Something's coming.

"When the end is right, it justifies the beans." And the beans have happily been spilled. This coming autumn, my collaborator Dori Berinstein and I will officially launch The Lights of Broadway Show Cards™, trading cards for the show biz set. This idea has been rattling around in our heads for quite a while, and we cranked up the focus and energy over the past year. Caricature illustration has long gone hand-in-hand with celebrating the theatre. I'm taking a big leap and creating another platform with which I can celebrate the art form and honor its practitioners, and I'm so grateful to Dori for leaping with me. We've currently released a sneak preview edition featuring a random selection of 75 cards.  Each pack has six cards and a card explaining some of our ideas.  This is primarily so we have something in hand when we meet with folks we hope to partner with. but we've also decided to test the market a bit and offer some of these packs for sale in the Theatre District. This is why there has been a little buzz and why I'm writing this.

I'm so incredibly excited, but I don't want to spill too many more beans (to avoid beanstalks, I suppose). I'll just say that we're getting great feedback and hatching more ideas every day on how to make this incredible for Broadway fans.  Our website isn't live yet, but you can follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter to get the news as it's released.  Follow follow follow...

 On a sunny Sunday in July along 44th Street in NYC.

On a sunny Sunday in July along 44th Street in NYC.

Rehearsal/Sketch: Hamilton.

I'm playing with an illustration concept, using the rough pencil sketching process as a parallel for a show's rehearsal process. My dad used to say that if you wanted to sculpt something, say, a rhino, you simply carve away everything that doesn't look like a rhino. Of course that's often easier said than done, but that's what art is. Honing and focusing an idea or series of them to create something significant. That's what I'm attempting to illustrate here, moving from graphite to ink to digital. My first shot? Hamilton.

 Rehearsal/Sketch:   Hamilton  . ©2015 Justin "Squigs" Robertson.

Rehearsal/Sketch: Hamilton. ©2015 Justin "Squigs" Robertson.

As those in the Broadway know know, Hamilton enjoyed an immensely popular run downtown at the Public Theatre and will be starting previews on Broadway in July (opening officially at the Richard Rodgers on August 6).

In this piece, I wanted to feature the ensemble. In the world that the show's creators have made, the ensemble is so interwoven into the story telling.  Particularly in the choreography created by Andy Blankenbuehler, they are the pulse of the show.  (I was very moved by Blankenbuehler's acceptance speech when he won for his work at the Drama Desk awards this year which you can see here. Art is at its best when it becomes very personal.) And of course, the ensemble folks are working their butts off. Y'all just have to see this show.

So that's something I've been dabbling in.  I think this concept might make a nifty series, beginning early in a show's workshop phase (with a lot of graphite) and ending in previews (with a lot of ink and color). Anyhoo. Ideas.

Squigs Gets Busy.

Squigs Gets Busy. Also known as: "Why Squigs doesn't return phone calls in April." Here's a glimpse into A. the work I've done over this 2014-2015 Broadway season and B. the crazy whirlwind of ink and pixel slingin' April is for me each year as the Broadway shows rush to meet the Tony Awards deadline.

I love what I do! I feel so grateful to be a fly on the wall and witness some brilliant artistry. Come on along and see me do my best to draw it all!

Wall Street Journaling.

I've hit a bit of a milestone today: my first illustration in the Wall Street Journal. And it's a doozy! While it's only in the NYC area papers, it's most of the cover of their special pre-Tony Awards Broadway advertising section.  Here 'tis!

 My doodle for the Wall Street Journal. ©2015 Justin "Squigs" Robertson.

My doodle for the Wall Street Journal. ©2015 Justin "Squigs" Robertson.

 A photo of the rag on the morning of its release. Thanks Russell!

A photo of the rag on the morning of its release. Thanks Russell!

They wanted a Times Squareish scene, and they wanted me to focus on shows they advertise for, so we included long-runners Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Book of Mormon and new shows An American in Paris, Hand to God, and Something Rotten. They were also planning on featuring A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, so that went in the showbizzy stew as well.

My take on it – as you can see – was to have the characters from the shows popping out of the billboards and interacting. Tyrone is not the kind of puppet Simba is used to seeing, and Elder Cunningham is thinking they must be in Africa. The Bottom Brothers are having it out while the Bard preens and Nostradamus is having a moment with the Genie. Jerry and Lise are dropping in from Paris which adds to the stimuli bombarding Christopher and his rat. Also, Hirschfeld once drew a Times Square scene and included a lone nun. He received many letters explaining that nuns never travel alone. Well, in tribute to one of my heroes, I drew a lone nun. Except this one is passing out fliers. A new Times Square.

It's just a fun melange of the bold and buoyant on the Broadway, and I'm so happy I got the chance to draw it.

 

Getting in line for Al.

As you all know, I am crazy for Al Hirschfeld's work. He is among the artists that really blew my mind as I was diving into my craft. It's such an understatement to say that I still marvel at his line, economy, layout, etc. I'm so incredibly happy to say that there is an absolutely brilliant exhibit of his work (and life) at the New York Historical Society, now through October 12.

 The entrance to Hirschfeld land!

The entrance to Hirschfeld land!

I can count on one hand the times I've walked into an exhibit and had the breath taken out of me. As I hit the first room of the exhibit, there was one drawing representing each of the decades in which Al captured Broadway. The 1950s? Guys and Dolls. The 1960s? Fiddler on the Roof. The 1970s? Man of La Mancha. Etcetera. All originals. Sketches I'd only seen in books. This exhibit features frame after frame after frame of original work (and a few lithographs) that I just want to dive into.

 Al's original ink sketch of   Guys & Dolls   (the only of his sketches I deliberately plagiarized when I did the show back in 1995). The Lunts in   The Visit  .

Al's original ink sketch of Guys & Dolls (the only of his sketches I deliberately plagiarized when I did the show back in 1995). The Lunts in The Visit.

The collection draws from many collections: The Hirschfeld Foundation and archive, The National Portrait Gallery, private collectors, celebrities, and more. My friend Billy Stritch has lent one of his Hirschfeld originals which was very cool to see. There is an original of Carol Channing and George Burns that George had bought for Carol and inscribed it with "Carol, I love you. George."

There are interactive bits to the exhibit. A video, and a barber chair and desk you can sit at and doodle. And at the exit is a series of blown up images from Hirschfeld's oeuvre that represent shows currently running on Broadway.

I felt incredibly honored that David Leopold, curator of the exhibit and Hirschfeld's archivist for many years, invited me to the opening gala of this incredible exhibit. His deep knowledge of Al's work and his kind words about my own doodles have been invaluable to me as I do my best to carry on traditions so exemplified by Al Hirschfeld. There will never be another Al. But I'm so honored that he thinks of me as one of those picking up where he left off. Thank you David!

 Billy Stritch and the Hirschfeld from his collection.

Billy Stritch and the Hirschfeld from his collection.

 Me and Nina. This is Al's daughter whose name was featured in countless sketches.

Me and Nina. This is Al's daughter whose name was featured in countless sketches.

 Me pointing at the man of the hour. Photo credit: Walter McBride for BroadwayWorld.com.

Me pointing at the man of the hour. Photo credit: Walter McBride for BroadwayWorld.com.

 Am I a Hirschfeld fan? Why do you ask?

Am I a Hirschfeld fan? Why do you ask?

And as fitting for a world-class exhibit of the work of this world-class artist, there is swag available. Tee shirts, totes, mugs, cocktail napkins, etc. And the big jewel in the crown is the brand new book The Hirschfeld Century, written and curated by my pal David Leopold.  It features many of the pieces in the exhibit and so much more.  And the stories. Oh, the stories! David can spin a yarn, and most of these tales he got directly from the horse's mouth.  I can't recommend this book highly enough if you're a Hirschfeld fan, or just a fan of Broadway or pop culture or politics.

Get to The Hirschfeld Century exhibit at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West.  You'll kick yourself if you miss it. Seriously. Click HERE for more info.

Ask if it's Equity!

Some of you might remember the book cover I drew for the Actors' Equity Association's centennial coffee table book. Well, they've had me back for another collaboration. I've contributed illustrations to the new Actors' Equity Association campaign called "Ask If It's Equity" which is a resource for those around the country wondering if the "direct from Broadway" shows they're paying to see are using actors and stage managers supported by AEA as they are in Broadway productions.

 The head of the splash page.

The head of the splash page.

Presenters of non-union tours are typically charging theater-goers the same amount for tickets while cutting costs in the field of onstage artists, and without the requirements of the protection and benefits these artists can receive as members of Equity.  This resource simply simply allows the theater-going public to know which is which without having to dig through the sometimes deceptive publicity.

Anyhoo. My doodles are used here and in various banner ads and other promotional graphics around the land of the interwebs. I love how they credit my work:

 Justin Robertson, AEA member since 2004.

Justin Robertson, AEA member since 2004.

Railroad ties.

Life is like a string. Actually, more like a bunch of strings, each tied to memories of people and moments and things learned throughout your life. Strings tied to strings tied to strings. Sometimes you pull one of those strings and all sorts of nifty things come cascading back at you because so much of these things are tied to one another.  That's what it's like for me when I think about On the 20th Century. This entry may be a chore to slog through, full of tedious youthful exuberance and nerdy name-dropping and self-indulgence. But if you'll indulge me, I think you'll find a few glimpses into why I love musical theater as much as I do:

First off, for those not familiar with On the 20th Century, it's an American musical written by Betty Comden & Adolph Green (On the Town, Peter Pan, Wonderful Town) and Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity, Barnum, City of Angels) in a broad screwball comic operetta style.  The story unfolds on the 16 hour journey of the titular train (from Chicago to NYC) wherein a down-on-his-luck former theatrical titan of a producer attempts to rise again by reconnecting with his once muse and lover who is now a glamorous Hollywood starlet.  Add to the mix a vainglorious and jealous actor boyfriend, a couple of put-upon theatrical cronies, everyone and his sister pitching plays for a shot at showbiz glory, and a religious zealot on the loose covering the train in stickers ("REPENT for the time is at hand!").  The original production, directed by Hal Prince, starred Madeline Kahn (famously replaced by Judy Kaye), John Cullum, Kevin Kline, and Imogene Coca.  It was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won five.

In 1998, I had never heard of On the 20th Century. But a friend recommended me to help fill out the ensemble in a staged reading presented by Los Angeles based membership group Musical Theatre Guild.  It was to be directed by Joanna Gleason, the Tony-winning Baker's Wife of the original production of Into the Woods, whom I had most certainly heard of.  I was also very familiar with this fine group of actors (star-studded to me) presenting lesser-known theatrical works. For a few years, I had been happily planting roots a bit further south in the CLOs and dinner theaters of southern Southern California. Getting on the train with MTG was going to be whole heck of a lot of fun, but it was also a little step out of the comfort zone for me.  I was expanding my horizons.

 The amazing Joanna Gleason and me. In one of my very first selfies, I hadn't quite learned the "pleasant face" but opted for the "enthusiastic stalker face."

The amazing Joanna Gleason and me. In one of my very first selfies, I hadn't quite learned the "pleasant face" but opted for the "enthusiastic stalker face."

The Musical Theatre Guild production was a one night event on the stage of the Pasadena Playhouse. The rehearsal process was a whirlwind, and show night was even crazier. My main contribution was to help hold down the tenor part (and not be destroyed by it) in this behemoth of a score.  And, honestly, a highlight for me was the chance to take part in one of the finest overtures in musical theatre.  To replicate the sound of steam engine exhaust, a fellow actor and I got to play the fire extinguishers.  I loved it!  Such a wonderful experience and quite a well-received night in the theater.

 The cast and creatives of Musical Theatre Guild's 1998 production of   On the 20th Century   starring Lorna Patterson, Ed Evanko, Eileen Barnett, Gordon Goodman, Jimmy Gleason, and Bob Amaral.

The cast and creatives of Musical Theatre Guild's 1998 production of On the 20th Century starring Lorna Patterson, Ed Evanko, Eileen Barnett, Gordon Goodman, Jimmy Gleason, and Bob Amaral.

Flash forward five years. Five more years of shows and new friends and more stuff learned.  And goals and dreams that had started to grow. 2003. I auditioned for the Reprise (a sort of west coast version of NYC's Encores series) production of the show.  I knew Kay Cole (A Chorus Line's Maggie and choreographer of one of my very first shows), but the rest of the production team was new to me. Jerry Sternbach on music and David Lee (co-creator of Frasier and Wings) directing. And it was announced that the production would star Carolee Carmello (Parade, john & jen), Bob Gunton (Evita, The Shawshank Redemption), Mimi Hines (renowned vocalist and personality who was the first Fanny Brice after Streisand in Funny Girl), Robert Picardo (Star Trek Voyager), Dan Butler (Frasier), and Damon Kirsche (a talented fellow who I wasn't familiar with but who has since become one of my dearest friends). I still remember the thrill I felt when I found out that booked it. A part in the ensemble.

But there was a wrench in the works. Still non-Equity, I would be making a small weekly stipend for the five-week run. I also had an offer to play Marcellus in The Music Man at the Lawrence Welk Resort Dinner Theater in Escondido, CA.  I'd be reprising a role I had already played, at a theater that was new to me (and at that time, a potential "card farm" gateway to union status). And I'd be playing with many old friends and others I had admired but had yet to work with, and I'd be making a pretty decent weekly salary for at least twelve weeks. In my estimation, a cushy gig. This was a quandry! In what I've often thought of as my first "big boy" or career-minded decision, instead of the more comfortable choice, I accepted the ensemble role in On the 20th Century for the networking opportunities and the chance to see if my abilities could share a stage with this particular group of stars and not stick out like a sore thumb of ineptitude.  What follows is a bit of a stream-of-conscious remembrance of so many wonderful things that shake out when this string gets pulled:

 The lovely Mimi Hines and yours truly.

The lovely Mimi Hines and yours truly.

Dress fitting.
I had to go to Western Costume in Hollywood for my costume fitting. Our designer took me through my costume plot, my suit and my tux and my overcoat and my hats and shoes. Then he told me that the dress maker would be coming in next to take my measurements. Um. Just out of curiosity, I nonchalantly asked, "So, why will I be in a dress?" He broke the news to me that I would be a body double for the role of Letitia Peabody Primrose in the "She's A Nut!" chase. Ha! I was overjoyed by the possibility of having such a unique credit on my resume: Stunt double for Mimi Hines. Alas, I was eventually reassigned to the role of Mental Hospital Orderly during the chase.  Ah well.  Incidentally, Ms. Hines is an absolute sweetheart and crackerjack performer. In addition to giving a hilarious performance onstage, she also made me laugh in moments offstage.  During tech rehearsals, she sat in a little chair off stage left.  And she wore a Simpsons watch that went off every hour. So periodically, from the darkness of backstage, I'd hear (Bart:) "Are we there yet?" (Homer:) "NO!" (Bart:) "Are we there yet?" (Homer:) "NO!"  Every time it happened, she would laugh out loud, and then I'd get the giggles.

 Adam and I n "Babette."

Adam and I n "Babette."

An American Idol.
Another person making the leap as a non-Equity actor into Los Angeles theatre from the happy stages of San Diego County was Adam Lambert. He was playing a Porter (the tenor) at Reprise. This was well before American Idol and his current successes.  I had shared the stage with Adam a few times at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista, CA, the last of which was their 2000 production of Grease which featured Adam as Doody and yours truly as Roger.  (You should hear our "Rock & Roll Party Queen.") In 2003, Adam had moved to North Hollywood with some other mutual friends, and they graciously let me crash on their couch during the run so I could cut my commute down a bit.  I remember sitting at the living room table, drawing my closing night gift illustration and listening to Adam while he sang in the bathroom.  The range and riffs were like nothing I had heard come from him, and I wondered if he would ever do something with that part of his abilities.  Well, it looks like he did just that.

 Bob Gunton, me, and Carolee Carmello.

Bob Gunton, me, and Carolee Carmello.

A step stool to the stars.
Early in the show, the mousy Mildred Plotka blossoms into her life as glamorous Lily Garland.  It's during a French-themed number called "Veronique" and in this particular staging, Carolee Carmello had to get off of an upright piano rather quickly. It was requested that someone onstage at the time get down on all fours to allow her to step down easily.  I volunteered.  I can't remember the number of times Carolee apologized to me, but it was quite a few.  But I was so happy to have such a unique part in the show, and, honestly, she's very light.  We've had the chance in NYC to reminisce on our train ride.  What a lady!

 My mug, three ways.

My mug, three ways.

 My closing night sketch.

My closing night sketch.

End of the Line.
It was during this production that news traveled from NYC that Al Hirschfeld, legendary theatrical "characterist" illustrator and a hero to me, passed away. His work meant – and still means – so much to those in the theatre, and at the time, I was very emotional about his passing.  I had never even met the man.  It's possible that had something to do with my sadness, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I really felt I knew the man because of what he drew and how he drew it.  And I now had dreams of being that kind of an artist.  Anyhoo, I brought my entire collection of Hirschfeld books and folios to the male ensemble dressing room table, and I watched as folks from all over the Freud Playhouse dropped in to peruse the drawings and talk about their favorites.  It was really very special and made me feel like I had said goodbye in a way.  As I completed my traditional closing night sketch, I included a little tribute to Mr. Hirschfeld.  I would never think of putting my work in the same room as Al's, but I do fully embrace that what I do is in the same spirit and is carrying on the tradition he symbolizes. So as my commemorative doodle made its way to folks on closing night, Bob Gunton stormed from his dressing room to mine and paid me one of the most weighty compliments I've ever received. It moved me to tears. It was an instance of enthusiastic support that, along with many others, became a collective sign that I should pursue the illustration work more earnestly.  Seven years later, after a few more developments and some preparation, I moved to NYC to pursue my dream of drawing the Broadway.

 Some of my Hirschfeld books. My tribute to Mr. Hirschfeld from my closing sketch.

Some of my Hirschfeld books. My tribute to Mr. Hirschfeld from my closing sketch.

You get on at the beginning. You get off at the end.
Along the way, you may find a lover. Along the way you may find a friend.
— "Life is Like a Train" Betty Comden & Adolph Green

Life is like a train.
Both of these productions saw the beginning of many friendships and the continuation of others. And as a bonus, I've been able to work with many of these folks again.  I returned a few times to Musical Theatre Guild and Reprise even after taking my Equity card.  David Lee has been incredibly generous over the years, pulling me into many beloved projects, including Can-Can, first on the stage of the Pasadena Playhouse and then in an NYC workshop and then a full Broadway-aimed production at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2014, my first east coast stage credit.  This likely would not have happened had I not chosen to get on the train.

 The cast and creatives of Reprise's 2003 production of   On the 20th Century  .

The cast and creatives of Reprise's 2003 production of On the 20th Century.

See what happens when I pull that string? My head and heart get flooded with stories about moments in my life when I was encouraged and enabled to grow and dream bigger, and I discovered that it might just be possible for me to flourish in a bigger pond than I had envisioned for myself. And all of this was wrapped in a score by Coleman and lyrics by Comden & Green.

Life and love and luck may be changed.
Hope renewed and fate rearranged.
— "On the 20th Century" Betty Comden & Adolph Green

So then, on an afternoon in March 2015, I sat in the American Airlines Theatre watching the first Broadway revival of the show starring Kristen Chenoweth, Peter Gallagher, Andy Karl, Michael McGrath, Mark Linn-Baker, and Mary Louise Wilson. It's a stellar production. And my buddy Greg cheerfully indulged me as I gabbed and sniffled and told him way too much about the show and nudged him during numbers and bragged too much about the good ol' days.  You see, here I was sitting in a Broadway theater on press tickets, preparing to create an illustration for an internationally renowned Broadway website, nearly five years into my tenure with them. And I was fully aware of this long string that was reaching way back to before I was new, all the way to now and beyond.  And I'm so grateful.

 My  Broadway Ink  illustration of the 2015 Broadway revival of   On the 20th Century  .

My Broadway Ink illustration of the 2015 Broadway revival of On the 20th Century.

Documenting the craziness.

Hey all! Well, it's almost that time!  The time my friends and family almost certainly know my answer when they ask if I have time to play.  Nope.  Gotta draw!  As my primary work for Broadway.com, I'm assigned to draw every show that opens on Broadway, a large number of which schedule their opening nights to meet the late April deadline for Tony Award consideration.  This year, there are 18 plays and musicals opening between March 5 and April 23, and I've got a stack of paper and a corner of a hard drive prepared to receive my impressions.

I've previously made videos showing the creation of one illustration (here, and, with the quick turnaround, here), but this time, I'll widen the scope a bit.  I'll intro with some content from February and March, and then focus primarily on the first 23 days of April wherein I'll be posting 14 individual sketches.  The preparation and process, the setbacks and silliness and sense of accomplishment.  And maybe some guests along the way.  I don't know.  We'll see.

But here, at the end of February, I've been given the opportunity to do a little research ahead of time with an assignment for Broadway.com featuring all 18 March and April openings.  I know a lot about most of the shows on my list, but this was such a great excuse to learn about unfamiliar ones.  It's going to be an amazing couple of months:

  Gigi, An American in Paris, Wolf Hall Pts. 1 & 2, Something Rotten, Fish in the Dark, Airline Highway, The Audience, The King & I, It Shoulda Been You, The Heidi Chronicles, On the 20th Century, Living On Love, Skylight, Hand to God, Fun Home, Doctor Zhivago,  and  The Visit.

Gigi, An American in Paris, Wolf Hall Pts. 1 & 2, Something Rotten, Fish in the Dark, Airline Highway, The Audience, The King & I, It Shoulda Been You, The Heidi Chronicles, On the 20th Century, Living On Love, Skylight, Hand to God, Fun Home, Doctor Zhivago, and The Visit.

It's most likely that I'll not be posting a blog entry between now and the end of April, but I wanted to be preemptive and let you to know why that might be.  Hopefully I'll have something fun to look at on the other side  Cheers, all!  See you at the theatre!

Hamilton: Dropping the Quill

As Hamilton officially opens at the Public Theater tonight, I've just got to say that I'm so thrilled!  I've been following the development of the show from afar since I first saw video of Lin-Manuel Miranda's spark of creation at a spoken word event at the White House in 2009:

I attended the concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series in 2012 where there was about an hour's worth of Hamilton material performed.  And I heard tell of a workshop last year.  The fully realized production currently onstage at the Public Theater is already sold out through May 3rd because anticipation and buzz have been so great. 

 Lin-Manuel Miranda drawn after the Jazz at Lincoln Center American Songbook presentation in 2012.

Lin-Manuel Miranda drawn after the Jazz at Lincoln Center American Songbook presentation in 2012.

I don't pretend to be a good writer, so forgive the ramblings of a fan who is more adept at making pictures:  I believe that those studying the theatre a hundred years from now will point to this piece as a game-changer, a landmark American work of art.  In a vivid telling of the story of "ten dollar founding father" Alexander Hamilton, we witness chapters of the creation of this very independent upstart U.S. told in a very current way.  Part of the inspiration for Miranda writing this show was Hamilton's ability to influence through the sheer force of his writing, as mirrored by influential musical and literary artists of today. Originally called "The Hamilton Mixtape," the score draws from hip-hop, R & B, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, and rap.  A nod to freestyle rap is used effectively in debates, and King George's motif emulates a Beatles-style anthem.  And the movement of the show reflects this as well.  Such a vivid musical tapestry woven from that which makes up the very fabric of our country today.  (It's surely a modern day Schoolhouse Rock.)  And when you look at the stage, the diversity there reflects today as well.  The mere fact that our Caucasian forefathers are portrayed by people of color sheds a light on the richness of what many cultures have brought this country and the benefits that have fallen upon all of us.  Whatever brought us to this plot of land, whether our ancestors sought opportunity, fled persecution, found persecution, achieved success or otherwise, we can all find a hero, flawed as he may have been, in this man who used his voice – and his pen – to effect change.

And for every Hamilton you need a Burr.  I so appreciate the humanity with which Aaron Burr's story is told.  Instead of the coarsely-drawn villain we may have learned about, we find an equally passionate but more rigid figure who found himself often overshadowed by the brash and aggressive Hamilton, a rivalry that ultimately led to that fateful duel.  In writing the piece, Miranda mused on how much at times he may have empathized more with Burr than Hamilton, and I think this is so valuable in the telling of this story. 

Also, I believe it was fate that while writing Hamilton, Lin and his wife welcomed their first child. The ties between parent and child – Hamilton and Burr alike – and the passing on of a legacy contribute significantly to the beating heart of this story.

There's so much more I want to talk about: the man, the myth, the legend, the family, the history, the shots taken and the shots thrown away, the amazing cast and all working on the show (!!); but I'll curb my ramblings (for now). The blurb used on the Playbill for the show at the Public reads "Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?"  It's at times a revelation to learn (more) of the victories, tragedies, and contributions of a lesser-known founding father and how his contributions affected the direction of the United States.  Lin-Manuel Miranda certainly didn't throw away his shot on this one, and we're lucky that he and his family of artists are our storytellers.  It's an exciting, heart-wrenching, hilarious, soul-stirring, humane look back at this country's history with a direct line drawn through the culture of today.  Thrillingly American.

Hamilton is written (music, lyrics, and book) by Lin-Manuel Miranda (with a nod to inspiration from Ron Chernow), choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, and directed by Thomas Kail, with musical direction and magic by Alex Lacamoire.  And it stars Miranda as Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. as Burr, Christopher Jackson as Washington, Brian d'Arcy James as King George, Daveed Diggs as Lafayette/Jefferson, Okieriete Onaodowan as Mulligan/Madison, Anthony Ramos as Laurens/Philip Hamilton, and Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton, with Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, John Rua, Seth Stewart, Betsy Struxness, and Ephraim Sykes.

Full disclosure: For this run of Hamilton, I've not been assigned to draw the show officially.  (Even if that were the case, I'm classified as "non-reviewing press" so the ramblings here are totally my own.  I'm an enthused fan who waited eagerly until tickets went on sale last year and renewed my Public Theater membership so I could get an early shot at buying a ticket.  I'm so happy I did, because these tickets have been popular to say the least!)  I will most likely be assigned to draw Hamilton officially for Broadway.com in the almost certain chance the show transfers to the Broadway. Until then, I threw the following together as my tribute to this amazing show.  Thank you Lin and team!

 To commemorate this chapter of Hamilton.  From the shadows of history. Dropping the quill.

To commemorate this chapter of Hamilton.  From the shadows of history. Dropping the quill.

Happy with Billy & Cyndi

Last year, I got a message asking if I'd be interested in contributing a doodle to the radio single release of a duet Billy Porter would perform with Cyndi Lauper on his new recording.  Well, I'm a fan of them both, and here's the sunny result.  I'm not actually sure if they ever used it in any way, but they told me they were happy with it.  And I'm excited to be seeing them perform the tune tomorrow evening at the Appel Room.

 Billy and Cyndi getting happy.

Billy and Cyndi getting happy.

Can-Can. Did did (finally).

Here it is.  I've finally completed my cast sketch of the treasured experience that was Can-Can at the Paper Mill Playhouse.  It was the first time in my closing night tradition that the piece wasn't done in time, but I had a full illustration workload and a family visit and a desire to be coherent and enjoy the final moments of the run with those I shared the experience with.

And then I set out to draw in the weeks and months after the fact.  Unsuccessfully.  I rough sketched the thing at least five times and trashed them all.  I was learning a lesson.  It's really tough to pay tribute to an experience that was so dear to me.  I knew so much about the creation of this show that I felt rather inadequate in distilling it into a little illustration.  Every show I draw has similar care put into it, and I need to be attentive and wary about doing my best to pay tribute to that whenever I set pencil to paper.

I'm still not totally satisfied with my work.  Maybe that's what makes the future so inviting.  But with all of this qualification, here's my nod to the crazy wonderful denizens of the Bal du Paradis:

   Can-Can   at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

Can-Can at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

"Hi! This is Iain!"

Iain Armitage has taken the theatre-going world by storm with his positive remarks and enthusiastic insights as seen in the video reviews of the shows he sees.  He's six years old and the son of theatre artists.  The videos are made with the assistance of his mother, Lee.  The first of Iain's reviews I saw featured Sunday in the Park with George at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA and I was a fan from the start.  See him chat with Rosie on The View here and watch his interview with Sting here.  Iain's YouTube channel is growing by the week as he gives us hope that the arts just might be alive and well and safe in the hands of future generations..  Rock on, Mr. Iain!

 Iain Armitage, theatre reviewer.  "As long as it's not mean it should come from your heart."

Iain Armitage, theatre reviewer.  "As long as it's not mean it should come from your heart."

 Mr. Iain and Mr. Squigs.

Mr. Iain and Mr. Squigs.

Update: I had the chance to meet the little guy and his mom in person.  Thanks, Lee, for the photo.  It was a treat to meet you two!

Marian and Geoffrey

Two giants of the theatre passed on recently. Marian Seldes and Geoffrey Holder leave us with such wonderful legacies.

 Marian Seldes, 1928-2014.

Marian Seldes, 1928-2014.

 Geoffrey Holder, 1930-2014.

Geoffrey Holder, 1930-2014.

As I ruminated on how to draw them, I thought of their hands. So many remembrances of Ms. Seldes mentioned her cupping one's face in her hands as she shared a word of congratulations or encouragement. Mr. Holder's hands were so wonderfully expressive. And hands imply touch. And touch they did. Our hearts. Bless you, Marian Seldes and Geoffrey Holder!

'Twill Be!

Howdy all! As I write this, I'm feeling the gravitational pull of my bed just feet away from me. I'm tired. Exhausted really. It's been a long rehearsal process and tech week. I don't know how the dancers in our show are alive, because this low-impact character man is knackered. After our second show tomorrow, Can-Can at the Paper Mill Playhouse will officially be open.

 Jason Danieley, Greg Hildreth, yours truly, and Mark Price on our press day a couple weeks ago (left) and in performance this week (right).

Jason Danieley, Greg Hildreth, yours truly, and Mark Price on our press day a couple weeks ago (left) and in performance this week (right).

I'm so incredibly grateful to have taken this adventure with folks I not only love sharing the stage with, but also sharing the journey and the down time too. A fun, smart, loving, gang of supertalents. Thank you, crazy people! And a crackerjack stage management team and fab crew and support team. And that band! And the thrilling work of our designers! And and and. Thank you!! Finally, I have to thank David Lee, Patti Columbo, and Steve Orich again for bringing me along and trusting me. I'm so grateful.

As you know, I've also been juggling my work for Broadway.com. Since I've been in rehearsals, I've posted This Is Our Youth, Love Letters, You Can't Take It With You, The Country House, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; and I have four more to post before we close. A happily busy season! And although it's been crazy scheduling and seeing shows, drawing, inking, scanning, and coloring – the Broadway Ink and a few additional commissions – while also rehearsing and sleeping, I wouldn't have had it any other way. When all the creative cylinders are firing, I think I feel most alive. My people at Broadway.com gave me the best shout-out here which encapsulates my life right now.  I'm so grateful!

And now, as we give birth to this mega-ton French baby tomorrow eve, I look forward to three more weeks of bliss. Telling stories in Jersey, drawing on the interwebs, and absorbing the coming of autumn. Bring it on!

"When you start to do a Can-Can, TWILL BE so easy for you!" Maybe not easy, but definitely worth it!

Gimme a Flea. A bouncy Flea...

For those who might not know, the BC/EFA Broadway Flea Market plays a significant role in my artistic journey.  To be as succinct as possible: My great friend Ed Watts commissioned a sketch for the opening night of [title of show]. Soon thereafter, I was visiting NYC and learned that I'd be there during this event called the Broadway Flea Market. I contacted the [tos] folk to see if I could tag onto their table with my meager prints and quick-sketching.  The table team was headed by the now famous author and 54 Below talent bookie Jenn Tepper, and it afforded me the chance to get to know the [tos]sers-in-chief, Heidi Blickenstaff, Susan Blackwell, Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, and Michael Berresse.  (All of them continue to be depth charges of inspiration to me.)  But the following year, Susan in particular played a part in my leap to the Big Apple.  I planned a trip around the Flea Market that year, which ended up in the Roseland Ballroom due to rain.  But Susan was shooting her very first on-site video for Broadway.com, and it was on this day she introduced me to Paul Wontorek of said website. The next day, Paul and I exchanged e-mails wherein we both learned that each of us wanted to resurrect the regular Broadway caricature publication feature that really hadn't been filled since Hirschfeld passed.  I began making plans to steer my ship towards the east coast by way of Milwaukee.  I arrived in New York City in May of 2010, and within a couple of months, I was drawing regularly for Broadway.com, celebrating the new and exciting on Broadway and beyond.  And within a few months of that, I was creating the first poster of my two year tenure as the BC/EFA main event poster artist.

Today marked the sixth of the last seven Broadway Flea Markets I've had the honor of taking part in.  And I'm feeling all sorts of feelings.

 Shots from the first five Broadway Flea Markets I was so happy to attend.

Shots from the first five Broadway Flea Markets I was so happy to attend.

As I set up my little table in the Times Square area, I was once again taken aback at the number of folks who come together to make this event (and many more) happen.  Staff and volunteers.  Folks involved in theatre-related organizations.  Show folk, from onstage and backstage.  Law enforcement and municipal assistance.  And the Broadway fans fans fans!  So many people coming together to funnel funds to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and organization that does so much good in NYC and across the country and around the world, benefiting heavily those outlined by their original goals, but now also addressing many additional desperate needs.  I feel so lucky to have the chance to work along side you all.

I need to acknowledge my own team today: Nikki Hislop, Lance Roberts, Laura Ware, and Justin Roller (oh, and Greg Hildreth, who supervised a little) who went above and beyond to man the table and field questions and keep it all ship shape, even while I had to step away to see a show I have to draw this week.  (Work calls!)  And those of your who bought prints and books and sketches and buttons.  With all of your help, our little table brought in an amount respectably into the four digits for BC/EFA.  Thank you thank you thank you!!

 Shots from today in Times Square. Broadway Flea Market 2014!

Shots from today in Times Square. Broadway Flea Market 2014!

And one of the singular blessings of an event like today's is that I get the chance to speak face-to-face with folks I've been in touch with primarily online via my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and my website.  So many of you came out today and made a point to say "hello", and I'm so grateful!  Folks I've drawn in shows and some who've bought prints in previous years.  The Meg from the Phantom Vegas Spectacular who must have thought I was being distant while I was only trying not to burst into tears over her beautiful words of gratitude about a piece my friend Kristi Holden commissioned years back.  The fellows who showed me photos of their entertainment center they decoupaged entirely with printouts of my Broadway.com sketches.  (Me and Mod Podge: Quite the team!)  The teenager who communicated mostly through his mother about his passion for drawing and theatre, and asked advice for how to forge on, and then bought prints and an original pencil sketch.  Friends I've gained over the years at Broadway Flea Markets past, and some I met just today.  You all did my heart so much good.  I sit at my desk to create this stuff, and I enjoy it very much.  But it's really something when I get to meet up in person with people who tell me that they enjoy it.  It's not why I do what I do, but it's the absolutely most amazing perk.  Thank you all!

 Squigs buttons and Can-Can postcards!

Squigs buttons and Can-Can postcards!

So now, my heart is full to overflowing, and I've got Can-Can rehearsal at 11am in South Orange, NJ.  I'm going to finish this celebratory beer and hit the hay before midnight.  And I'm sure I'll shed a few more grateful tears over the vast glory of this September day.

Never, never be an artist, unless...

Hello.  My name is Squigs.  I'm an artist who draws what's onstage.  And I will soon be playing an artist on the stage of the Paper Mill Playhouse.  (Talk about "meta.")  Yes, I'll be playing the role of bohemian painter Etienne in what's been announced as the Broadway-bound Paper Mill run of Cole Porter's Can-Can.  I'm pretty darn thrilled.

proppanties.jpg

The journey of this production (and my participation therein) began in 2007 with a well-received production at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Last year it received a workshop reading here in NYC, and we keep kickin' this year with the run at the ol' Paper Mill.  I'm so grateful to those who have brought me along.  Director David Lee and choreographer Patti Columbo and musical director Steve Orich.  Thank you thank you thank you for trusting me and making me a part of this wacky family.  Thank you to our lead producer, Jonathan Burrows, and the production team that has been assembled.  And thank you to all the wonderfully crazy people all along the way who are so amazingly talented and have made me a better person and performer.  I treasure all of you.

To see the shenanigans – the laughs, the romance, the swords, the kicks, the ruffles, the booze, the intrigue, the beautiful Parisian sky, the arts and crafts – get your tickets HERE.

Cole Porter wrote, "Never, never be an artist.  UNLESS you want to have a marvelous time!"  Yup. What he said.  Here we go!

 My sketch from our 2007 Pasadena Playhouse production of   Can-Can  .

My sketch from our 2007 Pasadena Playhouse production of Can-Can.

Video: Interviewed by Jonah Verdon.

Earlier this year, I was asked by this fellow if he could interview me for his video series "Making It Happen" for the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange.  Jonah was starring in the hilarious show Disaster! the Musical (as twins) and I was honored to drop by the Theater at St. Luke's to share some of the lint of knowledge and experience that has gathered in the trap of my mind over the years.  I could have projected and enunciated more, but it gives a nice glimpse into the how and why of what I do what I do.

Jonah Verdon's "Making It Happen" for Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange.

Thank you Jonah (and Jonah's mother on camera) for the chance to chat (and for the shout-outs about Can-Can)!

Art thievery.

Hey folks!  A couple of months back, I saw a couple of critical comments about my work over at the Broadway.com Facebook page.  Please know I'm taking it with a grain of salt, but I'm still intrigued by the question it brings up.  See the screen capture below and look at the last two comments.  What do you think?

 Screen capture from the Broadway.com Facebook page. ©2014 Broadway.com.

Screen capture from the Broadway.com Facebook page. ©2014 Broadway.com.

I'm indeed a huge fan of Al Hirschfeld.  The blurb this commenter quoted is true.  I am deeply reverent of that which came before me.  But I'm also confident enough in my work to know that I have my own unique angle on the style and I would never be successful at stealing the Hirschfeld style because it is his style.  My work is definitely an homage to a great artist, but it's my homage.

This is something artists will always face.  The idea of borrowing or stealing style.  Ken Fallin began his career lovingly spoofing Hirschfeld in the posters for Forbidden Broadway, and even though he has developed his own take, I'm sure he still runs into people who make the comparison.  Sam Norkin was a contemporary of Al and his work was in the same vein, and I know he was occasionally referred to as "the other Hirschfeld."  And it's very likely that a young Albert Hirschfeld was compared to predecessors and contemporaries too.

What makes an artist unique is his or her perspective.  Why do I make this person bigger in a sketch than another person?  Why do the lines of these other two folks intersect?  How do I decide to make the illustration visually flow in the direction it does?  Why did I make a point of including that locket?  How did I come to use this particular color palette?  I could steal all of the bits of Al's visual language but it wouldn't mean a thing without intent.  Mr. Hirschfeld wasn't just doing visual schtick.  He was serving the subject and their stories and personalities.  Every time I pick up a pen I try my best to do the same thing in my own way.  I will never be the wonderful Al Hirschfeld.  There will never be another Al Hirschfeld.  But then there also will never be another me, and I look forward to being me for a long time to come.  So far so good.

Robin Williams

I have a multitude of connections with Robin Williams.  The great majority of these are similar to those shared by millions: A performance in a movie or TV show or concert, or an appearance on a talk show or charity benefit.  I had a knock-off pair of Mork suspenders.  My brother and I imitated Popeye’s fall into deep water during days at the pool.  I saw Dead Poets Society during that profound period of transition between high school and college, and it made me yearn to bring my own verse to the world.  After Todd Anderson had his breakthrough in class, John Keating said, “Don’t you forget this.”  I haven’t forgotten it either.

I’ve been entertained and enthralled by Robin Williams' work for nearly my entire life.  So, I was thrilled when we connected face to face a few years back:

I was assigned to draw Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo as part of my regular assignments for Broadway.com.

Robin went to Juilliard and had a pretty deep connection to the theatre.  He joined Steve Martin, F. Murray Abraham, and Bill Irwin for a production of Waiting for Godot in the 1988 and he had brought his comedy to the Broadway stage.  But he made his Broadway acting debut in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo wherein he played the titular role.  Set in troubled Iraq, the story sought glimmers of friendship, redemption, and beauty amidst the tragedy and absurdity of war.  These days, producers often anchor a production's ticket sales with a star that’s known beyond the theatre.  Robin was the anchor of this production and it was such a thrill to see him work live.

   Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo  , 2011.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, 2011.

Once my illustration posted on the website, Robin’s assistant contacted me about his desire to buy the original ink sketch as well as five prints.  What an honor!  I worked solely with his assistant who asked if I would ship directly to his home on the west coast.  I did so.  I was jazzed but still wished I would have had the chance to meet him.  But then many others in his cast also bought prints, and on the day I delivered them, I found myself alone in the stage management office at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, awaiting some payments.  A familiar face appeared.  “Are you the artist?”  John Keating and Mork and Popeye flashed through my brain as I said “Yes.”  “I think I bought the original.”  “Yes you did, and thank you.”  We shook hands and I stammered through some feeble attempt at summing up all the admiration I had for his work.  He was gracious, but he had to rush off to run the fight choreography before that day's performance.  After I finished my business, I had to cross the stage to exit the stage door.  I tried to be discreet, but as I passed, Robin briefly held fight call.  He gave me two thumbs up and said “Good job, boss.”

I should add that earlier that day, the producers of their play had announced that their play would be closing prematurely.  It was so lovely and incredibly classy of this fellow to think of others in the midst of a tough day.  I’m so grateful for that.  Thank you Robin.

 Robin Williams.

Robin Williams.