Thursday, May 19, 2011

Honoring The Greats!

It doesn't matter how long we may have been stuck in a sense of our limitations. If we go into a darkened room and turn on the light, it doesn't matter if the room has been dark for a day, a week, or ten thousand years -- we turn on the light and it is illuminated. Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the light has been turned on.- Sharon Salzberg

Happy Friday! I LOVE my horoscope today: You can be very loyal to people from your past, including old friends and family. Your personal commitment often includes defending and protecting those who are less fortunate. You might feel driven to help anyone in need, and your emotions are so passionate now that even an acquaintance at work can receive an extra boost of energy from you today. Don't hold back; your actions create more of a positive impact than you realize.

I am so looking forward to finally seeing Vincent Wolfe tonight at The Triad as he honors legendary divas that have touched his life. And, as you will see in this blog, he has been one lucky guy!
I have enjoyed writing my blogs this week honoring my friends and fellow entertainers who honor the greats that have come before all of us.When I first started out, I had a great mentor, Ms. Florence Epps, who told me that everytime I walked on stage, I was carrying the mantle of every great entertainer and/or actor who had gone before me. I've never forgotten that. I see a LOT of shows and many times, the performers I see know nothing of the history they are performing. Well, today, meet a few of those that take honoring these great entertainers to a whole new area!
Vincent Wolf told me, "This show is particularly special to me, aside from singing such incredible songs specifically written for some spectacular female voices, I have the chance to share some stories about meeting and working with some of these great ladies.
A few of them became mentors, some became friends and others are simply artists whom I’ve met and had the great good fortune to spend time with, usually backstage. All of them are inspirations to me. Phyllis Hyman, in particular was a celebrated recording artist and New York icon and I never would have imagined as I sat mesmerized watching her in “Sophisticated Ladies” on Broadway in 1981, that a few years later I’d meet and become friends with her, and that she would become a mentor. She is so very much missed and maybe I can help stir up some memories of this under-appreciated legend who left us way too soon! Phyllis was the first real “star” who actually took time to know me and advise me on my fledgeling singing career. She also looked out for me, steering me away from bogus managers and shady show-biz types. I remember being on the road with her, in fancy hotels, limos, clubs and I thought she “had it made” being a big star with a recording contract. I was so young and “green” that I wasn’t aware of her personal demons and career difficulties. She was careful, initially, to shield me from that! I miss her every day." And there are some fun moments with Kay Starr, one of my all-time favorite singers and people. Such a darling lady. Started singing when she was a young teen (in 1937!!!) and was still singing last year, although she’s now 88 and has good and bad days. I will never forget my time with her, and the tribute to Kay is one of favorite segments of the show. I open the show with a Julie Wilson tune and of course I wouldn’t have it any other way. She is really one of my best friends, and an important influence. I learned much from her when I was at Yale in 2005. And again, who knew we’d end up being really close. Love her so much. She’ll be front-row cheering me on and how special is that?
And through Phyllis I eventually met Marlena Shaw and Jean Carne(pictured) , both amazing jazz-soul divas who have become friends and mentors. There are some really cool stories there, and I thought that tying personal anecdotes in with the music would be an amazing and very intimate journey. My pianist (and Musical Director) Mark Kieswetter (an Ohio native) has really been so important in helping me re-imagine and interpret these tunes, not just cover and sing similar arrangements to the originals. Now some of these songs may be little-known and even a few of the artists might not be “household” names, but with this show, folks will get to discover, or perhaps re-discover some divas that deserve another look and listen. And there are the famous ladies, like Diana, Aretha, Ella and Sarah… Dionne, Melissa Manchester, Rita Coolidge, Bette Midler.

Yes I have great personal stories about each. Some are (I hope) really amusing and others maybe a little heart-breaking. There’s kind of something for everyone here, and above all it’s great, solid music – a really eclectic mix and trust me we have FUN with it.It’s my hope to even expand on it, with a bigger band, back-up singers and some multi-media to showcase the actual artists. That’s in the future, but I’m loving that this “Just A Piano” series is giving me the chance to just put it out there, and the only “bells and whistles” are me and Mark, just giving it our best. We adore working together and that shows too. There was a very cool and touching moment when Lee Summers (originator of this Triad concert series) and I were discussing my coming out to do the show and Phyllis Hyman’s name came up. I asked him how he came up with the “Just A Piano” concept (for a theater setting) and he said “Well I saw a wonderful singer, Phyllis Hyman perform in late 80’s and I saw that ALL she needed was a piano and it was pure magic…” This was before he found out I had known her personally and when he found that out he said “If Phyllis had faith in you, you must have something special. I don’t need to hear any recordings or see video, you’re booked!” And so Phyllis was still looking out for me it seems. That happens a lot.
And of course getting back to NYC – maybe my favorite city on earth – the energy and the community feeling of the cabaret scene! The jazz clubs! All so inspiring!!! This is my third time doing a cabaret show there, and I’m beyond thrilled (and slightly terrified) that this is my first “ticketed event” concert there.
It’s so wonderful that a lot of the cabaret community have remembered me from my 2008 MAC nomination (and the shows) and are welcoming me once again with open arms. No feeling like that in the world. "
For the last two years, Wolfe has been touring his cabaret act around the world on Cunard's legendary ocean liners ,he Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria.

Vincent's recently released third CD entitled "Weaver of Dreams" is garnering raves from fans and critics alike and will be available at the Triad performance.
I cannot wait to see this show tonight! Please join me! I will offer my thoughts on the show in tomorrow's blog.(Vincent and Marlene Shaw)

After my blog a few days ago, this comment was left on my blog: Wonderful insights and links, Richard. You are a true archivist and lover of Show Biz and your passion shines through in your writing. I look forward to reading your blogs tomorrow and tomorrow....

Warm Regards from Boston,
George Lyons

So, George, since you took the time to write to me, I want to return the favor! GEORGE LYONS has been amazing audiences for a few years now across the USA and beyond with his amazing voice and charismatic song stylings that are reminiscent of the great Crooners of days gone by. George sings songs in the styles of
Sinatra, Dean Martin, Neil Diamond and even Elvis!
Please keep me George in mind, he can travel!
References are too numerous to list but available upon request. If you or your loved ones want to take a trip down the Great American Songbook Lane, George Lyons will be your tour guide on the path to unforgettable songs and memories.

Then there is Jim Brochu. Of course, I knew who Jim was. But last year, I finally got to see Jim in "Zero Hour", his amazing tour de fore performance as Zeo Mostel. No surprise that he won the Dram Desk Award. I was lucky enough to be there that night and he brought the house down...truly making the evening his own. Jim was who/what everyone was discussing the next day!
(Here is Jim with his partner, Steve Schalchlin from THE BIG VOICE, photo by Ed Krieger).
Jim Brochu wins the NY Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance. In his acceptance speech he starts with a nswf punchline based on the running gag of the night, involving Mitzi Gaynor...
JIM BROCHU just concluded a fourteen month, 238 performance run in Zero Hour in New York City. Zero Hour was the most honored Solo Show of the 2009 - 2010 New York Theatre Season
and Jim won the Drama Desk Award as Best Solo Performer. You can next Jim as he takes this AMAZING show to Barrington Stage.Much success as you open tonight, Jim!
Mention Jim Brochu to the wholly dedicated fans of Theatre and you will hear a gleeful litany of successful shows, song titles, awards, lecturing engagements, and the daunting fact that New York’s legendary SARDI’S RESTAURANT placed a caricature of Mr. Brochu directly across from that of Ethel Merman. Jim and Steve’s production of THE BIG VOICE: God or Merman? at San Francisco’s NEW CONSERVATORY THEATRE CENTER commanded national attention. Affectionately tagged as “the story of two lives”, THE BIG VOICE is a fantastical romp down the center aisles of Church and The Great White Way; a musical two-way street where everyone will find their brain, courage, heart, and a way back home.A running gag throughout the show is whether one sits in the Ethel (Merman) camp or the Judy (Garland) camp. (In other words, “Any note you can belt, I can belt louder.”) Jim and Steve have been life-partners for 25 years. They met on board the ill-fated SS GALILEO. Jim had recently dropped out from a Catholic seminary; Steve was the featured pianist in the ship’s Rendezvous Lounge. The luxury ocean liner was floating somewhere in the waters around Bermuda. With a gleam in his eye and the Test Riddle on his lips, Destiny was giggling as Jim posed the Either/Or question. Steve’s response? “Ethel.” At that moment, God was there. See … Steve, being from Arkansas and the son of a Baptist preacher man, was totally unaware of this particular creed and sense of higher self so deeply stamped within certain loftier musical circles. “Judy” who? For this suddenly smitten but uninitiated chapter & verse pianist, there was only one up-turned response.
“Ethel” – ? (And the waters parted. Sign here.) Steve’s later admission would be – as in, Mertz. She’s the only Ethel he knows. (”You spell it with a Z!” – SEASON 6, episode 22.) Jim’s response? “A good answer.”(Source: Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel)
Coming Up

May 20, 2011-
May 25, 2011
Zero Hour,

On Sunday night, this year's MAC AWARD WINNER for occurring series, CABARET CARES, is honoring Doreen Montalvo...THEY ARE SOLD OUT!!!!!
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
Help Is On The Way Today Honors Broadway's Doreen Montalvo
With The 2011 Spirit Award
I met Doreen at the 26th annual Bistro Awards last month! What a sweetheart!

Drama Desk Award Winner and Broadway Actress Doreen Montalvo will be the recipient of The 2011 Spirit Award presented by Help Is On The Way Today. Help Is On The Way Today is a non for profit organization that helps and assists children and youth living with HIV and AIDS in New York City. Ms. Montalvo who performed on Broadway in the TONY award winning musical has been a supporter of the organization and the work they do with children and youth here in New York. Ms. Montalvo has organized and hosted several cabaret show benefits for the organization. In 2010 and 2011 she hosted two of the Cabaret Cares shows that featured her and the cast of the TONY Award winning musical In The Heights. She also created an evening called Ladies Night and has help raise thousands of dollars for Help Is On The Way Today over the past two years.

Ms. Montalvo will receive her Spirit Award on May 22nd at the annual Cabaret Cares Gala at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Cabaret Cares is the award winning (2009 BISTRO and MAC Award ) monthly series produced by founder and president of Help Is On The Way Today, Joseph Macchia. The series features some of the best singers from Broadway and the New York cabaret community. This year Cabaret Cares Gala celebrates five years of performances and has raised and distributed over $50,000.

The Cabaret Cares Gala will be hosted by Valerie Smaldone.
Valerie Smaldone is a 5-time Billboard Magazine Award winner and is well known for her unprecedented success holding the #1 on air position in the New York radio market. She has hosted, produced and created numerous nationally syndicated programs featuring in-depth interviews with top recording artists such as Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, and Mariah Carey, among others.

She has just launched a new talk show, “Valerie’s New York,” the first originally produced internet radio show for WOR’s internet station,, and can be heard weekdays from 11 am to noon hosting and producing a lifestyle, theater, food, New York oriented radio program.

Help Is On The Way Today is a grass roots non for profit founded by Joseph Macchia. Joseph Macchia founded the organization after meeting a seven year old boy named David who was living in a group home in Washington Heights. David was living with HIV and cerebral palsy and in need of a new motorized wheelchair. The paperwork for the chair had been lost twice by Medicaid and on the third time David was denied his new chair. Macchia heard this and was really upset about the situation. He produced a one night cabaret show and raised the money to buy David the chair. He then realized there must be more children out there living with HIV and AIDS,and on that night Help Is On The Way Today was born. Since its start only three years ago the organization has grown from servicing 22 children to over 650 children.

Macchia is thrilled that Help Is On The Way Today is honoring Montalvo with this years Spirit Award. "Doreen is truly a beautiful person on the inside and outside, she is always there when we need her and never says no." Her kind heart and dedication to our cause and what we do is why we chose her this year."

The Cabaret Cares Gala will take place on May 22nd at The Laurie Beechman Theatre at 407 West 42nd Street.
Doors open promptly at 6:00 PM for a lovely cocktail hour then at, 7:00 PM dinner will be served. At 8:00 PM the show will start. Performing that night Eric Michael Gillett (2010 Spirit Award Winner),Susan Winter,Ilene Kristen(One Life To Live),Jackie Fornatale,Kimberly Dunbar,Tony Fusco,Lorinda Lisitza,Tom Gamblin (National tour of Titanic),T.Oliver Reid(Mary Poppins),Gretchen Reinhagen (MAC,Nightlife,and Bistro Award Winner), Barbara Porteus,Peter Napolitano,John Demarco,Robert Fowler( The Producers,Beauty and The Beast),Doreen Montalvo( In The Heights),Stearns Matthews,Marcus Paul James,Tanya Holt,Alison Nusbaum.

Doreen Montalvo 2011 Spirit Award Recipient

I am posting this for no other reason than to put a smile on your face!

The Drama Desk Awards are on Monday Night! Much success to ALL involved:

All you have to do today is bask in the LOVE and talent that surrounds you!

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Tomorrow's blog will be a follow-up to Vincent Wolf's tonight (please join me)and any other suggestions I receive!

Richard Skipper,


  1. You do a great service bringing these truly talented and wonderful artists back into our minds and hearts, Richard. They are legends and our history and should not be forgotten. Especially when many of them are still among us. Thank you.

  2. Thanks so much for adding me to your Blog, Richard! - you're a true Aquarian - I was SO thirsty for a bit of attention today! You're a whirling dervish, a busy bee, a prolific profiler and a mensch among men. "My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you." Warm Regards, George