Monthly Archives: September 2012

Paul’s Book Club Pick: “My First Guitar”

Everybody who has ever played guitar remembers their first guitar. That’s the simple premise behind my friend Julia Crowe’s new book, My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords now available on Amazon. In her passionate, revealing and entertaining book, Julia shares years of intimate conversations that she’s had with many of the world’s greatest guitarists on a subject close to their hearts: their first guitar.

Who’s this young guitar god? A clue: in 1976, I went from high school to college — and he came alive!

A pantheon of guitar gods from Jimmy Page to Les Paul to Albert Lee and Dick Dale sat down with Julia to talk about the instrument that started their lifelong love affair with six strings. Or, in Roger McGuinn’s case, 12 strings.

Guitar heroes like Elvis Presley’s lead guitar player, Scotty Moore; jazz man Pat Metheny; and rockers from Peter Frampton to Graham Parker, Melissa Etheridge and Tom Morello are among the more than 70 stars featured in Julia’s excellent book – the first she’s ever written!

Heck – Andy Summers, the great lead guitarist of The Police, wrote the freaking forward!

Who’s the 7th grader with the terrible first guitar?
(Sorry, no clue.)

I remember my first guitar all too well.

I came to the guitar late for a guitar player, sometime in the 7th or 8th grade. In fact, I don’t regard myself as a guitar player. I’m really just a guy who can play well enough to write a decent song and keep a campfire going with a credible “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”. But even a guitar player of limited skill remembers his first guitar – and so do I.

My first guitar was a cruel and merciless instrument: a smallish dreadnought with thick, inflexible wood, thick steel strings – and action nearly a half inch off the neck. My digits ached and bled just trying to finger those strings. I suppose if I’d known anything about guitars, I could’ve adjusted the bridge – but my damn guitar teacher never suggested it. He was too busy trying to teach me how to play “Santa Lucia”, for godsake!

Luckily, my awful first guitar taught me very well what a guitar should not be. As a result, I’ve had far more satisfying affairs with my subsequent guitars. Some have even resembled love.

In “My First Guitar”, Julia tells a lot of true love stories. Including her own. She’s an accomplished classical guitar player in her own right. And now, she’s an accomplished author as well. Bravo, Julia!

You can hear Julia Crowe talking about her book with our mutual friend and Madison, Wisconsin radio personality Casey Fox (WORT) by clicking on this link.

Just click ‘Play’ on the line that says ‘Guilty Pleasures’ — and Julia is the first hour.

And, if you’re in the New York City area, you’re all invited to Julia’s book release party. Here are the details…

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Beauty, Music

True Genius at Play this Weekend: Larry Schanker at the Piano!

It’s a rare thing to experience an artist of the highest caliber in his element. Imagine being in Picasso’s studio watching him paint. Try to picture yourself on a Hollywood movie set as Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Just think of sitting in a Harlem club listening to Louis Armstrong blowing his horn.

That’s how you’ll feel listening to Larry Schanker at the piano.

And if you live anywhere near southern Michigan, northeastern Indiana or northwestern Ohio – you have a chance THIS WEEKEND to see true genius in the flesh.

On this Sunday, September 30th, you have a chance to enjoy one of the most brilliant pianists alive — Larry Schanker.

Larry will perform at the Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan. For tickets, click here.

According to the New Buffalo Arts Council program, Larry’s “concert will consist of several three-piece thematic suites, in styles ranging from traditional classical music to classic rock. Dr. Schanker’s original music will be interspersed, including a solo version of the 4th movement of his Concerto for Jazz Piano. Rounding out the afternoon will be a showing of “In the Park”, a Charlie Chaplin short film with Dr. Schanker improvising the accompaniment.”

 Let me say two things:

1. Larry’s Concerto for Jazz Piano is like Gershwin on steroids – and only Larry could possibly play it!

2. I haven’t seen Chaplin’s “In the Park”, but I have seen Larry play live accompaniment to a Buster Keaton film – and he was amazing.

I’ve known Larry Schanker since our college days at Northwestern University when he was the piano player who kicked our Mee-Ow Show comedy revues up more than a few creative notches. After that, he was the man behind the piano for several history-making Practical Theatre Company comedy revues, as well as an original member of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation.

Since then, Larry’s work has run the gamut from Shakespeare to Chekhov, to The Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, and Second City in Chicago. This past summer, Dr. Schanker (did I mention that he’s a very smart guy?) presented an evening of silent film as part of the Southwest Michigan Symphony Casual Classics Series — and at the Indiana University Cinema, he accompanied a 1920 silent film version of Hamlet.

Larry at the piano in 1988 while The Practical Theatre works on the Barrosse-Hall musical, “Rockme!” for the Columbia College New Musicals Project.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – he’s REALLY good. Go see him play. That way, you can say, “Oh! I saw Larry Schanker play in 2012 in New Buffalo!”

And everybody will wish they could have been there.

Two guys who WERE there. Rockme Foundation members Maurice Cleary (L) and Casey Fox (R) flank Maestro Doctor Schanker after his show.

4 Comments

Filed under Art, Beauty, Music

Visions of Election Night…

Sometimes it helps to have a vision.

If you can see in your mind’s eye a picture of the future as you want it to be – then you’re steering the universe in that direction. Or something like that. It’s called “creative visualization”.

Athletes and salesmen have been using creative visualization for decades. Wikipedia defines creative visualization as “the practice of seeking to affect the outer world by changing one’s thoughts and expectations.”

So, let’s practice a little creative visualization by conjuring up a wonderful, satisfying vision for Election Night, Tuesday November 6, 2012.

Picture in your mind and heart the moment the television networks announce the shocking news – early in the evening — that President Obama has carried South Carolina. Not just North Carolina, but also the Cradle of the Confederacy. (The most recent poll gives Romney only a 6-point lead in South Carolina, down from double digits not long ago.) Visualize people, visualize!

Now, picture yourself on the couch with your loved one, Chardonnay in hand, as Barack Obama sweeps the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin – and MSNBC (who else would you be watching?) projects that Obama has been re-elected as President of the United States.

But it gets even better, if that’s possible – because now comes the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the soundly defeated and thoroughly demoralized GOP/Tea Party. With their House majority lost, their Senate minority reduced – and the White House back in Democratic hands – Karl Rove is the first to appear on Fox News and stick a knife in Romney’s back. All the tens of millions that Rove raised from all those undisclosed Super-Pac donors couldn’t sell the Romney-Ryan ticket to the American people. And “Bush’s Brain” isn’t blaming himself.

Next in the pathetic parade of Republican ruin comes GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. With an angry Tea Party mob preparing the tar and feathers outside his barricaded doors, Priebus announces his resignation as GOP chair – and his immediate departure for the Cayman Islands, where he will go into hiding along with Mitt’s money.

Then, just before we hear from Mitt Romney, the nation’s TV cameras turn to Janesville, Wisconsin, where we double our fun – because not only has Paul Ryan lost the Vice Presidency – he’s also lost his Congressional seat! Pop some more popcorn! Uncork another bottle of Chardonnay! Sales of “Atlas Shrugged” are plummeting even as he speaks…

And now, it’s Romney’s turn to concede defeat. Socially, Mitt tried to drag us back into the 1950’s while economically trying to return us to the fiscal glory (make that “gory”) days of George W. Bush. America sent him packing – just like Mitt and the Bain Gang packed up so many American factories and sent those jobs overseas. Mitt announces that his wife Ann is turning him out to pasture along with her dressage horse, Refalca – both losers this year. (Ironically, Mitt didn’t even get 47 percent of the vote.)

And now, goodnight and sweet dreams.

And visions.

2 Comments

Filed under Politics

Escape to Santa Cruz!

On Sunday, September 16th, my wife and I took a quick day trip to a whole new world: from our suburban home in Woodland Hills to the island of Santa Cruz – the largest of the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Santa Cruz lies in the Santa Barbara Channel a mere 67 miles from our home in the western end of the San Fernando Valley.

The 42-mile drive to the harbor in Ventura took us less than an hour. We arrived at the Island Packers dock where our boat was waiting to carry us to Santa Cruz.

Victoria took a seat on the upper deck of the Island Packers boat, gazing out at the collection of vessels in Ventura Harbor.

We headed out of the harbor shortly after 2:00 PM. I’ve sailed out of Ventura Harbor many times, but not often aboard a boat of this size.

The pilothouse on the upper deck of the boat with the captain at the controls.

As we raced across the Santa Barbara Channel, a thick marine layer cast a hazy shroud over the islands in the distance. Santa Cruz is 25 miles off the California coast, and we covered that distance across a flat, grey ocean in less than an hour. (See map above.)

As we neared Santa Cruz, the foggy marine layer was burning off…

…and the island was finally revealed in brilliant sunshine.

The closer we got to the island, the more the colors came out. The water became more blue and the island more golden and inviting as we approached the cliffs near the Scorpion anchorage on the eastern end of the island. (See map above.)

The Island Packers crew prepares to dock at the Scorpion anchorage.

The approached the dock at the Scorpion anchorage, where a pair of metal ladders stood ready for us to disembark.

A short dirt path leads from the anchorage to the former sheep ranch buildings that now serve as the visitor’s center and headquarters for this unit of the National Park Service. (Yep, the 5 westernmost Channel Islands are a National Park!)

A couple hundred yards from the anchorage, the building of the former sheep ranch came into view.

Old rusted farm equipment provides mute testimony to the brief agricultural history of the island. For about 150 years from the 1830’s through the 1980’s, sheep ranching was the dominant industry on the island.

Victoria stands next to the old farm building that is now the National Park visitor center.

Victoria and I pause along the trail that rises above the visitor center. We only had about 40 minutes to explore before the boat was scheduled to return to Ventura. (We could have taken a much earlier voyage out of Ventura, but inspiration hit us too late in the morning.)

The trail rose quickly and the view was stunning. You can see our boat waiting at anchor below the cliff.

Victoria marches up the trail. Behind Vic, the mountains give a sense of low large the island is: 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide.

Victoria pauses at a particularly picturesque overlook to – what else? – take a picture.

Here’s another view from Victoria’s perch looking east above the Scorpion anchorage.

Heading back to the boat, Victoria spotted an island fox: a species that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands. (Vic earned her merit badge for the day.) I managed to shoot some footage of this cute, red-hued predator as it made its way through the chaparral.

We lined up on the dock to board the boat for our return trip – along with dozens of campers and day-trippers. It would be a far more crowded ride back to Ventura.

As I waited on the dock for everyone to climb down the two ladders onto the boat, I had plenty of time to study the gorgeous coastline.

Take a moment to enjoy the gentle lapping of the waves on the pebbled beach.

Now, take another moment to enjoy the hypnotic swaying of the kelp and other ocean vegetation along the coast.

With the boat’s cabin crowded with returning campers, hikers, snorkelers and kayakers – Victoria takes windy refuge on the bow of the boat.

It was a great trip to Santa Cruz Island: a brief excursion to a whole ‘nother world that’s not too far away.

13 Comments

Filed under Adventure

How I Spent My Summer Sabbatical: Part Two

In late June 2012, I had just completed the first of three stages in my two-month summer sabbatical from the television business. It was a dramatic step to jump off the TV treadmill after 22 years and reconnect with my improvisational comedy roots – but while our run of The Vic & Paul Show at The Beverly Arts Center on the South Side of Chicago started out well, it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster engagement.

We had some good shows, in particular a fine opening night and a rousing Father’s Day matinee where the audience got every joke. On those nights my wife Victoria, our musical partner Steve Rashid and I were greeted with the familiar sound of knowing laughter after every sketch. But there were too many shows where the laughs – and the ticket buyers — were scarce. We closed our run at The Beverly Arts Center with fond memories of our large, appreciative North Side audiences at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park six months earlier.

You live, you learn. I may have a bit of P.T. Barnum in me – but as Professor Harold Hill should have taught me, “Ya gotta know the territory.”

The highlight of our Beverly Arts Center experience were the visits from good friends who traveled many miles to see the show and share some laughs with us: the brilliant pianist and composer Larry Schanker and his wife Jenny, our great friend   Bubba George McClellan who made the long drive in from Fort Wayne, and my Rockme Foundation band mates Casey Fox and Rush Pearson, who brightened the BAC scene with their better halves.

The day after we closed at the BAC, Victoria and I headed north for some much-needed R & R in the upper reaches of Wisconsin. We’d been invited to spend a week with friends at their lakeside cottage in the tiny town of Three Lakes. (There are a lot more than three lakes up there, by golly!)

Our hosts, Steve Stroud and Carol Stogsdill were waiting for us at Steve’s charming family cottage with their characteristic hospitality, a fridge full of cold Leinenkugels, and another couple of our very best friends, Jim Newton and Karlene Goller, along with their teenage son Jack and a school pal, Chris Gates. In this delightful company, amid the natural beauty of Three Lakes, we settled in for a wonderful week at Camp Stroud.

Campers have got to be active at Camp Stroud. Not that there isn’t plenty of opportunity to sleep a bit late and pass some time sitting lazily on the dock sipping a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy.

Indeed, such indulgences are required.

But camp counselor Stroud is an avid proponent of aquatic sports of all kinds, and it was made known that if Victoria and I wanted to earn our Camp Stroud merit badge, we would need to take advantage of the kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and sailboat that stood ready for our use.

Steve also had his family’s sleek, gorgeous, classic powerboat in the boathouse – and as the sun set on our first day at Three Lakes, we motored out across the lake to take in the sights and sounds of summer in northern Wisconsin.

A summer evening on the water in Three Lakes. (Photo by Steve Stroud.)

The Stroud family cottage. (Photo by Steve Stroud.)

That night, I was given the honor of fashioning a formal campfire service to retire the old, tattered U.S. flag that had long served as the ensign for Steve’s powerboat, waving proudly from its stern for many years. With Jack and Chris assisting me, we disposed of Old Glory in the regulation manner, consigning it to the flames with all appropriate honor and solemnity.

Among the highlights of our week at Camp Stroud was a pontoon boat trip that Captain Stroud piloted across several of the interconnected lakes in the Three Lakes area.

At one point, it was necessary to maneuver over a dam – which required putting our craft on a boatlift that carried it over the dam and lowered it back into the river below the dam. I’m a big fan of nautical evolutions, and this one was new to me.

The Camp Stroud crew in front of our pontoon boat on the boat lift. (Don’t blame Steve for this photo, taken by the lift operator.)

But the coolest moment on the pontoon boat trip was witnessing a white-headed sea eagle (commonly called a bald eagle) catch a fish.

As we made our way back to Steve’s dock, I was watching an eagle soaring above the lake not far from our boat, just as I’d watched dozens of eagles circling in the sky in the past three days.

But this time, the eagle dove down toward the water – not more than ten yards off the port side of our boat.

There was just enough time to alert the rest of our party – and we all watched in awe as the eagle stretched out its talons, plunged them into the water, and snatched a large fish!

Steve, a professional photographer and photo editor at the LA Times, got his camera focused in time to record the event – and shot a series of photos as the eagle raced across the lake clutching its prey, and soared off into the trees beyond Steve’s cottage. If nothing else had happened the whole trip, that moment alone would have been worth the long drive to northern Wisconsin.

For the rest of the week, Victoria and I worked on earning our Camp Stroud merit badge, although it must be said that my darling wife proved far more proficient on the paddleboard than I did. In fact, I stunk at paddleboarding. I was much better in the canoe and kayak. But I was lucky to barely earn a qualifying grade in the small boat sailing portion of my requirements. Salty, capable Steve took me out in the smallest sailboat I’ve ever been aboard – and though I managed to help keep her afloat, I cannot say that I covered myself with anything resembling glory on that brief voyage. Still, it was great fun – as was our entire week at Camp Stroud.

The sun sets at Camp Stroud. (Photo by Steve Stroud.)

On the morning of our final day in Three Lakes, Steve gave Victoria and me our final Camp Stroud challenge: to join him in his annual swim back and forth across the lake.

That little white dot is Steve, halfway across the lake.

To my surprise, Victoria jumped at the chance to make what looked like a more than mile-long swim in chilly waters from Steve’s dock to the other side of the lake and back.

I’ve never claimed to be much of a swimmer, so I begged off – even though it my might cost me my merit badge.

Victoria was game – and she began her marathon swim with great determination. She got about a quarter of the way across the lake when common sense and self-preservation prevailed — and she gave up her attempt.

Steve, however, swam on and on and on like an English Channel swimmer – and made it back to his dock with a wide, victorious smile.

It was an amazing feat.

As we departed Camp Stroud, our camp mates surprised us by decorating our car with a Diet Coke can tail – and a soapy sign on the rear window celebrating the fact that it was our 22nd wedding anniversary.

In fact, we’d almost forgotten our anniversary.

Victoria and I had gotten entirely off the grid of our normal existence this summer, and with all the plans, travel, and performances that crowded our calendar, we were blissfully unaware that June 30th was anything more than the date on which we planned to drive back to Chicago.

That changed when Vic and I decided not to drive all the way back to Chicago in one day – but to break the trip up with a romantic one-night stay somewhere halfway between Three Lakes and Chicago. Steve and Carol recommended a resort in Kohler, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee. When Victoria called to book a room the woman taking the reservation asked if we were celebrating any special event.

Thank goodness I was sitting right next to my darling wife when she made that call. I was looking right at her as her eyes widened and she came to the sudden realization that – yes, indeed – we were celebrating a special event. It was our wedding anniversary! We had BOTH forgotten it. I shudder to think of the calamity had I been the only one that forgot.

We got back to Evanston on July 1st, just in time for me to board a plane for a quick one-day trip to Cleveland to scout The 14th Street Theatre in advance of our upcoming run. I arrived in Cleveland late that night and slept at my mom’s house before heading downtown to Playhouse Square the next morning to check out the space where we were set to open “The Vic & Paul Show” in a dozen days.

The 14th Street Theatre was a joy to behold: the perfect cabaret space for a comedy revue like ours. I met with key members of the Playhouse Square staff to discuss publicity and technical concerns, and came away with a clearer idea of how to move into the space and adapt our staging to fit. I also thought, “Man, I’d like to have space like that of my own.”

The thought of having a cabaret of my own was not a random one. In fact, the other underlying reason for my sabbatical was to explore the notion of opening a comedy cabaret on the North Shore of Chicago, preferably in Evanston. So, when I returned from Cleveland, that exploration got underway in earnest.

Downstairs in the Marshall Fields building.

During the course of the next week, Victoria and I had a series of meetings with area restaurateurs and people from the Downtown Evanston development organization and city of Evanston.

Joined by the very funny Dana Olsen we took a tour of possible cabaret spaces with Carolyn Dellutri, Executive Director of Downtown Evanston.

It’s been 32 years since we opened our own comedy shop on Howard Street in Evanston – and the idea of having our own home to perform in again is a compelling one. I would spend a lot of time over the next month and a half in Chicago meeting with people whose opinions I respect, confessing my plans to them, and getting their feedback.

Will the Practical Theatre return to Evanston? Stay tuned…

On Sunday, July 8th, the day before we left for Cleveland, Vic and I drove to the Illinois-Wisconsin border to see The Sturdy Beggars perform The Mud Show at The Bristol Renaissance Faire. It’s been many, many years since Victoria and I cavorted in the mud as Sturdy Beggars, and we were delighted to be back at the mud pit to watch our good friends Rush Pearson, Herb Metzler and John Goodrich perform “The Greatest Show In Earth”.

This was another homecoming for me. Herb was with me (along with Jamie Baron) in the summer of ’78 when The Sturdy Beggars were born at King Richard’s Faire – now known as The Bristol Faire. Rush joined us the following rainy summer when the mud show was born of necessity and began its development into the popular and polished yet merrily mud-spattered act it is today.

Rush, Herb and John had a great crowd that Sunday – and put on a fine and funny show in the filth. Herb’s devil-may-care performance of the celebrated “Acapulco Cliff Dive” was a highlight, as were Rush’s antics as The Judge and John’s comic command of the crowd.

A fine summer day at the Renn Faire, a beer in hand, and the Sturdy Beggars in the mud pit make for an outstanding entertainment trifecta. Plus, we got to spend time backstage with Rush’s girlfriend, Theresa Miele.

On July 9th, we loaded up the rental SUV with our props, costumes and other baggage – and Victoria, daughter Emilia and I drove to Cleveland. Since my college days, I’ve driven the route from Chicago to Cleveland on the Indiana and Ohio Turnpikes many times, but this was the first time I’d made the drive with Vic and Emilia. It’s a long, straight drive across acres and acres of corn, interrupted by rest stop plazas that in my younger days the plazas were all Howard Johnson’s restaurants but they’re now a generic series of national fast food franchises like Burger King and Pizza Hut. My daughter Emilia did not understand my nostalgia for the lost Howard Johnson’s plazas. (She doesn’t know what she missed.)

We got to Cleveland in late afternoon and checked into our downtown hotel on Euclid Avenue in the heart of Playhouse Square – just a couple short blocks from the 14th Street Theatre. Downtown Cleveland gave an immediate impression of cleanliness and civic pride, which my wife and daughter picked up on immediately.

This was not the “mistake on the Lake” they had heard about – or the downtrodden town that my daughter had seen savaged in a couple of infamous YouTube videos. Cleveland was looking very good from Playhouse Square.

Dinner that night was at my childhood home on Cleveland’s Westside, near the Metropark Zoo. My beloved mom, Mary, had made her magical meatballs and pasta – and we all dined on the stuff that I was raised on: love, laughter and truly great tomato sauce. Then, of course, my mom kicked all our butts at Scrabble. Traditions prevail at home in Cleveland.

Later that evening, we picked up daughter Eva at Cleveland Hopkins Airport after her incredible two-week adventure in Europe. (She’ll have to write her own blog post on that amazing, life-changing trip to Switzerland, France and Italy.) Getting back to our hotel after dark we were delighted to see “The Vic & Paul Show” announced in lights on the marquees along Playhouse Square. It was a good omen.

On Tuesday morning I loaded the show’s equipment into the 14thStreet Theatre, enjoyed a late breakfast in the hotel with Vic and the girls, and then drove over to my childhood home on Cleveland’s west side, near the zoo. My daughters hadn’t been to Cleveland and Grandma’s house in way too many years, and my sabbatical provided us the chance to spend quality time in my hometown and visit my mom and family while putting on our show together. Several of my cousins joined us for a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, some cutthroat Scrabble, and a great family photo on the front porch steps.

My mom’s the lady in the middle. The photo is by Jim Metrisin, my cousin Lynna Synder’s husband, who’s sitting next to Eva, Victoria and Emilia. That’s Lynna next to me and my sister Nancy is on the other side of my mom. My sister’ son Alan Crossman is the guy in the dark shirt sitting above her. Next to Alan is my cousin Diana Snyder, my brother-in-law Alan Crossman Sr., my cousin Jim Snyder and his wife Peggy — and just below Peggy is their son Bennett.

The next day, I picked up music man Steve at the airport and that afternoon we moved into the 14th Street Theatre and worked through our technical rehearsal. My daughter Emilia handled the lighting set up and her three-man union crew with competence and good humor. Daughter Eva helped out by running errands and assisting with the set-up backstage. We’re a bit like the Von Trapp Family of improvisational comedy – minus the lederhosen.

It was great to be working in a cabaret space again, designed and built a decade ago by Second City as its short-lived Cleveland outpost. Adjusting our staging to the 14th Street stage was easy, which was good because we had a few new things to rehearse. We’d made some tweaks for the Cleveland run, including a new line for Steve’s opening song in honor of the Cleveland Indians’ surprisingly competitive performance up to that point.

All the people are drinking their cocktails,

All the people are drinking their cocktails,

They’re happy, they’re hopeful, a smile on their face,

Tonight the Tribe’s just two games out of first place!

We opened the next night, Thursday, July 12th. We were fortunate to get some nice advance press, including an article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and another in Scene Magazine (at left), which was an important rock and roll rag back in my day and has since grown into a prime source for what’s hip and happening on the weekend in the Greater Cleveland area.

As Steve got behind the piano and kicked off the show that evening, Victoria and I waited offstage to make our entrance. I had not been on a Cleveland stage since 1976 (when I played George M. Cohan in a Bicentennial production of “George M!”) and there were a handful of cousins, former high school chums and teachers in the opening night crowd who hadn’t seen me perform since then.

Most of the audience were strangers, attracted by the press and Playhouse Square promotional effort. How would the show play in Cleveland, especially among folks who had no idea who we were? Vic and I were reassured within moments, when Steve got a warm, appreciative laugh singing, “Tonight the Tribe’s just two games out of first place.” From there, the laughter flowed.

From right: Elda Borroni (my social studies teacher,) Ellen Howard (my art teacher), her brother Jerry Fasko (my math teacher and football coach), Martha Benek (who played Marian the Librarian to my Prof. Harold Hill) and classmate Maryhelen Bednarchik and her friend John Schrader. We’re grateful they all came.

Our opening night show set a pattern for the Cleveland run: great crowds, including a delightful collection of family members, longtime friends, high school classmates, my favorite high school teachers, a large and receptive contingent of perfect strangers — and lots of boisterous, knowing laughter.

The only frustration was that there was not enough time to spend with all of the special people who came.  A Northwestern classmate, Ellen Hyman Jones, drove all the way out from New York to see the show! There was barely enough time to dash out to the lobby and greet as many folks as possible before we had to clear the theatre, straighten backstage, and get our union crew off the clock.

Friday was a very busy day. We began at 1:00 PM by putting on a free show at the senior center where my mom volunteers — Senior Citizen Resources near Broadview and Pearl Road.

As we set up for the show we had our concerns that many in the audience might be too old or too hard of hearing to get all the jokes – but we needn’t have been concerned.

That roomful of seniors turned out to be one of the most engaged and appreciative audiences we’d ever entertained.

There was no joke too subtle (or too racy) for this crowd. My mom sat at the center table with her fellow Red Hat Ladies and my sister, Nancy.

A good time was had by all — especially us.

Then it was on to the West Side Market. I was eager to show off the market to Steve, Emilia and Eva. (Vic had seen it before.) It’s been a Cleveland landmark on West 25th Street since 1912. Unknown to me, the West Side Market was, of course, celebrating its centennial – and there was a festive buzz in the air. Here are Emilia and Eva enjoying the view from a balcony high above the crowded stalls filled with meats, cheeses, bakery, and other fabulous ethnic foodstuffs.

Next, we drove to the east side of Cleveland to meet with my high school art teacher and mentor, Ellen Howard (Ellen Fasko back in my day), for a quick tour of my high school. Or at least one of the campuses I attended.

We didn’t have a football field when I went to CCC.

In my day, Cleveland Central Catholic was a one-of-a-kind educational institution. In 1969, four struggling Catholic high schools – two on the west side (St. Michaels and St. John Cantius) and two on the east side (Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Stanislaus – joined together in a unique scholastic experiment. My brother Peter was in that first CCC class. Three years later I enrolled as a freshman.

Photo by Ellen Howard.

By my junior year I was driving crosstown to classes on both sides of the Cuyahoga River Valley, known in Cleveland as The Flats. Today, only one campus remains: St. Stan’s — the one we toured. Ellen showed Vic, Steve and the girls the building where my football locker room was (and still is), as well as the classrooms where I took art class and history. We also pored over the 1976 yearbook from my senior year that I’d worked on, writing copy and photo captions. Ellen was our yearbook advisor – and remains a Central Catholic treasure to this day.

During our stay in Cleveland we also squeezed in a visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, less than a mile’s walk from Playhouse Square. There was way too much to see at The Hall of Fame and we had far too little time to see it all, but it was a rewarding experience nonetheless. A particular highlight was sitting on the floor with my wife and daughters, all of us spellbound by a series of videos detailing the unique stories behind each of The Beatles’ wondrous albums. We could have sat there forever — but we had a show to do.

Closing night of “The Vic & Paul Show” at the 14th Street Theatre was a triumphant end to a great run. After the show (and a frantic load-out) we raced back across The Flats to the near west side for a closing night party at Sokolowski’s University Inn, a fine Polish restaurant run by former high school classmates of mine.

A typical view from The Flats.

Another view from The Flats.

Ellen Howard, my classmate Frank Nunez & me.

A special group of my favorite former high school teachers, coaches, classmates and family were waiting at Sokolowski’s to celebrate with us. It was a magical end to a wonderful Cleveland homecoming: a memorable party full of friendship, laughter, great old stories, good wine — and several plates piled high with pierogi!

Eva, Elda and Emilia.

Cleveland knows how to party.

This Cleveland stage of my summer sabbatical was particularly important. After two decades of making television shows that entertained a remote audience whose response to my work I could only imagine – taking “The Vic & Paul Show” to Cleveland was an opportunity to reconnect with live audiences in a town far away from Hollywood and many miles removed from Chicago, where The Practical Theatre Company made some history and earned a reputation that lingers today.

Making salt of the Earth Clevelanders laugh was a professional victory for us all — and a deeply personal honor for this author.

If I did nothing else during my summer sabbatical, our adventure in The Best Location in The Nation made it all worthwhile.

Next: Further cabaret explorations in Evanston and Chicago, a brief return to Cleveland, and “The Vic & Paul Show” summer tour ends on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

8 Comments

Filed under Art, Comedy, Improvisation

Mitt Romney. Worst. Candidate. Ever.

GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s premature knee-jerk response to yesterday’s attacks on American embassies in Libya and Egypt reveal the low character of the man – and make it clear he is not fit for the Presidency.

Before Romney could possibly know the facts, before the State Department had identified our dead, before President Obama could publically address this national tragedy, Mitt sought the television cameras to score cheap political points with an unfounded, uneducated and vastly unhelpful attack on the President and, by extension, the heroic members of our foreign service stationed in harm’s way. Romney’s behavior in this moment of crisis was entirely selfish and profoundly un-American. (He even smirked as he walked away from the podium after launching his patently unserious salvo.)

American Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other embassy workers killed in the rocket attack in Benghazi, Libya deserved far better than to serve as props for Mitt Romney’s cheap political stunt.

There was a time when partisanship in American politics stopped at the water’s edge.

Romney’s ham-handed diplomatic buffoonery and lack of foreign policy wisdom should disqualify him as a candidate for President of the United States. The fact that Mitt’s rash, false and incendiary accusations against President Obama have been met with approval by right wing tools like disgraced former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Senator Jim DeMint (Tea Party-SC) and Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) only add to the argument against Romney’s judgment, his character, and his candidacy.

Sorry, my Republican friends, this is your guy for 2012: perhaps the worst Presidential candidate in the modern era. One wonders how — with that huge silver spoon in his mouth — he still manages to find room to stick his foot in it, too.

Shame on you, Mitt Romney.

7 Comments

Filed under Politics

The Bounce!

Now that both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are over – there are two things have become increasingly clear as the national tracking polls roll out day after day.

Mitt got no significant bounce out of his convention.

President Obama got a very healthy bounce. As of today – Obama’s bounce is anywhere from 5 to 7 points depending upon the poll. Now, the polls all show Obama leading Romney by anywhere from 4 to 6 points – and Gallup has the President at 52%

It’s possible that Obama’s numbers will continue to rise as the weekly tracking polls no longer include any days after the RNC and include more days during and immediately after the Democrats’ very successful convention.

But while progressives like me celebrate Obama’s bounce, there are a couple of things we liberals should begin to focus on.

1. It’s all about GOTV – Get Out The Vote.

Obama’s leads in the Gallup, Ipsos, Rasmussen and CNN polls mean nothing if Obama voters don’t – or can’t — vote. We must avoid the kind of liberal apathy that allowed the Tea Party to win so many Congressional seats in the 2010 mid-term elections – and we must overcome voter suppression efforts in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, among others.

2. The down-ballot elections are vitally important. Democrats must keep their Senate majority — and we’ve got to reduce the GOP lead in the House.

Dear home state Ohioans! Re-elect Senator Sherrod Brown!

Hopefully, we can take over the House and make John Boehner a minority leader. Wouldn’t that be a joy?

Watch those Senate races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri and Virginia!

But, for the moment, you have my permission to pause a moment and enjoy The Obama Bounce.

Boing!

2 Comments

Filed under Politics