Jun 022017
 

This past Wednesday night, I had the great pleasure of attending the Tony nominated musical, Dear Evan Hansen. It was an outstanding evening of theatre.

How can I convey how unusual this show is? Let’s start with the simplest element, the costumes. They are contemporary. The characters you see on stage, could just as easily be seen walking down the street. The set and lighting are clearly married as one element. We see moving projections on screens (which are, sometimes, also moving) completely evoking the internet and social media. But, I’m not doing justice to how these visual elements effect our view as an audience. A good deal of the time, what we see on stage is very cold and alienating. BUT then, the characters on stage are emotionally rich, in contrast to their “stage” environment. Perhaps you can understand that from the photo (below).

The music is contemporary, played by a small orchestra creating songs sung by actors on stage with excellent voices. Particularly, the title character, Evan Hansen, is brilliantly portrayed by 24-year-old Tony award-nominated, Ben Platt. He is Evan Hansen, totally inhabiting the character. He actually sweeps us up into the emotional rollercoaster that Evan Hansen is going through. Whew!

The cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” with Ben Platt center.

This is an extraordinarily difficult ticket to get on Broadway, but if you can find a way, it’s absolutely worth seeing!

May 222017
 

Big Cat Trainer, Alexander Lacey, performs one last time with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Last night, May 21, I had the great honor of attending the final performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was a very special evening, which started with a moving tribute to his 50 years of stewardship of the Ringling enterprise by Kenneth Feld, the CEO.

It was performed to a packed house at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The show spoke eloquently to 146 years of American history. There were a lot of great moments, but perhaps the greatest was saved for after the end of the show. Ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson made an impromptu speech and invited all of the employees and their families from backstage to join in the arena and sing Auld Lang Syne.

Johnathan Lee Iverson with the Circus company

The NY Times quoted one ticket holder as saying, “…perhaps it will return, retooled and rebranded.” I join him in his sentiment.

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.

Mar 092017
 

On the weekend of March 4th and 5th, I was honored to share a stage with some veteran as well as many very promising young circus artists. I travelled to Brattleboro, Vermont, where the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) presented two performances of a delightful Circus Spectacular Gala and invited me to host as the ringmaster for both shows.  Serenity Smith Forchion and Elsie Smith, the founders of NECCA, brought together a fabulous and diverse group of performers, from hand balancers to rola bola masters.  They came from far and wide, from Canada to Tennessee, and all of the performers were somehow affiliated with the NECCA school as teachers or professional trainees.  Enjoy some photographs of the acts in action below:

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people on stage and text

Photo from NECCA’s Facebook page

The Circus Spectacular, performed at the vaudeville gem Latchis Theater, was a gala to raise money for a new building under construction for the school, as NECCA’s popularity grows and their facilities expand.  I was happy to participate in this wonderful venture!   And what a blast, to spend a few days onstage and backstage with these performers.

The acts included NECCA’s Advanced Youth Performance Troupe opening the show with a charivari, Alicia Dawn on the cloud swing, Jan Damm & Ariele Ebacher’s eccentric partner acrobatics act, and Liv Morrow on aerial straps.  Jan Damm reappeared in the second half on his rola bola, along with Molly Graves on aerial rope, “Kinetic Kristin” Leophard performing on the cyr wheel, with Ariana Ferber Carter, a Vermont local, sharing her contortion act.  Mario Diamond, a mime from Quebec who has performed on five continents, had two performance slots in the show.  They were true circus folk, who had performed with such companies as Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey, Cirque Eloise, Cirque du Soleil, the Bindlestiff Family Circus, the New Pickle Circus, and Vermont’s own Circus Smirkus.  Troy Wunderle, the Artistic Director of Circus Smirkus, performed a beautiful version of the breakaway bike (you might remember this act from Justin Case at the Big Apple Circus). Rounding out the performances were hand balancer Marieke Dailey, Doug Stewart on aerial rope, a juggling duet by Tony Duncan & Melissa Knowles, and the identical twin sister and co-Artistic Directors Elsie and Serenity on double trapeze.

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.

Aug 032016
 

Tanglewood 2016It’s become a tradition for the Dartmouth class of ‘63 to have a mini-reunion every August in conjunction with Tanglewood on Parade in Lenox, MA. Seeing and listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra is a truly wonderful experience every year.

This year they performed a contemporary piece called “Night Train to Perugia” by Michael Gandolfi. It was actually commissioned by the BSO and premiered at Tanglewood on Parade a few years back. The Orchestra also performed a harp concerto by Mozart, and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra performed Ravel’s La Valse. All of the musicians in the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra are less than thirty years old, and they are fantastic!

One of the true joys of this year’s show was John Williams conducting the Boston Pops. You know, John Williams is no kid anymore. He did several pieces including a suite from The BFG, which is his latest project, once again united with Steven Spielberg. Before leading the Pops in a song from the new Star Wars movie, he took the microphone and said, “As a composer for the movies, you have to understand that you never know what the movie will actually sound like once special effects gets ahold of it … with all the gunfire and the zooming and the booming. So it is my pleasure to present this scene WITHOUT the special effects.” He got a standing ovation upon both his entrance and exit. At eighty-four years old, he still has his talent and humor.

John Williams

John Williams

As in previous years, the concluding piece at Tanglewood on Parade was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with live cannon fire (that’s written into the music), followed by a dazzling and explosive fireworks display right over “The Shed.”

A little treat for you (and for me) if you haven’t read my post about Tanglewood from last year: in the second part of my blog entry, I recount the time that the Boston Pops joined the Big Apple Circus, and there’s even an old video of me conducting them in full clown regalia. It’s definitely worth a watch … or two (or twenty-five!).

“Pops Joins the Circus” is surely one of my finest memories of 30+ years at the Big Apple Circus.

Jan 192016
 
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A view of the French coast from the helicopter ride on the return journey to Nice.

Yesterday, Shelley and I made our return voyage from Monte Carlo where I was witness to four nights of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Go ahead, say I’m “over the top,” but the collection of acts was simply the finest group of circus artists and performers ever to be assembled under a big top in one place at one time. They constituted an extraordinary group of what was called “classical” or “traditional” circus.

This is the fortieth anniversary of a glorious festival, and the committee, consisting of Dr. Frere, Urs Pils (German Circus Krone), and Princess Stéphanie of Monaco (President of the Festival and Jury), among several others, was determined to bring the best acts in the world and have each of them perform in one ring over two nights. (The Festival actually goes on for eight days more, but after the fourth performance there was a celebratory dinner and a day of rest).

Princess Stephanie and Pauline Ducruet, Photo PLS Pool:Getty Images Europe

Princess Stéphanie at the festival with her children (Pauline Ducruet and Camille Gottlieb on her right and Louis Ducruet on her left).
Photo courtesy of PLS Pool/Getty Images Europe.

Twenty-four of the twenty-eight acts had previously been winners (some of them multiple times) of the Gold, Silver, or Bronze Clown, the circus equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars.

To have them assembled in one place at one time was akin to a religious experience for some circus fans. (Perhaps, that’s why I used the word “witness” in the preceding paragraph!) The festival is underwritten by the Palais de Monaco in a tent that seats 4,000+ audience members and is promoted year-round as part of the of the culture of the Principality of Monaco. No expense is spared.

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Standing (left) ringside facing the performers are Princess Stéphanie of Monaco with her daughter, and standing (center) facing the front of the ring is Prince Albert II, the reigning monarch.

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Shelley and me with Martin Lacey Jr.

The pre-festival cocktail party, the Circus Director’s Luncheon at the Hotel Hermitage, and the Festival Dinner are by invitation only. I was honored to attend all three, Shelley, two. Princess Stéphanie hosted all three events. We were invited to sit at her table along with Pauline Ducruet (Princess Stéphanie’s daughter), Marie-Jose Knie (a member of the Swiss Familie Knie Circus), Alexis Gruss (of the French Le Cirque Gruss Ancien), Flavio Togni (of the Italian Circo Americano), and Martin Lacey Jr. (Gold Clown winning trainer of large cats and star of Circus Krone). It was a thrill. Alexis is a long-standing friend of mine (and, I should add, once directed none other than Big Apple Circus’ own Artistic Director, Guillaume Dufresnoy). What an honor!

There were many memorable highlights under the big top as well:

Bello Nock, who won a Gold Clown some years ago, on his second night, was outstanding. (There were a variety of reasons, not his doing, that he was not his usual superb self on his first night.)

Desire of Flight, who were booked and contracted at BAC by Guillaume, got a well-deserved and very loud, standing ovation.

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Desire of Flight: Valeriy Sychev and Malvina Abakarova

Alexis Gruss and Flavio Togni were the class of the festival with their horses already safe in the stable by the time the audience had finished their ovation.


Alexis Gruss and his 6 stallion “maypole.”

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Alexis Gruss with a Portuguese Stallion hind leg walking.

The Sokolov Troupe. In their first incarnation we knew them (in two different BAC seasons) as Kovgar Troupe. Sokolov is the second generation. Their act is a fun tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with his music and costumes from the 18th century. Great tricks and super audience response.

Willer Niccolodi, the unlikely ventriloquist, fresh from his appearance at Circus Knie and BAC, filled the tent with peals of laughter.

Both the men’s and women’s Acrobatic Troupes of the “National Circus of China” were outstanding. (I’m not so sure that there is a such-named troupe except for one to prepare for festivals … drawn from several other groups around their nation.)

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The National Circus of China: The performer has jumped and is diving through a hoop eight feet from the ground.

Another memorable routine was performed by the hand-to-hand acrobats, Scherbak and Popov, Gold Clown winners from the Ukraine.

The Caselly Family elephants (African, no less—known to be more difficult to train than their “cousins” the Asians) were superb.

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The Caselly Family: The elephant on the left has just hit the teeterboard, and the performer (in white) is in the air on his way via a double somersault to the the back of the elephant on the right.

Laura Miller and her aquatic aerial ring was unique.

Encho, the hand-balancing strongman, with whom I had the privilege to work at Circus Sarasota, was most memorable.

And several more …

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Standing alongside Katya and Nelson Quiroga of the Flying Tabares.

I was especially pleased to be in the company of Mary Jane Brock, Big Apple Circus Vice Chair, and her husband, Charley, along with five of her friends, from school and early professional days.

It was a thrilling four days, one that reinforced the Big Apple Circus’s vitality and vision as an organization.

Dec 122015
 

What a blast! My two cabaret performances at New York’s famed Metropolitan Room this past weekend were a huge success. Saturday night was sold out, and the audience was comfortably full on Sunday evening. It was a joy for me to be able to perform in front of friendly, forgiving faces.

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A photo taken from House Left

This was an entirely new experience for me. Between finishing college and until three years ago, I had never sung in front of an audience. But then the late Isaiah Scheffer encouraged me when he cast me as Mitt Romney’s dog in the Thalia Follies.

During all of my years in the ring I had a set routine about when and how to prepare for each show. But on Saturday night I had no routine to help control my nerves. Things were very hectic. The show immediately before mine ran very late, so my sound check and vocal warm up were condensed into a brief three minutes. And I could barely make my way back downstairs to the dressing room because of all the guests who were already waiting to find their seats. I experienced a rush of butterflies, all the while being nearly overwhelmed by the incredible turnout. It’s difficult to describe my contradictory feelings: all the friendly faces calmed my nerves while simultaneously contributing to my anxiety because I didn’t want to disappoint. What an unusual skew of emotions for a performer! I’ve always been a bit nervous before every performance and actually believe that if you don’t get nervous before a show, you probably don’t care enough.

It took me a couple songs on Saturday night to relax into the performance, but after that, it was relatively smooth sailing. And I eased into the performance even quicker on Sunday. The wonderful Lainie Cooke, who joined me onstage to sing “Do You Love Me?” and our crowd-pleasing finale song “Mention My Name in Sheboygan,” had given me a great note: “Just tell the story.” Her words stayed with me all night. Many of the songs I chose to sing, especially those originally performed by the incomparable Danny Kaye, are story-based, and I’ve been a storyteller my whole life, so Lainie’s words were a great comfort for me to just focus on doing what I do best.

I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to the success of the show. The entire staff at the Metropolitan Room were wonderful in organizing the event and keeping track of guests for the two performances. My guest performers Lainie Cooke and Bradley Jones were professionals from beginning to end. Both of them had wonderful solo performances. (I may even have to steal Bradley’s solo song, “Very Soft Shoes” from Once Upon a Mattress, since it’s been stuck in my head ever since the performance.) And of course, I never would have survived the show without the support and brilliance of our pianist, Dennis Buck. Let me tell you, the man is a genius–he could make a frog sound good. And on Saturday and Sunday … he did!

PB RHL Paul

“The Life of the Party”

PB RHL Paul and Bradley

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”

PB RHL Paul and Lainie

“Do You Love Me?”

PB RHL Trio

“Mention My Name in Sheboygan”

I made sure to plant myself by the door so that I could say hello to everyone on their way out of the Metropolitan Room. (I also sold several copies of my book at the “gift shop” … the lobby coffee table.) Nearly everyone I spoke with was encouraging about the show, and many made comments about making this an annual tradition.

Well, I surely do like the idea of getting to do this again.

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Signing a copy of my book in the “Gift Shop”

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I love taking pictures with people from the audience. Here’s one with Joan Swirsky.