It’s so nice to feel you hold me again
No, it doesn’t matter where you have been
My heart welcomes you back home again
“Old Friend,” Thom Bell, Linda Creed
Variety once described Phyllis Hyman’s voice as “sultry, sassy, and vocally surprising.” It was that voice that reached out to Jacqueline B. Arnold in songs like “Old Friend.” “Originally, her voice [drew me in],” Arnold explained. “Her haunted sounds. She always made me wonder what she was feeling when she recorded all these songs.”
When Arnold got older, she sought out more information about Hyman. “Listening and understanding the lyrics…peaked my curiosity about a person whose biggest wish was just to be loved,” she said. Hyman appeared in Sophisticated Ladies, a musical based on the music of Duke Ellington, which ran on Broadway from 1981 to 1983. She earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. Wider recognition, however, punctuated by a series of lost opportunities, eluded her. On June 30, 1995, Hyman committed suicide, hours before she was to perform at the Apollo Theater. On July 6, a week later, she would have turned 46.
Jacqueline B. Arnold
Now, Arnold is paying tribute to the singer, songwriter, and actress in An Evening with Phyllis Hyman, at New York’s Actors’ Temple Theatre, with six performances. (See the website for dates, times, and to purchase tickets.) Arnold brings her own considerable talents to this one-woman show. She has appeared in Broadway’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and in several National tours: Killer Queen in We Will Rock You, Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, and Joanne Jefferson in Rent. She also had the privilege to tour with Bette Midler as a Harlette. Most recently, she created the role of Martha Wash in Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical.
Hyman’s story is a poignant one. She reportedly struggled with drug abuse and bipolar disorder. “Her mental illness really drew me to her in my adult years because it hit close to home,” said Arnold. “Like many of us, I know many people who suffer from mental illness. I believe telling her story on a public platform will bring even more awareness and hopefully will start a discussion within a community, specifically [among] the African American females who tend to not talk about it. We are told, `you will be ok’ or `suck it up’ or we don’t talk about it at all because we are embarrassed. I believe it is an important conversation to have, it can literally be life saving.”
As an artist, Arnold is devoted to making positive change through the arts, especially working with young people to help them grow into healthy and happy adults. She has been an instructor, counselor, and mentor to youth, specializing in those with depression and self-esteem issues. “I love their innocence and thirst for knowledge,” she said. “It is so fun to make a difference in a young person’s life through art. Building confidence or polishing a skill they have is so rewarding. It truly brings me joy to see kids dancing and singing.”
To prepare for her role as Hyman, Arnold did her research, reading Jason A. Michael’s Strength of a Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story. “It was a great chronological resource for facts, meaning it was a great place to start,” she said. “Luckily, we live in an age of information at our finger tips. Being able to watch footage of her live performances, interviews, and get to see her facial expressions and hear her voice really helped. I also was given the chance to speak to people who knew her and got to hear stories first hand of who she really was.”
Jacqueline, center, with the cast. Also pictured are producer Sheryl Lee Ralph (bottom row, left) and the show’s creators Kendrell Bowman and Anthony Wayne (bottom row, right).
Included in the show are a collection of Hyman’s biggest hits, those that were said to be her favorites and most memorable. “Funny enough I have always had a deeper toned voice, even when I was young, which made it natural to play someone with those same tones,” Arnold said. “I have always connected to people with similar voices and loved singing their songs, Phyllis Hyman, Anita Baker, etc. The research and learning about who she really was is enabling me to channel her and meld her with my talents.”
Last year marked 20 years since Hyman died. Her recordings are still available and sought out by a loyal base of fans. Her videos on YouTube have millions of hits. But, according to Arnold, Hyman’s legacy is about more than just music. “I believe a legacy is what people would want to leave behind, or what people would want to be said about them,” Arnold reflected. “Her biggest message is even if you appear to have it all, you could still be alone and have nothing, not even yourself. I can only imagine she would want more for those who loved her, both those who knew her and those who did not, her fans. I hope her legacy and memory shines a light on mental and emotional illness.”
Arnold’s wish is that audiences will not only enjoy An Evening with Phyllis Hyman, but be inspired. “As a performer, I always hope they have been thoroughly entertained,” she said. “I always say there is a bonus if you leave with wanting to have a discussion about what you watched. For this show, wanting to talk about being in love, out of love, mental illness or being alone. As long as real conversations are happening, I feel that I have done my job.”
Top photo: Jacqueline B. Arnold-as Phyllis Hyman in An Evening with Phyllis Hyman. Photo Credit: Iconic.jpg.
Credit for other photos: Jeremy Daniel
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.
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.
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.
“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