Sharing thoughts about Taylor Hicks and concert travels and other musical musings!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Broadway: Under the Radar No More

As I was driving to work the other day, playing nothing but Taylor Hicks music as usual, a song from Taylor’s 2005 independent CD, “Under the Radar” started to play. A rather interesting number, given where Taylor Hicks can be found for the next several weeks: playing Teen Angel in “Grease” on that magical strip in New York City known as Broadway!

Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weill, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller, the song was recorded by the Drifters in sixties and later featured in the Broadway musical, “Smokey Joe’s Café”. And now Taylor Hicks has recorded his own version of the song, which at the time meant something special to him, but today has probably taken on a whole new meaning!

Here are the lyrics to that great song:


They say the neon lights are bright (On Broadway)
They say there's always magic in the air (On Broadway)
But when you're walking down the street
And you ain't had enough to eat
The glitter rubs right off, and you're nowhere (On Broadway)

They say the girls are something else (On Broadway)
But looking at them just gives me the blues (On Broadway)
But how're ya gonna make some time
When all you got is one thin dime
And one thin dime won't even shine your shoes (On Broadway)

They say that I won't last too long (On Broadway)
I'll catch a Greyhound bus for home, they all say (On Broadway)
But no, no they're wrong, I know they are
'Cause I can play this here guitar
And I won't quit till I'm a star (On Broadway)

On Broadway
On Broadway
On Broadway

I'm gonna make it, yeah (On Broadway)
I'll be a big, big, big man (On Broadway)
I'll have my name in lights (On Broadway)
Everybody, everybody's gonna know me, yeah (On Broadway)
Oh, up and down Broadway (On Broadway)


So I’m thinking about these lyrics and how Taylor Hicks must have viewed them at the time. While I can’t speak for Taylor, and have no idea whether I’m even close to the truth, I thought I would give my take on it anyway.

Broadway is known for the bright lights that decorate the various theatres that have made their mark over the years with great plays, musicals and other performances. For an artist to see his name on the marquee as the head lining star must have been a dream come true – meaning one had finally made it in a town that’s flooded with thousands of others also looking to make their mark on Broadway.

At the time Taylor Hicks recorded this song, it was late 2005, probably just before giving an audition on American Idol any thought. Certainly well-fed but perhaps having little extra cash, he was feeling those words of ‘all you got is one thin dime’. After all, when at the Las Vegas audition, Taylor was quoted as saying he was a ‘broke musician’.

While I’m certain that Taylor Hicks didn’t arrive in New York City on a Greyhound bus, I’m equally certain that he won’t be leaving there on one either! Taylor may not be playing a guitar in his Broadway début, but he sure is giving it a go with his trusty harmonica. And from what I’ve seen and read, those "Grease" audiences are really enjoying it! The guy sitting next to me when I went was really impressed by what he heard when he made his comments to his companion!

Whether he lasts too long, who can say, but a three month stint as Teen Angel in "Grease" is nothing to sneeze at – it’s a great role for Taylor, and allows him the opportunity to get his feet wet on Broadway while garnering new fans at the same time. The critics have run the gamut, much as one would expect, but my favorite reviews are the ones that give kudos for his ability to put it out there and give a performance that delights the audience.

So now that Taylor Hicks has made his mark on Broadway, there one line I hope he never takes to heart: “I won’t quit till I’m a star”. His fans want to enjoy his music and talent for years to come, myself included.

Oh, and the title of that CD, “Under the Radar”, Taylor is anything BUT under the radar for those who have followed his career and love his music! Taylor Hicks will be releasing his “Early Works” CD on August 12 which I’m hoping will carry his version of “On Broadway”.

Check out Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel in "Grease", 8 performances each week (the theatre is dark on Mondays), at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, http://www.brooksatkinsontheater.com/, from June 6 through September 7, 2008.

ETA: Someone kindly pointed out to me that the CD in question was actually "In Your Time" which was recorded in 1997, which makes the song all that more special! How much more insightful was Taylor Hicks back then we may never know, but this makes the song all the more special! That's what I get for listening to nothing but Taylor Hicks - I can't even keep the CDs straight any more! Mea culpa!

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

PBS Presents: A Capitol Fourth


PBS stations around the country will carry A Capital Fourth Celebrates Independence Day, live from Washington, DC, on Friday, July 4th! The West Lawn of the US Capitol will be the site of the concert and a fireworks display will follow on the National Mall over the Washington Monument! The concert will be shown live in HD on PBS from 8:00 to 9:30 EDST.

The 28th annual broadcast will be hosted by Jimmy Smits. Featured artists include Huey Lewis and the News, Taylor Hicks, Jerry Lee Lewis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Hayley Westenra and Harolyn Blackwell. These artists will perform a selection of patriotic and celebratory music with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Erich Kunzel.

The July 4th concert finale includes Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and will feature the US Army Herald Trumpets and live cannon fire provided the US Army Presidential Salute Battery. The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard of the Military District of Washington and the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps will also be featured.

While a number of members of the Soul Patrol that make up the Traveling Circus will be attending this spectacular even, I will be safely tucked at home quietly celebrating glued to my television set as I watch the show from my local PBS station, WKNO, Channel 10. If you can't make the trip to Washington for this event, I hope like me, you will be able to view the event from your local PBS station.

Whether there in person or spirit, I wish each of you a safe and happy Fourth of July! Let us celebrate and remember the sacrifices of our forefathers as well as our current military for the freedoms we cherish and often take for granted.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Grease is the Word.....


I have a confession to make! After watching Taylor Hicks perform “Beauty School Dropout” on Regis and Kelly and a couple of other ill gotten videos, I fully expected that Grease would be some silly, cheesy and less than stellar Broadway production that would rival only the best theatrical productions, off Broadway of course. Now don’t get me wrong here, I was fully expecting Taylor Hicks’ performance to be the show’s saving grace by being the best and possibly the only performance worth seeing. After all, I was quite familiar with the John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John version and couldn’t imagine any type of improvement that could be made. There would be no comparison except for Taylor Hicks’ appearance.

Like most Soul Patrollers who have made the trek to Broadway, I had to have my picture taken in front of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with Taylor Hicks. I mean the picture of Taylor that adorns the front of the theatre by the doors. We also had to scope out where the famous ‘stage door’ was so that when the show was over, we could quickly get out and find a place to park ourselves while we waited for Taylor Hicks and cast to exit and head home. Doors found and we still had time for dinner.

We finished dinner at 7:30, made a quick trip to the ladies’ room and off down the block to the theatre. It was time for the doors to open and the patrons to take their seats. As we approached the theatre we could see the thick line still making its way inside the theatre. We walked in, had our tickets scanned and were told to take a right at the second door, first aisle. Picking up a copy of the Playbill, we walked down the aisle to our seats, row E, two seats just left of the aisle, with just minutes to spare before the play started – the chimes had already played as we were walking down the aisle!

The theatre announcer made his announcement that there was to be no photography, videoing or audio recording of the performance. I’d already secured my camera in my purse – I knew the rules and would gladly adhere to them. I already had plenty of professional pictures from opening night so anything I would take wouldn’t hold a candle so I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the play.

As I sat down I looked at the curtain and thought to myself that I was going to be about four rows too close! But when the play actually started, I knew we had the perfect seats! The band, high above the stage and visible from the front rows (if you looked up into the curtains) cued up and the front curtain painted with the steps of Rydell High School rose up to the rafters. I was about to learn that my original assessment would be wrong, and that I would be fascinated by the production's style and quality.

The opening number had Sandy (Laura Osnes) and Danny (Max Crumm) saying good-bye after a summer romance, neither realizing they would soon meet again when school started in just a few days. Standing behind a full moon the young lovers stole their last kiss of the summer and the Grease Company opened the show with “Grease”, the play’s title song! I was now proved wrong in my original thoughts about this being some silly, cheesy production! This cast was really quite good!

The next scene, always one of my favorites from the movie, has Sandy and Danny talking to their friends, telling them about their summer fling, not realizing they were now attending the same school and were just feet away from each other. We are introduced to the main characters of the play, and quickly my favorites emerge as Rizzo (Jenny Powers), the “tough one” and Frenchy (Kirsten Wyatt), the “ditzy one”. I loved Frenchy’s style with a high-pitched voice and wacky personality that did justice to the curly red hair. The guys, greased back hair, leather jackets and smoking cigarettes, want us to know they are tough. Danny may be the head player but others would quickly emerge to steal my heart! (WARNING – real cigarettes are used and if you have an allergy to them, be advised to sit further back; even where I was sitting the smoke got to me.)

As Sandy and Danny sang “Summer Nights”, any lingering memory of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John having sung the same song left. From that point on, there would be no more comparisons. This was a cast of professionals in every sense of the word, and I would be mesmerized the rest of the evening with a stupid grin of enjoyment firmly planted on my face. And I’m happy to say that I was delighted to be proved wrong about my original thoughts about this play. I was a happy camper, or student, back at Rydell High, joining in the memory of first love, hair grease and poodle skirts.

In Marty’s bedroom, the girls have gathered for a slumber party and quickly realize that Sandy is very inexperienced and probably a lot naïve! Marty (Robyn Hurder), a blonde Marilyn Monroe wannabe, was the most experienced of them all, or at least wanted them to think that way, knew just how to get the current beau to do her bidding with “Freddy, My Love”. Sandy with her clean wholesome looks was way out of her league with these rough and tough Pink Ladies.

I quickly fell in love with Kenickie (Matthew Saldivar)! Just watching Kenickie made me think of another talented Birmingham, Alabama, musician, Clay Connor! Kenickie talked about his dream ride, “Greased Lightnin’”, and later in the play we would be introduced to his beat up clunker and watch as it was transformed into the perfect ride! A car that barely made it the center of the stage would leave the stage as a thing of beauty with big fenders and red flames running down the sides.

Before the end of the first act, Rizzo would stand out with her making fun of Sandy in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”. By this time she was quickly becoming one of my favorites. Something about that tough girl act that gave the impression a sensitive soul was underneath it all – perhaps she secretly wished she was more like Sandy than she wanted anyone to know.

After a brief intermission, Act II began with a dance in the school gym. The female cast had one some of the prettiest prom dresses a girl could ask for! Rizzo in black with gold accents and Marty in a soft green dress with only a single wide strap could have been the belles of the ball! In my day, I would have been the envy of the girls in a dress like they wore.

I kept watching for the ice cream come to drop from the ceiling as Frenchy was outside the Burger Palace trying to figure out how to tell her friends she wasn’t able to handle beauty school. As she wished for a guardian angel to come tell her what to do, that ice cream cone slid from the right side of the stage to stop in the center. When the cone doors were opened and her Teen Angel appeared the audience broke into an appreciative applause as Taylor Hicks began to sing “Beauty School Dropout”.

Dressing in a black sequined suit with an open shirt and shiny black shoes, his grey hair sprayed into a pompadour, Taylor Hicks charmed his intended and the smiles on Frenchy’s face let us know she was very taken by her Teen Angel. Their interaction was what I already expected based on the Regis and Kelly performance, and I was not to be disappointed. As Teen Angel told Frenchy to return to High School and get her degree, he leaned her back across the picnic table and got in her face as he sang. When the song was over and he was walking away, Taylor strode near the front of the stage doing an Elvis impression of “Thank you, thank you very much” and then turned back toward the cast and appeared to stick out his tongue! I couldn’t help but chuckle!

Back in the ice cream cone, as he was being elevated back to the top, Taylor held up his arms, hands with palms up, his head tilted up toward the sky, and a silly grin planted on his face – an expression that shouted “what do you mean I’m guilty, I’m innocent I tell you”! Then Taylor fished in his pocket for his signature harmonica and gave us a harmonic version of the song before finishing the song and being floated off stage back to the Malt Shop in the Sky!

As the play closes, Sandy decides she needs a transformation and calls Frenchy to help with the make-over. At the Burger Shop the new Sandy makes her debut with style - Sandy has shed the Sandra Dee persona and is ready to take on the baddest of the bad girls, Rizzo included. With dance moves and leg raises that would cause your back to hurt for a week, she and Danny danced their way to finale as their friends joined in.

As the curtain call began, cheers and applause was given for audience favorites, although it was hard to tell who some favorites were – the cheers and applause was about the same for each of the characters. When Taylor Hicks made his curtain bow the level went up to a near-frenzy and back down until Danny and Sandy took their bows, when the level went back up again.

When the final curtain was rolled back down and the lights came on, we made our way outside to the stage door. The crowd was already building and we found an opening toward the front to stand and wait. But the heat of the lights got to me and I move back behind the crowd to watch and maybe catch a couple of pictures of Taylor as he walked out to greet those waiting.

After about 15 minutes, Danny came out amid the cheers of the crowd. Within just a few minutes, the crowd erupted again and Taylor Hicks came to the left side of the stage door first. A couple of taller ladies allowed me in front of them so that I could snap a couple of pictures as Taylor passed by. Dang it, my lens was in full zoom and Taylor’s face took up the entire frame, and I was about 10 to 15 feet back! Oh well, I tried again and someone blocked my view. I did manage to capture a few pictures, but my real enjoyment had been watching a great play with terrific music that surpassed my wildest expectations. Not to mention a Taylor Hicks performance that put the cherry on the sundae!

While returning to the hotel, we chatted about our thoughts on the play, compared notes on our favorites and considered the possibilities of catching another performance. By the time I was back at the hotel, I knew I had to return and had already planning my next trip to the Big Apple to see Grease again! Now to get those reservations made!

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday the 13th - Not Always Unlucky!

Friday the 13th! Are you superstitious? Like to crawl through ladders or cross paths with a black cat? Whether you are or not makes no difference!

For this Friday the 13th of June, Taylor Hicks fans were the luckiest! Regis and Kelly, as part of their Broadweek Week series, ended the week with Grease, and more specifically, Taylor Hicks and the cast performing "Beauty School Dropout", Taylor's feature song in the musical!

In case you didn't catch the performance, watch it below, courtesy of Regis & Kelly with link below!

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1586371636/bclid1586429656/bctid1606786087

Sunday, June 8, 2008

From Bar Room to Broadway!

Can’t you just feel the pride, the exhilaration, the excitement, the joy that Taylor Hicks is experiencing right now! I know I can, and I wasn’t even there for his Broadway debut in Grease. That doesn’t matter. The fact remains that in less than three short years Taylor Hicks has gone from performing in bars and restaurants to Broadway! Broadway!

Taylor Hicks, by his own admission, spent ten years in the bars and clubs and restaurants of Alabama and Florida. It taught him something, I’m sure. Perhaps taught him that it takes years to find success. Perhaps it taught him that the stage was his home. Perhaps it taught his how to hone his voice and musical skills.

Then Taylor spent some time in Nashville, knocking on the doors there, looking for a break. Instead, he went back home feeling rejected, only to find he might have had a chance if he went back one more time. He did go back, and go back he did! When Taylor Hicks took his first major tour on the road, Nashville was one of his stops. Instead of standing outside and looking into the Ryman Auditorium, that night, he was the star on stage. He was shining bright!

From time to time, Taylor Hicks would peddle his self-produced CDs to musical giants and less than giants, hearing “no” or “not the sound we’re looking for” or other such comments. Those times again had to be teachers and lessons learned, times when continuing may have seemed bleak, but that’s all he could do.

Then came what he saw as a last-ditch effort, one last chance to get his name out there: American Idol. When his plans to audition in Memphis were cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina, Taylor Hicks took advantage of free airline tickets received when he escaped that same storm in New Orleans – he went to Las Vegas. All he wanted was a chance to have his voice heard. And heard it was!

Nine months later, the baby that was conceived at that audition was birthed in a spectacular way. In a record-setting vote and amid the most successful season American Idol had ever had before or since, Taylor Hicks was crowned the Season 5 American Idol. His first single and winning song, “Do I Make You Proud” ended the show. The rise was just beginning!

That summer, the American Idol tour has its most successful tour! Many shows were quick sellouts. Even I had to resort to the secondary market to get seats – seats, not necessarily good seats! Taylor Hicks was doing his thing! You could see the excitement as he performed at each show!

With winning American Idol came that first professional album which earned him platinum status! Almost sellout spring and tours kept Taylor on the road and physically fit. Somewhere during a much needed rest were opportunities to play at various charity events, such as the Children’s Miracle Network, and the Liberty Bowl. And trips to the Philippines and Italy for more musical work and experience sandwiched in between as well as earning the ‘America’s Music Award’ for newcomers at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame!

And in a special announcement that was made several weeks ago on the Today Show, we knew, as fans and supporters, that Taylor Hicks was adding another opportunity: Taylor would be assuming the role of Teen Angel in Grease beginning June 6! Broadway! The Great White Way! Bright Lights, Big City! Broadway! No one, not even me, would have guessed that would have been the special announcement!

Opening night, by all accounts and judging from the press pictures, was a wonderful night! Taylor Hicks was all smiles and actually was ‘shining’ with pride and excitement! Even Taylor had called his Broadway experience ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’! There, in New York City, on the stage of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Taylor Hicks made his Broadway debut coming out of an ice cream cone high above the stage and then lowered to the stage floor where he crooned “Beauty School Dropout’ to Frenchy. Sporting a silver pompadour hairstyle and wearing a black sparkling suit and open front white shirt, Taylor Hicks gave his first major performance on Broadway, getting a chance to play his signature harmonica while dancing with the choreographed moves of the hand-jive and rock’n’roll beat of the music during the curtain call.

I read one person’s account of seeing Taylor Hicks in his Broadway debut – “Hicks' performance was spectacular. We all enjoyed watching him. Quite honestly, his role was what made the play great. If he wasn't in it, the play would have been average.” Now that comment made my heart swell with pride and excitement for Taylor!

While I may not have been at opening night in person, I was certainly there in spirit, cheering him own, with my own versions of ‘bravo’ and applause. From all the media that has been released since Friday night, I was able to see enough promotion to leave me excited about my own upcoming trip to New York City to see Grease and to watch Taylor Hicks once again “WOW!” the audience and hopefully leave them wanting more!

To add to the excitement and awe of the experience of opening night, Taylor Hicks was quickly whisked away from the stage door after being allowed to sign a few autographs and Playbills to his ‘hand printing’ at Planet Hollywood. Again the media was there to capture the moment as Taylor placed his hands in the molding frame and left his prints for all to see. Not just his hand print, but also that of his famous harmonica which I understand was another first for someone to do! Then with a wooding tool, wrote his name above his hand print. What a wonderful moment that had to have been for Taylor! He was positively glowing in the pictures and his smile said everything!

So I ask you again, whether you were there in person or spirit, can’t you just feel the pride, the exhilaration, the excitement, the joy that Taylor Hicks is experiencing right now! I certainly can! I’m as proud of Taylor’s accomplishments as I am of my own child and grandchildren! From bar room to Broadway in less than three years – now that’s quite an accomplishment for a Southern boy from Birmingham, Alabama. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Give My Regards to Broadway

In less than 24 hours Taylor Hicks will be making his Broadway debut in Grease! For three months, Taylor will be “Teen Angel”, singing one of my favorite songs from the musical, “Beauty School Dropout”.

So how will Taylor Hicks make this role his? That remains to be seen. Perhaps after opening night we’ll have a good idea. Will Taylor wear a white suit similar to what he sported several weeks ago at the Kentucky Derby? Will there be wings to complete the ‘costume’? Ah….the fun in just speculating!

I’m looking forward to my trip to the Big Apple, to gaze down Broadway and see the marquee for the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. A couple more weeks to go before my big week-end and being able to see for myself just how well Taylor Hicks wows the critics and audiences alike. We know Taylor is very talented, but we also want Broadway to experience that same talent we’ve come to love and follow.

Taylor may be singing just one song, but a night on Broadway is sure to please and dazzle and satisfy the need for a Taylor Hicks fix!

So Taylor, ‘break a leg’ and have a great run this summer as you make your Broadway debut!

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Some of My Favorite Pictures