Growing up, I was very fortunate to spend many a Christmas vacations from school up in the Catskills with my family. From Kutsher's to The Fallsview to The Nevele, I was lucky enough to have this special time with my family peddle boating, playing golf, arcade games, dinners together and best of all seeing legends just starting out from Jerry Seinfeld to Penn & Teller in the hotel nightclubs. I can still vividly see my grandparents laughing hysterically as we all watched Jerry Seinfeld perform. Looking back, I see what a special time this was for me and my family.
When Penny Landau of Maya PR suggested I interview Gary Waldman (writer, director, composer/lyricist), I was more than happy to go back to this wonderful time in my life and talk to the guy who's show What I Learned In Fallsburg - the Hip, New Catskills Musical is playing The Triad in NYC, chronicling his 35+ year career, beginning in the early 70's at Nan Acres Bungalows in South Fallsburg, NY & continuing through, well, today, with a personal tribute to growing up in the Catskills from a Baby-Boomer’s perspective.
What I Learned In Fallsburg - the Hip, New Catskills Musical will run from August 1-September 6 at The Triad (158 West 72nd Street (bet. Amsterdam & Columbus). Click here for tickets!
1. Your show, What I Learned In Fallsburg - the Hip, New Catskills Musical, is going to be making it's NY Off-Broadway debut this August at The Triad on NYC's Upper West Side. What are you looking forward to about bringing this show to NYC? Wow. Where does one begin? The excitement of knowing your hard work and determination paid off well enough to bring your life's story to the theater capitol of the world (and my home town)...it is humbly surreal.
2. What made you want to write a show about growing up in the Catskills? It's actually a cool story...I was running a theater in Florida last year and we needed a "place-filler" to generate income over the summer (off-season in Florida) so I decided to throw together what was basically to be a nightclub act to run for just a few nights. It's the one thing in my 44-year career (I started singing at six) that I had never done. I was trained classically, sang in a rock band from my teens through my early 20's and from then on worked pretty much exclusively in the musical theater as a performer, director and producer...I had pretty much never gone onstage as myself. Being a musical theater person, I decided I needed a through line and since growing up spending my summers in the Catskills (where I also first began performing) left such an indelible mark on me I figured that was the best route to go. Turns out what I had scripted for myself bored me onstage and I began ad-libbing all of my dialogue. After the first or second show, we realized it wasn't a nightclub act at all...with a little honing, we had a musical! And the audience loved it, we got ravishing reviews and wound up stretching those "couple of nights" into over six weeks...only to be forced to close when "high season" came upon us and our musical theater series was opening...thereby bumping "...Fallsburg" out of the building.
3. What do you enjoy most about working with this cast? There are no words...but I'll create a few thousand. I'm up there with the absolute BEST people I know from the cast to the band to the crew. Chelsea Lee Wheatley and Elijah Word are hands-down the two best young singers I know, Jonathan Eisele the best dancer I know...and we've all worked together in several shows over the past few years...from the time they were, truly, kids. They call me Grandpa and I love it! Our music director, Jon Delfin toured the country with me for nearly seven years with the show, Paved With Gold and we first met when I went to him for a coaching session when I was 16 years old! Sheesh! Has it really been five years already? LOL
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing What I Learned In Fallsburg - the Hip, New Catskills Musical? Easy one! For all who didn't experience the magic of the Catskills, especially as a kid...let's hope they see for real why those of us who did have an almost "cult-like" camaraderie.
5. If you could give people one reason as to why they should come see What I Learned In Fallsburg - the Hip, New Catskills Musical, what would that reason be? It's such a sweet show with such a talented cast and positive, often very funny message. And the music is the best "stuff" in my shopping bag from a 40+-year career.
6. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Me. With tremendous support from my parents who just let me go where life took me...never pushing, never discouraging. So many of us "kids with good voice" are either pushed to the brink of madness or stifled by our parents. Mine did the perfect job.
7. What's the best advice you've ever received? Take more out of life than it takes out of you.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? That I'm a little crazy. I call it a disease LOL. There cannot be a less financially rewarding, professional-level career than musical theater. But if you have "the disease" you just don't care. You can never imagine doing anything else.
9. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Printing money by twitching my nose like on Bewitched.
10. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? I would call it "The Movement"...one part Manischewitz, two parts prune juice.
Gary Waldman is known nationally as a producer, stage director, composer-lyricist & performer with a 35+ year professional career that has led him down virtually every path imaginable. He has been performing as a singer-actor in musical productions and in-concert since he was all of six-years-old...and yes, in the Catskills. As a performer, Gary was once best known for creating the lead role of "Izzie Jacobson" in the 7-year National Tour of Paved with Gold where he received ravishing reviews nation-wide and generated an enormous following. Paved With Gold was adapted for two-performers from the hit 1984-1986 off-Broadway musical, The Golden Land by Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek and the music and dialogue was about 70% in Yiddish…a language he knew virtually nothing of as a 4th-generation-American, "Jewish kid from Queens"…it took about 18 months to learn the role and to speak and sing the language of his ancestors…a skill he has been called upon to coach scores of other performers in the 20+ years since.
He began his professional producing career at the age of 23, wrote his first professionally produced musical, Meet Me at the Pitkin at 29 and began directing at 31. His 2005 production and re-conception of the Broadway musical, The Life ran for an unprecedented 8-month, sold-out run in Palm Beach County in 2004-2005 and garnered 19 Award Nominations, including 4 for Waldman himself. He made his off-Broadway debut in 2000 producing, directing and performing in Sophie, Totie & Belle. The show ran in several productions in south Florida, suburban NY and NJ in the years prior until his 1999 production in Fort Lauderdale caught the interested of New York investors who moved the Florida production directly to New York.
Gary conceived and directed seven professionally produced and touring musicals, writing the original music, lyrics and full librettos to Snowbirds, Bungalow Bunnies, Meet Me at the Pitkin, and Midlife Madness and the concept and unique arrangements to I Write the Songs, Hey! Big Spender and The Sounds of Simon, the latter of which was first produced as an intimate 5-person "review-sical" in Palm Beach County in 2005 and was revived and re-conceived in June 2013 as a full-fledged musical complete with developed characters and an ensemble of singer/dancers (for a cast ranging from 12-16). The newly conceptualized Sounds of Simon ran for the entire summer of 2013 at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, and then served as the premiere production of his new facility, Delray Square Performing Arts running through the end of April, 2014 for a total packed run of almost a full year.
Most recently, Gary fulfilled a 25-year dream of playing the lead role of "Charlie Anderson" in the south Florida revival of the classic music Shenandoah. He also starred in the title/lead roles in extended runs of Jesting With Danny Kaye, The Last Session, Hey! Big Spender, the 2013 production of Bungalow Bunnies and every production of The Sounds of Simon to unanimous raves. As a businessman, Gary has produced hundreds of professional theatrical runs, national tours, and operated five venues. He has worked with countless celebrities, politicians and luminaries including: Judy Collins, Leslie Uggams, Eli Wallach & Anne Jackson, Marilyn Michaels, Bruce Adler, Mal Z. Lawrence, Mike Burstyn, Yitzhak Perlman, The Israeli Philharmonic, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Representative Lois Frankel, Mayor Ed Koch, Donna Hanover Giuliani, Theodore Bikel among countless others, and is proud to have produced and managed his dear friend, the legendary singer/actress LAINIE KAZAN from 1995-1997.