Monthly Archives: May 2015

Artist Spotlight: Musical Director Michael Forman

I’ve said often that Merce is a family. Some people in the company are like my favorite cousins, some more like crazy Aunt Melba who forgets to take her medicine. Bless her heart.

While most family members are new, I’ve been friends with co-producer and Merce’s Mama Tyne Firmin for 25 years. We met as cater waiters. (Tragic, to be sure, but I have a host of friends I met that way. And Tyne still works there!) I’ve been friends with Andre Daquigan, who plays the scheming Marvello, for 28 years. Andre and I met when we were students together at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. That’s some long-ass family, yo!

But Michael wins. Michael Forman has been a member of my family the longest of anyone in the company of Merce. We’ve been friends for 29 years, since we first met as chorus boys in a production of Guys and Dolls at Musical Theater of Arizona. In one scene, I distinctly remember Michael as a dancing Cuban waiter. It’s burned in my memory.

The Guys and Dolls guys. I'm kneeling in the front (r), and Michael is standing far right, next to the guy doing Fiddler on the Roof.

The Guys and Dolls guys. I’m kneeling in the front (left), and Michael Forman is standing behind me, third row, far left, next to the guy doing Fiddler on the Roof.

Actually, Michael and I didn’t really get along when we first met. We had a prickly relationship, and not in the fun way. It wasn’t until we were both in New York that our friendship really began. I was directing this little cabaret revue (which Tyne happened to be involved in) and needed a musical director. An adorable co-worker, Paul McCullough, recommended his boyfriend, “but you don’t like him,” he said. It was Michael. The show was in desperate need of a musical director, so I swallowed my pride and gave him a call. Michael and I had a coffee and put our prickly feelings behind us. He musical directed the show and we’ve been dear friends ever since.

Michael Forman was bit by the musical theater bug (The venomous Merman flea, I call it), when he was in the 7th grade in Wilmette, IL. “It was called Silver Screen and my starring moment was as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.” He went on to a fantastic high school which had an amazing theater program, and Michael played piano for his first production, Anything Goes, at 15.

His family then moved to Scottsdale, AZ (lucky for me, otherwise we might never have met). “I was too big for my britches living in AZ.” After his life-changing experience of meeting me in G & D (and going to Arizona State for two years), he had to move to NY.

He studied musical theater performance at AMDA, then decided to move away from performing, and studied composition at the Mannes College of Music of The New School. He then was offered a musical direction job, which led to a lot of regional theater and the national tour of Annie and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Michael went on to have a successful music studio, coaching professional singer/actors, both celebrities and aspiring young artists. He also took jobs in academia including being a musical theater performance teacher at The Yale Graduate School of Drama. “Watching my students/clients go on to achieve their dreams, do the Broadway thing, and find their way to the red carpet at the Tony Awards still gives me happy tears.”

And then Merce. Michael likes to say that he was honored to be asked to be involved in the project. The truth is, I kidnapped him. I didn’t even ask if he’d be interested in musical directing, I just said, “oh by the way, rehearsals start Monday and here’s the score.” Poor guy didn’t know what he was in for. Drag queens, Dominatrix/Life coaches and fairies, oh my!

But he’s a pro. Truth is, the Merce music recordings wouldn’t have any of the sparkle or panache they have without Michael’s guiding hand. He took Kenny Kruper’s amazing songs and made each singer in the cast sound like a million bucks. Even me. (For proof, just go to www.MerceTV.com and listen to the trailer with your eyes closed. The company sounds amazing!)

The fantastically talented and dear Michael Forman, conducting Merce in the recording studio.

The fantastically talented and dear Michael Forman, conducting Merce in the recording studio.

“I’m incredibly pleased with the work all of the artists in the project that I got to collaborate with,” Michael said. “Merce is a remarkable combination of intelligent writing and includes drama, comedy, musical theater fantasies and romance. It’s never been done before, and I believe people will flock to it.”

Michael went on, “I’m am thrilled to help kick the AIDS stigma by being involved in Merce. I believe that whether it’s theater or film or TV, there is a duty to educate people about society and the world. Love should not be hindered by stigma.

You said it, Michael. So grateful to have you as part of Merce‘s family, and part of my own.

And just to be clear: Michael is part awesome cousin, part crazy Aunt Melba. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besos,

Charles

P.S. Michael is not just anti-HIV stigma, he’s also against stigma for other conditions, most importantly depression and mental illness. Much work yet needs to be done to fully understand the breadth and scope of prejudice against people with mental illnesses. For more information, visit Project Helping.

 

Dr. Biederhof (Rich Graff)’s a Star!

Congratulations to Rich Graff, who’s starring as Lucky Luciano in the upcoming AMC mini-series The Making of the Mob!

Rich Graff

Rich Graff

Yummy Rich, a native New Yorker, plays Merce’s yummy doctor, Dr. Biederhof. We were so fortunate that Rich auditioned for Merce, and he’s ideal as the smart and handsome physician.

Yummy Dr. Biederhof!

Rich Graff as Yummy Dr. Biederhof!

Rich Graff as Dr. Biederhof and Merce

Dr. Biederhof and Merce

“I auditioned for Merce and fell in love with the idea of a show about someone’s dealing with HIV,” Rich said. “We all come such a long way with HIV and AIDS, and making sure everyone better understands the disease is very important.”

Thanks, Rich. Your earnest performance in Merce is tops, and we’re so proud of your success!

Rich Graff as Lucky Luciano (center)

Rich Graff as Lucky Luciano (center) in The Making of the Mob

For information on AMC’s The Making of the Mob, click here.

Besos,

Charles

Actor Spotlight: Randy Taylor

When Randy Taylor came in to audition for the role of Remington (one of Merce’s love interests), Tyne and I were so happy! He can sing, he can act, and he’s certainly swoon-worthy. We were pretty much sold on him right away.

Randy headshot

The almost-too-handsome Randy Taylor

Randy remembers the experience a little differently: “I was put through a grueling set of auditions by Tyne and Charles. They made me do all this crazy stuff! Did everyone have to run naked around the block screaming ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina?'”

Well, however it happened, Randy was the perfect choice to play Remington, a cute guy from Long Island who went to high school with Amy Fisher.

Randy grew up on a cattle ranch in the Southern California desert, just miles from the Mexican border. “Everything there is beige,” Randy said, “It is very, very conservative as well. Just imagine a slice of Texas transplanted to California.” Beige was too, well, beige for Randy, so as soon as he could, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles to fail out of managerial accounting at USC. He wisely switched majors to acting, “and I’ve been having fun ever since!”

Randy moved to New York twenty years ago, and he’s been seen in musicals and cabarets in the city as well as regionally. Like a lot of performers, he also slings drinks. “I am a bartender at the (in)famous Marie’s Crisis, ‘where showtunes go to die,'” Randy said. “It’s such a fun place and I am often astounded that I get paid to be there.”

Randy Taylor as Reminton, cannoli in hand

Randy Taylor as Remington, cannoli in hand

The first day Randy was on set for Merce, the scene was a date between Merce and Remington. “I was so nervous on my first day of shooting,” Randy said, “but within minutes I was having a wonderful time pretending to eat pasta and clowning around with Charles. I thought to myself that I would happily do this for the rest of my life. Plus the crew was just amazing!”

Besides being fantastically talented, Randy is a genuinely nice guy, and he’s one dreamy fella to boot. One of the fun things for me was that I got to make googly-eyes at him for the camera. Trust me, it was easy. I kept my cool, though, since Randy’s got a super-cute, super-nice boyfriend named David. Ain’t that always the way.

Randy Taylor as Remington with Merce at Washington Square Park

Randy Taylor as Remington with Merce at Washington Square Park

Randy talked about his connection to HIV and Merce: “I have a number of friends who are poz. I remember the fear that was instilled into us about AIDS in the 80’s and how gays were bringing this plague to the nation. We’ve come a long way, baby. Still have a ways to go too! I feel so thrilled to be a part of a show involving HIV characters. I think this kind of show is needed to break through the stigma of having HIV. So, so proud to be a part of it all.”

And we’re proud that you are a part of the Merce family. Now would you mind getting naked again? I’d love to hear another chorus of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina!”

[Note about the name Remington: The character was originally named Parker. When Tyne and I were fundraising for the project, one of our donors, Gayle Slifka, made a donation in the memory of her dear brother, Remington. In his honor, we decided to re-name the character after him.]

The Real Remington

The Real Remington

Besos,

Charles