Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Night with Jennifer Hudson!


Every once and while you get to be a part of something truly special!

This Friday, September 21st, PBS will air a program called "From Dust to Dreams, Opening Night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts" And I will be on it! Blink and you may miss me or you may need to get a magnifying glass, but I was there! Onstage! Singing my little heart out.

The first weekend in March of this year I received a call inviting me to be a part of the Las Vegas All Stars Choir who were to perform at the Smith Center Gala opening the following weekend, backing JENNIFER HUDSON!

I was like, um...YES!

First of all, The Smith Center is an amazing, 500 Million Dollar theatre opening here in Las Vegas. It's seriously the most amazing building I have ever been in. And it means all kinds of theatre is coming to Las Vegas that has never been here! It's kinda a huge big deal. And it's exciting! I'm praying it will provide more opportunities for us local actors as well.

It was a really fun experience. First of all, it was really exciting that the person who referred me to be a part of the choir was one of the actresses who plays Christine in Phantom of the Opera: The Las Vegas Spectacular. I have worked with her in a few concerts and she came out to our production of Damn Yankees to sing the national anthem. I was thrilled that she thought of me...and even had my phone number to give our choir leader, Bruce!

I was sent some music and invited to rehearsal. We were to sing a song called "Take Care of This House" - an Irving Berlin song. It was arranged by Rob Mathes, an arranger/composer, nationally renowned music producer/director, performer, Emmy Nominee and all around cool guy. And it's just cool to have a piece of music that says "For Jennifer Hudson" on it!

Walking in to my first rehearsal was exciting! There were a lot of people there who were friends of mine! It was fun catching up and to get to perform alongside so many wonderful and talented people. And then we actually got to work with Mr. Mathes. He was great, funny and impressed with how well we knew our music.

We came back the night before the gala for our dress rehearsal. As we walked into the theatre, we caught Ms. Hudson herself singing another number that she would be performing the following evening. Um...COOLNESS! Then she exited and we were brought onstage to run through the song. The band was amazing...and HUGE!
She came back out and we worked the song a few times and they also worked out some technical issues. It was good to watch her work...she had some uncertainty with some of the song and before she left the stage, she turned to us and promised that she would have it by tomorrow night! It was very endearing.

Jennifer Hudson in Rehearsal

The next day we had to be there very early for an evening show. But there was a dress rehearsal all day. The asked us to be in wardrobe for the rehearsal as they were going to tape it in case they needed some of it for the broadcast.

With my friends Justin, Francesca and Dustin on the balcony of the Smith Center.

The part that was kinda stinky was that we didn't get to be backstage with the rest of the performers. We were kept in a conference room just off of the lobby.

After we had arrived and gotten the information we needed, we realized it was going to be a long wait for our rehearsal because we were last on the program. So they said we could go in and watch the dress rehearsal! Now THAT was amazing!

The line up of celebrities was amazing and extremely varied!  Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris! Willie Nelson, Jon Fogerty, Carole King, Martina McBride, Joshua Bell (the Violinist), Emmy Lou Harris...and some of my favorite broadway stars including Sherrie Rene Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Cheyenne Jackson! And we got to watch a lot of it. My favorite moment was when Brian Stokes Mitchell sang "The Impossible Dream." He is sheer perfection! And Martina McBride is no joke! Even in rehearsal she was FLAWLESS! It was just really fun to see so many legendary performers. And NPH kept joking with all of us.

A fuzzy picture of Neil Patrick Harris during rehearsal.
We were called back about 3/4 of the way through the program to line up backstage. And as we're standing there...I look up and see all the broadway people walking by! And we were lined up against the wall in a hallway, so they passed nice and close. Cheyenne Jackson gave the girl next to me a big hug - they had worked together years ago! Sherrie Rene Scott and Laura Osnes were arm in arm, singing a harmony together. Benjamin Walker was all smiles and said hello, as did Brian Stokes Mitchell. And Montego Glover was just statuesque in the most amazing gown. It was just really cool to be in such close company with such incredible broadway stars! I also saw a couple of musicians, stage hands and wardrobe friends backstage.

Then Mavis Staples, a legendary gospel singer walked by and struck up a conversation with one of the ladies in the choir and hung out with us for ages! She was so sweet. We then entered the stage and ran our number. Now, I have to confess, the song is kind of weird. But what Jennifer did with it was an inspiration! Truly. And...teleprompters are really confusing when you are singing backups...the words on the screen are for the lead singer, in case you were wondering. It was hard not to look,'s this HUGE screen in the back of the theatre!

It was time to head back up to the waiting room and just as I was exiting, Jennifer Hudson also exited. She was super sweet and said hello to all of us and thanked us for singing with her. It's always nice when someone with so much fame is kind.

We were served sandwiches and wraps and settled in to watch the show on the live feed into our room and spend some time catching up with old friends and making new ones...and maybe helping ourselves to the cake pops and chocolate covered strawberries they had for the guests. SHHHHHH! Don't tell. Josh Bell stole the show, and the trio of Carole King, Martina McBride and Jennifer Hudson singing "Natural Woman"...ok, it tied for stealing the show.

They took us down a little later in the show this time, so we didn't get to see the broadway stars again. But as I entered the stage, in the dark of the backstage, I noticed a figure in white coming towards us waving and telling us good luck. It was Neil Patrick Harris! I may have told him that I love him...I can't remember, it was a all a blur!

The performance itself was just incredible. The room was electric and as soon as we were done, the audience sprang to it's feet. Jennifer Hudson, well, she killed it. She is truly an incredible vocalist. I don't usually like singing in choirs, but was an experience I'll never forget. It's always rewarding being a part of something special...and this was!

See me? See me? C' ya see me? No?

There I am!
I just wanted to share a bit behind the scenes...I mean, it's not every day you get to be on a national broadcast! I look forward to watching it and remembering the night I was a little tiny part of history!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dear Bermuda

Dear Bermuda,

I'm writing this to sum up my experience. Sure, I've been home for almost 3 weeks, but you will stay with me always. And I sincerely hope this won't be our last encounter...I have a good feeling that it won't be.

I loved my time in Bermuda. Mostly. There were some hard times, but they were just annoyances. Well, except that weekend I was really sick, that stunk, but I had the foresight to bring the right medicine with me and all was well.

I loved just being there. The sticky warm air that stuck to my skin. The incredible blue of the ocean. Or on rainy days when it turned silver reflecting the clouds. The sound of my children playing outside - something they don't get to do in Las Vegas in the summer. The smile of the market place manager every time I went in, which was far too often! Comparing the sand of the different beaches we visited. Seeing fish and other underwater creatures in their own element. SO much better than a zoo or aquarium. The chorus of frogs that greeted us at sundown every evening. I don't know how, but they helped me sleep and I miss their sound!

The motion sickness inducing car rides on roads so narrow and windy you had to remind yourself that your driver had lived there all their lives, this is what they are used will be safe! Just don't stick your hand out the are really that close to another car. Relying on our own two feet to get us wherever we needed to go - the store and the beach mostly, the places we went with frequency. And when we needed to go further and we didn't want to pester our local "chauffeurs", our feet carried us to the bus stops, which were an experience unto themselves.

What a lesson in appreciating the conveniences of life. There was no McDonalds down the street if I was too tired to cook. It drove me nearly insane to have to cook every meal every day.  Seriously. Fixing a toilet required a special trip to the hardware store. Out of milk? It's a 15 minute walk to the store each way. Nothing nearby is open 24 hours. A cell phone. I guess I could have bought an international plan, but I didn't need it. It was liberating to be free. My phone was my camera and clock. No checking facebook every 10 minutes or listening for the ding of a text or email.

Our beautiful neighbor, Miss Sheryl, who took our children under her wing, sharing snacks and toys and conversation with our kids. Her two adorable twin grandsons. Her offer to take us to Bermuda's best beach and a treat of Snowballs on the way home. The last night we were there, she came to our door with a gift. To thank us when it was we who should have been thanking her. And we did, with pictures dedicated to Miss Sheryl and delivered just before we left.

The show. The cast. The people. To see them learn and grow and fight for excellence. And ending up with a show that moved me to tears nightly and was widely recognized for the beautiful show that it was. To see the cast and crew and recognize that look on their faces - that they have that feeling that only comes from being a part of something bigger than yourself. The feeling that I have only felt onstage, in a community of people existing in an energy that you will feel no where else. To know that I was even a small part of helping them arrive at that level of emotion, well, it's humbling.

Seldon and Shoa, our fearless leaders. Such courage to take on something of this magnitude and to accept nothing less than the full scale show they envisioned. To provide the youth in their program with such support and to give so freely of themselves. They are the true embodiment of the Bermudian spirit. For the lovely words they shared on closing night, for recognizing that Steve and I are truly a team. My heart was filled. But again, I should be thanking you. And I am. From the bottom of my heart.

But, Bermuda, what you gave me that I treasure the most is time. The first week there I was in a stupor! Without a million things to do and places to be, I didn't know what to do. When was the last time my biggest concern in life was what to cook and what time to go to the beach to catch the tide when it's not too low or too high? Once it settled in, oh how wonderful it felt! I had the time to step back and examine my life. To actually make goals for the future. To read books that would inspire new ideas and remind me of old ones. To make a dozen lists about a dozen different things! To be quiet enough to hear my inner whispers - the ones that get lost when life is to busy. To remember and discover who I am and what I want.

Time to have hours of conversation with my husband. Having a good, intense conversation with my husband is just about my favorite thing. Time for game after game of Taboo and checkers. To see Lola and Ryder grasp the concept of the game and actually start to get good! Birthday celebrations with gifts from the Dollar Store and birthday girls who never suspected. A lesson learned about gifts, that's for sure. Time for me and time for my kids and a little (but not enough) time for me and my husband. I came home with a new outlook on and valuation of time. I feel like a whole new person. I am in control of my time and I choose how to spend it. And while real life demands more of me, I know how to control it now. I know to cherish it.

Bermuda, my friend, the 8 weeks we spent together will stay with me always. I am inspired to seek out new adventures and experiences. Thank you for showing me the way and being so welcoming on my first one.

Love always,

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Let's be friends!

I confess that I haven't been in much of a writing mood lately. Just been really sick with sick kids and it's kinda done me in mentally as well. I feel like I'm finally coming out of it so I was excited when I woke up this morning....bright and early on a Sunday even, with thoughts that just need to be written down!

But yes, the kids all made it back in school successfully - Chloe even decided to go back to regular school and she's loving it.

So anyway...friends!

In my new found child-free time during the day, I have been able to get out of the house and have some coffee/lunch dates. YAY! During one of my conversations this past week, one of the things we discussed sparked my thoughts and I've been really examining myself as a friend. The friend I was talking to mentioned that she has a hard time making new friends because she's very shy in a new environment. But she also mentioned and I have observed about her that she truly values the friendships that she has and they are very important to her. She seems to nurture her friendships and put a lot of effort into them.  That is what got me thinking.

What kind of a friend am I? I have a lot of friends but very few "close" friends. I will say that my husband is definitely my best friend - I really love the conversations we have together. I really feel like we learn a lot from each other and grow together because of each other. I'm very grateful for the relationship we have. 

I have lots of theatre friends - "show friends" if you will. People who I have good relationships with truly care about, but don't have much interaction with outside of theatre related events. I keep up with them on facebook and am always happy to see them when I'm out, but I don't necessarily plan to see them. And I am fine with that - I am in a very different place than most of my show friends. Many of them are younger and few have families. I do cherish these relationships and look forward to the time I have with show friends!

But close friends - I have very few. Again, this is fine! I'm not a huge social butterfly and with my family and life, there's no need for that. I do have a group of "show friends" I feel closer to and make time to hang out with. And I have about a handful of friends who I consider close friends, who I can talk to and what not. Of course, my sister is one of those people. We are sisters but we are also friends. 

There are some friends that I wish I had closer relationships with, but I'm just now realizing that I need to put more effort into it. As my shy friend told me that she has a hard time making new friends, I realized that I can talk to anyone - I'm good at that initial conversation. It's the followup that I stink at. The introduction is easy, it's the followup when my insecurities fall in. I start to think - why would this person want to be my friend? what if they thought I was annoying? Did I talk about myself too much? Can I trust them? It's from here that my friendships end up growing slowly. I don't think that's a bad thing, but I definitely realize that I need to put more effort out there. I remember myself as a teenager, always feeling sorry for myself when I walked into a room of girls my age and no one asked me to sit by them. I remember expressing that feeling to a church leader who said - why didn't you ask anyone to sit by you? Maybe those other girls were feeling the same way.

I didn't want to believe her - it's always easier to feel sorry for ones self than take responsibility, right? It wasn't until YEARS later when I was talking to a girl I considered to be "popular" in our teenage years that she told me she had the exact same feeling of loneliness and not being accepted by the group as I did that I realized I shouldn't be so hard on myself!

So I guess this is my rather round about way of saying that I am going to be a better friend. To reach out to those I care about and be more supportive and initiate more opportunities to spend time together. I do care deeply about my friends and just need to get over myself a little more. Easier said than done, I know! And to be selective to surround myself with friends who will also be supportive of me and build me up as I do the same for them. 

Here's hoping I can continue the writers bug...I have much to share and new projects in the works...YAY!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Final Weekend of Fun...Part 3 & Coming Home!

While our counterparts back home were heading off to their first day of school, we headed just down the road to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum of Natural History and Zoo!
Waiting for the bus!
We were invited there by the mother of one of the cast members and when we arrived, the lady who let us in was so excited to meet us and told us (almost in tears) just how much she loved the show! It was really cool.

So it wasn't a very large aquarium, museum or zoo, but it was fascinating and we had a wonderful time. We started in the aquarium where it was fun to learn the names of some of the fish we had seen snorkeling!

Then we headed out into the zoo exhibits. The first was a Madagascar exhibit. It was a little weird because some of the animals were just out IN the exhibit with you. So we saw the lemurs - high above us but unobstructed by a cage!

King Julian indeed!
There was a Foosa that we didn't ever see and a few other animals. Then we moved on to Australasia and the Caribbean. Lots of fun animals, but our favorites were the Golden Lion Tamarins...who were just INCHES away from us! I've got to admit, it was really hard not to reach out and try to touch one.

We had some playground time and hit up the museum - which was very enlightening about Bermuda's history.

Later that night, Steve and I had to take one last walk down to the convenience store for our favorite Pina Colada smoothies!

The next day, Steve and I headed in to Hamilton to meet our friend Dan for lunch! He is the cruise director on one of the Holland America ships that was docked in Hamilton - how cool was that to meet a friend for Bermuda!

We then walked over to the rehearsal studio where the costumes were drying out from the run, packed them up and headed home...with a stop for a real Bermuda snowball. We would know them as snow cones - man, were they yummy!

When we got home, we took the kids to our beach for the last time. It was fun, but definitely sad when it was time to go.

All too soon, it was Wednesday and time to go home. We were all happy and sad to be heading home. Happy to head back for new projects, school, the conveniences of life but sad to leave behind the beaches, the frogs chirping at night, the crazy bus rides and the wonderful people! And the dog...I think more tears were shed over Marlee, our doggy charge for the summer. The kids really fell in love with her!

I was surprised and thrilled when many members of Troika met us at the airport to say goodbye! It was very touching. I'm really going to miss these people!

L to Right - Top Row - Leslie Bean (Shoa's Mom), Seldon Woolridge (producer), Steve, Chloe, Kayla (actress), Me, Amani (actress), Shoa Bean (Producer)
L to R Bottom - Ashun (Production Assistant), Lola, Ryder, Piper
We arrived home safely and it's been a whirlwind ever since. I do have more to share about Bermuda and some thoughts about our adventure, so I have plenty of blogging to get caught up on. See you again soon!