Ann-Thology Number Four
Greetings, friends, from American Airlines flight 1195 to Nashville. I'm on my way to record three new songs for an audio book called "Too Dead to Swing" which is due out in stores this summer. Yes, it's my day off, but a diva's work is never done. A moment ago, I was studying the songs on my CD walkman when three different couples came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed seeing "Swing!" this weekend. This is brand new for me- being recognized in civilian clothes. Last night at Serendipity's, celebrating my friend Barbara Feldon's birthday, a huge party of teenagers stopped by the table to say how much they liked the show. They were all young actors on a trip from Memphis and were very inspired by all the music and the dance of the show. How happy it makes me to know that we are bringing pleasure to people of all ages. And that, as one of the "keepers-of-the-flame", this music is being introduced to a whole new generation who otherwise might not know about our county's great standards.
What a joy it is making my Broadway debut. As some of you know, when my sister Liz and I saw our first Broadway musical "Company", it was love at first note. I knew then and there I had to do that someday. As Sondheim later wrote, "Someday just began." Being the sister of a Broadway star, I often wondered if I'd ever have the chance to fulfill that dream. And now that it's finally happened, it is better than I had imagined. There are nights when we have finished performing the finale and the audience is standing and cheering that I well up with tears and gratitude for getting to do what I love. Every night is new. Every song feels like it is being sung for the first time. And all the years of singing in little cabarets and jazz clubs and concert halls and learning my craft and learning about life is finally coming alive in a new way.
There have been all sorts of surprises doing this show. I'll never forget the first time I made my entrance in "Bounce Me Brother" and the audience applauded, I wanted to stop the show and say, who are you? How do you know me? And as time went on what a surprise it was to discover what all was inside of me that I had never let out in the smaller venues I'd performed in. Singing "Blues In the Night" each night, I discovered a level of passion and abandon I had never fully released. There was finally a big enough space to really let go and wail and let me tell you, there's a lot more where that came from.
I feel like I have been given a great family in the cast and crew of "Swing!". It makes coming to work feel like coming home. Not only do I get to share the stage with tremendously talented dancers, singers and musicians, but they are also some of the finest people I've ever met. Everett Bradley, my romantic interest in the show, is amazing. I knew I loved him when he, being asked by an interviewer what it was like portraying an interracial couple on Broadway, replied, "Are we?" Getting to perform "Bli Blip", Broadway's first scatted blind date, and an unconventional version of "All of Me" where, against my better judgement, I actually dance in public, is deliciously fun. And the first day twenty year old Laura Benanti walked on the set of the Westbeth Theater, I knew I had made a life long friend. What a pleasure it is watching her talent unfold. Composing her opening number "Two and Four" gave me a taste of what Irving Berlin must have felt writing for a young Ethel Merman.
I often think that the real show the audience should see is what is going on backstage before we enter. There is such humor, playfulness and mischief going on that it is impossible to walk out on that stage without a beaming smile. One of the things that I think the audience picks up on, is our great affection for each other and what we are doing. Joy begets joy, as Chita Rivera was saying after she saw our show.
Imagine what fun it is being surprised every night by artists we all are inspired by. When Chita came backstage, it was a lovefest. We've also enjoyed visits from Tony Bennett, Harold Nichols, Lee Roy Reams, Betty Buckley, Michael Feinstein and Anne Reinking to mention a few. And I adore seeing my friends from childhood who fly out and surprise me. They get a kick seeing their old buddy having her dream come true. The support from everyone in my life- my family, friends and peers, has been amazing.
I'm so grateful that the producers of "Swing!" have allowed me to keep some of my concert dates. Last week, I got to perform my Ella tribute with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Next month, I perform once more at Carnegie Hall with the fabulous Boston Pops. And I get to share the stage with the charming Peter Nero for a series of concerts with the Phillie Pops. And I look forward to performing "Sibling Revelry" with my sister on May 21 in Irvington.
Tomorrow, I finally meet Rolf Lovland, the composer of "I've Dreamed of You", the song Barbra Streisand performed on her wedding day that I wrote lyrics to. We are both so happy with her exquisite performance on her new CD "A Love Like Ours". And we look forward to hearing her live rendition of it on her upcoming live CD, "Timeless". One of the thrills of December was coming home from the St. James Theater and having the diva herself call me to discuss patter for her New Year's Eve performance. Some of those talks were the most thought provoking I have ever had. I thank her for all her support and encouragement. She is an extraordinary artist and person.
Well, friends, it is a new millennium. We actually made it. Hasn't it been interesting doing some soul-searching at this time? I say my prayers that we all learn a lot more about ourselves and each other and have the courage to live life more passionately and generously. If the twentieth century was the golden age of technology, maybe we can go a step further and make the twenty-first the golden age of the heart. My spiritual teacher, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, has declared the theme of this new year "Believe in love." I will continue to contemplate and try to live those simple yet profound words.
As our silver bird descends into Nashville, I'd like to wish you great blessings and thank you for being in touch. May you experience much joy and inspiration in this time. I look forward to all our adventures together.
Ann . . .