From Musical Mondays at Splash to AVENUE Q: John Bantay Talks to Richard Jay-Alexander About His Farewell Night on Monday, May 20th
John Bantay is one of New York City's hidden treasures. He's the guy in the booth who plays videos of musical numbers from Broadway shows and movies and variety shows...and just about any award shows you've ever seen that present musical numbers that fascinate a 'certain type' of crowd. That crowd would be all of US! For about eleven years, John Bantay, who started out his New York journey as an actor/singer/dancer and as a card carrying Equity member, could be found every Monday night spinning videos to the delight of packed houses at one of New York City's most popular gay bars, SPLASH BAR NYC.
Every Monday night from 7pm-Midnight, musical theatre revelers and people seeking out one of the most unique events in New York history, can be found singing along, dancing, and, oh, yes, drinking, to a vault of material so rich that it can sometimes be jaw-dropping. Also, one of Bantay's personal trademarks is to play the incredibly famous Tony Award appearance of Jennifer Holliday and the cast of Dreamgirls performing "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" at which point, people wanting more, know this is the end of the night.
And this Monday, May 20th, John Bantay will do his 'farewell' SPIN as he leaves to continue pursuing his career and becomes a stage manager at the long-running musical, Avenue Q. Speaking to John Bantay, I, of course, was curious as to what his favorite video clips have been over the years. He was reticent to put them in "Top 10" format because, to him, he considers them all #1's. So here's his HIT LIST, in no particular order:
VJ John Bantay's Top 10 Favorite Clips
1. Michael Bennett Tribute Tony Awards (1988)
During a tribute to Michael Bennett, Dreamgirls original cast members Sheryl Lee Ralph and LorEtta Devine, with replacement cast member Terry Burrell sing the title song and "One Night Only". Donna McKechnie performed "The Music And The Mirror" from A Chorus Line.
2. "Let Me Entertain You" Broadway Sings: The Music of Jule Styne (1987)
Three greats of musical theatre - Ann Reinking, Donna McKechnie and Chita Rivera, perform "Let Me Entertain You" from Gypsy.
3."Defying Gravity" Tony Awards (2004)
4. "And I Am Telling You..." Tony Awards (1982)
5. "I Will Never Leave You" Tony Awards (1998)
From Side Show
6. "Broadway Songs We've Never Done, and Never Will" Tony Awards (1995)
Medley of great women's songs by Gregory Hines and Nathan Lane
7. "Fifty Percent" Tony Awards (1979)
8. "42nd St" Tony Awards (1981)
From 42nd Street
9. "Turkey Lurkey Time" Tony Awards (1969)
From Promises, Promises performed by original cast members Margo Sappington, Baayork Lee and Donna McKechnie.
10. "The Circle of Life" Tony Awards (1998)
From The Lion King
John Bantay's history at Splash Bar NYC sounds just like any other career: he worked his way up from coat-check to waiter to bartender and Musical Mondays was already in existence. But as he watched, he knew it could be better and that it had huge potential. He approached the owners and Brian Landeche, who is now the sole owner, was a big theatre fan. Bantay credits the club, the owner, and everyone who works on this special night with the success of Musical Mondays by ecstatically stating, "We all love theatre here." Needless to say, his salary also increased over the years due to the popularity of this unique evening.
On any Monday night you'll find musical theatre fans, college kids (of proper drinking age, of course), and even much of the working population of Broadway itself, there to pay homage. They all come to honor the Great White Way and Hollywood's take on the Great White Way... as well as great television appearances by those of Broadway pedigree. The "sing-a-long" quotient and the "perform-a-long" quotient is staggering and so much fun to witness and when the crowd can mingle with Broadway "drop-ins" like Patti LuPone, Donna McKechnie, Ben Vereen, Christina Applegate, Heather Headley, Kristin Chenoweth, Jerry Mitchell, Chris Gattelli, Randy Rainbow, New York 1's Frank DiLella, Playbill's Blake Ross and Andrew Gans, press agents, general managers, producers, stage managers, BroadwayWorld's own Rob Diamond and a slew of other Broadway denizens and people who work in the business, the heat goes up by 100 degrees.
Musical Mondays at Splash has been a 'destination' since it's inception and people who come visit New York and are fans of Broadway always have it on their list of things to do.
This Monday will be no different and you won't want to miss John Bantay's 'farewell spin' to see how he will 'wrap up' his legacy and time at Splash.
John is an amiable sort of guy who clearly loves theatre and has assembled a great resume of accomplishments in our world. Some of his credits include: Broadway: Passing Strange, Pal Joey, The Ritz. City Center Encores: ...It's Superman; Fiorello! and Finian's Rainbow. Show Supervisor: Chippendales (US/Europe), Antigravity, West Side Story (Europe). As performer: Broadway revivals of The Ritz; Hello, Dolly!; The King and I and the Off-Broadway revival of Pacific Overtures, of course, Producer: Musical Mondays (Splash) 2002-2013.
I asked him about Avenue Q's schedule and why he couldn't continue and do both. It turns out that Avenue Q is dark on Tuesdays, not Mondays. He wears his heart on his sleeve and feels sad to leave but excited about future prospects. He has been flattered over the years by people trying to "steal him" to do the same thing at other establishments. It must also be stated that the 'concept' of Musical Mondays has been often imitated by other cities in the US... but NEVER equaled! Part of this is due to the unique structure of Splash Bar NYC and the multi-level floors and multitude of screens (of all sizes) displayed throughout the real estate. Also the sound is just the way you want it - LOUD AND CLEAR! Bantay has amassed tons of fans and gets loads of mail, e-mails, tweets, facebook, etc. and has really enjoyed his run.
For the last five years, his Manager of the evening has been Dougie Meyer, of which he makes special mention. He feels that Dougie has given him 1000% support and brings a special quality to Musical Mondays throughout the night's playlist. An example would be during the Tony performance of "Defying Gravity", he runs through the crowd and hands out cocktail napkins for everyone to throw during the big crescendo which makes for a very exciting look and vibe and is in the vicinity of what one might witness at The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a midnight screening. Oh yeah, there are green lights, too.
If you've never been, mark your calendar for Monday. And if you have been, come say goodbye to John, as it will surely be a very special night. I am a fan and you'll find me there on Monday with a lot of my pals as I will celebrate what he has brought to New York City for years. Musical Mondays will continue with someone new in his job, and with their own video content.
I asked John two closing questions. 1) How have you assembled all of these videos? The answer was simple: from everywhere! And he started collecting in any format he could LONG before there was Internet or YouTube. But he did share with me the fact that on any given night, strangers (or friends) would come up and hand things off that were unmarked and given on the condition of anonymity... hence, some rare gems.
My last question to him was, "Do you drink while you work?" He said, "Every once in a while, I'll have a shot of vodka during the night."
Let's raise a glass to John Bantay this Monday. DON'T RAIN ON HIS PARADE! See ya there!
Splash Bar NYC is located at 50 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011, for more information - click here.