Tuesday, February 9, 2010

At the Gonk


My phone rang as I painstakingly manipulated text boxes, photographs, and sketches of ballerinas and danseurs, creating the layout for my book on the exciting and talented Carolina Ballet.

Absent mindedly, I leaned over in my maroon, high back leather, executive chair, and managed to utter a weak, distracted, “hello,” fumbling with papers and dropping pens all the while.

"Is this Grey?" sang the melodious voice of the caller.

The voice startled me. It was a business line and I was expecting calls from Phil, who was repairing one of my computers, and Wayne, my mechanic. Somehow I knew this was not either. Slow recovery caused my instinctive lean to the primitive.

"You bet your sweet life it is baby," I thought.

Stability was restored momentarily but all I could muster was a high-pitched, smoothly delivered, "yes."

Surely whoever it was must think a ravenous school of man-eating hammerheads circled under my desk and perpetrated a savage gang violation of my lower extremities.

"This is Andrea Marcovicci," she continued, pretending not to notice the epic struggle developing near the shores three thousand miles away.

And then the realization struck me. I emailed this diva yesterday. But I remembered seeing an admonishment at the bottom of her website, to wit: PLEASE DO NOT SEND PERSONAL EMAILS TO MS. MARCOVICCI...SHE DOESN'T LOOK AT MESSAGES FROM THE SITE...THE PURPOSE OF THIS WEBSITE IS FOR HER FANS TO COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER.

It was at this point that I made my first distinctly recognizable response. I think it was something profound like, "Oh yeah, hi." I was on a roll.

This was my chance to shine. Still, I was haunted by the spectral vision of a scene in The Abyss, a movie in which a friend of mine played a small part. The only line he uttered was an exuberant "YEAH!" as he peered through a sub’s periscope, presumably reacting to a favorable event on the ocean’s surface above. Within minutes his character drowned ignominiously, not to be seen or mentioned again for the rest of the film. So far, my self-composed script hadn’t been much better.

The conversation was brief...we scheduled a phone interview for the next day. She gave me her home number; Susie Turner once directed me to the White Pages where her number wasn’t listed, so things were already going comparatively swimmingly.

Then as a parting surprise, Ms. Marcovicci gave homework!

"Read some background on the works we performed in Raleigh so you will have good questions," she explained matter-of-factly.

"I'll do that," I responded, rolling my eyes like I used to do in school. She seemed very sweet, but her actions were as heartless as the teachers at Martin Middle School. I had planned a titillating evening watching Kojack reruns and now this. But within an hour the sirens of Odysseus couldn’t have tantalized me more.

The night evaporated while I delved into the bios and words of Andrea Marcovicci, Noel Coward, George Gershwin, Maury Yeston, Irving Berlin, Lorenz and Rodgers, and Cole Porter. I briefly thought of my six year old granddaughter Sydney and her smiling countenance, often revealed when she deduces solutions to some of life’s puzzles. More than once that night, I caught myself suppressing the same expression.

Honestly, cabaret had never been on the top of my list for a night of entertainment but nostalgia became our “common ground” as I encountered praises of Ms. Marcovicci’s works and was drawn magnetically to her message of great composers and legacies, including those of her parents.

Soon it was dawn. The sun slipped above the trees outside my office window, casting a scarlet glow onto my desk. Until then there had been only the flicker of my laptop screen.

I don’t have reason to call Studio City much and could just hear it, “I regret that Ms. Marcovicci isn’t available at this moment. What was your sorry name again?”

Hey, I am a namesake of Zane Grey, a little respect here, “puuleeze.”

But it didn’t happen that way. Having been assigned a 2:00 call time (east coast), 11:00 a.m. in California, I waited a fashionable minute, until 2:01 (I’m not kidding), to call. The phone rang twice and, believe it or not, Andrea answered.

“You are right on time,” she complimented me.

“I’m all yours,” she professed.”

Susie Turner, eat your heart out.

The interview began with me thanking her for noticing my punctuality. Immediately, I commenced with a list of questions prepared the night before. When they didn’t elicit the anticipated responses I changed course and ventured into the dreaded plan B, being myself.

That was the ticket! Andrea took over the conversation. My few interjected prompts seemed to ignite a sentimental spark. Listening was fun. I didn’t want to spoil things by interrupting.

Thirty minutes into our conversation, as her penultimate act, my exclusive cabaret began. A plate of petit-suisse and croutons sat appropriately on the desk beside me, for I was already enjoying dessert, unaware that the best was yet to come. She began reading poetry, songs of the greats. She must have sensed that maybe I wasn’t grasping the spirit and essence of her art (I emphatically was). Anyway, it was the catalyst to an unexpected, exclusive, and stunning performance. By this time I felt comfortable with her and was hooked on her artistic style.

Time was passing quickly and I didn’t want to impose myself on her any longer than she could take but I hadn’t yet asked her about the individual songs she had performed with the Carolina Ballet. So I apologetically asked about December Songs, one of her CDs and the centerpiece for some of her performances, expecting her to offer some brief insights and hurry off.

You already know she read poetry to me. I reluctantly offered that to you gratis. Now it can be revealed, and I’m really not bragging, she began singing to me! The show wasn’t over.

Andrea sang excerpts from December Snow, Where are you Now?, When Your Love is New, Please Let’s Not Even Say Hello, Easy to Dance With, and Ten Cents a Dance as part of my afternoon cabaret delight. With each captivating song she offered a background story and related it in some way to the people I knew.

My song list had expired. I had what I needed and much more. My sincere and profuse thanks was extended and graciously accepted. She provided her publicist’s telephone number in case I needed pictures or anything else really.

Finally, I told her that our conversation would be paraphrased and included in my upcoming book about the Carolina Ballet. Her review and approval would be solicited before anything was published.

“Oh no,” she chirped, “I trust you, go ahead and publish. If you need anything else, you have my number.”

And we bade each other goodbye.

Since then some friends and I have visited Andrea at the Algonquin, seen her performances, and even worked on a beautiful calendar for her followers. Even my distinctive laugh can be heard in the background of her new CD, If I Were A Bell, recorded live at the Algonquin Oak Room in April, 2004. New York really is a great town.

-Grey Hall

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