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In an Empire state of mind

By

MICHAEL K. Lee and the author in “Allegiance”

Yes Sir, I am back in New York, my absolute most favorite city in the world. Despite the extreme winter weather that’s been visiting the place, its beauty still remains. Perhaps it’s more than just the novelty of watching the falling snow, but of being a part of the city’s heartbeat and its song.

Little of my time in New York is spent on recreation (although I do on occasion find the time to just let my hair down and have some fun). For this particular stay, it’s been business … and I feel blessed that there has been a fair amount of it.

After spending a little over a week on the west coast doing concerts and visiting with family (to the audiences of Wild Horse Pass, Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, the Disney Club of UCLA, and Agua Caliente, many thanks for your generous support!), the time came to fly across the country.

In the days leading up to my flight, I received numerous texts from friends and family warning me about how cold it was in New York. One friend even went so far as to describe the temperature as “baltic” and he was right. Thank goodness for my winter gear. Indeed, I came prepared for battle.

Busy, busy

My schedule was going to be very busy… on the work front, there were rehearsals for various projects (including my appearance yesterday at The Allen Room at Lincoln Center to kick off the “American Songbook” series, and the “Ragtime” concert at Alice Tully Hall, also at Lincoln Center on Feb. 18).

On the fun side, our “Allegiance” composer and lyricist Jay Kuo had a showcase at the Lambs Club to let his songs from various musicals be heard. The music was a lot of fun! He featured a song from “Allegiance”; it was a little strange hearing a different pair of voices sing “The Mountain’s Heart,” originally performed by me and Michael K. Lee, but I loved it so much I sang along quietly.

Plus, spending time with some friends, this cold weather be damned.

‘Songbook’ show

For my “Songbook” show, I’ve asked one of my best friends (and New York Times lauded director) Victor Lirio to help me out. The cool thing about working with your friends is that you never ever have to get out of your pajamas or brush your hair to get to work.

And work we did.

We talked about song sequence, talking points in the script, figuring out what in the banter works and what might not, determining which instrument plays at which point in the song to coordinate lighting and sound, etc. We hung out for the rest of the afternoon, at which point each of us had a respective dinner to run off to.

The following day would be one of the longest I’ve had in a while. It didn’t help that I had a fitful night’s sleep, so caffeine would be running through my veins for survival. There was a scheduled appearance on one of the local morning shows to promote the Lincoln Center concert; followed immediately by rehearsals for “Ragtime.”

‘Ragtime’

For those of you not familiar with this incredible Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens musical, “Ragtime” is a story set in the United States in the early 1900s, where prejudice and racism against blacks and Jewish immigrants were prevalent. A family based in New Rochelle, New York finds itself faced by change. I don’t want to give more away… I’ll write more about it closer to the time.

My rehearsal was with David Loud, our conductor. He walked me through all of the music my character,

Mother, sings… and there is a lot of it. Ensemble numbers, solos, duets… and finally, when the time came to sing Mother’s big number, “Back to Before,” it felt really good.

The feedback from David was great, and would be helpful as I continue studying my music before the first company rehearsal day in February.

Also starring in this concert are Norm Lewis (Javert in the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Misérables”) and Tyne Daly (well-known for the TV series “Cagney and Lacey”), as well as many members of its alumni to sing in the ensemble.

For the “Songbook” series, rehearsals actually began late last year, with my musical director Larry Yurman letting me listen to brand new arrangements.

We were able to ameliorate that steep learning curve by slowly introducing new material with each passing concert. A song here, a mashup there, a longer medley somewhere else.  That work style enabled both Larry and me to road test new material to see how it could better fit my voice as we went along our tour. It most certainly made my learning of new stuff much easier.

We had our first band rehearsal today with our usual gang: John Miller on bass, Jack Cavari on guitar, Dave Ratajczak on drums, and Larry on the piano. One by one the entire show was played, while I sat nearby and sang along. Our rehearsal was set for three hours, but we went so efficiently that we were done in two and a half hours.

I write this holed up in my apartment with cartoons on television and my feet up. There are a couple of workdays left during my stay, and then I get to head back to Manila.

This is indeed the sweetest part of being away: Knowing that soon, you get to go home again…

But I will be back, New York… sooner than you think. I guess it seems I’ll never get you out of my mind.


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Tags: Agua Caliente , Michael K. Lee , Ragtime , “Allegiance , “Songbook”



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