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Serenity now! 614 interviews Jason Alexander ahead of Cbus performance

Mike Thomas

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If you’re expecting a stand-up comedy routine from a frumpily-dressed Jason Alexander full of jokes about soup and shrinkage and Festivus, move on.

Alexander’s still getting laughs. But, they’re a different kind as he returns to his roots as a Broadway show performer, taking his singing, dancing, piano-playing, storytelling routine across the country with a pops-style show that will arrive in Columbus this month. Alexander will join the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to tell the story of his life on the screen and stage.

(614) recently had the delightful opportunity to speak with the Tony Award-winning actor about the show, his love of poker, and the influence of George Costanza on our culture in 2019.  

(614): “An Evening With Jason Alexander” comes to the Ohio Theatre on April 27. What can our readers expect from
the performance?

JA: (Chuckling.) I’m only laughing because I’ve been doing this for about three years, and that’s always the first question! So “An Evening With” is a pop show that I’ve been doing for about three years all around the country. I know most people may not immediately think of me as a singer if they know me from my roles on television, but it is a more-or-less autobiographical journey through my love affair with music from the Broadway stage.

Some of it is things that I’ve performed on Broadway, some of it is not. A lot of it is very funny. A lot of it is just great music. It’s a slightly different show in that, although there’s a symphony orchestra up there, it does feel like an intimate evening. There’s lots of storytelling, and at one point in the show I bring about seven people up on the stage—and they are truly not plants, I pick them at random—and they wind up performing a number with me.

How does preparing for a role like this where you’re appearing as yourself differ from a performance where you’re appearing in character?

The preparation is all emotional. I went into performing because I was a really shy kid, so I was able to hide in plain sight. I could be with people, be out in front of people, and I was always more or less hiding behind some character. I’ve always said the five worst words for me in the English language are, “Ladies and gentlemen—Jason Alexander.” That usually scares the hell out of me! That means I have to go out there and be myself. 

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

The beautiful thing about this show is the preparation was all in creating the show. If you’re going to go in front of people and take their time and present yourself as an entertainer, what story or stories do you want to share, and how do you want to play with an audience so they have a
very full and very rewarding time? That was all the hard part. In the actually getting up and doing it, I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve been playing with some of the best orchestras in the country, so when I’m up there I’m generally having a pretty good time. If I’m not, something’s gone terribly wrong. 

You’ve made a name for yourself in the competitive poker world, even appearing in the main event at the World Series of Poker. How did your interest in poker begin?

Almost everybody in my business bumps into poker at some point, because if you do theater and movies, there’s a lot of down time. More often than not, somebody will say, “Hey, let’s play some poker.” But it was around the time that the celebrity poker shows started in the early 2000’s that I remember being invited to be a player on a televised poker thing, and my publicist represented [professional Poker player] Phil Hellmuth at the time, and he said “Hey, I represent this professional poker player, would you like a lesson?” And I said, “What the hell. The guy calls himself a professional poker player. Let me go see who he is.” After about ten minutes my head was spinning. I realized there was so much about this game I did not understand, never knew, would never understand. But I became fascinated with it. 

It is such a rich game in that there are so many ways you can play it. You can play it as a mathematical player, you can play it as an instinctual player. It is an actor’s game because you are always making impressions about yourself at the table, always trying to understand the impression other players are making. I’m so fascinated by the game, but my fascination does not, unfortunately, mean that I am good at it. I am entertaining at the table, I generally know right from wrong, but sometimes right doesn’t work, and even knowing wrong I have proceeded to do the wrong thing time and time again. It’s kind of like life, you never stop being surprised and learning more about it. 

I also meet amazing people at the poker table, fascinating people that I would never otherwise meet. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 30 years and I work in the entertainment business, so I don’t often meet guys who are driving buses in Cleveland, Ohio, or work in accounting firms in Wyoming, but at the poker table you meet people from every walk of life.

For nine seasons in the 90s, you played the iconic role of George Costanza on the classic sitcom Seinfeld. What lessons can George teach us in 2019, or where in our modern culture do you see the character’s influence?

Well, if I am to believe social media, the president is making a lot of George-isms. The one that keeps being tweeted at me is, people believe the president may be subscribing to the Costanza philosophy of “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” I am afraid, unfortunately if you want to be serious, that the sort of selfishness and short-sightedness and narcissism that George Costanza was certainly guilty of may have infected a lot of our modern culture right now, and to nobody’s good, I’m afraid.

Jason Alexander will perform at the Ohio Theater on April 27th at 8 p.m. For tickets information, visit columbussymphony.com/events.

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Arts & Music

You can sit with us: 6 fan favorites coming to Broadway in Columbus stage

Laura Dachenbach

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Six incredible shows including Columbus premieres, revivals, and long-running favorites, make up the 2019-2020 Broadway in Columbus series season.

In an exciting reveal last night, coupled with performances from local and Broadway performers, CAPA announced its 2019-2020 PNC Broadway in Columbus series in what looks to be an especially exciting lineup of shows.

The series will kick off with two shows that deal with the difficulties of adolescence. The critically-acclaimed Dear Evan Hansen (Sept. 17-22) tells the story of a private letter that shouldn’t have been read publicly, its tragic results, and the complexities of fitting in, while Mean Girls, (Oct. 22-27) written by former high school theater nerd and SNL writer Tina Fey and her husband Jeff Richmond, is a musical adaptation of the film of the same name that looks at cliques and Queen bees. Mean Girls comes to Columbus straight from its Broadway run.

In November, Les Misérables (Nov. 19-24) continues its “One Day More” in its almost 35 years of existence. This touring version will be freshly staged and its updated look is inspired by the little-known paintings of Victor Hugo that have been converted into backdrop projections.

Les Misérables

The New Year will kick off with another film adaptation, Anastasia (Jan. 29-Feb. 2). The stage version maintains your favorites tunes such as “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” while adding 16 new songs. This version of the last Romanov daughter, written by Terrence McNally, happily says “do svidanya” (goodbye) to Bartok the Bat and the zombie version of Rasputin and replaces them with a conniving secret police officer.

Anastasia

My Fair Lady (Mar. 11-15), the musical that launched Julie Andrews into Broadway prominence, is sometimes called “the most perfect musical of all time.” A social commentary about language and society, My Fair Lady features a lineup of perennial Broadway favorites such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” And “On The Street Where You Live.”

My Fair Lady

Wrapping up the subscriber season is Miss Saigon (June 9-14), the love story of an American GI and a young Vietnamese woman who bears his child, is written by the same creative team as Les Misérables. This revival contains additional Vietnamese lyrics and exceptionally spectacular stage effects.

Miss Saigon

Jersey Boys (Jan. 10-11) and the ever-“Popular” Wicked (Apr. 22-May 17) are optional subscriber package add-ons to the season. CAPA also announced that Come From Away, a musical about true events during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks will be included in the 2020-2021 season.

To renew your season subscription or to become a subscriber, visit broadwayincolumbus.com.  You can also call (800-294-1892) or just stop in at the CAPA Ticket Center at 39 E State St. It’s a season you really won’t want to miss!

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Arts & Music

You won’t have to go “On the Road Again” for this Willie Nelson music Festival

Mike Thomas

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Look out all you Highwaymen, the Red Headed Stranger is coming to town - and he’s bringing a few friends with him.

American music legend, activist, and all-around badass Willie Nelson will bring his “Outlaw Musical Festival” tour to Columbus’ Nationwide arena on June 23. The festival will make stops in 10 cities this summer, with the Columbus leg featuring support from The Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dawes, and an opener TBD.

Each stop on the tour will feature an “Outlaw Village,” showcasing crafts from local artisans as well as festival attractions and local food and drink offerings.

Tickets for the festival’s Columbus show go on sale Friday, March 8th. Presale will begin Wednesday, March 6 at 10am and go through Thursday, March 7 at 10pm or while supplies last. Enter offer Code ARENA.

For more information, visit the tour website.

In the meantime, please enjoy this fantastically weird tune from the pre-Shotgun Willie days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjKPXs4q4IA
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Arts & Music

Foul language, beer, broken windows, and the resurrection of Nowhere Fest

Kevin J. Elliott

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Speaking with Michael Ravage is likely always going to feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine. His ruminations on life in the Columbus music scene circa 1978 beckon to a simpler time—bars with live music had striking names like the Sugar Shack (where Ravage saw the Ramones), Positively 4th Street, and the Travel Agency. Public access television and college radio allowed anyone to broadcast their art, and starting a festival came with just securing a venue and printing up some flyers. 

But Ravage, who at the time was a self-proclaimed “punk” when the budding genre had yet to infiltrate the Midwest, had trouble getting his band, Screaming Urge, any gigs outside of the DIY enclave known as the Egg House. It was a new frontier, and while Ravage would peddle his group’s “little” demo tape from club to club with the earnest of any upstart, no one wanted to book them. When it was apparent the local scene was only catering to the Southern rock of McGuffey Lane and the biker metal of Soft Leather Touch, Ravage pretty much had to invent the first Nowhere Fest, as there was literally “nowhere” for Screaming Urge, or their friends to play. 

The very first Nowhere Fest took place in what used to be the United Methodist Campus Center near 16th and High. It cost one dollar. It featured Vorpal Gallery, Twisted Shouts (Ron House’s first band), and Ravage’s Screaming Urge. Of course, he needed some divine intervention in order to make it happen. 

“I had to meet with the [clergyman] to book the room,” says Ravage. “He was wearing the whole preacher’s outfit and informed me that they were Methodists and they didn’t want any beer or shenanigans. I still have the contract. I told him upfront that these were punk bands and there would be some language. Turns out there was a lot of language, a lot of beer, and a lot of broken windows by the end of the night. The atmosphere was very intense.” 

In many ways, that first Nowhere was successful for Ravage, as Screaming Urge went onto a storied career in the recesses of punk, playing all over the country at famed clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, getting “stiffed by Stiff Records,” and continuing the festival uninterrupted for the next 18 years. 

By the early ‘80s, punk was en vogue, with Crazy Mama’s and the Agora (now the Newport) hosting all-day events curated by Ravage. The scene in Columbus was progressing and growing to the point where he couldn’t keep count of the number of punk and noise bands populating the clubs. Nowhere Fest lasted until 1996, with most of the ‘90s fests taking place at Stache’s and Apollo’s. When bands like Howlin’ Maggie—a decidedly
un-punk spectacle—were shoehorned into the line-up, the original spirit was gone. 

“I wanted to kill Nowhere Fest when it was a teenager,” remembers Ravage. “Because Comfest, they never killed that, and it just got out of hand. When there were bands choosing to play frat houses for more money, and showing up late because of that, I knew it had to die.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Nowhere Fest has been resurrected in a very full-circle regiment. In January, Tim Anstaett released the long-gestating Book of Books, a two-volume collection of his legendary ‘80s ‘zine, The Offense. During the heyday of Ravage’s Urge, The True Believers, Razor Penguins, and The Blunt Stitches, the ‘zine was the literal epicenter of Columbus’ punk movement.

At one of the book’s readings, Anstaett connected with local punk’s current ambassador, Ian Graham—a member of Ouija Boys, Terrestrials, and Thee Thees, among others—who took up the mantle to organize a purely inspired and fresh version of the Nowhere ethos. Of course, it would be impossible to replicate Ravage’s “one-bill” logistics and the broken windows of rebellion, but the line-up culls from young and old, further establishing the thread that has always survived through Columbus’ “punk” scene. 

Graham has asked the Cheater Slicks to headline, as they serve as a bridge between then and now, and in many ways, their sound has defined the underbelly of Columbus guitar rock since the original Nowhere dissolved. The rest of the two-stage affair includes a number of bands from the Heel Turn Records roster, including newbies Burning Itch and noise stalwarts DANA, as well as Tommy Jay and Nudge Squidfish of the True Believers. 

As for Ravage and his role? Screaming Urge is no more, but he’ll take the stage with his wife Baby Lindy and new band the Drug Mothers. But stapling posters up and down High Street or pressing the flesh? 

“He’s only the inspiration now,” says Lindy with a smile. “But he’s still
an instigator.”

Nowhere Fest 2019 will be held Friday, March 15th at The Summit and Cafe Bourbon St. A pre-party will take place on Thursday, March 14th at Dirty Dungarees with the Unholy 2 and Drunks with Guns. 

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