Cemetery rose — New York City, May 2017
Cemetery rose — New York City, May 2017
And in other news, this announcement also came out today. Very proud of Ben, who has been cast in the Broadway-bound "Mean Girls," written by Tina Fey and produced by Lorne Michaels. The show opens on Oct. 31 at The National Theatre in Washington, D.C., with a run planned for New York in the spring.
Amusement park fun — Coney Island, N.Y., October 2015
Cheap roses — New York City, May 2017
Walking near Greenwich Village — New York City, November 2016
Twilight on the High Line — New York City, September 2015
Never forget — New York City, November 2016
Tombstones and skyscrapers — New York City, May 2017
Summer blockbuster — New York City, May 2017
No day but today — New York City, May 2017
Solidarity in stone — New York City, May 2017
Flowering firework — Bayville, N.Y., July 2010
Hello, New York. It’s been a while…
On my first trip to the city in several months, I had the opportunity to take dance photos in Washington Heights with my twins (Ben and Emma) and three alums from the “Newsies” tour cast (Josh Burrage, Kaitlyn Frank, and Iain Young).
A subway tunnel on 191st Street and Fort Tryon Park provided the backdrop for this latest set in the series.
For more photos, go to my Facebook album here. Click on the "Art & Dance" tab at the top of this page to see more galleries in the series.
I've been trying to refrain from entering the Trump fray on Facebook, knowing that saying anything about the current shit show we live in will both alienate and embolden people. But this column by David Brooks — someone I don't always agree with, BTW — nails it on the head.
On a related note, I was fortunate to see "Come From Away" last week in New York. It tells the story of how a small Newfoundland community bound together to help airline passengers stranded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Without being overly political, the show is beautiful, a salve on the wounds of history and a temporary respite from our current situation. It is a ray of hope in increasingly dark times.
Flag in the mirror — Chittenango Falls, N.Y., August 2015
Windy afternoon on Coney Island — August 2015
Canal bridge — near Syracuse, N.Y., October 2015
Black & White Week: Steamy night in New York City — March 2015
New York City as Gotham — November 2016
Taking headshots of your own children is more difficult than you might think. They’re often your toughest critics — justifiably — and you learn as much as you teach them. That said, when your kids are performers and dad is a photographer for a living, you work it out.
Now that my twins, Ben and Emma, are college age and living in different cities, it’s difficult to photograph them together. Both wanted new headshots for upcoming auditions, however, and as it turns out, they wanted to go to the same place.
Here is the result. I’m very pleased, and they seemed to be, too.
You can see more photos by going to the “Portraits” section of my website and clicking on the Performers/Dancers link.
Continuing our series of headshots, take a look at these photos of repeat customer Georgia, a second semester freshman at New York’s Pace University. The photos are up at http://glenncook.virb.com/georgia.
Shadow tree — New York City, March 2016
Outside the Oculus, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub — New York City, November 2016
Long ride — New York City, November 2016
All aboard — New York City, February 2017
Throwing shade — New York City, November 2016
Looking for a sign — New York City, February 2016
Harlem Mural — New York City, January 2016
Another "Road Show" selection, today's "Daily Photo" was taken while walking through Harlem with my wife last January during a trip to New York City. As anyone who visits this page regularly knows, I'm a great fan of graffiti and outdoor artists, and this one in particular caught my eye for two reasons.
First, seeing how the artist managed to navigate the many textures on the metal door is a remarkable feat. You can see many doors like this in New York and other urban cities, but this one is beautifully executed. Second, I love how the sprinkler/fire alarm bell is incorporated into the left eye, giving an already surreal work a cyborg effect.
You can see this and other photos through March 4 at the Workhouse Art Center in Lorton as part of "Road Show," the lead exhibit to the Collector's Showcase gallery on the second floor of building 16. The exhibit is open Wednesdays through Sundays.
So, in addition to this being Valentine's Day, we are marking the official kickoff of "Ben Cook Week" in the family. Last night started with Emma accompanying the boy to the Newsies movie premiere in New York.
Tomorrow it's Law & Order: SVU (check local listings) and then Newsies opens in movie theaters. Jill, Kate and I will see the movie with a bunch of family, extended family and friends at the Regal Springfield Town Center. Nick and Conner will see it in Durham and the Cook/Ghirardi clan are going in Clear Lake.
The movie, which received great reviews from those who saw the New York premiere, also is showing on Saturday and next Wednesday. Hope you get to see it!
In 2011, while walking to our apartment in New York from Penn Station, I happened upon the annual Broadway Barks event in Shubert Alley and was happily surprised to see two of my favorite actresses — Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore — up close. The two co-founded the animal adopt-a-thon in 1999 to promote animal adoption and make New York a no-kill city.
Moore, who won seven Emmys mostly for two classic shows that were a staple of my childhood, was known for her charitable endeavors. Her death on Tuesday at the age of 80 did not come as a huge surprise, but still caught me and I’m sure many of her fans off guard.
Thanks to syndication and streaming, we can continue to see Moore’s Laura Petrie and Mary Richards characters for ever. And I’m thankful that, for a few minutes at least, I had a chance to see one of my favorite comediennes do something she loved.
In my 30-year career, I've been fortunate to see — and photograph — the last five presidents at various events in Texas, North Carolina, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The first four times I saw the nation's commander-in-chief are from the pre-digital days (Reagan at the Challenger Memorial Service, Bush I at NASA's Johnson Space Center and at a campaign stop in Tyler, Clinton at the 200th anniversary of UNC-Chapel Hill).
I don't have any photos from those events scanned, but here are a few selections from others — Teacher of the Year ceremonies, NBC's Education Nation — dating back to 2003 and featuring Bush II, Clinton, and Obama.
For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.
Blast of Water — New York City, November 2016
This is the last week of "Road Show," my photography exhibit at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. This piece, one of 12 on display and today's "Daily Photo," was taken at a fountain near City Hall in Lower Manhattan last fall.
To see the other photos in the exhibit, all of which are for sale, go to the second floor of Building 16 at the Workhouse.
The boy singing "Top of the World" from Tuck last week at 54 Below. The "Not At This Performance" cabaret featured understudies who never had the chance to perform on stage.
Jill has long kidded that Ben would be a legitimate actor when he appears on an episode of "Law and Order." Well, at the end of tonight's episode, we finally got confirmation that next Wednesday is the date. (Check your local listings for air times.)
After the New York City marathon — November 2016
Building in a puddle — New York City, November 2016
Wonder Wheel — Coney Island, October 2015
Take a bow — New York City, November 2016
We could not be happier for Ginno and Elie, two members of our extended family who got married Sunday evening in New York with Ben and Casey Whyland serving as their witnesses. It's times like this when I'm reminded yet again that there is much to be thankful for...
Ben and Josh Burrage performing "Unemployed" to the music of "I'm Alive" from Next to Normal during Sunday's variety show at 54 Below in New York. The boys, who are roommates, wrote the lyrics to the tune.
We're having a quiet Thanksgiving at home, quite the contrast to years past. Feeling nostalgic with Ben, Emma, and Kate here together for the first time in months, I started going through old photos of past Thanksgivings.
A few things I noticed during our visual time travel:
• Over the last 20 years, we've had Thanksgiving dinner in at least 7 different cities in four states.
• Only two years (2001 and 2014) are not represented in this album. We were just moving into our home in Lorton in November 2001 and in 2014 we had just the girls here for a low-key Thanksgiving.
• After 2003, we didn't have Thanksgiving at home until 2013. Since then, we've been at home for three of the last four years.
• The last Thanksgiving all six McFarland/Cook first cousins were together was in 2012. They've only all been together a handful of times since. The last time all of the Cook/Ghirardi cousins were together was at my dad's funeral in 2007.
Going back through these photos was fun experience. Some years were easier than others — no surprise given that December is the month of birthdays. At times we were celebrating new opportunities; at others we were mourning those we had lost.
But all it takes is one quick look, and you can see why I give thanks every day for the life we have together.
Drew Minard is the fifth dancer I’ve shot this year who has taken on the role of “Billy Elliot” in the Broadway, national tour or regional productions of the Tony Award-winning musical. Now a student at the Professional Performing Arts School in New York City, Drew performed on the national tour from 2012 until it closed in Brazil the following year.
These photos were taken in New York City a couple of weeks ago. As with all of the young men who’ve played one of the most difficult child roles on stage — original director Stephen Daldry likens it to performing Shakespeare while running a marathon — I was in awe of his talent and professionalism.
And, appropriately, these shots were taken as the New York City Marathon wrapped up on a beautiful, chilly fall day.
Reunions that include all four kids are far too rare these days, so it was great to come together briefly in New York this past weekend. Ostensibly, the reason was to formally (and belatedly) celebrate Ben’s high school graduation, which we did with a small gathering of family (biological, extended, extensions of extended) on Saturday evening.
Nick and Conner came from Durham on Thursday night and, given that she had only visited the city a couple of times, we hit the sites hard on Friday. Nick took Conner to her first Broadway show (“Waitress”) and a friend gave them a backstage tour. Once the day was done, we had walked more than 10 miles.
On Saturday, Jill and Kate came in by train from Virginia and Emma flew in from Pittsburgh. At that point, we had all four children together for the first time since Emma’s graduation in July. Thanks to Ginno, Casey, Bernadette, and everyone else who took the time to stop by, say hello, give a hug, and catch up. It was great seeing all of you.
On Sunday, Emma and I stuck around and went to The Newsboys Variety Show at 54 Below to see Ben perform a song (“Unemployed”) with his roommate Josh. Again, I was struck by how kind and (obviously) talented the cast of this show is, and by how warm and friendly they are. They are a family unto themselves.
Before you knew it, the long weekend was over and it will be Christmas before the four are together again. But it was nice — very nice — while it lasted.
Headshots and dance photos of Zach, taken in New York City, are now up on my website at http://glenncook.virb.com/zach. Check them out and schedule a session of your own soon!
Headshot season is heating up! Check out these photos of Anissa, taken this summer in New York City, at http://glenncook.virb.com/anissa and schedule your session today!
9/11: Fifteen years. Never forgotten — New York City
I’ve been fortunate to know Zach Manske and his family for the past five years, ever since he and our son, Ben, shared the title role in the national tour of “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” Zach, who lives in Woodbury, Minn., was named “2016 National Senior Male Outstanding Dancer” last month by the New York City Dance Alliance.
A couple of weeks ago, Zach was completing a summer intensive at Julliard when I had the long-awaited opportunity to take his headshots and add to my “Art & Dance” portfolio. Ben, who is auditioning in New York, came along for the shoot, which took place in front of Lincoln Center and at Central Park.
As you might expect when you have not one, but two excellent dancers, the shoot was great fun. But the best part of the day was seeing these two young men, who became friends during a high pressure and intense time as kids, pick up right where they left off, urging each other on and enjoying a chance to perform.
For more photos, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/new-york-zach--ben.
Protect and serve — New York City, January 2016
Heading for the subway — New York City, January 2016
Flying the flag — New York City, September 2015
Isabella, a student at Interlochen Arts Academy in northwestern Michigan, hired me to take her head shots while she was at a summer intensive in New York City. To see more from the shoot, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/isabella.
The beautiful Chittenango Falls — Chittenango, N.Y., August 2015
Angry face — New York City, September 2014
Six years after I took this photo of a firework on Long Island, it remains a favorite... Happy 4th of July!
Icons and portraits — New York City, April 2016
Keep the light — New York City, April 2016
Tunnel stripes — Central Park, New York City, July 2016
Need some headshots? Check out these, taken of Ben during a session in New York City earlier this month. The photos are up at http://glenncook.virb.com/ben-2016.
City skyline — New York, June 2016
Lonely walk to the subway — New York City, June 2016
The imminent closing of "Tuck" aside, this video featuring the boy shows there's nothing he can't do ... even with a bunch of marshmellows stuffed in his mouth.
After three postponements due to rain, the cast of "Tuck Everlasting" performed yesterday on the "Today Show." It was a long morning, but a great opportunity, as cast members arrived at 5:30 a.m. and ran through the difficult number several times before performing it live in front of the cameras.
Unfortunately, the performance and imminent release of the soundtrack to the show was not enough to save it, as the producers announced today that "Tuck" will close this weekend. So watch this and relive briefly what has been a wonderful experience for Ben.
“Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” the first number in Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate,” is a famous show business anthem. Performed by the ensemble, the self-referential song is “a chance for stage folks to say hello” while also conveying the uncertainty that comes with opening a new show in front of an audience.
“Another job that you hope will last/Will make your future forget your past/Another pain where the ulcers grow/Another op’nin of another show.”
Just over a month ago, as “Tuck Everlasting” opened on Broadway, I found myself humming that song and wondering how long this small, family-friendly story would last in a crowded New York marketplace. It was the first time Ben had been in the opening of a Broadway show since “Ragtime” in November 2009, but the circumstances were much different then.
At the time, our son was just 11 (he turned 12 during the run). We had to get an apartment in the city and soon found our lives turned upside down in one of the most thrilling, confounding and, at times, scary periods we would have as a family.
With “Tuck,” Ben was 18 and striking out as a true — at least in the legal sense — adult for the first time.
The whispers started within a few days after “Tuck” opened to largely positive reviews, including a rave in the New York Times. The box office was not good. Ticket sales were stagnant. Expenses were high with the recording of the show’s soundtrack — due out June 3 on iTunes — and the creation of a video B-roll to promote “Tuck.” A decision to rely on social media and avoid print advertising almost entirely did not make sense, but I attributed that to being an old print guy.
The bump you’d expect in the first week after opening never happened, and a disappointing showing when the Tony nominations were announced did not bode well.
Three weeks of steady drizzle did not help either, forcing the postponement of a potential buzz-generating “Today Show” appearance three times. In one of the busiest seasons for new musicals in years, one that is nonetheless dominated by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, much-beloved “Hamilton,” it was proving to be a harsh uphill climb.
The day after the “Today Show” appearance, the producers decided to pull the plug. “Tuck,” the little show that could — and did — make it to Broadway, would not last until Memorial Day.
Why do shows that are so good, so rich and thought-provoking in their themes and execution, seem doomed to short runs?
It’s an age-old question that is answered, simply, with the phrase: “Broadway is a business.” And any business that doesn’t make money can run for only so long before it closes. When you’re looking at a show that spends hundreds of thousands a week just to keep the doors open, the risk/reward ratio makes even investing in such a proposition a daunting prospect. Just ask the producers of “American Psycho” or “Disaster,” two other new musicals that have met similar fates within the past month.
“Tuck’s” brief life was not due to a tainted spring or a man in a yellow suit, but to a fate that was an all-too-familiar flashback to “Ragtime.” No matter how entertaining the show was, how noble its themes and intent, the money talked.
On its final weekend, Emma and several of Ben’s friends from Northern Virginia went to New York to see "Tuck" while Jill and I went to the graduation events for our niece, Margaret, in North Carolina. Jill and I had a lovely time, but I kept thinking back to the days leading up to the “Ragtime” closing.
I remembered following Ben from our apartment on West 54th to the Neil Simon Theater just a few blocks away. It was a bright, sunny, and not horribly cold January Sunday. I took a picture of him walking down Broadway with tears in my eyes, feeling lost for my son. No one in our family knew what would happen next.
It has been a fascinating ride since then. Still, when something like this — such a heady, overwhelming mix of euphoria, sadness, joy and confusion — happens to your child, you can’t help but be touched by it. And each subsequent time it occurs touches you in some different way.
The same could be said for parenting. It never gets easier, just different. Your hopes and dreams for your children don’t evaporate even as they evolve with each experience. And they are still capable of bringing tears to your eyes at a moment’s notice.
On our way home from North Carolina, I found the picture I took on the day “Ragtime” closed and noted how things have changed over the past six-plus years.
“Today,” the Facebook/Instagram post read, “he made a similar trip for the final performance of ‘Tuck Everlasting,’ this time from his apartment and for the first time as an adult. We love you, son, and just like that day when I followed you as a 12-year-old into an uncertain future, I can't wait to see what happens for you next.”
Always... — New York City, April 2016
Stairs and shadows — New York City, April 2016
Moving out of the penthouse — New York City, February 2016
Graffiti bridge — outside Syracuse, N.Y., November 2015
Through the window — New York City, April 2016
Boots and booze — New York City, April 2016
Flowers for sale — New York City, March 2016
Post-New York randoms a week after Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway:
• Master of the Obvious: Well, that was a trip I won’t soon forget.
• The best part of the trip was getting to spend some quality alone time with my boys. I don’t get to do that enough.
• The second best part was seeing my son do what he loves, and seeing his siblings happy to be part of the experience. We missed Kate not being there, though.
• Watching a friend tap dance while Jon Dee Graham played an instrumental in the basement of the Hill Country BBQ was NOT the most surreal part of the trip. Close, but not quite.
• When people are obviously trying to listen to acoustic music in a small venue, I don’t know why some feel an uncontrollable urge to turn up their inner frat-boy volume to 11.
• I've was in way too many photos last week and not behind the camera enough. There is something wrong with this picture...
• Things I thought I'd never say: I agree with John Boener on something. But then he had to bring up Ted Cruz.
• Riding a bus home is OK until you get stuck in traffic and someone decides to leave the spicy burrito they ate in the bathroom 3 rows back.
• People are bipolar. Mother Nature is not. Not sure what she is exactly, but that's a different story.
• NYC tourist tango: 1, 2, 3 ... GAWK! 1, 2, 3 ... GAWK!
Two more observations, all with accompanying art…
• If our cats could speak English, they'd say, "See? We told you, this stuff is real..."
• Kids, this is appropriate... (And yes, my mom did send it to me.)
"Tuck Everlasting" made its formal Broadway opening Tuesday at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. Jill, Emma and I drove in from Virginia and Nicholas flew from Nashville to see Ben in his first "adult" role.
Here is a photo chronicle of our day and night, which included subway rides, a visit to Sardi's, the Gypsy Robe ceremony for the Tuck cast (covered by Broadway World), the show, the red carpet treatment, and a premiere party at Tavern on the Green. A memorable time was had by all, that's for sure.
Old school with The Honeymooners at Sardis — New York City, April 2016
Under the bridge — New York City, July 2015
Walking home — Forest Hills, N.Y., September 2014
McGraw-Hill building — New York City, February 2016
Sitting in shadows — New York City, February 2016
Opening night for "Tuck Everlasting" is finally (almost) here, the culmination of almost three months filled with firsts for the boy.
Tomorrow, we have the chance to see Ben perform during the opening of an original Broadway musical. At 18, he also is making his “adult” debut in the ensemble at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City.
What makes this a unique experience for Ben, besides the "adult" part and living on his own in the city, is this is the first time he has been part of the cast of an original musical in New York. "Ragtime," in 2009, was a revival. "Billy Elliot" had already been running for more than a year on Broadway when he joined the ensemble. On the "Billy" and "Newsies" tours, he went through the tech process, but both of those shows were already established and much of the music/script/choreography had been locked in by the creative team.
A new musical, even one that had been performed out of town, is much different.
Five weeks of rehearsals were followed by almost a month of previews as the creative team continued to tweak and polish “Tuck,” which is based on the acclaimed children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt. Tim Federle, a wonderful writer and family friend who was one of Ben's mentors on "Billy," was brought in to contribute to the book. Music has been added, polished, and cut. Much of the choreography is new.
That’s the reason the preview process is so important, because it gives the show a chance to be performed for audiences to see what works and what doesn’t before it is formally locked in.
Chances are that if you saw “Tuck” in the first week or two of previews that what you’ll see now is different. It’s certainly been different for Ben, who is on stage quite a bit as an ensemble member and had not gone through one of those periods as a performer. (He was an understudy during the “Ragtime” revival.)
What makes this period so grueling for the actors, creatives, and crew is that you are essentially doing two shows a day, six days a week. During the preview period, “Tuck” has been running on a nontraditional schedule, with Sundays instead of Mondays off.
On single performance days, you typically arrive around noon to make adjustments and run through the show, take a break around 5 and then return two hours later to do it again for the preview audience. (Wednesdays and Saturdays are two show days.) Meanwhile, Ben is understudying two roles — Jesse Tuck and Hugo — and is learning their parts on stage.
Also over the past month, the show has hosted legendary theatre photographer Joan Marcus, who captured the in-performance images that are at the top of this piece, and shot performance footage for a “B-roll” that will be used for promotion purposes.
Finally, on Sunday, the cast gathered in a recording studio to record the score’s soundtrack, which will be available digitally on June 10 and in stores on July 1. That was another first for the boy.
And so now it’s almost time. Another opening, another show. Proud family members in the audience. Others rooting for Ben from close and afar.
There’s a certain “déjà vu all over again” feeling … and we couldn’t be more proud.
Break a leg, son.
A couple of additional things to note:
• It has been so wonderful to see the large number of friends and extended family who’ve come to see the show during the preview period. Cast members from “Billy Elliot” and “Newsies,” as well as friends from Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan, already have seen “Tuck.” I hope you’ll consider a trip, too.
• Dave Mack, a New York-based photographer, videographer and musician, is working at the Broadhurst Theatre and has been taking a series of beautiful portraits backstage. Here are a couple.
See the boy and a host of others in this video preview of Tuck Everlasting, which has its Broadway opening night tomorrow at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. Congrats to Ben and the entire cast and creative team! Can't wait to be there...
Cover model — New York City, February 2016
Leather for laces — New York City, February 2016
From time to time, the stars align … literally.
As Tuck Everlasting started in previews on March 31, I posted a story about my friend's son who was killed in a car accident. Parker Leikam, who is Ben's age, was an aspiring musical theatre performer who had just done the lead in "Beauty and the Beast" earlier this month at his high school in Adams, N.Y.
Last week, after we asked Ben to take a picture for the #BowtiesforParkeronBroadway social media effort, Ben posted a photo to Facebook and Instagram with Terrence Mann, one of the stars of Tuck Everlasting. Mann, it just so happens, was the original Beast on Broadway.
Parker was killed March 23 when a driver crossed a double line to pass and struck him head on just two blocks from his home. In the days since, his friends and family have paid tribute by launching the #BowtiesforParker campaign; so far, members of the casts of Phantom, Les Miserables, and An American in Paris have participated. Several of our friends from the Newsies tour posted a picture last week as well after I sent them a note.
Then, Steve Blanchard and his wife, Meredith, posted a photo from Denver, where they were on the road with Newsies. Steve replaced Mann on Broadway and played the Beast for 11 years in New York and on various tours. Finally, our friend Tim Federle added another photo to the cause.
Using the hashtag #EllenforParker, the family also is asking Ellen DeGeneres to wear a bow tie on her show in tribute to Parker. His father, Chuck, has written a heartbreaking, emotional plea to DeGeneres that is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.
“We want to spread the love and tolerance like Parker did,” Chuck wrote. “He was a straight A student, musician, singer, actor, theater geek and openly gay football player who could do the splits with his 6'3" 300-pound frame. He would dress as "Buddy the Elf" the last day before Christmas break and walk around school handing out candy canes. He would even go to the elementary schools for the kids there.”
Chuck, who has been in the military for 30 years, wrote that his children “have always paid the price of moving” but noted he had been able to keep them at Fort Drum for the past seven years. He said Parker “loved and looked up to” DeGeneres.
“I'm not asking for money or trips, just a bow tie and to tell his story … His mom and I need this. Please.”
I’m so glad our friends are honoring Parker and hope others will as well. Especially Ellen.
Tim Federle, whose young adult debut “The Great American Whatever” has been called “a Holden Caulfield for a new generation” by Kirkus Reviews, held a storytelling session and book signing Sunday at the McNally Jackson store in SoHo.
The multitasking author, who also is co-writer of the book for the new Broadway musical “Tuck Everlasting,” brought our son, Ben, as his special guest to read the first chapter of the book. Tim and Ben worked together on “Billy Elliot” in 2010-11 and have been reunited again on “Tuck Everlasting.”
Tim, who is one of the nicest people we know in the industry, was a Broadway performer prior to making his writing debut with “Better Nate Than Ever” and its sequel “Five, Six, Seven Nate!” His first novel was named a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year” while its follow up won the Lambda Literary Award.
Proud parents with Ben after his performances in his first-ever Broadway show (Ragtime, November 2009) and his first show as an adult (Tuck Everlasting, April 2016).
I know why they call it March Madness, especially when March bleeds into April.
Yep, it must be spring, that great period in life when Mother Nature looks you square in the eye, laughs, and does whatever the heck she wants. Little winter here, little heat there, lots of pollen and watery eyes everywhere.
Why, you ask, can’t everything be spread out a little more instead of being bunched together and packed so tightly? I don’t really know. If I did, I’d bottle and sell it to you cheap.
I’m not complaining, especially on the business end, where thankfully things seem to be opening up in recent weeks. Also, my ability to write a cogent sentence that went beyond tweet-length seems to have returned, thank goodness. It’s nice that the muse has decided to push its way past whatever was blocking my crowded brain.
Here’s a brief summary of what’s happened over the past three weeks alone:
• Met a series of deadlines for freelance clients. More still to do, but getting there.
• Published the Q&A series I did with a teenager about photography.
• Saw Ben in a preview of Broadway’s “Tuck Everlasting” with Jill and then another show at NYU to support one of his “Billy Elliot” friends (the outstanding Casey Whyland).
• Embarked on a trip to Tampa to get Kate’s stuff from her apartment and truck it back to Northern Virginia.
• Celebrated as Emma was accepted into Point Park University in Pittsburgh for the dance program.
• Followed that up with headshots of a young girl and a family shoot in a neighboring county this past weekend.
• Written blogs on the trip, on the deaths of a childhood friend’s son, Merle Haggard, Patty Duke, and Ken Howard (too much of that this year). Also wrote about World Bipolar Day and the current political process (which seems to have its own hints of mental illness about it).
Tonight, my 18-year-old son is performing for a paying crowd in his first Broadway show as an adult. About 50 miles north of Syracuse, the family of one of my high school classmates is mourning the loss of their 18-year-old son, an aspiring musical theatre performer who was killed last week in a head-on collision that was not his fault.
Life is just not fair.
Like many of you, through Facebook I’ve become reacquainted with many people I grew up with but haven’t seen in years. Chuck Leikham and I went to the same high school; he is best friends with David Watson and his wife, Mary, who I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been alive.
Chuck and his wife, Kristen, have three children and live in Adams, N.Y. He has been in the military for much of his adult life, and now is assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Like many families in the military, they have endured long separations from each other.
Their son, Parker, was deciding between colleges in Michigan, where he planned to pursue a career in musical theatre, when the van he was driving was struck head-on about a quarter-mile from his home. Parker had performed in local, youth, and school theatre since he was in second grade and had just finished a starring role in his school’s production of Beauty and the Beast the weekend before the accident.
By all accounts, he was a terrific talent and beloved by the community and his classmates. A lineman on his high school football team, he was on the school’s “Whiz Quiz” team that won an international championship in 2014. He also was known for wearing bow ties.
Two days after Parker’s death, a community candlelight vigil drew more than 800 people to the South Jefferson High School stadium, where his parents and siblings released 18 balloons in honor of his life. A local video company showed up to record the event, and after letting the family know they had a drone to capture the proceedings from overhead, his mother asked the crowd to make a bow tie for her son. The result shows the incredible outpouring of love and support for Parker and his family.
Tonight, as we celebrate Ben’s opening preview of Tuck Everlasting, a show with beautiful music and the theme of eternal life, we’ll also say a prayer for a family that has lost its own shining star.
Note: The family is trying to get Ellen DeGeneres to wear a bowtie in honor of their son and is asking for support from their friends on Facebook. Chuck wrote today that his son “loved her show and has much in common with her. Parker was all about love and tolerance.” To write in, go to http://www.ellentv.com/be-on-the-show/1058/
Ben is featured in a wide-ranging interview on Broadway World, looking ahead to “Tuck Everlasting” and back at “Newsies.” In some ways, our high school senior is starting to sound like the theatre veteran that he is.
• The hardest part of performing professionally at such a young age was definitely being away from my family. I moved to New York when I was eleven and my parents had to switch off taking care of me until we could find a permanent solution. And being on the road [with “Billy Elliot”] when I was 13, and then once again when I was 16 with “Newsies”, was really hard. I was on my own, away from my family, and barely ever got to see them.
• I would say the hardest thing I've had to learn is that your body is not indestructible. I remember when I was younger, I wouldn't stretch very often and would go from zero to a hundred without really thinking about it. And that's okay when you're really young, but the older you get, the more your body needs to be taken care of. I remember I suffered a heel injury when I was in “Billy Elliot” and was out of the show for about four months, and that was really hard; I never stretched and that was definitely a wake up call for me, having to make sure I kept my body warmed up and healthy.
• In this business, unfortunately, there are hundreds of no's to one yes, and it can be really hard. But if you know this is what you want to do with your life, never give up. I know, personally, it's something I have always had a passion for and have longed to do, and everyone in this business is in it, not for the job security or the paycheck, but because it's what they love.
The boy is growing up. To see the rest of the interview by Gianluca Russo, click on the link here.
Church entrance — New York City, February 2016
Snowy morning — New York City, February 2016
Subway station at night — Forest Hills, N.Y., September 2014
Stage door entrance — New York City, February 2016
Facing the falling sun — Montgomery, N.Y., February 2016
Street vendor on a break — New York City, February 2016
A place to hide — New York City, February 2016
Buildings in reflection — New York City, February 2016
Watching traffic — New York City, February 2016
Call waiting — New York City, February 2016
Friday night in New York City — February 2016
Snow on the fire escape — New York City, February 2016
"Tuck Everlasting" held its press preview on Monday at New 42nd Street Studios as cast members performed a selection of numbers from the show, which opens in previews on March 31. The top photo is from Broadway.com, which has a 15-minute video clip in HD on its site. The other photos are by Playbill photographer Monica Simoes.
Also, here is a shorter clip from Playbill.com that I was able to embed. Enjoy...
Tracks above ground — New York City, September 2014
Playing in traffic — New York City, May 2015
Up the down staircase — Schenectady, N.Y., October 2014
Streaks of shadow — New York City, September 2014
Fountain at Clinton Square — Syracuse, N.Y., October 2015
Lighted tree — Montgomery, N.Y., February 2016
Columbus Circle — New York City, February 2016
In a continuing quest to show — from afar — the process of rehearsals for "Tuck Everlasting" (and the boy who is in it), here's a short video on the unveiling of the marquee. The show opens in previews on March 31, with opening night set for April 26.
Jordan Roth, CEO and founder of the Culturalist website and president of the Jujamcyn Theaters chain in New York, went behind the scenes for an hour to watch the creation of the opening number of “Tuck Everlasting.” You can watch the video here.
A bonus: A screenshot of the video makes it on to the Tony Awards Twitter feed, and look who's front and center...
Members of iMpulse made their annual winter trip to New York City this past weekend, taking a series of small and large group classes at Broadway Dance Center, seeing "An American in Paris," and posing for portraits at Columbus Circle before returning to Virginia on Saturday evening.
All but one member (Sophia Kleess, who was at a college audition) attended the photo session. A photo taken at a session locally is included here.
To see all of the portraits full size, visit my Facebook album here.
Most of the photos in the “Art & Dance” series are taken quickly. The shoots generally last no more than a couple of hours. But this particular series, captured in Central Park last weekend, was done in a hit-and-run fashion. We didn’t have much time — about 45 minutes to be exact — to take pictures of several iMpulse dancers. So we went to a section of the park near the entrance at Columbus Circle and got these.
There’s something to be said for working fast, I guess…
To see more from this shoot, go to my Facebook album here or check out the "Art & Dance" section on this website.
Beginnings and endings make my stomach turn, especially since I became a parent. Every performance, every show, every game brings the same set of nerves and emotions, especially at the start and as the finish approaches.
Today brought me to St. Louis, the site of a beginning and — the reason I'm here now — an ending. More than four years ago, Ben started tour life in "Billy Elliot" at the Fox Theatre; today he ended his 17-month run in "Newsies" at the same venue.
The difference is striking, as any parent who watches their child grow up notices. At almost 14, he was already a theater veteran, but had never been farther from home than New York; now, at 18, he has spent multiple nights in more than 40 states and all five provinces of Canada.
Unlike when the "Billy Elliot" run ended in May 2013, Ben isn't facing the teenage "dead zone." Starting later this month, finally considered an adult in the industry, he will start work on a new Broadway musical while finishing his senior year in New York.
It's been a remarkable run, one filled with as many false starts as beginnings and endings. It's also a testament to the rare occurrence when desire and hope merge with opportunity. What I'm proudest of is when others tell me our son is still the boy we hoped to raise when he and Emma were born. That, despite having so many different experiences at a young age, he is still kind and grateful for the opportunity to do what he does.
I don't pretend to understand how or why this works the way it has. As parents, Jill and I have done our best to raise four very different children while maintaining our own careers, friendship, and marriage. I would be lying to say it's been an easy juggle, but can honestly say I would not have been able to survive it without her as a partner in this endeavor.
Over the past two-plus years, while trying to build a business and realizing that the career I worked for 30 years to build means little in life's grand scheme, I've been fortunate to spend quality time with each of my kids and help support Jill in her career as it has taken off. Although I wish (and hope) to build a new career as our children leave the nest this year, I would not trade that time for anything.
It's not the turn I would have expected my life to take four years ago when I first saw Ben in St. Louis. But that's the thing I've noticed repeatedly over time: Where you start is not necessarily where you end up.
No matter how nervous that makes me, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Here's to new beginnings.
A near airplane crash. A cross-country flight. Two college auditions. A son on Broadway. A wife working with the White House. And a drink with a Hall of Fame baseball player.
I can't say the final weekend of my 50th year on the planet was boring.
Coming in mid-January, my birthday always has felt like something of an afterthought, given the post-holiday hangover we all seem to feel post New Year's. Add four kids with birthdays in December and a January that is one of Jill's craziest months at work, and it's easy — and understandable — to see why. Hell, I'm usually not in the mood to celebrate, and it's my birthday.
Last year, for my 50th, Jill pulled off a wonderful surprise that had my mom coming in from Texas along with a gathering of many of our closest friends. This year, as my 51st approached, I decided the fewer surprises that life has to offer, the better.
It started Friday, when Emma and I embarked on another college audition trip. This one, which ultimately involved three auditions over a 24-hour period, was in California.
Leaving the anticipated wintery mix and snow behind in Virginia had lots of appeal, although two cross country flights over a four-day period had me anticipating feeling my age and then some. My body does not deal well with the winter weather whiplash we seem to be having around here, and I was still tired from the previous weekend when Jill and I went on a whirlwind trip to New York.
The New York trip (chronicled here and here via my iPhone) involved seeing Billy Joel and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time” (her Christmas present), having tea at the Plaza Hotel (a present to each other), and attending the engagement party for our “adopted” son, Ginno. The party also was a reunion of many of the kids and parents from “Billy Elliot,” sans Ben, who is on the road with “Newsies.”
After all that, I’m sure Jill welcomed our departure as she spent the weekend working with the ASCA staff on planning the School Counselor of the Year celebration, which includes a visit to the White House next week. We don't see her much during January because of SCOY and another major program she supervises, so I felt fortunate that we had the New York trip as a last hurrah.
Little did I know when boarding the plane how close to a last hurrah it really would be.
On the first leg, we were off to Chicago, a little late and flying low because of the bumpy air. We made it just fine, did the cross-country trek across O’Hare, and got ready to board our connection to L.A.
Checking my phone, I saw the first surprise. Late last year, Ben booked “Tuck Everlasting,” a new Broadway musical that opens in April. He’s leaving “Newsies” at the end of the month before starting rehearsals in mid-February, but no formal announcement had been made. Then, without warning, the press release went out.
We boarded the plane behind a large man, obviously an athlete. As he sat on the first row in first class, I recognized him as Frank Thomas, the Fox TV analyst who spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago White Sox.
After sitting on the runway for about 15 minutes, the plane started to take off. Two wheels lifted off the ground, and on Row 31 we felt the familiar surge from behind. But in a split second, the plane jerked back and the pilot ground it to a halt, fortunately taking advantage of O’Hare’s long runway.
The collective reaction was, “What the (insert expletive of choice)?!?” The fire department came out to cool off the smoking wheels as the pilot explained that a cargo door, one right under where we were sitting, had come open.
We were very lucky, even if Emma’s nap had been abruptly halted. We waited for some time until the wheels cooled enough to return to a gate (ironically the same one where our first plane landed in the nether regions of O'Hare), so we could catch another flight. I'm sure at least a couple of people also had to clean out their shorts.
It was that scary.
While Emma started on some homework, I went to the bar and saw Thomas. Figuring the night could not get more surreal, I mentioned that it must have been “interesting” to have been in the front row of the plane. He said “Cheers,” took a sip of his wine, and offered to let me sit.
We talked briefly about — what else? — airplanes and baseball, and he could not have been nicer. An hour later, steeled for the next leg of the flight, we boarded again for California.
The next day was filled with Emma’s auditions, followed by a nice dinner together. On Sunday, my birthday, Emma picked up Starbucks for me. We went to another audition and had lunch with some friends from Northern Virginia who also were in California.
At that point, we drove to Hollywood so we could be closer to the airport for our departure. In our three trips to L.A., I’ve learned to hate the traffic (worse than even Northern Virginia), love the climate (65 degrees in January) and embrace the kitsch.
Emma indulged me as we went to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (separate blog coming on that at some point) and to Amoeba Records, the second best in the U.S. after Austin’s Waterloo. We then had dinner with the Hetheringtons, longtime friends from Ben’s “Billy Elliot” days.
Coming on the heels of Ginno’s party the previous weekend, the West Coast reunion with the Hetheringtons was a nice capper to the California trip. We reminisced, we laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time, and looked to the future.
That future includes two more long-distance trips this month, one to North Carolina to see Nicholas and work on a freelance story, and Ben’s last “Newsies” performance in St. Louis. Ironically, that’s where he started tour life in “Billy Elliot,” more than four years ago.
Circle backs. Full circle. And around and around it goes.
For my kids, Alan Rickman will always be known as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. On screen, I greatly enjoyed his work in the original “Die Hard” and opposite Emma Thompson in “Love Actually.” (The lesser-known cult classic “Galaxy Quest” comes in third, at least for me.)
Like many actors, however, Rickman’s first love was the stage, and he returned often after establishing his movie career. On a business trip in 2002, I was fortunate to see him in the Tony Award-winning revival of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.”
“Private Lives,” written in 1930, is a screwball comedy about “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” divorcees who reunite and abandon their new spouses on the first night of their honeymoons. As with any classic farce, it is wonderful when handled with care and imagination, and falls completely flat when it’s not.
The Rickman revival, in which he reunited with frequent co-star Lindsay Duncan (who won the Tony for Best Actress), was a brilliant night of theatre. Witty, sophisticated, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, and, surprisingly, full of heart.
Walking back to my hotel on that mid-summer evening, I marveled at the performances and the show. More than a decade later, it remains a fond memory of actors working at the top of their craft.
RIP, Mr. Rickman. It was a pleasure to see you live.
(And, it goes without saying, there has been too much death in the entertainment world this week…)
New York is where photography moved from being a hobby/ business necessity/family requirement into one of my great passions. The positive response I received from Facebook friends after posting albums of the New York-themed “Street Scenes” in 2009-10 is, in large part, what pushed me to improve my skills and eventually pursue photography professionally.
Although the amount of our New York travel has decreased significantly over the past 3-4 years, I always have my camera when we visit the city. Except this time.
With only an iPhone and a lens kit Jill gave me for Christmas, I took these pictures during a recent trip that was nice mix of business and pleasure (mostly the latter). Over three days and three nights, we went to myriad places in various sections of the city, and my phone (or at least its camera) was buzzing.
Curious to see what you think of the results. All feedback is welcome!
For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.
Another set of headshots, taken last fall in New York of siblings Jeremy and Diana, are now up on my website here. I'm happy to take headshots and portraits at reasonable rates in Manhattan and in the Greater Washington, D.C. area. All you have to do is call, email, or send me a private message on Facebook.
Solar panels and silos — upstate New York, October 2015
Reflections through the clouds — outside Syracuse, N.Y., October 2015
Skylight — New York City, February 2015
Chittenango Falls — outside Chittenango, N.Y., October 2015
Sunrise — outside Rochester, N.Y., October 2015
Barn sign — outside Syracuse, N.Y., October 2015
Graffiti in shadow — New York City, July 2015
Lines beyond the links — Forest Hills, N.Y., September 2014
Stones on the tracks — Janesville, N.Y., August 2015
Polish Catholic church — New York City, July 2015
Crumbling house — Fayetteville, N.Y., October 2015