BWW Interview: Goldie Dver Is Reborn with BACK IN MAMA'S ARMS at Don't Tell Mama
Everything was working for Goldie Dver because she had done the work. She had trained, kept her head down and nose to the grindstone, and controlled her destiny, appearing on the radio in various shows, performing with headliners in Atlantic City, garnering praise and a name for herself in the New York City cabaret scene (even winning the coveted MAC Award). With her husband, Paul Dver, by her side and a flourishing career, Goldie Dver was living her best life.
Then the unthinkable happened.
A cancer diagnosis took Goldie off the performing track for a while as she set aside her solo and duo shows, preferring to appear in group performances where singing only one song would not tire her. It became clear to her that her cancer treatments were affecting her ability to sing, so Goldie ceased to raise her voice, choosing, instead, to focus on her other art form, that of a makeup artist. A cancer- free decade passed before the unfathomable, when unforgiving fate stepped in again and Goldie Dver lost her husband of 41 years to a heart attack. Distraught, Goldie Dver turned to her close friend and colleague, James Beaman, who suggested that music is a great healing energy, leading the accoladed singer back to a place where her bliss lives.
And the show Back In Mama's Arms was born.
After a tryout in June at Don't Tell Mama, Back In Mama's Arms is receiving an encore, beginning September 15th. Before stepping into the spotlight again, Goldie sat down with me to talk about love, loss, life and the art of survival.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Goldie you have a show opening titled Back in Mama's Arms - may one assume that the title refers to the club Don't Tell Mama, where you have spent many a rewarding night performing?
Absolutely. I had been thinking about coming back to cabaret for a few years before I actually started doing it this past year. And I only knew two things: I wanted to do it at Don't Tell Mama because that was my home, and I wanted it to be titled "Back in Mama's Arms" because I felt like I was coming back to the embrace of that home and everything it meant to me, in cabaret, including Sidney Myer, including that back room, everything about Don't Tell Mama always signified home to me, in cabaret.
How many years was it?
Ten years away from singing or ten years away from Mama's?
Both. When I got breast cancer in 2006, I was off the earth for 9 months with treatment, came back, went back to work with Smashbox cosmetics, and my husband was diagnosed with cancer just as I was coming back. We were both cured of cancer but there was a lot going on. When I got cancer, that stopped my singing because there was just too much ... I couldn't perform through it, it was too heavy duty treatment. In the ensuing years I had done a couple of guest spots, a couple of things with the Friar's Club, and sung here and there, but I had not done a whole show. Then there were six or seven years when I did not sing at all. The radiation had affected one of my lungs, my breath capacity, I just felt "I don't know if I'll ever be able to sing again". And it was a huge chunk of my heart that was gone. I just focused on the other parts of my life. I did enjoy the makeup, it was creative, I enjoyed working with people one on one, I felt strongly about trying to empower women to be secure and own their beauty. I found things in my life that were meaningful, and my life with my husband, Paul, was always... we were together for 41 years so that was my life. But, you know... Life has plans that we don't know about. You know that saying "Man makes plans and god laughs"? My mother always used to say that to me. It's the truth. So I hadn't sung at all and a few years before Paul died, I was trying to come back with this show, this idea that I had, and I kept collecting songs. I had this list: Goldie's cabaret list. I had thirty songs on it. They didn't really go together, I was just starting with things that I liked that caught my ear in the subway. I wasn't able to do anything with them. My husband started getting a little too ill. He wasn't really able to work with me the way he always did, he always helped me produce my shows, put them together, musical direct. Jamie (Beaman) would come in and direct the later shows. But Paul wasn't able to do that. And I hadn't been in touch with Jamie for five years -- no issues or anything, he was on the road doing his thing, I was involved in my life, life became different. And one night my husband just died. Heart attack. Unexpectedly. And life changed again. This time it changed - really severe left turn, because you're with somebody 41 years, it's your day to day. And all of a sudden you have to figure out a new day to day. When Paul passed there were very few people that I, personally, let know. I couldn't get on the phone and talk to people. I just texted a few people "I'm really sorry to have to say this in a text, I'm just not able to talk on the phone right now, but I know you would want to know"... and Jamie was one of those people. I said "I don't even know if you're in town or on the road"... and he was in town. He contacted me immediately, he came to the funeral, and it was as if we had never had those five years of not communicating. He was the one, about a few weeks after Paul died, a month, we were having lunch and he said "have you thought about singing again?" I said "I've thought about it but I don't know" and he said "If there's any way I can help, I'm there". I told him he is the only one that I would trust to do this with, cause he's the only one other than Paul who knew me well enough, as a performer and a person... and I trust his theatrical sense. I love working with him as a director, he's taught me so much. I was coming back to cabaret with a much different perspective than I had last time around.
Ten years ago.
Yes. When you've lived a life and you've gone through experiences, there's not much that scares you anymore. There's still stuff that excites you. I still get those butterflies before I step onstage, and I think if I ever stop getting them that's going to be the time to hang it all up. That lets me know that this is important to me. But I don't feel the trepidation I used to feel. When I step onstage now I really feel like I'm home. I love the feeling of being on stage and being able to communicate with the people in the audience. That's what I love about cabaret. I need that interaction with the audience. I love that interaction with the audience. I'm beginning to realize that I just want to be me. It has to be authentic. When I'm on a cabaret stage I'm just me, and love it or leave it, that's what you get.
How many shows have you done at Don't Tell Mama?
First there was Goldie's Broadway Diner - Paul played piano for me on that one, and it got to the point where we realized it was great for him to produce, to help me put things together, sort of musical direct in the background, things like that. But when it got to the point of him playing on the stage for me as well, it was starting to interfere with the marriage too much. With other musical directors, no matter how close of a friend I am, we maintain this professional courtesy. With Paul it was "What the f*ck are you doing?!" (Laughing) There was no filter, and he was the same way with me. And that wasn't working. We realized the marriage was more important than the work. I could find other musical directors but I was never going to find another guy like Paul to live my life with. He was a very unique kind of guy, he was a very special man. So we did Goldie's Broadway Diner, we did Crazy World, I did Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. And I've done three performances of Back in Mama's arms in June, now we're coming back with more.
How did it go?
It went very well. KT Sullivan came, Richard Skipper came, Myra Chanin wrote me up for Theater Pizzazz... They were all lovely audiences, very different audiences. As you know, the audience becomes its own organism, and each audience was very different because of the people. One night I had some issues, my voice wasn't locking in the way I knew that it could and should, but the thing I felt good about... it didn't throw me. I gave the show, I was totally invested in all the songs. Years ago, that would've thrown me and I would've lost it.
At our age, we're at half past give a sh*t.
That's what I mean! Exactly! Really! Like Scarlett: Tomorrow's another day! My third show my voice was better but I didn't take that moment to prepare myself before the show started, came on, sang the wrong lyrics to the very first song. I stopped the show, said we gotta start over, I worked with it, I wasn't embarrassed, we started again. And it was fine.
When did you premiere Back in Mama's Arms?
So here we are, about two months later, you're doing an encore - how are you feeling?
I'm very excited.
Are you vocally here?
Yes. I actually started studying voice with Bill Zeffiro, my musical director, and he's an amazing voice teacher.
Never stop studying.
Absolutely. I had had an inkling... I knew that Bill taught voice and I got an inkling that he might be very good because while we were in rehearsal, he gave me a couple of (I'll call them) tricks to use that helped me focus my breathing better. I had fallen into lots of bad habits, which is natural when you haven't done it for a long time and you're trying to rework this instrument over nine months - I was working the muscles very strenuously to bring things back. After the show was over I said "Bill I'd like to explore having you teach me" and we've been doing that and he's teaching me in a whole new approach than any other teacher that I've ever had. And it's wonderful.
Is this your first show being directed by James Beaman?
No, Jamie directed Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and Crazy World was his concept.
You've had a long association with Jamie.
I've known Jamie since 1998. We met as makeup artists at Henri Bendel, and we became very fast friends.
What is the benefit to having an artistic collaboration that lasts such a long time?
There's the trust. And for me any relationship has to be based on trust. I can't relate to somebody if I don't have trust. There's also knowing each other, having experienced each others' lives, the history. The artistic respect for each other. Again, this is going to sound really horrible, for me to have a friendship with anybody artistic, I have to really appreciate their work. I can't fudge it. I won't lie, I can't fudge it, and I can't really have a long term friendship with somebody unless I truly respect their work.
He's quite brilliant.
He really is.
At everything. He's one of those.
(Laughing) YES! I KNOW! I know! He makes me nuts! I actually started taking a class with him now. He and this guy Andrew Parks, they are doing a repertoire building class for theater auditions - and it doesn't just talk about the repertoire, they also talk about the attitude of what you do from the moment you walk in the room, what you do before you walk in the room, just trying to present who you are in the most interesting way possible. Now, I'm not auditioning for theater right now but I am looking to build a repertoire of songs for open mic nights.
I have a special place in my heart for Don't Tell Mama, and clearly so do you. What is it that makes that club so special?
Sidney Myer. I've known Sidney for a long time. He is one of the most unique special people in cabaret. He has such a genuine kind heart and he is genuinely looking to help people in any way he can. He's been doing this for a very long time, he's a very seasoned amazing performer.
And the funniest human being on earth.
OH my GOD! Oh my god. Oh my god. It's never premeditated. It's all natural. He sees life through a different prism. He is hysterical. Sidney remembers what it is to start out, and he will do everything in his power to make what can be a very daunting experience, when you're mounting a show ... for everyone, every time out, it is a huge endeavor. And he makes it as easy as possible. He's always there for you, genuinely. There's not a false bone in his body.
Sidney and I used to do a radio show lovingly called The Jewish Hour, and that lead to a show lovingly called The Gay Hour - all the people from cabaret would come on, it was so much fun, it was such great radio. It was so supportive of cabaret and everyone came up there. And it was nice being a regular on that show because it gave me a chance to meet and to intermix, to connect with people on the air. To have fun. Also being on the air was one of the first things to give me confidence about just talking, not having a script, just talking.
When I look back on my career and the different things I've done in my career and my life it all just comes back to what has become my mantra in life: things happen for a reason and they happen in their own time. We don't always understand why things are happening when they're happening, very often we feel like it's the crisis of the world, and it can be while we're going through it. But I've come to really trust and believe that life is happening the way it's meant to happen. Our job in life is to try to understand what the positive thing is that can be gained from whatever you're going through. Seek that out and that's the light at the tunnel. That's where I try to go towards because shits going to happen. In everybody's life. You lose someone, you go through a crisis, things happen. What do you do? It's always a choice. Are you going to curl up in a ball and die or pick up the pieces and move forward? Losing paul has been more difficult for me than even going through breast cancer but you're going to feel the hurt and the sadness no matter what happens. You need to honor your feelings, you need to address them, you need to work your way through them, but you can't just wallow or let yourself live in that part of your heart. It does nothing good for you or anyone. It's ok to visit there... But you can't live there.