On May 8 and 9, 2012, I took a giant leap in my evolution and broke through an almost 4 decades-long bout of stage fright, performing two sold-out performances of my Super Ball Bounce Back Review, a combo concert/sing-along/party extravaganza at King King in Hollywood.
Lack of performing has always been a raw, gaping hole in a long career that’s stretched across various fields of the arts, despite the fact that I’ve always had the balls to throw myself off cliffs as I periodically dive-bomb into pursuits I know nothing about. I’ve hosted multimedia theme parties where I’m perenially on mic so that even the conversations I have with everyone are blasted throughout my house or wherever else I host these beasts. And God knows I walk around in hair and clothes that makes peoples’ necks snap if they’ve never gotten a gander of me before. Throw in that I’ve sold 50,000,000 records despite the fact that to this day I have no idea how to read, notate or play music, and I sold hundreds of paintings before I realized that you mix colors to get different colors. So backing away from displaying myself publicly made absolutely no sense.
But then I realized that this theme of living fearlessly was at the heart of everything I ever created. View life as a creative process. You are the canvas. If you’re stuck with a weakness, for God sakes turn it into a hook. Nine times out of ten, you’re the bogey monster scaring yourself shitless so just get out the way! So I finally did.
So here then are four videos from my Super Ball Bounce Back Review. If you like them and are going to be in LA on September 21 and/or 22, I’m rising again at NoHoPAC in a salute to “September”, the first line of which mentions the date of the opening night.
And the whole enchilada:
Before I co-wrote The Color Purple musical I had little interest in theatre. I had no desire to see people break out into song, oftentimes seemingly for no reason, and sing in that shrill kind of Broadway singing way, and leave not understanding or enjoying what I saw anyway. But I jumped at the chance to collaborate on TCP because it was such an incredible piece of literature, the most soulful on the planet.
After depriving myself of the genre for a lifetime, once I got the gig I spent a year in every regional theater, dinner theater, high school auditorium, every and any place I could bone up on musicals. Writing The Color Purple, though easily one of the hardest and most intense things I’ve ever undertaken, was also most pleasurable. And in the mere act of writing it I really understood that the theatre was not the stagnant-leftover-from-the-old-century medium I thought it was but, rather, a daredevil medium where you never know what’s going to happen as one actor coughs and it can turn the whole show.
Another thing I learned, as evidenced by the show as it’s currently being performed at The Celebration Theatre in LA, is that this is a medium in which work can change drastically depending on who stages it. And I saw just exactly why I put up with five years of tears, laughter, compromise, bending so far over backwards I thought my body would split, epiphanies, road blocks and more, I.E. a microcosm of life stuffed into five years of round-the-clock days, rewrites, and did I mention rewrites?
When the show opened in New York in 2005, we had a cast of 31 actors in the second largest theater on Broadway. On tour, the cast shrunk by a few actors but the stages were/are just as big, the auditoriums even bigger, and the staging was just a slightly skimmed down version from what it was on Broadway. But at the Celebration Theatre I got to see 19 actors stuffed into a 99 seat house, something I couldn’t have imagined working, but it was MINDBLOWING! Not only did everyone do their thing and then some, the intimacy of seeing the show staged for a tiny room with audiences on three sides of the stage worked so well for the piece I can’t tell you!
If you’ve never seen the musical you might think that this is a heavy, depressing couple of hours but ha ha, it’s a comedy, and an incredibly inspiring and uplifting adventure of someone who goes from less than nothing to the other end of the rainbow. If you live in LA I encourage you to see it. It’s here until the end of May.
Here are some photos from opening night at The Celebration Theatre a few weeks ago:
With my TCP collaborator, Stephen Bray:
With LaToya London, Shug Avery in the current production and Nettie in the second National Tour:
With Stephen and Michael A. Shepperd, a fiiiiine Mister indeed!
With Niketa Calame, an hysterical Squeak.
With Kelly Jenrette, a fantastic Nettie:
With Sixx Leah-Patrice Carter, Church soloist, and Lorie Moore, one of the hysterical Church Ladies:
With Harpo a.k.a. Terrance Spencer, and ensemble players Jonathan JT Thompkins and Akula Lyman.
With Na’Kia Bell Smith and Janet Washington, excellent young Nettie and Celie.
The opening was star-studded. Here I am with my ol’ pal, Dana Delany.
I love Wendy Malick!
So excited that Robert Forster was there:
And Sharon Lawrence too!:
With Dana Delany and her Body Of Proof co-star, Nicholas Bishop
Director Michael Matthews, Artistic Director of the Celebration Theatre, JohnMichael Beck and the cast:
Go see The Color Purple and make Allee very happy!
I meant to start posting my thoughts about my Soup To Nuts Party Mix show, my first live performance in 37 years at the El Portal Theater last Tuesday night, the day after the show but I could barely pick up a stylus to write let alone move my mouth in any detectible syllabic pattern because I was so tired and overwhelmed. I’m racing to get photos up, a fun yet gruesome task as there are literally thousands of them to go through. Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have them organized enough to post. In the meantime, let me tell you about this cruise on the Love Boat that mutated into the Titanic yet somehow still ended up at Fantasy Island…
Stormy seas and all, Soup To Nuts Party Mix was about the most incredible experience that I’ve ever had. Not because it went so well, but because literally 95% of the technology it was dependent on failed. It was apparent from the second I walked on stage that I was going to have to throw out the script and effects I had worked on so furiously for four months and literally ad lib my way through the evening. All I can tell you is that despite riding a sinking technological ship, I kept people in stitches, and I mean tears rolling down their faces, screaming laughter stitches, including standing ovations in the middle of the show for things I was forced to come up with on the spot.
So despite being an utter failure as far as the show I planned, it was an unbelievably cathartic moment as a performer. Like five years worth of working the act out within the space of two hours, some time of which I spent sitting down watching brilliant and charitable friends of mine takeover and help me out.
One of them was the stupendous comedienne Luenell, who has stepped it up at other parties of mine as well and Tuesday night helped a sista out during one of the 6,437,293 technical glitches that befell the stage.
But just as Luenell got to her punchline, something FINALLY popped up on the screen and I had to cut her off.
One of the best moments of the show, although perhaps not for Luenell, was when she then took a seat and the chair started rolling out from under her…
…until she plopped down flat as a log on the floor. When I asked if she needed a first aid kit she yelled “NO, what I need is a lawyer!”
I need the same lawyer for the guy at the controls. But from the jump four months ago I approached this whole thing as a party thrower, not a playwright, and a good party thrower is ready to field anything that goes wrong, even if of a catastrophic nature such as the tech sinkhole happening on stage left. I’m sure a phrase that will stick with my shows forever was born: “Get the foamcore!” as I sent my assistant, Dina Duarte, and set-collaborator, Mark Tomorsky, both on stage with me for the whole show, racing for a ratty piece of paper covered foam to hold over the main monitor every time the wrong photo, lyric for a sing-along or even worse, the tech guy’s desktop, appeared. Here they are hoisting it over what was supposed to be the lyrics to “Boogie Wonderland”, while my collaborator on that song, Jon Lind, kills time with his story about Maurice White, chocolate danishes and other things that happened the day we wrote it.
I doubt that Larry Dunn, founding member of Earth Wind & Fire who played keyboards on the records of “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” and accompanied me on those songs in the show, ever got cut off early before. But I had to yank him short as without lyrics sing-alongs can only be so effective.
Danny Sembello also came onstage for two songs he co-wrote with me, “Neutron Dance” and “Stir it Up”, neither of which were consistently accompanied by correct lyrics.
Chris Price played “I’ll Be There for You”, the theme from Friends and “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, both of which I was forced to race through without their accompanying stories as by the time we reached them it was already the time I had planned to end the show, 10:15, and we were barely at the halfway point because of the malfunctions. Dina and Mark had the foamcore ready but thankfully the Friends theme is so short and has been hammered into the heads of every audience member a hundred times a day since 1994 so my tech guy could only wreak so much havoc.
And then we were supposed to play Bingo. How do you mess up Bingo??! But if you’re spelling K-I-T-S-C-H and not B-I-N-G-O and there are no visuals to go along with “K- Dust Mop Slippers” or “T-Flowbee”, “S- Farrah Fawcett Shampoo & Conditioner” or “H – Beatles Pantyhose”, who’s going to know what you’re talking about without visual accompaniment? As soon as it was apparent that that too tanked I just turned to the audience and yelled “Fuck Bingo! The first 20 people up on stage get all the prizes!”. You would’ve thought the Gold Rush hit California again from the way this audience stampeded the stage.
Jelly room deodorizers, soccer balls that turn into magic towels when they get wet, vintage Afro picks, matzo ball kitchen timers donated by Davida (who also contributed the packs of Kosher Kurls in the gift bags), Handerpants – underpants with finger holes so graciously displayed by Daniel Franzese in a shot below and donated, as much of the gifts were, by Archie McPhee… this was one of my favorite moments of the show. To me it’s all about interaction between performer and audience and there they all were on stage like bit players and incredible friends. It truly felt like a party in my yard, which is what I had built the set to look like anyway.
Then I threw in a montage from my musical, The Color Purple, though we skipped the sing-along.
And finally, a veritable tour de force, Pigmy Will doing “The Hustle” played us out.
Just like I never learned to read, notate or write music yet have sold 50,000,000 records, or that I didn’t know you mix paint to get different colors until ten years into my art career, I’m probably the only person in theater history who ever booked the theater before they wrote the show and then performed the show before they had a rehearsal. I am, if nothing else, consistent! It’s the spontaneous event and what happens between performer, audience, and stage, whether it’s in a theater or on my porch, that’s the art form to me. Yes, a stage manager and lighting and sound director would have been nice, as would have been a theater whose usual fare wasn’t Christmas specials and geriatric musicals. But thankfully much of the audience was peppered with people who understand the pitfalls the stage can hold. For example:
My sentiments exactly! All I kept thinking as the world collapsed around me was a) what the f&#k is going on and what the hell am I going to do next??, while simultaneously being conscious that b) this will be my most legendary performance ever because I don’t know anyone else who wouldn’t have walked off stage after 20 minutes. Through it all I just kept going and got funnier and funnier and funnier. So the tech mishaps in their own bizarre way worked in my favor. In the end, I got far more out of it than I had intended. My soul soared, and although I was nearly suicidal by the end of the show it was probably the most artistically satisfying thing I’ve ever done. At once everything was shattering around me in the worst conceivable way that anything can happen on stage, yet it was a totally triumphant evening.
Six cameras were shooting. I realize that a brilliant Waiting For Guffman times 1063 could be made out of it. That’s music to the ears of a kitsch lover such as myself, especially one who’s obsessed with learning how to make lemonade out of extremely rotten lemons. So it’s a kind of Self-Help Waiting for Guffman, or in this case, The Tech Guy. I also realize it gives me an incredible starting point for the next version of the show, which should happen by the end of January.
I will never again be afraid of adversity. I will only look at it as an annoying friend that I have to make the best of, and in the making of that a beautiful flower can bloom.
Tons of photos here!
Alex Steinweiss passed away last Sunday. Even if you don’t know his name there’s no way you don’t know his work. Steinweiss literally invented the album cover. Before the 1930’s, records came in brown paper sleeves. At 23, he was hired by Columbia Records and suggested that the music be accompanied by poster art. Thus began the singlemost prolific and influential record jacket design career the world has ever known. Not only did Steinweiss give life to the record industry but he made the burgeoning Atomic Age visible to the public, creating the first wave of freeform design that designers still ride today.
Everything Steinweiss did burst with color. You could hear the music without listening to it just by looking at one of his covers. He was as great at what he did as it gets. His style is still imitated, though I’ve never seen anyone nail it like Steinweiss, who makes even the most successful designer of modern graphics look like a copycat.
And those aren’t even his most famous covers. But it gives you an idea of the rhythmic and lyrical style that still influences modern design today. This was the first time this stuff was being done. Just look at the Google image search page for an overview crash course.
As I’ve been blabbing about for weeks now, I had the extreme pleasure of conducting my high school marching band playing a medley of some of my greatest hits in the lobby of the theater I grew up in in Detroit with the cast of the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, singing along. I meant to post video of our performance as soon as I got home but to my horror, one of the three cameramen only shot the students from the back and the other both forgot to turn his camera on for parts of songs and babbled over the footage like he was the subject of a documentary. So it took quite a lot of editing to get something where you could even begin to see the warm, wonderful and uplifting-higher-than-the-sky feeling that permeated the theater that day.
The performance was a benfit to buy new marching band uniforms for the Mumford band. The last time they got new uniforms was in 1984 when Jerry Bruckheimer, also a Mumford grad, bought them so they could play at the premiere of Beverly Hills Cop in Detroit. I got a Grammy for Beverly Hills Cop so this entire extravaganza was tied up in one fantastically organic bow!
Also organic was my shoes and socks combo in the Mumford school colors.
I had an excellent time wearing my hat, color coordinated to The Color Purple, the matinee of which started immediately after the closing notes of the marching band. Though my hat ecstacy only lasted a couple of bars. Too wobbly on my head.
If the music was wobbly at all it’s only the charm of a high school band and a songwriter who’s never learned how to read, notate or play music despite her songs selling more than 50 million records.
That’s the innocence of youth. I hope you enjoy our youth as much as me and the kids did. It was a VERY special experience indeed.
Tues., April 5, started at 7 am. (Kill me now; that’s the middle of the night for me.) Thank God there was a Yum Yum (my dictation software just typed that as Young Dumb) Donuts open in Southfield, the suburb of Detroit where Fox News is located. So I hit Young Dumb for a quick sugar infusion and rolled up the street to Fox in time to be on the morning news. Thank God the Green Room, one of the few actually painted green I’ve been in, had a nice, squishy couch. The donuts hadn’t quite kicked in yet.
The lighting in the studio definitely woke me up…
…though unfortunately, not quite enough.
The anchor interviewing me, Anqunette Jamison, was really nice and definitely had done her research. Nothing worse than waking up two hours after you’ve gone to bed to be interviewed by someone who wished that Reese Witherspoon was sitting across from them.
Driving back we passed this sign on a building, which emulated the discombobulated feeling I still had from being up before the crack of dawn and having to sound coherent.
We also passed vintage gems like this. I love that the pigeons have checked in.
I love any and all Deco/Streamline Moderne architecture.
Other than that second story looks like an add-on. Way too boxy and wrong kind of windows. But excellent color scheme and at least the occupants had the good sense not to knock it down.
This wall killlllled me:
I took photos next to everyone and then it was on to Mumford, my high school and the main reason I was in Detroit that week, to conduct the marching band playing a medley of seven of my greatest hits with the cast of my musical, The Color Purple, that was playing at The Fox, the theater I grew up in.
My best friend from high school, Sherry (Erman) Stewart, went with me. Which was completely appropriate as it was Sherry I wrote my first song for at 15. She was running for class secretary and I wrote her campaign theme – “Oh vote for Sher-ry/fur (erman is a mink-like animal) sec-re-tar-ry”, kind of to the tune of “This Land Is Your Land” but not really. (Even in those days I thought about copyright infringement.) Here we are standing over the plug that was our mark to position ourselves over on stage for that most auspicious musical debut.
I hope someone saves me that plug when the wrecking ball hits the school next year (don’t get me started on wrecking balls hitting gorgeous Deco buildings…). I art-directed Sherry’s campaign as well.
It’s shocking looking at that from five decades ago how little my style has changed…. Sherry, btw, won the election!
Next it was watching the marching band, pom pom girls and twirlers rehearse for our big extravaganza coming up at The Fox on Saturday.
I was shocked (and awed) at how together they were.
Then John Wilkins, Mumford’s band conductor and arranger for over 20 years, asked me to come up and conduct the band.
First I warned the kids that despite selling over 50,000,000 records I still had no idea how to read, notate or play music.
Then we swung into action playing “September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, “Stir It Up”, “In the Stone”, “I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends)”, and “The Color Purple”, the songs we’d be preforming.
Here I am with the Pom Pom Girls and Twirlers. This was, of course, what I always wanted to be when I was in high school. But this photo is as close as I ever got:
I know you’re going to ask me what “GRAMMI” is. I don’t know. Perhaps a misspelling of Grammy, which I misspelled constantly myself – Grammie – after receiving one for Best Soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop, the film that I not only had songs in but that immortalized my high school after Eddie Murphy wore a Mumford Phys Ed shirt throughout the movie, linking Mumford and I forever.
As we drove back to the hotel I finished the Young Dumb donut from this morning, though I was tempted to stop here, which I hear are the best donuts in Detroit:
My intentions were good. I was gonna wake up and spring back into action as I haven’t blogged regularly in over a week but my body still feels like it’s broken into 13 million pieces and I need a recuperation day from one of the greatest weeks in my life in Detroit that included giving a speech about the rejuvenation of the city, conducting my beloved Mumford high school marching band playing a medley of some of my greatest hits and, for the first time since my musical, The Color Purple, opened five years ago, conducting part of the show. My spirits are HIGH, like being powered by a hemi engine, but I need time to decompress, not to mention unpack my seven suitcases, go through the thousands of photos that were taken, begin transferring the close to 75 videotapes that were amassed, and somehow attempt to get back to my everyday life of music and mayhem in Los Angeles. So give me 24 and I hope to be back with something soon…
Here’s where I’ll be this coming weekend conducting the bows music to my musical, The Color Purple, and then on Saturday morning from 11-12:30 sharp conducting my high school marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits in the GORRRRRGEOUS lobby of the historic Fox Theatre with the cast of The Color Purple singing along. I don’t read music (despite writing all we’re playing), and just imagine what the 60 piece Mumford marching band, 20 member pom pom squad, 25 member Color Purple cast, me and 250 attendees singing along will sound like in here… To kitsch!
My postings may be erratic this week as I’m shooting the whole week as a documentary. I’m also the closing keynote speaker at the Rust Belt To Arts Belt conference about the rejuvenation of Detroit on Thursday. http://www.rustbelttoartistbelt.com/about/. I’m making numerous trips to my high school, going on a lot of tours of the kitschiest places in the city, seeing high school and grade school friends, attending three performances of The Color Purple, and did I mention that my family planned my aunt’s memorial right smack dab in the middle of the day of my marching band performance and two performances of the show??!
Hopefully I’ll be posting little travelogues daily but no promises to what condition my brain will be in at the end of each day. Off to Detroit and we shall see!
When I grew up in Detroit I went to the zoo on 10 Mile and Woodward at least a couple times a year. Although I got this particular chapeau on Ebay, I’m certain I had one exactly like it as I never went there without something separating me from the sun. I was quite fond of theme hats as a kid.
I’m not sure exactly what animal is on my zoo hat.
I suppose that’s a bear. Though it looks inbred with a beaver and Golden Retriever. It never made any sense to me that with a baseball team named the Tigers and a football team named the Lions that one of those didn’t get top billing in felt.
At least a tiger made the supporting cast. As did another animal that actually looks more like a bear than the beaver/Golden Retriever or maybe otter mystery animal in the starring role. I’m not going to worry about that though as there’s so much else beautiful that came out of Detroit. Like cars, Vernor’s ginger ale and Sanders hot fudge, the latter two of which remain staples in my refrigerator to this day.
I’m sure I was consuming both the last time I walked around the zoo, which was at least four decades ago.
The Detroit Zoological Park wasn’t the only thing I loved about Detroit. You can read all about my love affair with the city here.
Someone else who was born and grew up in Detroit still feels the love too.
Lily Tomlin and I have been friends since 1984 when we were introduced by Paul Reubens a.k.a.Pee Wee Herman. Lily even used my head to insert her own into for her character, Kate, in her Tony Award Winning Broadway show, Search For Signs Of intelligent Life In The Universe.
Both of us still love Detroit and are looking for something to do together there on a permanent basis. We don’t know what that is yet but it will most certainly revolve around the arts as coming from the big D had such an enormous impact on what we both do. It also made my once alter-ego, Bubbles the artist, the artist she was, whipping out copy paintings of Lily’s character, Ernestine, like they were on the Ford assembly line, which the star would then autograph so a few more dollars rolled into my coffers.
Now we want a few more dollars rolling into Detroit, where I’ll be heading in April, perhaps with Lily in tow, to figure out what we can do there together. My specific mission is delivering the closing keynote speech at the three day Rust Belt To Arts Belt conference, exploring ways and mental states to turn decaying American cities like Detroit into cities of the future, which I’ve long held my home town can be if it rises from the ashes with both heart and conscience. I’m also going there to conduct my high school marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits in the lobby of the Fox Theatre before a performance of my musical, The Color Purple.
Despite the fact that I can’t read a note of music, including my own, I became obsessed with conducting last October after I was asked to conduct the 350 piece marching band at my college alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, when they played my songs at the Homecoming football game.
You can see the details of the excellent Priority Mail envelope hat I wore then here. Conducting the Mumford band with The Color Purple cast singing along will also give me a chance to wear another excellent hat:
Although I now collect marching band hats – I’m up to over 30 different color combos though still missing the maroon and blue of the Mumford Mustangs – my little hat from the Detroit zoo remains one of my favorites. I may not know what kind of animal sits on my head but I know a great city when I see one!