Monthly Archives: March 2013

THE EASTER PARADE–IT’S NOT JUST A MOVIE!

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Ever since I moved to NYC, one holiday has held a special place in my year.  The Easter Parade!!!  I create my own extravagant–and elegant hat the week before Easter, and proudly walk in the parade on Easter Sunday.  (Note: that’s me in the yellow outfit, carrying a parasol.)

For those who grew up watching Judy Garland movies, you know that the Easter Parade scene was the end of her famous movie with Fred Astaire, where she sang “In your Easter Bonnet, with all the frills upon it….” as she(wearing a huge white hat covered in netting and white flowers) and Fred(in a top hat and tails) walked down the street, nodding to all the other people who were dressed up.

WHAT TO WEAR

(1)dress up in a nice outfit, and make–or buy–a hat with as many flowers, feathers, and other decorations(the  candy, “peeps” is a common choice) on it as you can.  If you want to wear clothes from the 1800’s along with your hat, go ahead.  There is a group that regularly appears in top hat, canes, and dresses with bustles.  The first parade I ever attended, a contingent from the village came wearing all of Audrey Hepburn’s costumes–and most importantly, HATS– from My Fair Lady!

WHERE TO GO

Go to Fifth Avenue from 57th down to 47th  between 10AM and 2PM on Easter Sunday.  The City blocks the traffic on those streets so people  can walk up and down the middle of the street in their Easter outfits and as photographers–from around the world–take their pictures. NOTE:  2PM is an absolute time!  That’s when the police make everyone get out of the street, and allow traffic to go through!

MAKING YOUR HAT

A good place to hunt for plain hats to redecorate is the discount stores, and many florist shops have things like artificial birds and feathers, if you cant find them elsewhere.  If you plan on adding candy to your hat, beware chocolate–it will melt!  Apart from that, anything goes.  Have fun experimenting.

The parade isn’t limited to people.  Over the years, I’ve seen people carrying(or pushing in a stroller)live rabbits, dogs, snakes(on a hat), cats, ferrets, you name it–wearing hats, decorations, or even full costumes.

It isn’t a formal parade; there is no order to what happens, no marching bands or floats(although 2 years ago someone made a flat for himself and had a bunch of his friends pull it down the street). There are usually a few street vendors selling hot dogs, and sodas so you don’t starve.

One request. Please, please, please respect the other paraders.  Everyone is their to have fun.  Many people–myself included-carry parasols to protect them from the sun; it’s also part of the outfit. They are being bombarded with requests from people all around to turn towards their cameras so they can get their photos; they can’t get out of your way, its up to you to watch where you’re going, and not run into them–especially if you’re driving a baby stroller.

So have a little over a week to get started! Go for it!  See you there….

 

 

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Is Justin Bieber Through?

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While I’m not a big Bieber fan, I think he’s getting a raw deal.  All the networks have jumped on the recent meltdowns from Justin Bieber, saying he must be doing drugs.  I hope he isn’t, because there’s a much simpler reason for his recent personality shifts and outbursts.

I think Justin is belated going through the hormone changes that everyone else tends to have at around age 14.  Anyone who has raised a teenager knows what I’m talking about–that moment when the wonderful child you’ve had in your home overnight becomes uncooperative, surly, rebellious and angry.  As a friend of mine put it, “Who the devil are you, and what have you done with my child?!”

Add to that mix: (1)the fact that he’s in the public fishbowl, with managers and keepers trying to control every moment of every day, and photographers filming his every move (2)he can’t be sure who’s a true friends and who is a leech (3) there is no privacy for a celeb of his stature and (4) he’s mature enough to realize that he doesn’t agree with all the choices and decisions being made for him–and he now knows he should be allowed input on what he does.  

We’re seen this progression before–Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan just to name a few.  Mariah Carey dropped out of sight for a couple of years, pulled herself together then come back before she completely self-destructed.   I hope Justin is given the chance to find out who he is and what he wants. He needs some time to come back to an even keel, and I hope his handlers have enough sense to realize it. The cancellations  will cost them right now, but in the long run Justin might have a longer career, and earn even more money for his managers.

The Joy of Cabaret Performing

Greta Herron + Jerry Scott at Dannys edited

Recently I met with a group of cabaret singers and cabaret enthusiasts at a wonderful home concert on the West Side. One of the guests was a young woman from China who has been in the US for seven years teaching English as a second language. At intermission she came to me and asked me what kind of music had she been listening to for the last hour. She had never seen or heard anything like the performances that evening.

I explained, “This is Cabaret music”. I don’t mean  that it’s from the musical of the same name, but Cabaret means songs performed in an intimate setting, with the goal of maintaining a focus between you and the audience.” The music comes from a wide range of sources; mostly what we call jazz and musical comedy standards, written between 1925 and 1970, with occasional pieces from other types of music, like Latin Music, comedy or international songs.

In classical music, performances tend to be more formal. Your artists sing in front of an audience but making the direct emotional connection between you and them is often incidental. You are allowed to speak to your accompanist–as little as possible–but anything else you want to say to the audience should be in the program notes, if you printed any for the audience.

Cabaret performers talk directly to the audience, explain why they chose the song, tell jokes, dance, go into the audience for direct contact, or tell you more about the song, the composers–or themselves.  The musical freedom involved in cabaret also means you can perform with a combo-as big or small as you wish-or with just a piano, a guitar, or I’ve even seen people accompany themselves on a ukulele. Of course there are exceptions to any rule, so big name cabaret performers-Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, etc–do perform in large venues, but the effect is harder to achieve with a larger audience.

As a classically trained singer who also does jazz and cabaret, I love combining the styles together.  It is unexpected and a whole lot of fun for me, the audience and the people accompanying me.  Check out my version of “Goody Goody” on YouTube: http://youtu.be/-QK-fTSUS8c .

Motown the Musical: A Non-Professional Review

Motown the Musical Originals - 40 Classic Songs That Inspired the Broadway Show!

I just came home after seeing a preview of the Broadway show,  the Motown the Musical, about the life and music of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. There have been reviews posted on Facebook and elsewhere, both pro and con for this show. One of the complaints was that the plot is very thin. After seeing the show for myself, I am strongly compelled to debate this complaint.

Motown is the story of a man, his ideas, his ideals and the staggering number of performing artists he worked with during his years building the Motown legacy.

As is the case with many such people, Berry Gordon is driven to succeed as a promoter, and the personal connection between him and his artists–including his wife, Diana Ross–crumbled as he became more successful. The comparatively little dialogue gives you some idea of  the hardships, compromises, betrayals and sacrifices  involved in making a small private black-owned and run record label into a international mega-hit producing operation. Berry’s thoughts are often told through a song instead of preaching through monologues. I don’t find this disturbing. The music was and is the most important part of his story, and the composer and librettist of this show wisely decided to let the music speak for itself.

For many people who loved Motown, the music was a background to their lives, and drove them as they danced on the floor. As the show progresses, you are struck by the incredible number of singers and musical groups that were part of a little record label started in a house called Hitsville, U.S.A. on a street in Detroit.  It was a shock to realize that Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Mary Wells, Diana Ross, the Supremes, Rick James, and Marvin Gaye were just a few of the artists who were part of Motown.

Motown tries to include as many of the best songs of all the artists who sang the label, but it is an impossible task unless you make the show last for several days. I can’t even imagine the number of hours that must have been spent deciding which songs to skip, and which to include. I’m glad it wasn’t up to me. The songs they ultimately chose all moved the story forward and often punctuated the drama.  The words of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” are so relevant to today’s world that they could have been written yesterday.  Check out some of his tracks on YouTube: http://youtube/Dzs1K3caXJk

The performances were all so amazing–with people serving multiple roles that there were too many great moments. However I have to say because of the incredibly sharp and snappy choreography, all the male singing group numbers in particular were spectacular. The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and young Jackson 5 in particular danced their hearts out (and the short tribute to Rick James was hilarious). Seeing this music performed live with the choreography is a totally different experience from watching it live, or listening to a CD. The sheer energy of the performers as they do the routines, combined with hearing the music as it was meant to be heard–live-makes this a hair-raising experience. Brandon Victor Dixon, Charl Brown, Valisia LeKae, and Bryan Terrel Clark were utterly believable as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson,Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, clearly reflecting the changes in their attitudes and styles as the years passed.

The costumes were fabulous–and in particular the gowns for The Supremes and the mature Diana Ross we re jaw-dropping.

Motown the Musical is a show seriously worth seeing. I dare you to get through the entire musical without singing along on at least one song–and wishing you could get up and dance.

My only disappointment of the evening was that I couldn’t just walk out of the theater and buy some of the Motown recordings at the nearby Colony Music or Virgin records. They, too are gone. Too bad….

AMERICAN IDOL 2013: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SINGERS?

This week on The View they’ve discussed American Idol almost every day. This year’s crop of singers has a lot of people with problems so severe–constantly flat, or simply can’t sing at all– that you have to wonder how they passed the audition process.  With thousands of people auditioning for them across the country, how are these singers the  best they could find?!  Even non-singers are saying, what happened?

Okay. To be honest, I have never been a fan of Idol, because as a jazz/opera/cabaret singer, I have no interest in watching a show that is a replay of every audition I’ve ever been endured.  It’s like a race car driver watching a program called “greatest race car crashes”.

The show’s producers don’t want real singers, because people singing well don’t make exciting viewing.  They’d rather get so-so or bad singers, and see if they can improve with coaching; or hope a bad singer can get enough sympathy voter support to stay on the show longer.  This makes the viewers keep watching (ratings) and voting(money from the text message fees, and advertisers). The fine print on these shows is that the producers reserve the right to make the final decisions–so they can override the decisions of the panel and the voters. And–I have to say it, Jennifer Holliday notwithstanding, because they hated her weight–for Idol it’s more important to have the Idol look, than to sing well.   It’s amazing–and sad–to see how few former idol winners are still out there performing. But I’m not surprised; many of them have no idea how to put together a program, or how to survive singing an entire show–which is different from singing one song.

Singers are encouraged to oversing (when in doubt, sing louder)and underthink(where is the real climax of this song; it’s NOT at the beginning) their songs. Eventually they reach the point where they don’t know what else they can do to improve their singing, because the only input they get is comments like, “I just wasn’t feeling you today”.   Singing is 95% mental, so if you don’t know how to fix what’s wrong,simply singing the song over and over won’t help you to improve. 

They had Barry Manilow coach the singers one year (while sneering at the very idea)and he tried to explain to the singers what they were doing wrong, and what they were doing right. The attitude of the judges towards Barry however,was so clearly negative that they contestants couldn’t understand why what he was telling them was important.  It’s too bad.  What the Idol contestants all really need is access to genuine vocal coaching so they can sing better, and sing smarter(you don’t need to scream to show intensity).  A performer like Barry Manilow who is still selling out venues after 40+ years in the business, would have a better idea what the singers need than say, a bass player, and a promoter.

But as long as the show has viewers, Idol will continue.  The pity is that people who watch the show think they are seeing good performances, but it just isn’t trueImage

THANK GOD FOR SPONGEBOB!

Sunday morning in NYC.  Among all the political shows which alternately scare the crap out of you and send you into a deep depression, there are a few televised church services, mediocre old movies, madness from the SciFi Channel(often so bad that it’s fun to  be snarky when viewing them), endless re-runs of the (groan) reality shows “all my money still doesn’t make me happy”,(OH, PLEASE) and CARTOONS. 

Of course, I grew up watching the bugs bunny and his pals, all the Hanna-Barbera(The Jetsons, The Flintstones) and Depatie Freiling cartoons (Pink Panther, etc)but stations rarely show those anymore.  I have to confess that in the absence of anything truly uplifting to watch, I have become a fan of Sponge Bob SquarePants.  This crazy little show about a yellow kitchen sponge who lives in a pineapple in an underwater city populated by fish, is an unexpected oasis of hilarity. I first started watching it while hanging out with my nephew when he was a toddler–and dreaded it.  To my considerable surprise, I discovered that the comedy writing on Spongebob is actually great. 

One bit that killed me: his best friend, Patrick Star(a starfish, of course) asked to come into Spongebob’s house to use his bathroom.  He comes out saying, “I’d wait a while if I were you; you don’t want to go in there”.  Behind him, the toilet comes crawling out of the bathroom on its hands, gasping for breath, and says, “Help me!”, coughs and dies. The delivery of lines by the vocal talent is KILLER and everyone except Spongebob is a master of dry humor, which balances perfectly against Spongebob’s perpetual optimism. The eye movement of the characters–even when they aren’t moving, is classic Warner Brothers,and often funnier than what is being said. The Spongebob Movie–yes  they did an entire movie–was a shocker; it was funny,then took an incredibly serious turn that left you actually crying….and the hero was David Hasselfhoff!!I won’t explain how; you just have to see it.

So the next time you decide you can’t take any more of the Housewives of Atlanta and all the rest of that ilk,go to Nickelodeon Channel and see what Spongebob’s doing…

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