The 2017 National Oz Convention

In the mid-1970’s, I came home from school and my Mom showed me an article about “The International Wizard of Oz Club.” My membership in clubs was limited. I was in Boy Scouts but I wouldn’t consider that a club. I was on the Speech Team but again, not really a club. So I dove in. I sent off a check with a letter stating my interest and the next thing I knew, I received a cardboard membership card, an issue of a magazine called, “The Baum Bugle” and a newsletter. I also received an club member directory and the only person I really connected with was a guy named Rob MacVeigh.

In a few years, pre-occupied with College, I stopped renewing my membership and that was that. More recently, I was curious as to whether the club still existed and of course it did. It was thriving and now online, I was re-introduced to the club and on Facebook found several Oz groups.

My interest in collecting (especially the original books) was ignited and for the first time in my life, I was off to attend the National Oz Convention an hour away from my house. Jason encouraged me to go full throttle and book a hotel room and make a mini vacation of it and that is exactly what I did.

The club celebrates not just the movie but all of the Oz books and all of the various stage, film and televised versions of Oz. I was  in heaven as there were discussions on my hero, W.W. Denslow, the original Oz illustrator from the original book that was published in 1899. There were Oz collectibles and books to buy, an auction, viewings of various animated versions of Oz and there was even a Dorothy fashion show that featured all the various Dorothy’s through the years.

The Convention began with a kick off party at the home of Walter Krueger who’s collection fills three plus rooms in his house.
For an Oz fan like me and everyone else at the party for that matter, got an exclusive tour. John Fricke was there and he introduced a re-creation of the 1950 Lux Radio Broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz.” What a joy to look around the room and see everyone beaming, laughing and singing along.
I have met a wonderful new group of friends and I look forward to future Oz conventions and events.

 

 

And to the “young at heart,” I dedicate this weekend

 

Music

I have been performing for over 30 years and have appeared onstage in both theatre and concert venues across the United States and Europe. With my initial roots in the Chicago theatre scene, I appeared in several Stephen Sondheim musicals which paved the way to a year long national tour of “Into the Woods.” In 1993 I was cast in the Minneapolis production of Forever Plaid. Singing tight harmony for almost two years with the show inspired me to form my own vocal group. “Three Hits and a Miss”  toured the country for many years, bringing our 1940’s style tight harmony to nearly every state of the country.

I’ve recorded several CD’s including, “I’m Wishing” and “Wonderland.” With Three Hits and a Miss, recorded, “Sentimental Star” and I co-produced and recorded, “Sing Sing Swing,” “Christmas Presence” and “Mixing it Up.” Currently you can catch me on Thursday nights at Chicago’s famous Green Mill!

Check out some of my live recordings on SoundCloud.

Illustration

Quote: Robert McCammon

“…we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.”   – Robert McCammon, Boy’s Life

My Barbra Bucket Wish

Rob at the Barbra Concert

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A Barbra Bucket Wish

1994

I was frustrated because Barbra Streisand was on a concert tour and I wouldn’t be able to go. I lived in Minneapolis at the time and the closest she came to Minnesota was Detroit, Michigan. Tickets were very expensive and in addition to that I would have to get there and book a hotel room. I didn’t have money to burn even if I wanted to. I was bummed. This may have been my only chance to ever see her live onstage and I assumed that after the tour, it was possible she wouldn’t ever perform like that again.
I loved Streisand. I had first heard Barbra when I was eight or nine. My Dad had the movie soundtrack to Funny Girl. I remember hearing “I’m The Greatest Star” and it was a perfect introduction to her. She showcased both her humor and serious side and of course that amazing and soaring voice.

My next encounter was via my Aunt Margarets “My Name is Barbra, Two…” album. Second Hand Rose filled the room and again, I took notice. In High School, a girl from choir sang “My Heart Belongs to Me” in choir and at Wieboldts Department Store, a large cut-out of Barbra with a perm and wearing a Superman T-shirt was in the record section.

When I was a freshman in College, I heard a voice coming from down the hall and I followed it to my friend and classmate Judi Scotts room. She was listening to Barbra sing, “I’m five, I’m five, I’m a big girl now, I’m five…” and acting it out. “Whaddya think I’m four? I’m more than four!” I was smitten with early Streisand and off to the record store I went to begin collecting her records. I bought, “The Barbra Streisand Album” and my absolute favorite, “The Second Barbra Streisand Album.” Listening to “Down With Love” was life changing for me.

Back to 1994. I was known as the guy “who was obsessed with Barbra Streisand and wouldn’t he do anything he could to see her in concert?” In defense, I said, “I don’t want to see her in a huge stadium anyway. I want to see her in an intimate setting. I want it to be just her, sitting on a stool with a microphone, a piano and why not, a private performance.” I realized the odds of that happening and I shrugged my shoulders. “Oh well.”

2006

She was touring again and coming to Chicago. Overjoyed, I wasted no time in getting tickets. I was sticking to a budget however and I got my partner Jason and I tickets way up in the nose bleed section. Barbra always mentioned her “better side” and we were on that side of her. I told Jason that in addition to the greatness of seeing her live, you knew that the orchestra that we would hear would be the best of it’s kind. Barbra wouldn’t settle for anything less.

The conductor came out and the crowd began to cheer. Boom! The orchestra began and it was the original Broadway overture to “Funny Girl.” More than 20,000 people cheered when they started playing “People.” When it got towards the end and was rocketing through “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” they reached the last notes and suddenly Barbra was there, I stood and screamed like I was at a Beatles concert. I savored every minute and when two ladies began singing along, I shushed them. “I didn’t pay all this money to hear you sing!” During the show, I kept looking down at the front section. That was where I needed to be. Why wasn’t I in that front section. Why was I so stingy with myself? This was a once in a lifetime event.  As soon as I got home, I went ahead and bought a single ticket. With every click of the mouse, finding that amazing seat, confirming that I would pay the huge amount for the ticket. The mortgage could wait. Click, click and click, the ticket was mine. I was now going to my second Barbra Streisand concert and I was sitting in the fourth row.

It turned out that my cousin, who was also big Streisand fan had managed to get a volunteer job as a seat filler. She was going to get to see the concert free. I was still glad I paid for my ticket though, I didn’t feel like having to get up and sit down over and over again. But she did get Jason signed on to be a seat filler as well. I was very happy that he was going to get to see the show again and from the main floor too! Celebrities were there including Oprah. It was amazing!

Now that I knew the show and where she would be standing , etc. I couldn’t believe how close she was going to be. I was so happy. I had binoculars but was actually afraid to use them because she probably would see me looking at her through them.

The opening chords to “Evergreen” began to play. Evergreen had always been one of my favorite Streisand songs. I first heard “Evergreen” in the 70’s when it was a number one hit. Barbra was going through her cool laid back, permed hair “hippy” look.  She reminded me of my sister. I was expecting Barbra to sing it like she always did but instead of it being just her, she introduced IL Divo onto the stage. IL Divo was an operatic European male vocal group sang it with her. The point of this was to showcase all the various languages Barbra had sung the song in, making it an international success. I really wanted to hear it as I always had heard it. Oh well.

The show was spectacular. I was standing and cheering throughout. The icing on the cake was during “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” When she got to the big part of the song, I was now screaming like a BARBRA fan and waving my arms. She saw me, she smiled and hit the money note and sang it to ME! (This is absolutely true… after it happened, I turned around to Jason who was a few rows behind me and all he did was smile and nod his head, “Yes.” He was saying, “Yes, that just happened. She looked at you and sang the last part of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” to you.”

After the concert, I joked that I now had to have a new goal in life. But somewhere in my sub conscious, the bucket wish goal to see her in a private performance, was still churned away.

2009

A friend alerted me to the fact that Streisand was going to be on Oprah and Harpo was asking fans to send an email explaining why they needed to be in the audience. I wrote to them about what a huge fan I was and that I produced BabFab every year to celebrate her birthday. Jason and a couple other friends wrote in as well, nominating me. A day or so later, Harpo called and left a message, telling me I had been selected (with a plus one) to be in the audience. I screamed so loud that I am surprised the cops weren’t called.

On the day of the show, standing in line, Jason and I got to meet Matt Howe and his partner. Matt was and is the curator of the Barbra-Archives website. The website is an enormous success and is actually used by Barbra herself when she needs to look up something about her own career. It truly is the one stop shop and could very well be called, “Barbra-pedia.” It turned out that we ended up sitting next to each other.

The Oprah studio was surprisingly small. I mean, much smaller than what you saw on TV. As we were ushered in and put in the center section, I saw two chairs and a tea setting. “Oh my God… that’s Barbra’s tea!” The room was filled with photos of Barbra throughout her career.

When Oprah introduced her, the audience stood up and cheered. Barbra brushed it off with an “Aw… sit down” expression. She was adorable.

I was fascinated at all the goings on behind the scenes of an Oprah episode. The show wasn’t live but they would still take “commercial” breaks. After the interview section and during the break, they set the stage for the musical segment. The stage crew wheeled out a piano and out came the musicians. The band consisted of a pianist, a guitar player, Bass player and Percussionist, the classic rhythm section. This was the same setup she used when she performed at The Bon Soir in Greenwich Village so many years earlier.

A stage hand brought on a mic stand, putting it center stage and put the cordless microphone in place. Then, out came the stool for her to sit on, and he placed that behind the mic. There it was. Barbra, a mic, stool, piano… was this actually happening? It was exactly what I had told people back in 1994. However, because it was going to be aired and seen by millions, it wasn’t going to be a private performance, but pretty damn close!

Barbra was promoting the release of her new CD, “Love Is The Answer” and she sang “Make Someone Happy.” It was wonderful to hear her so intimately and unplugged. Simply Streisand.

After the “live” performance, they went to break again and Oprah told us that Barbra was going to sing a special extra song just for us. Oprah said it was one of her favorite songs Barbra had agreed to do it.

So there it was, the wish was actually happening. Barbra was going to sing to us, her small intimate and private audience. I couldn’t believe it! I had sent a request out to the Universe so many years ago and now it was coming true. The drummer, bass and guitar player sat out so it was just going to be piano. Just the piano, a stool, a microphone and Barbra, singing Oprah’s favorite song. What was Oprah’s favorite song? The opening chords to “Evergreen” began to play.


Favorite Streisand Recordings

Liz Callaway

I surprised my friend Mary Beth Samuelson with tickets to go see Liz Callaway in concert. Liz herself had sent me a Facebook note when the tickets went on sale and I got front row center tickets.

It was so good and Liz was in pristine voice as she always is. She sang every single song we hoped she’d sing. During one of the songs, Petula Clarks, “Downtown,” she came down into the audience holding the mic in front of people to sing the backup chorus response, “Downtown…” The ten year old in me (who pretty much is always with me, hoped she’d come over to me and sure enough, there she was, Liz Callaway holding a mic to my face and I belted out the word, “Downtown” with all my might and she actually squealed and jumped up and down and I pretty much wet my gay little pants. 🙂

Between the three of us, we have a lot of friends in common. Mary Beth even babysat Liz’s kid when she lived in New York in the 80’s. Oh, and to top things off, when we came out of the auditorium, Liz was sitting at a table ready to sign CD’s and everyone was singing “Happy Birthday” to her. So MB and I just belted it out. “Happy Birthday LIZ CALLAWAY, Happy Birthday to yoooouuuu…”

It was so much fun and I would say one of the best concerts I have been to. When the artist is smack in front of you and singing all her greatest hits, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that.