Tag Archives: Kenny Kruper

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.

 

Feeling Topsy-Turvy

Things is crazy in my world right now, y’all. Upside down, inside out and round and round.

I’m fitfully sleeping about 5 or 6 hours per night, when normally I’m a hard snorin’, solid 7 or 8 hour boy. I’m totally a coffee dude, but lately I’ve taken to having a civilized cup of decaffeinated Lady Grey Tea in the evenings. Yes, I said Lady Grey. I feel a little like I’m in a fog all the time. I’ve lost a little weight, too. It’s all due to mourning my Father’s death. Turns out, grief is a great diet (better than TrimSpa, baby!), but I don’t recommend it.

Merce in a pensive moment.

Merce in a pensive moment.

Don’t worry, Mom. I’m eating, I’m just not craving burgers, french fries, pizza, brownies, buttercream and the like. Basically, I’m not eating anything delicious. Nothing sounds good, so I’m basically eating chicken and veggies. Salad. Yogurt. Fruit. Tragic, right?

The grief’s also kicked up emotions around other losses in my life– my pitiful career; the comedy of errors that’s been my love life; the black molly fishies who started eating each other in my fish tank when I was 10. They were eating each other! It was horrifying. All of it has made me feel helpless, hopeless and useless. It’s awful.

And it’s colored how I’ve been feeling about Merce. It seems like we’re never going to get the show out. It’s never going to be done. And what’s the use, anyway? Who the fuck cares?

But we’ve made a commitment, and must see it through. There are other people involved, donors, cast, crew, a few fans all wanting to see the show. So I take a deep breath, and shoulder on.

It’s been making me crazy how long the editing has been taking. After consulting with our consultant, the ever-patient Tyne Firmin and I decided to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with editor Johnny Coughlin about the state of the editing and the fact that we didn’t have an ending to the project in sight. Tyne and I strategized about the best possible way to have the conversation, coming up with plans A, B, and C, trying to figure out the best ways to approach Johnny, valuing as we do his talent and time, but being firm on the need to have a deadline. Producer problem solving.

What the magic of editing can do: Mama (Tyne Firmin) Skyping to Merce.

What the magic of editing can do: Mama (Tyne Firmin) Skyping with Merce.

We had a meeting of the three of us, and when Tyne and I approached the topic and told Johnny that we were unhappy with the timing of things and needed to implement an editing schedule, he without hesitation agreed. AGREED! And when I pulled out the schedule I’d already made up (sometimes I’m sneaky), he said it looked totally reasonable for him and the other two editors he’s brought on to the project to adhere to. The meeting was shockingly un-dramatic. Sometimes when you have a come-to-Jesus meeting, Jesus shows up first. 

Fabulous Amanda Bruton as the bumbling Veda Masters

Fabulous Amanda Bruton as the bumbling Veda Masters

We have about 98% of Episode 1 completed, and have 2 other episodes at about 85% completion. And guess what? They’re totally fresh, exciting and AMAZING. Kenny Kruper, who we were already in love with from the songs he’s composed, added scoring to Ep. 1 that is perfect! Amanda Bruton is hilarious and heroic as Mistress Veda/Veda Masters. Ed Davis as Ms. Nutella Spread is so freakin’ glamorous and smashing, you won’t believe it. And the rest of the cast! Corvette, the Joes, my darling Fairies! Oh! It’s all being brought to life by Johnny and his team of Max Nitch and Billy Coughlin (Johnny’s bro), under Tyne’s guidance, putting everything together with such care, humor, and panache, getting every silly joke just right. It’s really wonderful, and makes me cry to think of how fabulous the whole show is going to be.

Ed Davis as Ms. Nutella Spread with my fairies (Rob Laqui, Alex Tomas and Sean Griffin)

Ed Davis as Ms. Nutella Spread with my fairies (Rob Laqui, Alex Tomas and Sean Griffin)

Our schedule right now has us finishing editing by mid-June. Hopefully before that, we’ll be able to figure out a marketing plan and decide on a release date.

As for my grief, well, the turvy’s not so easily re-topsy’d. I’ve never grieved anyone like this before, and it’s hard. My Dad was an amazing man with a great sense of humor, and a huge heart. I’m in therapy, attending a grieving group, even using crystals.  (Natures jewelry, darling, and they have powers!)

Merce has been helping. Every naughty, bawdy episode has a message of hope, joy, love, and believing in yourself. Turns out, Merce is a very positive influence on me. 

And I’m starting to feel a tad bit better. Who knows? I may even have a burger this weekend.

Besos,

Charles

P.S.  I was on the Laff Tracks Radio Show on Feb. 28, hosted by the fabulous Joanna Briley and the hilarious Steve C. King. If you missed it, you can watch the recorded stream here (with a few commercials): http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/59368068, or listen to the podcast at http://floempireradio.com/lafftrackspodcast/. I’m on for about a half hour starting at around 34-ish minutes in. I talk about Merce, HIV, life, love, sex even! Oh, and burritos. Check it out!

Sometimes God’s Sense of Humor Pisses Me Off

“Hey, Charles, How’s your web series thing going?”

“Seems like you’ve been working on Merce forever! What’s up with the show?”

“That trailer was a hoot; I can’t wait to see the series. When’s it coming out?”

Well, kids. Hmm. Hate to break it to ya, but this isn’t going to be the sunny happy joy-joy blog post from me that you’re used to. Here are my answers to the above questions.:

The web series thing? It’s going very frustratingly.

It totally feels like we’ve been working on Merce forever. Not much is up with the show. 

And here’s the hardest answer to give: I have no idea when the series will be out. None. Seriously.

It’s totally making me crazy, angry, frustrated, suicidal (except not really suicidal, because I’m not like that, but something dramatic and emotional, with a hair flip and a cigarette). We said that we’d have the show out in Spring of 2015, and here we are in mid-Feb with little to show for it. I pride myself on being a man of my word, and this is freaking my shit out.

God.laughing.at.our.plans

When we completed shooting, our DP/Editor Johnny Coughlin assured us that he could edit about one episode per week. On that schedule (plus some grace time, give or take a week), we figured we’d be completely done editing by now, and half way through composer Ken Kruper’s scoring of each episode. At that rate, being out by Spring sounded like cake, baby!

Well, that’s not how it’s happening.

Johnny didn’t realize how complicated the editing would be, and it’s taking A LOT longer than we anticipated. Syncing all the sound files, color correcting, movie magic, it’s all a complex operation! Apparently, the idiot writer created ideas that weren’t just 1-2-3. And poor Johnny has to eat and pay rent ‘n’ all, so he has to work other jobs that take him away from Merce. AND every now and again he has to go home to bang his girl and sleep a bit. We all understand that. He has enlisted the aid of 2 assistants to help (with the editing, not the banging), but even with their help, the editing is just going to take the time it takes.

I’d much rather it happened at my schedule. I want it when I want it!  But God says, “HA!” I’ve said all along that it seems like this project is happening without me. It was easy to believe that there was some glorious kumbaya hocus pocus happening when things were going amazingly smooth. I have to trust that the same blessed mojo is still guiding the project, that the Divine Wow has it all under control. I have to believe that Merce will come out when it’s supposed to.

(OMYGOD, I just said that Merce would come out! As if he were ever in!!)

So far, episode one is pretty magical. With Tyne Firmin’s guidance,  Johnny is editing the show to be energetic and fun, and the musical number is bright and hilarious. Bess Eckstein as Corvette is a natural for the sit-com genre, and Randy Taylor as Remington is dreamy and charming. Tyne’s Mama is going to run away with the show, and even the funny-looking guy playing the lead has some really nice moments. I just can’t stand to look at his face.

In coolness news, I’m going to be on the Laff Tracks Radio Show on Saturday, February 28th. The show is on www.FLOEmpireradio.com from 1-3pm EST, hosted by the fabulous Joanna Briley. I think I’ll be on around 1:30, talking about Merce and trying to be funny. So tune in!

Coming Soon

I’m sorry that I’m not doing split jumps and cartwheels in this blog. I have a really shitty attitude. Hard for me to have faith that things are happening the way they should. But they are. And I still think that it’s going to be an amazing show.

Someday.

Besos,

Charles

P.S. Merce‘s Line Producer Samantha Slater and Art Director Darian Brenner are working on a fabulous short film project, SIBS. Follow the link to the info, and donate if’n ya can to help them make this a reality! I did. http://tinyurl.com/pkqgrs8

 

Old Lang Sign

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Well, it’s 2015. I’ve never really understood what Auld Lang Syne meant. I’ve looked it up, but I never remember, so I’ve made up my own words:

“Should old LaQuayntense be forgot, And never brought to mind.”

(LaQuayntense was a big black girl I waited tables with some years back. She had dirty fingernails, wore undersized tube tops, and was really mean.)

“Should old LaQuayntense be forgot, and hang that old Lang sign.”

(I had a dear friend named Mark Lang who I’ve lost touch with. He’s older than I am. Much, much older. I want to start a custom where we hang signs for old friends to welcome them back.)

“For old Lang’s sign, my dear, for old Lang’s sign, we’ll drink a cup of kindness yet,

for old Lang’s sign.”

Around the turn of the year, I saw a lot of posts on Facebook and Twitter that 2014 sucked and 2015 was going to be amazing. Well, I’m here to say that 2014 didn’t suck, at least not all of it.

2014 was the year that my co-producer and director Tyne Firmin and I decided to make Merce a reality, and we did so much! I wrote the scripts, we raised over $15,000 to create the show, we hired the creative team and assembled the stellar cast, we had an amazing shoot. Truly, we couldn’t have asked for a more wondrous creative experience.

2014 was also the year that my boyfriend dumped me in an email. Totally Carrie Bradshaw, right? Blech.

We are now in the thick of editing Merce. The first result is our awesome trailer. (Have you seen it yet? Only once? Go RIGHT NOW and watch it again! www.MerceTV.com.) Johnny Coughlin, our cinematographer and editor, did a fantastic job putting together compelling images from the entire season, really making composer Kenny Kruper’s Merce theme song come alive. I think it’s a great representation of what the show is going to be: funny, outrageous, bawdy and terrific.

Here’s the rub: the editing process is driving me crazy. We set out an ambitious schedule to have an episode per week done starting in December, to have all eight episodes completed by the end of January. As of today, mid-January, we don’t have the first episode fully edited. Holy F@#*!! And after the editing, Kenny still has to score each episode. The whole thing is making me totally nervous.

To add to the worry and stress, my father passed away on Christmas night. He’d been sick for a while, and although we knew the end was near, we didn’t think he would go so quickly. His funeral was January 5, and my nephew and I sang at the service. It’s been tough, and I’m staying in Arizona for a few weeks to be with my family. My Dad’s passing makes all my emotions go into overdrive, so a little worry about the show becomes a lot, and a smidge of stress magnifies into a glob.

I fully trust Johnny. Tyne and Johnny and I set the editing schedule without realizing how complicated the editing would be, and the apparently the audio files are more involved than Johnny expected. Stuff I don’t understand, so I leave it to the experts. Johnny also has other work to take care of, pesky bills to pay. Although we said, announced even, that we’d have the show out by Spring of 2015, I think it’s more important that Merce be as good as it can be however long that takes. (Johnny assures Tyne and me that the show will be out on time. He’s employed an assistant, who’s helping to get us back on schedule.)

That’s why, so far, 2015 ain’t 100% awesome. BUT, I know that emotions are like clouds and they pass. My mood will lighten and I’m sure that I’ll be back in the cheering section soon. I still believe that Divine Wow is guiding this project, and I have to trust that everything is happening as it should.

Still, if you could say a few Christus Dominus’, I’d sure appreciate it.

Besos,

Charles

P.S. Johnny just got engaged! Congrats and best wishes to him and his lovely fiancee Alyssa! (Now get to work, boi!)

P.P.S. LaQuayntense, if you’re reading this, you still owe me 20 bucks.