RM: Where did you get your inspiration for the lyrics in your latest album?
NJS: They’re all story songs, but there are pieces of my own experience in each one to varying degrees. I’ve spent the last three years traveling around the United States, and also I read a lot of American literature. I think the combination of seeing how different people in this country live and reading historically based novels makes me particularly interested in a time before the digital age.
RM: Who are your favorite authors?
NJS: I go in phases, but a couple years ago, I was reading all of Larry McMurtry’s work. He’s a classic American Western writer. He wrote Lonesome Dove and many other great Western novels that paint beautiful pictures of early pioneer life. Last year about this time, I was reading all of Amy Tan’s novels. Her novels are centered on the mother-daughter relationship between first-generation and second-generation Chinese Americans. I think reading those novels sent me in the direction of writing songs from the female perspective, which is what this entire record is.
RM: The fourth song on the album, “Listen With Your Heart,” tells the story of a father teaching his daughter how to live off the land. Did that song come from a similar experience with your dad?
NJS: A little bit. Growing up, we had a patch of woods down at the end of my block, which as a child seemed like a vast expanse of wilderness. I have no accurate idea of how big that nature area was, but we used to go there on what we would call nature walks. I wouldn’t say he taught me survival skills, but more just an appreciation of nature. I think those childhood experiences mixed with knowing people now who are essentially learning how to become homesteaders. I think that’s a fascinating movement.
RM: I read that your father is a bluegrass musician — what music did you grow up listening to around the house?
NJS: The same things that lots of children of the baby boomers listened to — The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, The Byrds — but also my dad has a lot of traditional bluegrass and country music, so I grew up listening to The Stanley Brothers, The Louvin Brothers. … We ended up listening to a lot of music where duet singing was prominent because then we could learn the songs and sing them.
RM: Why did you decide to leave teaching and pursue a career in music?
NJS: The short answer is, I think most people are motivated by fear in some way, and I think fear of trying and failing will keep people from taking risks, but for me, I turned that on its head. I realized that I was afraid if I didn’t do this, I would have a lifelong regret. At that point it wasn’t even scary anymore because I was like, "If I don’t do this, I will always regret it, so I have to do it."
RM: Your music ranges from murder ballads to barnyard dance melodies, what’s the overall mood you’re trying to evoke with your live shows?
NJS: Overall, we want it to be a party. That’s one of the reasons why we named the band The Party Line, but I also can’t get away from trying to take people out of their own reality and into more haunting stories. You have to have some counterpoint.
Claire Wesselmann made a promise to herself after her husband died in 2004 that the full scope of his artwork would be exhibited. That promise first came to fruition last year with an exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
On Thursday, she was at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which is set to open “Pop Art and Beyond: Tom Wesselmann” to the public on Saturday, after a member preview today. The VMFA is only the second place in North America (and first in the United States) to present a retrospective of his work.
During a media preview of the exhibit, Claire Wesselmann announced that she will give one of her husband’s cut-metal drawings, Barn Behind Beechwoods, to the VMFA — it’s not in the current show, but will arrive later. She described it as depicting a place where Tom Wesselmann parked by the side of the road to draw a red barn. The 1990 piece is enamel on cut-out aluminum, 38 by 98 inches.
“Tom did a lot of thinking by drawing,” she says later, as guests wander through the nine galleries where his work is displayed. “He began thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could draw something this size [holding her hands a few inches apart] and have it enlarged to be very big and have it look just like it.’ ”
Les Mis has been pleasing theatergoers since its first performance at London’s Barbican Theatre on Oct. 8, 1985, and this tour's Richmond debut was no different. The big numbers received wholehearted applause, not to mention a few hoots and hollers, and the audience responded with a standing ovation at the end.
Given the musical's lengthy history, I’m guessing that many attendees either have seen it performed on stage before or caught the film version (and perhaps Anne Hathaway’s many award-acceptance speeches for her portrayal of Fantine).
Another tip I’ll pass along is to give yourself enough time to park and find your way into the theater. Though this should seem obvious, I just made it — and if you arrive after the doors close, you’ll miss about 15 minutes waiting to be let in during a break. Also, if you’re bringing children, be advised that there are some fairly bawdy scenes.
A few notes about the show:Andrew Varela, who plays Javert, has also performed as Jean Valjean in Broadway and touring productions.
Valjean is played by the exceptionally handsome Peter Lockyer, who was cast as Marius, the student who falls for Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette, in a 10th anniversary production.
Genevieve Leclerc, who plays Fantine, is a Montreal actress making her American stage debut. She has also been featured as a guest singer for the Princess and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Devin Ilaw (Marius) is a classically trained pianist who owns DCI Vocal Studio in New York City.
Lauren Wiley, who plays the innocent Cosette, has also appeared as the “head whore” in a North Shore Music Theatre staging of Les Mis.
This updated production uses projected images inspired by paintings of Victor Hugo, and the staging often seems like a painting in motion.
According to Broadway in Richmond, there are 38 cast members, in addition to 15 musicians and 15 technical staff members, seven people in management and three merchandise staffers. The show also uses 5,000 costume pieces. It travels in nine semi-trailers and takes 80 local stage hands about 16 hours to load in.Les Mis continues through Sunday, with a final performance at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $38 to $98. To see more for yourself, here's a trailer from 2010 (with some variation in the cast):
Introducing the show, production representative Scott Tucker said one of the challenges is to convey the epic scale of its World War I setting and to tell a story in which the central character is a puppet. The story (for those who haven’t been to Broadway or seen Steven Spielberg’s screen version) is based on a novel by Michael Morpugo. Joey, beloved by the boy Albert, is sold to the cavalry by Albert’s family and winds up serving in France, on both sides of the war. When Albert is old enough to leave home, he goes in search of his old friend. (Morpugo tells how the story came about in this video interview.)
“We’re asking the audience to come with us on an imaginative journey,” says Curtis Jordan, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, who recently finished three years in the London production of War Horse. Jordan says he hopes to have a role in the touring production that comes to Richmond — noting that it’s currently being cast.
Woofter, the “heart” puppeteer, spent a year and a half in the show at Lincoln Center Theater in New York. He says his specialty is not puppets but rather commedia dell’arte, and he’s often appeared in Shakespeare and Molière productions.
Breuer, the hind puppeteer, was also in the Lincoln Center production, though he and Woofter were not operating the same horse. He says he does not plan to be part of the touring production. “This is a fun way to revisit it without the pain and ice and recovery,” he says of the current promotional trip.
To play the physically demanding role, the puppeteers have to “stretch, stretch, stretch all the time” and economize their movements, he says. “It’s really a marathon.” Here's a look at some scenes from the Broadway production:
War Horse will run from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3 at the Landmark. Other shows in the line-up are:
— The male a cappella group Straight No Chaser, Nov. 17 at Richmond CenterStage’s Carpenter Theatre;
— Cirque Dreams Holidaze, featuring an original music score and seasonal favorites as well as “gigantic gifts, colossal candy canes and towering soldiers,” Nov. 29-30 at Landmark;
— Gomez, Morticia and the rest of The Addams Family in a macabre musical comedy Feb. 7-8 at Landmark;
— The Rat Pack is Back, recreating the Vegas nightclub act with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop at Carpenter Theatre March 28-29;
— The return of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz at the Landmark April 23 to May 4.
— And finally, Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (and winner of the 2006 Tony Award for best musical), at the Landmark from Jan. 7-19, 2014.
— "If they won’t pay you to do what you want to do, do what they’ll pay you to do, then do what you want to do.” This is the philosophy that led Lerner to start Cisco.
— “You are not the company. … You need to keep yourself separate, even if you own the company. There needs to be a part of you left at the end of the day. It’s important to not let it become you and for you not to become it.”
— “It is possible that all of the world is crazy, but it’s still not a good bet.” When you are thinking of starting a business, there are a few questions to ask yourself: “Is the product needed? Is there enough of a marketplace for your product to make it a business? And, if nobody’s done it, why not? It may be really stupid.” She said that while Cisco and Urban Decay may sound quite different, she asked herself these questions when starting both and found success.
— “Life is too short to watch other people have fun.”
After the speech, the awards were presented. Congratulations to the night’s winners:
Entrepreneur of the Year: Ryann Lofchie Wayne of The Frontier Project
Rising Star: Laura Condrey and Laurie Blakey of Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe
Community Leader: Jo Eloise White of Richmond Guardian Angels
Student Entrepreneur of the Year: Annie Ward Love of LoveLines Art