Jon Secada prepares to express himself at Feinstein's. Plus: Kevin Kilner and Jordan Baker make a Living at the Mint; and Saidah Arrikah Ekulona finds a winning combination in Othello.
And speaking of live performances, Secada will launch the CD with an engagement at Feinstein's at the Loews Regency, September 15-19 "It's the perfect venue to showcase the CD," he says. "I grew up going to and working in small clubs, and having that kind of proximity to the audience is wonderful. There are certain ways of communicating you can only do in that kind of atmosphere."
The CD offers an eclectic mix of tunes, ranging from originals written by Secada to pop standards, showtunes. and even new takes on two of the singer's biggest hits,"Angel" and "Just Another Day." Says Secada of the selections: Some of the songs I wrote go back to when I was in college at the University of Miami. And there's 'Chances Are,' because when I started out, a lot of people told me I could be the Latino Johnny Mathis, and that was always a flattering notion. I first sang 'I Don't Care Much' when I did Cabaret on Broadway and loved it -- even if you feel you're ready to cut your wrists. And it was fun to revisit a song like 'Angel' and flip it around to give it a silky feel; I like transforming songs to have a different kind of substance."
Secada, who also did a stint on Broadway in Grease, says he would love to return to the Broadway stage. "I am always seeking the right opportunity in the right show, but it also has to fit into my schedule," he says. "I spend about five months every year down in Argentina working on the Latin American version of American Idol; I've been so impressed with the talent we find in all the different countries. It's a great way for these kids to get their minute of fame. And I'm going to be touring Brazil next year in conjunction with this DVD of a concert I did in Rio de Janiero."
In fact, the couple went so far as to dye their hair for the roles: Baker went from blondish to red, while the red-haired Kilner now sports a jet-black 'do. "That's what it said in the stage directions, though our director, Jonathan Bank, said we didn't need to do it," says Kilner. "But once we did, it really made a statement. My character, Hector, does all these Ibsen plays, and he really should look like an Ibsen character."
Adds Baker: "In the period of the play, actresses would have had this over-dyed red hair and worn too much make-up trying to look younger. And my blonde hair would have been too contemporary. But I have to admit, after I did it, it was a little scary at first."
The couple did copious research on the period -- from reading books to watching documentaries -- to ground their portrayal in reality. "We know that when we first come on, we're like a big sight gag that's going to get a laugh," says Baker. "But as one of the audience members told us, you quickly discover that while they look like these phony actors, you quickly discover that under their eccentricities, they're good people living a die-hard life." As Kilner notes, "these people were constantly lugging all their stuff every week from a train to a theater to finding lodging in these towns; it was a hard way to live, and we wanted to honor the truth of that."
The pair have worked together sporadically over their decade-long marriage, including a Los Angeles production of John Patrick Shanley's Defiance and an episode of the hit sitcom Frasier. "We'd like to do more things together," says Kilner. "I think we have the kind of chemistry people like to see. Maybe we can find our own little niche, and do a play together every year where we lock horns with each other. Instead of the Lunts, we could be the Funts."
"Four hours after I left Ruined, and I was on a plane to Europe to begin rehearsals, and I think being in this new environment really helped me focus on Othello," Ekulona says. "And when we got to Vienna, we actually rehearsed on a stage, which was hardly your typical New York experience."
Then again, there's rarely anything typical about a Sellars show, no matter the source material. For Othello, he's combined the solider Montano and the prostitute Bianca into one role, a higher-up in Othello's army. "We haven't changed many of the gender lines, so Iago and the others still call me 'sir' or treat me as a man," says Ekulona. "It's a reminder that women still aren't seen as equals in some circles."
Working with Sellars, as well as co-stars John Ortiz (as Othello) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Iago), has been incredibly rewarding, says Ekulona. "It's a wonderful group of people where everyone is very supportive of each other, which allows us to make wonderful discoveries. Peter really appreciates you as both a person and an artist, so you're really able to have a conversation about developing your character. Peter is not trying to challenge anyone else's production or interpretation, he's just going for the truth of the play," she notes. "And John and Phil are just so honest in their work. And because there's this natural understanding between two of them as people who have been friends for 17 years, you really understand more about their characters' history."
As happy as Ekulona is with her current role, says she'd happily take another shot at Mama Nadi if the opportunity arose. "It's a story that needs to be told and she's a wonderful character," she says. "I am so grateful for the year I've just had, since I've grown so much as an artist. I just wish other artists could have the same experience."