Oct 14, 2011

Two Blasts From the Past

Back in the 1990s in L.A., I got to know a brilliant singer/songwriter, Kevin Ray, at several open mikes, chiefly Highland Grounds' "Open Mind" Wednesdays; we who plied our tunes on piano, as Kevin and I (mostly) did, were a rarity in that guitar-dominated scene, and we ivory ticklers had to stick together. Quite apart from that friendship, he also became one of my favorite singer/songwriters for his intricately crafted, often sweeping pop (one of the best from those days here), which had a Rufus Wainwright-esque level of ambition but a more downhome aesthetic inflected by R&B and country.

Some of Kevin's best songs over the years, he told me, had been written for a musical he was developing called The Last Word, about L.A.'s undersung Central Avenue jazz scene of the 1940s; I remember one in particular called "Hollywood Slumming," which, though he trotted it out very rarely in those solo days, stuck with me. Imagine how gratifying it is, then, to hear that same tune sung and danced by a fiercely talented cast as the thrlling opening number of Kevin's mostly awesome musical, now called Central Avenue Breakdown, and currently part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival (Kevin relocated to NYC about the same time as me, in 2005). The show's book, by Ray and Josh Sohn, is imperfect, but the cast is terrific (particularly Rodrick Covington and Josh Tower), Christopher Windom's direction and choreography are lively and authoritative, and the six-piece jazz band positively kicks. I've never seen a NYMF show that sounded as good, frankly, and in short I couldn't be happier or prouder of my L.A. homeboy. (There are just a few more performances if you'd like to see and hear for yourself.)

Another blast from my past surfaced this week, as the actors' trade paper Back Stage celebrates its 50th anniversary. As the founding editor of Back Stage West back in '93, I was asked to share an anecdote from my time there. Naturally, I chose a salacious story involving the LAPD vice squad. That, and several recollections, are here.

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