Friday, July 09, 2010

Gifts The Storm May Bring (Part Two)

July 4th - this is a continuation of Part One, so you might want to scroll down and catch up with that first so you know what's going on. After you get a snack and a beverage and make yourself comfortable, that is. This puppy's practically a novella. Check out a bunch of pics from my NY trip HERE.

Alright...on Monday I checked out of the Hampton Inn and since no one at La Casa Levi was answering phone calls, I wandered around Midtown for a few hours since I couldn't check into my new hotel for awhile.

Again, Midtown stank. But the people-watching was AWESOME!

At one point, I thought I was sitting outside of Penn Station and updated my status on Ye Olde Facebook and Twitter saying so. My sweet friend, the fabulous up-and-coming artist Gene-Manuel (who I would be meeting for lunch on Thursday), texted me and said he'd meet me to say hi cuz he was close by. Well, in the course of more texting, we discovered I'm a doofus and I had been sitting in front of the Port Authority, indeed NOT Penn Station (cuz somehow I'd not noticed the giant "PORT AUTHORITY" marquee over the doors - ???). That boy went and ran ten blocks to meet me ANYWAY! Crazy fool. But it was lovely to see him even briefly that day. He took me to get my weekly Subway pass and then told me how to get back to the hotel to get my stuff. He also said Midtown's "pretty much a pit" and he's pretty much the most positive guy living on the planet, so I can rest assured it wasn't just me being a snob! :-)

Got my luggage, took a cab to my new hotel on the Upper West Side (frou frou!), On The Avenue. Suh-weet digs! I'd never stayed in a hotel room with a mini-bar before (not even in Vegas, where I visit often - or used to, when I had money to waste). I promptly disrobed and climbed into the AMAZING, poofy bed with way too many pillows (I swear it felt like sleeping on a cloud) and napped. VERY HARD.

And then finally, after about five years of online-only friendship and a few phone calls, my friend Tiffany Keiller - who made this whole trip possible - descended upon New York City from Canada, eh. It didn't even feel weird to meet her. I just said, "It's YOU!!!" and we had a big hug and then jumped on her bed and started yakkety-yakking like school girls.

That night we got dressed and went to the world famous jazz club Birdland for Jim Caruso's Cast Party (read all about my experience with Cast Party in L.A. in my "Magic at the Castle" blog!). I was SO excited to a) finally visit Birdland and SING there after hearing of it my whole life and b) to check out Cast Party where it originally began, AND c) get to see my longtime friend Mark Aaron James (we met back in our Nashville days) who told me about Cast Party in the first place and had just moved back to NY three weeks earlier after a couple years in London. Oh and d) to see my sweet and talented friends Marla and Richard from here in L.A., who were in "Not Your Mama's Broadway" with me and who just happened to be vacationing in NY at the same time! How small IS this world, people? And you don't think there is a Grand Design? I mean C'MON!

Here's video of me singing that night (and I hope those of you without Facebook can view it, haven't had time to get it onto YouTube yet):

I cannot put into words how this felt, to be singing at a world famous jazz club, to have shared a stage with Linda Lavin (who had been nominated for a Tony this year), Sarah Paulson (who did some funny impressions at Jim's behest and was in the fabulous but short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and other unbelievably talented musicians and entertainers (including an Italian dude who I just saw on America's Got Talent for standing on his head on a basketball - which he did for us at the club - and swallowed some balloons - inflated). AND I got enthusiastic applause, too! Man, New York audiences are tough and they've heard the best singers in the world (and many have sung at Cast Party), so they are not easy to impress, so I kinda felt pretty dang good about that. What a night! AND their food rocked! Delicious roasted rosemary chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and collard greens. Sooooooooooooo good. Oh AND the guy who seated us got up and sang "Stormy Weather" and blew the freakin' doors off the joint! I FREAKIN' LOVE NEW YORK!!!

Me. Onstage at Birdland. Yep. That's right. ME!

So Tiffany was a real trooper and lasted quite a long time for someone who'd been on a plane all day, but finally she started crashing and we had to go before all the entertainment ended (though that's the thing about Cast Party, it can go on for HOURS and unlike L.A., NY bars stay open past 2am). So back we went, feeling euphoric, full and sleepy, to our hotel.

Tuesday dawned and Tiffany, being a mother of two, was up way earlier than me. This happened every morning. She was kind enough not to wake me before 9am, though. We tried to go see the Statue of Liberty but by the time we got there there was a line as far as the eye could see. We asked an employee when the best time to come was and he deadpanned, "8 o'clock." Aka: in the morning. My favorite. So we planned to return on Thursday. We walked around Battery Park  a little bit and then decided to head to site of the new World Trade Center construction and St. Paul's Chapel across the street (where the Ground Zero workers would go between shifts to rest, eat, receive massages and love from volunteers from all over the country).

Construction at Ground Zero.

St. Paul's Chapel. George Washington used to worship here when he was President. It's the last standing colonial era church in Manhattan. It took two years to clean up all the debris from the Twin Towers from the property.

Now, Ground Zero is much different from when I visited in 2006 and was inspired to write "Go On." The makeshift memorial walls have been removed (and stored away for the time being) so that construction could begin. But as Tif mentioned, the atmosphere was still heavy. I anticipated that it might be a bit emotional for her being in the area for the first time, but I was surprised at how much it still got to me. Particularly once we went into the chapel, which still has services but is very much serving as an interim memorial, a tiny museum. They had removed all the pews but one (which was at the back of the chapel and covered in scuff marks from the workers boots who'd slept on it), I suppose to make it easier for visitors to move about and view the discreet displays, which are generally makeshift memorials with pictures of missing loved ones, information as to what went on there during the clean up efforts, personal notes and messages from volunteers and workers, hand-made signs and banners of encouragement from all over the world, one remaining rollaway bed, a reverend's robe covered in patches from all kinds of volunteer workers' uniforms from all over the world, even a tattered pair of boots and FDNY jacket, which I couldn't bear to take a picture of or look at very long. It was heartbreaking all over again, but also interesting to walk it through with my good friend from Canada, who was seeing this for the first time and whose wonderful people were there for us immediately after the tragedy. I was happy to be able to share the experience of what it meant to her, a citizen of another country. It opened my eyes a bit to what the city of New York and the U.S. in general stands for to the rest of the world. This is an honor that our leaders of all political parties have perhaps abused and taken for granted in recent decades and certainly must be rectified. We are so lucky to live here. We must never, EVER forget this or act like we, the still living, are entitled to be here. The blood of the dead - from the first Native American slain by the hands of a new settler to the most recent loss in Afghanistan - bought it for us. We should be grateful and humbled.

Sorry. Preachy. I get a little carried away sometimes.

After that, were were definitely ready for some levity. So we got ourselves ready to go see Levi's Tony-winning performance in Million Dollar Quartet at the Nederlander Theater!

Now there was an experience. Levi has been in this show for something like four years, originating his role as Jerry Lee Lewis from when it was just a table read. The show started in Seattle, moved to Chicago and finally landed in New York. I had never seen it. I finally got to and it happened to be his first show as a Tony award winner. Let me tell you something, this little show rocks. It's a jukebox show. Full of wonderful rockabilly classics, good ole fashioned fun. Levi's Tony was deserved (seriously, I'd like to see any PREVIOUS Tony winner sit on top of a piano and play it backwards), but I'd also like to compliment the rest of the cast, who I feel did some really fine work, particularly Robert Britton Lyons whose Carl Perkins was much more nuanced than the book allowed for (and the guy can shred on guitar). If you get a chance to see this show, just go. It's a blast!

Afterward we went backstage...we walked behind the set and saw panel after panel of cast members' signatures from every show that played the Nederlander you can imagine, including Rent:

Tif and I were all set to get our picture with the whole cast backstage. But freakin' Rhoda stole our thunder! We got over it, cuz we got THIS picture instead:

Valerie Harper and the cast of MDQ

But WE got to go up to Levi's dressing room, which is filled with little inspirational sayings on stickies, but desperately needs a woman's - or gay decorator's - touch. So I got this picture, which I lurve:

And Tif got THIS picture! What a sassafrass!

And then Levi showed me the box of chocolates that Whoopi Goldberg sent him (uh, no link necessary!), at which point I had a hissy fit and told him I was OVER being gracious and happy for him and now I was just plain jealous and then I wove a tapestry of obscenities that my parents would be MORTIFIED to have heard come out of my mouth. Tiffany and Levi, however, GREATLY enjoyed my little tantrum.

I mean c'mon. Who gets congratulatory chocolates from Whoopi?



So then we left the theater and said goodbye to Levi, as he lives within walking distance. Tif gave me a minute with Levi and that little private moment is just ours. ♥

On that note, I shall take a break and go to a cook out and celebrate Independence Day with my L.A. Family of Choice. I will finish up maybe late tonight or definitely by tomorrow. Would I have had this much fun in ANY other country in the world? GOD BLESS AMERICA!

July 9th - I'm back. Several days later than anticipated cuz it's been a busy week and I ended up with a nasty sinus infection that's trashing my voice. Lots of singing to get through this week so YAY for that! Happy to be on antibiotics and sterrhoids yet again. *thumbs up*

But enough now I'm having a hard time remembering what all we did on what day! I think Wednesday we stayed in the vicinity of our hotel, which was within walking distance of Central Park (which Tif checked out in the early hours of the morning before waking me up). At some point we had lunch at the amazing, hands down BEST burger place ON EARTH (and I ladies and gents, am a cheeseburger connoisseur)...The Shake Shack. Seriously, the burgers melt in your mouth like buttah! And they serve CRINKLE CUT fries! Ruined me for burgers anywhere else, ever again. Okay that's a lie, but I know where the best are. Then we visited the Museum of Natural History, which was REALLY cool. I LOVE museums! And I believe it's the one in Ben Stiller's "Night at the Museum" movies. Got lots of cool pictures of the ummm..."stuffed"?...animals to show the 3 1/2 year old twin girls I sit a couple days a week. They were enraptured. For five minutes. Then they were back to being shrieking little banshees. ♥ But I digress. That evening we decided to have a low key night and not be out too late so that we could scrape our butts out of bed early enough to see Lady Liberty the next morning, so we went to Times Square. And weirdly, it was quite relaxing! It was THE most beautiful night, humidity had let up, there was a light breeze, temperature was just right and there were enough people to make it bustle but not so many that you got annoyed. We sat for awhile and just watched people. There was an African-American dude dressed up like The Joker (a la Heath) who wouldn't let you take a picture of him unless you gave him a couple bucks. Said he's an actor out of work, with a little girl to feed. Nice guy. Of course, may have been insane and totally just never knows. After that, we debated - and chickened out of - going to the Empire State Building because we are both not so much in love with heights. I think I could've dealt with it, as I'd been to the top of the Twin Towers before as a kid and that was nauseatingly dizzifying, but since Tif was a first timer in NY, I kinda let her take the lead as to what she wanted to do. And she did NOT feel like conquering her fear that night! So we went back to the hotel eventually and got some rest.

The Joker wreaking havoc in Gotham.

Me protecting Times Square from the Joker. I'm ferocious, huh?

Thursday dawned - which is just an evil sentence in and of itself. Dawn...*shudder*. Lady Liberty day! We made it down there and in line by 8:30am and it went zip, zip, zip, just like Deadpan Boy from the other day had said. I love boats, I've decided. You have to get on one to get to the statue. Another perfect weather day, wind in our hair, the water splashing, and then the MAGNIFICENT site of the statue as you pull up to it. You see pictures of her your whole life, but seeing her up close and in person is really quite an emotional experience. I cannot imagine what the sight of her must have been like to immigrants from other countries who'd been at sea for weeks or months at a time, who had sacrificed everything for just a chance at a better life, not even knowing if they'd survive the trip. I must admit I got veklempt.

"Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Words by Emma Lazarus, music by Irving Berlin

Then...Ellis Island. Sobering. I suspect I had relatives from the French side of the family pass through there but I don't have proof (yet). I did a report on it in 4th grade, so it was very interesting to see it in person finally. For the number of people who came through every day in its heyday (about 5,000), it didn't seem that big. I got the heeby jeebies thinking about how claustrophobic it must've been...all the unbathed bodies, all the confused and crying children, all the languages of the world being spoken at once, all the sick and injured and some probably downright crazy, how grumpy the employees probably were. Again...all of that...just to live in America.

I could've spent hours reading every little piece of information in that place (cuz I'm weird like that), but eventually we had to leave to meet our friends Gene-Manuel and Jhon Centurri for lunch. We met at a little pizza place in the West Village and chatted up a storm. Once upon a time, Gene stumbled upon a blog I wrote and dug it. He shared it with Jhon. He dug it. They both befriended me on Facebook and we've been buds since. I met them in person for the first time last September when they visited L.A. and I booked a little acoustic show and bbq in their honor in my backyard (aka, "Riverton Bowl", more on that later). Well Tiffany, being my friend online also became their friend online. And then, being a supporter and lover of the arts, she commissioned magicalized portraits of her kids from Gene. And now FINALLY, she was getting to meet him! Anyone who wants to gripe about the evils of the internet can bite my lily white one...I think it's AMAZING. If not for the internet, I would not have been in New York City that day in the first place, let alone enjoying some time and delicious pizza with three truly good-hearted human beings. Brilliant!

Come to find out...we were mere feet away from historic Stonewall and I didn't even know it! So after lunch, the four of us walked over there to check it out. And since I'm practically a gay man inside, I could not help but get my picture in front of the place.

I'm a tourist in NY, I know I look tragic. Don't judge.

Unfortunately, by this time in my trip, my last full day in NY, my feet were screaming with pain from all the walking. In L.A., no one walks anywhere. We drive. Even the skinny people drive everywhere (they have to get to the gym somehow). I'm admittedly an exercise-hater (why have a couch at all if not to sit on it?). So I knew this trip was going to be a lot for me. That said, I am REALLY proud of myself and how much physical activity I did accomplish throughout the week. I had been so worried that Tif would regret this trip with me, but she said a "more relaxed pace" turned out to be good for her cuz as a mom she's always rushing everywhere.'s good to keep a juicy girl around, aiight? I was DONE with a capital D and if I didn't get off my feet and prop them up soon I was going to start crying. They were literally throbbing in rhythm with my heartbeat and I could feel my knees shaking. I'm not even kidding. So sadly my afternoon with Gene and Jhon was cut shorter than I wanted and I went back to the hotel. Tif stayed with them and hung out for awhile longer. So sorry guys! Next trip I'm planning you in the BEGINNING before I lose mobility! Or...maybe I'll go on a diet. Nah, probably not. But it's the thought that counts.

Finally, that night we went out to hear my aforementioned friend Mark Aaron James play at Bar on A in the East Village - which, come to find out, cannot be reached by subway easily. Read: lots more walking. (C'MON!!!) Anyway, this was a new residency for him so the crowd was small, which meant I got to toss out requests for all my favorites of his originals cuz he wasn't really under that much pressure to do a bunch of covers. I'm not sure he loved me all that much for that, but I was happy and Tif enjoyed it. The place was a little bit dive-y but that's my kinda place. I can't stand swanky, glittery, pretentious, touristy joints - or the kind of people who frequent them. I prefer places with stories to tell and this was one of those. My favorite places in New York are the real New Yorker's places. It was a nice, low key last evening in town.

And we split a cab back to the hotel.!

Me and my longtime buddy, MAJ.

And the ONLY pic of me and Tif together on this whole trip. Seriously???

The next morning, we packed up, checked out, had some lunch across the street at Big Nick's Pizza & Burger Joint (better burgers than pizza, but still not better than Shake Shack!) and just walked around the area a little bit more, enjoying the architecture of the Upper West Side. Yes...I could live THERE. During spring and early summer anyway. Then, we got car service to the Newark airport and I hugged Tif just long enough to start to tear up and then I ran away into the airport like the jaded, emotionally-stunted freak that I am while the car drove her off to her own gate and back to Edmonton, Alberta.

Tiffany, I cannot adequately put into words how to thank you. I hope you just know inside how very grateful I am for ALL of it.

Storm: So unimportant.

And so I returned to Los Angeles rested, grateful, energized, strangely confident and with a fire lit under my booty. And for starters, I'd take on the "Angels Over Nashville" benefit at Riverton Bowl just a week later. And wait till you hear about THOSE gifts... be continued in Part Three. I know, I know. I PROMISE there will be no Part Four!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Gifts The Storm May Bring (Part One)

Well, it's absolutely shameful that it's taken me this long to write a new blog. Now it's going to take me six years to catch you all up on what's been going on. Oy! Guess I'll just get right to it, then...

Oh wait. Get a snack. And a beverage. And get comfy.

The last few months have been the craziest of roller coaster rides in nearly any way imagineable. I have been on the highest of highs and some of the lowest of my lows. And as always...I keep on tickin'. The title of this blog is also the title of a song written and recorded by my friend Faith Rivera, as it seemed appropriate on many levels. Take a listen and let her music inspire you.

Shortly after my last post, the heavens opened up and projectile-vomited upon my beloved former home of Nashville, TN and surrounding areas for two or three days straight, causing the Cumberland River to rise 13 feet and overflow, resulting in over $1 billion in damage and killing over 30 people. Last I heard, there are still 11,000 families displaced, having lost their homes to a natural disaster that simply NEVER happens there. These people didn't have flood insurance. It's a landlocked state, why would they?

What do you mean you heard nothing about it?

Oh yes, that's right...that's because the news was busy harping on the bomb that never went off in Times Square and the beginnings of the repulsive BP oil spill in the Gulf instead. Not that I think these were not newsworthy subjects, but if the bomb didn't go off...then great. Let us know when you catch the bastard who planted it. Keep us posted on the spill. But you couldn't send ONE stinkin' news truck to Nashville? Really?

So...not the best start to my birthday month. Which was compounded by the fact that I could do NOTHING to help...AND I was about to turn 40. Oh the mess my little head was in! How was it possible that I was about to reach this milestone unable to pull a Clooney and do something for my beloved Music City??? That wasn't the plan at all! By 40 I was supposed to be a well-respected, multiple award-winning singer/songwriter who makes enough money that the IRS threatens to eat her if she DOESN'T invest much of it in charity.

But alas. This has yet to happen.

I decided to have a birthday party regardless of how I was feeling, only because I didn't want to regret that I didn't later. I thought about booking a show, but my neighbor Matt said, "Why do you wanna work on your birthday? Have your friends entertain YOU instead."

Turns out he's a genius. Cuz that's exactly what we did. We (and when I say "we," I mean Matt) made a rudimentary little stage, we got a simple little P.A. system from my other neighbor Chris' brother-in-law who works on the Ellen Show (a perk of living in L.A. - there's always a connection to someone somewhere), told folks to bring something to grill and/or dish to pass and BYOB.

And boy did we have a BLAST! Now, I expected folks would show up and sing any old song, or do their previously tinkered stand up bits, or a little improv, or anything off the tops of their heads. And that certainly did happen. But to my delicious surprise - a lot of folks showed up prepared with material suited to ME!  An original song, an original poem, some pieces tweaked to work for the situation, an improv scene based around suggestions about me, songs dedicated to me...I was just stunned! And I felt so very loved. It was a delightful reminder, since often while living here I've felt very isolated and sometimes feel as if I am friendless (ok, I'm a little dramatic, shut up). For this reason I'm so glad I made myself have the party if for no other reason than to realize that nothing is further from the truth.

Storm: feeling unaccomplished and unable to be of service to those experiencing a REAL storm.
Gifts: Friends, friends and more friends.

Don't get me wrong. Turning 40 still BLOWS (how did THAT happen? I mean SERIOUSLY?) - but the people in my life sure don't. I HIGHLY recommend making your friends entertain you on your birthday. You will be glad you did! ♥ ♥ ♥

And I'm sure MY friends will be happy to entertain you for a nominal fee. With a percentage for booking to me.

Here are a couple pics:

                 Our little stage, P.A. system and my piano.                    

And my friends enjoying the entertainment.

After the party Matt's all full of, "NEXT time we'll...and NEXT time we can..." So I had a thought. I had wanted to try and pull together a fundraiser for my Nashville peeps. I had since found out that the Red Cross was delivering boxed lunches and therapists to peoples' doors, but not actually distributing money to people who need to rebuild. FEMA has weird rules as to what kind of home can qualify for assistance (apparently a home you live in does, but a home you own and rent out to someone else does not - doubleyoo tee eff?). I personally knew a handful of families who were in dire straits. So it took me all of five minutes to say to Matt, "What if I did a benefit concert for Nashville here? There's free parking, no obnoxious drink or food minimum, a beautiful atmosphere, no venue owner demanding a cut of the door...every penny we brought in would go to the cause." Matt, being Matt, didn't even hesitate before saying, "Gimme a date." So I chose June 26th...the week after I came back from...


So one of my first blogs here back at the start of the year explains how my sweet Canadian friend Tiffany Keiller proposed out of the blue that she use points accumulated on her credit card to give us BOTH a trip to NYC for our 40th birthdays (she turned 40 a little less than a month after me). So after I tried to talk her out of it, which she wasn't having, I finally acquiesced and we planned it for June 14th-18th. One of our adventures would be seeing my friend and cowriter Levi Kreis in Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway. I was going to attempt to book a little show somewhere if I could.

Well wouldn't ya know it...Levi went and got himself nominated for a Tony Award for that role. In a conversation over the phone with him letting him know I'd be in town, he says, "Oh man, you're coming in the day after the Tonys, what a bummer. Too bad you can't come in earlier and come with me." Silence on both ends for a moment. I then say, "Let me see about this. I'll call ya back." "Okay!"

I email Tiffany. " much trouble would it be to change my flight date out there?" I explained the situation. And without missing a beat she's all, "Well, you HAVE to go to the Tonys!!!" and then she's on it and goes and changes the flight and I'm now flying in Friday the 11th so I can go to the Tony Awards on the 13th with my boo!

(Tiffany knows of Levi and our songwriting relationship over the years, she knows how we've both struggled and she has been unbelievably supportive of both our careers, so she wasn't about to NOT get me to the Tony Awards. She is the rare fan that turns into a genuine friend. So blessed to know her.)

So between mid-May and June 10th it was a flurry of booking talent and getting equipment and stuff secured for the benefit (now called "Angels Over Nashville" - Los Angeles, angels...get it?) and finding my Tony gown.


I won't bore you with the minute and gory details of all THAT mess. Let me just say that I HATE shopping and I was not born with that oh-so-common female gene. Even when I'm thin I hate shopping. I even hate Christmas or grocery shopping. In fact, I am not entirely sure how I remain Queen of the Gays when I hate to shop and haven't memorized every word of every musical ever produced. But I digress. Fortunately, a fabulous boutique I'd never been to in my nine years here called Abundance (Sherman Oaks) had THE dress that fit like a glove the minute I put it on. And my sweet friend Jen Svejda took pity on me after I'd been shopping for the right shoes for three days with no luck and said, "Come on, Mama D - I gotchoo, we gonna find them shoes, gurl!" And we did, for cheap at DSW (clearance sales RULE). And the crowning glory was the specially-designed handmade jewelry that was loaned to me by Gina Venturini Designs (that I'm currently saving up to buy from her - back off!). Pics to come further down.

Storm: body image insecurities and money.
Gifts: Clearance sales and friends.

In the midst of this, I was also competing in a round of "Fame," a five week singing contest at Oil Can Harry's that I used to judge (and should still be) in the hopes that I could win $1000 so I wouldn't be so freakin' stressed about going to NY. I was excited, but I had also literally made myself sick on several occasions because 2010 has been my toughest financial year since right out of college (and back then I was too naive to know how poor I really was, plus for some reason I thought bills just "went away" if you didn't pay them...haha!). Can't lie. This trip was the worst. possible. timing. No, I didn't have to pay to get there or sleep there, but I didn't have a cent to get around or eat. I'd just dropped a good little chunk on the Tony-wear (nothing like a celeb does, but for a girl who lives in $15 tee shirts, it was a lot). Not one cent. I even had to ask my dad for help with my rent for the first time in 20 years. Humiliating with a capital H.

I didn't win. I came in third and got $100. During the finale I was misinformed as to where I was in the lineup so I wasn't ready when my name was called. No shoes, enjoying the show, chompin' on peppermints...NOT READY. It flustered me and my reaction to it was unprofessional (in that I shouldn't have reacted at all) and apparently my trying to make a joke of it made it worse and put me in a bad light to the audience. On top of that, one of the judges brought it up after I sang and threw me right under the bus with it. So if anyone was on my side while I was singing, they certainly weren't after her commentary. I felt really great about my chances of actually winning when I showed up that night. In all of ten minutes it came crashing down on my head.

"Are you ready to order?"

"Yes...I'll have the diva melt with a side of crow, please." 

That was more humiliating than asking my dad for money and I'm not really sure how I got through the rest of the show, to be honest (guess I still had a little professionalism in "it must go on."). I was sick to my stomach for two whole days afterward. Needing the Benjamins was only part of it. Mostly I hate how it made me look to people. I'm sick thinking about it even now. Twenty years from now I will recall this and get sick. I couldn't wait to get the hell out of L.A. and spend a couple days with a longtime, dear friend who gets me and doesn't expect me to be anything other than who I am (as annoying as that may be). 

But on my way home that night, I gave a friend a ride cuz he lived nearby. And God bless him, I had a meltdown in front of his apartment about the whole thing. I won't mention his name because I didn't ask him if I could first, but that angel of a man said to me, "Well...I wanted to talk to you about starting voice lessons when you got back in town, would it help if I wrote you a check for July's lessons now? Then you can have it for New York."

I cried some more. We booked his weekly lesson time right there in the car. Thanks to him and that whopping $100 for third place I'd just won, I had just enough - and I mean JUST enough - to get through my week in New York. And we had the first of his lessons this past week.

Storm: Money and my alter ego Negative Nancy (more on her later).
Gift: He Who Shall Not Be Named.

But hold up. Before that happened, I must mention a little show I was asked to do at the last minute, which just may have changed my life a little bit. See...this is kind of a funny story...

I have this thing when I judge a singing contest...I fell like doing pieces of musical theater, particularly from more contemporary shows where you have to know the storyline to understand the lyric of the song, or there's excessive costuming (Wicked is a good example), just feels weird out of context. I've made mention of this to more than one contestant, my feeling being, if you're gonna pull out the song about meeting the wizard, you'd better paint yourself green. However...this has led to the very nasty rumor that I hate musical theater.

NOTHING is further from the truth. When I was a kid, Broadway was my plan. I've done Annie several times, Guys and Dolls, You Can't Take It With You, the great and almost never done Once Upon A Mattress, several Broadway review-type shows, Everyman (a morality play) and countless performances of classic show tunes throughout college. Once I left college in Nashville, TN, however, my knowledge of theater didn't get me very far. Nashville is NOT a theater town. So I switched gears and became a studio singer and my career then took a different path.

So, my friend Paulie decides to put on a Broadway review show benefiting the Los Angeles Gay Rodeo Association at Oil Can Harry's, the same place where "Fame" takes place every week (yes Brokeback fans, there really ARE gay cowboys - and girls). I find out through the grapevine that literally everyone I know is going to be in this show...but me. I. mean. EVERYONE. I finally go to Paulie and ask if I'd done something wrong (cuz if I had I'd certainly want to right it) and he gives me this great big hug and says, "No no no of course not!" So I say, "Okaaaaaaay...then how come you didn't ask me to be in it?"

Serious as a heart attack he replies, "Because you hate Broadway..."

*beating head on wall*

So I set him straight and then mercilessly teased him for a good solid month or two about it. The show was called "Not Your Mama's Broadway," but I kept calling it "Not Darci's Broadway" and "The Show Everyone's In But Me." I must say he took it like a man.

Well it turned out that one of his soloists had to drop out at the last minute because she was in another show that was also opening that weekend. Just days before I had said to him, "I know I'm giving you so much crap but seriously, if there's anything you need help with, don't hesitate to ask." So Paulie calls me on a Wednesday afternoon - opening show was that Sat at 2pm - and asks if I could please step in and sing "Don't Rain On My Parade" and then, "pick something else you wanna sing." I was shocked, cuz I was prepared to do the door or something...but I said, "Of course!" And I did NOT give him crap, cuz he sounded so frazzled. I said I'd find a second song and let him know what it was asap. And I wanted to do a song that was truly a theatrical piece...not just the typical stuff a pop singer might pull out to pass by like "I Don't Know How To Love Him" or (in my case) something from Dreamgirls. I wanted to PROVE that I did NOT hate Broadway! About 15 minutes later, with the help of my awesome friend Candy, who has lots of Broadway show sountracks, I'd settled on the very funny show-stopper from Monty Python's Spamalot, "The Diva's Lament." 

Well, I had two days to learn this song and brush up on "Parade" (cuz I hadn't sung it without a karaoke monitor in years), meet and try to "bond" with a cast that either a) didn't know me from Adam or b) only knew me as the rock chick who hated Broadway, and find appropriate costuming for "Lament." For "Parade" I just decided to wear a dress and look nice, since the song is such a standard, but I had to actually costume for "Lament." The only picture I got was of my makeup on the first night (and it got way crazier as the shows went on - bluer shadow, ginormous lashes, bigger and redder lips):

So anyway...check out Sara Ramirez doing this song, which won her a Tony a few years ago. This character is the diva bitch to end them all. I was kind of scared because I haven't done a stitch of acting since college. The auditions I go on usually require me to be myself on a happy pill or two. I had to figure this out.

I did. Though I didn't have time to really live in the role or even in the song before I performed it, I got it enough to get crazy rousing applause throughout my performances and even a standing ovation when I did it as my closing number for the "Fame" contest I didn't win. I don't mention that to pat myself on the back. I mention it because doing this piece had re-lit a fire in my belly I hadn't felt in a good 16 or 17 years. It was "Wow...I forgot how much FUN this is!" and "Wow - I forgot that I CAN do this!" Even, "Wow - I really DON'T hate Broadway!" What a magical feeling that was. And my neighbor Matt got to come see it and his whole life has been nothing but show tunes and cabaret acts as a theatrical sound, lighting and set designer. He's been on me for years to do some cabaret and I keep saying no, that's not what I do. I'm a rock chick, maybe when I'm 50. So I knew he'd give it to me straight. All he really said was, "See?? I KNEW you could do this." Which to me, was HUGE. The very next week I went on an audition for the touring show of Rock of Ages with my friend Regan. First Broadway-type audition I'd done in seven years. They "typed me out" cuz they weren't moving along fast enough and therefore didn't even hear me sing, but still, I went. And I'll go to others.

Storm: talent insecurity.
Gift: Paulie.

So this now, finally, leads me to my AMAZING week in New York City! This should be a whole blog unto itself. Dang, where do I start??? can take a look at a bunch of pics here first, then read the details following...

I got there late on a Friday evening into Newark airport (eh...JFK next time) and took an $80 cab to Levi's place. Fortunately, a nice young gentleman who could tell I was an outsider (even though I was born and raised in Upstate New York, it's pretty obvious I'm not a Manhattanite), said he'd share a cab with me, so it only ended up being $40. Another gift.

Levi's sweet significant other Jason was home waiting for me, as Levi had an MDQ show and a rehearsal for the Tonys afterward that night. We had a slice of pizza (yay!!!) and a very nice visit getting to know each other a little. He's gorgeous and gracious. And therefore of course, NOT batting for my team. *sigh*

Levi finally came home and he kept yelling, "YAY! YAY! YAY!!!" over and over while giving me a good ole fashioned East Tennessee squeeze, while Jason laughed at our ridiculousness. I have really missed him. And that hug hit the spot, even moreso than that yummy slice I had just gotten done eating. That's saying a lot, because cheese-laden, grease-pooling, carb-based foods, especially those authentically of New York, are my drug of choice.

We didn't stay up long, he was understandably exhausted, I had jet lag from hell and tomorrow he had two shows to do. But the next morning when I got up, he was grumpy. Jason and I were like, "Er?" About an hour after he left for the theater, he was back. Sick as a dog. The director sent him home and his understudy stepped in. Now...for about a month and a half every Tony nominee has done their eight shows a week (they only get Mondays off), PLUS appearances on radio, tv, special show performances and now Tony rehearsals in whatever time is leftover. So they don't REALLY get Mondays off. It's grueling. 

And then he read the winner predictions. *rolling eyes*

So, I'm not surprised his body rebelled. But in a way - which will no doubt make me sound like a cold-hearted, twisted wench - I am grateful, because it turned out that we had some extra time to chill out and chat while he was home taking it easy on that day before the awards. That was certainly not an ideal circumstance, but I flew in early knowing there'd be virtually no visiting time due to his schedule. So...

Storm: Levi's intestines.
Gift: Extra time with Levi. (Sorry, Booger!)

Saturday night Levi put me up at the Hampton Inn Midtown so he and Jason could enjoy some peace and quiet on the eve of the awards, because Levi had Tony dress rehearsal at - are you ready - 7-freakin-45 the next morning. Ladies and gentlemen...THIS is why entertainers shouldn't be expected to do ANYTHING for free outside of charitable performances. YOU try to sing and dance at 7:45am! Just sayin'.  Anyway, the Hampton Inn's service was WONDERFUL and I enjoyed being totally alone that night in a big fluffy bed just watching local tv and keeping up with my "Angels Over Nashville" stuff. Sunday morning dawned, I slept in, then went seeking out a place to get my nails done. I walked for ten blocks to a place the nice woman at the front desk suggested only to find they were CLOSED! On a Sunday??? So I walked some more and found another.

Mom is probably freaking out right now that I walked the mean streets of New York all by myself in broad daylight. But yes, I did it. And no one tried to mug me...even though Midtown is really kinda gross. No offense, New Yorkers. But it done stank down there.

Took my time getting ready for the show. It started raining. No lie. And not a was POURING. I'm pretty convinced that it would NOT have rained if I hadn't been going to the Tonys that particular year. The remainder of my alternate ego Negative Nancy likes to just make sure I know she's still there on occasion, at the ready to screw things up. Anyway...had help grabbing a car by the delightfully kind staff at the hotel and made it to Levi's, where I was meeting up with him, Jason and Levi's mom and Dad, Connie Lee and Ronnie (who are quite possibly the cutest parents ever). We took some pictures and then we were on our way.

Me and Booger all dressed up.

Thankfully the rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got there. I remember getting out of the car at Radio City Music Hall in front of the VIP entrance and the gentleman who opened the door for me gave me a big smile and said, "Wow, GREAT dress!" I even think he was straight! DOH! After all of us but Levi were dropped off (he was then taken to the red carpet entrance, which - UNSPEAKABLY - he had to do alone because no one was allowed to bring their dates; even the rest of the cast of MDQ weren't allowed to walk the carpet, even though their show was nominated for best musical...whoever decided that is a jerk...what was the point???), we hung out in the lobby till they opened the doors to seating. At some point Christopher Walken walked right past me, he was two inches from me. I squeezed Jason's arm and was all, "OMG Christopher Walken!" Dude was unimpressed. Or maybe just dazed from keeping Levi hyper-organized through all this...

We were seated in the section reserved for the MDQ peeps (except for Levi and Jason, who were right up front), on the floor off to the right. All the cast and their wives (there's only one female in the show, shout out to the very sweet Elizabeth Stanley) and the show's creative Levi's parents, me and his friends John and Paul (whom I met on my previous visit to NYC with Levi in 2006). After that, most of the show was a blur. A big, loud, fun blur. It was surreal watching Levi do a piano duet with Sean freakin' Hayes (of whom I'm a HUGE fan) and to realize he was playing on the stage of freakin' Radio City. WHAT??? When it came time for Levi's category Connie Lee and I were just completely dazed. But this is how it went from my seat:

Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes do their shtick. Kristin announces all the nominees. She says, "And the award goes to...L--" and our entire section was on their feet screaming and flipping out like it was the Superbowl or something. And then I started crying. I'd gotten a little misty-eyed watching him perform, but this was full-on-my-eyelashes-are-gonna-fall-off crying.

Rewind: I love to tell the story of how Levi and I would write songs together at his Sherman Oaks apartment back before he'd even workshopped MDQ. We'd work on the chords and melodies on his piece-o-shite, one-legged piano (which I now have) and then go downstairs to his parking garage and sit on his washer and dryer and work on the lyrics. And...uh...chain smoke cigarettes (we have both quit, now). We'd talk about getting our songs cut by famous people, or he'd finally get a real record deal and become famous himself, and of course we'd win Grammies and perhaps even an Oscar for our songs. Never once did we discuss a Tony. Neither of us being theater folk (he too began his career in Nashville, where we attended college together), it never remotely crossed our minds. But this level of success for him as an artist, we certainly did talk about. So for me to be a part of this moment in his life and career, having watched first hand how he struggled and wrestled with his music and himself for years (all artists have their demons) and at many times with me (family has ups and downs, even family of choice), was an overwhelming, beautiful and extremely moving experience. I am so very honored that he wanted me to be there and so very proud of what he has accomplished  - not just as an artist, but as a human being. And the thing is, there are several people who SHOULD have been there instead of me, who've seen more than I and believed in him even longer. I would just like you to know that I was extremely aware of that then and now and I brought you with me in my heart.

Immediately after Levi gave his acceptance speech and left the stage, I looked over and saw Levi's mom with a still-dazed smile on her face and his daddy with his face in his hands, gently weeping. Whatever happened after that didn't matter.

After party. I don't actually know where it was or what it was called, I just know that we followed one of the MDQ producers (I think), a couple blocks to the place in our freakin' heels and I thought I was going to pass out from the pain and the humidity by the time we got there. But as soon as I walked in the door I saw teeny tiny Kristin Chenoweth talking to folks at the bar and that made things better (I would like to take this moment to ask her to PLEASE eat a sandwich - I realize you're only 3'2" but if that storm had come back, it would have blown you back to L.A., darling). Ronnie, Connie Lee and I hit the restrooms and then the food. All sorts of weird appetizers were zipping around the room...I had some kind of bleu cheese and pear pizza that Connie Lee didn't care for. Lots of shrimp, some yummy things they called "rice balls" (which I had to pick peas out of - ACK!!! - but otherwise the bomb) and the most deeeeeeeeelish filet mignon on a stick EVAH. And I drank 16 glasses of water. At least. Those awards shows are loooooooong when you can't get up for a soda or a snack in the middle of it.

Then Levi arrived and it seemed the party was just getting started. Sean Hayes walked in. Cast members from both MDQ and Promises Promises (Sean's show) started filing in (I believe there was an award show viewing party for both shows at this particular restaurant before the after party). And then...DANIEL RADCLIFFE!!!

Daniel and Levi talking.

This leads me to the hands-down best part of the night...

Daniel meets Levi and promptly starts gushing uber-Britishly, "Oh my Gawd, you're FONTOSTIC, just bloody FONTOSTIC!!!" Levi's very polite, thanks him, they chat a little bit, I steal this picture. Afterward Levi sits down at the seat directly in front of me and excitedly says, "Oh my God, did you just see me with Elijah Wood???"

I'm all, "Dude...that's Harry Potter, not Frodo!"

And we start laughing giddily. Then he says, "Wait...who's Frodo?"

WORD FOR WORD, PEOPLE. This is why he keeps me around. To inform him of the level of import the people he meets and works with possess. *wink*

He's gonna kill me. But that was just too classic not to tattle.

At this point, poor Levi is wiped out from a month and a half of all this stuff plus being ill and rehearsing at the buttcrack that morning. So he said he just HAD to go home and get to bed. I must say I was reluctant to leave because it seemed that just then was when all the celebrities were beginning to show up. But I'm a doofus and didn't even think to say, "Ok, do you mind if I just catch a cab later?" Cuz when am I EVER going to be in a room like THAT again??? And I know he wouldn't have cared. But I didn't think of that till later, cuz I was too, still in a bit of a daze that my friend had just won an effin' Tony Award for banging the crap out of a piano till his fingers bleed eight times a week and I got to be there to see it! The last celeb I saw as I was leaving was Swoosie Kurtz (LOVE her), doing some serious damage to the dessert table. Not that I'm judging. We ALL did.

And so our evening was done. Connie Lee, Ronnie and I shared a cab back to our perspective hotels (we were mere doors away from each other and since NY keeps building up and up, that means the door to my hotel and theirs was about 100 feet away), Levi and Jason to their place, and I assume we all crashed. I went to sleep that night feeling grateful, blessed, inspired and hopeful for my own future. Levi and I had joked on Saturday about how random it was for someone who's never taken an acting class or whose music has never possessed a hint of the standard theatrical to be nominated for this particular award ("By the's a Tony for you...oh go on, just take it...we've got more.") I think I can safely say, without offense to my boo, that if Levi Kreis can win his butt a Tony, then Darci Monet's only obstacle surely is herself.

Storm: Private career and friendship stuff (and some literal rain).
Gift: Public career and friendship brutha-from-anutha-mutha won a Tony and I was there!

And with this, I will end Part One of this blog for now, since it's after midnight already and I have much more to share regarding the remainder of my NY trip and the "Angels Over Nashville" benefit. More gifts to come...