Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Baayork Lee: Making a Difference!

Baayork Lee

Never Stop Dreaming!

Happy Tuesday!

The above is Baayork Lee’s personal philosophy and she walks the walk and talks the day. Her optimism is as infectious today as it was in the mid seventies when the world was about to see her as part of the original Chorus Line cast.
Baayork just returned from London, where she, along with Bob Avian just mounted a revival of A Chorus Line. She is about to start the casting process for the great American classic, Hello, Dolly! There is a twist to this casting. It will be an all Asian-American cast and starring ChristineToy Johnson, who I profiled yesterday, as Dolly Levi!  This is being done through Baayork’s National Asian Artists Project (NAAP).  This is their third concert adaptation with all Asian-American classics. Their first was Oklahoma! followed by a sold out Carousel last year.
Current London production
Carousel was so successful that they will have two shows this year of Hello, Dolly!, April 29th and May 6th. This will be directed by Dolly expert and guru, Lee Roy Reams, who has directed several productions of Dolly starring Parisian star Nicole Crosile, Joanne Worley, Leslie Uggams, Randy Graff, Madeline Kahn, and in her last Broadway revival, Carol Channing.Musical staging will be by Randy Slovacek.
National Asian Artists Project is the result of many years of working, observing, discussing, and dreaming. In the professional careers of Baayork Lee, Steven Eng, and Nina Zoie Lam, there had been much to experience as theatre artists of Asian descent: Baayork as a highly-regarded director/choreographer/dancer on Broadway, Steven as an actor/singer on the West End, and Nina Zoie as an actor/dancer on Broadway.  Since 2004, when Baayork directed the national tour of THE KING AND I and brought on Steven and Nina Zoie to assist, they had watched numerous Asian/Asian-American theatre artists enter and leave the profession from lack of opportunity. Even the children from THE KING AND I tour (mostly hired from an exhaustive Chinatown search) found themselves returning to lives without theatre, despite expressing strong interest in the arts.
They had worked together on Cinderella and The King and I at City Opera. As they were talking about the need for Asian Artists to get the exposure to play roles that they would not necessarily be cast in. Color-blind casting, as much as they say it exists, only exists in a very limited degree. So they set out three years ago to form this company to give their community an opportunity to perform AND to introduce the Asian community to what they are doing. Theater is not a part of many people’s lives in the Asian community. There are people who love the theater but it is not part  of the Asian community.  They set out to have an outreach program at a school in Chinatown. 
They currently have twenty-five kids. They are being introduced to the theater. In fact, they went to see The Lion King a few days prior to this interview. They are recently saw Annie. NAAP introduces them to the theater. They also have an after school program of musical theater and dance. They also belong to the Junior Theater Festival in which they have performed at for the past three years. They have also created a National Asian Artists Choir in Chinatown where the Asian artists and community can come together to sing musical theater songs and classics.
Throughout their many projects, independent and collective, they saw and encountered the same dilemma. With the relatively few well-paid professional jobs that existed for any theater artist, prospects were even more dismal for an artist of Asian descent.    
Although she was a little jet lagged when we sat down to talk last week, we talked about everything to AIDS education to Hello, Dolly as you will see in today’s blog as I celebrate Baayork Lee.
A Chorus Line changed the way that Baayork sees the world.   A Chorus Line is the landmark musical with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Centered on seventeen Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line, the musical is set on the bare stage of a Broadway theatre during an audition for a musical. A Chorus Line provided a glimpse into the personalities of the performers and the choreographer as they describe the events that have shaped their lives and their decisions to become dancers. Baayork was/is one of those dancers.
It is Baayork’s instincts that draw her into a particular artist or art form. Great art will draw people in. So will talented people.
Right now, Baayork sees her future about giving back to her community.
Michael Bennett is definitely one of Baayork’s heroes in the arts. Hal Prince. Mike Nichols. 

These are three men that she has worked with and helped shape her destiny and who she is. They have given her opportunities and have taught her well. This year, it has been Bob Avian. As stated earlier, they just worked together in London and he is definitely one of her heroes. Graciela Daniele is another hero of Baayork’s. This woman has done so much and given so much and she is an unsung hero. Larry Fuller. Carol Haney.
She continues to work at her craft daily to become a better artist. She continues to go out and seek the jobs that will help her to grow in her craft. She believes that is the secret to longevity in this business. She tries to stay positive. She never gets jaded. Every project is a new beginning. She is always a student.  
Baayork’s biggest vice is eating and her greatest virtue is giving.
Baayork with original A Chorus Line Cast Member, Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie
If she could go back to any year in her life, she would go back to, no surprise, 1974 when they started developing A Chorus Line.
Baayork is not an avid TV watcher but she does lover Turner Classic Movies!
When she is working there are three things she desires around her, positivity, positivity, positivity and positive energy.
In the wake of the 2012 election, I asked Baayork how she feels that our elected officials can educate through policy on the still widespread AIDS epidemic. She said she doesn’t know that she could answer that. It is such a huge issue. There are people out their banging on the doors of our elected officials, yelling and screaming. Are they listening? Who knows if they are listening. Baayork thinks perhaps we have to do it ourselves. She doesn’t know if they can help us at this point.
Baayork has been so blessed. She thinks, because of her positive nature, and because she has been on projects that have not come to fruition, she just keeps moving on. She worked on a project once for five or six years. The producers and writers did not desire to listen to reason. They wanted to bring it to Broadway. Baayork kept saying, No! No!! No!!!”  
She kept insisting it was not ready. There have been several projects that she has been in despair of. She just moves along and moves to the next project. How did she deal with that? She ate! The bottom line is that she has always felt that there is a place for her in this business. When something doesn’t work out, there is another door to open to explore. That has a lot to do with her parents saying, “Moving along. You can’t let this get you down. There is something else waiting for you out there”
I asked Baayork, thanks to Michael Feinstein, if she believed in reincarnation. She said absolutely.
There are so many things that Baayork is proud of in her career and life but she is most proud of her kids: at PS124, going down to the Junior Festival and coming back with awards. Three years ago, they didn’t even know what a musical was.
Now they are going to see musicals, and their parents are getting interested.
When she goes to the schools, parents are now asking for weekend classes in musical theater. It just blows her away. She is most proud of that and this part of her life.
Baayork Lee helps members of the Staples Players with choreography in "A Chorus Line," which opens at Staples High School March 15.

She is trying to change the course of Asian actors, their place in the world and how they fit in, it takes a village, the American theater village. She desires to change the mindset of casting directors and agents and producers and writers so that they don’t see a face, they see a possibility.
It is automatic that people will remember Baayork for Connie in the ORIGINAL A Chorus Line but she really hopes her company, The National Asian Project, will live on after she’s gone and that theater is part of the Asian community. American theater, any kind of theater, should be part of the Asian community. They are so rigid. Their parents desire them to be doctors and lawyers. “Go out and play chess and the violin.” Those tiger moms are out there. Baayork really hopes that what she is creating will start to open up their minds and give them pleasure.  

Thank you Baayork for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

HOLD THE DATE! Lee Roy Reams is doing a rare evening at 54 Below on April 3rd! 7PM.This show WILL sell out so RESERVE TODAY! Maitre D
Reservations: (646) 476-3551. To purchase tickets visit TicketWeb.com or call (866) 468-7619 54 Below - 254 W 54th St, Cellar - New York, NY

Carol Channing. Juliet Prowse. Gwen Verdon. Bob Fosse. Richard Rodgers. Lauren Bacall. Gower Champion. Those are just a few of the legendary performers about whom you'll hear loving tales when Broadway royalty Lee Roy Reams steps onto our stage for one special performance only. His ten Broadway credits run the gamut from Sweet Charity, Applause, Lorelei, Hello, Dolly and 42nd Street to La Cage aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast and The Producers. In Song and Dance Man, expect tunes from those hits (including Lullaby of Broadway, Put on Your Sunday Clothes and 42nd Street), to gems such as Pretty Women and Real Live Girl. Come get the theatrical tales from a fellow who was there to see it all, from Dolly's lashes to Billy Lawlor's well worn tap shoes.

Please call me if any questions! I hope to see you on April 3rd!

Richard Skipper 845-365-0720

If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
My next blog will be...Jenifer Lewis: Dolly Levi, Hello, Dolly! 5th Avenue Theater: 2009 

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!


1 comment:

  1. Brava Baayork!
    I treasure working with Baayork when I played Mary Stewart, the society photographer in the
    the 1982 revival of ANIMAL CRACKERS at the Arena Stage, Washington, D.C., directed by Douglas C. Wager and Baayork choreographed!

    What a pro and great friend of actors!
    The real deal.
    That musical was the first Broadway musical ever made into a movie.
    I remember her friends from A CHORUS LINE came down to D.C. to see the show. They were writing a book. After the show we all went out and chatted wonderful wonderful stories and great energy.
    Loved the article.
    Deborah Jean Templin