Jan 192016

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.)


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.


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 …


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.


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!


“The Life of the Party”

PB RHL Paul and Bradley

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”

PB RHL Paul and Lainie

“Do You Love Me?”


“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.


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


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


Nov 092015

Have you ever had the opportunity to introduce a cardinal?! How about sing for one?! Well, this past week, I got to do both!

About two months ago I was contacted by Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Peg and her staff were busy coordinating the Living Landmarks Gala, an annual soiree held in the Plaza Ballroom to honor new Living Landmarks. Each year, the Conservancy recognizes New Yorkers who have made outstanding contributions to the City.

Plaza Grand Ballroom

The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom

Several years ago my juggling partner and Big Apple Circus co-founder, Michael Christensen, and I were honored and humbled to be declared New York Living Landmarks. I have been serving on the Gala’s Celebration Committee for the past few years, so when Peg called me up to ask if I would consider co-hosting the gala this year, I was both excited and nervous. Legendary gossip columnist, Liz Smith, had been hosting for seventeen years. This was a big deal! Honorees range from entertainers to entrepreneurs. And we’re talking some pretty huge names: Candice Bergen, Whoopi Goldberg, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Jerry Orbach, Elaine Stritch, and George C. Wolfe, just to name a few, not to mention some Rockefellers, governors, mayors, and senators.

Paul and Michael receiving Living Landmarks award

Michael Christensen and I accepting our award

Paul Binder; Shelley Doctors

My sweetheart, Shelley, and me (and my chins) at the Gala in 2012

So, would I consider co-hosting? … YEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!

The lineup of honorees this year was terrific, and I was thrilled to be involved. Honored this year were Ken Langone, philanthropist and celebrated co-founder of the Home Depot; Brooke and Daniel Neidich, she the co-founder of Child Mind Institute and he a dedicated philanthropist and founder of Dune Real Estate Partners; Susan L. Solomon, a longtime healthcare advocate and the co-founder and CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation; Dr. Susan Weber, Director and Founder of the internationally-acclaimed Bard Graduate Center; and Robert E. Wankel and Philip J. Smith, Co-CEOs (and President and Chairman, respectively) of the Shubert Organization. I was thrilled to be able to take the stage alongside a handful of people who help make New York City great.

Not too long after agreeing to co-host, it turned out that I was going to host the event myself with the assistance of a couple presenters and special guests. And I was very enthusiastic about the company. I was delighted to be joined by Broadway legends Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters, who helped present the award to Phil Smith and Robert Wankel. Also, the Shubert Organization arranged for a special performance by Brian Stokes Mitchell, who will be returning to Broadway in the spring alongside Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along. Brian sang an mind-blowing arrangement of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

And then, of course, there was his Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who presented the award to Ken Langone. And as host, little ole me got to introduce the cardinal! THE Cardinal of New York City! (Hey, Ma, look at me now!) And just because I never knew if the opportunity would ever come around again, with the help of Ken Langone and Peter Duchin, I led the audience in a verse of “Sidewalks of New York.”

All in all, the Living Landmarks Gala was a gas! I had loads of fun, and it was invigorating to be around so many talented and proactive New Yorkers. I sure hope the opportunity comes around again.

One last thing … Because we had to stick to a strict show running time, I didn’t have an opportunity to give a proper goodbye to Cardinal Dolan. So if you’re reading this, your eminence … whether or not the Dolan who owns the Knicks is a relative of yours, maybe you can pray for him. We really want a championship.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan

James L. Dolan Nicks Owner

Knicks’ Owner, James L. Dolan


Nov 062015

BAC Grand Tour PosterIt’s been quite a while since my last post, but that’s because there’s just too much going on, here in my “retirement”! I’ve been working on a few really fun projects this past coupla’ weeks, so I’d like to tell you about some of them.

First of all, the Big Apple Circus has moved into Lincoln Center for the season. I made my way up to Walden, New York, a few times over the past several months to watch the show as it developed and moved into dress rehearsals. The new show is called “The Grand Tour” and it’s a loving homage to 1920s travel. I’ll write more about the new show soon, but for now, I want to say that it’s definitely worth attending. It’s one of our strongest shows ever and features some truly remarkable talent.

I also spent a week between San Francisco and Los Angeles in the first half of October. My sweetheart and  partner, Shelley Doctors, had her organization’s annual psychology conference in L.A. this year–not quite as picturesque as last year’s conference in Israel, but still good. Before making our way to southern California, we stopped off in the Bay Area so that I could visit the San Francisco Circus School, on whose advisory board I sit. While in California, I was able to spend some time with both of my sons (and a couple of my grandchildren), which certainly made the trip worthwhile. Max, who grew up at the Big Apple Circus as a performer, is a “scrum master” at Wikimedia, the parent company of Wikipedia. You want to know what a scrum master is, I suppose? Well, leave me a comment below. And Adam, Max’s older brother who lives and works in the L.A. area, is the Executive Vice President of a division of Warner Brothers Television. Max is a graduate of Harvard, and Adam is a fellow Dartmouth graduate. Not too shabby a sibling rivalry, eh?

Speaking of rivalries, I went to the game at Dodger Stadium where the Mets won the National League pennant. I was in disguise … my Mets t-shirt under my sweater.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 04: General View of the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at Dodger Stadium on April 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

View of Dodger Stadium, photo by Harry How of Getty Images

Next, as I mentioned previously, I had an opportunity to go down to Sarasota Florida and perform my cabaret for the Sarasota Showfolks Club. The evening was arranged by Leigh Ketchum and Brian Liddicoat as a fundraiser for the Showfolks, CFA Tent 122, and the Sarasota Ring of Fame. I have been developing a cabaret show for the Metropolitan Room in New York, so I was delighted when Leigh and Brian asked if I would come be a guest of honor at the Showfolks–it was the perfect opportunity for “an out-of-town tryout.”

Showfolks of Sarasota building

My accompanist and musical director, the incomparable Dennis Buck, was able to join me in Sarasota for the event and even agreed to perform one of the show’s duets with me since since my friends Lainie Cooke and Bradley Jones, who will be singing with me at the Metropolitan Room, are based in New York. In addition to Dennis, I was fortunate enough to be united with a wonderful local Sarasota performer, Dagmar Beavers, who kindly agreed to sing one solo number, a duet with me, and a finale trio.

Paul, Katja, Katherine, and Max at Sarasota Cabaret Night

Here’s my two youngest kids Katherine and Max with their mother, Katja.

The Showfolks were extremely gracious, and we had a great turnout. I’m sure we could have crammed in a few more people if we had wanted everyone to be packed in like sardines, but I was very pleased with the size and energy of the audience. Plus, my two youngest kids came to watch their old man risk his life … singing … in front of a room full of people. It was wonderful to have a full audience watch my cabaret for the first time, and my anticipation for my benefit performance for the Big Apple Circus community programs is growing. It’s at the Metropolitan Room (34 W. 22nd St., btwn. 5th and 6th) on December 5. The Room tells me they’re likely to sell out, so get your tickets soon! (Click here for ticket information.)

One other event that I had a great time doing recently: last night I hosted the annual Living Landmarks Gala for the New York Landmarks Conservancy at the Plaza Ballroom. The event was a gas. Check back real soon because I’ve lots to say about that evening.

Sep 152015

Paul Binder Headshot, photo credit Bertrand GuayOver the last couple months I have been working on something very special. I’ve had lots of fun performing at various events and parties this past year, and I want to keep on singing for friends and family. So, I’ve been putting together a cabaret show.

The first thing I had to do was to come up with some songs to sing. It certainly wasn’t easy to narrow down my list of favorite songs from all the tunes that I know. Of course I wanted to sing songs that I like, but I also tried to select songs that relate to my life. Let’s just say that the initial song list was anything but short. Eventually, I shortened the list to a dozen or so songs that could be woven together into a single show.

I’ve been practicing and rehearsing weekly with my friend, the incredible accompanist Dennis Buck. I have a great time working with Dennis. (He really knows how to actually make me sound good.)

PB Blog, PB Risks His Life, Cabaret NightI also reached out to a couple friends and asked them if they wanted to be involved in the show. I’m extremely pleased that both Lainie Cooke and Bradley Jones will be singing. Each of them will sing a solo and then a duet with me. Lainie is a jazz singer, and I’ve known her for many years. Bradley was a musical theatre performer long before he became a psychoanalyst. We sang together last year at a going-away party.

The cabaret is coming together nicely. I’ll actually be taking the show down to Sarasota, Florida at the end of October. I’ve been asked to be a special guest at the Showfolks Club. For everyone based in New York, though, don’t worry–you have an opportunity to see the show too without flying down to Florida for the weekend. I’m scheduled to perform at the Metropolitan Room on Saturday, December 5. The show will be a benefit performance. All proceeds will be donated to the Big Apple Circus’s award-winning community programs.

Cabaret - Metropolitan Room

There are probably ten thousand people who you would rather hear sing. And I completely sympathize with that sentiment. As one friend put it, by singing in a cabaret I am risking my life. But it should be great (dangerous!) fun. And if you like hammed-up, very ordinary singing, you are in for a treat!

Cabaret - Show TitleDate: Saturday, December 5, 2015

Place: Metropolitan Room (34 W. 22nd St.)
Time: doors open at 9:00pm, show starts at 9:30pm
General admission: $20 (and two drink minimum)

Purchase tickets online at http://metropolitanroom.com/
or by calling (212) 206-0440

Aug 102015

Tanglewood - Tanglewood LogoLast week, I drove up to Lenox, Mass. with my sweetheart and partner, Shelley Doctors for a Dartmouth class of ‘63 mini-reunion and to see (and hear) the incomparable Tanglewood on Parade Gala Concert. The Tanglewood Shed is enormous, with a capacity of over 5,500. In addition, thousands more sit outside on the grass. Tanglewood has been the main summer venue of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for more than 75 years.

Shelley and I met up with fifteen of my classmates and their wives/partners for afternoon drinks at Carole and Rich Berkowitz’s beautiful house before dinner, then headed to the concert venue. Rich is one of a few of my former classmates that I keep up with on a regular basis, but it’s so nice to be able to gather together and share stories face to face with all of them.

Tanglewood - Group

Here are all fifteen classmates with their wives/partners in Carole and Rich Berkowitz’s beautiful backyard

Tanglewood on Parade is an all day event, beginning with fanfares at the main gate at two o’clock. There are concerts around the Tanglewood complex throughout the day, and at night is the Gala Concert. Along with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Tanglewood on Parade event featured the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and the Boston Pops.

The climax of the entire concert was certainly the final piece: a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannon booms that are in the score. The sound of real cannons was incredible. I also particularly enjoyed listening to the Pops, who played a wonderful tribute to Frank Sinatra and a couple pieces from Star Wars by composer John Williams. Also they performed a violin piece that was a tribute to Williams’ late wife, that had me in tears. (My father was a violinist.)

I once conducted the Boston Pops as part of the Big Apple Circus. The event was filmed for PBS and titled Pops Joins the Circus. The act went something like this:

After being quickly changed, by the clowns, out of my ringmaster suit and into a clown costume, I ended up in front of the 80 piece Pops Orchestra, who were seated in the center section of the Big Top audience. Now a clown, I soon discovered that I could control the orchestra by waving my hands. After dancing to the music and goofing around for a bit, I selected some kids from the audience to try their hands at conducting, which they did very successfully. When I invited an adult into the ring, though, the movement of his hands resulted in the horribly discordant sound of hash from the Pops. With closer inspection, I signaled to the audience that he had dirty hands. Well, I cleaned him up, and wouldn’t you know, the dissonant chords morphed back into beautiful symphonic sounds of Offenbach’s Gaite Parisienne (the Can-Can).

And here’s some old footage from the Pops Joins the Circus event:

Apr 262015

A few months ago, David Orr contacted me about being a guest speaker at the Altoona Circus Bonanza hosted by the Adam Forepaugh – Barry Lubin “Grandma” Tent No. 2, the oldest active CFA (Circus Fans Association of America) “tent.”

Altoona - Circus Fan

Altoona is a city in central Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive southwest of State College, so on my drive across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I was able to listen to lots of good music.

There were two Circus Fans clubs, so-called “tents,” that were involved with the Circus Bonanza Weekend, so I got to go to dinner on two subsequent evenings. The first was hosted by the Emmett Kelly – Bello Nock Tent No. 41. The second was for the Forepaugh – Lubin Tent where I was guest speaker.

The emcee of both events was a gent named Mort Gamble, who is the Assistant to the President of Bethany College. Equally fun was a woman named Katie (I wish I could remember her last name) who was the ringmaster of the Bello Nock tent. She had read my book and tells the stories as well as I do, with some unique twists. What surprised me most was that someone told me after the event that she’s an FBI Agent–a delightful FBI agent, I must say. Circus fans come in all guises, as circus has the distinction of cutting across all social/political/economic boundaries.

Billy Martin

Billy Martin

After the dinner on Saturday, we all headed over to the Royal Hanneford Circus, sponsored by Jaffa Shrine. For those of you who don’t know, the shriners have children’s hospitals all over the country and wear unusual hats (some might call them silly). For many years they have sponsored circuses that raise money for their hospitals.

Billy Martin, who is an old friend, has been the ringmaster at Hanneford for the past 20 years. I was also pleased to see Ian Garden, Jr. and his America’s Show Camels. One of my favorite acts was the Lopez Family High Wire. They were very good, very strong. But of course the highlight for me was seeing Grandma in the ring. Barry’s appearance in the program was billed as “Everyone’s Favorite Senior Citizen,” and the title certainly fits.

080213 - Stone Mountain, Ga., : (all cq) Barry Lubin, "Grandma" of the U.S.A., throws a bucket of popcorn at the open mouth of Frankie Ashby, of Dacula, during the Big Apple Circus performs an afternoon show during their stay Wednesday afternoon in Stone Mountain, Ga., February 13, 2008. After failed attempts at getting a piece of popcorn in Ashby's mouth Grandma dumped the whole bucket at Ashby. Ashby was there with his family. The Big Apple Circus is celebrating their 30th birthday under the big top. Jason Getz  /  AJC

Grandma throws a bucket of popcorn at the open mouth
of an audience member at the Big Apple Circus

I had the pleasure of visiting Barry between shows. It was the highlight of the day.

Sitting beside Grandma at the Royal Hanneford Circus
photo courtesy of the Forepaugh – Lubin Tent

Mar 062015

Betes - Betes Organization

Betes - Cookie in the tent024

Deborah Kaufmann as Cookie the Clown,
photo by Paul Gutheil

My friend and colleague Deborah Kaufman approached me a couple months ago about a project she called “Marry the Beast.” From the title, I had no idea what to expect but because Deborah and I go way back (Deborah is one of the founding members of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care unit), I said “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s this all about?”

“Marry the Beast” is a project of the Betes Organization, a new not-for-profit that uses performance to focus on the emotional and relational component of diabetes care emphasizing the message that healthcare is a human story. The “Betes” in the organization’s name is pronounced “Bee-Tees.” The term Betes is close to the French “les bêtes,” which means “beasts,” but in this context the term is derived primarily from “diabetes.”

Betes - Marina Tsaplina

Marina Tsaplina and her Betes,
photo courtesy of the Betes Organization

Deborah said they would be pleased to honor me at an event at the end of February.

Dr. Paul Wiseman told me that I had type 2 diabetes just over 18 years ago. I’ve spoken openly about living with type 2 before, and part of my story was published by Diabetes Forecast in their March 2014 issue. I was happy to be able to share more of my story with the Betes Organization. They suggested the format of me marrying my betes, my “Beast.”

Over time and several discussions with Deborah and Marina Tsaplina, the founder, executive and artistic director of the Betes Organization, the idea behind the “Marry the Beast” was (thankfully!) changed into a renewal of the vows that I’d made 18 years ago to seek a vital and healthy way to live with my type 2 diabetes. In the presence of some dear friends of mine and supporters of the Betes Organization, I would talk about my personal journey with diabetes and renew my vowed commitment to exercise, eat healthy, keep my weight down and deal with the emotional qualities of my condition.

Barbara Ann Michaels,
photo courtesy of Barbara Ann Michaels

The event took place this past Saturday evening at the historic firehouse at 87 Lafayette Street. Barbara Ann Michaels, an ordained minister … the “Jester of the Peace,” officiated the ceremony, which was complete with Deborah as a delightfully wacky flower girl, a processional to a recording of Stephane Grappelli playing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” and a lovely tribute to my parents and grandmother. Then my sweetheart Shelley read a passage from The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder by Henry Miller in which he speaks of clowns being blessed with the ability to help us all rise above what Miller called “the common grief.” I read a chapter from the original manuscript of my book that talks about how the Zen Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind” helped me overcome the initial shock of my diabetes diagnosis. That was followed by a community blessing and pledge of continuing support, the actual vows renewal, and a recessional complete with me wearing my top hat to the tune of the Mills Brothers singing “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Oh, and (ha, ha!) I was able to squeeze in a fun musical performance of “The Ugly Duckling” with the help of the brilliant accompanist Dennis Buck, who also played for me at the Lotos Got Talent event at the end of November.

The truth is that I love any chance I can get to perform and share some of my stories, and I’m grateful to the Betes Organization for honoring me and providing me with this thoroughly enjoyable opportunity.

One last thing I want to share … I received this short video in an e-mail a day after the event. I couldn’t resist sharing with all of you.

Feb 162015

Did you know that “the circus capital of the world” is in Florida? Truly. At least, that’s how many of us lovingly refer to the city of Sarasota. If you keep up with my blog posts, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I take a few trips annually down the east coast—and not just because this bird likes to fly south for the winter. I was just in Sarasota last week for the “Collecting Recollections” interview at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and I was fortunate enough to get a chance to see Circus Sarasota for a dress rehearsal and, later in the week, a performance of their show “Fearless.”

Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs in front of the Circus Sarasota big top, photo courtesy of the Circus Arts Conservatory

Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs in front of the Circus Sarasota big top, photo courtesy of the Circus Arts Conservatory

The Circus Arts Conservatory in Sarasota is a not-for-profit training and performance organization dedicated to community outreach and service. And, they perform in an intimate one-ring, European-style tent … very much like another circus very near and dear to me. The company was founded by Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs. Dolly performed multiple times with the Big Apple Circus before she and Pedro (who also performed with the Big Apple Circus) began touring together with their pas de deux aerial act. Based in Sarasota, Circus Sarasota’s outreach programs (Humor Therapy Program, Education Program, and Sailor Circus Academy) serve the community year-round, in addition to their big top performances.

Their newest show is called “Fearless,” and with a featured act showcasing the extraordinary seven-person pyramid on the high wire, the show earns its name. The star turn is the Wallenda family, led by the audacious Nik Wallenda. In 2012 Nik became the first person to walk a wire across Niagara Falls, and a year later he outdid himself, walking a wire over the Grand Canyon. And under the big top at Circus Sarasota, the seven-person pyramid—first created by the legendary Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great-grandfather—is extraordinary and stunning to witness.

The Fabulous Wallendas' seven person pyramid at Circus Sarasota, photo by Rick Purdue

The Fabulous Wallendas’ seven-person pyramid at Circus Sarasota, photo by Rick Purdue

Another excellent act in the show is the hand balancing Duo Shcherbak & Popov. The Ukrainian performers began their training as international gymnasts, and their strength, balance, and control is a sight to behold. The duo has received a gold medal at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris and the Golden Clown at the International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo (where I had the honor to serve on the jury with both Prince Rainier and Princess Stephanie).

Duo Shcherbak & Popov performing at the Monte Carlo Festival, photo courtesy of Spectacle Magazine

Duo Shcherbak & Popov performing at the Monte Carlo Festival, photo courtesy of Spectacle Magazine

David Burlet and Anton Monastrysky also do wonderful solo acts, and the clown Renaldo (whose career started at the Big Apple Circus … as an usher) has a very funny audience volunteer entree.

The new show is scheduled to run through this next weekend, closing Sunday, February 22. If you can get to the show in Sarasota, do it.

Dec 022014

I have deep gratitude for being an honorary member of the Lotos Club, New York City’s wonderful private club dedicated to literature and the arts. As you all know, I’m a great believer in the deep value of arts and culture, and as you also know, I love to sing, although mostly in the shower.

Last Monday night was the sixth annual “Lotos Got Talent” event at the Lotos Club where club members get to perform for fellow members and their guests. This year’s performance featured eight singing acts, a trombone medley, a comedic sketch, a classical piano performance, and a few readings of humorous poetry and quotations.

The audience came to enjoy the evening. It was a full house, and they were clapping along right from the beginning.

This was my first time performing at the event, and I was very pleased to do it. Gloria Shafer, the creator and producer of the event, had urged me to participate a few months ago.

Vivian Blaine, the original Miss Adelaide in the Broadway, London, and film productions

Vivian Blaine, the original Miss Adelaide in the Broadway, London, and film productions of Guys and Dolls

I performed two songs, both written by legendary composer and lyricist Frank Loesser. The first was “Adelaide’s Lament.” Now, Adelaide is a character, a showgirl, in the great 1950’s musical Guys and Dolls. I was encouraged to do the song by Gail Van Voorhis, our wonderful Lotos Club leader of the Theatre Round Table.

There were a few moments during the rehearsal process where I wasn’t sure people were going to laugh and go along with me singing as Adelaide. But (whew!) the audience at the performance was definitely encouraging and I had a ball doing it.

My second song was my personal homage to the great Danny Kaye. The song was “The Ugly Duckling” from the musical film Hans Christian Andersen. If you saw it, you might remember:

There once was an ugly duckling
With feathers all stubby and brown
And the other birds in so many words said …
“Get out of town.”

Danny Kaye telling the story of "The Ugly Duckling" in the film Hans Christian Andersen

Danny Kaye telling the story of “The Ugly Duckling” in the film Hans Christian Andersen

But of course the other birds didn’t just tell him to get out of town––they quacked at him. And I wasn’t just going to quack all by myself throughout the song. So, I asked for audience participation. And participate they did. You gotta picture this: a room filled with fully grown men and women, dressed to the nines, all quacking along. It was great fun!

As Mark Twain, an early member of the Lotos Club, said, “He who laughs, lasts.”


The wonderful cast of “Lotos Got Talent.” From left to right … Back row: Dennis Buck, Paul F. Jock, Donald O. Quest, Meg Brogan, D. Bruce Rabbino, Martha Cohen Stine, and Paul Binder. Front row: Olivia Casriel, Jill J. Witten, Gloria Shafer, Jane Hart, Anne Russell, and Carol Robinson.