Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gretchen Reinhagen!

How ‘bout them apples?!” 
-Gretchen Reinhagen's Grandmother!


Happy Thursday!

I hope you enjoyed my blog yesterday on the Persian Room. Of course, that is a bygone era. Last week I read an incredible review of Mark Nadler in the Huffington Post written by Mr. David Finkel. Mr. Finkel is not usually effusive in his reviews. He was, however, when writing about Mark Nadler. He wrote that in a different era that Mark would be a star. It, unfortunately, is the times. It seems odd to me that the type of entertainment that I enjoy is not get the airtime on television or the media coverage that it deserves.It's no secret that there is much that I do not like about the current state of Cabaret in New York I think the bar keeps getting lowered and lowered. There are many factors that are contributing to this. However, once in a while, someone comes along that raises the bar every time they walk out on stage. 

The subject of today's blog happens to be one of those people. The first time I saw her on stage I knew I was watching someone that needed our attention. When she did her tribute to Kaye Ballard, she won the hearts of everyone who caught the show. As a matter of fact, she went on to win a perfect trifecta in the Cabaret world: a bistro award, a Mac Award, and a New York Nightlife Award. I've loved getting to know Gretchen over the past five years. I hope that you enjoy getting to know her. Today, through my blog… even if you think you know her! 
And my hope is that everyone who reads this blog will go and see her upcoming shows! Tell her I sent you! Now, how 'bout them apples? 

“How ‘bout them apples?!” …is Gretchen's favorite saying.  It seems to be a philosophy of sorts! It’s something her Grandmother has always said and she has always loved it.  There’s something upbeat and light about it, and while she says she can’t profess to always being upbeat or light, she at least loves the possibility of it.  This is a tough world we artistic types live in – she likes the idea that once in a while we have to just laugh at it.

 

What was the first live show you remember seeing (elaborate on that)
 I don’t remember specifically.  More than likely it was hearing my dad’s band.  He played a lot of clubs when I was very young.  Not many clubs let toddlers in! However, one of the clubs had an annual holiday party for the staff and their families.  I always got to go to those, and my dad’s band was the entertainment.  When I was 5, I informed my dad that I would like to sing with the band at the party.  I sang Karen Carpenter’s “Sing” and a rockin’ rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”


Where was this?
 A club in Falmouth, MA called “The Farm”.  Since I grew up on a farm, this all made perfect sense to me! 

Were you exposed to the arts growing up?
 Very much so.  I had music coming at me from all sides! My father was a music teacher, a singer, and a bass player.  My mom was a dancer, who also studied Music Ed, but eventually went the way of classroom teaching.  Throughout her career she’s been a teacher, a principal and an Assistant Superintendent of Schools and she has highly promoted the Arts. She was responsible for me getting a music teaching position in her school district.   
Her Father, my Grandfather, was a pianist, and a music teacher.  And the list goes on.  So I come by it honestly!  My parents also joined a community theater group when I was about 10, in which they stayed very active throughout the rest of my childhood.  In addition to the theater and music programs my school offered, this was another great outlet for me.  Some people have parents who want them to study something else in hopes that they’ll have a more financially secure future.   
My parents were the opposite.  When I started to get more and more involved in my corporate day job, they got a little worried! 
When I announced that I’d earned my Associate title at my Investment Banking day job, their response was something along the lines of…”That’s great! 
But….when are you going back to auditioning?”


Tell me about your first time on stage?
Well that would be my stint on-stage at “The Farm” that I mentioned earlier.  I was 5.  My Uncle played the keyboards and he’ll still tell you that his favorite part of that gig was when I turned to him, after singing 1 full chorus, and said “Take it!”  and then – of course – I came back in at the bridge.

First professional job?
Gretchen and  her partner, Deborah (Mine/Danny's Wedding)
 Maybe the New Year’s Eve show that I got hired to sing in when I was 16.  I also had a summer job as a singer at a hotel lounge when I was 16 or 17.   
I’m not sure which gig was first!  (…or how long after that before I made any money again!!!)
 
Your thoughts on Arts in Education
I don’t think I have adequate words to describe the importance and impact my artistic education made on my life – both who I am as an artist, and who I am as a person.  Between the opportunities given to me (for FREE!!!) in school, as well as my family’s emphasis on the Performing Arts, I received gifts I wasn’t even aware of as gifts at the time! This was just a natural part of everyday life for me.  I couldn’t imagine having gone without it.  As a teacher in the public schools, I became increasingly aware of the benefits of the Arts in the lives of my students.  I’ll never forget taking a group of my students to LA to see “Ragtime”.  For you or me, this was just another trip to the theater. (Well…it was a great show!) But for these kids, it was a world they had never imagined – a truly special day and I’m grateful to have had opportunities to facilitate that experience for them.

What makes you cry out of the blue when you see or hear it?
Animal movies get me every time! (Even some of the animated ones – I mean…can YOU watch “Bambi” without crying???)  Especially, horses.  I think “Secretariat” was probably my favorite movie last year, and yes of course I cried when he won.  I still haven’t seen “War Horse”, and I’m sure I’m just dragging my heels because I’m fairly certain it will be my undoing. 

Your thoughts on Carol Channing (All my blogs focus on Carol Channing’s Foundation For The Arts)
Well, of course growing up as a musical theater kid, I was well aware of who she was, and her work, but truthfully, I’ve learned more about her through your wonderful tributes!  As I’ve mentioned already, I’m a huge fan of Arts in Education, and I think Carol’s work in this area alone is so important.  I’ve always been a fan of her talent.  Now I am a fan of Carol Channing the person.

I’m campaigning for Carol Channing to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in 2012. If you agree that she should receive this honor, can you say why you think this should happen? 
Again, her body of work as an artist speaks for itself, but her additional work as a champion of education is worthy of every award!

Most recent appearance
My most recent appearance was at Urban Stages over the Holidays, as well as Don’t Tell Mama, with my new show, “Both Sides Now”.


 
Next appearance
 I’m bringing my show back to Don’t Tell Mama for one night on Friday, February 3rd @ 7pm.  (Full details available at www.gretchenreinhagen.com.) “Both Sides Now” is a “Side A and Side B of the record” kind of show.  We’ve incorporated some of the music I’ve done in previous shows, as well as some wonderful songs that are new for me.  Additionally we’re exploring both my musical comedy roots and my more contemporary side.  Unlike shows I’ve done in the past, such as tributes to Kaye Ballard or Janis Joplin, this show is just ME! Just me, and a piano…no rockin’ band or jazzy trio.  Tracy Stark, is my Musical Director and Barry Kleinbort directed this show.  Tracy and Barry are 2 of my closest friends, and there’s something very special for me about sharing projects like this, with people that I quite frankly consider family.  It reminds me of why I do all of this in the first place!  They also gave me one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever gotten with this show.  The funny thing is – it’s not splashy or shiny like the Kaye Ballard show, or as intense as covering Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” album – and it’s not as goofy as earlier comedy shows I’ve done like “How ‘Bout Them Apples?!” – but instead it’s just...me.  It’s the real me, both the quiet side, and comic side, and the light-hearted side, and the intense side, all rolled up into one me.  And it’s some of the finest work I’ve done.  I’m very proud of this show.  And I’m proud of the places I’ve allowed myself to go with this material.  It’s a show that I don’t mind my students seeing! And having students in the audience is a scary thing!!!


What is your biggest success in Show Business?
Without a doubt – “Special Kaye: A Tribute to the Incomparable Kaye Ballard”.  I won the Nightlife Award, the Bistro Award, and the MAC Award for this show!  It was an incredibly exciting and rewarding year for me.  Kaye Ballard herself came to see the show! Once again, the wonderful Barry Kleinbort directed.  He also was a huge part of the creation and writing of the show.  He even contributed 3 original songs that he had written for Kaye.  David Gaines musical directed and wrote all of the arrangements.  And lots and lots of people came out to help in all kinds of ways including research, finding obscure music, promotion, financial support, buying ads, and so on!

Special Kaye” was one of those ideas that I actually sat on for about three years, because I knew on some level that this was a big, important project, and I was a little bit afraid of it!  My partner, Deborah, was a HUGE part of this show.  There is no way the show would have even happened without her help.  It was actually through a brain storming session with her one day that we even got the idea.  I had been talking for years about Kaye Ballard, and then one day I started talking about doing a tribute show.  Deborah said – well of course it will be about Kaye Ballard! I just looked at her…and knew.  And in that moment, we knew it was such a good idea that we had to keep it a secret! So for three years I only referred to the show as “Project Cereal”.  The whole experience of that show has been magical for me.  I’m forever grateful.

What was your lowest low and how did you surpass that
 I could tell you…. but….

Well, I’ve had a few, but one of them would be towards the end of my career as an Associate Business Manager at a rather large Investment Bank.  First of all, I should say that I worked with some absolutely wonderful, smart, caring, beautiful people there.  And also other people.  For a long time I loved my job, but one day I realized I was very VERY stuck.  I couldn’t audition, I wasn’t moving forward as a performer, all my friends were far surpassing me, and I still didn’t have much money! But I couldn’t imagine how I would continue to pay the bills, provide insurance or live a life with Deborah that was financially stable if I didn’t have that job.  And the realization of that made me feel more stuck!  But then… “Special Kaye” came along.  More people were interested in studying voice with me.  More singing opportunities were coming along.  And the Universe seemed to be saying to go for it.  And then I turned 40.  So for my 40th birthday, I gave myself a gift: I quit my job.  Deborah gave me her full support (not to mention insurance!) and so what did I have to lose!

Gretchen and Deborah (Metropolitan Room)
I’d love to tell you it’s all been rosy since then, but of course it hasn’t.  Freelance work is not for the faint of heart.  And because I’ve been used to a paycheck that I could count on, (and a much larger one at that) I’ve made some serious budgeting errors at times!!!  But even in the toughest moments, we’ve gotten through.  My voice studio continues to grow, I have 4 new shows I’m directing this year, a new cabaret up and running, and I’m back to auditioning.  We continue to stay afloat, and I continue to remain free of the corporate world.  I wouldn’t trade these past 18 months for anything in the world.  Even the tough months!  I’m a completely different person than I was then, and for THAT I’m grateful.  (I think a few other people are grateful as well…)
 
What one change would you like to see in today’s industry?
 I have always wanted to see talent rewarded for just being talent! I’d love to see opportunities given to, and created for, artists based on their talents and ability, as opposed to the age, beauty (in whose opinion, anyway???!!!), who they know, their dress size, or even name recognition.  I’m a little over the “gotta have a gimmick” mentality.

Who are your TOP FIVE models and influences as an artist
1.) Kaye Ballard – all of my life, I’ve heard “Ohhh you remind me of Kaye Ballard!” so I figured it was high time I learned all about her! And she’s quite simply – BRILLIANT.  I have learned SO much from Kaye Ballard and she remains a huge part of my artistic career.
2.) Janis Joplin – her music gets in my bones, and her raw unapologetic approach to her music and her lyrics is thrilling and inspiring.
3.) Barbra Streisand (of course…I wanted to be her…who didn’t!)
4.) Karen Mason and/or Penny Fuller – I love them both so much, and having the opportunity to know them on a personal level, and learn from them, makes them all the more important to me.
5.) Barry Kleinbort (truthfully he’s number 1) – I can not honestly think of anyone who has had a greater influence on me, both as an artist and as a person, and I am thankful for that every day.

What do you think ultimately made you become an entertainer? 
 I’m not sure I know.  I think I was born into it! It’s part of my soul.  I’m not sure what kind of life I would have if there was no music in it.

Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
Sometimes.  I’m thrilled with the success of the Kaye Ballard show.  I’m thrilled with the progress my voice students have made, with the successes of their own performances, with the cabaret classes I’ve been privileged to teach, and with the beautiful artists who’ve asked me to direct for them, and the outcome of those shows.  But – I want more! I still want my Broadway show for starters! And when that comes, there will be something else that I want.  So, I’m proud of myself for sure – but I’m ready for more.  Always!

Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do?
with Barry Kleinbort and David Gaines
Nope!  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had successes I’m proud of – quite the opposite, actually – some of which I just mentioned.  But I think there’s always another level to reach for.  Ultimately, I just want to sing, to teach, to continue to explore and to continue to grow.  I don’t believe I’ll be done, until I’m truly…done.
 
What do you do to remain positive when life's hiccups get you down?
Well, I probably fail at this a lot, but one of the things that I often take comfort in is the fact that no matter what, the world seems to keep on spinning.  I’ve gone through some very difficult times and sometimes I have to just stop and say “Ok, I’m still here.  I’m still alive.  I still have people that love me.  And I can still sing.” If I have all that, how bad can it really be?

How on earth do you reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there are so many channels on TV you can’t pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss.
 This is a very tough question that many of us have tried to figure out with varying degrees of success.  I think networking (yes social – but definitely in person!) is a great thing.  A lot of my audiences have come from a combination of networking and word of mouth.  It’s tough when you don’t have a big budget for advertising.  I also think you have to just hang in there.  If you build it, they do eventually come! And then they go.  And then they show up again. And so on.  You have to keep showing up and you have to keep putting your name in front of people.  Easier said than done, I know all too well.
 
A genie pops out of the lamp, he grants you three wishes. What are those wishes?
1.) Enough money that Deborah, could quit her day job.
2.) A lead in a Broadway show (that stays open longer than a week!  I would probably need to be specific…)
3.) For Deborah to become a famous jewelry designer!

(So…maybe 2 and 3 would take care of 1…which would leave me with 1 wish: ummm… Peace on Earth?  Why not.)

If you could travel anywhere in the world and spend some time there, where would you choose, and what would you do?
Deborah has always wanted to go to Paris, and I think that’s a trip I would love too.  That one seems doable.  We will hopefully make a point to do that soon!

What would you ask God if you could right now?
With David Gaines at Kaye's Star in Palm Springs
Why couldn’t I ask now?  I ask for all kinds of things on a regular basis!
 
What is the last stage show you saw.  Local or professional.
I do see a fair amount of cabaret, although, not as much this year as I would like.  Most recently at the theater…it would have to be…Oh geez, it’s been a while….  It might have been “Million Dollar Quartet” on Broadway.  I’ve also seen a few workshops and readings, but cabaret is probably what I get to the most.  I recently saw the brilliantly funny Jay Rogers at the Metropolitan Room. Now THAT was a GREAT show!

What book is on your night stand right now? 
Oh dear.  Well, let’s see.  There’s a clock on my nightstand – my phone is usually there (with emails waiting to be read) – hmmm….as for an actual book – I think there’s a Pottery Barn catalogue on the nightstand?  These days I spend most of my time reading through music, notes for clients I’m working with, or MAC Membership forms I have to process!


Thank you, Gretchen, for the gifts you give to the world!

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                              Tomorrow's blog will be...Doctor Tippi Hedren!

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  Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL...with NO challenges!


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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com
Please join our party on January 30th at Birdland  as we celebrate Anita Gillette, After All!

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