Throughout the generations, New York City has always been a seemingly infinite source of inspiration for creative spirits of all varieties. As an audience, we are the fortunate ones who get to enjoy the external persona of the artist in whatever medium they choose to express themselves– whether it be through spoken word, music, dance, or any other variety of performance. Sometimes, it can even be a combination of several of the above. One thing, however, can always be guaranteed: Underneath an artist’s public persona, there’s no shortage of rich stories and experiences which led to that moment of shared creative expression.
New York City-based writer/director/producer Gerry Geddes has a lot of stories to tell, both about his own life and about the equally colorful characters he has met and/or worked with through the decades. In his provocative and highly entertaining show Selfies & Songs, which was performed at the East Village cabaret hotspot Pangea on Friday, December 2nd, the audience had the privilege of hearing some of those vivid stories. (I’m guessing that we’ll have to wait for his upcoming autobiography, Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?, to hear the rest!). Geddes has many showbiz credits to his name: He has conceived and directed a number of musical revues, has directed a wide variety of cabaret artists, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications. His lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. In Selfies & Songs, Geddes turns the proverbial spotlight on himself– and, in a larger scope, his own personal piece of New York City– with a classically simple yet innovative format: alternating storytelling with song. He shares true stories about his life (the “Selfies”): from childhood through his years in Manhattan’s performance arts scene, where he worked and played equally hard. With many of his experiences taking place during an era when anything seemed possible (and often was), Geddes’ recollections are alternatingly laugh-out-loud funny, fascinating, and occasionally heartbreaking. In between the stories, the audience is treated to musical performances (the “Songs”) by a trio of diverse, supremely talented singers, whom Geddes affectionately calls “the illustrators for my story”: Brian Childers, Matt DiPasquale, and Andre Montgomery. The hard-working Yasuhiko Fukuoka (AKA “Yaz”) served as the pianist for the evening and is also credited as Musical Director.
Since this is an autobiographical show, Selfies & Songs kicked off with the upbeat I Could Write a Book, which has been a favorite song for reinterpretation by many artists. With his high energy, so appropriate for the song’s infectious pop appeal, Andre Montgomery more than did justice to this opener. The audience then learns about Geddes’ early life: As a child, he went to Catholic school in Manchester, New Hampshire. While his recollections were admittedly funny in retrospect, largely thanks to Geddes’ charismatically mannered delivery, the artist predictably struggled with “forbidden” feelings and the concurrent unrequited childhood crushes as a gay boy: hence the next song, It’s A Sin. In a different take from The Pet Shop Boys’ version which has cemented itself in pop culture, Montgomery’s soulful pop stylings and Brian Childers’ more operatic voice join forces for a for a strong, truly astonishing rendition. As a young man, it was Geddes’ dream to live in New York City, and he soon found himself there: in the gay mecca Greenwich Village at the height of a new period of sexual and social liberation. Throughout the show, it’s the details that make Geddes’ stories really come to life, such as when he describes sitting on his windowsill watching the male eye candy on the street– and, subsequently, what happened inside his apartment during a romantic encounter. This was the summer of Joni Mitchell’s album Blue— and therefore the audience is treated to Ms. Mitchell’s The Last Time I Saw Richard. Given the setting that Geddes described, the song couldn’t have been more fitting for this segment of the show. Childers sings it with so much emotion that the singer actually had tears in his eyes. (Yes, the intimate space of Pangea allows the audience to appreciate such details!)
All three of Selfies & Songs’ easy-on-the-eyes singers have distinctively different voices and styles of delivery. Matt DiPasquale, for example, ascends some impressive heights while performing pieces that would be challenging for even the most gifted singers. His voice is particularly well-suited for the Jim Steinman ballad Heaven Can Wait. In a completely different style, DiPasquale combines music and comedy with the irresistibly campy John Cougar Mellencamp (Really!), which was co-written by Dean Burris and Geddes himself. All three divos do finally get a chance to sing together with Hamlisch’s/Kleban’s At The Ballet, from A Chorus Line. Lest we forget, A Chorus Line was indisputably the hottest ticket in town at the time. It was also a musical, the audience learns, which held a special place in Geddes’ heart. Let’s just say that the way Childers, Montgomery, and DiPasquale lovingly and respectfully perform the song, it will make lovers of pop culture from ages 8 to 80 want to revisit this musical again. (More about A Chorus Line later…)
Geddes mentions many places and people in the show’s running time. An example is when he shares, “If New York was my Oz, then Joe Papp’s Public Theater was my Emerald City.” A wide variety of names are also dropped, including but not by any means limited to Henry Winkler, Fred Gwynne, Candy Darling, Tennessee Wiliams, Sylvester, and a certain actor/singer named Michael Lee Aday who would become better known as Meat Loaf (or “Mr. Loaf” according to an early New York Times review). Geddes’ 10-minute recollection about the gender-bending performance troupe The Cockettes arguably revealed more about the Cockettes phenomenon than the entire 2002 documentary. There was also an encounter with two truly legendary icons which left Geddes speechless. I won’t say who they were, but here’s a clue: One of them inspired Geddes to include the rarely heard musical gem A Bar on the Piccolo Marina to be included in his show. Performing the song with all the campy regality the lyrics deserve, Childers literally embodies the over-the-top. flamboyant personality who created it. It’s yet another of the show’s many highlights. But the other two singers get their shining moments in this show’s denouement as well: Montgomery’s hard-hitting, provocative version of Janis Ian’s Stars, a song more relevant in 2021 than ever, brought tears to MY eyes this time… and, in a finale that seemed custom made for the closing of this theater piece, DiPasquale’s hauntingly beautiful Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens truly left the audience speechless.
Selfies & Songs succeeds on three levels. It’s a fascinating memoir from a creative soul who has looked at one subculture of show business from “both sides now”. On a grander scale, it is also a loving albeit bittersweet tribute to New York City during one of its most artistically formative eras. Lastly, the show is a fine showcase for the musical talents of its three singers and its musical director. One musical theater expert recently re-praised A Chorus Line (the play, not so much the movie…) for really capturing the grit and realism of a time period in New York history which today only survives in memories, photographs, and film. Of course, she praised the show simply for its entertainment value as well. You’ll get the same vibe from Gerry Geddes’ Selfies & Songs.