Good Night Sweet Peter and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

He knew us all as individuals when we ourselves struggled
to be a who, that had a why and sought a path to our where.
We were microscopic balls of id and ego
fighting for our place in and out of the spotlight
the spotlight he shone for us full of pink & blue.
He snatched us from our heroic young roles across the country
and had us feed together from the belly of comedy and tragedy.
The mission, a place in the pantheon of theatrical greatness
or maybe a chance to find our way without the rigor of a mold.
We were to be our own person, finding our who, what, where, when, yes and, why.

His direction, the slightest touch at the helm,
should not have made a difference in this great sea before us but it did.
Such a subtle shift in our art that you had no idea what was happening
never a lecture took place, not a lesson on a page, nor a chapter in a book.
He attached us to our greatness, knowing our weakness
but never letting us weaken ourselves.
We said we knew it all, that our situation was different, yes but,
every story was a repeat musical phrase to his ears.
Yet, he never dismissed us, he listened and watched us work it out.
He poked the bear of curiosity and made us find our own truth
be our own professor to build our own lectern.
Grow and not turn back…

One person is missing and I’m turned upside down
I can no longer connect the dots, my dots are missing
they are now millions of stars that fade in and out, too fast to identify.
One who I could rely on is missing from my greater landscape,
it’s now a fallow field missing the nutrients of my history and my present.

He was snatched away leaving our hearts struggling.
We thousands have no claim, do we?
He was a man who staked a claim,
yet he made no claim to our greatness.
His greatness was in the great amount of joy
he found as we all satisfied our curiosity.
A curiosity he understood long before we examined it.

Peter Sargent was a man who helped define me as a theatrical professional. He continued to be the man that I wanted to make proud. I wanted to give back to him, with my career, what he gave to me as a constant in my professional journey. He is gone now, unbelievably taken by death so quickly it still seems unreal.  I feel the loss more every day, there are no texts or e-mails or phone calls. No sitting side by side during Webster’s yearly pilgrimage to NYC where he deftly tells me about most of the seniors no matter their discipline. No more annual dinners where I could laugh with him, share my life with him on and off stage. I suppose if I were more evolved I could continue to make his “memory” proud as I continue my career, but honestly, I selfishly want to make him proud in person. He is not a memory to me, he is a man alive and well who help shaped me into who I am today and I miss him dearly.

http://news.webster.edu/employee/2019/peter_sargent_remembered.html

 

An ode of respect to a man called Jack O’Brien

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Jack be nimble 
Jack be — swift
Jack wax poetic with a brand new script

Shaw not breathing 
Shakespeare’s words run amuck
Skipping, tumbling through the text.
Art he finds
Music he makes – glorious music
Listening to his stories at his feet
on our backs wagging happily expanding
our love — transform our choice
Dissecting — determining each phrase, points, feeling.
Every word sustained creates a texture, a tapestry
a weave of mystery, imagination, depth.

His Globe was endless art — 9,490 rotations
Our globe was effected – beautified
Magic man you open up
Our eyes, ears, dreams
Truths balance our focus manage our expectations

He journeys an atlas through Rome with Floria
Baltimore with Tracy, Cincinnati with Jack,
The Big easy with Frank, The Soviet Union with Nina
Alabama with the Hubbards
He revived a good ball game, He premiered many more
Never missing a Cocktail Hour. His friends, not Imaginary helped
Knit his colorful tales. There were no lack of Scoundrels
Even the occasional Grinch.
Opera he blessed with the girl called Aida and a
Triple threat from a man called Puccini.

In a wink his adventures tied in a bow
will take us to a future filled with hope.
Another chance to create art with an act break

#BestDayEver

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I recently had the pleasure of being involved in the cast recording of The SpongeBob Musical and was wrapped up in the simple and rather infectious phrase, “its the best day ever”, other wise known as the SpongeBob theme. Its not the cloyingly annoying phrase you might think. I mean I can remember hearing the joy of the “happiest company on earth”, Kinky Boots, and being driven mad by the variety of zippy hashtags, like #youchangetheworldwhenyouchangeyourmind #justbe #werkkween. I felt super left out of that joy, it was another person’s celebration. Please note, I was a little miserable at the time Kinky Boots opened on broadway as I was working on a show that maybe was not the happiest place on earth, but that’s not this story. In fact this SpongeBob phrase as sung by our extraordinary cast is simple and genuine, when you hear it you actually think its possible that it might just be the best day ever and that’s a pretty super feeling. We were several hours into the night session when the cast started singing Best Day Ever and the Producers, Creatives & Technicians in the control booth were clicking away on devices and pushing the clock to not incur too much overtime and as we worked through the song there were in fact involuntary smiles that came across faces. They didn’t even know it, they were grinning, tapping their feet, glancing up from their screens as this beautiful phrase repeated. As the day wound down I became very sad watching this company part ways unsure of our next step in this world of Broadway real-estate where you feel as in control as a extreme liberal on the Senate floor. It’s a cast that never deserts one another, they all look at each other in the eye and make the moment true and vibrant. I know, I know, who’s cloying and annoying now?  As a stage manager you get to see the best and worst of everyone, so this feeling of company that came with The SpongeBob Musical felt unique and our time together zoomed by way too fast during the show’s out-of-town Chicago premier this summer. It did come with a lesson however, a lesson that has taken me a time and a couple glasses of rosé to formulate.  In my future endeavors I am going to try to be the very human being who stage manages and meets the demands of the *company instead of being that Stage Manager who has a solution for everything before anything occurs. I’m just not a by rote kind of a girl. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have major quirks and I like things done a certain way but I am not going to let those things interfere with me having the best day ever in this stand alone world of Broadway Theatre.

*A company by my definition is the entire group of cast, crew, creatives, musicians, managers… It is not just the cast as is often referred to on postings & notes.

Beauty in a bunch of different people doing one thing together.

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(photo “acquired” from the internet and taken by the amazing Joan Marcus)

The following writing, poem for lack of a better word, is inspired by the Company (by company I mean Creatives, Cast, Crew, Producers, Musicians, Managers) of The SpongeBob Musical headed up by Tina Landau and her Viewpoints!

June 19, 2016

An Opening thought for The Best Day Ever…

We have been guided to shape a world with seemingly no rules
so full of joy and colors that it could make a rainbow blush.
We are made stronger by a group gesture of kindness
when the world has delivered pain that has broken through our make-believe.
Our environment is the architecture of mad genius
its slopes and angles offering a comfort that we call home.
There is a spatial relationship between new friends that we quickly call family
this family is there to support us at our most vulnerable moments.
We move at a tempo set for us by the moment we are in
then in the speed of light we are delivered to the moment we live in now.
We remain uncertain of the duration of this beauty we create
but strive to continue with strength and conviction to bring happiness.
All of our senses are alive in a kinesthetic response with the audience
living in the energy that only human response can bring to our art.
Our foundation is built on repetition of action
but within that repetition blows the nuance that leads to change.
Using our soft focus we take in this magical journey with all of its twists and turns
landing in this time, that we’ve come to today, which we all embrace
As. Something. Special.

My viewpoints have been wrapped in a whirl of joy surrounded by beautiful spirits
The familiar who is always ready with a quip full of heart
The one who tries anything and everything beyond comprehension
The professional who wraps us all up into being better
The little engine who could and has done and done and done
The trodder who brings a base of history with their every move
The youth who are still growing into their very talented paws
The creative who have a light in their eyes that cannot be extinguished
The steadfast that offer a calm in the creative storm

I learn and I learn and I learn and I learn and I learn and I learn
you all make me better and for that I remain forever grateful.

Devotion at work, to a fault

1753_Traversi_Operation_anagoria.JPG“Its not brain surgery” this is an anthem often heard in the theatre, but I’d like to argue that there is a quality of caring among professionals in the theatre that makes this work our brain surgery. Lets face it, most of we theatre professionals never wanted to be brain surgeons nor did we likely have the passion for biology to consider this life or death profession. So while I am not going to trust the inimitable Jack O’Brien to wield a scalpel near any of my vital organs, I am going to trust that this master of the boards will make every attempt to see that a play is directed with absolute precision and heart. I believe the exchange for science is emotion and the delicate hand it takes to navigate around the emotional beings of the theatre takes absolute concentration and skill. When I go to work I am managing complex groups of people not governed by a code of ethics or trained for a very specific task repeated multiple times daily. These are people who invest in a living breathing entity called theatre. So to the dilemma I find myself facing; How do we as Stage Managers not let our devotion take us on every rollercoaster ride we are presented with in the theatre? How do we put breaks on our give-a-shitter?

There are no jobs backstage in the theatre, that I know of, that are total punch in/punch out professions. There are a few people who get to hide in high places like front light operators or flymen, but they are still invested thoroughly in the product. The Stage Hand is not a man or woman who punches in does their job and goes home uninvolved. Their contributions vary from the local stage hand who has a task that must be complete correctly day after day, to the sound engineer who must have the technical knowledge and the artistic sensibility to see that you as an audience hears the show as it was intended. Beyond their job they are interacting with actors, dancers, singers on a personal level, (after 28 years professionally in this business I can honestly say that there is no way to not be involved with performers on a personal level, they simply will not allow it), and providing a safe and confident work environment. The Wardrobe and Hair crew… they see people in little to no clothing and make sure they look they’re best or worst (as designed of course). They hear dressing room talk which is the professional equivalant to pillow talk. They are on their feet running about with laundry baskets and providing the performer with confidence that they don’t need to worry… about their clothes anyway. The actor; the well sung hero of our profession, everything is very high stakes for this often creative ball of vulnerability who puts themselves front and center for the audiences entertainment.

So I have a great idea, says a Producer, lets put all of these people (give or take musicians if it is a musical) in the same and often cramped (in the case of Broadway) building to perform what is ultimately a singular task that a brilliant creative team has built… but before we walk away to continue the task of building an audience, lets throw a couple of managers at them to run the thing day to day. Now Stage Managers are not on an island by any means… nope, its not that romantic! We work hand in hand with a true unsung hero, the Company Manager; the conduit between General Managers and Producers. The Company Manager is undoubtedly the Stage Managers best friend and ally, but I digress. The point is how do we, as Stage Managers, step back from this wildly diverse bunch of professionals (and occasionally un-professionals) and focus on the business and not the latest emotion. When I assist I have more time to ponder this question than when I am the lead stage manager (Production Stage Manager). I get to watch the lead stage manager either soar with great success through the storm like an Eagle with his eye on a doomed mouse or I sometimes I see him back into a corner like a Chihuahua caught in an ice storm. I once had the opportunity to work with a well respected stage manager called Beverley Randolph, whom I thought I disagreed with completely. Beverley was a force of nature and did everything by the Book of Beverley and insisted that those around her do the same. She felt that the Stage Manager should be “beyond reproach”; I still disagree with her on that point because I’m just not that gal. As it turns out there were several things that I took from the Book-of-Bev and one very important thing and while I may apply it differently it helps me to manage creativity without developing an ulcer “rise above it”. Sometimes, often times, things in our business do not go according to plan and rather than getting mired in the mix of right and wrong if you rise above it all you just may be able to look down and see the clear path.

Please note: Everything I mention about Beverley Randolph is with great respect. She was a female stage manager who paved the way for so many of us. She was taken from the American Theatre and the world too soon when she passed away in 2011. Rest In Peace Bev.

A stage Manager with a touch of “style”

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I have, very recently, had the opportunity to address what “style” I am as a stage manager. It has taken me the better part of my twenty-seven years as a professional stage manager to realize it, but these truths I hold to be self-evident that all situations require a different hand and are by no means created equally. I am wholly imperfect and wholly accepting of it, so the rest of this writing is not going to be an attempt to sway you that I have come up with the stage manager silver bullet!

You may or may not wonder why it took me so long to figure this out? I think it’s because my career, which has been incredibly rich, has also been so incredibly varied. I have been hired as everything from the big picture technical assistant stage manager to a production stage manager for interesting niche projects. Okay, never so niche… but small and personality-driven, thank you, Everett Quinton, for that distinction. I have had no major preference for one type of project over the other, although I love a snappy tune for the long runs.

You see, in just the last two years I have worked on the very tempestuous but successful Motown The Musical, The star-powered laugh-a-lot hit Fish In The Dark and the sellout theatrical event Little Shop Of Horrors. Sorry, this is not going to be a tell-all-blog about Jake Gyllenhaal & Larry David; sadly for the gossip world, I found both of them to be incredibly talented men who took their jobs to heart in very different ways. Each of the shows I have mentioned were wildly different. I am constantly learning; I learn about myself, I learn about the business, I learn about stage-managing and I learn about humanity with every new challenge. So discovering a style in all that change is tricky because “my style” is not only dictated by the demands of the production it is also dictated by the people that surround me. I think this is why I am often a cleanup hitter in most job interviews. An example of this is a job interview I had for a big musical after Motown closed. I was very excited about the project and the prospect of being involved. There were so many great people working on the show. In the interview when the director asked about how I would deal with a particular group of the actors, let’s say kids (just for conversation sake), I responded that I would handle the kids however best suited his (the director) & the production’s needs. I didn’t have a magic formula for how I dealt with children in shows, although I had had a good handful of experience. I believe that my response to his question may have cost me the job since the director, whom I had a great interview with, went with a person who had a very specific experience with show kids. I don’t regret my answer; although I was pretty bummed I didn’t get the gig, I really do believe in my response. Fast forward to Little Shop Of Horrors, a job that I was given because of my previous work with Dick Scanlan, the show’s director. I had not worked with Dick as a director before; he was Motown’s script consultant, having had undeniable success as a book writer for Thoroughly Modern Millie. Dick and I met for brunch to discuss the show and touch base on each other. It was a great exchange of information and at the end, I asked Dick what he was looking for from me during the process, I mentioned that I try to stay adaptable to the needs and the tone of the director. Dick very simply and clearly said he wanted me to control the flow of the room so he could invest in the creative process without being a detail man (these are my words, trust me when I say Dick’s words were far more elegant), and we went our separate ways. I proceeded as planned and hired stage managers to work with who would be the nuts and bolts. It was a sublime experience and went just according to plan between Dick and I. In fact, it was Dick’s delight in the process that made me realize that the power of adaptability is my “style”. Look, it is not for everyone, in fact, many a day I look back on Stage Managers I’ve admired and had the pleasure of working for like: Beverly Randolph, Steven Zweigbaum and Clifford Schwartz, to name a few, who had their checklists, swagger & duties down to a tee. I have often wished my style could be as clearly defined as theirs, but it’s just not. Please, do not confuse “personality” with style… I certainly have a very specific personality and have my entire adult life! But when it comes to my work I’ll keep changing colors based on the room that the Production Stage Manager or the Director would like me to keep. I will continue to find my way through every day with the knowledge and faith that I am servicing the production the best I can.

a few thoughts for young stage managers

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What would happen if we put down the screens in rehearsal
If our young stage managers were able to absorb “the room”
soak up its magic… energy… urgency?

Try, the masters of our future, to let your
imagination dance among the interest of others
as they live and as they reveal.
Take a step back from building and bettering.

What would happen if the line weren’t always perfect
if the column didn’t add up but you knew the why of it?
What if Instead of dotting the “i” you watched a flower grow?

What would happen if you let go of perfection
and let respect guide your decisions?
What would happen if the power went dim
and only your light was available to hold the room?

I am inspired to write this blog not as a chastisement to our future stage managers and certainly not as an affront to all of my friends and colleagues grooming these very efficient managers in Universities across the country. I am writing it as a reminder to young stage managers that our business allows us to be a unique part of a creative process through the support of actors, directors, designers and a production team. In this age of technology: computers, instant communication, instant information and beautiful paperwork so many young stage managers have become machines and don’t recognize that they are a part of a magical journey.  Don’t get me wrong, I love good paperwork and when I have a choice I love working with a certain Stage Manager who does some of the best paperwork I’ve ever seen. My question to these flashlight clad knights of the future is beyond the paperwork do you know how to communicate with a stage hand with as much respect for their knowledge as you do with  a director or an actor? Do you take the time to understand why the same step, song or moment is worked and re-worked beyond comprehension? Are you okay with being seen and seeing everything and not being involved with the decision, but still willing to understand and uphold that decision? Ours is a curious part of the artistic process but no less a part and if you burrow behind your smart this and i-that you miss so much of what is happening. Lift your eyes and see how an actor digests information, how the story is being told, how the blocking evolves. See what a designer sees so you can maintain their vision, see how a prop is being used so you can make sure the right item is manufactured, see how a costume, that is yet to be worn, could change what is being asked of the person wearing it. I promise you this information will change how you write that report, how you communicate that need, how you enjoy your day.

Please note: I am authoring this blog as a working Stage Manager for the past 27 years and while I work in a commercial theatre setting now and so much of what I do day-to-day is completely mechanical I do try to practice these principles whenever possible. I am  using as my inspiration young stage managers that I have worked with over the last ten years or so, many of which have wildly successful careers, so I am not trying to be an arbiter for what will bring you success. I am suggesting that as you start working in this business don’t forget that it is an ART and you are an artists.

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Dark doesn’t scare this mid-west born hoodlum
laughs through tears mixed with tears through laughter
family ripe with background feed her reality
mother
daughter
sister
wife

her axe a script
her medium an actor
her jam telling a story…
a conflict… a tale…
possibly a resolve but lets leave that for now

she’s a mad mad scientist mixing this and that…
careful not to cause an explosion, but you must create
a charge… alight the senses
a craftsman measuring the smallest of detail,
again and again and again,
measure twice before you cut
creating a frame to nestle the dialogue
checking every angle… degrees matter

what she’s thinking is difficult to ascertain
buoyancy her double edged sword
answering questions that exist in…
“only makebelieve” or does it existing in the time
we have together

her trail continues to blaze a flame from
classroom to stage
stage to classroom one and the same
embedding in all of us experiences we crave to relive
long after recognition is reality.

Notes, notes, notes… always notes

UnknownOne part of my job as a Production Stage Manager is to help maintain the artistic integrity of the show on behalf of the creative team. While doing this job I have to make decisions on whether to address certain  notes. You would think “what’s the decision”, it’s my job so I should go in pursuit of everything, be your best and see that the show is it’s best! But sometimes, in my job, my best decision is not to go down that slippery slope that shoots off in a million creative avenues. Giving actors notes, that go beyond the technical realm, requires you to know what is intended  by the director in a specific moment of the show and being able to help an actor find the right way to express that intention that best suits their approach to the material. Confused? You don’t know the half of it. Then you have to factor in who, said actor, is playing opposite of because inevitably the reason a particular moment has slid away from its center is because the two or more people in the scene have forgotten why something was originally constructed. Then there is the audience, the life blood of Broadway, they may be responding incredibly well to something they love that has absolutely nothing to do with that moment that you are trying to address. Never underestimate the power of an audience’s reaction…an odd laugh has crushed hours of sensitive direction and crippled sentences so carefully constructed that Mr Shakespeare himself would be in envy. I have known amazing actors to resist playing to the most base laugh through an entire preview period only to spiral rapidly after TONY nominations are announced. So even the most carefully thought out suggestion of a note can go on an endless adventure down a rabbit hole and strike you right between the, “well the stage manager told me to do that” eyes.

Please allow me to breakdown the creative process using the beautiful and often dysfunctional family tree. You have the roots of our sapling; the play, the music, a sensitive opus. The story itself wielded by the pen of the Playwright (or in the case of a musical, the Book Writer, Composer & Lyricist). You have got the trunk of our tree; the creative team lead by the Director who devises the best possible way to tell the tale and is aided by a slew of other creatives such as: the Designers, Choreographer, Musical Director, Orchestrators & Dramaturge. This trunk is often formed, nurtured and fed by the Producer(s). The branches both thick and strong and branching off into beautiful spindly shapes are the Actors, Singers, Dancers. It is the creative spark of all these parts that creates the beautiful, colorful, wispy leaves that people, our patrons, come and admire.

So, back to my point about sometimes a note is better left alone… not every branch tolerates being cut back without sprouting back out in the completely wrong direction and then you get yourself in a position where you need the help of your trunk to make sense of the pruning… This is all only in play if a very cold frost doesn’t come along sending your tree into a sudden autumn.

 

Elaine Stritch: One interesting broad

I am not sentimental when it comes to my work. I have been star struck twice: once meeting Lauren Bacall (who I would meet again several years later and even receive a call from…awkward) and meeting the great Angela Lansbury, who I had the pleasure of later working with on the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music‘. A Little Night Music was work that came with a wealth of legends; Stephen Sondheim, Trevor Nunn, The great Angela Landsbury, Bernadette Peters and of course the classic, Ms Elaine Stritch. Working with Elaine was to have a triumphant tale to wield at many a cocktail party. Like driving up in a Rolls Royce with a VW engine. Broadway royalty with a mid western core.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to work with her. Her reputation for Stage Manager abuse arrived long before she did and I had just worked with Angela who was the classiest woman in show business. However, Elaine and Bernadette pulled our little revival out of the dumpster so three kids and a bump to PSM are you kidding me, “I always wanted to work with Stritch!”

I did not take over as the PSM for ALNM until Stritch and Bernadette had gone into the show. I got to watch the reigning PSM, Ira Mont, get shouted after all the time. Berated for his timing as Frid, the butler, who was not available to be at our re-mounting rehearsal. Sent all over town in search of the perfect non-alchohlic beer and an english muffin with egg and cheese. Breakfast of champions at 2:00 in the afternoon. I am here to tell you that getting an english muffin at two o’clock in the afternoon was no easy feat in Manhattan. I watched the associate director, the talented Seth Sklar-Heyn and Ira try every tactic in the nursery school hand book to control our little octogenarian. I was finally sent in the front line on my day off to run lines with Elaine. I arrived at the Hotel Carlyle right on time prepared for the worse and ended up having an amazing time complete with being sent home with a bag of stolen jars of jam from the Carlyle to take home to my kids. Elaine made a point of telling me how her Mom and Dad would always come back from their trip into NYC with these small jars of jam and how she loved them. I was set, she liked me what could possibly go wrong?

Shortly after Stitch & Bernadette went in Ira left the show to do a play that he booked upon our closing notice being posted and damn Seth went off to tend to the Billy Elliot garden. I was there in the basement bunker of the Walter Kerr with the smell of fear pulsing from every pour. It was as bad as you can imagine. New leading man for Bernadette, New other leading man for Bernadette and a new butler for Elaine. We muddled through and Bernadette embraced her new co-stars, the handsome and talented Stephen Buntrock as FREDRICK and the craft master Bradley Dean as Carl Magnus. These two men made friends of all with their talent including huge kudos from Steve regarding Bradley’s rendition of ‘In Praise Of Women’ . Okay breath Julia, clearly it’s going to be fine… maybe Elaine has mellowed. Nope! I was given the nick name “Jonesy” and was on call as soon as Elaine arrived, which was overwhelmingly early. Most of her requests had little or nothing to do with me but I was her most familiar conduit in the early hours at the theatre.

Diet Quinine with just a tablespoon of gin to kill the flavor of the quinine… that’s how we rolled! Notes from Stephen Sondheim that he would e-mail were received with shouts of “Jonesy, you don’t know Steve how I know Steve…” I would come up with some witty retort like, “you’re right Elaine, I don’t, but I’m going to give you the note anyway.” She would throw me out and later send someone to fetch me so I could then listen to the most fascinating stories about how “Judy wouldn’t leave until four in the morning. We all knew she was going to go early.” Come on, who talks about Judy Garland this way. Or she would read me a funny note from Woody Allen ribbing Elaine Kaufman of the NYC restaurant Elaine’s. She would scream at me in her undergarments that she wanted her regular hair person back or she wasn’t getting dressed so I did in fact have to ask a fellow SM to loan me their hair person (previously our hair person) to come calm our girl down. So many conversations half dressed or from the toilet, too many to count. Elaine went up terribly on her lines during her first several weeks at ‘ALNM’ so the shows ASM, Mary MacLeod, would stay close by in the wings during the danger points. Once during the song ‘Liaisons’ Elaine went up badly and yelled “Mary” looking for a prompt. Mary, the steadfast soldier, was right there with the words but all I could think about were all of those Musical Theatre Queens that thought Elaine was giving them a shout out, “Mary.”

The stories are endless from every Stage Manager who ever worked with Stritch and without even knowing them I can tell you they are true! Every wonderful tale added texture to our lives. I would say Rest In Peace Elaine but there are two things that I believe our givens, Elaine Stritch will never be completely at peace, there will always be something and a good catholic girl like Elaine (please note: she was a catholic values prude in her own way), God will give her whatever she wants.

Elaine all I can say is, once I join you in heaven I sure do hope you already have a stage manager! Broadway already misses you… and I guess I do too.