A Rare Combination of Girlish Excitement and Manly Restraint: My Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles, Part 2 – Autumn 2010

In this the second installment of my mini-blog series about La Cage aux Folles, the change from Summer to Autumn brought about some changes to the cast, with the departure of Nick Adams (who went on to star in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an equally fantastic show that will be discussed in a future blog) and Veanne Cox and the arrival of Matt Anctil and Allyce Beasley, who brought their own unique style to the characters. Autumn is also when the new Broadway season traditionally starts, kicked off with the Broadway on Broadway concert and the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) Flea Market and Grand Auction.

Cast List, Autumn 2010

Cast List, Autumn 2010

For those who don’t know, Broadway on Broadway is a free concert that takes place mid-September in the heart of Times Square, where a multitude of shows, both current and upcoming perform a song or a medley of songs. It is the only other event when traffic is cordoned off for several blocks for a specific period of time to allow a multitude of people to gather (the other time, of course is on New Year’s Eve) and just like New Year’s Eve, many hardcore theater fans camp out hours beforehand (some stay in Times Square overnight) to secure a prime viewing spot. While I am an ardent theatergoer, I’m not *that* dedicated to wait overnight in Times Square, though I do know friends who do, and I usually find them early in the morning and meet up with them then. The concert formally started around noon, with sound check starting roughly an hour beforehand.

Kelsey Grammer was the host of the 2010 Broadway on Broadway concert, which featured performances from the nearly all the shows that were running at the time: some that have since closed (Million Dollar Quartet, Promises, Promises, Billy Elliot, In the Heights, Memphis, Fela!, Addams Family, Elf,, Next To Normal, American Idiot, West Side Story and Rain), others that are still running (The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Mamma Mia!, Wicked and Rock of Ages) Representing La Cage (aside from Kelsey Grammer hosting) were the Cagelles – Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Nicholas Cunningham, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell –  singing “We Are What We Are” to an appreciative audience.

Cagelles (from left to right): Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Nicholas Cunningham,Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

Cagelles (from left to right): Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Nicholas Cunningham, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

As I had in the summer, I was once again a quasi-regular visitor to the Longacre Theater, which included sitting in the expensive-but-worth-it cabaret seats, seats in the front orchestra, as well as in the balcony. I do believe I must have sat in every section at the Longacre, and I will attest that there is not a bad seat in that house. It was also in the fall I had the opportunity to see the understudies go on and bring their own spin to the roles they were covering; most notably it was during the fall I got the chance to see Chris Hoch, who understudied for both Albin and Georges (in addition to his regular role as Francis, the put-upon stage manager at the club), as Albin and Georges on two separate occasions [at which time, the role of Francis was played with great gusto by Dale Hensley] – he played both roles expertly, though I did prefer his take as Georges over his go as Albin (though of course this basis stems from the fact that I adore Douglas Hodge as Albin).

Clockwise from top left: Matt Anctil, Allyce Beasley, Kelsey Grammer & Douglas Hodge

Clockwise from top left: Matt Anctil, Allyce Beasley, Kelsey Grammer & Douglas Hodge

The next big Broadway event of the fall was the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS [BC/EFA] Flea Market and Grand Auction [henceforth called “the Auction”], or (as many of my theater-obsessed friends call the event), “Broadway Christmas”. I tend to think of that day, which usually falls on the last Sunday in September, as Broadway Heaven on Earth Day – a day when one can find and buy prop and costume pieces (often autographed), old playbills and posters from shows present and past, CDs and other odds and ends; there is also the Grand Auction, where once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as walk-on roles, tickets and passes to opening night performances, and rare one-of-a-kind items are auctioned to the highest bidder. As avid a theater fan as I am, most of those lots are well out of my price range, and I never stick around to watch the Grand Auction; more times than not, my focus at the Auction is the TDF Raffle table (which I have mentioned several times in previous blogs). In the decade I have been attending the Auction, I have been remarkably lucky in winning tickets (each winning ticket yields a pair of complementary tickets, often orchestra seats, to currently running Broadway and off-Broadway shows), though as lucky as I usually am, I did not win any La Cage tickets, which limited my amounts of times going to see the shows [as I essentially had “free” tickets to others shows in the fall. Nevertheless, I did attend see La Cage many times as I could, usually obtaining my tickets at TKTS.

It was also at the Auction where I formally (and finally) met “Lili Whiteass” (aka swing Todd Lattimore) – the sassy door girl greeting (and playfully insulting) theatergoers as they arrived at the Longacre, then warming up the audience with a hilarious pre show act. I had not seen her until then due to the fact that during the times I had seen the show in the summer, Todd was often in the show, filling in for Nick Cunningham as Hannah, one of the Cagelles, and would be unable to go on as Lili Whiteass. Thankfully, throughout the fall, winter and spring I was able to see and chat with Lili on a semi-regular basis.

Lili Whiteass, Autumn 2010

Lili Whiteass, Autumn 2010

It was inevitable that there would be an official cast recording for La Cage, and with the release of the cast recording comes the obligatory CD signing at Barnes & Noble, which happened on October 14th at the [now closed] store near Lincoln Center. As per my usual tactic, I got there early and settled myself to be first in line – in addition to the CD signing, there would be a question and answer session with Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer (questions that were submitted by those attending the signing), and a performance by the Cagelles – the lineup this instance consisted of Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell. As an added bonus, there was a special guest appearance from Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for La Cage; it was during the question and answer session wherein he announced his involvement in Newsies and Kinky Boots, both musicals that are currently running on Broadway (as one of the questions directed at him asked what his next projects were to be).

Doug & Kelsey at the B&N  CD signing

Doug & Kelsey at the Barnes & Noble CD signing

As the questions were submitted by those in attendance, I was slightly annoyed that most of the questions were not about the show at all, and were more about Kelsey Grammer’s experiences during Frasier, or were about the then rumor that Kelsey was to play Albin later on in the show’s run (there had already been confirmation that this was not to happen, yet the question was still asked – several times). Happily, the question that I had written (and was probably the only question that was about the show itself) was read out – my question had asked both Doug and Kelsey how they interpreted their roles and the relationship between the two characters – for the life of me, I can’t recall what their exact response was, but I do remember the question was answered thoroughly and thoughtfully. After the question and answer session, the aforementioned Cagelles took to the stage to sing (once again) “We Are What We Are”, which was fantastically performed.

Cagelles from left to right: Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

Cagelles from left to right: Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

After the performance, the CD signing portion of the event commenced – a good number of the cast were there, all whom sat in a row, with a designated spot to sign in the booklet. By this time, most of the cast recognized me on sight [it would be months later when they would address me at the stage door by name], and they were all glad to see me – I recall Todd Lattimore remarking to Harvey Fierstein that I was one of the “super fans” [having seen the show by then at least a dozen times], which was a sweet thing for him to say.

The La Cage cast at Barnes & Noble

The La Cage cast at Barnes & Noble

The next CD signing event was on November 4th at the 5th Avenue Lord & Taylor, where a special makeup kit inspired by the show was being sold (sadly, mascara was not included in the makeup kit). Only Doug and Kelsey would be at this CD signing, so naturally I got to the store early and hung around until they arrived; for whatever reason they were late in arriving [the CD signing was to have started at 12:30 pm, and they had arrived roughly an hour later]. Nevertheless, they were both cheerful in greeting those who had waited to get their CDs signed (a free CD was given with every $50 store purchase). It was lovely to see the natural rapport they had with one another off stage, which further enhanced their rapport onstage. It was also during this CD signing that I had the opportunity to get a photo with both Doug and Kelsey [for obvious reasons Kelsey never, or at least rarely ever, posed for photos at the stage door] – when I had asked if I could take a photo with both of them, Kelsey had quipped, “Don’t you have one already?” to which I immediately responded “Not with both of you together”; with much mirth, I got my photo.

Doug & Kelsey at Lord & Taylor

Doug & Kelsey at Lord & Taylor

My (only) photo with Doug and Kelsey

My (only) photo with Doug and Kelsey

The days were getting shorter and the weather turning colder, yet I still waited at the stage door, and eventually started to take friends to see the show, and I also started to strike up conversations with those also waiting at the stage door – many of whom were surprised and impressed at the number of times I had seen the show. Also, stated earlier, the cast were noticing my presence at the stage door [as I was more times than not able to secure a spot right at the front of the barricades, usually to the right of the stage door area] – I do recall A.J. Shively keeping track (as best as he could) of the number of times I had seen the show (I always waited at the stage door).

The next installment will cover the winter months, including the time I got a backstage tour [twice!], how I spent my birthday, as well as the pinnacle of my quasi-fixation with La Cage: watching all the weekend performances, which coincided with the departure of Doug, Kelsey, Robin De Jesus and Fred Applegate., and the (unintended) drama surrounding their successors.

To be continued…

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One Day Like This – Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser CD signing at Barnes & Noble – April 16, 2013

As stated in a previous blog, in this age of digital downloads and streaming audio, the act of purchasing a physical CD seems downright antiquated; nevertheless, one distinct advantage an actual CD copy has over a digital download is that an artist can sign the CD booklet (or the CD itself). My most recent CD purchase was Dreamchaser, the most recent album by Sarah Brightman, one of my favorite recording artists, and the one singer who tours the United States on a fairly regular basis. I first discovered the wondrous voice that is Sarah Brightman whilst listening to the Original London Cast Recording of Phantom of the Opera, and followed her recording career first through her albums featuring songs from her ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber, and her subsequent solo recordings. I have been fortunate enough to have seen her in concert several times – though for a few of those concerts, I really didn’t actually “see” her, but her voice enveloped each of the venues she sang with great clarity.

Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser

Dreamchaser is her latest album, after a five-year absence (her last non-compilation recording had been A Winter Symphony in 2008), and as the  title implies, it has an outer space theme, as she had announced that she intends to travel to the International Space Station in the near future. The album is quite ethereal and soothing, a bit different from her previous albums. The American leg of the concert tour that was to accompany this new album was to have been last winter, but was postponed (for various reasons) to the fall of this year [the New York stop will be at Radio City Music Hall in September, of which I will be in attendance]. Dreamchaser was released in the US today, and to accompany that, there was a CD signing at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side. The CD signing was just that – it had been announced that there would not be a performance, though the Dreamchaser album was played throughout the store prior to the start of the CD signing.

As my wont, I arrived at the Barnes & Noble early, and a short line had already formed by the time I arrived [prior to the 9AM opening]. Once again, as the doors opened, I made my way to the music section, while a good number of the people who were waiting in line ahead of me inexplicably made their way to the lower level, where the CD signing was to take place; those people eventually made their way back to the upper level to purchase their CDs [once again, limit two per customer] and the (pink) wristband for guaranteed entry. And once again, as I do, I plunked myself down (comfortably) outside the glass doors to wait (and be first in line); as this was the same Barnes & Noble store as my previous visit, the shelves around me were of science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels. And once again, I never got around to reading any of them, as I struck up conversations with fellow Sarah Brightman fans, discussing the merits and differences between her previous albums.

A formal line began to form around 1PM and grew steadily as the time of the CD signing was to commence [at 5PM]; interestingly the line didn’t just form along the side shelves, but snaked through the free-standing shelves in that area. Once the doors opened (around 4:30, I think, I didn’t look at my watch) another interesting deviation occurred – those who were in line first were seated furthest away from the CD signing area (but were assured that they would be the first to get their CDs signed). Ms. Brightman appeared just after 5PM and posed for some press photos before the actual signing took place. As the CD booklet was of glossy stock, she signed the CD itself, personalizing them as she signed; as I was among the first in line, it had been announced that there would not be the opportunity for posed photos with Ms. Brightman (a rule that somehow changed after I had gotten my CD signed). Having learned of this change, I proceeded back into the CD signing room with Jeannie, a fellow Sarah Brightman fan I had met whilst waiting, to get a photo with her (which thankfully I was able to get).

Sarah Brightman at Barnes & Noble

Me and Sarah Brightman

Ms. Brightman was lovely and gracious as always, chatting with the more loquacious fans (I’m quite an introvert and didn’t have the wherewithal to say anything beyond “Thank you”), accepting the gifts that some fans brought her, and happily posed for photos (while seated). She then signed another stack of CDs (of which would be on sale at Barnes & Noble) before I was able to get my photo with her (after which Jeannie and I were ushered out of the room). Not long after we left the store, she emerged again to her car, so it was an added treat to catch a glimpse of her again before she left. Needless to say it was a wonderful experience to have met her in such an intimate space – truly a close encounter with the theatrical kind.

Signed Dreamchaser CD