Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Honoring Lucille Ball and Jerry Herman through the talents of Suzanne LaRusch and Jason Graae
I hope this finds you well. Today, I'm writing about two ARTISTS that honor two very special icons. If you follow my blogs, you already know that I am a huge fan of Lucille Ball and Jerry Herman. I also am a huge fan of Suzanne LaRusch who appears as Lucille Ball. Also, there is Jason Graae who has a critically acclaimed show celebrating the music of Jerry Herman. There are also many six degrees of separation happening with all of these entertainers!
As you know, Lucille Ball starred in the movie version of MAME,which of course had a score by Jerry Herman.
Jason Graae's show is directed by Lee Tannen who was very good friends with Lucille Ball. As I've written in previous blogs, Lee's memories of Lucy were told in a very successful and highly entertaining book entitled, I LOVED LUCY. That book has been transferred to stage, also by Lee Tannen, and starring my dear friend Diane J. Findlay as Lucille Ball.
As far as Suzanne is concerned, two of her producers are Larry Luckinbill and Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill.
For Larry and Lucie to get involved, Suzanne would have to be sensational.
The same can be said of Jason Graae's tribute to Jerry Herman.
Jerry is a huge fan of Jason's, as am I.
Jason just embodies Jerry Herman's music.
Those of us in the New York region are lucky because they both are coming to the east coast. Suzanne will be doing AN EVENING WITH LUCILLE BALL at Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, New Jersey next month. I will be making a trek out to see Suzanne. If you would like to join me, please let me know. And also in October, Jason will be doing a series of shows at The Laurie Beechman.
I will be attending Jason's show on October 25th if you would like to join us.
Also, I have some Jerry Herman news of my own that I will tell you about a little later in this blog.
I have never seen Suzanne perform LIVE although I have seen clips on YouTube and I have been following her career for years thanks to my dear friend Glen Charlow who has one of the largest Lucille Ball collections of memorabilia around.
"You're tremendous! It's a little eerie. We'll talk soon, Mom."
- Lucie Arnaz
"Suzanne's likeness to Lucille is uncanny. She has caught all her mannerisms, her voice, and even her appearance.
It's sort of spooky!"
- Madelyn Pugh Davis
(Original I LOVE LUCY Co-creator and Writer)
AN EVENING WITH LUCILLE BALL - Schedule at Surflight Theatre
DATE DAY Mainstage 2pm 8pm
Oct-4 Tue An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-5 Wed An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-6 Thu An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-7 Fri An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-8 Sat An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-9 Sun An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-10 Mon (NO SHOW)
Oct-11 Tue An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-12 Wed An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-13 Thu An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-14 Fri An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-15 Sat An Evening With Lucille Ball
Oct-16 Sun An Evening With Lucille Ball
A celebration of the first lady of television, An Evening with Lucille Ball: Thank You for Asking,is a touching, funny and uplifting one-woman play written by Suzanne LaRusch & Lucie Arnaz. Crafted in the spirit of the amusing lectures Lucy enjoyed giving throughout her career, the evening recreates the comic genius and the magic behind the Queen of Comedy.Arnaz also directs the piece with her award winning knowledge of the theatre and of her mother!
"I have seen Lucille Ball saluted in many ways over the years, but no one has ever captured the essence of the lady the way Suzanne has."
- Tom Watson
(Lucille's Business Affairs Manager & friend)
"We couldn't stop staring at Suzanne when we first met her. Where did they find her? I almost had a heart attack! Well maybe we can have a reunion after all."
- Original I Love Lucy Cast Members
Doris Singleton (Carolyn Applebee)
Shirley Mitchell (Marion Strong)
Mary Jane Croft (Betty Ramsey)
Traversing the bridge between Lucy Ricardo and Lucille Ball, the production welcomes audiences into the never-before-published backstage stories that catapulted Ball to unprecedented fame, as well as into the tumultuous marriage that would eventually endure public scrutiny.
Lucy guides us through the lifetime of personal memories inspiring her timeless sketches on I Love Lucy, her 30-year television career and never-before heard personal recollections about her tempestuous and complicated marriage to Cuban bandleader turned impresario, Desi Arnaz. It's the Lucy the whole world loved from "Ricardo" to "Mame" but, more importantly, it's an evening with the REAL Lucy, as you've never seen her before.
AN EVENING WITH LUCILLE BALL; "Thank You For Asking!", evolved from two other shows Suzanne wrote and performed as the famous Redhead, LUCY THROUGH THE YEARS and THANK YOU FOR ASKING.
This incarnation is based on a series of lectures, Q & A and television interviews done by the late, great Lucille Ball.
Suzanne had difficulty finding a director who knew "Lucy" AND knew theater, (a combination not so easy to find believe it or not).
Friends with the Arnaz family for many years; Suzanne asked Lucie Arnaz,MIGHT she consider being "my dream director"?
After seeing an early version of the show; Lucie not only offered to direct but co-author a new script and produce the show with her husband, Laurence Luckinbill. Much of the material in this show was gathered firsthand from stories told to Suzanne by Lucille Ball's personal staff, friends, family and from information contained in "A BOOK", by Desi Arnaz (Wiliam Morrow) and "LOVE, LUCY", by Lucille Ball (Putnam).
Suzanne LaRusch: I view comedy and impressionism as two different things.
I started my impressionist career at Universal Studios Hollywood but I’ve been an actress, if you will, since I was about eighteen months old when I did my first television commercial.
I was a child actor and just kind of worked by way through getting the leads in community productions.
I always had an emphasis in comedy, I always had a knack and love for that.
I did a great deal of musical comedy in theatre during my journey before working for Universal in 1989.
In 1990, they had opened a tribute to Lucille Ball which was a museum there.
At that point I was doing different characters like Mae West and Marilyn Monroe and had been fascinated by that time, by that artistry.
I proposed the idea for the character for the museum and the rest was history.
I gravitated to her even as a child because she was just so much fun to watch on television. We almost shared the same birthday, she’s August 6 and I’m August 7. So when I was growing up, they would do an “I Love Lucy” marathon on her birthday. I always thought they did that for my birthday [laughs]. I was quite small, I think. So I always looked forward to those marathons in August, they became regular events. I always loved her and found her comedic timing just incredible. I would begin to study her as an actress, not realizing or having an ambition at that time to emulate her.
Well it became quite a process. When I started out I did my homework as any actor would, watching many of her tapes, interviews, and episodes of the “I Love Lucy” show that I began to know backwards and forwards. I studied her make-up and mannerisms. My mother was born and raised in Buffalo, New York and Lucille was born and raised about sixteen miles south of there in Jamestown, and I realized that my mother had very similar mannerisms to Lucille. It may be regional, and I caught that early on. So when I would exaggerate my mother’s mannerisms and voice inflections, people thought it was dead-on Lucy. So I found learning points like that along the way.
I have always considered myself an actress more than an impersonator, but I fell into that category working at Universal. But from the beginning I wanted to more than that because I found this woman’s life fascinating and I wanted to tell her story onstage. In 1997 I did my first rendition of what would later become the stage show, and did a presentation of her life story onstage. It was an ambitious presentation. I began to refine that and to find the right formula for that kind of storytelling. I always loved watching her interviews, like on the Merv Griffin Show, and she also did lectures and seminars which she loved.
I got my hands on some of those tapes and was fascinated by watching the older Lucille talking about her career and her responses to the audience. And then I realized- that’s the formula, to tell her life story through one of these question-and-answer seminars.
That was eventually called “Thank You for Asking”.
A few years later I reached out to Lucie Arnaz because we had been friends for years because of my previous work. I respected her opinion as an actress, and entertainer, and most importantly as Lucille’s daughter. One I wanted her blessing, but two I also wanted her notes so I could be sure I was telling the story correctly. She had been pursuing directing work at the time and the first thing she asked me was, “Who is directing your show?” And I said “Well, me?” Long story short, she came on board as a director and we re-worked the script together as collaborators.The process of both writing and curating the piece with Lucille’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz was an interesting dynamic. I had to get used to her style very quickly, which I did. She and her husband who is a Broadway star as well and who produces our show had a different approach to acting than I did initially. So ultimately it was like going to school again, which was very fun. I worked and expanded my craft in that way with her. For the writing we literally sat on couches with pads in hand and went back and forth, putting in different bits and information.
It really has been years of accumulating information from the different mediums. But the deciding factors were really picking the subjects that I and ultimately Lucie, Jr. knew were topics people typically asked about it. Let’s talk about the chocolate factory, the grape-stomping, and of course Desi Arnaz. In between you throw in things people are not familiar with, such as she was the person to introduce the song“Hey Look Me Over” to the public. Lucie Arnaz sprinkled in some family secrets that had never been published before that gave insights into the soul of her mother. It is well-rounded now, I believe.
Lucie Arnaz sent me the following: How nice that you want to write about Suzanne. In our book, nobody can do what she does. No one even comes close to understanding how Mom thought and how that translated into her comedic physicalities. People tell me after they have seen Suzanne in her one woman show, (An Evening With Lucille Ball: "Thank you for asking") they feel as if they have been with "the REAL Lucy". And the best thing is that, because of all the years she spent as a "Lucy Stroller" at Universal, she can think on her feet and come up with some terrific "Lucy-isms" when the need arises. You can only ad lib as a character when you know them so well that you can begin to THINK as they would. Desi and I have said that sometimes it's so close that it's eerie.
Best of luck.
Have Suzanne, as Lucy, host or perform your next event!
Please call for availability and prices.
I for one CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THIS SHOW! And now, for a man after my own heart, Jason Graae!
The New York Times recently said, "Nowadays, probably no other performer could infuse a song with the manic mischief that Jason Graae, a frisky clown with a real tenor, pumped into it..."
Off- Broadway shows include "Forever Plaid", "Olympus on My Mind", "All in the Timing", "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (Drama Desk Nomination- Best Actor in a Musical)" and many more.
Jason made his Metropolitan Opera House debut as featured vocalist in Twyla Tharp's "Everlast" with American Ballet Theatre.
Jason has performed his one-man show all over the country, including Rainbow and Stars, Birdland, and the Metropolitan Room in NYC, Caramoor Music Festival, Wolf Trap, Feinstein's in L.A., the Fairmont Hotels in New Orleans and Dallas, and The Plush Room in San Francisco, to name a few. He has received the New York Nightlife Award, 4 Bistros and was listed in TimeOut NY's Top 10 Cabaret shows of 2006.
Jason Graae has guest starred on "Friends," "Frasier," "Providence" and "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," among many others; appeared in several films; and recorded on more than 25 albums, primarily musical theater sound tracks.
He was even the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun for Lucky Charms cereal, five years running. Graae will showcase his full range of extraordinary performing abilities at the The Laurie Beechman Theatre in West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42nd Street, on October 18-25, 2011. Performances will be October 18, 19 and 24th at 7 PM and October 25 at 9:30 PM. There is a $20 cover and two drink minimum. Reservations (212) 695-6909.
Graae grew up around the theater; his mother was a nightclub entertainer and his father worked the stage door at Ben Marden's Riviera, a 1930s New Jersey club overlooking the newly constructed George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River. Graae remembers watching his mother perform in a community production of Wonderful Town when he was just three years old, and from that point on he was hooked.
Despite the fact that his parents tried to steer him toward a career in music instead of musical theater, Graae was soon appearing alongside his mother on stage, playing one of the newsboys to her Gypsy.
He eventually studied the oboe as a music major all the while singing and performing on stage and today he happily combines his love of music, musical theater, and comedy by playing chamber music occasionally, singing with orchestras, appearing on Broadway, and delighting audiences with his unique solo performances.
In Los Angeles, he won his second L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award - the 2008 Joel Hirschorn Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre.
He won an Ovation Award for "Forbidden Broadway Y2KLA!", an Artistic Director's Achievement Award for "Fully Committed" and a Santa Barbara Indie Award for "High Button Shoes".
Jason originated the role of "Houdini" in the L.A. production of "Ragtime" at the Shubert Theatre.
At the Hollywood Bowl, he was Benny Southstreet in "Guys and Dolls" and Marcellus in "The Music Man".
He has appeared in many shows with Reprise!, The Colony, The El Portal,The Falcon and The Rubicon. THe was seen as Panch in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at La Mirada and as Janitor/Priest in "See What I Wanna See" at the Blank.
Graae attended the University of Tulsa and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and then headed for New York City, where he immediately landed a role in an Equity Library production of Godspell.
"...Mr. Graae emerges as an irresistible cut-up whose splendid voice is matched by mischievous charisma...." -- Stephen Holden, New York Times
"Graae hurrah! Simply put, Jason Graae is one of the best entertainers I have ever seen in my life...a prodigiously talented impish dynamo who can be wildly, wickedly funny one moment and then leave you emotionally stunned the next with the beauty of compelling ballads sung in the purest tenor/baritone imaginable..." -- David Cuthbert, New Orleans Times-Picayune
"I hated it. But the audience laughed and laughed." -- Washington Post
"Graae is a Cabaret dynamo -- commit the name to memory!" -- Hap Erstein, Palm Beach Post
I am hosting a tribute to Jerry Herman on Saturday November 12th for The Sheet Music Society. Donald Pippin, Lee Roy Reams, Amber Edwards, and Miles Phillips are scheduled to appear.
Thank you for joining me on these nostalgic journeys! I've added a new aspect to my blog.. Every five days, I answer a question on video that YOU send to me. You can ask me ANYTHING and I will answer your question on video within my blog. Send your questions to
Next question will be answered Thursday.
"Richard, for supporting the ARTS and calling attention to the STARS of yesterday. You are a STAR in your own right!! With admiration and friendship"
Thank you to all who have encouraged me! Thanks to all who have tried to stifle my art. I have learned from ALL of you!
Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!
GO SEE A LIVE SHOW TONIGHT
Become A Facebook friend of mine!
Follow me on Twitter
If you've seen one of my appearances/shows, add your thoughts to my guestbook at www.RichardSkipper.com
Tomorrow's blog will be Bick Moss and Musical Mondays
Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING & HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED WEEK!
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com