Can’t score a ticket to Hamilton? Need something to hold you over until WaitressThe Crucible and American Psycho open in the spring?

Below, check out a list of five of the most exciting new shows and revivals on the New York theater scene this fall.



STARRING: George Takei, Lea Salonga, Telly Leung, Katie Rose Clarke, Michael K. Lee
WHERE: Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street)
WHEN: Now playing


After Pearl Harbor is attacked, a Californian Japanese-American family is sentenced to forced internment at a Wyoming camp. While there, all of the families who have been relocated are required to a fill out an infamous loyalty questionnaire as a way of ensuring their allegiance to the United States instead of Japan. On this questionnaire, internees must designate whether or not they are willing to enlist. For Sammy Kimura (Telly Leung), the decision is a no-brainer: of course he will join the American troops. But for others, like Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), burning draft cards and publicly denouncing the country that imprisoned his family sends a much louder message. So when Sammy’s sister, Kei (Lea Salonga), falls in love with Frankie, he must learn how to navigate battle terrains not just while at war, but at home as well.


Inspired by Takei’s own life, this multi-generational family saga chronicles what happens when a man is torn between his love for his country and his love for his family. With his father refusing to put on a U.S. military uniform out of principle, and with his sister starting a new life with the man he sees as the antithesis of what he stands for, Sammy struggles to balance his beliefs and responsibilities. A fascinating character study that forces its audience to think about what patriotism means to them, Allegiance is a thought-provoking, unique look at a dark chapter in American history that must not be forgotten.


As always, Salonga is a vocal titan. Her big solo, “Higher,” acts as the biggest show-stopper of the production. After finding herself caught between Frankie and Sammy, Kei must decide how to give both of these men the love and support that they need. She sings about pushing herself to new levels to be who she needs to be for them. Coupled with Jay Kuo’s music and lyrics, the song showcases not just Salonga’s powerful instrument, but how war harshly impacts more than just those on the battlefield.


STARRING: Eloise Kropp, Lesli Margherita, John Bolton, Mara Devi, Danny Gardner, Cary Tedder
WHERE: The Helen Hayes Theatre (240 West 44th Street)
WHEN: Now playing


A charming and nostalgic ode to the golden era of movie musicals, Dames at Sea opens with black and white credits presented on a projection screen, immediately transporting its audience back several decades. When a young small-town woman steps off the bus in New York City to pursue her goal of becoming a Broadway star, she meets a cast of characters who can all help make her dreams come true. But when the show she plans on making her big debut in loses its venue, it’ll be up to her and her friends to find a new location and perfect the show before the curtain call – all in the matter of one very busy day.


Aside from being the show that once launched the career of the great Bernadette Peters,   is not your typical tap musical. While it does pay homage to the days of Cole Porter and Fred Astaire, the show acts almost like a lighthearted parody of the musicals of that time. Full of self-aware humor and comical jabs at how sensationalized the plot is, this production acts as a refreshing, laugh-out-loud contemporary companion to the shows from the era it’s set in.


Any scene with Lesli Margherita is worth the full admission price. As a diva living in fear of being replaced by a fresh-faced unknown, Margherita is terrifically over the top. She shamelessly seduces the men around her to get what she wants and then tosses them aside when they’ve fulfilled her wishes. The hilarious choices she brings to her character make her the “villain” you root for, even if it’s just to make sure that she doesn’t leave the stage. With a booming voice and dance skills that would make any ingénue shake in her tap shoes, Margherita is a bonafide scene-stealer whose magnificent work in this show will undoubtedly be recognized by Tony voters.



STARRING: Caissie Levy, Alison Fraser, Betsy Morgan, Rachel Bay Jones, Mary Testa, Barbara Walsh, Theresa McCarthy, Isabel Santiago, Carly Tamer
WHERE: The Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street)
WHEN: Now through November 22 only!


Presented in four separate parts, First Daughter Suite is an exploration of the wives and daughters of various American Presidents. Directed by Kirsten Sanderson and written by Michael John LaChiusa, this new musical delves into the relationships these women have with one another and with how they’re perceived by the American people. Featuring Julie Eisenhower, Pat, Tricia and Hannah Nixon, Amy and Rosalynn Carter, Susan and Betty Ford, Patti Davis, Nancy Reagan, Anita Castelo, and Barbara, Laura and Robin Bush, First Daughter Suite is an original look at the deeply private lives of these highly public figures.


The Public has been churning out hit after hit. Last year, their show Fun Home (read my review here) went on to Broadway and won five Tony Awards, including Best New Musical. This year, of course, is all about Hamilton. After its initial sold-out run at The Public, the show has gone on to be a certified box office juggernaut since its Broadway debut. With the accolades already piling up (including a McArthur “Genius Grant” for creator and star Lin Manuel Miranda), Hamilton is all but sure to sweep the Tonys come June. So how can The Public follow up two smash successes like this?

With First Daughter Suite, they continue to encourage innovative new musical theater. The show also features a vast cast of immensely talented women. Theater buffs will be delighted to hear them all sing in the intimate venue. With essentially no dialogue, the show transitions from song to song, giving each actor an opportunity to individually shine. And when they’re not performing their solos, they break off into layers of harmonies and belt-off contests which amount to pure ear candy. It’s worth catching First Daughter Suite for the singing alone – but if you can’t check it out live, don’t miss the recently announced cast recording when it hits stores in 2016.


In the closing vignette, Barbara Bush (Mary Testa) is commemorating Robin (Theresa McCarthy), her daughter who died at the age of four from pediatric leukemia. As she stands watching the Atlantic waters crash against the Maine shore on a cold October day in 2005, she’s visited by Robin’s spirit, and the audience quickly learns that the two of them have this reunion on this same day every year – the anniversary of Robin’s death. When Laura (Rachel Bay Jones) arrives and beckons Barbara inside, the sharp contrast between her relationship with her daughter-in-law and deceased daughter underscores how even with time, the pain and impact of losing a child is something that no parent can ever forget.



STARRING: Sam Rockwell, Nina Arianda, Tom Pelphrey, Gordon Joseph Weiss
WHERE: Samuel J Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street)
WHEN: Now through December 13 only!


A pair of ex-lovers (Rockwell and Arianda) find themselves in a small motel in the Mojave Desert. There, they passionately rip each other to shreds, revealing their darkest and most shocking secrets. As they continue to pick at the scabs of the relationship they once had, will what’s underneath reveal that they do – and can – still love one another?


Written by Sam Shepard with his signature gritty and fiery flair, Fool For Love is a brutally honest and often dirty look at what it means to be drawn to someone who brings out the worst in you. It’s a multi-layered, complex drama that unpacks the many definitions of “love” and tests its limits in merciless ways. Although you won’t leave the theater feeling uplifted, the punch in the gut feeling you depart with is a testament to the work’s resounding power, unapologetic dialogue, and the committed performances of the actors.


Without giving too much away, a pivotal reveal is when one of the characters discloses the truth surrounding the death of the other one’s mother. In a show chock-full of jaw-on-your-floor moments, this one certainly takes the cake. It’s so shattering that it will send a chill down the audience’s spines, resulting in the type of visceral reaction only truly excellent theater is capable of. And as the aftermath of this reveal begins to have its full ripple effect, the vulnerability and tension that comes out of it culminates in the show’s explosive finale.



STARRING: Ana Villafane, Josh Segarra, Andrea Burns, Alma Cuervo
WHERE: Marquis Theatre (1535 Broadway)
WHEN: Now playing


Set to the duo’s biggest hits, On Your Feet is a biographical show about the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. We meet Gloria (Ana Villafane) as a teenager and follow her on her journey to international superstardom. Along the way, she and Emilio (Josh Segarra) fall in love, stand up to music industry executives who claim the world isn’t ready for their sound, and craft smashes like “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3,” and “Turn The Beat Around.”


You don’t need to be a Gloria Estefan fan to enjoy On Your Feet – but you’ll certainly be one after you leave the theater. Directed by Jerry Mitchell and featuring sizzling choreography by Sergio Trujillo, the show acts as a high-energy concert of sorts, interlaced with an inspiring and touching story told in between the classic numbers. Featuring a detailed look at fame, family, and assimilation, On Your Feet is the type of feel-good production that so many jukebox musicals strive to achieve but rarely actually do.


After the tour bus accident that almost took her life, Gloria must learn how to walk before she can conga again. As she is in the process of rehabilitation, she and Emilio have their only real argument of the show. He wants her to make her comeback performance at the American Music Awards, while she’s afraid that she might not be ready and that people will only pity her. Together, they overcome the difficulties they’re faced with. And when Gloria eventually returns to the stage, it’s a soaring, moving, and triumphant moment – not just for them but also for those witnessing their story unfold.

Originally published on PopBytes



Annaleigh Ashford is redefining what it means to be a funny girl on Broadway.

It’s no coincidence that the Great White Way’s last true laugh-out-loud play was You Can’t Take It With You, in which Ashford was featured. In a show full of heavyweights like James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne and Elizabeth Ashley, Ashford was not just the most hilarious actor on stage, but she also took home the show’s sole Tony Award. Only 29 at the time, Ashford’s win already felt overdue, thanks to her standout and consistently side-splitting performances in Kinky Boots, Wicked, Hair, andLegally Blonde, and the Off-Broadway productions of Rent and Dogfight.

Now, Ashford is back on Broadway with Sylvia, A.R. Gurney’s endearing and comedic exploration of the relationships between dogs and their human masters. In her first starring role, the triple threat comedienne plays the titular character of Sylvia, a stray dog that gets adopted by a middle-aged New York couple after a chance encounter in Central Park.

UntitledTo prepare for the role, Ashford took her own dog – a toy Australian shepherd named Gracie – to obedience, agility, and sheep herding classes. Instead of just dropping Gracie off, Ashford stuck around and diligently observed and studied the canines. She also immersed herself in nine books—both non-fiction and fiction– about dog psychology. And from the first moment that she leads her body on stage with her nose, it’s instantly clear that this homework more than paid off.

Ashford wears knee-pads and patches of fur to add to the illusion that she’s man’s best friend as she jumps up and down off chairs and sofas, rolls around the stage, and sprints through the aisles of the theater. But her costume is not what transforms her into an animal. It’s the nuanced and dedicated physicality she brings to the part that makes those watching really forget that they’re not actually baring witness to a talking dog. She’s so committed, in fact, that when an audience member’s cell phone interrupts mid-performance, she reacts as any dog would to an unexpected high-pitched sound – by “barking” (or yelling “Hey hey hey!” as it’s represented in the show) until the ringing stops.

“We don’t have that many highly physical female clowns,” Sylvia director Daniel Sullivan told NPR. “I mean, she is really extraordinary in her ability to keep a thing very true and honest and, at the same time, much larger than life, physically.”

When Sylvia debuted on the New York theater scene in an Off-Broadway theater in 1995, it was Sarah Jessica Parker who originated the title role. Now, twenty years later, her husband Matthew Broderick is co-starring in the show’s Broadway premiere. As Greg, the man who takes Sylvia home to his less than enthused wife, Broderick is at his best. As Kate, Julie White excels at playing the skeptical and confused wife who just wants to come home at the end of the day without finding bite marks in her favorite shoes and books – and her marriage.

But no matter who else is on stage, this is truly the Annaleigh Ashford show. Even seasoned stage veterans and Tony-winners like Broderick and White sometimes struggle to maintain a straight face and not burst out laughing at the comedic gold Ashford churns out line after line and movement after movement.

While Greg and Sylvia become more and more dependent on each other, attached at the hips as it were, her presence in his life illuminates who he needs to be in order to become the happiest possible version of himself. This means that maybe the job where he’s been for years but constantly feels put down by his boss is no longer the right fit for him. However, this also means that his wife of 22 years might start to feel jealous that Greg is calling Sylvia “sweetheart” and saying “I love you” much more frequently than he does to her. What ensues is a complex and ultimately heartwarming look at the importance of being honest and willing to compromise with the ones we love.

“By the end, there’s a sense that I’m perceived as the other woman,” Ashford said to USA Today. “From Sylvia’s point of view, this is the man I love. I treat him like my dad in a lot of ways, but he’s also the great love of my life.”

While Kate doesn’t initially take too kindly to Sylvia’s addition into her and Greg’s lives, it becomes increasingly apparent to her that the kinship her husband feels with this dog is unlike any he has felt before. With their kids off at college, Kate enjoys a reawakened professional drive as an English teacher. But for her husband, that same rejuvenated sense of purpose derives from his relationship with their dog. Despite her initial reluctance, she comes to see that, for Greg, Sylvia is not only a pet but also a source of inspiration. And thanks to this dog, her husband is more fulfilled than ever.

UnknownGurney’s decision to make Sylvia have the ability to talk is genius. This tactic not only lends itself to constant hilarity, but also allows the show to paint a very real, multi-layered picture of what humans and dogs expect from one another. The conversations that Sylvia has with both Greg and Kate brilliantly illustrate who these characters are, what they’re thinking, where they are in their lives, how they feel about one another, and what they need to achieve to feel accomplished both as individuals and as a couple heading into the later years of their lives.

The audience members who have doggy bags under their seats to take home to their pooches from their pre-theater dinners can relate all too well to Gurney’s touching ode to the significance of the deep bonds between people and dogs. And for those audience members who have never understood the appeal or entertained the notion of owning a pet,Sylvia shines a light on not just how beautifully symbiotic such companionships can be, but also how much caring for another creature can bring out the qualities within yourself you may need to enhance your own life.

Although Sylvia’s limited run only goes through January, Ashford’s fans can look forward to catching the actress in her popular role as Betty DiMello on the upcoming fourth season of Showtime’s Master of Sex. And on November 13th, her acclaimed cabaret act, Lost In The Stars, will be released via Broadway Records as her first solo album recording.

With this show, Ashford has upped her A-game to a whole new level, and she certainly shows no signs of slowing down. She masters a role that could have very easily fallen flat or not resonated even a little bit as funny or poignant in the hands – or in this case, paws – of a less skilled actress. It’ll be exciting to see if this terrific performance lands her back-to-back Tony Awards, and her first in the Best Actress category (time to start watching out for that record, Audra McDonald!).

Whether or not you’re a dog lover, Sylvia will charm and amuse you, and you’re likely to find yourself barking its praises all the way home.

Click here to fetch tickets to the show, now playing at Broadway’s Cort Theatre through January 24, 2016.

Originally published on PopBytes



Sara Bareilles is conquering the entertainment industry one medium at a time.

Since the 2013 release of her Grammy Award nominated album,The Blessed Unrest, the singer/songwriter has been hard at work on not just a new record, but also a book and a Broadway musical. And you thought you had a busy year.

Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song Published last month by Simon & Schuster, Bareilles’ debut book, Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song, is an autobiographical collection of essays woven together by various pivotal songs in her repertoire. Filled with candor, plenty of humor, and soul-searching, the book chronicles defining chapters in her life – such as her first earth-shattering breakup, her time abroad living in Italy, and the struggles of both finding inspiration and staying authentic to her artistic identity when crafting her music.

In addition to shedding light on the genesis of songs such as “Gravity” and “Love Song,” Bareilles pulls back the curtain on some of the personal obstacles she’s had to overcome. For instance, the poignant chapter, “Beautiful Girl,” finds Bareilles writing an array of letters to her younger self to guide her through the body image issues she’s been facing since childhood. While it’s clear that nobody gave her the prolific advice she’s now giving her former self, these moving letters illustrate just how far she’s come, allowing her to revisit (and sometimes still combat) these self-sabotaging feelings with a fresh perspective. The way in which she describes those inner demons and what her journey has taught her about how to face them is nothing short of courageous and inspirational.

Another standout essay is “She Used To Be Mine,” in which Bareilles discusses how she became involved with writing a musical, how that creative process differed from what she was used to, and how she tackled the new and exciting challenges that presented. She reflects on her lifelong affinity for musical theater and how shows like The Sound of Music, Les Misérables, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors and The Mystery of Edwin Drood shaped her songwriting style long before she ever set out to create her own musical.

“I developed a way of listening to music because of those shows, and because of that, I learned a particular way of writing that would show up down the line,” Bareilles writes. “The focus was acutely on the storytelling, bringing the audience along on a character’s journey, sharing their emotional evolution, all delivered with some unforgettable melodies. I experienced the power of deepening a dramatic moment with a song”

She continues, “I also learned that I was not a true soprano, no matter how hard I clenched my butt cheeks. I tried to sing the part of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera dozens of times, melodramatically staring myself down in my nightgown in my bedroom mirror, and tragically falling short of the high E she sings at the end of the title song until I actually gave myself a headache one time and had to sit down for a few minutes. In spite of my injuries, the seeds were sown deep and true, and my love for the genre has never faded.”

1516-waitress-vertThat love and classic influence is very much apparent in the music and lyrics of Waitress. Based on the 2007 indie film of the same name, the show features some of the strongest work of Bareilles’ vast career thus far. Masterfully blending contemporary musical theater with the signature piano-pop sound that she’s known for, Bareilles has composed an evocative, original, and unforgettable score.

In advance of its inaugural Broadway bow at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on March 25, 2016, Waitress played an acclaimed and completely sold-out limited trial run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past summer.

Like this year’s Tony Award Best Musical winner, Fun HomeWaitress comes from an all-female creative team. Directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin; Hair) and starring the immeasurably talented Tony Award winning actress Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), the show tells the story of Jenna, an unhappily married waitress in the South who learns that she’s pregnant. Now that she’ll be responsible for two lives instead of just her own, Jenna must decide if she has what it takes to start a new life for her and her child or if she will continue meekly accepting the bleak fate she’s grown to know. And throughout, she consistently bakes incredible new pies as a form of self-expression.

While putting Waitress together, Bareilles became so enamored with the project that before the inevitable cast recording hits shelves next year, she’ll be releasing a concept album of songs from the show. In stores this Friday, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress gives fans a taste of what they can expect from the musical when it makes its eagerly awaited arrival on the Great White Way.

In a press statement about the album, Bareilles explained, “I fell more deeply in love with the writing of the musical Waitress than I had ever imagined. It proved impossible for me to imagine handing over the songs to the show before selfishly finding a way to sing them myself. This is a deliciously self-indulgent project and I’m sorry, I’m not sorry.”

Sara-Bareilles-Whats-Inside-426x426Yet while the record is comprised entirely of selections from Waitress, there are several songs that Bareilles deliberately did not include on the track list. This way, there would still be some surprises left for audience members when the show opens (looking at you, “Take It From An Old Man”). And instead of recording these songs in the exact style that they are performed on stage, her approach was to treat these as she would any other songs she’s written. Produced by Neal Avron (who collaborated with Bareilles on her second album, Kaleidoscope Heart), the tracks on the album act more as pop interpretations of what the show has to offer, rather than as a direct reflection of how they’ll be presented in the musical.

The album’s lead single, “She Used To Be Mine,” is a gorgeous power ballad that Jenna sings during a monumental turning point. She’s at a crossroads and yearns to reconnect with the strong, free-spirited woman she used to be. She remembers what it was like to learn and grow from mistakes instead of be bogged down by them. Through the song, she reignites the flame inside of herself to grant her the courage to pick one of the paths she sees before her. It’s an empowering track that not only paints a detailed portrait of one of the musical’s central conflicts, but it’s also the type of instant classic that will make it a staple in all of Bareilles’ future concert set lists alongside “Love Song” and “Brave.”

Other highlights on the album include “When He Sees Me,” a quirky song with big and brassy vocals that one of Jenna’s two closest friends sings about unearthing the confidence to go on her first real date. “Door Number Three” is a bouncy and hopeful ode to the possibilities of what can happen when one takes unexpected risks. “Bad Idea,” one of the two songs featuring Jason Mraz, is a comical and sexually charged duet about not being able to resist someone despite the best logic advising against it. And “Lulu’s Pie Song” is a powerful lullaby that acts as the show’s finale and a tribute to Jenna’s child.

Corey Mach, a cast member of the A.R.T. production, exclusively told me that “working with Sara on Waitress was a dream. She was constantly involved from day one, adding new orchestrations, arrangements, and even songs daily. She is a remarkable human and a brilliant songwriter.”

Mach also happens to be the founder of Broadway Sings, a revered concert series that spotlights a pop artist and creates brand new arrangements of their song catalog in the vein of musical theater. Performed by a mixed troupe of up-and-coming and well-established Broadway stars, these concerts are backed by a full jazz band and give a unique twist to the popular music they perform. Artists that have been featured include Adele, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Pink, Amy Winehouse, and Justin Timberlake, with Billy Joel being the next up on the roster. So naturally – and just in time for Friday’s release of What’s Inside– Broadway Sings dedicated their latest concert to Bareilles earlier this week.

“Sara’s music is inherently theatrical,” Mach told me. “I think a huge reason the Broadway community is so open to welcoming her is because they are genuinely intrigued by the thought of her lyrics being sung by actors. Her songs tell beautiful stories, and so do great musicals; it’s a perfect combination. That’s a huge reason why I chose to honor Sara for my ninth concert in the series.”

True to promise, the concert featured exciting renditions of Bareilles’ greatest hits and deeper album cuts. These included Jessica Keenan Wynn’s show stopping, sultry big band take on “King of Anything”, the Louis Armstrong-meets-Michael Bublé swagger of Ben Thompson’s “Little Black Dress,” Ben Platt’s soulful “Many The Miles,” and Natalie Weiss’ belting master class on “Stay.” Comprised of a sold-out crowd that would roar with applause and chant “Get It Girl!” anytime a performed reached a key change, the Broadway Sings event showcased just how much Bareilles’ work is both complimented and has already been embraced by the vibrant theater community. Not a bad welcome.

So now that Bareilles is a New York Times bestselling author, has her fifth full studio album under her belt, and is garnering early buzz for a Tony nomination, does she plan to appear on a Broadway stage herself?

“I certainly have dreams of being on a Broadway stage someday, if they’ll have me. I think I want to stay really open to whatever possibilities present themselves. My role in this show as composer and being behind the scenes has been so delicious in such a surprising way,” Bareilles said to Glamour. “I thought I would have a much harder time relinquishing the role to someone else because I fell in love with our lead character so much. I love this woman, Jenna. She resonates with me, and I really identify with her,”

“But then getting to work with someone like Jessie Mueller and watching her and how masterful she is at creating a character, I feel like I have a lot to learn before I would be ready to take on something like this. But again, never say never—I certainly have those dreams, and I hope that it happens at some point, whether it’s in this show or something else. I hope I get to see those stage lights at some point,” she concluded.

With a new album, book, and musical, it’s clear that Bareilles has ripped a page from Jenna’s recipe book by baking all of these passion projects to perfection. We already can’t wait for whatever she serves next.

Click here to order the new album, What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress
Click here to order Sara Bareilles’ book, Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song
Click here to purchase tickets to Waitress on Broadway

Originally published on PopBytes



In what feels like an overnight transformation, 25-year-old Jess Glynne has gone from a pop newcomer to an unstoppable global hit-making sensation.

Since she debuted on the music scene in 2014, Glynne has amounted an incredible five #1 singles in the UK, tying Girls Aloud’s Cheryl Fernandez-Versini for the most ever number ones by a British female artist. As a result, her just-released and superb debut album, I Cry When I Laugh, already feels like it could be a greatest hits collection.

Currently embarking on her first headlining tour, the soulfully voiced chanteuse chatted with me about her whirlwind year, her artistic identity, her first Grammy win, her love of horseback riding, and much more.

jessNAGORSKI: In the past year and a half, you’ve been part of seven Top 10 singles in the UK. As a solo artist, “Hold My Hand” and “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” hit #1 on the charts and “Right Here” reached #6. As a featured artist, your collaborations with Clean Bandit, “Rather Be” and “Real Love,” peaked at #1 and #2 respectively, and your collaborations with Route 94 (“My Love”) and Tinie Tempah (“Not Letting Go”) also hit the #1 slot. How did achieving such massive success before your debut album was even released impact how you wrote and put together that record?

GLYNNE: When you put it like that it seems like the pressure should have been intense, but weirdly I just took everything in my stride when making my album. I always go in to sessions with an open mind to create a masterpiece that I love, and that’s how I approached making this album. I wrote songs that meant a lot to me. I think that’s why the album is quite diverse and each track has its own story because I didn’t create them by following a theme. I created through my day to day experiences and emotions.

You also took home your first Grammy this year in the Best Dance Recording category for “Rather Be.” What was going through your head when you found out that you had won?

I still can’t quite believe it. When they announced our names as the Grammy Winners, I was in shock. It was a surreal but an unbelievable experience and one I’ll always remember.
How do you think your music as a solo artist differs and stands out from your collaborations with other musicians?

When I started writing, my music had always been soul and R&B orientated. “My Love” was a collaboration with Route 94 and I gave my soulful vocals to it. “Right Here” I wrote without knowing it was going to be my single. I was working with Gorgon City at the time and they were very house infused and I guess that’s where it came from. I’ve always loved the genre and I guess it worked for those songs, but my material has always been inspired by what I grew up listening to and that was stuff like Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Amy Winehouse, John Legend and Jay-Z. So I think the shift was always going to happen.

Why is I Cry When I Laugh the best name for your album?

Well it’s firstly a fact, I actually cry when I laugh! Like, a lot of tears. It’s a weird thing I think I inherited from my dad. My sister has it too! I chose it for the name of the album because the album is a story of me and my life with everything I’ve been through. There’ve been ups and downs and I thought that title suited the emotions of everything so well – plus it is a fact about me. So there was no better way to sum it up really.

Do you have a favorite song on the record?

To be honest I love every song, but I would say “Ain’t Got Far To Go” as it was the first song I wrote with Knox Brown and it helped form the spine of the album. It’s about never giving up and believing in yourself, not letting people get in the way of what you want and making it happen – all the things I live by daily.

“Hold My Hand” is starting to really take off in the US. Can you please tell me a little bit about how that song came about and why you think it makes for a good introduction to your music for American audiences?

I was in the studio with my writing partner Jin Jin (Janeé Bennett) and we were both going through a bit of a rough time. Believe me. We held each other’s hands, put our cheek’s on each other’s cheeks, and sat on one another’s laps. I was having quite a lot of anxiety after having had such a mad year. That was what the song was about. Hold me and tell me everything’s going to be OK. Getting a hug and feeling like you can take on the world. Like many of the songs on the album, this was a reminder about the positive and having someone by your side, and I think everyone in the world can relate to that feeling.

So then what made “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” the perfect follow-up single?

This song in particular has a really deep important message from me. I was going through such a strange time when I entered the industry and this song is about that. It’s about seeing hope through sadness.

You’re currently on your headlining “Ain’t Got Far To Go Tour” in both the US and in the UK. For fans who have not caught the show yet, what can they expect from it?

They can expect a big lively, soulful show full of character. I’m bringing all the songs from the album to life with my gorgeous band and my amazing backup singers!

You recently underwent surgery on your vocal chords with the same doctor who performed the same procedure for Sam Smith. How are you feeling now and what made you realize this was something that you needed to have done?

I had been having problems with both talking and singing for a little while because I had a polyp on one of my chords which was getting in the way of me singing. It got to a point where I couldn’t deliver and I had to put a stop to it and get the surgery. Now my voice is better than ever and I’m so grateful to Dr. Zeitels for his magic.

Which artists were you listening to the most while recording your album and who would you say was the biggest influence behind crafting its sound?

I was listening to a lot of music both current and classic but my main inspirations were from things that have happened to me, things I’ve experienced in my life or that of my family and friends. Without them and without living, I would have no experiences or journeys to talk about.

What was the first album you ever purchased?

Born To Do It by Craig David!


The UK dance-pop scene is enjoying quite the resurgence at the moment. Artists like Clean Bandit, Disclosure, Gorgon City, Sigma, and Naughty Boy are churning out hit after hit. What is it about this sound that you think is causing audiences to respond so positively to it on a global level?

There’s obviously the production and the sound, but I think people connect with the emotion of the songs. That’s what they relate to. At the heart, these are songs about love, sadness, joy and life – all very human things!

What’s something about yourself that you think your fans would be very surprised to learn? 

I love horseback riding. I haven’t been able to do it for a while but hopefully I can do it again when I get a break. Maybe I’ll have my own horse one day!

You had already done so much leading up to this album. How did you finally celebrate once it was released?

In the UK, I threw a party with all of my family & friends and just danced to my favorite songs! In the US, we were right in the middle of the tour so I get to see every show as a mini party! Come and join the celebration!

Originally published on PopBytes


ABS-KeyArt-WithTagJames Lecesne’s list of accomplishments will make you feel like the laziest person on earth.

A seasoned Broadway and Off-Broadway veteran with Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards under his belt, Lecesne is an Emmy-nominated television actor/writer, and a three-time novelist. He is also the executive producer of the 2009 documentary film, After The Storm, about the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the lives of twelve young people in New Orleans. On top of that, he wrote the screenplay for the short film, Trevor, which not only won him an Academy Award, but also inspired the founding of the Trevor Project, the only nationwide 24-hour suicide prevent and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBT and questioning youth.

Now, Lecesne has returned to the New York stage for the limited 12-week Off-Broadway run of his touching, heartfelt, and important 90-minute one-man show, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. Take that, James Franco.

Based upon Lecesne’s own young adult novel, Absolute Brightness takes place in a small New Jersey town that has been shaken to the core by the disappearance of a flamboyant 14-year-old boy named Leonard Pelkey. Lecesne portrays every character as they individually try to piece together the puzzle surrounding what happened to Pelkey, and reflect upon how he changed their lives – and inadvertently, the town itself. As these characters think back on their interactions and relationships with Pelkey, they realize just how much he challenged those around him simply by refusing to conform to any pre-conceived notions of who he should be and instead always stayed true to himself.

1 Signature Photo - James Lecesne as Chuck in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey - Photo by Matthew Murphy

When Detective Chuck DeSantis, the show’s narrator, reveals that Pelkey’s body was found at the bottom of a lake and that he was undoubtedly murdered, it’s up to Pelkey’s family, friends, and neighbors to honor his memory by celebrating the same vivaciousness that tragically ended up killing him. As DeSantis speaks to these individuals in an attempt to solve the mystery of Pelkey’s death, he encounters people like Pelkey’s aunt, the owner of a local hair salon, her timid 16-year-old daughter, an elderly German man who owns a clock repair shop, a mobster’s widow, a teenage bully who is more interested in video games than remembering his former peer, and the head of the drama school where Pelkey was rehearsing The Tempestprior to his murder.

“Several years after publishing the novel, I found myself still thinking about this story,” Lecesne told New York Theatre Review, explaining his decision to adapt his work for the stage. “So much had happened since then to make me aware of the problems of bullying and its effect on kids who insist on being themselves. And so I began to explore how I might tell the same story for a more adult audience, from a different point of view and on my feet in front of an audience.”

There was the special difficulty of deciding which characters he could play. “Let’s just say that the idea of portraying certain characters presented a daunting challenge – would the audience accept me, a mature male, as say a 16-year-old girl and without a touch of makeup or costume?” he added. “But one thing I’ve learned from my years of experience is that nothing is more inspiring than the ability of a theater audience to make the necessary imaginative leap.”

3 James Lecesne as Gloria in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey - Photo by Matthew Murphy

Yet Lecesne makes that leap seem far from difficult. He morphs into these characters with hardly any transition time, and the way he fully embodies them is truly a marvel to behold. Instead of relying on costume changes or props, Lecesne radically changes his voice and physicality to properly encapsulate each character. His remarkable attention to the smallest of details completely transforms him right before the audience’s eyes – despite the fact that he never leaves the stage or changes out of the simple tucked in button-down and dress pants he wears throughout the show. In fact, his portrayal of each character is so convincing and spot-on that it’s easy to forget that there is only one person on stage. The exceptional and colorful ways that he brings each of them to life with such distinct personalities and mannerisms is beyond inspired; his performance never wavers, no matter if he’s playing a man, woman, child, old person, or anyone in between.

Another part of what makes Absolute Brightness such a fascinating piece of work is how it tackles the ripple effect that Pelkey’s death has. For some characters that knew the boy directly, his tragedy highlights how much change and introspection is needed to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. And for those who didn’t know him personally, his story still resonates as one that will forever change and shape their town. They realize that his bravery brought out their own cowardice, and that their insistence that he “tone down” his self-expression didn’t help him – and instead only fueled the hate that led to his demise. The only silver lining is that what happened to Pelkey opened the eyes of an entire community that might have otherwise never known better than to continue rejecting someone purely for telling their truth.

Featuring a gorgeous original score by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening; American Psycho),Absolute Brightness is a one-of-a-kind and timeless theater experience that will stay with you long after Lecesne’s final bow. It’s a powerful story that dares its audience to defy convention and encourages them to embrace their true selves, no matter how much that might conflict with social expectations. And above all, it reminds us that love will always outlast hate.

Click here to buy your tickets to The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, now playing through October 4th at the Westside Theatre in New York City.

2 James Lecesne as Chuck in The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey - Photo by Matthew Murphy

Originally Published on PopBytes