are building a high-quality digital version of the program that can be viewed by anyone. This includes five digital playwriting lessons for elementary-age students.
We will also be hosting an online playwriting class for adults, taught by Chris. “Finish the Thing” will meet for four Saturdays starting Sept. 19 and is geared to helping writers generate new material, work with what they’ve already written, and connect to other artists. More info about the class at www.goatintheroadproductions.org.
Project-wise, Goat in the Road is fortunate that we had planned 2020-21 to be mainly a workshop year for us.
Denise is bringing the musical ensemble Les Cenelles to the GRP Incubator residency program, which helps support ensemble members’ work. Les Cenelles is a contemporary string ensemble that puts on beautiful and intimate concerts that include nineteenth century Creole music and original compositions. The Incubator residency is designed to offer help in whatever way GRP can, whether with rehearsal space, producing support, or fundraising. We will keep you up-to-date as this project develops.
In the past four years, GRP has engaged in a few museum-based collaborations, and the next two years will see more of this type of work. Over the course of the next 12 months, we will start building an immersive show with the French Quarter’s Beauregard-Keyes House, slated to arrive in the fall of 2021. The third in our series of immersive pieces, we haven’t developed its story just yet.
We will also begin collaborating with the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, MS, on a project to premiere in 2022 that will be about Anderson’s work and technique, and his ongoing battle with mental illness. The show will debut in Ocean Springs.
And in 2025 Goat in the Road will create a trilogy of pieces snappily titled The Rise of the Lizard People: Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid, Wink. As the Lizard People take over our planet, Goat in the Road will make theater to honor their glorious ascendance. Seriously though, we hope the future holds more theater and more real human gatherings. We believe it shall!
Shannon Flaherty is a performer, arts administrator, educator, and co-Artistic Director of Goat in the Road. Shannon has performed in and helped create many GRP productions including The Uninvited, The Stranger Disease, Foreign to Myself, and Numb. She is also a teaching artist for GRP’s young playwrights’ program, Play/Write.
Chris Kaminstein is a writer, director, and co-Artistic Director of Goat in the Road. Recent directing credits include The Uninvited, KindHumanKind, The Stranger Disease, Foreign to Myself, and Numb. Chris is a teaching artist and co-founder of the company’s flagship educational program, Play/Write.