Monday, June 22, 2009

Remembering Judy Garland

It was 40 years ago today that Judy Garland passed away. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I remember where I was, I remember what I had for dinner that night,
I remember how sad I was. I cried and cried, I was eight years old! According to Wikipedia, Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm; June 10, 1922 – June 22, 1969) was an American actress and singer. Through a career that spanned 45 of her 47 years, Garland attained international stardom as an actress in musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist, and on the concert stage. Respected for her versatility, she received a Juvenile Academy Award, won a Golden Globe Award, received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her work in films, as well as Grammy Awards and a Tony Award.
She had a contralto singing range. Incredible career and life and yet people want to focus on the tragic. Not me! Today,I celebrate a wonderful career and life! Judy is still in the news! This past weekend, Many celebrated the Platinum Anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” -- the most-watched movie in the world -- in the birthplace of its brightest star, with the 34th Annual Judy Garland Festival, taking place all weekend in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I just returned from Minneapolis where I appeared in LIFESONG 2009 APPLAUD AND PAUSE FOR A CAUSE for BECAUSE WE CARE. Because We Care hosted by Broadway star, acclaimed writer, and television personality, Bruce Vilanch. The event, was held at the Music Box Theatre (where Carol Channing did HELLO, DOLLY! while in Minnesota!). It featured performances by more than two dozen nationally recognized entertainers who donated their time for this one night extravaganza in the Twin Cities. I am honored to have been included.

Entertainers appearing with Bruce Vilanch included acclaimed actress and cabaret star Sharon McNight, entertainer Cindy Benson, Eric Michael Gillett, singer and pianist Mark Nadler, Karen Saunders, yours truly, with musical director Ron Snyder. WHO WAS INCREDIBLE! Other cast members included Miss Peggy Judy, Marcus Simeone and Irene Soderberg.
Because We Care Minnesota Performing Arts Alliance Responding To AIDS is a all volunteer, not-for -profit organization founded in 1994 by a group of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The LIFESONG performance series has become a living memorial to the founder's many friends lost through AIDS and with support from the entertainment industry providing resources to Minnesotans living with or at risk for HIV infection. Proceeds from this performance will benefit HIV services and prevention programs at the Minnesta AIDS Project.
This year's performance featured a special presentation Honoring Sharon McNight for her Humanitarian work in HIV/AIDS.

Sponsors of this years LIFESONG are the Millennium Hotel, Cenveo, Chambers Hotel,Saloon and My Scene City. Thank you Karen Saunders for asking me to be part of this!

Anne Hathaway has revealed that she must have been insane to agree to play the role of iconic singer Judy Garland, as she is not sure she has the talent to do the part justice.

Hathaway, 26, is terrified about playing the role of the late star in a big screen adaptation of biographer Gerald Clarke’s 2001 book ‘Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland’.
“I think I’m either naive or insane to play her - maybe a little bit of both!” the Daily Star quoted her as telling the New York Daily News.

But at least Hathaway has the backing of another musical veteran, Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli.

“I haven’t had a chance to talk to her about it yet, but I understand that as long as I treat Judy with respect - which of course I will - Liza is very happy about it,” she added.

Two separate national surveys gauging youth and adult participation in the arts reported last week that visits to art museums are declining.

The percentage of eighth-graders who reported that they visited an art museum or gallery with their classes dropped from 22 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 2008!

The arts contribute so much to the economy, to the education, to the cultural life and I'm not convinced that everybody is always totally aware of that. I desire to raise the profile of the arts to give everybody an idea of the kind of thing we do. "The National Endowment for the Arts also released new data recently showing that fewer adults were choosing an art museum or a visual arts festival as a leisure-time destination. From 1992 to 2001, 26 percent of adults reported that they visited such attractions, but the number for 2008 dropped to 23 percent.
The decrease is small, but it may portend coming declines as the most loyal part of the museum audience ages. The exception, the NEA said, was in the D.C. metropolitan area, where 40 percent of adults said they had visited a museum in 2008 -- reflecting tourism and free admission at most major museums.
In addition, the agency noted sizable declines between 1982 (when it first started documenting arts participation) and 2008 in almost every performing arts field. It reported double-digit rates of decline for classical music, jazz, opera, musical theater, ballet and dramatic plays.
The NEA survey "shows that audiences for the arts are changing," said Patrice Walker Powell, the acting NEA chairman. "While many now participate in arts activities available through electronic media, the number of American adults who are participating in live performing and visual arts events is declining. The findings underscore the need for more arts education to foster the next generation of both artists and arts enthusiasts."
The National Assessment of Educational Progress report is part of a periodic federal look at how America's students fare in various subjects. Arts education was last measured in 1997, but because of budget constraints, the survey was limited this time to music and visual arts. The schools and students were selected at random, said a spokeswoman, and the questions took various forms.

Some results are promising. Students were asked to identify the instrument in the opening solo of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Fifty percent correctly identified the clarinet.

Other results indicated that students need improvement in basic skills. In NAEP's visual arts component, students were asked to do a self-portrait.

Only 4 percent received the highest mark of "sufficient," while 57 percent received a "minimal" rating, the third-best ranking.

General accessibility to arts instruction remained constant, the NAEP report said.
Music instruction was offered at least three or four times a week in 57 percent of the schools and visual arts instruction in 47 percent.

Yet there were several gaps in student scores. Whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders scored 22 to 32 points higher than black or Hispanic students. On music questions, public school eighth-graders scored 14 points lower than private school students and nine points lower than their private school counterparts in the visual arts sections.

The recession's impact on school arts programs has not been statistically evaluated, but anecdotal indicators are not encouraging.

"School budget cuts are underway, with more projected next year," said Eileen Weiser, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, speaking of the economic climate in Michigan. David W. Gordon, the superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, said California is cutting back on school buses, which would further jeopardize school trips. The first family of the United States (minus the nation's No. 1 jazz fan, who was busy with health-care reform) was there.

First lady Michelle Obama told the group that jazz was always in the air when she was growing up in Chicago. Her grandfather put speakers in every room of his house, turned up the stereo and listened to music all day long.

Bring your voice, bring your opinions, bring art back to our schools.

In 1943, the United States Armed Forces Institute published a second edition of War Department Education Manual EM 603 Discovering Music: A Course in Music Appreciation by Howard D. McKinney and W.R. Anderson.
The material presented in the book was a reprint of educational material taken from existing standard textbook matter used in American schools and colleges at that time and is significant to this discussion because the text included the following when discussing jazz:

Some may start with an enthusiasm for music of the jazz type, but they cannot go far there, for jazz is peculiarly of an inbred, feeble-stock race, incapable of development. In any case, the people for whom it is meant could not understand it if it did develop. Jazz is sterile. It is all right for fun, or as a mild anodyne, like tobacco.

The ambitious listener might better start from the level of Chopin's melodious piano music, or Grieg's northern elegiacs or Tchaikovsky's gorgeous colorfulness.

Today ask people under the age of 25, "Do you know who Louis Armstrong was?" "Do you know who Duke Ellington was?" "Do you know who Dizzy Gillespie was?" "Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Carol Channing?"
It tears my heart apart that young people today have no idea who the men were that put them (I'm talking about people in the entertainment field) on their shoulders and helped shaped who I was as a young musician.
Men who will forever stand at the foundation of popular music, and who I believe in years to come will be regarded as America's Chopins, Griegs and Tchaikovskys.

In the face of our record business collapsing around the world, I consider it a tragedy on the part of our educational institutions that our children are virtually devoid of their home-grown culture while that same culture is accepted and celebrated all over the world. With the belief that we must first clean our own house in regard to preserving our cultural legacy, networks and ideas to make music education an ongoing part of the lives of children in the United States must happen.

We should be creating a program that ensures our children are thoroughly grounded in the history of American music and its importance to the cultural identity of our nation.

Increase the quality and number of the most qualified music educators in the United States.
Develop shared advocacy and funding initiatives for youth music programs.

Our culture is as much a part of and just as important to our American history as Washington's crossing of the Delaware, the invasion of Normandy and the landing of a man on the moon and is just as important to our children's educational development.

It has been proven time and time again in countless studies that students who actively participate in arts education are twice as likely to read for pleasure, have strengthened problem-solving and critical thinking skills, are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair, three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, and four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay of poem.
Can you imagine the confidence it instills in them to overcome any obstacle that they are presented with?

Every great society from the Egyptians, to the Greek and Roman Empires, has been defined by its cultural contributions. The commercial benefits of the arts not withstanding -- our artistic endeavors are a consistent source of revenue in the United States and our nation's largest export -- can we really run the risk of becoming a culturally bankrupt nation because we have not inserted a curriculum into our educational institutions that will teach and nurture creativity in our children?
That when future generations look back our cultural legacy is an age of disposable, vapid pabulum.

I am of the mindset that you have to know where you come from to get to where you're going. The time has come to make a concerted effort from both the public and private sectors to put in place a system whereby our children and future generations will be aware of our county's rich cultural legacy and contributions to the world.
The arts, particularly our music, are the soul of our country. They are an expression of our spiritual ideals and a timeline of the emotional state of our nation... scars and all.
Beverly, Massachusetts' North Shore Music Theater announced recently that its fifty-four year run is over. An operation devoted to youth education and to the staging of original as well as famous musical shows, the theater will be missed by the thousands who supported it for a half century.

Our country has a long history of discarding and devaluing our cultural resources particularly where music is concerned.
And although we have thankfully evolved in this pursuit, we still have much further to go before we can claim that we are diligent protectors of our cultural heritage.

In the global landscape that we live in today where ideas are exchanged with the stroke of a send key, what better way to influence nations than by exposing them to the basic belief in freedom of expression that is inherent in our nation and witnessed through our culture.

The practical reason why many theatres are disappearing from our cultural landscape is that they have debts up to their hips with not a chance to pay them off. This includes millions owed to subscribers who pay in advance for upcoming seasons that will never arrive.

The real reason for many closings, the one that has been eroding the revenue base for years, is never discussed - the generation gap and its impact on American culture.

Without the mercy of instruction, I somehow came upon the works of Carmen Miranda, Julius Monk, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton. They all did a number on me. I sat in my room in South Carolina and listened to them and the experience stays fresh to this day.
In the beginning, what got me going was an all instrumental record produced by Quincy Jones called "The Genius After Hours".
It's a Ray Charles piano record. Really fine stuff. From there I started picking up more stuff. Thanks Quincy for opening that door.

The strength of our Artistic, Musical and cultural heritage is that we've never had one.
We've never had a 'Paris Salon' telling us what is good, acceptable, & what is rubbish or drivel.
Jazz, Blues, Rock-n-Roll, punk, Rap, Hip-Hop... All derided as drivel or 'just noise' when they first emerged. Each have found their footing as true valid expressions and forms, and that is what other countries love about us. We are ever-changing, and irreverent of 'Art Czars'.

The Arts are crucial in education.

Our schools have been driven to the ground, focusing ad nauseum on a sterile curriculum of their interpretation of math, math and more math at the exclusion of everything else. Parents and students are thrilled anytime they are exposed to the arts.
I'll throw in the media -- there is no room on our 800 cable channels for any arts programming, except Ovation.
When was the last time a major network presented a biography of a writer or an artist? The arts have been marginalized - Coltrane and Monk should be part of the air we breathe.

98% of educators will tell you arts are what get kids' brains going. Study after study show listening to music, learning to play a musical instrument develop portions of the human brain that other learning doesn't. Music, Art, Foreign Language, Humanities, Physical Education: are all intensively important to our children's brain and physical development.

Unfortunately, educators are currently dealing with the effects of No Child Left Behind.
While it's essentially a good law with good intentions, there are so many inaccuracies, loopholes, and inconsistencies in it that it's yanking the focus off of LEARNING and onto: Passing the Test.

There's just not a lot of time in public schools today for the arts when we're scared out of our minds kids aren't going to pass the reading, grammar, and math parts of the test.

Has anyone noticed that some newspapers in most towns outside of New York don't even have an arts section? Entertainment does not cover all of the arts.

The reason we have seen a huge drop in arts ed in the past 8 years is more likely due to the desire to "dumb down" American children, especially the disadvantaged. The wealthier kids get the arts by paying for it as after school activities.
A creative person is one who is more in touch with his/her surroundings, who questions authority and challenges the status quo.
They are the innovators. I believe there are some in power, especially the last admin, who are bent on controlling and in some cases destroying the lower and middle class.
An intelligent and creative lower class scares the pants off the "repuglicans". Who would fight their illegal wars?
That means lowering standards for the public schools and even creating an atmosphere where kids will not even finish school due to frustration and the inability to think and do for themselves ( coming up with creative solutions).
We must change this situation. We also need to train all teachers to integrate art and music into the standard curriculum and bridge the arts with math, science, geography, history etc.

Are we becoming a cultural vacuum? I am witnessing the detour around the arts first hand. There is nothing in most school's curriculum that stokes creativity, nor imagination.
It is the medium, by which, an artist can give his (her) own take, express their own interpretation. Try to take it to another level each time you play. What am I contributing that one of my colleagues could build on? There is no greater loss, in our society, than depriving our youth of the arts.

It is imperative to restore art education and in my mind, it along with mandatory phys-ed should be reinstated in every curriculum. The reason the kids are testing poorly in the US and dropping out is because it's difficult to develop a passion for anything if all Johnny does all day is math and science and more and more testing, with no relief or outlet for creativity. All great scientists and inventors were/are artists and/or trained and used their right side of the brain through creative expression.
Carnegie Mellon University now has a program where the arts students and the engineering students work together, brainstorming and creating new technologies. We need each other and it goes both ways.

QUICK! Pick one of the world's great civilizations. What immediately comes to mind? The arts.

Italy is revered for Michelangelo's David. Ancient Egypt, Mayans, China, Europe, India and many others - the first image you have in your head is a work of art that could only come from that culture.

What ancient civilization makes you think, "Wow they sure had some great businessmen back then"?

During his Presidential campaign, Barack Obama assembled a blue-ribbon committee on the Arts, led by George Stevens, Jr., and they, in turn, produced a detailed plan for restoring government support for and promotion of the Arts. The plan was the most comprehensive plan since the WPA Arts projects of the 1930s. It's definitely worth reading.

Just because a subject is not taught at school doesn't mean that a child who is motivated to learn about it cannot do so.

Research studies show that students that participate in music programs get better grades and score better on tests.
Yet, arts programs are being eliminated because they are not part of NCLB and budget cuts cannot support "frills".

This is the same logic that eliminates school librarians so that the money can be used for literacy programs.

Music and art programs train the mind and a very few of these musician/artists end up being full time artists, but they do end up becoming business men and college grads.
We pump billions into football programs and what does that produce and if you say character let's start with Michael Vick as an example!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Blues is what connects us to the earth," Wynton Marsalis told students recently "It keeps us grounded, gives us the spirit behind this music. It makes us holler and scream and shout through our horns."

The Obama administration plans to continue its hands-on program in arts education in the future, but it was jazz, America's indigenous art form, that got the first turn in the spotlight.

For longtime Washington jazz musician and educator Yarborough, it was important to see not just the history of jazz honored at the White House, but its future as well.

The first lady was joined at the afternoon concert by her mother and her daughters -- because, she said, she wanted to introduce the girls to "all kinds of music other than hip-hop."

The dilemma facing public schools — with the realization that the arts might be important, if not essential, in cultivating the imagination and creativity of our children in order to reverse the blind progress of a culture gone mad with greed and individual success — is that they need artists to teach the arts. The world has become a place of terror and uncertainty, fueled by institutions that have learned the secret of controlling their members quite effectively by using fear.

Creativity is the opposite of conformity and is nurtured by a supportive, positive environment that allows students to engage in creative play and honest communication; a place where their fears and vulnerabilities are, at least, acknowledged and not ridiculed.

Teachers of the arts are no less affected by a punitive and stifling system than are their students.
Parker Palmer, in his groundbreaking book, The Courage To Teach, passionately believes that "good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher."
Palmer has been a sane voice for those who believe teaching is a "vocation of the heart, and many teachers may lose heart because of the troubled, sometimes toxic systems in which they work."

We can't blame the system entirely for this data-driven, dispassionate approach to administering education.

To not honor and integrate the wholeness of the arts would be an exercise in futility and guaranteed failure.
Most of the ills in the world have been created by highly educated people with advanced degrees who lead with their minds.

This is not an argument for ignorance, but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and survival — the issues now looming so large before us in the 21st century.
We, the generation that faces the next century, can add the . . . solemn injunction, "If we don't do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable."

The artist has only his or her story to convey, and if our stories are no longer valued, then a vision for the future has been obscured by willful neglect, and the outcome will be no less than disastrous.

Artist Gary Snyder reminds us that "art is the creative play of the human mind." If we are to cultivate the future minds of humanity in order to build a saner, sustainable, compassionate and peaceful planet, creativity must be honored, understood and nurtured in its entirety.
Again to David Orr:

"The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind."

In other entertainment news, Debbie Reynolds, the beloved, iconic and award-winning actress received The Friars Club honors by friends and colleagues in a star-studded tribute on Sunday, June 15th at The Friars Club (57 East 55th St). was there to cheer the iconic screen favorite on as she was honored by the starry crowd!
Debbie Reynolds earned an Academy Award nomination for her work in the movie musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." The triple-threat is also known for performances in "Singin' in the Rain," "How the West Was Won" and "The Catered Affair" as well as her TV show, "The Debbie Reynolds Show."

Reynolds was Tony-nominated for her performance in Irene, and later assumed the lead role in Broadway's Woman of the Year.

There is no institution that has embraced Shakespeare's observation with so much unbridled bravado than that of the Friars Club. They have parlayed one hundred years of antics into a reputation that has been elevated to legendary status.
Since 1904 The Friars Club has been wining and dining the top personalities of the times and in-between courses expounding and discoursing in their own unique fashion. From ribald comedy to musical merry-making the Friars have spent a century cultivating a tradition that has spanned several generations and spawned millions of laughs.
For more information please visit

Quick: who won Tonys this year? Awards are nice, of course, even if only the awardees and their mothers remember. As for the televised Tony ceremony, we found it a colossal bore with a few exceptions: James Gan-dolfini, Frank Langella, Angela Lansbury. But it didn't take off until the last half hour when Lansbury talked about honoree songwriter Jerry Herman, followed by delightful clips from "Mame" and "Hello Dolly" and Herman's graceful acceptance speech.
The TV show's opening, a mélange of nominated musicals, was bizarre, with Aaron Tveit of "Next to Normal" confronting Stockard Channing of "Pal Joey." It was downhill from there until towards the end with the Herman tribute, accolades to the three boys who play Billy Elliot (accepting with oodles of modest charm) and talented host Neil Patrick Harris' concluding song, a clever salute to the night's winners.

Awards are here to stay, however: They look good in an artist's bio and can further careers. Not to be outdone, Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, recognized (see the Best Plays annual) as one of the more prestigious around, have just been announced and will be handed out tomorrow in a low-key ceremony. The 19-year-old CCC now even has both a Web site for articles, interviews, calendars and other pertinent information, plus a blog for a selection of state-wide reviews.

This year's CCC awards are spread out, except that Goodspeed Musicals, the state's one remaining all-tuner franchise, naturally walks away with most of the song-and-dance honors. Another favorite is the Michael Wilson-directed "Dividing the Estate," the Horton Foote drama that was also nominated for a Tony. Westport Country Playhouse picks up certificates for "Tryst" and "Around the World in 80 Days," including a special achievement for the skilled foley artists who provided effects for the Jules Verne show.

CCC's most prestigious accolade, the Tom Killen Memorial Award (named for the late critic), goes to Rob Ruggiero, the director who helmed two winners, "Big River" and "No Child." Ruggiero is spreading his wings beyond our borders: His production of "Make Me a Song" played New York and London, following its debut at Hartford's TheaterWorks. Upcoming is his "Camelot" at Goodspeed.

Congratulations to all.

The 2008-2009 Connecticut Critics Circle WInners

"Dividing the Estate" (Hartford Stage)

Musical: "Big River" (Goodspeed Musicals)

Actress in a play: Andrea Maulella ("Tryst," Westport Country Playhouse)

Actor in a play: Colman Domingo ("Coming Home," Long Wharf Theater)

Actress in a musical: Kristen Martin ("42nd Street," Goodspeed Musicals)

Actor in a musical: Russell Joel Brown ("Big River," Goodspeed Musicals)

Director of a play: Michael Wilson ("Dividing the Estate," Hartford Stage)

Director of a Musical (tie): Semina De Laurentis ("The Producers," Seven Angels Theater) and Rob Ruggiero ("Big River," Goodspeed Musicals)

Choreography: Rick Conant ("42nd Street," Goodspeed Musicals)

Set design: Michael Schweikardt ("Big River," Goodspeed Musicals)
Lighting design: Robert Wiertzel ("Of Mice and Men," Westport Country Playhouse)

Costume design: Ilona Somogyi ("Passion Play," Yale Repertory Theater)

Sound design: David Levy ("Around the World in 80 Days," Westport Country Playhouse)

Ensemble: Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Lizan Mitchell, Portia, Anthony Mark Stockard ("No Child," TheaterWorks)

Roadshow: "Marilyn: Forever Blonde" (Ivoryton Playhouse)
Debuts: Donnetta Lavinia Grays ("No Child," TheaterWorks) and Olivia Scott ("To Kill a Mockingbird," Hartford Stage)

Special achievement award: Elizabeth Helitzer and Mark Parenti (("Around the World in 80 Days," Westport Country Playhouse)

Tom Killen award for outstanding contribution to Connecticut theater: Rob Ruggiero

For further information on the Connecticut Critics Circle, visit the Web site at and the blog at


With grateful XOXOXs for your support!

Richard Skipper

Follow me on Twitter @RichardSkipper


BOB EGAN ENTERTAINMENT in association with ELEGANT DIAMOND PRODUCTIONS presents CAROL CHANNING: A CELEBRATION Starring Richard Skipper! Musical Direction by Jon Weber, with a five piece band and back-up singers. In this intimate evening with one of Broadway s greatest treasures, Skipper takes his audience back to a time of clean wholesome entertainment, featuring highlights from two of Channing' s greatest hits, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello Dolly! One performance only, July 5th, 2008 at 8:00 pm. Tim McLoone s Supper Club, 1200 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ. Reservations: (732) 774-1155.

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