I first interviewed MAC and Bistro Award winning vocalist Eric Michael Gillett in June 2011, as his show "Cast of Thousands: Gillett sings Carnelia" was premiering at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Since that time, the show extended through October of 2011 and now Eric Michael is returning to Feinstein's at Loews Regency with a brand new show from February 21-25.
From Februrary 21-25, Eric Michael and La Tanya Hall are teaming up for "Nothing To Lose But Your Heart," an evening celebrating the songs of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The evening will include selections from Ahrens and Flaherty's Broadway musicals "Ragtime," "My Favorite Year," "Once on This Island," "Lucky Stiff," "Seussical," and more. Gillett and Hall will bring their unique stamp to a wildly diverse catalogue of music by two of the theater’s most popular contemporary songwriters. Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 60th Street. Click here for tickets!
1. How did your new show with La Tanya Hall "Nothing To Lose But Your Heart" come about? What attracts you to Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's music? As a proud member of the Feinstein's family, I was thrilled when John Iachetti, who books the room, invited me back to play there this February. It was John's suggestion that I be paired with another singer and I was doubly thrilled when La Tanya Hall, a very dear friend and colleague, agreed to join me for this engagement. Before I approached La Tanya, I had already decided that I wanted the evening to be a 'songbook,' that is, a tribute to a composer/lyricist team, preferably someone in the contemporary theatre. I approached Lynn and Stephen, who had been gracious enough to do some tweaking on one of my favorite songs of theirs, "I Was Here," not once, but twice. The first time was when I was directing Karen Akers in her show, Move On. Later, while prepping Metropolitan Opera star Maureen O'Flynn for her Feinstein's debut, I went back to Lynn to ask for some additional changes to help the lyric better serve the specifics of Maureen's life and career. Lynn and Stephen, who are not only among the most prolific writers of their generation but are, also, the nicest and most supportive creatives one could ever hope to meet, were enthusiastic in their approval and, so, Nothing To Lose But Your Heart was brought into being.
The most exciting thing about working on an evening devoted to Ahrens & Flaherty is that their songs are so character and plot specific. The challenge was to find a way to meld the many different styles into a cohesive whole by weaving together suites of songs from seemingly disparate sources. La Tanya and I, along with our collaborator and musical director, Jeff Cubeta, allowed ourselves to listen to the music with fresh ears, judging nothing, and allowing the themes and variations to emerge for themselves. In other words, we let the show speak to us instead of simply choosing songs we simply 'liked.' We all agreed from the very start that the show should not be one of those 'and then they wrote' museum pieces, or a chronological exploration of their material. Instead, what has emerged is a show we are incredibly excited to share with the public. Nothing To Lose But Your Heart allows us to sing to each other from the heart, even as we honor the spirit, the integrity, and the artistry Lynn and Stephen bring to their songwriting.
2. What excites you about your collaboration with La Tanya? What have you learned from working with her? La Tanya is an old and dear colleague and friend. I've directed her before, in single night performances at Feinstein's, and we have sung together off and on for years, but never in a full engagement. We met on a gig and, while it sounds like a cliche, we knew we were meant to sing together. The first day we met, I rushed into a rehearsal late, just as the opening strains of our first number together were being played. La Tanya was already in place across the room and I threw off my coat, dropped my bag, and walked with her into the song right on cue. We locked eyes and sang together from the heart, divvying up the lyric just by looking at each other and staging the number off the top of our heads. Not only was it a magical moment, we never changed a note of the arrangement or a single piece of that initial staging from that first rehearsal right up until we performed the number in concert at the 92nd Street Y.
Singing with La Tanya is like singing with my soul mate. We were born to make music together. She brings me soul and makes me feel, if you'll excuse the expression, sexy and warm. I only hope I give her half as much on stage as she gives me.
3. What are you looking forward to performing at Feinstein's at Loews Regency? What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? This is my third full engagement at Feinstein's and my fifth time at the club as a performer. Every time I play the room, I come away with a new respect for the staff and the incredible personnel who make the entire Loews Regency experience so magical. I love and respect John Iachetti and his colleague, Jessica Poli, as well as Michelle Rizzo, John's assistant. But it's more than that. You get a feeling working Feinstein's that no other room affords you, a sense of belonging and of being nurtured, both by the staff and by the audiences. It is by far my favorite room to play, and my favorite room in which to direct.
Nothing To Lose But Your Heart has a heartbeat in itself. I can only hope that our audiences hear the beat of that heart, and walk out with the same sense of joy and community that inspires La Tanya and me every time we sing Lynn and Stephen's songs. There's a beautiful piece toward the end of the show, a combination of two songs, "Something Beautiful" and "I Was Here," both of which speak to why we were put on this planet and what we hope to leave behind. Having just lost my beloved voice teacher and mentor of forty years, Jan Ritschel, I can only hope that something of the joy in singing that Jan gave to me all these years is transmitted to the audience through Stephen's gorgeous music and Lynn's heartfelt lyrics.
4. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? To be a performer is one of the most rewarding gifts one could ever imagine. Because I teach and direct, as well, I've come to love my moments in the spotlight and the chance to illuminate the work of others through whatever interpretive skills I may possess. I feel that, when I'm in the zone and singing at my best, anything is possible. The world itself drops away and I see something of the glory I think we are meant to feel when we're in the deepest part of our most passionate selves. When I sing with La Tanya, I can honestly say that it happens more often than at any other time in my career.
5. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The power to heal the sick would be the one super power I wish I could possess. I'm grateful for the many gifts that have been bestowed upon me by those who have taught and nurtured me over the years of my life and career but, in the end, I wish I had the power to save those who are in pain from their misery and to grant the gift of time and quality of life to those who suffer.