Anthony Lee Medina: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Anthony Lee Medina first caught my attention when he nearly fell on me during the Spring Awakening tour in San Francisco. I was seated onstage, and he took an impressive spill during 'Bitch of Living,' that only seemed to energize him more for the song.

I'm never quite sure what it is about seeing certain performers in a show, and you follow them after that show, but I've always kept up with Anthony (Facebook helps there).

Of course, since that time in 2008, I spent much of the time erroneously thinking Anthony was straight and not Oasis material, a notion that was quickly dispelled upon seeing his solo show, Anthony Lee Medina - About Me, after moving to NYC.

Now, Anthony is starting a new part of his career, as he raises the money to put out his first collection of songs, The Ladybug Articles, later this year. Most of the songs are inspired by his ongoing tumultuous relationship with a guy he is still in love with.

We met during the recent heatwave at Otarian, a vegetarian restaurant he turned me onto in the city, and we talked. A lot. Here's what we had to say:

Telly Leung: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Telly Leung is a force of nature.

In Godspell, now playing at the Circle in the Square Theater on Broadway (see review), Leung has turned his role into an opportunity to showcase what seems to be almost too many talents. He acts, sings, dances, does impressions, and even when people are coming in after intermission, he's at the piano playing riffs from A Chorus Line, Wicked, Rent, and others, before launching into an Elton Johnesque reprise of "Learn Your Lessons Well" from Act One to get act two started.

When I recently ran into Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Godspell and Wicked, he had nothing but praise for Leung.

"His performance has become sort of famous. He's unbelievable, and the nice thing is he gets to show, in this particular production, the range of talents that he has," Schwartz said. "People who have seen him do one thing or another before, but here he gets to sing beautifully, he gets to be really funny, he gets to do amazing imitations, he gets to play the piano, you see a real range of just how much this guy can do. He's extraordinary in the show."

For how long Leung has been on my radar, it's amazing I'm just seeing him now. I originally planned to see him in Godspell years ago, but then the production was delayed. I planned to see him in an early version of Lysistrata Jones in Dallas, but I got delayed in Vegas instead. When the Rent tour came through the Bay Area, he had left the tour already.

So, for a while, I figured there was clearly some conspiracy at work here and I just wasn't meant to see Leung onstage. But once I moved to New York City, and he's in a show eight times a week, the odds greatly shifted in my favor, so we recently sat down in his dressing room before show time to chat about Godspell and his amazing path to Broadway (sorry Gleeks, I totally blanked on him being a Warbler during the interview):

Godspell: Broadway Review

By Jeff Walsh

Godspell is an odd mix of things that seemingly shouldn't work together: a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew, amazing songs by Stephen Schwartz, and a lot of freedom in between on how to present both.

But somehow, the spare book, beautiful music, and lack of structure all combine to make something bigger than the sum of its parts. In its current Broadway incarnation, Godspell is a high-energy experience that barely lets you catch your breath.

Before I saw the show, in December, an elderly woman at the Patti Lupone/Mandy Patinkin show was giving me the rundown on all the new Broadway shows. When she came to Godspell, her demeanor changed and she clutched her chest, like even remembering the manic energy was exhausting her: "They keep running around, trying to make us have fun."

Bring It On: Musical Review

By Jeff Walsh

“Bring It On” hits all the notes you’d expect from a new musical inspired by the 2000 Kirsten Dunst cheerleading movie of the same name. There are catty cheerleaders, underdogs for the audience to cheer on, and high-flying aerial wizardry. But the members of its creative team have built their names by delivering theater that goes beyond our expectations, and that didn’t happen this time.

The story is pretty simple. A cheerleader is forced to change schools and goes from being head cheerleader of a winning squad to being anonymous in a more ethnic school that doesn’t even have or want a cheer squad. I never saw the original movie, but my friend who attended with me said it is not the same plot, so it is definitely more “inspired by” than “based on.”

Rory O'Malley: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Rory O'Malley has a hard time accepting being gay eight times a week.

As Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon on Broadway, he ends up doing a big tapdance number to "Turn It Off," about his "cool little Mormon trick" of turning his gay thoughts off "like a light switch."

Offstage, he couldn't be gayer. In addition to his role in the hottest Broadway musical, from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, for which he is nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical, O'Malley is also one of the co-founders of Broadway Impact, along with Gavin Creel, which unites the Broadway community to work toward marriage equality.

The Book of Mormon is a collaboration between Parker, Stone, and Robert Lopez, one of the people behind Avenue Q. The show is nominated for 14 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The more I saw interviews with Rory O'Malley leading up to the Tonys, the more he seemed like someone who needed to be featured in Oasis. He always comes across as so thankful, open and heartfelt that it honestly wasn't a huge surprise he got cast as a squeaky-clean Mormon. After all, he is the guy who whitened up Eddie Murphy's "Cadillac Car" song in the Dreamgirls movie until it had all the soul and bite drained out of it.

So, O'Malley and I jumped on the phone recently, to chat about his life, career, as well as being gay and spiritual. Here's what we said:

Tales of the City: A New Musical - Review

By Jeff Walsh

When I moved to San Francisco in 1996, one of my first purchases was a trade paperback of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City," from the recently-closed gay bookstore in the Castro. I'd previously watched the PBS mini-series, but it seemed a necessary book to read upon moving here. The book begins with Mary Ann Singleton, in San Francisco on vacation from Cleveland, calling her mother to say she isn't coming home, she's staying in this enchanted city.

To fans of the book, Mary Ann, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and Anna Madrigal aren't mere literary characters. Mary Ann is the eyes of the piece that clearly see the magic of San Francisco. Mouse is its heart yearning for connection. And Anna is its soul welcoming us unconditionally with joints taped to our apartment doors, whose 'anything goes' attitude is earned through her life experience.

They are an important part of our lives, and capture the magic and allure of a city where people come to redefine themselves, find love, build community, and explore... well, pretty much anything they want to.

So, going to see a new musical based on "Tales of the City," featuring music from members of the Scissor Sisters, and both the writer and director behind Avenue Q, had me of two minds. I couldn't wait to see it, but I was also nervous they might fail to capture the essence of the piece. (I'm well aware the second concern is a bit much, but what I can say? I should have been tipped off that the team knew what it was doing by the Tales of the City-branded condoms and rolling papers at the merchandise table.)

Jake Shears: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Tales of the City, the musical based on the beloved books by Armistead Maupin, opens in San Francisco tonight. The story is set in the 70s and brings together a magic group of characters for a timeless story of self-discovery, family, and community.

The show fuses Maupin's books with some of the creative team behind Avenue Q, and music written by singer Jake Shears and musician John Garden of the dance pop band, The Scissor Sisters (My review of the show will run later this week).

I recently spoke with Shears during the show's preview run, and here's what we had to say:

Promises, Promises: Broadway Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Promises, Promises" seems to have everything going for it. Recently out Sean Hayes (known for his amazing turn as Jack McFarland on Will & Grace) stars with Kristin Chenoweth (from Wicked and Glee fame) in a revival of a show written by Neil Simon, with music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David, based on the amazing movie "The Apartment," written by Billy Wilder, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, and it seems like there's so much going for it, it couldn't miss.

But then, it does.

It's like a lot of good things that never congeal into a great thing. I like Hayes and Chenoweth so much that it takes a while to get over the enjoyment of seeing them perform to realize you don't necessarily want to see them perform this show. Hayes brings out the bubbly charm that made Jack the highlight of Will & Grace, but a lot of strange fourth-wall stuff and one-liners never seem to get us invested in his story here (and no, I didn't have any problem accepting him playing straight).

Robin De Jesus: La Cage Interview

By Jeff Walsh

When we last caught up with Robin De Jesus, he was nominated for a Tony for the role of Sonny in In The Heights. He didn't win, but the show did win Best New Musical. De Jesus ended up performing that role on Broadway for two full years. Then, with just a two week break, he went to the new revival of the La Cage Aux Folles musical.

(If you want to read our earlier interviews first, we first chatted with him the day In The Heights was first opening Off-Broadway, and then nearly a year and a half later, when the show was on Broadway, and De Jesus was nominated for a Tony Award)

You may know La Cage Aux Folles better as The Birdcage, the movie with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a long-time gay couple who run a nightclub with a nightly drag show. There's a lot of twists and turns in the plot that I won't go into (but, if you're so inclined, they're detailed on Wikipedia). The main differences are that this is the musical version with a book by one of my heroes, Harvey Fierstein, and music by Jerry Herman. And, in this revival, the Robin Williams role is played by Kelsey Grammer, aka Frasier.

De Jesus plays Jacob, the supposed maid to the couple who desperately wants to prove to Zaza (the Nathan Lane role), that he's ready to be in the drag show. As you can see from the photo, De Jesus does a good amount of drag in the show. Not that he's a stranger to drag, as he performed as Angel in Rent on Broadway before.

And, to stick with tradition, De Jesus is once again Tony-nominated for his role in La Cage, and I'll certainly be rooting for him on June 13. He is always such a generous, positive spirit, it's always great to catch up with him.

Here's what we said:

Gavin Creel: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

This past Saturday, Gavin Creel was in New York City, talking to me on the phone.

18 hours after this interview, a car picked him up early in the morning, and took him to the airport, where he boarded a jet to London. In a few weeks, he and the rest of the Broadway tribe of Hair will open the show in the West End. Creel was Tony nominated for his turn as Claude, the conflicted hippie who has to decide what's important for him as the summer of love overlaps with the Vietnam War.

I reviewed the show back in January, but didn't realize at the time that Creel was openly gay. Having figured that out at some later point, we had a few interview attempts, but our schedules weren't lining up.

With the clock ticking on how long Creel would be on American soil, before bringing his magical show of peace and love to London, we finally made it happen. Here's what we said:

Anthony Rapp's last performance in Rent

I just got home from Sacramento, where I went to see the FINAL show in the FINAL CITY of the Rent Broadway tour, which is the FINAL time Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal will ever be in the show.

The crowd was electric, filled with many former cast members, and people who flew from all corners of the globe to be there.

When Adam Pascal walked out with his guitar, the crowd erupted. It seemed like it couldn't get much louder. Then Anthony walked out, and I realized I was wrong. The crowd was on its feet before they could even hit their marks, and they stopped and gave the crowd the time to calm down.

Anthony didn't start in with his normal opening line and instead said that this show, like every show, is dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Larson. Then it began.

Hair: Broadway Review

By Jeff Walsh

I was interested to see the wildly-popular revival of Hair on Broadway because I think the gay and hippie movements are intertwined, as both really got started in the late 60s. While the history of the gay rights movement links the Stonewall Riots to the death of Judy Garland, as they happened during the week of her funeral, to me it's always seemed like the culture was already shifting sexually, spiritually and culturally in ways that demanded that homosexuality express itself more naturally.

In the 40-odd years that have passed since Hair first played Broadway, hippies have become a bit of a cultural joke, but a lot of their legacy is still with us: the sexual revolution (including LGBT acceptance), health food, drug culture, expanding consciousness in other ways such as eastern religions, and of course, the music.

So, it is interesting to see Hair through that lens in its current revival, as a snapshot of a huge cultural shift. Of course, if you could care less about any of that, you'd still be in luck, since it's just a fun time capsule of a show brought expertly to life with an exuberant young cast.

In The Heights: Broadway Review

By Jeff Walsh

"In The Heights" seems like a Broadway show that shouldn't exist. A show about relationships, family, and community without an ounce of cynicism that tells heartfelt stories of Latino immigrants living in Manhattan? How is this even onstage, let alone winning Best Musical for 2008?

After nearly two years of anticipation, I finally got to see "In The Heights" on Broadway in December. Months of "Abuela" and "Piragua casting reality show parody" YouTube videos, and watching heartwhelming videos the cast made with a 10-year-old fan, and listening to the cast recording on my iPod was a lot more information than I usually have before seeing a show. I usually wait to get the cast recording after a show.

So, it was a bit strange to finally enter the theater on 46th street, and see the songs come to life, the dialogue that never existed on my iPod, the dancing, and… I just can't recommend it highly enough. To see show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda onstage as Usnavi surrounded by the amazing vision he has given to the world was a true gift.

Spring Awakening: Tour Review

By Jeff Walsh

The last time I reviewed Spring Awakening, it was a week into its Broadway run. Since that time, it went on to become a runaway hit, netting 8 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and recently started its national tour in San Francisco.

Reading my old review again after seeing the touring production on opening night, my issues with the show remain. It hasn't lost any of its intensity and the songs are very familiar to me, but the dual nature of the show still never really gels to me, but I like both halves enough to still consider it a nice night out. Since I haven't really changed my mind on the show, you can read that original review for the show details and such.

The only other issue I had with the show are nothing new when seeing a touring show after first seeing the original cast on Broadway. When the people on the cast recording match the people you saw onstage and visualize when you're listening to the CD, it is always odd to see these "other" people saying the same lines, wearing the same clothes, and singing the same songs. That's nothing new with this show, and only happens when you strongly identify with the people you saw first perform the roles.

Robin De Jesus: Anatomy of a Tony Nomination

By Jeff Walsh

When I last interviewed Robin De Jesus in February 2007, it was the afternoon before the opening night of the Off-Broadway run of In The Heights. The show has since shut its doors Off-Broadway, retooled for a proper Broadway run, and has since swept the Tony nominations in the musical category, with 13 nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (for show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda), Best Direction and Best Choreography.

But the nomination that brings us together here is Best Featured Performer in a Musical, for which Robin is one of the five nominees. I've been a fan of Robin's since first seeing him in the sweet movie Camp, where he played a gay teen with a straight crush. I'll be seeing In The Heights the next time I'm on the east coast (the show was dark between its Off-Broadway and Broadway runs when I was there last time).

So, between feeling so happy for Robin and figuring I should jump on any chance to feature a 23-year-old openly gay actor nominated for creating a role in a hot show on Broadway, we jumped on the phone recently to capture his life in this unique window before the awards air on CBS on June 15.

jeff's picture

In the Heights, headed to Broadway...

First of all, I love the idea of a Broadway show making cool viral video to promote themselves, like this:

Xanadu: Broadway Review

By Jeff Walsh

Xanadu, the new Broadway musical based on the old train wreck of a 1980s Olivia Newton John movie, is hard to pin down. It's definitely a campy, amusing time at the theater. It has an excellent cast and staging. And it calls to mind other jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia, Footloose, Saturday Night Fever, only it never really lives up to all you hope it might be.

To be fair, the entire premise didn't leave writer Douglas Carter Beane all that much to work with. Sonny spends his time drawing chalk murals on Venice Beach sidewalks. He draws a picture of Greek muses, which comes to life, and the Greek goddess Clio becomes his muse and inspires him to follow his dream, which is to open a roller disco. That's pretty much it, as well as a score by the Electric Light Orchestra.

The show doesn't put on any airs, though. It is completely aware of its frivolity, one character even refers to the show onstage as "This is like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people!"

Naked Boys Singing: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

Naked Boys Singing is coming out on DVD just in time for the holidays, so if you weren't aware you still have time to adjust your gift lists. Alternatively, it makes for a good item to put on your own list if you want that extra shove to make your Mom ask you directly.

Now, I just reviewed this movie back in September, so little has changed since that time. The bulk of the review is there.

However, the DVD also includes a documentary on the making of the movie that plays almost as long as the movie itself. It was actually an interesting watch, just to see the insanity they put themselves through to make it. You learn that the movie was shot in less than four days, that some cast members didn't know they planned to film in front of a live audience, and also cast members freaking out about doing the nudity (which you'd never suspect from seeing the finished product).

Alan Cumming: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Alan Cumming does it all well: actor, screenwriter, director, novelist, singer... hell, he even has his own fragrance. I got the chance to sit down with Cumming (that's my hand on his shoulder) when he was in town for the showing of Suffering Man's Charity at the San Francisco gay film festival back in June.

As these things often work, the interview is done in the afternoon on the day the movie is screening, so you basically interview him about a movie you haven't seen, and then once you see it, he's out of town. I was holding the interview to time it with the long-passed DVD release of "Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In All The World," which never seems to show up in my mailbox. So, I figure, we'll just run the interview on Thanksgiving, since Alan is someone for whom the community is thankful.

In Rick & Steve, Cumming plays the elderly, HIV-positive Chuck, who adds a lot of un-PC color to the amazingly funny proceedings. Back when I reviewed that, a few of you did the math regarding his four-year relationship with his 19-year-old boyfriend, and were rightfully appalled. Hopefully LOGO goes for another season of Rick & Steve, which is just amazing work from queer cinema wunderkind Q. Allan Brocka.

Of course, like a true theater queen, I start the interview with the Cumming that I know best, the one who injected an amazing amount of fresh energy into Cabaret for its restaging on Broadway a decade ago. His Tony-winning role as the emcee ratcheted up the role's sex appeal and the good news (possibly an Oasis exclusive?) ... he might be hitting the boards again for the show's anniversary:

The Color Purple: Theater Review

By Jeff Walsh

It's hard for me to review the Oprah Winfrey-produced touring production of "The Color Purple" without starting at the end and working backwards.

I should point out that since this musical is based on a 24-year-old novel by Alice Walker and a 22-year-old movie by Steven Spielberg, I will be making no attempt to write around "spoilers." If you don't know the story, and don't want to, stop reading.

I don't know that I have ever seen a more compelling musical to trumpet atheism than "The Color Purple," though it is packaged as a spiritual show. The final words sung in the show are "Look what God has done. Amen."

To which the only rational response could be: If that's God, you can keep Him.

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