Richard Jay-Alexander Talks Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt for York Theatre Gala

Richard Jay-Alexander Talks Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt for York Theatre Gala
Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt
Illustration: Michael Harbeck

On Monday night, on Manhattan's East Side, the legendary theatrical creative team of Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt will be honored by The York Theatre at their 26th Annual Oscar Hammerstein Award Gala. The event boasts Richard Jay-Alexander as director, with Andrew Gerle, who has written a new musical with Mr. Jones, as the Musical Director.

This Weekend we reached out to Richard to fill us in on the event and what attendees can look forward to. We found him in the midst of rehearsals and planning for the event to take place at The Asia Society with cocktails beginning at 6:00 PM and the Award Presentation starting at 8:00 PM.

BWW: Richard, can you tell us how you came to the project?

RICHARD: Well, It's an interesting story. The first "reach-out" came via Private Message on Facebook from James Morgan, The York Theatre's Artistic Director. It turns out that Dan Shaheen suggested me to him, to helm the evening.

Dan is a personal friend and we were young actors together, here in New York. He is also a friend, collaborator, and producer, in fact, sometimes for Jones & Schmidt.

I really wanted to do it. THE FANTASTICKS was the first show I ever directed as a sophomore in college at SUNY Oswego. But I took a meeting first to be sure they knew what they were getting into with me. I definitely came loaded with ideas.

BWW: The talent roster is quite eclectic. How did that happen?

RICHARD: Wow! I'm so glad you asked that. I don't know if you know this, but The York Theatre and Jones & Schmidt share quite a history together. It began back in 1982 when the gents came to see The York Theatre's production of 110 IN THE SHADE. The rest, as they say, is history... a history we will witness on Monday night, on the stage.

If I can be honest, my one goal for the evening is to leave Tom & Harvey devastated by evening's end, revisiting their career, their accomplishments, their friendships, and how actors everywhere feel about them. I can honestly say there isn't an actor alive who hasn't worshiped at the altar of THE FANTASTICKS.

The rest of the body of their work is extraordinary for so many reasons and Andrew Gerle and I are honoring every show they have written including: THE FANTASTICKS, MIRETTE, 110 IN THE SHADE, COLETTE COLLAGE, PHILEMON, I DO! I DO!, MUMMERS PLAY, ROADSIDE, CELEBRATION, and GROVERS CORNERS.

Richard Jay-Alexander Talks Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt for York Theatre Gala
Various Programs from York Theatre productions of Jones & Schmidt Shows

I might also add, they've written songs that aren't from musicals and we've got a couple of those too.

BWW: This is getting me excited. And the cast?

RICHARD: Yes, I'm getting to that. Again, I'll be honest, the FIRST person I went to was Freddie Gershon. A Legend in the business and the theatre community, he is the Chairman and CEO at Music Theatre International and I've known him almost my entire career. I knew if we had him to actually present the award and speak about Jones & Schmidt, that I had my Diamond at the center and could create around that. The evening includes some warm & wonderful video packages of the gents and their career, and some video messages from people for THE BOYS. Now, if you know me, and you can do a little math... you can IMAGINE who one of those might be from.

BWW: You mean Barbra Streisand?

RICHARD: I didn't say that. You did. (he laughs)

BWW: Right. Ok... And the show on stage?

RICHARD: Ah, yes. I'm getting off track here... So, the line-up is pretty exciting. Samantha Bruce was the last Luisa in THE FANTASTICKS. Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford are longtime friends to the duo, and Nancy actually played piano at THE FANTASTICKS at The Sullivan Street Playhouse. Robert Cuccioli is a longtime friend and recently did ROTHSCHILD AND SONS at the York. Ava Della Pietra is new to me, she is from SCHOOL OF ROCK and Andrew knows her quite well. Juilan Fleisher is also new to me and insanely talented, Andrea Frierson I've known of through her whole career. Rita Gardner, of course, is the original Luisa and will tell a great story of that experience. Randy Harrison is an actor I met recently and he blew me away in the National Tour of CABARET. Adam Kantor is currently in THE BAND'S VISIT.

He and Betsy Wolfe will be performing together. Betsy also has a very special song that she has chosen to sing for Tom and Harvey. Betsy, as you know, is currently starting in WAITRESS on Broadway. Norm Lewis is a long time friend of mine and will also be sharing a very special song with THE BOYS. Samantha Massell is coming in from her day off in RAGS at Goodspeed. Michele McConnell just finished her nearly 8 year run in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and is doing a very beautiful song. Tracy Lynn Olivera is new to me and I'm very excited about her. Randy Rainbow is a longtime friend and enjoying phenomenal success, being an internet sensation, and filling theaters across America. He's joining us and serving as our auctioneer for some VERY FUN items, but you won't want to miss him and Lesley Ann Warren (from the original Broadway cast of 110 IN THE SHADE) performing "Little Red Hat".

Lee Roy Reams is with us and I just gotta say, every time I'm around Lee Roy, I learn something new... and that feels pretty thrilling. Ben Rimalower is, of course, known for his one man shows PATTI ISSUES and BAD WITH MONEY, and he agreed to be our host for the evening. Frances Ruffelle, of course, was the original Eponine in The West End and on Broadway in LES MISERABLES. She's living stateside now and I'm thrilled to be reunited with her. Christopher Sieber is a longtime friend and maybe one of the most talented guys I've ever met. Susan Watson is coming in from the West Coast, and of course played the original role of Angel in CELEBRATION. She is also the original Kim McAfee in BYE BYE BIRDIE, so that's going to be pretty exciting. Well-Strung are the coolest group of guys. They are Christopher Marchant, Daniel Shevlin, Edmund Bagnell, and Trevor Wadleigh and I work with them quite often. They make up a sexy string quartet and sing.They will be putting their very unique stamp on a very special song.

I don't want to give away too much of the content, because the goal is to surprise Tom & Harvey in the theatre that evening, but I will tell you that even I'M looking forward to this.

In addition, we have the Manhattan School of Music Musical Theatre Ensemble under the direction of Judith Clurman. I went up to their rehearsal this afternoon and they're definitely going to add some excitement to a few of the numbers they're joining us on.

Everyone at The York, my assistant Nellie Beavers, and I have been in the planning stages for quite some time and I feel grateful on so many levels... both for being the one that was given the opportunity to do this and being in the presence of all of this talent and in the company of their honorees and great friends, like Dan Shaheen and John Schak.

Richard Jay-Alexander Talks Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt for York Theatre Gala
Richard Jay-Alexander
Photo: Claudia VanSlyke

BWW: That sounds fantastic! (No pun intended) What can you tell us about the Oscar Hammerstein Award?

RICHARD: Thank you for asking. This is the 26th presentation and it's the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre. Rrevious recipients include greats like Stephen Sondheim, Producer Cameron Mackintosh, legendary star Angela Lansbury and, last year, Joel Grey.

The York is also presenting their company's Founder Awards to Gerald F. Fisher and Robert Goldberg, and that's going to be pretty wonderful, too.

BWW: Will Tom and Harvey perform? I'm asking because they've been known to, in the past.

RICHARD: Well... let's see... you'll have to be there to know the answer to that. But if I had to bet my life on it, I'd lean towards "yes."

One of the other great pleasures, if I may, of putting this tribute together, has been talking to Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt on the phone, individually. It makes me pinch myself... never imagining that this would ever be possible when I was growing up listening to all of those albums.

Are we done?

BWW: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

RICHARD: Well, let me think... Oh, I'd like to throw a shout out to our Musical Director, Andrew Gerle. I've never worked with him before and when I can still learn something, it's a really great day. I went to music rehearsal the other night and the band he's put together, Lynette Wardle on Harp, Danny Weller on Bass, and Rex Benicasa on Percussion, are really terrific. I'll tell you, I was crying and felt very, very, proud.

I was also introduced to a new video producer/editor named Matt Gurren, who has great taste and delivered some special work that will be seen on Monday night.

So ... I don't know if there are any tickets left, but I'd love it if you put the link here so that if people are interested, they might still be able to get a ticket to see this and support the York Theatre by joining us for this annual gala. I'm so looking forward to it!

BWW: We'll see you there.

RICHARD: Great! Keep your fingers crossed for us.

For more information, click here.

Richard Jay-Alexander Talks Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt for York Theatre Gala

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