Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I'm steeped in BYE BYE BIRDIE this week. I've listened to three different recordings of the show (the original Broadway cast, the movie with Ann Margaret, and the 1980s TV movie remake), I've watched the movie, I've played through the score and I taught "Telephone Hour" to a room full of teenagers.

I'm music directing a big benefit here in LA called "A Night At Sardi's." The cause is The Alzheimer's Association and the venue is the Beverly Hilton. The cast includes a lot of celebrities, many of whom have walked through my living room this week and even stopped to pet my dog. Maybe you read about the event in the NYPost. (The funny thing about that article is that they showed a picture of Marg Helgenberger and then she dropped out. Oh well.) Here are some of the highlights of my week so far.

1. On my cell phone: "Hi, Georgia? This is Dick Van Dyke. Can you give me a call, please?" And then he left his home phone number. I saved the message.

2. An email: "Thanks for being so considerate. Fondly, Charles Strouse"

3. My 2 year old daughter running through the house, squealing: "What's the story, morning glory? What's the word hummingbird?"

Okay, I'm in musical theater heaven.

There's a fine line here between gushing and name-dropping, I know, and I really try to walk that line in these blogs so I'm not one of those obnoxious people who builds a confidence with a performer and then goes and blabs about him or her online. But there's nothing to blab.
The thing about this benefit so far has been that every performer who has come onboard (okay, okay, I'll name drop: Steven Weber, Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Kristen Bell, Jason Alexander, Vanessa Williams, Zach Quinto, Lea Thompson, Michael Chiklis, Jean Louisa Kelly, Adam Wylie, Becki Newton and a whole lot of teenagers) turns out to be a major singer. Zach Quinto has a degree in musical theater from Carnegie Mellon. Kristen Bell has been in two Broadway shows -- a play and a musical. Tony Plana runs East LA Classic Theatre which specializes in delivering Shakespeare to young people. The cast of UGLY BETTY tells me that they are all musical theater freaks and they spend a lot of time on set singing show tunes. (No, really?)

Maybe you already know better, but I am still a bit star-struck when I meet someone I've watched on TV. The shocking part for me this week has been meeting the ones that I don't watch on TV and then googling them afterwards and realizing exactly how famous they are. And they were just here petting my dog.

Highlight #4. Email from Kristen Bell: "PS Your CD is awesome!!!! I'm singing along in the car!"

Also this week -- I've been in the studio nearly every day with my writing partner writing and recording and re-writing and re-recording these two songs for an upcoming movie. I'm starting to understand the concept of writing by committee. We write a song. We give it to our music supervisors, and they give us notes. We rewrite the song, maybe even rerecord it, to accommodate the notes. Then they pass the rewrite on to the producer of the movie, and he has his own set of notes that have to be included into the "final version" of the song. Only it's not really final, I don't think, because in this case it has to be translated into another language, and then if there are tricky problems in the translation I imagine we'll be back in the hotseat again, rewriting yet another version of the song. All I know is that at the end of it, there is a movie that will be made, and there will be a soundtrack that will be released, and it will sell in places like Target and Best Buy. And I've never had anything I've written reach quite such a large audience. So, here I go off to rewrite. Happily.

One final note: I made the mistake in an earlier blog entry to announce that I was going to be conducting WICKED in LA. I got myself over-excited and that announcement was premature. Once the reality of my schedule for this spring set in, I realized I didn't really have the time to devote to that show and I gracefully (I hope) bowed out of it. So, alas, none of that green madness for me. Yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

God and American Idol. Really.

I spent three hours tonight catching up on TiVoed episodes of American Idol. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite three hours since I was able to fast forward through the commercials, but it was definitely time that I guiltily stole from something more productive that I should have been doing. I know there was a presidential debate on CNN and I know I have a conference call in the morning that I should be preparing for, but this show is unbelievable. It is so beautifully produced; it's no wonder it has become such a hit. Every week when I watch it I think, 'yep -- that's America.' We have such a big and diverse country. It's thrilling to see so many parts of it represented, and this show, more than anything since the days of Ed Sullivan, really captures the American Dream. We're not all cut out to be superstar recording artists, obviously, but you get a real sense watching this show that anything is possible, that success can come to anyone, and that hard work really does pay off. If I were majoring in sociology I would write a paper about it. And if I were a better singer (okay, and several years younger) I would be dying to be on it.

I'm really only one degree of separation away from this show. When we were filming "GREASE: You're The One That I Want," American Idol was filming on the sound stage next door. Our dressing rooms shared a hallway with their dressing rooms, and yes, I did one time walk right into Paula Abdul's dressing room when I knew she wasn't there. I spoke to Blake Lewis in the hallway really early in the season and told him how exciting and musical I thought his performances were. He didn't win, but he did really well, and I still think he's one of the most distinctive performers in that show's history.

For a big part of my career I have sat behind either the table or the piano as people sang their hearts out in auditions. Given that, my husband is amazed that I still have interest in watching this show. But I find there is so much spirit there -- in the hopes of the singers, in the cutting truth of the judges' evaluations, and in the vulnerability and exposure of the personal stories the producers choose to showcase. We are vain. We are talented. We are delusional. That's America.

Speaking of spirit, I just have to mention the most amazing book that I just finished reading. Talking about religion in such a public forum as this one is probably tricky, but I'm not going to preach or opine on your time. I'm just going to say that if you have an intellectual curiosity about religion, and especially about religion and politics, and you feel like any time you talk about religion (whichever branch of it makes sense to you) you get a big label as being "one of those people," then this book might be as fascinating to you as it was to me. Every five or six pages I felt like my breath was being taken away because the idea on the page was so big, so new, that I needed to stop to process it. Check it out. Especially in the year of this historic election, it seems vital to ask exactly these questions.

Check it out. Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters--and How to Talk About It.

Next week, back to music. I promise.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bicoastal Blues

It's very strange to be back in NY for a few days. I lived here for ten years and then two years ago we moved to California. And in those two years I guess I've surprised myself by putting down some roots in LA. Since I graduated from college I have thought of myself as a New Yorker -- displaced or not. But being back here right now (for only three nights) has been shocking. I guess I'm truly one of those bi-coastal people who lives in two cities. The trade off for calling two places home is that, actually, neither is. I do spend a lot of time packing.

1. On my first day here in NYC I got off the train at the wrong stop. WHAT? I've got that subway map memorized. What better way is there to feel like a tourist than to come up from the subway, look around, and realize you're completely in the wrong place? To my own credit, at least I did remember which direction to walk to get to my correct destination. But what should have taken me 30 minutes took more like an hour. That never used to happen.

2. I can't sleep here. That always happens the first few nights I'm back in the city after having been away. Oh, the noise! Oh the light creeping in the window shades! Oh the sounds of the elevators and the garbage trucks and the radiators! I lay awake in that horrible cycle of willing myself to sleep and stressing out because I'm not asleep. And then suddenly it's morning and I have a busy day of New York ahead of me.

3. Water pressure in Manhattan sucks. I mean, come on. You spend half of your shower dodging the blast of freezing cold water and the other half of your shower trying to withstand the scalding hot torrents. Believe me, it does not average out to lukewarm.

Okay, I'll grant you that there's no greater city and that you can accomplish more in a day in NY that in several days anywhere else. And my friends in NY are the deepest, oldest (sorry), truest friends of my life. I miss them desperately, and when I visit I'm always overscheduling myself, trying desperately to fit work and theater and social time into a trip that's not nearly long enough. When I'm sitting at breakfast with my best girlfriend in the whole world, believe me, I'd trade all the scalding showers and the sleepless nights and the days of bad subway karma just to be able to see her on a more regular basis.

Alas. I have the bicoastal blues.