Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The soundtrack of our lives: Rekindling and reconnecting through music

I grew up listening to the music of Carole King and still have her LP's Music and Tapestry in my record collection.

Little did I know that across the country in San Francisco, my older cousin, Paul Blake, had her LP in his collection when he was "making nothing so even an LP was a major financial commitment. But I remember listening to it and liking it a lot.

“Then I went back to Cole Porter records and ‘My Fair Lady.’ But I knew then that she was an extraordinarily gifted person." Paul was quoted in a recent interview about how he came to produce "Beautiful-The Carole King Musical".

The last time I talked with my cousin or cuzzie as we used to call each other was in 1996 after the death of our Aunt Laura. He contacted me to let me know that she had left some money to my children. We had a delightful conversation and then lost contact.

Back on February 27th, I wrote a blog, "God I'm a Dancer, a Dancer Dances," talking about how I met Donna McKechnie at a Christmas party he had at his apartment. She went on to win the Tony Award for her portrayal of Cassie in A Chorus Line. She was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and told she would never walk none the less dance again in the late 70's. But I knew she did dance again which is why I wanted to read her book, "Time Steps." I went ahead and tried to find my cousin after writing that blog. When I googled Paul Blake, actor, California, Bronx absolutely nothing came up. I let go of it and thought oh well maybe he has passed on...after all he is in his early 70's.....maybe nothing happened with his career...um no.

Imagine my absolute shock when I am reading "Time Steps" and on page 48 I read, "I continued to study with Josh, and later was brought into a directing course by my friend Paul Blake from the renowned Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio. The words literally jumped off the page at me:

No wonder I couldn't find Paul Blake the actor...Paul Blake is a director and producer. After making this discovery, my first google was Paul and Donna. He directed her in a touring production of Annie Get Your Gun in 1989. I then found an article about Paul Blake as executive producer of the St. Louis Muny Theater for 22 years and he was going on to produce "Beautiful." I thought perhaps there were two Paul Blakes and that maybe this wasn't my cousin after all. I couldn't quite wrap my head around his amazing journey, his fierceless determination to work his art regardless of often times unkind reviews and how his 3rd Act is a joyous resounding success.

But when I saw the video of his reaction to last year's Tony Award nominees, I knew it was my cuzzie:

The music of Carole King is timeless and is the soundtrack of my life. She composed so many songs that struck a chord with the heart of a teen age girl and a woman in her 20's as all the old societal and cultural norms were breaking down for women. Today her music leaves me feeling nostalgic forgetting the trauma of my past and remembering how music and Broadway shows were always a powerful healing force in my life. I remember how my cousin played the piano while I sang (and I use the term loosely) and I lost myself in song in those hours we spent together. Even though we were Jewish, his mother cooked a fabulous meal on Christmas Day as a way for us to be together. It was my birthday and the years we spent with the cuzzies on my birthday were cherished, treasured memories. We saw my cousin perform in off-Broadway productions and what a treat to go back stage after the show. He is as vibrant and in love with theater today as he was when I was growing up.

Carole King has written or co-written over 400 songs that have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists. Since discovering that my cousin produced her show, I have re-experienced the joy of her music. Last night Tom and I watched the PBS show of Carole King being the first female recipient of the Library of Congress George Gershwin Prize in 2013.

As I was researching today's blog, I discovered her classic, "You've Got a Friend" was performed by Carole and James Taylor at the Boston Strong concert in May of 2013 after the devastating events of Marathon Monday:

The back story {you can read the story at Muny's Paul Blake Sings a New Song} of "Beautiful-The Carole King Musical" is well - beautiful - how a record company approached my cousin to produce the show because he was able to get Irving Berlin's sisters to agree to produce White Christmas for Broadway. It has now become a seasonal hit. "Beautiful" was a show that almost did not happen and Carole King had walked out of the read through of the show. She did not attend opening night but on April 3, 2013, she surprised the cast at the show and since then, as Paul mentioned in the Tony Award nomination video, she is behind the show 100% even going to London for the opening of the show.

I reached out to my friend Christa who I knew worked in theater for many years wondering if she had any ideas of how I could reconnect with my cousin. She told me exactly what to do and as I write this, a handwritten card along with a typed letter is somewhere between my home in Boston and his office in New York City. Tom and I have been wanting to return to New York for a few years now but the timing didn't seem quite right. It's right now. Regardless whether or not we hear back from my cousin and I have this feeling deep in my soul that we will, we are going to get tickets to a Saturday matinee and see "Beautiful-The Carole King Musical." It's going to tour in Rhode Island but there is nothing like a Broadway show on Broadway. As my cousin said in his interview, he was a Broadway baby - and so was I. The music of Broadway and the music of Carole King has been the soundtrack of my life; a beautiful force that heals. Music helps me to rekindle wonderful memories and reconnect with all that is right and true in myself and in the world around me. I am so proud of my cousin for his part in igniting people's passion for the music of Carole King and his role in creating a theatrical experience that became the "sleeper hit" of the season.

Journey well!

"Journey Well" and all of my inspirational books are available on Amazon.

"Journey Well" is a book about resilience, strength, courage and how we are able to journey well no matter what conditions life hands to us. I profile the people who are Boston Stronger and share how 4/15/13 was a wake up call to me to return to my healing path from contracting paralytic polio at age 5 and 9 years of domestic violence as a child and adolescent.

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