May 152017
 

I want to share with you a fun evening I had on Saturday, May 13. Shelly and I went to see the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus presenting A Cardboard and Duck Tape Spectacular!.

Stephanie Monseu (L) and Keith Nelson (R)

This is terrific live entertainment! There are no weak members of the cast. Stephanie Monseu is her usual dazzling self as emcee and juggler. Keith Nelson is a true burlesque top banana. Ekaterina Skmarina a goofy aerialist and floor gymnast. Ivory Fox a very clever acrobat capable of doing a variety of things, she has wonderfully graceful movement with a touch of comedy. Jared Kuchler is a multi-talented juggler, his specialty is a cigar box routine.

All of this accompanied by Peter Bufano’s original music on accordion, with Jeff Morris and Nate Tucker. The production was directed by our good friend Joel Jeske who will star in the upcoming Big Apple Circus.

What’s my review? Bindlestiff is a very clever variety arts theatre.

So, if they’re ever in your town or mine, go see them!

May 032017
 

­I met Glenn Close when I worked on the Broadway musical “Barnum.” I had the task of teaching her (as Barnum’s wife) to juggle….while she was singing..in a special light. Years later, she volunteered to write the foreword to my book, Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion. She was a regular attendee at the Big Apple Circus and I never missed anything, movies or shows, in which she performed.

Last Friday, Shelley and I went to see Glenn star in Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard. Ben Brantley of the New York Times called it “One of the great performances of this century!” A powerful artist as I’ve always known her, Glenn gave an exquisite performance that evening. Her range as an actor is enormous as is her singing voice. We felt honored that she kindly invited us backstage after the show for a long overdue catch-up. I wouldn’t be talking out of class to reveal to you that this great star is a warm, open-hearted and generous person and I take great pride in calling her, friend.

Dec 092016
 

Hello everyone,

I had a ball on Friday night at the Metropolitan Room performing in my new cabaret THE TALL AND THE SHORT OF IT with dazzling singing partner Dana Mierlak.  In addition to performing a few of  old favorites, we threw in a few new solos, including my interpretation of “Try To Remember” and her show-stopping rendition of “The Girl In 14G.”  I loved working with her. The duets that we did were the highlight for me.
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend an evening singing for my friends and family, and I was delighted to see so many familiar faces in the audience.  If you couldn’t make it, here are a few photos from the event:
We're two lost souls, on the highway of life!

We’re two lost souls, on the highway of life!

Me doing what I do best -- announcing!

Me doing what I do best — announcing!

Dana performing "The Girl In 14G"

Dana performing “The Girl In 14G”

This was the second time I’ve performed at the Metropolitan Room. Last Year, we threw a sold-out benefit performance of PAUL BINDER RISKS HIS LIFE, and this year it felt like coming home to perform in a familiar space. Last year, I thought to myself, “Gosh, this would be great to do again.” And lucky me, I did! The new show provided a unique format for myself and Dana to share stories about how “it’s difficult to be tall” (Paul) and “…average in stature” (Dana, 5 feet in heels). She’s also half my age.

As always, it was a pleasure to perform with Dennis Buck, our brilliant accompanist. Dennis’ immense skill and musical acumen make him invaluable on and offstage.
I hope you were lucky enough to join us, and if you weren’t, I hope you can come along next time!
Nov 042016
 

 

Me and Roberta Fabiano singing "Landmark State of Mind." Photo credit to New York Social Diary

Singing with guitarist Roberta Fabiano of the Peter Duchin Orchestra: “Landmark State of Mind” (our apologies to Billy Joel). Photo credit to New York Social Diary

This past Wednesday, November 2nd, I had the immense pleasure of emceeing the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s annual Living Landmarks Gala at the Plaza Hotel Ballroom. This is special for me because, as many of you know, Michael Christensen and myself were honored by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002 as New York City “Living Landmarks” for our work with the Big Apple Circus.  At the time, Liz Smith was the emcee of their annual Gala at the Plaza, but last year she passed the baton on to me. I’m honored to do it once again this year. It’s a thrill!

 

Peg Breen and Lloyd Zuckerberg at the Gala. Photo credit to Whom You Know

Chairman Lloyd Zuckerberg and President Peg Breen at the Gala. Photo credit to Whom You Know

 

 

It’s the best party in town, because it’s New Yorkers who love New York honoring people who love New York. The honorees this year were Frank Bennack & Mary Polan, Barbara Taylor Bradford & Robert Bradford, Nina & Tim Zagat, Larry Leeds, and Wynton Marsalis.  What an honor to share the stage with these people who have had such a profound impact on the city we all love.  I even got to sing a rewritten version of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” — “I’m in a Living Landmark State of Mind!” The entire evening was gracefully organized by Peg Breen.  I collaborated with my good friend Robbie Libbon on jokes that we could insert into a script that we thought could use additional humor. Here’s my favorite gag of the evening:

“We’ve got a couple of CEOs, an MD, a CFO, a PhD, even an OBE…to add to the long lost of SOBs from past years — no, no, I’m just kidding — there’s no CFO.”

Here are some photos of the event:

 

Shelley and myself after the ball. Photo credit to Peachy Deegan at Whom You Know

Me and the great jazz trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. Photo credit to New York Social Diary

Here I am with the great jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. Photo credit to New York Social Diary

 

 

Not everyone has the opportunity to attend the Living Landmarks Galas, but all of you can come to my next cabaret performance! It is a ONE NIGHT ONLY event at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM, on DECEMBER 2ND at 7PM.  After a successful benefit performance of PAUL BINDER RISKS HIS LIFE at the Metropolitan Room last year, we’re bringing a new cabaret: THE TALL AND THE SHORT OF IT!  I will be joined by the dazzling Dana Mierlak in the new show THE TALL AND THE SHORT OF IT. We will share a few songs, a few stories, and a few jokes about how “it’s difficult to be tall” (Paul) and “…average in stature” (Dana, 5 feet in heels).  We can’t wait to see you there! Tickets are available here.

Jun 162015
 

At the beginning of last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the recipients of the 2015 National Heritage Fellowships. Included in the list is none other than the spectacular Dolly Jacobs.

Dolly Jacobs - Dolly

Dolly Jacobs performing an aerial act during a performance of the Summer Circus Spectacular 2014,
photo by Rachel S. O’Hara

Dolly is a long-time friend from past seasons of the Big Apple Circus.

I’m pictured in my ringmaster outfit beside the beautifully costumed Dolly Jacobs. The other Big Apple Circus performers on the left are Jeff Gordon, Michael Christensen, Barry Lubin, and Tady Wozniak and the Wozniak Troupe.  Seated in the front row left to right are Jerome Robbins, Zubin Mehta, Beverley Sills, James Levine, Nat Leventhal, and Peter Martins.

Her father was the legendary clown Lou Jacobs, but Dolly is no clown in the ring. A world-renowned aerial artist, she certainly deserves her title “Queen of the Air.” Included in her awards is the coveted Silver Clown at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo and the title Dame du Cirque. Dolly and her husband Pedro Reis founded and operate the Circus Arts Conservatory of Sarasota. (Earlier this year I blogged about their Circus Sarasota show “Fearless.”) The conservatory has just begun performances of their Summer Circus Spectacular at the Historic Asolo Theater at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

Dolly Jacobs - Circus Spectacular

Congratulations, Dolly! An incredible honor, well deserved!

 

See the video below for some words from Dolly on receiving the honor:

Apr 242015
 

I recently got back from an exciting couple of days in Altoona, Pennsylvania, for the Circus Bonanza. But more on that in my next post.

Wednesday - Nicholas Day

Nicholas Day

First, I want to share with you all my exciting day of events this past Wednesday.

This year marks the 451st birthday of William Shakespeare. Similar to our celebration last year, we honored the Bard’s birthday at the Lotos Club Theatre Round Table by reading and talking about his work. Our wonderful leader Gail VanVoorhis arranged to have Nicholas Day join us for the meeting. Nick is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company currently appearing on Broadway as the Duke of Norfolk in the two-part play Wolf Hall. Having a professional Shakespearean actor certainly upped the game for all of us. We explored readings from Shakespeare’s early plays to his mature ones. This year I got to read the part of Marc Antony from the tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. Antony is a fearless general and rugged romantic lead–heh heh–typecast again.

Wednesday - Wolf Hall, photo by Johan Persson

The cast of Wolf Hall on Broadway
photo by Johan Persson

In addition to celebrating Shakespeare on Wednesday, we also celebrated the wedding anniversary of our Lotos Club recent past president Anne Russell and the birthday of our Theatre Round Table leader Gail VanVoorhis. On the way out of the Grill Room at the end of the evening, I was walking past a table and recognized the man who was seated there.

Wednesday - Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma

It was none other than the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo stood up to say hello, share a hug, and introduce the people at his table. It was great seeing him. Yo-Yo said some incredibly complimentary things about the Big Apple Circus and yours truly. We’ve had a lot of backstage celebrity visits and regulars at the B.A.C. over the years, but it’s not everyday that I run into one in the city who has so many wonderful things to say.

I’m sure you’ll agree, it was an exciting and eventful Wednesday in New York City.

Apr 032015
 
Barry - Tall Tales

Barry’s recently published “memoirs”

Barry and I at the Circus Ring of Fame  during Barry's induction ceremony

Barry and me at the Circus Ring of Fame

What can I say about Barry Lubin? Truthfully, quite a lot!

All together, Grandma appeared in 25 seasons of the Big Apple Circus. Grandma and I experienced many wonderful moments in the ring, and Barry and I have had many, many great (and some not so great) moments outside the ring. Through it all, I’m overjoyed that I can call him a friend.

In the past few months, Barry has accomplished an incredible feat: he’s published what he calls his “memoirs.” (And I know just how grueling it is to get a book published.)

Barry - inspecting admission ticket

Grandma and me in the ring
I’m inspecting Grandma’s admission ticket

In Tall Tales of a Short Clown, Barry writes about much more than his involvement with the circus over the past five decades. He speaks candidly about his life and personal struggles outside of the ring. I recently finished reading the book and had a hard time putting it down. I laughed out loud at the first line of the Foreword…. But then Barry could make me laugh almost anytime he wanted. There’s a moment in the PBS series CIRCUS where he cracked me up in the middle of a rehearsal. Funny man.

I’m pleased to say that in two weeks I will be seeing Barry in person at the 2015 Altoona Circus Bonanza. A few months ago, I accepted an offer from the Adam Forepaugh-Barry Lubin Tent No. 2 to be the Bonanza Speaker on April 18. As fun as the banquet will be, I’m particularly excited that I get to attend a performance of the Royal Hanneford Circus, featuring none other than Grandma the Clown. It will be great to see the little carpetbagger in action once again.

Grandma's last BAC show

Saying goodbye to Grandma during her last show with the Big Apple Circus

Mar 132015
 
John Herriott at the 1996 Big E, photo by Dave Roback

John Herriott at the 1996 Big E,
photo by Dave Roback

Two weeks ago the American circus lost equestrian and ringmaster John Herriott. John was an incredibly skilled equestrian, versatile animal trainer, and an all around extraordinarily pleasant man. I’m fortunate that I was able to get down to Sarasota at the last minute for his memorial service.

Years back, John worked at the Big Apple Circus. Here’s one anecdote about him that I wrote in Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion and quoted at the memorial. As a tribute to Johnny I share it here:

In the chapter I wrote:

John brought his high-school riding act to the Big Apple Circus one season. He rode the Appaloosa horse alongside a large high-stepping Harlequin Great Dane dog. They both were white with black spots.

The turnout in Queens that year was light and one afternoon he approached me with an urgent message: the Great Dane had been kidnapped. “We need to get the word out,” he said. “Call the newspapers and radio and TV stations.”

“Kidnapped?” I asked. “Who would kidnap your Great Dane?”

“Hey now, that’s one very valuable dog.” John Said, “We have got to get the word out.”

“Let’s wait an hour or two,” I advised.” Let’s see if he comes back on his own or somebody brings him.”

“You don’t want to call the newspapers, the TV stations?” he asked, incredulous.

“Not at this point,” I said.

John walked away, obviously disappointed, probably thinking, “Damned fool doesn’t know a good publicity stunt when he hears one.”

By the next show, the dog was back in the ring, high-stepping in the ring alongside John on his horse, none the worse for his alleged captivity.

Rob Libbon wrote in an note to me: “He had the visage of a trail cowboy and the heart of a poet.”  Indeed he wrote poetry … some of which was read at the funeral service.

One more thing: for several years, when we wintered in Sarasota, at Kay Rosaire’s place, Johnny and I would play golf together. He was one of the few people I’ve played with over many years who was absolutely honest with his score.

John Herriott at the Hoxie Bros. Circus, 1975, photo courtesy of http://www.thecircusblog.com/

John Herriott at the Hoxie Bros. Circus, 1975, photo courtesy of thecircusblog

Nov 252014
 

This past weekend was the annual Big Apple Circus Family Benefit. It’s a terrific event where supporters of our not-for-profit circus get to see the year’s show and interact with the performers. Before the performance of Metamorphosis kids were invited to join Clown Care Unit members in the reception tent where they get to learn juggling, wire walking (very low), plate spinning, balancing, and other circus skills. During intermission there was an auction for kids (or their parents) to become a guest ringmaster for a future performance. And if that wasn’t enough, after the show there was dessert in the ring!

The auction and event were staged to help raise funds for our five award-winning community programs:

Clown Care, the signature community outreach program of the Big Apple Circus, brings the joy of classical circus to hospitalized children at 16 leading pediatric facilities across the United States.

Circus of the Senses is a unique performance that enables children and adults with vision or hearing impairments and other disabilities to experience the magic and joy of the circus.

The mission of Circus After School is to provide a unique opportunity for at-risk youth to develop life-enhancing skills such as teamwork, commitment, and responsible risk-taking through a structured program of learning and performing the circus arts.

Vaudeville Caravan brings the uplifting power of the circus to delight the residents of nursing care facilities.

The mission of Circus for All! is to give every child and every family the opportunity to see a live performance of the Big Apple Circus. We distribute up to fifty thousand free tickets every year.

Family Benefit - Dr. Ima Conused and Susan Ayala at New York-Presbyterian, photo by Susan Watts

Clown Care: Dr. Ima Confused (Julie Pasqual) entertains Susan Ayala and her mother at New York-Presbyterian, photo by Susan Watts

Family Benefit - Rob Torres teaching Franklin Kocheran how to twirl a plate, photo by Amel Chen

Circus of the Senses: Rob Torres (who appeared in last year’s show) teaches Franklin Kocheran how to twirl a plate, photo by Amel Chen

All of us at the Big Apple Circus are extremely thankful for the support of our contributors, and we enjoy spending the day interacting with them.

Judging from applause, one of the favorite acts at this year’s family benefit––and one that certainly fits the theme of metamorphosis––was the Smirnov Duo’s quick change act. Quick change routines are more than just a little circus magic. They’re a lot of circus magic. They require many, many, many rehearsals to get the exact timing perfect. Olga and Vladimir have been working on their timing for over twenty years, working together on quick change along with their other circus skills. The costume designs are splendid, and the ingenuity that went behind the quick change act in Metamorphosis wins over the crowd. When you come see the show, don’t blink or you may miss Olga magically changing her costume 9 times in less than 3 minutes right in front of us without us having a clue of how it all happens. I know how … it’s magic!

The Smirnov Duo, photo by Bertrand Guay

The Smirnov Duo in “Metamorphosis,” photo by Bertrand Guay

Apr 262014
 

As I touched on at the end of my last post (read here), this past Wednesday, April 23, I celebrated William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday with members of the Lotos Club Theatre Round Table. We had a great turn out for lunch, a very active group: seven members of the Round Table were in attendance along with Anne Russell, president of the Lotos Club, who showed up for the recitation of a sonnet, and of course our brilliant, wonderful, terrific leader Gail VanVoorhis, moderator of the Theatre Round Table. As Shakespeare would say about Gail, “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties.” Typical of Gail’s enthusiasm and love for theatre (and of Shakespeare in particular), she wanted to get the Round Table together to celebrate the Bard’s birthday.

Shakespeare Birthday Poster

The assignment was for everyone to bring their favorite Shakespeare quotes and passages to share with the group during the meal. Gail brought a ton of them, as well as her beautifully-bound two volume edition of the complete works. She also has an app on her iPhone that allows her to easily lookup and access any Shakespearean text by just putting in a few words of the passage.

I want to share some of my favorite quotes here. We should start at the beginning of a play, with one of the best opening lines Shakespeare wrote:

“If music be the food of love, play on” from Twelfth Night, Act 1 scene 1.

Another wonderful passage is …

“I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart: but the saying is true, the empty vessel makes the greatest sound” from Henry V, Act 4 scene 4.

I instantly recognized this expression through it’s Yiddish equivalent “hok mir nit kayn chainik,” which literally translates to “don’t bang me a teapot.” What can I say? Shakespeare put it well and almost as colorfully.

Shakespeare - Branaugh

Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet in the 1996 film

One of the passages I chose to recite is the famous Yorick speech from Act 5 scene 1 of Hamlet. I have a personal connection to this speech. I delivered it as a eulogy for my friend and colleague Mehdi Rios when he died. He was a precision acrobat but was also the funny man in the act. He always made people laugh in a light-hearted way, no matter how serious the subject. He was just like Yorick.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. […] Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen?”

I also loved reciting the famous directions to the players from Hamlet Act 3 scene 2.

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”

A lovingly altered copy of “The Chandos” William Shakespeare oil painting portrait

A lovingly altered copy of “The Chandos”
William Shakespeare oil painting portrait

Always good lessons for all actors. Just a few lines later, Hamlet goes on to say one of the most truthful expressions about the role and function of art:

“the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

This is probably the most important instruction any artist can receive. As artists, we strive to align ourselves with the forces of nature and relay that truthfulness to an audience.

Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare, and thank you for your beautiful words.