Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Week of All Weeks: Salon, Birthday, Marquee Five, MAC, Big Gay Idol, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory!

This week was one for the record books - due to all the blog-worthy events the past week, this entry is going to be so long and will require a Table of Contents! Read on and click through the following for the "event" you're most interested in reading about:

03.21.10 Sigali Sings "Solstice" and The Salon
03.24.10 My Birthday and Marquee Five at The Iguana!
03.25.10 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, MAC Awards, & Big Gay Idol
03.26-28.10 The Weekend, Interview, and back to The Salon!

03.21.10 Sigali Sings "Solstice" and The Salon
Sunday I went to Sigali's Metropolitan Room debut show "Solstice," which featured her wonderful soprano trill, comedio-frantic uptempo songs, and modern-rock-ballads-made Standards. Some wonderful material choices were made (I loved her voice on "Trouble With Tahiti" and "Grateful"). She has more shows in April at the Metropolitan Room, and check out her website.

After that, I headed on over to my weekly Sunday haunt, The Salon. I'm the official Bloggette of this open mic, so you can read my detailed explanation on all the singers and events at the official blog. I sang a song originally heard via Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, "On Such a Night as This," written by Hugh Martin. It's an odd little song, romantic yet comedic. According to Michael Colby, it was written as a comeback Broadway vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald (there's a tongue-in-cheek reference to Jeanette's in the lyric "On such a set did young Jeanette sing lover come back to me"). However, she died before the show (entitled "A Little Night Music" before the Sondheim show) came into fruition. I sang it in my 2007 one-woman show in Los Angeles and brought it back to The Salon to stay on the theme of "Heavenly Bodies/Spring Equinox," since it did reference the stars in the skies as well as the stars of Hollywood. Special guest performer of the evening was Jenna Esposito, who blogged her experience of the evening (plus a few more) and mentioned me on her blog.

03.24.2010 My Birthday and Marquee Five at the Iguana!
Wednesday was my Birthday, so I took the day off from any possible work and treated myself right: chiropractor, hair cut, conversation with Mom, shopping for a few accessories, stopping by Brookstone to demo the massage chairs and hand-held massage tools (mmmm!), then met my husband Pete for sushi/rice balls at a new restaurant/cafe discovery - OmsB - on the East side. They specialize in wrapped rice and various fillings in triangular "balls," which are super portable and really fun to eat. We walked back to the Iguana club, eating Tasti D Lite (no Pinkberry in the area, unfortunately).

Then the singing began! Hosts Richard Skipper & Dana Lorge had invited my singing group Marquee Five to perform a small set of songs at their weekly Wednesday Night at the Iguana open mic, which is held in the Iguana Club. Featured performers get at least 2 or 3 songs to sing, while others can come and sing a few songs if time and schedule permits. Marquee Five sang two songs, both arranged by our Music Director/Tenor Adam West Hemming. The first was "All that Jazz" as sung from our show "We Can Make It: The Songs of Kander & Ebb" (which we are bringing back April 15th - yes, tax day - at Don't Tell Mama at 8:30pm, tickets available now hint hint). The second was a medley entitled "The Travel and Weather Together Medley." As I explained it onstage, now that Marquee Five is planning on putting together a new show, it's time for us to play with songs, sounds, and other styles other than Kander & Ebb. The medley included clips of Ray Charles, Lady Gaga (yes!), Heisler & Goldrich, and some classic big band/standard songs. Some of these might be expanded into full arrangements by Adam in the near future. In any event, the audience seemed to love the new material! It being my birthday, I was also surprised on stage by Richard carrying a flan cake & candle, and afterwards I drank a delicious X-tini (martini with pommegranate juice & blood orange liqueur) to celebrate.

03.25.10 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, MAC Awards & Big Gay Idol
Thursday was a wonderful mixture of emotions. In the morning, I packed my cameras and some research material and went to the 99th anniversary commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. My great-grandmother Gertrude "Babe" Rapp worked at the factory, and survived the fire only by leaving early for the day. The fire, which took place the afternoon of March 25th, 1911, sparked a huge Labor Union rally to improve working conditions in factories across the nation. About 149 people died in the fire, mainly young female immigrants. Babe's connection with the fire was always a part of my family's history (I even wrote a 5th grade paper on the subject for my American History class) and it was wonderful to come to New York and finally be there on an anniversary to commemorate my great-grandmother's life and the deaths of many of her friends and co-workers. I attended the 10am coffee hour planned by The Families and Friends Committee of Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and sat in on discussions of a future memorial, the 100th anniversary plans for next year's commemoration. HBO cameras were there to record for a future documentary, and I recorded right back at them with my little handheld Flip camera. I was also able to talk to family members of those who actually did die in the fire and show them pictures of Babe and my research on the fire. It was sobering, especially seeing the shirtwaist-banners made with some of the names of the victims. Babe said one of her best friends, Sadie, died in the fire - I found and carried a shirtwaist-banner with the name of Sadie Nussbaum on the sash. We carried them from the coffee hour location to the actual building - now named the Brown Building - for the commemoration itself.

There we saw a stage, some musicians, lots of video cameras, a modern fire engine, and a mixed crowd of adults, some NYU students, and a bunch of schoolchildren in plastic fire captain's helmets (on a school field trip on fire safety and history). On the corner of the old Triangle building was a wreath and an area where people drew in chalk on the ground. During the commemoration, there were speakers, politicians, relatives of survivors and victims, and a constant reminder that what happened at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (abuses in fire safety, locked doors, and general neglect for employee safety) still happens in countries around the world. Take, for example, the death of 22 people in a clothing factory fire in Bangladesh not a month ago. We still have a lot to learn as a global economy!

Standing with the other relatives on the stage, I began to become emotional when the fire engine was commanded to raise it's long modern ladder to the 8th floor of what used to be the factory building. The original fire trucks of the period only had ladders that could reach the 8th floor. Most of the people who died worked on the 9th and 10th floors (Babe was a forelady on the 9th, so had she not left earlier in the day, it was entirely probable that she would have met the same ghastly fate). Seeing the ladder hanging there within view of the top floors but impossible to reach made it all to clear how terrifyingly it would be for anyone trapped on the 9th floor to realize that the ladders were not available to them. I also got a bit emotional as 149 carnations, each with the name of a victim, were handed out to the school children and crowds. We stood in line and each spoke the name on our carnation into a microphone. A special ceremonial bell was rung, and each carnation was laid down near the wreath at the foot of the building. My carnation had the name of Jennie Stellino. The bell was apparently the same bell used in the 9/11 ceremony each year, so that had a lot of significance associated with it as well.

Me & Sadie's banner

The bell

Flowers & bell at the foot of the building.

The building

Leaving the ceremony in the early afternoon, I read on my iPhone via a Facebook message from my friend Nathan (he always knows things before I do!) that Marquee Five had been nominated for a MAC Award in the Vocal Duo/Group category!!!! The announcement had been made at Barnes & Noble in a special ceremony just an hour earlier. This is incredibly gratifying for all five of us, our Director Peter Napolitano, and our pianist Mark Janas. It's a great thing to add to our publicity, and if we WIN the award in May we'll be over the moon with excitement. The full list of nominees can be read here - MANY of my friends (and The Salon and Iguana open mics) have been nominated, and I wish all of them all the congratulations they deserve.

The day was special enough - but it wasn't over yet! I had been shortlisted by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus earlier that week to take part in the Big Gay Idol portion of their second annual Big Gay Sing (see this earlier blog entry for the submission I sent in). The show that I was to compete in took place that Thursday night (four male singers would compete on Friday during the second performance). My competition was Marsha Mercant - a wonderful singer, the guest performer of the evening was none-other than the legendary singer-actress Petula Clark and the host of the evening was Scott Nevins (who brought a huge amount of energy, humor, and some hilarious impersonations to the Skirball stage). During the first act, Marsha and I one after the other were interviewed briefly (I got to plug Marquee Five and our brand new MAC Award nomination!) and then we each sang the last verse and finale of the Cabaret song "Maybe This Time" with just piano accompaniment by Christopher Littlefield. We then turned our backs to the audience and Scott held his hand over each of our heads, asking members of the NYCGMC to count raised hands in the audience as official votes. So when we left the stage, we didn't know who had won. We enjoyed watching the rest of the first act from the wings until returning to our dressing room during intermission. We were then informed that I had won!!! After a brief talk-through of the song with the conductor/MD Charles Beale, I watched the second act from the wings again, and then walked on stage and sang the entire version of "Maybe This Time" with the band and the chorus playing and singing backup. I had never been backed up by such a huge group of people, and I could feel their immense energy behind me as I sang. A wonderful experience all around! Thanks go to Artistic Director Charles Beale, Jeff Lettiere, Christopher Littlefield, Host Scott Nevins, Executive Director Peter Criswell, and all the lovely singers of the NYC Gay Men's Chorus!

with Marsha Mercant

with Host Scott Nevin

with Pianist Christopher Littlefield

03.26-28.10 The Weekend, Interview, and back to The Salon!
Since I had spent my birthday night with Marquee Five at the Iguana club, on Friday I went out with Pete for a celebratory sushi dinner that neither of us could really afford but who cared anyway :P. It was down near Southstreet Seaport, and although it was cold we walked around a bit until our reservation time was near. I had some plum wine, Pete had his obligatory salmon skin handroll, and we had green tea ice cream, so most of our bases were covered.

The next day, I headed over to Adelphi University and was interviewed on camera by two graduate students on the oral history passed down to me by my family regarding Babe and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I brought the printouts of my 5th grade essay, some online research, and pictures of my great-grandmother that my sister Lisa Rein had found in our Dad's collection of family photos. Arriving unprepared to anything is weird enough for me, and this was my first official on-camera interview. So I felt a little weird talking off the cuff. However, the guys were very sweet and we're going to swap footage (their interview footage of me for my flip camera Commemoration footage).

Grandma Erma Rein & Great-Grandma Gertrude "Babe" Rapp holding a baby picture of me

Today, I did my normal weekly mid-day Sunday job teaching Drama over at All Soul's Church, and am now looking forward to enjoying The Salon tonight (the theme is "Never Before Heard," the guest performer is Bill Zeffiro and the co-host of the evening is Frank Evans).

blog done...whew!...


Anonymous said...

What a fabulous week you had. Your blog was very moving. Your great-grandmother's story and your winning the Gay Idol competition, fabulous. I teared up just reading about your week. Love, Jenny

Sierra Rein said...

Thank you so much, Jenny! You're so supportive and I truly appreciate it!