Upcoming Shows

The Green Mill 
Singing with The Alan Gresik Swingshift Orchestra
Thursdays:
Oct 12, 19 and 26

Nov 9, 30
Dec 14, 21

9pm to 1am

$8 cover at the door.
4802 N. Broadway, Chicago
(at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence in Chicago’s Uptown Neighborhood)


Andy’s Jazz Club
Singing with The Alan Gresik Swingshift Orchestra

Friday, November 24
Saturday November 25

9:30pm and 11:30pm
$15 Admission
11 E. Hubbard St. downtown Chicago


Cabaret On The Lake
Hosting Three Cat Productions monthly Cabaret and Storytelling series

Fridays:
Oct 13
Nov 10
Dec 8

7:30pm
Admission is Free
The Berger Park Mansion
6205 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago (on the lake at the corner of Sheridan and Granville)


Davenports
My annual “Wonderland” Christmas show
Sunday, December 17 – 7-8pm

Friday, December 22 – 8-9pm
1383 N Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago (Wicker Park)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I have been a huge fan of “The Wizard of Oz” all my life.
As a tail end member of the Baby Boomers, I was lucky enough to have experienced seeing the movie when it was on TV only once a year as a very special event. My memory of hearing the announcer say, “The following program is in living color, the first portion is in black and white…” still gives me goosebumps.

Those deliriously anticipated annual telecasts in the 1960’s led me to discovering the Oz books by L. Frank Baum at my local Library. The illustrations of W.W. Denslow inspired me to become an illustrator myself.

For me, this is the one that started it all. My first grade teacher had this on the bookshelf library behind her desk. We were allowed to check books out and I checked this one out every week until she said I couldn’t check it out anymore. What made it special to me was that it had photographs from the movie on the end pages inside the front and back covers. I spent a long time searching for this after I got older (notice I didn’t say “grew up”) and finally I found it at an antique store in Minaqua, Wisconsin. Extremely underpriced, I held it together as I purchased it, not wanting the shop keeper to suspect it was worth more. What made it even more valuable was that it had the dust jacket.

So back to first grade…
After experiencing this book and the W.W. Denslow illustrations that inspired me so much, I discovered the other Oz books at the West Dundee library on Main Street. The library had been someones home but now it housed the thousands of books. With its rickety stairs and squeaky floorboards and the wonderful SMELL of books, its sense memory is with me forever.
I began to check these out one at a time.
Such happy memories.

The Oz books that library had were the ones below. I remember being at someones house, a friend of the family and up in one of the kids bedrooms on the dresser was this complete series. Why I didn’t ask for these for Christmas I don’t know. I wish I had though. Through the years, I was gifted a couple of these editions and then I bought paperback versions.

 

Drawing Oz

Visit my Illustration Page to see Oz drawings and others in my portfolio.

 

Autographs and Signatures


When I was in High School, I wrote letters to Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley. I included a photo I wanted them to sign, a self addressed stamped envelope, and a fan letter. I put all this into a big manila envelope that I illustrated with images of them in their characters, hoping to give my letter an edge in getting their attention.  It worked! Ms. Hamilton surprised me with extra photos “in case you didn’t have these.” What a great thing to do and how delighted I was, just thrilled when I got it in the mail.

For Ray Bolger, I not only drew on the envelope, but I included a full color portrait of him as the Scarecrow inside. I also included, a photo to sign and fan letter. Mr. Bolger replied and included an extra photo too! In his letter to me, he told me that he loved the portrait and that he was going to have it framed and put in his office. Incredible.

Jack Haley… sadly, shortly after I sent the letter, he died.
HOWEVER, just today, August 14, 2017 my friend Christopher White sent me a signed check of Jack Haley’s. I couldn’t believe it! He had an extra one in his collection and knowing I collected Oz, he sent it to me!!!

Judy Garlands autograph

Here is Judy’s authentic autograph on a piece of sheet music. I asked him how much he paid for it and he said that it wasn’t that much. Click the image to see it up close.

 

Illustration

Family History

My Barbra Bucket Wish

Rob at the Barbra Concert

<—Return to Previous Page

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.

Robblog

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