Monday, June 30, 2008

Photo of the day: Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey is beautiful and at the same time overwhelming. The fact that so much history is contained and has been virtually created by this structure is amazing. As much a graveyard as it is a church there are massive, expensive memorials to remember those who have died. Kings and Queens, poets and politicians rest in the confines of the Abbey in hopes they will find eternal recognition for their earthly fame.

So today when Sandi and I visited Westminster Abbey on my day off, I fondly remembered someone who passed on recently. He is not buried here nor is he British. He was a writer somewhat famous in the United States but certainly not the household name of Charles Dickens. I remembered my friend Pat McCormick. In case the name doesn't ring a bell, Pat wrote for the Tonight Show as well as other shows and was one of the funniest people in the world. He had a twisted comic mind. He is best remembered by those who don't know him as the 6' 8" man in the white suite partnered with Paul Williams in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. I didn't know him well, but enough to be around him to have personal knowledge of his incredibly wicked wit. This is a story I heard at his memorial service at the Writers Guild Theatre in Los Angeles three years ago.

Pat was an over-powering man not only in size at 6'8" but he could also use his humor as a weapon. He was a mischievous red-haired Irishman who could have been a leprechaun on steroids. He made a lot of money working as a writer and was known to spend it on drinks and Cuban cigars. He was known for one other thing. Pat would drop his pants for any reason for humor or just to say he did.

On a trip to London with a friend, heading to the airport after spending most of their time in Pubs, Pat said to his friend,
"Here we are in London. What would my friends say back in LA if I had been in London and I didn't drop my pants on the tomb of Alfred Lord Tennyson." The friend said, "You're right they would never understand."
"Turn the cab around, my good man." He said, "Take us to Westminster Abbey."

Pat and his friend arrive at Westminster. They asked the cab to wait. Pat lit a cigar and headed to poets corner. He found Alfred Lord Tennyson's grave, dropped his pants and stood for a moment to reflect. Suddenly, a guard ran up to Pat and said, "Sir, Sir, there is no smoking in Westminster Abbey."

Here is to you Pat. You were remembered as I stood on Alfred Lord Tennyson's grave today. Hope you are making Tennyson laugh at this very moment.
As you were,

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Subject: Signs

Photo of the day: This phrase is written above the pie menu upstair of the Porcupine Pub at the corner of Charring Cross Road and Great New Port Street, half a block from the theatre. It says "The Heart of Theatre Land".  It makes me feel good to think that my theatre is half a block from the Heart of London Theatre Land. 

On the Piccadilly underground there is another sign that says, "there are beggars and buskers operating on this train, do not encourage their presence here by supporting them." 

I think I was well into my 30's before I learned what a busker is. It was the same moment I found out the Canadian government considers me one.

As I was entering Canadan immigration to work years ago they asked me the category of my job. I chose ventriloquist that day. To no one's amazement ventriloquist was not on the list of jobs for Canada. The closest they could come to an official description was "busker." They told me that it was a term loosely associated with street performers

Here in London the term is used a lot. I guess I don't mind being linked to street performers, some of my best friends are "buskers". I take offense at being linked to "beggar". I don't consider a performer of any kind a beggar even if their venue is a street corner.  At least the street performer is working.  Working at what he does even if their venue is the street. Actually I have seen plenty of buskers here in London but not many "beggars". By this time in New York I developed a personal relationship with several "panhandlers" on my way to the theatre. 

On the streets of Chicago there was a beggar/panhandler who had a sign that said, "Need money for cheap wine." I stopped and asked, "Money for cheap wine?" He said, "Yes, and I promise not to use it on food or shelter." I gave him three dollars. 

The best beggar/panhandler/busker I ever saw was on the streets of Vancouver when I was doing Broken Badges.  There was a man standing next to an open violin case where coins could be tossed.  His arms were crossed and he looked very pissed off.  There was a sign on the violin case that said, "Please Help me. Someone Stole my Violin." It was a brilliant ploy, I gave him five dollars. 

There are signs all over London advertising "All Bob's Women". That's the Italian show which had its last performance today at the Arts Theatre.  I sneaked into the theatre for the last half hour of the show.  (Andrew I am trying to be kind). It was unwatchable.  The talent was good, but the dialogue, the music, the set, the plot, the sound, the lighting and the direction was completely wrong.  It looked like a high school production that wasn't ready yet. Apparently the Italians believe,  "What is a bad idea without poor execution." 
My son Brandon is in town. The opening night is a couple of days away, tomorrow is my first day off since I arrived. I am very tired and ready for a rest. Eleanor A. made a comment on last nights blog that indicates the Seagull is a perfect mascot for The Two and Only, Thanks El.
As you were,

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Picture of the day: A self timer picture of me at the make up table.

At the Atlantic theatre my dressing room was called "the fortress of solitude" after Superman's hideaway at the North Pole. Appropriately named since I kept it as cold as I could. It is my nature to keep hotel rooms and dressing rooms as cold as possible without turning blue.

In contrast the old Arts Theater has no air conditioning in the dressing room. It is hot and with only an electric fan for comfort I open an old four- pane window for circulation. A wooden latch turns and the frame swings inward from the bottom held firmly by a rusty chain at the top.

The window looks out over the roofs and back sides of the surrounding buildings. It is an alien landscape of ancient moss covered bricks and antique pipes, shadowed from the direct sun and untouched by human activity. It is not the view one would consider beautiful. But beauty is sometimes in the tale told by the grotesque. This is exactly the view that Noel Coward looked out on when he was here.

That window becomes sort of a time portal for me. The smells and sounds that waft through are ageless. I hear the muffled voices of people speaking in accents right out of a Dickens novel. The odor of unfamiliar spices seep into my room from the restaurants below. Then the scent of London summer rain sweeps it all clean providing a new canvas for this living art to express itself once more.

The thing that seems to warp my sense of time the most is the trumpeting voices of a pair of Seagulls in the area. Their call would be drowned out by the city noise of the West End and Leister Square on the other side of the building.  But here in this unchanging back lot of my theater they are operatic stars.

Their call is not constant. Like the precision of Big Ben they seem to only chime at 6:45 in the evening, for about a minute, just as I am preparing for the show. A few familiar shrieks and they are silent until the next day. Their distance from me and the echo off the brick buildings creates a haunting effect. A Hollywood sound man would be jealous.

I assume they are not aware of this precise timing. It is most likely part of a human schedule like taking out the evening trash or the opening of a Seagull friendly restaurant. All I know is they are the heralds of another evening at the Arts theatre. It makes me smile and I forget about the heat for a second.
There are sounds at the theater sometimes even better than applause.
As you were,

Friday, June 27, 2008

Photo of the Day: Here is the picture I wanted to share last night but couldn't.  This is taken from just around the black legs up stage left of our set. That is Julia standing with her back to us.  We are having trouble with the air conditioning system. They say there is one, but it is a sauna on stage and in the audience. And you know the rule "Comedy is cold". 

It is hard to see in this picture but if you look at the middle of the balcony you will see a television monitor. It broadcasts a picture of the musical conductor for the Italian show. Most musicals do this when the conductor cannot be seen in the pit.  However, as you notice it is a huge television sitting on the edge of the balcony not below it.  The cast can see the conductor clearly but the 6 seats directly behind the monitor can't see the stage. Prime seats in the "Circle" with an obstructed view.   Now that the Italian show is gone I assume they will move that monitor.  Good thing, Paul noticed last night that it is held in position with only gaffers tape. Yipes! Look out below. I think the entire production of the Italian show was held together with gaffers tape.

Circus trainers used to poke the Elephants in the butt with a broom handle so they would pass gas back stage rather than in the ring.  The new Elephants would wince with pain and flinch with humiliation at the invasion.  The trainer poked  an old Elephant who had been with the circus for years. The old Elephant had no reaction but simply turned to the trainer and said, "How's the house?"  

Okay that joke may not be funny or even coherent in my reciting it but I have a reason for telling it. It points out that eventually you can become accustomed to most anything if you have to do it long enough.  I wear a microphone hidden in my hair. The first time I wore it there, the clips pulled, the cord felt like a python on my head and I couldn't even move my neck from the pain.  I developed a couple of bald spots on my scalp where the clips pulled out the hair. 
Although it is usually the sound man's job, I starting doing it myself long before the Broadway run.  Tonight I was placing the clips in various positions on my head and combing my hair to camoflauge the cord.  It all seemed so simple since I have done it hundreds of times now. As one of the clips pinched my scalp I didn't wince I just thought to myself, "How's the house?"

We are slowly getting our show up to speed. This was show 3 and the sound is getting better and better. The Italian show set will be removed soon and suddenly we will have massive amounts of room backstage.

It was a small crowd tonight, but they were very responsive. We have only set one curtain call for the show. Tonight I think we could have taken three more. They continued applauding for a very long time after the final bow.  I don't think I have ever had that experience before.  

So far I can say that London audiences react slower than I am used to.  There are times when I have moved on in the script thinking there isn't a laugh, just when it begins.  I need to learn to wait on it and trust it. They are a little more restrained here, and tend to show their reaction more at the end of the performance than during the show.  I'm not sure that three shows qualify me to comment on the average response of the audiences, but it is enough time for now to say I notice a difference between the British and American audiences. It will require a little adjustment.  I am looking forward to learning how. 

I know people here like our show. I really hope we catch on and do business. It feels different this time around and I think this is just the beginning of a really wonderful run. Several of the cast members of the musical version of  "Gone with the Wind" were at the show last night.  They just closed here in London. One of the actors said that our show was the "best thing in the West End".  I am aware that we all commit "green room perjury" from time to time, but I think his comments were sincere.  I do think our show is different from anything that is running here.  The ticket brokers tell me that this is just what theatre patrons are looking for. The marketing and selling of my show is so far from what I understand.  All I can do is the best show I can and hope enough people want to see it so we can continue doing it.  I do so love telling this story.  
As you were,

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Internet is a mystery to me. There is a picture I wanted to up load for you tonight. I have uploaded pictures many times as you know, but for some reason this particular picture will not be shown. The "Picture of the Day" was to be my perspective of the Arts Theater as I walked out onto the set. It really is a great picture. I took it tonight before the audience came in. I promise when I can figure out why it won't load I will include it later.

Tonight was another show, number two if you are counting. The audience was very nice and very enthusiastic. The sound was better. We discovered the reason for the odd sound last night. It seems that an hour before show time they (not sure who they are but it wasn't anyone on our team) moved the sound console from a position at the back of the theater to the booth where the lights are controlled. Besides the fact that Nathan (our sound man) could not hear the house sound in the little room, they disconnected all of his patches, and reconnected them incorrectly, so nothing was the same. Very odd.

As you know we are sharing stage with another show. Last night was the first time we had to go from our show to theirs. Our set had to be struck and theirs had to be set up. The schedule called for this to happen in 30 minutes. (We end at 9:00 and the Italian show had a curtain time of 9:30) No one thought this was possible, but it was attempted nonetheless. In reality we finished our strike at 9:45 working as fast as we could. The other crew took over and it took another thirty minutes to get their set up. They had a curtain of 10:15. The whole thing was a nightmare and no one was looking forward to having to do this routine every night.

As I came off the stage tonight my company manager Julia said that the other show, the Italian show, had been cancelled for the evening and wouldn't be performing. It was a tremendous relief, not having to do the Chinese fire drill to turn the sets. Later in my dressing room our producer Andrew told me that the Italian show had closed. I think they had a total of three performances. There is a rumor that they will do a Saturday matinee swan song, but it is all very confused right now. Based on the reviews and the disorganization of the company, I would say they are done.

No one likes to see a show close so soon. I mean there were six musicians and seven cast members who were just trying to ply their craft. They are all talented individuals who got stuck in a project that just didn't seem to have any life. The reviews were not kind and that seemed to seal the fate of the show. I have to admit it is much easier on us not to have to tear our set down every night, but we agreed to do that when we came to this theatre. I don't know if they will try to book another show into the 9:30 slot. I hope not. It just doesn't work unless you have a huge stage and a crew of hundreds.

As I left the theater tonight Andrew admonished me to "Be kind to the other show in your blog tonight". I hope I have not been unkind to them. It is no secret that we are much better off being the only show at the Arts Theatre, and it was really a hassle trying to make both our shows work in the same limited space, but I am sorry there are actors and musicians out of work through no fault of their own.

Once again I am grateful for the experience of "The Two and Only". I mean, the odds on any show running are astronomical. A show like mine must increase the odds to a factor of ten. But here we are, a Tony Award Winning show looking forward to a great run in London's West End. I am loving every minute of it. I know how lucky I am and plan to live in the moment to enjoy every second.

With humility and artistic sadness I say, "So long Italian show, we hardly knew ye."
As you were,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Picture of the day: What an American Tony winner's dressing room looks like when he plays the West End in London. -

One comment on the dressing room. It is quaint and I did straighten it up after I took this picture. It is small but functional. When I moved in there was a "make shift" clothes rack that went from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room. It was a terrible construction of two 2X4's with pipes suspended through holes, but could not be moved with out major tools. The door to the dressing room wouldn't open all the way because of this obstacle. I asked them the first day if they could maybe get rid of it while my show was running since I did not need the extra wardrobe space. Nothing was ever done. I was kind of blown off and thought I would have to live with it for the run.

Over the course of the last 24 hours two things happened, actually three. First: the "other" show at this theatre opened to scathing reviews. One reviewer said, "Thank God Tony winner Jay Johnson:Two and Only is also at this theatre to save its reputation." Second: our show did our first preview tonight to a really wonderfully expressive audience. It was the first time the theater staff had seen our show. Before I got off stage the make shift wardrobe was gone. There is nothing like the smell of a hit that will change the landlord's attitude.

It is much to early to compare American audiences to British. However, based on tonight's reaction I can make some immediate assumptions. The British audience listens more and reacts at the end rather than all the way through the show. This is not to say they were not responsive, they were. I just felt like they were listening with much more intensity. At one point they were listening so quietly I thought something was wrong.

They are also quicker to respond with applause when they are impressed, than an American audience. I think I was interrupted ten time with applause during Bob's routine. They got every nuance and went crazy for Darwin. At the end of the show there was an explosion of applause that took me by surprise. It really was amazing. When I returned for my second curtain call there was a man who came from the back of the house to the front of the stage simply to shake my hand. He was very dear and I gave him the Spaulding eyes I used in the show.

There were some problems with the sound and a couple of the lighting cues were late, but this it only the second time the crew has seen the show all the way through. It is the first time they have seen it with and audience. I think they are very capable, but I have been spoiled with the Wiz and John Ivy.

There is a controversy in the New York theater world over whether you count the previews or only count the shows after the official opening. The traditionalist would say that the first show will be July 2nd opening night. I figure a show is a show and you count performances from day one. For me this was day one show number one. I couldn't be more pleased. It is exciting. This theatre has a unique energy and if we can capture it every night this run will be incredible.

I am tired and there is much more work to be done. But if it all ends tomorrow I can say that I performed in the West End of London on June 25, 2008.
As you were,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No pictures to day. I didn't have a chance to even take my camera out of my pocket. I guess you would call this the 10 out of 12 days. In America that is when you are allowed to work the show for ten out of twelve hours to get it done and open. However, there really isn't anything like that over here. The unions are really not so strong and that is a union distinction. Everyone is working as hard as they can. Of course since the stage is doing double duty, there has to be time to change the set for the other show. But we are in great shape considering there are people running the show who have only seen it two times by now. The back stage is really cramped, and hard to move around. The stairs to the stage from the dressing room are dark and steep. There is no air conditioning at the theater. London never got that hot, until the last couple of years. Something like global warming has changed the summers. It has been hot and promises to get hotter. It may become an issue, but there are so many unknowns at this point that is just another on the list. However, as my friend Wylie reminds me, we have done this show under some very strange circumstances since we left Broadway. This is not even on the "difficult" radar in comparison to other venues.

My dressing room is small and they have built a make shift clothes rack in the middle of the entrance. The door hits it and won't open all the way because of it. I don't need the wardrobe space so I am getting them to take it out for my run. There is really no place to store things except my dressing room. The large pelican trunk I used to ship most of my show in has been an issue. It seems to always be in the way no matter where you try to put it. However, there is a small closet space just behind the door where the monster fits like a glove. That gave me a lot more room. Several of my smaller road cases fit in side of it so, it is all just a matter of figuring it out, and I just haven’t really had the dressing room long enough to arrange.

Tomorrow we will run the show for sound cues. Then run the show for lighting cues and then do sort of a “head to tail” run through, and set for the first public performance that evening. I am looking forward to it. The energy of this theatre seems to be good, but that will tell when we have some patrons. Because this is our first week we are not doing a matinee on Thursday, which is a good thing for me. It will give me a day to recoup before we get into the double show run.

I love London but it does not have the same creative energy for me that New York has. I seemed to find a story around every corner in New York to write about. Here it is a little more ‘calm’ and less frantic so you have to look for the stories.
I’m sure they are there and I will have a lot of time to sleuth them out, particularly when everyone goes away. My kids are coming in a few days; Sandi is here as are Murphy, Paul and Clifton. Soon everyone will have to be on his or her way and I will have much too much time to look for stories to write about.
More later.
As you were,

Monday, June 23, 2008

It was a very long day and I just returned to the apartment. I am exhausted and can't write in coherent sentences. There is much to tell and no time tonight to tell it. I think our show is going to be fine. The other show in the theater is really difficult to work around. Their set is massive. There is no room back stage, I can't imagine the turn around when we do both of these shows in an evening. They keep telling me not to worry about it, and I am trying to do that. The other show will open for the press tomorrow night. It will actually be their second performance. They didn't get it together to have more that one preview. The buzz is not good. Falling asleep, I hope to expound tomorrow when I have a chance to reflect.
As you were,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Picture of the Day: A string puppet working the West End Live Festival today. The crafting is beautiful, but the way the puppeteer was animating this guy was almost surreal.

Another full day in London. The tech people were working at the theater starting at 9:30am to focus the lights. Clifton our wonderful LD came directly from the Airport and started to work. As we knew it would be, the stage is 20% smaller than the Helen Hayes theatre. This means that we really have to start all over setting the trunks and Clifton has different angles to figure on when focusing. When I got to the theatre about 10:30 the set had been flown in and the trunks were piled on stage. This is a very intimate stage and you might even call it a jewel box, but at that moment with all the trunks strewn about it looked like a airport baggage claim nightmare. I wondered if it would ever look like my show.

Slowly as we find the right trunks to go in the right places the set begins to take shape like some jigsaw puzzle. After a few lights are focused and the gels are set it begins to take on that magic look. There is not a bad seat in the house and the "Circle" ( the balcony to us Americans) is a really beautiful angel on the show. There are some seats on the sides of the balcony, almost like boxes that I thought would be really bad seats and they turn out to be good seats. There are perhaps four seats in the stage left boxes that have an obscured view of Harry's trunk, but that is all. I was remarking to Clifton that the stage was small. He pointed out that because it is the size it is there would be more focus on the performance. I think people will really be involved.

We had to stop by 3:00. Since it was Murphy's Birthday Andrew took, us out to a lunch at the Ivy. It was Sunday dinner with a typical English clientele. Unfortunately our table was anything but typical. The party consisted of Murphy, Paul, Sandi, Andrew, Clifton an American television writer friend of Paul's and me. As we do, the stories began and soon we were laughing. Several times we were given a glance from other tables. It was a pleasant look as if to see who was having such a good time. I never felt like we were being obnoxious, but I do know we were having the best time of any other party there.

We got Clifton to the Dolphin House, which is central headquarters for The Two and Only, and got him checked in. The four and only had about an hour before we were expected at a dinner party across town. Ron Able is in town, staying with his cousin. He decided to invite us to the house for more Murphy birthday celebrating.

The dinner was fabulous and the company was great. The house was classic. A 1720 structure that Ron's cousins Stuart and Gezzel have remodeled. It was originally on the far North end of London, until the town took in the farm land beyond. A four story row house with basically two rooms on each floor. At one point the building was a book store with apartment above. The book store became the headquarters for the Socialist movement at the turn of the 19th century. We had dinner in a room that once was the meeting place of Karl Marx, George Bernard Shaw and painter William Morris. There were definite vibes coming from the structure even though it is now quite modern. It just seemed like we were in some way having dinner with all the people who had ever been in that room.

As Eddie Izzard once said, "I'm from Europe, where the history comes from". How true. Dining in a house that was built before America was settled will change your perspective.
As you were,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Picture of the day: Me posing with my poster in front of the Arts Theatre. In vaudeville days the poster hanging outside the theatre was referred to as a "three sheet". That expressed the actual size of the poster. I think posters sizes are still referred to as "sheets". When performers would stand outside the theater next to their poster to get noticed, they called that "four sheeting", adding one more sheet size to the poster. So here I am "four sheeting"

The Leicester Square festival "West End Live" was open to the public today. There were thousands crowded in to the square to watch the show. To my surprise they really listened and laughed. The TAO girls were handing out fliers and even had to go back to the theatre to get more. They said the response was great. There does seem to be a nice buzz starting for the show.

Tomorrow we will focus lights and on Monday we will start learning the cues. I guess it really is a matter of teaching the cues to a new set of associates. I miss the Wiz, John Ivy, Greg, Suzie and all the people who have steered this show. I'm sure that the "newbeeies" will be able to step up to the moment. But there are times when I just want to freeze the show at the Atlantic Theatre days. But if I could do that, I wouldn't be here now experiencing this moment. After we tech the show it will be full steam ahead for a Wednesday opening, and then it will be a matter of settling in and learning what these audiences want.

For most of the day "the four and only" walked around London's West End with really no clue where we were going. We just explored streets that looked interesting and window shopped. At one point we were at Covent Gardens to watch the street performers. There was a tall unicycle performer, I mean the unicycle was tall, I really couldn't tell how tall he was. The reason for that was he wore only a gold lamé speedo swimsuit. I think he was eventually going to juggle long knives, but I couldn't make myself focus on him enough to to figure out what his act was.

When Sandi and I were here in London in 1974 there was a shop in Covent Gardens called Polloch's Toy Theaters. To my surprise and delight the shop is still there. They sell Toy Theaters and puppets of all kinds. A toy theatre is a large magazine size book printed on stiff paper. If you cut out all the parts and assemble them according the instructions you actually have a full and complete production in miniature of a play. This includes the cast, scene changes and the script. I bought one years ago and put it together and and actually performed it once. The theater was torn down years later to make room for actual children in the family. I still have one or two in unassembled form. Perhaps one day I will build and perform them for grand kids.

They sell paper productions of Cinderella, Richard III, Dracula, Hamlet and a couple of English Pantomime plays. The manager told me that Richard III was their best seller. "I think it is the carnage in the show that is appealing." They also have a couple of Davenport vent figures which have recently been reproduced from the original Ensile molds. They are really beautiful. I love the look of a Davenport figure, I can spot a Davenport in a room full of puppets. They are distinctive by the lip movement. Whereas an American vent figure has a slot jaw that moves much like a Nutcracker; a Davenport has a leather jaw and the lips open with out the slot that is evident in a nutcracker mouth. Usually a Davenport also has a moving upper lip as well. I spent some time there and met the owner and invited him to the show. It is one of the great things about being with Murphy and Paul. In a matter of minutes any person you come in contact with can become a friend and eventually gets an invitation to come and see my show. Simon, the manager, said he would put our fliers on the counter if we brought them by. I really do think he will come. Just a side note. Simon had pixie ears. They stuck out and they were pointed just like the elves in Lord of the Rings.
At first I thought he was going for some Star Trek Mr. Spock affect, but they were definitely a birth day gift.

We continued to walk around the city until we got hungry enough to start looking for a restaurant to have dinner. We ended up resting our feet at Trafalgar Square. There were hundreds of people just sitting, doing the same thing, enjoying the view and relaxing. After we recharged we walked out of Trafalgar down some street that looked appealing. We rounded the corner and suddenly found ourselves back at Leicester Square where we had started our adventure today. Chinatown is a block away so we had a wonderful dinner. Number 6b for four people.

We all laughed a lot today. The best part of doing this show is laughing with the four and only. In fact the best part of my life has been spent laughing. I am blessed with friends, friends who like to laugh. Here is to enjoying life and laughing. The rest comes easy if you can do that.
As you were,

Friday, June 20, 2008

Here I am in Leicester Square being hung and racked by a couple of 10 foot tall wenches (who had nice racks themselves). Not unlike the Broadway on Broadway show at Times Square, the West End holds a weekend festival to showcase all the shows that are running in town on an outdoor stage at Leicester Square. The wenches were walking around on opening night when the sponsors show up to drink free booze and eat finger foods. They are supposed to be seeing a preview of all the performers who will be working the stage for the week end. However, all performances, especially my own were up staged by flowing beverages and waiters circulating with snacks. I will perform again for the masses on Saturday and Sunday. I doubt that anything will connect with the rabble, but our TAO girls will be out in force, handing out pamphlets and showing videos. Other than that we have been on hold until Clifton, Murphy and Paul showed up to really start to work. Clifton will focus lights on Sunday and the set will all be in and set by Saturday. This means that Monday we will hit the stage running.
As you were,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

(Picture of the Day -
This is a picture of the St. Martin Theatre- If you can read the Marquee it says... "56th Year". Yep, you read correctly. It is the longest running show in history.Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap" has been running at this location for Fifty-six years- Producers claim they have still not recouped, writer Christie is still waiting on royalties.. that's an investors joke)

Today was a day selling the show to the ticket agencies. Ticketmaster/Telecharge have it all locked up in New York. I remember going over to their offices on 42nd Avenue, and spending some time talking to the operators there. Here is London, however, there are probably five or so big agencies who will be selling the show. Each one needed to be visited and stroked, and it was a full day of it for me. I was really excited about their response. They said that the market is ready for a "fringy" show that isn't a musical. Most said that there are too many musicals in town and they are not selling very well. Spamalot has given notice. The biggest ticket agency said that this is just what Londoners are looking for. From their lips to the box office gross.

I also met with the TAO girls. They have hired ten cute girls to hand out pamphlets and promote the show one on one. They will be wearing tee shirts with the logo and they'll go around to bars and gyms to pitch the show. I had a meeting with them today as well. They are really excited. I would definitely go anywhere these girls recommended. The Producers have armed them with not only all the printed material but video ipods as well. The ipods have clips from the show down loaded. They can place some noise reduction head phones on a potential ticket buyer, and show them scenes from the show. I think that is a great idea, which could not have been done even 5 years ago. I think this is the first time it has been done for a show although I am sure this will not be the last.

After a long day of introducing Bob around, I took a cab back to the Dolphin House. The usual route past Parliament was blocked due to some function. The cab had to detour. I realized suddenly that we were passing Buckingham Palace. I guess I thought all the familar buildings in London were further apart. It seems all the attractions are really within blocks of each other.

I know this is a critical time for the show, getting it noticed and people aware. However, I feel like a fire horse smelling smoke, I can't wait to get on the stage and tell this story again. This week end I will do the London equvalent of Broadway on Broadway. They are building an outdoor stage at Leister Square which will showcase numbers from all of the shows running. I remember having a great time doing this function on Broadway. It is a rare chance to meet your peers and hang with all the other actors in shows at the West End. The forecast calls for rain all week end, but they have been wrong more than right this week on the weather. We hope that tend continues for the next few days.

Murphy and Paul are coming in tomorrow. The Four and Only, (Murph, Paul, Sandi and me) hope to go to Stone Henge on summer solstice this Saturday. The producer scoffed and said, "Why do Americans want to see a bunch of rocks?" If this happens in spite of the rain and I get a picture, you know I will publish it here.
As you were,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To the left is one of the banner ads for my show. Just up the street the London company of Avenue Q is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre. With my ads and theirs it looks like the Muppets have taken over the West End.

So I was confused about the interview today. It was not a reporter who is a ventriloquist with a monkey, as previously stated. The reporter was a puppeteer and very interested in ventriloquism. The ventriloquist with the monkey puppet happens to be Nina Conti. She is quite famous here in the UK. Her father is actor Tom Conti but Nina has made a name for herself doing ventriloquism. She has a one woman show opening at the SoHo Theater just a few days before mine. She performed her show in Australia while I was on Broadway. Her show won awards in Australia. I won awards in LA and New York. I understand her show is a tour de force for an actor ventriloquist. Evidently the Monkey character remains the constant while Nina becomes many other characters.

She is really terrific and we had a grand time being interviewed together. It is very rare that I find a ventriloquist who has the heart of an artist about their work. She does. She sees it like an acting challenge, as do I. She is tired of defending ventriloquism as a "dead art" as much as me. We found much in common about how our art is interpreted. As fabulous as the afternoon was, it became a little difficult when the puppets came out,. Darwin was a little overwhelming. Her monkey, named "Monkey", is very Curious Georgeish, about one eighth the size of Darwin, quiet and nice, while Darwin is big, loud and offensive. At one point I thought Darwin was going to eat the little Monkey. At on point Darwin said, "This looks like something I threw up." She admitted to me later that Darwin scared her. She said, "It's funny. I mean being on the outside. This is what I do too, but, to suddenly fall victim to the illusion and feel intimidated by your monkey was very strange indeed."

What are the odds of two ventriloquist shows opening in London a week apart. The reporter seemed to think that we are the vanguards of some wave of new appreciation of the art of ventriloquism. I think it is wonderful. We decided that we should do a show together. Nina said, "Not a show we should do the film". That is a great idea. You heard it here first.

And it is only day two of this London adventure. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.
As you were,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Today was a free day. Free as far as my time is concerned. London is very expensive. Someone told me you have to forget trying to equate prices in dollars. You see a hamburger is 8.40, and you think that is a little expensive for just a hamburger. But if you realize it's the price in pounds and, at about two dollars to the pound, you are paying about $17.00 for that burger your head spins. You just have to say do I want the 8.40 burger or the 5.00 salad, you starve thinking about ten dollar salads on actors per Diem.
It is free to walk around and see the sites, and most Museums are as well. Free museums, what a civilly cultural thing to do. The Parliament building is beautiful and I snapped this picture of the statue of Richard I, Richard the Lion Hearted. This is about as close as you can get.  I think they beefed up security for the George Bush visit.  The black fence in the picture is the usual perimeter, but there are massive black barriers ten feet further out now. They are temporary, but obviously strong enough to stop a truck.  I didn't take any pictures because it just looks too ugly next to the beauty of the old building.  

It is interesting how the Brits see our President. I think they are just as ready for him to leave office as us Americans.  There were massive demonstrations while Bush was here.  Some think the government over reacted and was harsh on those who just wanted to point out the numbers of deaths from this war.  Here they show coffins arriving from the war on the evening news, and add to the body count nightly.

Tomorrow begins a lot of publicity. At one meeting I will speak with a reporter who is actually a ventriloquist. She even works with a Monkey. I think the idea is to have a monkey to monkey interview for the article.  Andrew is doing a lot of on line promotion.  There was a really great email blast that went out today.  It was a limited time two for one ticket promo.  It was called an "early bird" special with Nethernore as the proclaiming iconic image.  It was fun.

I am anxious to get the show on its feet. We are sharing stage with another show, don't know how that is going to work.  They fly our set and double hang lights. Their set folds back and hides behind ours. We do the early show and "Bob's Girls" (a sexy new musical according to their ads) do a late show.  We wanted the early slot since we have more time to reset the stage. When the smaller stages are working this summer, there will be four different shows going on in the same building.  The smaller stages are really like comedy clubs, with less than a hundred people sitting at small tables.  At any rate, there will be other actors and performers around so it won't get lonely.  This is going to be a very interesting journey for this show on so many levels.
As you were,

Monday, June 16, 2008

I meet Andrew, my producer, at the Theater today. We continued on to have lunch with the other principles of the company. I met the publicist, the company manager, and Andrew's producing partner Peter. They are really great people and I am blessed to be with such a supportive, creative and delightful bunch. I don't know if it is the British attitudes that are so compelling to me or if this just happens to be a unique and great group of people. Either way the energy of the bunch feels wonderfully correct. We had lunch at a private club down a single file alley between two theaters called the Two Bridges. It was once a private club for actors whom years ago would not be served in a "normal" establishment. It has changed clientele but is still protected by a locked door which is accessed only by speaking the correct name into an intercom. Not unlike some Chicago speakeasies in the 1930's.

To get to the theater, and ultimately the speakeasy, from my apartment you walk along the Thames, make your way past Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square several other West End theatres and there it is, the Arts Theatre. It was like a highlights tour of London a tourist might take. I did not anticipate I would be living so close to so many icons of Britannia.

I saw our new London logo on the marquee on the side of the Arts Theatre.

I am not sure how one can describe that feeling. This is the picture that I immediately took. But you can only photograph an image not an emotion. By the way, Sandi and the boys gave me a new digital camera for Fathers Day. It is small and much more powerful than my last digital. I have decided to take a lot of pictures of this adventure and post them here. I know this may cause the blog to load a little slower, but it is a better way to document my experience.

It is an old theatre, and very intimate. There are several smaller stages in the same building, along with rehearsal spaces. They tell me that it is always buzzing with activity; there are different shows coming into the small stage and people coming for auditions in the rehearsal space. There is also a pub that they say used to be inhabited by the likes of Noel Coward. I think it will be really great for our show. I assumed the feeling would be like the Helen Hayes, but it is most like our run at the Arts Theater in Cambridge. Funny that the name of the theaters is the same. But walking through Harvard to get to that Arts theatre, and walking through Westminster Abbey to get to this Arts theater is very similar.

I am tired, and so glad that Sandi will be with me for the next few weeks. She is the best at establishing roots and setting up a normal routine. Our little apartment is great. Much like the apartment I had for the Broadway run. Tonight we visited the market on the property and bought some food for the little fridge. We put the eggs in the egg holder which is what you do, after all. When we closed the door all the eggs smashed on the top of the unit. The tops were either taken off completely or cracked beyond saving. The egg holder had been replaced incorrectly. Needles to say, had eggs for dinner tonight.

I promise that the blog will be filled with more information than just the menu I had for dinner, but for now, that is the first day. There are many to come. Thanks for reading.
As you were,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

We are leaving this week for London, with a stop over in New York for Tony weekend. The fact that the Tony's are on this Sunday was just an accident of scheduling, but it is nice to be there and remember last years festivities. I guess once the Tony is in your blood, you always have a twinge when they come around again.

So last Friday I was the "live" in studio guest for GSN (the Game Show Network). I did not realize my connection to games shows is as strong as it is. I have hosted two game shows and appeared on countless others. GSN has them all in the vaults of the Los Angeles studio. I appeared between breaks of vintage game show repeats with hosts of the live show Fred and Heidi. We talked about lots of things, sort of a shot gun interview. They show clips from Soap and from the game shows I appeared in. It was a time warp on the screen bouncing back and forth between myself today and the image of a myself 28 years ago. It is an interesting observation to see yourself on screen in a situation so long ago it has been forgotten. One becomes almost an objective viewer seeing yourself as others saw you decades ago. I'm not sure if the feeling is spooky, embarrassing or completely narcissistic. Whatever the emotion; it is odd.

At some point I mentioned to one of the producers that Sandi and I did a week of "Tattletales" decades ago. Tattletales was sort of a celebrity Newlywed Game show. Celebrities and their partners would try to match correct answers for points. Bert Convey was host. The producer asked me when I had last seen a tape of that show. The fact is, I don't think I ever saw it. Like most game show tapings we did a week shows in one day. We probably set the VCR to record them when they aired, but I have not thought of that show since. I probably still have the VCR on Betamax in storage and don't have a player that could play it even if I found it.

At the end of the day, Gary, the young producer handed me three DVD's, dubs of the original Tattletales with Sandi and me. I was excited to get them and grabbed Sandi when I got home. "You have to see this... Remember Tattletales?" I said. She remembered but just as vaguely as me. I popped in the DVD and there we are, with Carol Lawrence and her husband, Robert Donner and his wife and Bert Convey. The hair and clothing was definitely vintage 80's and we were looking young and childless. In fact we looked like children ourselves.

The format of the show is not unfamiliar. The ladies are asked questions while the men are off stage and then they reverse the process asking the men questions while the girls are sequestered. As we are watching, I am actually hearing and seeing Sandi's answers for the first time. She is hearing the answers I gave while she was off stage for the first time as well.

At one point I take exception to one of Sandi's answers,
"Why did you say that about me?" There was a definite edge to my question, which caused an equally sharp response.
"Well, why did you say what you did on that last question."

The rest of the conversation went something like this.

" I was just trying to be funny, you know, play the game."
"But that wasn't funny."
"How could you admit that about me on television."
"You know that is not true about me."
"What kind of an answer is that."
"I was just kidding"
"That is unfair... I never would say that."

This continues until it dawns on us that we are arguing over ancient history. Statements lost in the ether, forgotten and buried in the vaults of GSN resurrected only as an amusement for the participants. In this case the amusement was giving way to conflict. We came around to our senses and called for a truce. We even laughed about it, but we have not watched any more of the shows so far. I think we have to have a little more than 27 years of distance before we can view them objectively.

As you were,

Monday, June 02, 2008

I am two weeks away from going to London. It is exciting and overwhelming. It is different pressure than the lead up to Broadway. The show was a question mark going to New York, but the city was familiar. This time the show is familiar and London is the question mark. Everyone says how "The British will love this show." I certainly hope they are right.

There is an official website for the London run it is:

Speaking of the UK. This weekend I performed at a benefit for the SHARE organization. They were honoring Nigel Lithgow, the creator of "American Idol" and "So you think you can dance." He is a Brit and now one of the successful American television producers. I thought I knew him when, so I walked up and said, "Nigel, I'm Jay Johnson, I think we have worked together before." He immediately said, "Jay, how are you? Of course we did. You were a guest on the Joe Longthorne Show. I remember it well, it was filmed at the BBC Nottingham studios. You performed with Bob and we loved it." We continued to chat like old school chums. This was in the mid eighties but he remembered it well. I had forgotten the star's name and many of the details that he recounted. We were finally interrupted by a mother pushing her 12 year old son toward Nigel. She completely highjacked him from our conversation and began to praise the singing talents of her son. She was pushy, out of line, rude and obnoxious. Nigel was gracious and understanding. He must get his fill of dealing with stage mothers, but seemed very good at it. I remember him being a nice guy back when and it is great to see that success does not have to change that. Here is to you and your success Nigel.

I haven't updated this blog since we ended the North American tour (and I use that term loosely) We finished our run at the Napa Valley Opera house and a theater in Antioch, CA. There was a heat wave in Northern California and when we arrived at the theater in Napa, the air-conditioner was out. It was hot... jungle hot in the theatre. We had to do the matinee in that heat, but they got it working just in time for the evening show.

The next day we are in Antioch, about 40 minutes away. When we arrived the theatre owner met us in the parking lot to say "Well, we have an issue." We assumed it was a staging issue. However, the production stage manager said, jokingly, "Well, as long as the air-conditioner works. Ha Ha Ha." The guy didn't laugh, but said, "Well, as a matter of fact... our air-conditioner is out." To say the last shows were hot is a real and accurate statement. I have never been so hot. It was a sauna. I was a living hell for me who likes to keep the dressing room the same temperature as a meat locker. However, here is and email I got from a person that sat through one of those steam bath performance.

"For a Mother’s Day gift, I bought tickets to take my mom to your show. We attended your matinee performance in Napa.

Regarding the show, we both loved it. The show was a perfect balance of humor, history and humanity. I had read a couple of glowing reviews when your show was in New York. The Tony Award was richly deserved. I am so happy your amazing talent was lauded and celebrated.

Regarding the Napa Valley Opera House, you deserve a special award for your performance there. Yes, of course, there are hot days in Napa and, yes, equipment can fail. For you to perform in that heat shows your professionalism and dedication to your fans. By the end of your show, the air was oppressive. You had to endure the added heat from the lights. Thank you for going on with the performance despite the undesirable conditions. I consider myself lucky to have seen your show. If your show returns to the Bay Area, I will tell all my friends to go to see you. Really fantastic.

Thank you,
Julie "
Thank you Julie. Sometimes we forget the effort an audience goes through to attend.
As you were,