Clinton The Musical Aug., 2016

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William Jefferson Clinton / Simon Burke

I don’t even know where to start.

It’s brilliant. Amazing. Hilarious. Irreverent. Crass. And brilliant again.

And with a light hand picks up current politics as well as the shenanigans of the Clintons back then in 1998.

So let me start with a bit of meta-info:

Michael and Paul Hodge are the playwrites (Michael, the older one, is also a barrister) and came up with the idea of a musical about Clinton by way of a joke made by a friend of theirs. It took a bit, but they finally brought the musical to Edinburgh’s fringe festival and later on after a couple of rewrites for the US-market (you don’t need to explain this, everybody knows!) to Off-Broadway winning prizes along the road. And even though the show wasn’t actually acknowledged by the White House, some official men in black came one night and laughed heartily at the irreverent jokes – as well as some friend of Monica’s who actually believed Miss Lewinsky would have found it fun to watch.

The story is known by everyone who wasn’t living under a stone in the late 90ies (or not born yet): We are following William Jefferson Clinton’s imploding double life – he himself said in his autobiography that he felt sometimes as if he was leading parallel lives; on the one hand the suave and charismatic diplomat who steered the US of A out of financial troubles and into a better future, and on the other hand the still charismatic but also roguish and reckless saxophone playing entertainer who strayed from the married way more often than not.

Which of course led to pretty intern Monica Lewinsky and the Republicans’ war against the President. And even though his political opponents had the “stained dress” and witness statements, they weren’t able to dethrone the charismatic president. Neither Kenneth Starr who investigated Clinton’s affairs (and has just been fired/retired from his university job because of … wait for it — a sex scandal involving the football team), nor Newton Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the house, who began coughing while criticizing Hillary Clinton for coughing, have been glaringly successful since Monica-gate.

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Now finally on to Clinton The Musical

When the curtain rises we see a person in pants sitting with their back to us, the audience, smoking a cigar. The impressive leather chair turns – and it’s Hillary Clinton (fabulous: Lisa Adam), telling us she ever only loved two men her whole life, and they were one. Enter William Jefferson Clinton, suave, charismatic, statesmanlike (the sublime Simon Burke), introducing himself with “I’m William Jefferson Clinton”  –  in struts another man from the other side (radio morning show host Matt Dyktynski) with the same line, just adding “But you can call me Billy, darling”. So while William Jefferson is trying his best to win the Presidency in order to give people a better life, in order to have a legacy (cue Hillary stage whispering “Legacyyyyy”) with telling them that he’s from Hope, it is the roguish Billy – he plays the Sax!!! – who wins over people, because he knows that “people have the attention span of a congested gold fish and politics is showbiz for ugly people!”

The Clintons win – WJ paints the future in The Me I See in glorious colours (Simon Burke’s voice is incredible sigh) – then try to get rid of Billy for the term. Because he lies (I’m creative with the truth) and has no moral compass (I just don’t use it) and because he’s trouble (no! Trouble finds me). This of course sets the stage for a power struggle between the two Williams for the White House and for dominance over Clinton himself. While William and Hillary celebrate their win (would I ever lie) out of the shadows comes a bored intern leading a group of tourists – and stops in her tracks because MR PRESIDENT!!!! I’m Monica (Megan Kozak, her first engagement and boy is she talented)… and off it goes with a kiss that takes minutes there on the steps and Billy declaring his love to Monica – would I ever lie – it’s a brilliant 4some happening; two duets merging into one brilliant song.

Meanwhile at the Republican’s headquarter “a Starr” is wished upon… Ken Starr (Brendan Hanson), the prosecutor, emerges from behind a wall-door in a black coat and hat and he wants Clinton buried deep. In his intro it turns out he wears leather chaps over an american flag thong. It is a safe laugh of course, but also a bit cringeworthy. He dug up a land deal in which the Clintons lost money “Whitewater arrrghhhh” and feeds that to the press. and even though nobody really knows what Whitewater (arrrrrgghhhh!!!) is, WJ is in trouble for the first time as the press is covering the story “today… and tomorrow… and the day after that”. Because the Republicans and especially Newt Gingrich (hilarious and whiney and great Luke Hewitt, snacking throughout the show!) want Clinton and his health care plan by Hillary (“a witch!!” hisses Ken Starr) dead and buried. and it works because congress says “nay”.

And then there’s Monica who is “fucking the fucking president, oh yeah, u hu! I’m fucking the fucking president shazam!!!” but as she can only see one Bill Clinton at a time, she’s devastated when WJ breaks up with her. The budget is – thanks to Billy’s plan to outmanoeuver Newt – balanced, people love their president, Hillary urges both men to work together (you must go both ways) to get re-elected, so “what could go wrong?” A subpoene, that’s what could go wrong.

It’s all downhill from then on – WJ doesn’t want anyone to know about Billy and therefore lies to Starr, his State of the Union-address doesn’t have anything sexy or legacy worthy in it and the press is asking about Lewinsky. In a rousing song about A Place Called Hope William dreams up his vision of America, a vision he’s had since before he was born… “where fox news were made illegal, where everyone would have an education, a house and such, and would need no guns because there are none and would go to church, but not too much. Where two gay men would marry, and adopt a child named Harry and join the Milit-ary and it would be heaven for them. … in a place called Hope”. There’s no time for that, though. Cast aside, Monica decides to side with Starr who – snake like – has waited in the shadows for her call. Together with Monica’s “friend” Linda Tripp (an amazing Clare Moore in a christmas themed pullover, who also doubled as a reporter, Eleanore Roosevelt and Callista Bisek) he has the witness, the DNA, the dress and Monica to ruin WJ, who in the meantime has confided in Hillary (she has plans of her own, to make 8 years in the White House into 16 and Trump plays his part in this…) who is devastated.

Only a miracle can now save the President. A miracle in the form of Callista Bisek – who has intimate relations with Speaker of the House Gingrich. She reluctantly after being outed by Clinton helps WJ understand that he will succeed only when showing his dark side, or in his case: Billy to the people who are judging him.

The trial in front of the congress is about to start, with Billy watching if his alter ego is going to be thrown out of office. But with political half truths William Jefferson manages to escape Starr – he first asks for the paper about sexual relations being explained, which both Starr and the Sheriff (Luke Hewitt obviously enjoying the song) then interpret: “if it’s groin, labia or glands, breast, hands or chest….then it is … sexual relations”. But, what a regrettable oversight indeed, the MOUTH is never mentioned. And President Clinton’s statement that he never had sexual relations with Monica therefore was correct.

Meanwhile Hillary is crushed. Betrayed once again by her unfaithful husband she sobs into the huge desk in the oval office, when Eleanore Roosevelt steps out of her portrait (it’s so lifelike, remarked WJ in the beginning) and gives out good advice to Hill: you’re like a bag of tea – you never know how strong you are until you’re put into hot water. Hillary should stay true to her husband – not out of love or for the marriage – no, for the country. Hillary misunderstands again: she won’t be discarded like a tea-bag – she’ll be president – a bitter brew but strong!

At congress it’s all about dismissing Clinton, who finally admits his sins, showing that he is just human. Even Billy helps to get Monica to forgive him and Callista – who wants Newt for herself – is center stage singing “I’m fucking the fucking speaker, oh yeah!” Then even Hillary joins her husband at congress, waiting for the verdict but the two Bills already have a plan – the lights go out. And in red glittery jackets they appear before congress: two men who make one hell of a president. Clinton is not thrown out of office, Hillary goes on to announce her candidacy for president – just not right away, tea needs time to brew after all – and the two Bills strut down the stairs “Then we’ll be fucking the fucking president, oh yeah, shazam”.

 

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Are you still with me? good!

The cast is marvellous. Seven people, on stage almost all the time, their chemistry is shining through the play. A riot Lisa Adam who unabashedly hogs the stage with her  energy. Her antics in her dreadful water colour suits are amazing. (Set and costume designer Bruce McKinven really outdid himself with a brilliant White House dominating the rotating stage and the dated dresses he created! loved it!!)  She is the ecstatic worshipper, the air guitar player, the driven politician and the gleefully echoing “Legacyyyyyyyyyyyy” wife and brilliant.

Clare Moore as Eleanor Roosevelt’s portrait is quoting the past first lady and being misinterpreted by Hillary – she is brilliant in her multiple parts, as a reporter (what the fuck is Whitewater arrrghhh???) as well as the American woman. And I love her Callista who really hates WJ but still talks sense to him.

Luke Hewitt: I almost broke something laughing when he slurped canned peaches during the impeachment scene (I love peaches!! he’d confessed before). His portrayal of a whiney, not very clever politician who does, well, nothing at all is hilarious and awesome – he is snacking through all his Gingrich scenes leading to slapstick comedy with a too tight belt or a too tight corset or a moment of clarity when he asks Ken Starr if it’s bad to have an affair… asking for a friend…

Which leads me to Kenneth Starr played by Brendan Hanson. Now, don’t get me wrong – he’s a good actor with a strong set of pipes and some hilarious one liners written into his part. But… One newspaper wrote about his almost aggressive portrayal of a gay man. And that was my problem with his interpretation. Of course the whole musical is way over the top (in a truly brilliant way) and blunt and fun, but I cringed when he started slapping his bare buttocks or got the definition of sexual encounters on paper out of his fly. Yes, it’s a programmed laugh, yes, it’s entertaining, but less would have been more, at least for me.

On to the two Clintons. Matt Dyktynski managed to be roguish without being sleazy, and made it very easily believable that women were falling for him left and right. When it is stated that the National Guard was procuring women for him, he steps in, enraged “That is a blatant lie. I procured them myself!” and I swear, me and every woman in the audience believed him. When I met him after the show I gushed a bit and he answered: I live to give! I’m not quite sure if he realised that this tagline was so Bill Clinton I almost choked on my water.

“I’m William Jefferson Clinton” are the first words Simon Burke sings when entering the stage. He sings it American, his accent flawless. When he talks, his voice is slightly hoarse and has the drawl Bill Clinton has. He’s one minute suave, the next comically wringing hands, being afraid of Hillary or trying to bring order to chaos and not succeeding. His talent shines – even more so when the sheet covering the huge portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t budging and he improvised, which brought on more laughs. I especially adored his “The me I see” – his first big number, ending on a high note and perfectly executed every time I saw the show. Or his A Place called Hope – the lyrics both earnest statement and hilariously surreal, he creates a new world with his voice, a world we all would love to live in, never falling out of his American accent. Which brings me to the impeachment scene: I swore I saw Clinton sitting in this chair, playing with his glasses, shrewdly commenting around the truth. Even his gestus was on point!  His voice (yes, I am a huge fan, so sue me) is rich, velvety, belting when necessary, lyrical in intimate duets. I was so lucky to see this performance.

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Also: huge thanks to the cast, the people of the black swan theatre and everyone involved for making me feel like a VIP – I have never been so well treated. I am still in shock and awe about it. Just please believe me when I say I loved every second of it and am hugely grateful.

My gratitude to Simon has no bounds. Nor has my admiration and love for him. Thank you for making this trip an extraordinary experience. You rock.

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La Cage aux Folles Nov.21st, 2014

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I can die a happy woman now. Not only have i been treated like the queen of England – or maybe even better – and kissed not only by Simon but by Todd and the producers, the creative directors et al, I was also lucky enough to see the absolute best version of La Cage aux Folles to date. (There might be a better one in some distant future, but actually I don’t even believe that). 

The seemingly easy interaction between Georges and Albin, the frigging talent of the Cagelles, the sweet, helpless innocence of The Son Jean Michel (Robert Tripolino) that makes him vulnerable… it all adds up to an amazing show that is both gripping and funny and hilarious and heart wrenching. Leave it to Simon Burke to have me sniffling more than once, esp when pointing out how much Albin had sacrificed for him(look over there) or throughout the truly heartwrenching rendition of song on the sand. I loved how they use flashbacks with young actors to show the solid fundament on which their love is built – all within a few takes of the music. Leave it to Todd McKenney to make me feel the real anger during his rendition of I am what I am, no frills, no sugarcoating, just pure human anger. And I absolutely adored the sweet unassuming last scene behind the curtain, in the dressing area, after the Dindons are gone, that made their kiss so much more than just a kiss!
It is a bonus of course that Rhonda Burchmore is part of the ensemb!e as well as Marg Downey as Mrs Dindon – repressed by her overbearing husband – and Gary Sweet as right wing politian. An honourable mention goes to Aljin Abella as The Maid – hilarious as s/he should be.

And the best : I’ll be able to see it again and again and again… Lol
Stage  door – yes, definitely. Bar: hell yeah! The woman’s face when she printed out my tickets? Priceless!! All in all a marvellous experience!!!

Pam Ann, You F*Coffee April 13th, 14th

I laughed till I almost peed myself. My make-up went all runny and my cheeks ached. It was two hours of deliciously naughty, rude, clever fun in the Festival of shameless arts currently on in Vienna. And I do admire Ms Pam Ann that she very obviously created her program especially for us, the Viennese. There was lots of talk about AUA (our national airline) which has been bought by Lufthansa (the Germans) and now tries to keep Emirates Air (“You don’t like to hear that name here in Vienna, do you?”) out of our airport because – well, they’re cheaper and offer better service.

First off a little explanation: Pam Ann is truly  too good to be true – she’s the alter ego of Australian comedienne Caroline Reid and incredibly successful with her Pam Ann Show on aussie TV. Now see how I came upon her: http://www.celebritynetworth.com/watch/vP0wAHK_4P0/pam-ann-simon-burke/  and believe you me – she is TAME in comparison to her live show. And onto the live show:

It all starts with an info screen that shows various destinations and various airlines (like Qantas to Sydney – in repair; or American Airlines to Las Vegas – no crew yet; or Al’Italia to Rome – departure at 8.20-ish; and finally Lufthansa to Berlin – you better be on time!) which is hilarious in itself. They update themselves regularly till all show that we now all are on the way to Paradise… Then Ms Pam Ann peruses the new (and I think rather short lived) TV-show Pan Am and copies herself into the various scenes, not one of which is now appropriate for children any longer.

Then Pam Ann comes out and states – she is only going to talk to first class and business. Everyone from the seventh row on is a non-entity to her – “I smell you, don’t you wash? I’ll have flight attendants come to you with bricks to build a wall between you and us”. This was followed by stabs against various airlines – British Airlines with their new marketing strategy “What would Kate do?” the Kate in question of course being Kate Middleton. So in case of an emergency – Kate would do NOTHING because she’s the f..ing future queen. She has people who do things for her!!!!

Or the story about the point of no return when an aircraft must take off,  when … “what, you haven’t heard of that? You are living in a f….ing fairy tale land. No – no kidding – your houses are all gingerbread houses, your people are all so f…ing friendly and even your names… cute, really fucking cute!” … a spanish plane didn’t know how to use the runway and was on course to crashing with a Lufthansa aircraft. And the tower said “helloooo Lufthansa…” that’s the gay coordinator on – “hellooo Lufthansa, you are ready for take offffff!” then he sees the intercepting aircraft and “Hello LUFTHANSA STOP!!!!” just before the point of noi return and all you see is – whomp. And Lufthansa stops “ja? what waz the problem. Ve stopped. Ve have a bit hot tyres now but ve can return immediately.” Now picture that with an easy jet machine. The gay coordinator comes on again, turns to his colleage: should we even bother?  and booooom, one problem less!

Also the story about the tears in the wings of the qantas airbusses – “yes, you don’t know them, they can’t even LAND in Vienna, they’re so … BIG!” – yeah, you heard about that, didn’t you? That’s because we Australians are so f…ing loud! HE WE HAVE TEARS IN OUR WINGS! LISTEN WORLD! TEARS!!!! Emirates Airlines are much more discreet “cha mana chacha, psst, decha mahaamo – give them free stuff they won’t see a thing!”

Or why it takes so long to get off a plane in Schipohl: Because KLM is the last airline to offer their first class passengers gifts – tiny little ceramic houses, a new one every year, filled with … Gin of course. So the stewardess comes out with a tray full of houses and every gay has a list on his phone or iPad where the houses he has are ticked off “Do you have ’67? oh yes, love, take a look….” So that’s why it takes hours to unboard in Schipohl – BECAUSE THE F…ING GAYS CAN’T DECIDE WHICH HOUSE THEY WANT!”

And so it goes on and even after seeing it two times I am not able to remember all the hilarious jokes and innuendoes an incredibly brilliant Pam Ann was delivering at a breakneck speed. There was the dig against Virgin Airlines who are apparently crap but their stewardesses are hot and easy to fuck, against Austrian – you are dressed all in red – against the red walls your stewardesses just vanish – very clever, against the “jeanny”-like stewardesses of Emirates with their tiny little veils and then they blink and are gone! and finally against Air France who are so stuck up they don’t serve you because that’s not a good enough job for them.

It finally ends with another brilliant montage of Pam Ann starring in The Exorcist, Superman, The Godfather. By that time we were all exhausted from laughter but would have gone on for ages if it were only possible! Truly, I hope she comes back next year – Vienna obviously loves her, both shows were sell out successes!

Simon Burke – Something About Always June 17.-19.th, ’11

I wish I could do his talent justice with mere words. Or his personality – or his good looks (okay, I’m shallow, but I don’t care!). I will try my utmost though in this post!

With his new autobiographical one man show Simon Burke allows us a glimpse into his rich personality, into his vast career, from his movie beginnings at the early age of 13 (I bowled out my eyes on national television <when he received best actor> and got kicked in the nuts by the older boys next day for it) to his endeavours on stage, be it in dramatic or musical roles. With a twinkle in his eyes he tells us about endless rejections (Once in a Blue Moon) as it “takes 30 years to be an overnight sensation”, he fondly lets us participate in his memories of PlaySchool and with unrepentant glee jazzes up the children’s tune, paying hommage to the toys he had to work with. (The hilarious “Bear” to the tune of Jesus Christ Superstar’s  “I don’t know how to love him” … “he’s a bear. he’s just a bear…” has the audience in stitches at the wink of his eye!)

Aided by Daniel Edmonds, his genius musical director, he tells us about not being able to dance, only to proceed with a couple of dance steps that belie his anecdotes of stepping on “the toes of Glenn Close and the stumpy little toes of Dame Judy Dench at the Royal National Theatre!” and a story about his endeavours during La Cage Aux Folles in London – where not only did Joel Grey congratulate him on his portrayal of the long suffering but (too) big hearted Georges but he also was taught a pas de deux with John Barrowman by another Aussie – the Dance Master of the Cagelles – who treated him with indifference at best – until opening night, when the big man finally confessed in a lisping voice that his indifference had been intimidation: “I know you from PlaySchool. You taught me the time!” — “So I taught Hanna from Hamburg, the Dominatrix of the Cagelles, to tell the time. My work here is done!”

But it’s not all fun, fluff and mastery of his lush and strong voice Burke is able to phrase so delicately to suit the gentle notes just as well as the “belters”.

In a five minute monologue out of (“Artsy-Fartsy”- his words, not mine) Three Furies, the life of Francis Bacon – he easily has the audience in breathless silence, and tears, while he tells us about the worm in his brain that feeds off him and shitting a new him out until it is no longer clear which he he is. It is a gut wrenching piece of prose he delivers with passion and skill.

(and it’s not just me – see what blaze had to say about that:

Simon Burke’s Something About Always quite possibly wins the prize for intelligent programming. <…>  But by far the most impressive was the ‘Worm’ monologue from the incredible Three Furies. Burke stood there with tears streaming down his face as he recited some of the most gripping lines in theatre.

– I don’t have to tell you of course, that I was crying too.)

On a lighter note”  he adds Lena Horne’s Yesterday When I was Young to his repertoire, which he masters with passion and his usual brilliance,  then continues with another wonderfully bluesy number of Still Crazy after all these Years (his favorite on his brilliant album which is in its second print already).

One of the many high points for me undoubtedly was Burke’s rendition of Edelweiß – a simple, small song  he enriches with his voice (and the story of singing it on a stage transformed into a nazi-festival hall adorned with swastika flags, where Von Trapp is singing a deeply Austrian melody – which could get him killed only enhances the experience) only to lead over with “And I put the Australian in Austria” to Australia For Me, one of the most beautiful songs of love for a nation I have ever heard in my whole life. This song gives me shivers, warms me on a cold day and brightens my life every time I hear it on CD – and it’s so MUCH better live when Simon Burke creates it anew every night, filling it with life and heartbreak and so much emotion.

And that is also one of the things I love so much about Simon Burke.

He stays true to his art. Even in private conversation, one can see the love of his profession shine through everything he does. Almost humbly he vows fans and audience alike with his honesty and his compassion. He does not just see it as his job, he seems to see it as his calling, and quietly enjoys taking you with him on his journey. A journey, he confesses by the end of his show, facing the awkward 13 year old buck toothed boy on the vid wall again, he would take on again, making all the same stupid mistakes, experiencing the same lows and brilliant heights all over again.

A journey that led me to Australia (where I saw no kangaroos! correct that! I finally saw a kangaroo and cuddled a koala) and to new friends in the process.

My gratitude and admiration goes out to Simon Burke – who is indubitably one of the best leading men theatre has right now and who has made it his mission to spoil me rotten on this trip – all my love goes to him and his fabulous talent. If only he could bring his marvellous show (and the cuddle song for Bev!!) to London!

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Holding the Man May 2010

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It’s hard to write about a play that is so raw, so honest and heartwrenchingly brilliant without making everyone think I’m paid by the theatre. Well, I wish. 😉

The play covers a span of 15 years, a lifetime for both Tim Conigrave and John Caleo. The two boys meet in the late 70ies and keep their love alive even though their lives drift apart at some point. And even though John, the beautiful, gentle soul in the body of a Football Captain, is hurt more than once by the infidelities of outgoing Tim, who lives his life openly and to the fullest, yet always returns to the love of his life.

Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes, both “on lease” from Australia, where they’d played Tim and John before, are absolutely stunning as the two boys in love – four more actors cover 40 supporting characters, most important among them: Simon Burke.

Australian Simon Burke shows his versatility by covering an actor in his 30ies in a shopping mall “saving up to go to New York”, as well as 16-year-old beach bum Derge, who’s unimpressed by Tim’s admission that he and John are lovers. Because “cercle jerk buddies don’t give a damn”. At that point the audience is more or less rolling on the floor over the antics of the boys in the cabin, fumbling in their sleeping bags. He’s also Woody, the activist student, who a couple of years later lures Tim into political gay protests and other – temptations.

But he also plays both fathers – the  helpless, in over his head, frustrated Dick  (Tim’s) and the hatefilled, hardened Bob. And he manages to make the audience cringe over totally different versions of “assholeness” – for lack of a better word.

When Tim and John are finally diagnosed with HIV, it is John whose health is rapidly declining – as if the gentler man hadn’t much fight left in him. At the point when he finally succumbs to an Aids-related infection not only Tim is in tears. He is being left out of his lover’s death because Bob, full of hate, has taken over, stuffing what he perceives as “his” into a garbage bag and then brokenly and with tears declaiming his son’s eulogy in the paper – no mention of Tim in there.

At that point the whole audience is crying – four tough men sitting next to me in one of the shows were sobbing just as much as I myself.

Alone, Tim travels back to Italy (where John’s ancestors had been from) and – too lonely for words – writes his autobiography – a memoir of his love for John, a last gift to the man who was still in his heart. He dies only months later.

The actors are all on an emotional roller coaster ride for the whole performance. They all acknowledged that this particular play was more taxing than any other shows they’d been in. And Jane Turner (brilliant in the parts of the totally frustrated mothers, but also hilariously funny as the old queen and the hysteric actress) and Simon Burke graciously both shared personal experiences at a Q&A after one of the shows.

Also the whole cast is incredibly friendly and patient at the stage door, writing autographs and posing for pics even after two shows in a row (how they manage to hold their concentration and emotions is beyond me – tho I think it’s called brilliant acting).

Therefore – it’s on till July 3rd – go see it! It’s fantastic, it’s challenging, it’s important. I’m contemplating to go back…

Prequel, set right after returning home from London:

Gimme time to recover. I saw the show five times and was in tears and a total wreck five times. It doesn’t help when grown men, tough and tall, cry like babies next to you.

Simon Burke was fantastic.

The rest of the cast was brilliant, too.

And I was incredibly lucky to sit next to Gabe for all five shows, even tho we had booked our tickets separately! That way we could hold onto each other during the cathartic final moments of the play.

So this for now: RUN, don’t go, and SEE this play! It’s terrific, moving, heart breaking, and absolutely brilliant!

Then go to the stage door and tell the cast I sent you! LOL