Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Fiddler on the Roof

Deborah Grace Winer – Defined By the Company She Keeps


Author/historian/dramatist and self avowed “show maker,” Deborah Grace Winer owns her grandmother’s 1929 piano. (“Lots of cool people,” some of the best in the business, play it.) Among photos atop the instrument is her younger self with beloved mentor Rosemary Clooney. On the wall behind is a framed copy of “The Ballad of The Shape of Things” a hand written birthday gift from the song’s lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Across the room her sister’s paintings swirl. This is a woman defined by family and the company she keeps.

Deborah, Toba (their mother), and Jessica Winer

“One of the greatest gifts is to wake up in the morning and do something you love surrounded by people who have the same passion and love to create in the same vein… It’s flip side of the professional struggle. I’m a very glass half full person…”

Winer talks with urgency. Thoughts race forward like salmon determined to spawn. Enthusiasm palpably sparks. Longtime fan, author/historian Robert Kimball, whom she asks for advice and information, was instrumental in paving the way to her successful tenure as Artistic Director of 92Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists. He calls her a “cheerleader,” noting she brings out the best in people. (Positivity/can-do attitude is mentioned in every comment made about Winer.) She tenderly remembers Kimball’s being one of the first to telephone congratulations upon seeing her newly published 1990’s book on Dorothy Fields: On the Sunny Side of The Street in Barnes & Noble.

Robert Kimball and Deborah GraceWiner (Photo: Stephen Sorokoff)

“Bob’s work is the gold standard of historical scholarship in our field. He’s extraordinary about recognizing when someone of a younger generation has a passion and talent for understanding this music, nurtures and champions their effort. He does that for me.” There’s no doubt these two would go to the barricades for one another.

Her eyes fix on mine, typifying focus that enables the artist to metaphorically juggle an apple, a hat, and a buzz saw. Conceiving and putting together successful American Songbook concerts/revues requires knowledge, taste, imagination, planning, diplomacy, and tenacity. “My 92Y work taught me to organize lots and lots of moving parts.”

She thinks fast, speaks with confidence, and rhapsodizes about people she esteems as if they were leaders of a common tribe. Were it not self-created, the kind of professional freedom she enjoys might be viewed as a fairytale. Even during her demanding term at 92Y, she remained an independent contractor.

My subject has dedicated herself to illuminating and presenting songs and, in her books, associated talent, from the 1920s through the early 1960s, when popular culture shifted. She’d have loved to have been born early enough to have had her “heyday” in the time of supper clubs and The Golden Age of Broadway.

Deborah Grace Winer, Teenager

As an adolescent, friends listened to rock n’roll while Winer played Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and musicals on the turntable. A quintessential New York kid growing up on the steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, she was raised by “smart set” parents: a mother who’d been a classical piano prodigy and a physician father with interest and friends in theater. Deborah and her sister Jessica (the painter responsible for the mural in Sardi’s upstairs banquet room) were surrounded by the arts.

Winer’s mom “instilled in us that in the world there’s no hierarchy or bureaucratic impediment to accomplishing anything you dream…if you envision it and do the work, there’s no earthly reason you shouldn’t go immediately to the top and sort it out with whoever’s in charge.” Her  dad offered “a philosophical view of people, very measured and insightful…taking people on their own merits and accepting them for who they are.”

Dr. and Mrs. Winer had a subscription to The Metropolitan Opera. When her mother didn’t want to go, one of the girls was escorted as daddy’s date. Deborah’s first exposure occurred at seven years old. The opera was – wait for it – Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. I wonder aloud at her sitting through, leave absorbing the piece. She lightly assures me that having had dinner, they arrived after the performance began and because her father had to be at the hospital early, left before it was over. This happened often. “…so stories often ended happily and we always got a cab.” She smiles. It seems to come easily.

That same year, a friend invited Winer to her first Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof. It was, she says, “tremendously impactful.” Recollected impressions include “visual enormity,” “thrilling theatrical values,” “wonderful dancing,” and “the sound of the pit orchestra.” Curiously, she applies none of these vivid descriptions to years of extravagant opera. Winer filtered everything through songs. She was more stylistically excited by Broadway and old Hollywood musicals. Though she appeared in school plays, even as a child she wanted instead to write them. Her work was produced at school.

Deborah Grace Winer and Jesscia Winer, Apprentices

The Winers spent summers in Westport, Connecticut, a haven for people in the arts. Deborah rounded up neighborhood kids and put on al fresco plays. The Westport Country Playhouse was a short drive and family friend Lucille Lortel’s White Barn Theater just a bike ride down the road. Mrs. Winer asked the impresario to take her daughters and “make’m sweep the stage or something” in order to get theater out of their systems. Like countless other cases, the reverse happened. Winer hastens to tell me that any field was fine with her parents as long as she and her sister “showed verified talent. “

Apprentices Debbie and Jessie got a taste of both grunt work and creative aspects of theater. As “pets” of the barn’s grande dame, they were additionally dressed up (she grimaces slightly) and trotted out to greet audiences. “We were the kids without sun tans, but I got to show Jason Robards where the bathroom was,” she adds nonchalantly. Even as a teen she was never starstruck. “It’s a missing valve.”

Lortel set another example for Winer. “A rich, social woman whose husband wouldn’t let her pursue a career she’d begun as an actress, she loved theater, and though not an intellectual, had an uncanny sense of what was valuable to our time.” Here was an independent, iconoclastic spirit – she sat her audiences like guests at a dinner party and insisted on having submissions read aloud to her – who found a way to participate in the art about which she was passionate.

A history major at Swarthmore, the young woman took every theater course. She and Jessica (also enrolled) were characteristically impatient to create rather than discuss. They began putting on plays and concerts at the campus coffee house. “Reinventing the space, creating our own opportunities to get work up set the template for almost everything in my career.”

After graduation, she was employed at what she cites as her only “real” salaried job, tearing and logging in Metropolitan Opera raffle tickets. No kidding. Winer had been “note-taker, sometime driver and all around resource person” for every show at the Barn directed by Charles P. Maryan. Reading a play by “this bright, enthusiastic young woman” led to his becoming a mentor. He recommended her for an editorial position at Opera News, later directing her Off Broadway play. Ever unorthodox, Winer’s first article, “Kid Sister,” was a profile of Frances Gershwin Godowsky. Making a living as a playwright is extremely difficult. Writing about what she loved, Winer found her way “in.”

“And then I made my way,” she comments mildly. The new graduate wrote for Opera News, The New York Times (she simply sent them a letter pitching an idea), and Town and Country. In 1995, Winer’s play, The Last Girl Singer, was produced Off Broadway by The Women’s Project Theater. (Others would follow.) Stephen Holden of The New York Times opined “…it offers a bracingly cynical view of show business and has some acidic, funny lines…” She was just out of her twenties.

Winer authored four books, the first two with Dennis McGovern, two on her own. Among solo efforts was The Night and The Music, day to day portraits of treasured mentors/ friends Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Cook, and Julie Wilson. Her show based on the vocal virtuosos will be presented during Mabel Mercer Foundation’s October 2018 Cabaret Convention.

Deborah Grace Winer and Rosemary Clooney (Photo: Jessica Daryl Winer)

Meeting Rosemary Clooney was “like lightening striking in a romantic story. We were insanely close. She taught me everything about how to be an artist in this business, how to be true to oneself and build what one thinks is valuable…” Winer shares the example of Clooney’s appearances at New York’s iconic Rainbow Room. “The economics of the job and the vocalist’s expenses meant that inevitably she would barely break even.”

Clooney told Winer it was nonetheless the most important gig of the year because artistically she made it exactly the way she wanted, stellar exposure made it worth the outlay. “It had to do with priorities…” This was a major star “whose psychological and prescription abuse issues along with the arrival of rock n’ roll had reduced her to playing The Holiday Inn in Ventura, California.” Winer notes this would be the show Clooney afterwards took on the road as if it was secondary motivation.

Barbara Cook and Deborah Grace Winer; Deborah Grace Winer and Julie Wilson (Photos: Jessica Daryl Winer)

“Barbara (Cook) was a broad with a great sense of humor… She was grounded…There was nothing world weary about her or namby pamby….She had edge, and fire and temperament… Even when very successful, Barbara kept pinching herself to recognize where she was and what she achieved.”

“Julie Wilson taught me mastery over an audience. She had them in the palm of her hand even when she had no voice left…she was never a worrier… she knew things were out of her control anyway, so whatever happens, happens. Other people knew that too…but they worry all the same – not Julie.”

Lyrics & Lyricists: Songs of The City-Billy Stritch, Klea Blackhurst, Jeffrey Schecter, Leslie Kritzer, Darius De Haas, La Tanya Hall, Deborah Grace Winer (Photo: Stephen Sorokoff)

Having parted with the 92Y hasn’t slowed the artistic director a moment. Her Gershwin program at The Schimmel Center downtown established a relationship there. Great Women Songwriters of The American Songbook began Winer’s collaboration with Feinstein’s/54Below, which will continue with The Classic American Songbook Series on March 27, May 8, and June 17, 2018.

Each of these will feature vocal entertainment bridged by brief anecdote and/or historical narrative riffs. Winer’s philosophy pervades: “I never want the Songbook to have a whiff of nostalgia. Do you go see Traviata and get nostalgic for the 19th century? The material is fresh, vibrant and current. Our first audiences included a bunch of young people.” Some recent and upcoming shows will also be staged at out of state venues. Projects abound. Multitasking is second nature to this seemingly indefatigable woman.

Feinstein’s 54/Below: Great Women Songwriters of The American Songbook – Margo Seibert, Karen Ziemba, Deborah Grace Winer, Kenita Miller, Emily Skinner (Photo: Bruce Cohen)

“I have been in the audience for programs about songwriters produced by Deb Winer and I have performed in such programs. Deb’s affection and respect for songwriters is quite moving to me,” friend/mentor Sheldon Harnick tells me. Ironically Harnick is the lyricist behind her first Broadway experience, a fitting case of aria da capo.

The artist met the famed wordsmith in the early 1990s. “I learn from him almost every moment we spend together, asking for stories about how he wrote this work, or solved that theatrical puzzle, or the ins and outs of collaborating with this or that iconic creative artist.  He is also one of the most deeply principled human beings I’ve ever known…”

Deborah Grace Winer and Sheldon Harnick (Photo Stephen Sorokoff)

Winer absorbs something from every talent with whom she comes in contact. Professional relationships often evolve to friendships. “The biggest blessing is the people in my life.” Her mentors appear to be as outstanding as they are legion. Their presence and devotion is telling.

To Deborah Grace Winer, show making/artistic direction is alchemy, a great adventure, a cause. Watch the horizon.

Deborah Grace Winer at work (Photo: Jessica Daryl Winer)

Opening Photo of Deborah Grace Winer: Jessica Daryl Winer


A Grown-Up Fairy Tale


This is a real, honest to God love story. Its heroine, Megan McGinnis, and her husband of not quite three years, Adam Halpin, currently play opposite one another in the utterly charming Daddy Longlegs at The Davenport Theatre. Neither expected they would share a stage, but then neither anticipated what can arguably be described as a romance the likes of which one rarely hears about these days.

young coyuple

Adam and Megan back then

Once upon a time, in 2004, young actor Adam Halpin attended a concert version of a musical based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Megan McGinnis, who had already acted on Broadway several times, played Viola. Our hero remembers being mesmerized. At the after party, he introduced himself and they spoke briefly. “Unfortunately, she doesn’t remember the meeting at all.” Megan nods in wry affirmation. I ask whether Adam knew he’d met the one.  “I think I did, but the lothario in me denied it at first.” They went their separate ways.

Four years later, Megan and her then boyfriend who had friends in the cast, went to see a dress rehearsal of Glory Days on Broadway. Adam was in the cast. The three spoke afterwards. Interest rekindled, “It took me a second to have a crush on her,” Adam initiated a Facebook friendship. Time passed. The actress found herself once again single.

Andrew C.Call, Jesse P. Johnson, Adam Halpin, Steven Booth in Glory Days (Photo by     Scott Suchman)

That summer, the two ran into each other at auditions for the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof. Stuck and bored for four or five hours, they spent the time talking. Two days later, he emailed Megan asking whether she’d heard anything. “My first reaction was, he’s such an actor, he only cares about the job. I wrote him back saying no, I didn’t. I guess I didn’t get it.” She shrugs.

“The next day he wrote me the most witty, charming message. It was read aloud at our wedding… “I was like, I’ve totally misjudged him. This wasn’t about the business. He likes me! She sounds genuinely surprised. “But I wasn’t sure. I started questioning it; I didn’t know whether he was single.” Couldn’t mutual friends have answered at least that question?  “She’s just not that kind of girl,” Adam comments with admiration. “She doesn’t think that way. Not good at the game.” Megan emphatically concurs. They started to correspond.”

Megan McGinnis, Mara Davi in Thoroughly Modern Millie (Photo courtesy of California Music Circus )

Posting on Facebook that she was volunteering for the Obama campaign (his first run), Megan received a message from Adam saying that was also his intention. “He’s extremely political,” she tells me rather protectively. “It was not just a way to get in.” They drove to Pennsylvania with a friend of Megan’s – “I was like, don’t put me in a car with a guy I don’t really know” – and spent the day. On election night, Adam texted and asked permission to call. “I thought that was so chivalrous.” He asked her out for a drink and they started dating. A decidedly slow burn.

Less than two months later, Adam was cast in the national tour of Rent. He’d be on the road 15 months. The preternaturally mature couple had “a big conversation” about whether they wanted to proactively continue the relationship or just see each other when he got back. They decided on the former.

Picture Megan and Adam sitting with a map and their joint schedules, working out when Megan would fly or train to join him and for how long, when he had a break, when she was working. She visited, mostly on his dime, about every three weeks. “I never took a cab to or from the airport, that was my big thing,” she says endearingly defensive. When Adam went to Japan, so did Megan. They Skyped or talked every night when apart. Are you enjoying this as much as I am?


Megan McGinnis sings with NY Pops (Photo by Jessica Fallon Gordon)                         Adam Halpin sing at Joe’s Pub (Photo by Nick Gaswith)

In 2009, Megan originated the role of Jerusha in Paul Gordon and John Caird’s two character musical Daddy Longlegs at The Rubicon Theater in Ventura California. (She’s performed the piece in 13 regional theaters over five years and has never felt her character get old.) Scheduling for this placed her at three theaters a year and home between. The couple, now serious, continued to take planes. If they weren’t so genuine, this could be a Hallmark film.

“I’m a very intense person,” Adam reflects. “I imagine that if we were together in New York all that time, things would’ve escalated too quickly. This way we really longed for each other. It was very much like writing letters.” An anachronistic word, ‘longing’ sounds natural coming from Adam. “We had to get to know each other,” Megan interjects. “When you’re in New York, there are lots of distractions. ‘Wonderful distractions, but…”

When the Rent tour ended, Megan and Adam talked about moving in together. Adam unexpectedly chose to get a studio apartment. He had never lived alone and wanted the experience. “It was so sweet, he picked an apartment on the same train line…we dated. Everything was great,” Megan says smiling. They both booked other jobs but were now emphatically committed. It had been seven years from the first meeting!

Megan performed for two months in Amanda McBroom & Michele Brourman’s Dangerous Beauty at Pasedena Playhouse in Los Angeles where her parents lived. Adam accompanied her. They considered it a serendipitous trial for living together. Upon returning, Adam moved in to her larger apartment.


One night, on House Hunters International (TV), a couple moving to Ireland declared that home was anywhere their partner was. “It just started the conversation about how we felt the same way. We talked about getting married. It was as simple as that,” Megan recalls.

Because they’d already talked about it and Megan would expect a declaration in any ‘formal’ environment, Adam felt the actual proposal should arrive out of the blue. They went shopping for an engagement ring and he took mental notes.

That summer, he telephoned Megan’s parents to ask her father for permission to marry. (Sigh) He rented an event space on Warren Street secretly inviting friends and family, including the McGinnises, who hadn’t been here since the couple started dating. Megan thought they were on a double date to a wine tasting until, behind a curtain, the crowd cheered their arrival. Adam got down on one knee. (of course) “I was wondering if you would spend the rest of your life being loved by me,” he said. Megan cried.

wedding f

In September 2013, Megan McGinnis and Adam Halpin married in a Long Island City hotel and flew to Italy for their Honeymoon. Two months ago, they bought a new apartment together and are making a home between doing eight shows a week, intermittent concerts, and the occasional joint “adventure.”

When I first saw Daddy Long Legs in 2015, the role of Jervis Pendleton was played by the excellent Paul Alexander. (See my review.)

I saw the piece again two weeks ago with Adam in the role and was once again captivated.

Apparently neither Adam nor Megan thought he should play Jervis. “The show’s been mine. He’s been a supportive boyfriend, fiancé, and husband, it’s always been separate,” she says. When someone on the creative team suggested he audition, “I said Noooo…” Megan consulted with Adam who curiously agreed. “I just never saw myself as the guy. Actors think they can do everything, so it’s weird.”

Still, pressed by the show’s team, with his wife purposely out of the room, Adam acquiesced. Director John Caird told Megan they wanted to hire him, but deferentially asked whether it was ok with both actors. The couple had one of their long discussions and determined they could handle a three month trial. It worked out, so Adam signed on again.

“I do think it’s difficult to work with your loved one. It’s SO much time together. You never get a break. Especially with two actors who care so much. We’re constantly thinking about how to better ourselves and the show, “ Megan tells me. “She approaches it with a fine tooth comb, so every night it’s fresh,” Adam adds appreciatively.

The couple was given a few suggested rules by Director John Caird: not to go to work together – a stipulation they follow – not to go home together – to which they sometimes adhere – and don’t talk about the show outside the theater – which the two more or less ignore. Recently, Megan admitted to Caird that she and Adam don’t comply with the third premise. “I knew you wouldn’t,” he responded, “I just wanted you to feel guilty when you broke the rule.” Megan does. Adam calmly takes it as another challenge in the relationship. “It’ll never happen again.” Famous last words.

What’s it like for a newly married couple to play each other’s love interest?

“It took quite awhile for me not to cry onstage during the last scene. (The happy ending could appropriately warrant tears.) I felt like I was losing control, crossing that fine line of singing the song to my wife while still being able to get the notes out. I had to find a happy medium between acting and living in the moment.” Adam

“Jervis’s `What Does She Mean By Love’ is one of my favorite moments in the show. I love the song and the way Adam sings it. I’m reading Jane Eyre in a dark corner during the number and I’m dying to look up. That’s definitely when I’m like, oh it’s Adam.” Megan. He laughs.

Jeremy Daniel 2

“I like looking at you the first time I come to the college as Jervis Pendleton, during `The Color of Your Eyes,’ the first time we actually look at each other for more than a millisecond. I like having that click moment,” Adam says warmly to his wife. “It’s like a check-in, hey, how’re you doing?” Megan adds beaming.

“I also love stepping into Jervis’s office at the end of the show, the whole last scene when Jerusha and he come together,” she continues. “That’s the part every night when I let go of the rest of the show and just enjoy it. Whatever the night holds, that scene feels like it’s for me and Adam. I never don’t feel like my character onstage, but it’s the perfect mix.”

“And we’re not constantly checking in with the audience,” Adam adds. There’s no fourth wall for much of Daddy Long Legs. Megan and Adam aka Jerusha and Jervis speak directly to us. Caird was very specific with the style, in essence, making both actors extremely vulnerable. Megan remembers that her audition included singing to him, something many musical theater actors find uncomfortable. She was admittedly nervous about it at first, but says it now seems so right. (I can testify to this.)


Not only is that authentic intimacy encouraged, but Jerusha’s prop letters to Jervis are real. Each and every one bears the narrative’s handwritten text, some of which Jervis/Adam reads aloud rather than delivering memorization. When the college girl writes these during performance, her cursive runs over actual words on the page, albeit with an inkless pen.

Is Adam still romantic?

“Oh, yes, but don’t ask him that question about me,” Megan responds. “Do you know about the Five Languages of Love?” (I later look up this Gary Chapman list. They are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch) “His is words, he speaks wonderful words and mine is action (acts of service). I love to do things for him.” “She does so many thoughtful things.” Adam looks at his bride with love and esteem.

“There are also moments of true romance, like when I made the Honeymoon Book,” Megan says talking directly to Adam. “That was a very non-Megan thing to do, very crafty,” he replies. “He had talked about wanted to do it and we just never did, so when he was on tour, I put it together. There were photographs, memories, even some receipts.” “I was impressed,” Adam says gratefully. Can you imagine any scenario other than Happily Ever After?


Megan and Adam’s current contracts go till June, though they may be reissued.  Go. You will be delighted.

Daddy Long Legs Production Photos by Jeremy Daniels
Wedding Photos by Laura Marie Duncan

Daddy Long Legs
Based on the novel By Jean Webster
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Book by John Caird
Directed by John Caird
The Davenport Theatre
354 West 45th Street