Monthly Archives: March 2019

A Blizzard Of Blessings

My ears were assaulted by a cacophony of blaring traffic horns like angry saxophones and choirs of animated conversation.

My eyes were blinded by motion and light. Brightly backlit advertisements for products and places that I was being told I absolutely needed in my life if I hoped to survive.

My nose drew in the cool night air, colored with a mixture of aromas my brain was sifting through and identifying as a World’s Fair of cuisines cooking around me.

Foods and spices, exhaust and perfumes, tobacco and garbage, desperation and dreams.

The energy of over 1.5 million human souls coursed through my consciousness as some of their bodies brushed by me in the determined dance ritual of an unrelenting and constant mass commute.

Total. Sensory. Overload.

In other words, just another Monday night in midtown Manhattan.

I was walking into Iridium, an amazing jazz club that hosts the best of the best in music. This night was no exception. Anticipation filled the air as we all awaited the entrance of a great man and his invention, creating music that would fly from the stage into our ears, and then out into the universe, vibrational energy waves traveling farther than imaginable and living on forever.

I had been invited there by the star himself.

He was down to earth and funnier than most comedians I know. He was kind and inspiring, encouraging me in my musical endeavors.

He was the Wizard of Waukesha.

He was Les Paul.

And tonight he was ready to play.

He was strumming. He was picking. He was laughing. He was swinging. He was on fire!

He was… inviting me up to play piano and sing?

Yes, please.

Once in a lifetime.  I will cherish that musical moment together forever.

One year later, he passed away.

Left To Right: Johnny Rodgers, Les Paul, Danny Mallon, Joe Ravo, Brian Glassman (not pictured)

 

Now keep in mind, I did not know what Waukesha was and why he was the Wizard of it when we finally had the chance to get to know each other.

I also did not know at that moment what an important part of my life Waukesha was going to become.

That year I was living in New York City in the throes of rehearsing for my first Broadway show, “Liza’s At The Palace,” starring, of course, the amazing Liza Minnelli.

I had been living in New York City for quite some time, after growing up in Miami, FL, and attending 4 colleges in 6 years… it’s a long story for another time.

I had been working with Liza for over a decade, first as her pianist and accompanist and featured guest, then as a singer/dancer/piano player for the Broadway run, both of which offered me the opportunity to learn different skill sets from a genuine entertainment legend, from the best seat in the house.

And beyond that, she is a true friend.

Liza taught me so many valuable lessons that I think of to this day.

And our classroom was sold-out stages all over the globe.

We even recorded a duet together which is being officially released very soon.

Photo: Bill Westmoreland

The DVD of the “Liza’s At The Palace” is available through PBS.

Liza would tell me stories of her Uncle Frank (yes, Sinatra), Dean, and Sammy. Liza actually stepped in for Dean and toured with Frank and Sammy for years in a concert titled “The Ultimate Event.”

She learned from the best also, and was so very kind and generous in sharing those lessons with me. I am forever grateful.

So it’s really quite a natural and organic process for me to pay homage to the Rat Pack. Not only are they a part of history, but in many ways they are directly a part of my personal musical history.

YouTube Clip Featuring Liza Minnelli with Johnny Rodgers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5itHAAgLQYU

After the Broadway run, my NYC band, the Johnny Rodgers Band (clever name, I know) traveled for six years as Ambassadors of American Music for the US Dept. of State.

Once more, I packed my bags and traveled all over the globe, playing in Embassies, military installations, small villages, and just about anywhere else you can imagine.

The Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, Russia, Belarus, Malaysia, Cambodia, Petra… the list goes on and on.

What did I learn? Good people are good people, wherever you may find yourself on this little ball of dust. Music builds bridges between those people.

Felix Mendelssohn, the great classical composer, once said, “Music is a much more precise language than words.”

I have found this to be absolutely true.

In the words of Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere, man.”

At some point I realized that although I loved living in Manhattan, I was feeling the need to spread out a bit. My tour schedule is ambitious at times and I have to travel to do what I love. But I needed a home base that would offer me a respite from the road.

I tried many places, moving from New York to Nashville, Nashville to Chicago, Chicago to Waukesha. My beautiful wife, Stephanie, was born and raised in Waukesha. She comes from great stock, and I am grateful for how supportive and loving my extended family is. I’m a lucky guy.

Once I found Waukesha, “Guitar City,” the birthplace of my fast musical friend, Les Paul, a feeling washed over me.

It was a strange feeling, a feeling that I’d not felt since I grew up in Miami.

It was calm. It was peaceful. It was gorgeous. It was full of musical history and energy.

It was home.

And it feels so good to be home.

 

 

Discover more about Johnny at johnnyrodgers.com

Advertisements

Meet The Thoroughly Modern Millie Stage Manager: David Kaye

What is your name and role in the show?

My name is David Kaye and I am the Stage Manager for Thoroughly Modern Millie.

 

What attracted you to participate in the show?

It is a show full of tap dancing, and I am not the one that has to do it.

 

What has been your favorite part of the rehearsal process?

My favorite part of the rehearsal process is getting to know this incredible cast, as it is my first time working with most of them. They are so dedicated, talented, and supportive of each other. It’s a truly beautiful thing to watch.

 

What has been the most challenging part of the rehearsal process?

At the start of the rehearsal process I had an emergency appendectomy so I missed most of the first month of rehearsals. This has put me behind in organization and getting to know the cast. As someone who struggles with names, losing that extra time to connect with everyone was frustrating.

 

Have you been involved in productions at Waukesha Civic Theatre before?

This is my fifth production with WCT.

 

If so, what productions?

I was on the run crew for A Little Night Music, I directed Almost, Maine and For Purely Elfish Reasons, and I sound designed Sex Please We’re Sixty. I am also directing the upcoming production of But Why Bump Off Barnaby?

 

What is your favorite thing about working at Waukesha Civic Theatre?

It’s the people. I love theatre, but I’d leave it behind entirely if it wasn’t for the caring people that make up the audience, cast, crew, and management. Being around good people is the best thing I know of.

 

Why should audiences see Thoroughly Modern Millie?

It is fun, it’s as simple as that. Sure, the show talks about some serious issues, but the most important part is the fun songs, stunning dance numbers, and rat-a-tat dialogue the cast gets to play with. Add to this the incredible orchestra, the gorgeous sets and lighting…This show will be something special.

 

 

David Kaye

Stage Manager

Thoroughly Modern Millie

Spotlight On The Board: Thoroughly Modern Millie

My family has been patiently waiting for the Waukesha Civic Theatre to present the musical comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie for a long time! As the first show my husband and­ I saw on Broadway (with the Tony Award-winning Sutton Foster in 2003), it immediately became a favorite! When our four-year-old daughter started tap dance lessons, we could not wait to show her the movie that the musical was based on. At the ripe old age of 6 years old, we treated her to the tap-dancing, mad-cap antics of Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore featured in the 1967 film, also starring the recently deceased Carol Channing. Finally, bringing everything full circle, the same daughter, now sixteen years old, just finished her sophomore winter musical as Millie Dillmount in Catholic Memorial High School’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. We are thrilled that our own cultural cornerstone, Waukesha Civic Theatre, is able to introduce a new generation of theatre lovers to this classic story of determination, perseverance, and, of course, love!

A spoof set in New York City at the height of the roaring twenties, the musical introduces the audience to Millie, a “modern,” who comes from small town Kansas and plans to marry her boss at a job she hasn’t yet found. The situations she and her friends get caught up in at the Hotel Priscilla, their temporary residence, are somehow shocking and hilarious at the same time, eventually leading Millie, Dorothy, Jimmy, and Ching Ho to discover the true meaning of love.   Along the way, the group encounters flappers, speakeasies, a villainess-involved in kidnapping, and time in jail. All this, combined with a powerful score and explosive tap numbers, promises an evening of entertainment that will leave you grinning!

If you saw Gypsy at the Waukesha Civic Theatre in 2016, you will be thrilled to know the amazing actress who played Gypsy Rose Lee, Megan Miller, is starring as Millie Dillmount in this show! Audiences will once again be wowed by her talent!

Thank you for coming, and enjoy the show!

 

 

Jenny Erato

Board Of Directors