Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Husband and wife cabaret and songwriting team, Jennie Litt and David Alpher!

"Be true to the dreams of your childhood"-- Herman Melville


Happy Wednesday!
I hope you're having an artistic week! The week started out on such a high with Peggy Herman at Feinsteins. As I start my blog this foggy rainy afternoon in New York, I'm listening to Frank Sinatra singing Again on the radio. I've already had a rehearsal withRich Siegel for my show at Chico's House of Jazz in Asbury Park on May 31st! NOW, I'm excited!
Hope to see you there!
Tonight, I'm going to the opening of Megan Hilty as Lorelei Lee in the Encores presentation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
I've already spoken with someone who was at the dress rehearsal last night and she has built up my excitement. She said I'm in for a real treat. Being a Wednesday in New York, Dana Lorge is hosting the 4 time MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Award winning Wednesday Night at The Iguana. Dana and I started that together a few years ago. I moved on after a year and a half to pursue other things. I loved MOST of the people I was lucky enough to see there. Two people that I did meet there that I became a fan of is husband and wife Jennie Litt and David Alpher. They have a show next Thursday night at The Triad that I highly recommend.
Every singer within the tri-state region who is looking for new material should reserve TODAY to see this show. They are also being directed by my first director in cabaret, Lina Koutrakos. It is a trifecta of talent!
They told me they are so excited about their next appearance in their new show, The Things That Make Us Sing, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at The Triad!  This show feels like a real breakthrough for them.
 
As mentioned, they are working with a wonderful, supportive director, Lina Koutrakos, who has given them tremendous validation.  Jennie tells me they they had trouble at first with the idea of doing a "mixed" show--that is, songs of theirs mixed with songs by other songwriters.  Before they came to NYC, they never did shows in that form--it was either all Alpher/Litt, or all songs by others, usually a theme show.  But with this new show, they have found a way to make the songs they didn't write extremely personal.  
 
This is part of Lee Summers' Just A Piano series, so they decided to showcase David's versatility as a pianist, particularly his classical chops.  So they have re-imagined Irving Berlin's "Let's Face The Music And Dance" as a Tchaikovsky styled rhapsody, and made a beautiful medley of two more Berlin songs, "Russian Lullaby" (in which David makes the piano sound like a balalaika) and "I Love A Piano" which has extra resonance for Jennie, since she loves  the pianist!  David also plays one of his own solo piano compositions, “Remembered,” inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac, and they perform one of his art songs, The Sometime Dancer Blues,” set to a poem by Donald Justice--a dark, haunting blues that plumbs the depths of my lower register, which Jennie loves.

They are also debuting some new Alpher/Litt songs in this show, including the title song, "The Things That Make Us Sing," which Corinna Sowers-Adler recently performed in her "By Request" show at The Metropolitan Room.  It's a power ballad which attempts to understand the human impulse to make music--Jennie doesn't think they solve the mystery, but the investigation took them somewhere very, very exciting.  There's a singalong, some comic numbers, including one about their brief stint as innkeepers in the Hudson Valley (yes, they had their own BandB!), and their most recent song, "Marriage," in which Jennie sets a lyric to a melody David wrote THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO when he was studying with Lehman Engel at the BMI Musical Theater Workshop.  Back then, he knew only that it was a song of yearning: they jokingly called it "I Want A Girlfriend."  Well, time passes, and thirty-eight years later, it's just as beautiful, but now it's about a marriage that's about to complete its first decade!  
The word people most often apply to them as a duo and to their songs is "adorable," and I think this is going to be a pretty adorable show.

Today, I'm proud to celebrate Jennie Litt and David Alpher!
 David Alpher (pianist/composer) and Jennie Litt (singer/lyricist) have been performing together since 1999.
They made their New York City cabaret debut in 2010/11 with their almost-all-original show, Composing Ourselves: Songs By Alpher and Litt, with two successful runs at Don’t Tell Mama and The Metropolitan Room.
Their original stand-alone cabaret songs draw inspiration from the great satirists of the 1960s, Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman, as well as cabaret giants Flanders and Swann, Jacques Brel, and Dave Frishberg, while remaining securely rooted in the tradition of the Great American Songbook. BroadwayWorld.com has called their songs “enchanting,” and Frishberg himself has praised their “ingenious music and words.” They are two-time ASCAPlus Award winners. Working in a variety of genres — children's music, comic novelty, jazz/blues, neo-Tin Pan Alley, pop, protest, and satire — Litt and Alpher have amassed an eclectic oeuvre of tightly-crafted, piano-driven, stand-alone cabaret songs that tickle the funnybone, tell truths, and touch the heart.



Who was the most famous iconic person you ever met? What was your
experience: good, bad,  or indifferent  in terms of meeting them? Did they
live up to your expectations? 

 
David: The most iconic person, albeit far removed from cabaret, that I ever met  was Henry Kissinger.
I was playing a gig, several decades ago, and he showed up at the reception.
Someone asked him if he preferred to be addressed as "Dr. Kissinger" or "Mr. Secretary." He answered, in his inimitably-accented basso, "'Excellency' vill do."

Jennie: My icons have all been show business people.  Richard, you'll appreciate that my very first big celebrity was Carol Channing!  My brother and I went to greet her at her dressing room after a summer stock production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at The Kenley Players in rural Ohio.  I was probably eight, and starstruck.  I asked her, "Miss Channing, how do you get into show business?"  She didn't miss a beat: "Practice!"  I was terrifically embarrassed.

At 18 I met another icon: Stephen Sondheim.  For a complicated set of reasons, we were chatting at a cocktail party at Sardi's, sipping our drinks, and Steve was eating peanuts out of a bowl on the bar.  I don't have a clue what we were talking about, but I remember vividly the moment when a glob of peanuts shot out of his mouth and landed on my chin.  Fast-forward a couple of decades: I was asked to write a reminiscence of Steve for his 75th birthday gala at The Nederlander.  I submitted this story, and it was published verbatim in the souvenir program which thousands of people brought home.  I thought it was weird when I went to claim my ticket and the staff said, "Oh, YOU'RE Jennie Litt."  But I understood a month later when I got a typewritten letter from "Steve S." thanking me for my contribution to his program, "even though it made me blush."  Yes folks, I publicly humiliated Stephen Sondheim.
  

I had better luck with perhaps my greatest songwriting hero, Dave Frishberg.  For a few years, David and I ran a chamber-music/cabaret festival in upstate NY, and we invited Frishberg to give a concert.  He not only accepted, he stayed at our house.  He and his wife, April, and David and I hung out for about 24 hours, getting to know each other, playing our songs for each other, relaxing, taking pictures in the back yard.  I was afraid it was going to be horribly awkward but it was magical. 

 Have you ever lost your concentration on stage? What caused it and how did you get back on track?
 Jennie: Well, of course I have lost concentration on stage!  Who hasn't?  The worst time was a couple of years ago, when we were doing a group concert out of town, and we brought our two-year-old.  A long car ride, a long rehearsal, and awkward and stressful child-care arrangements were all making my head spin, and I wasn't able to get into a "performing head" before going onstage.  David and I were in the middle of a song we've done 100 times, "The House I Live In," and I blanked on the lyric and said, "F--, what's the lyric?"  This would have been bad enough at any concert, but this was in a church!  Needless to say, we have not been invited back!  Ever since then, I have been careful to guard my pre-performance time to get my head and concentration together.
 
Also, when we were making our NYC cabaret debut at the Metropolitan Room, minutes before going onstage for our second show, I scratched my cornea.  My eye was tearing throughout the show, and my nose was running, and I had no idea what was going on.  And it hurt!  And we were being videotaped!  I guess I must have hid it reasonably well though, because the only comment came from a reviewer who remarked that a ballad for our daughter was "emotionally delivered"--because of the tears cascading down my face as I plowed through the song.  That was a tough one to keep together.
What have you learned about making your relationships in the industry more
solid and resourceful?

Jennie: For me, being in this business is a constant learning process.  I began my performing life upstate, where the community of musicians was far-flung but small, and the relationships just sort of happened.  Since moving to NYC three years ago, we have had to be far more proactive about forging relationships.  I have learned that relationships take time, and that there is no substitute for showing up.  That's a challenge for us, with a preschooler at home and only 18 hours of childcare a week--not to mention expensive, what with babysitting costs on top of cover charges, 2-drink minimums, etc.!  But a network is an artist's most valuable resource--that, plus the goods, of course. 
Your thoughts on Arts in Education
David: In the course of my life, I have seen spending on arts education in the
public schools continuously decline. This is not only a tragic mistake,
because children are not exposed to their own cultural inheritance, but
evidence of a "bottom-line" mentality that so pervades our country. There
are values beyond the savings of taxpayer money (this is another lesson that
the young are not learning, as they prepare for their first Tea Party
meeting), values that make us more complete, ennobled human beings.
What life lessons did you learn from your parents?
David: Treat others kindly and respectfully.
Jennie: My parents have been amazingly supportive as I have made a mid-life career change to songwriting and performing.  I know they would rather that I were raking in a corporate salary, or at least be getting paid for what I do, but they have always supported my unorthodox career path, even though neither of them is an artist.  I am so grateful not to have the added anxiety of displeasing my parents to worry about, and I hope I will be as supportive of our daughter, Mirabelle, when she embarks on her life journey.


 What is your biggest success in Show Business?
David: I have three, in no particular order:

    1. Recording an Angel CD, “American Dreamer: Songs of Stephen Foster,” with Metropolitan Opera baritone Thomas Hampson, fiddler Jay Ungar, and guitarist Molly Mason, and then appearing with this ensemble in concerts at Tanglewood and Great Performers at Lincoln Center;  “American Dreamer” has never been out of print since its release in the 1990s; it’s widely regarded as a classic recording.

    2. Having my classical chamber composition "Las Meninas: Variations" performed on 32
separate concerts worldwide since 1985;

    3. Co-founding and -directing the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, now in its 31st year, and newly housed in a stunning new performing arts facility overlooking Rockport Harbor on Cape Ann in coastal Massachusetts.

Jennie: I am still anticipating my greatest success!  I have risen to some awesome challenges in my time, though, of which I am very proud.  The scariest was the opening season of our upstate chamber music festival, when David and I shared a bill with folk legends Jay Ungar and Molly Mason.  David knew them of old, but I was new to performing and struggling with feelings of inadequacy.  But I worked my butt off for 18 months leading up to the appearance, and I kicked its ass!  We made a CD of that concert, which we still sell at our shows, and that appearance resulted in my first review, in which I was compared favorably with Barbara Cook (I wish!).

 
What would you tell your 25 year old self?
David: Read that Melville quote about 40 times each day, and do not allow
pushier and/or demeaning individuals to ever distract you from it.
Jennie: Get your ass to the gym!  Stop smoking!  Stop smoking that, too!

 What one change would you like to see in today’s industry?
Jennie: I would like to see more financial opportunities for cabaret performers!


Do you consider what you wear on stage for your show a costume? Or is it
just clothing to you?

Jennie: I think of it as a "performance outfit."  It doesn't make me into someone else, but it does make me into a heightened version of myself.



Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
Jennie: Yes and no.  Yes, because I feel that I am surfing the edge of my comfort zone, with new challenges such as trying to get a decent house at The Triad, which is a big theater, and making a commercial-quality CD, which requires a whole new set of skills which I am in the process of learning and mastering, writing new songs, and trying to push ourselves to the next level.  Because I came to this career in midlife, I am pleased to have gotten where we are in just 10 years.  But I am sad that I am closing in on my first half-century and still in what I would describe as the opening act of my performing and songwriting career.  Luckily, cabaret has no use-by date, and the kind of songs we write don't seem to either.  At least I hope so!


How has the industry changed since you made your debut?
Jennie: Well, we only made our NYC debut in 2010, so not much!  Before that, we were performing primarily upstate and around the tristate area, but not in NYC, where the industry (cabaret in particular) is headquartered.


How on earth do you reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete andthere 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.
David: If I knew the answer to this, Jennie and I would be sitting pretty.



Is your priority in your career doing the work or being famous?
David: My answer to this one surprises even me. Of course I want to be famous--
who doesn't?-- but because the nature of fame in our time is so ephemeral
(Andy Warhol's 15 minutes has shrunk to about 10), I would have to choose
"doing the work." At least that process is endlessly interesting and
fulfilling; and if done properly, might even lead to a more durable sort of
fame-- one that could outlive me. I'm thinking of, and hoping for,
durability for our songs and my other compositions.
 
Jennie: I would love for us to be famous!  But we have no control over that.  I am so grateful, though, that I have the opportunity to do this work with David.  It is exalting to make music with the person you love, whose musicality is so sophisticated and beautiful, and to create art together which we both love equally.  I was a fiction writer before I became part of a performing and songwriting duo.  That was lonely, and this is a sheer, shared pleasure.  And if it doesn't go well, there's someone to commiserate with.  And when it goes well, there's someone to clink glasses with!
 What do you do to prepare for your performances?
David: Really know the music, and eat sushi (without raw fish) about 3 hours before.

Here is a link to buy two CDs of David's and Jennie's: American Dreamer, Songs of Stephen Foster (Thomas Hampson, Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, David Alpher) and Americana (Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, David Alpher, Jennie Litt, and Rachel Handman)

Thank you Jennie and David for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world! Much success at The Triad next Wednesday night!



Your devoted fan,



NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!

May 11
7-9pm
BARNES AND NOBLE UPPER EAST SIDE, 150 East 86th Street

RICHARD SKIPPER CELEBRATES PEGGY POPE!
In her new acting memoir, "Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business", the Obie-winning actress Peggy Pope (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peggy_Pope) details an eventful life in the theater, film and television spanning over five decades. But unlike most celebrity tell-alls, this thoughtful and deeply personal account brings to light the trials and experiences of the vast majority of actors, those who either flirt with stardom or play supporting roles throughout their careers. Richard Skipper and Peggy Pope are sitting down for an exploration of Peggy's incredible career in show business. Email me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com for more info.


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
                 
Tomorrow's blog will be..Merete Muenter!


Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!




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








TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

This Blog is dedicated to Harlan Boll and Al Koenig! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!
 





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