A Conversation with Richard Holbrook

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A Conversation with Richard Holbrook

September 1, 2017
 Richard Holbrook                    Photo: Jeffrey Hornstein


Three-time MAC Award nominee (Male Vocalist) Richard Holbrook reprises his show, Richard Sings Rodgers with a Lot of Heart at NYC’S Metropolitan Room on September 8 at 7 pm and September 9 at 4 pm. We sat down to talk with him about his revisiting this show, a benefit for The Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund. 100% of the cover will be donated to the Fund.

Cabaret Scenes: What made you reprise this show?
Richard Holbrook: After having having performed the Richard Rodgers show very successfully at the Metropolitan Room in 2015 and 2016, I initially was thinking about doing another musical salute: to Alan Jay Lerner. However, Richard Barclay, my director, felt that I should do a show about me –Richard Holbrook– and choose songs that were my favorites. Then, when I told Dick’s idea to my friend Ken Starrett, Ken felt that there was still more to be explored with the Rodgers show. So, then I thought, “Well, if I do the Rodgers show again, I don’t want it to be just Richard Holbrook up there doing his cabaret show.” I wanted to make the show more meaningful and, by doing that, since I had undergone cancer of the jaw and Richard Rodgers also had experienced the same operation I had, I thought: why not make this a benefit for oral cancer? I had read that Bruce Paltrow, the film and television director and producer, had lost his life to oral cancer and, right before his death, he had become a strong and passionate advocate in helping others afflicted with this disease. So, by doing this benefit, I wanted to “give back” and not only show my gratitude and appreciation to all the surgeons, doctors, nurses, and therapists who saved my life, but I also I wanted to inspire others fighting this disease to not give up hope and to pursue whatever passions they may have in their lives in order for them to get through the rough times.
CS: You stated you had your own fight with oral cancer. How long has it been since your diagnosis?
RH: It has been four years since I was diagnosed and had the operation and I am still cancer-free. Thank God!
CS: Now that you have recovered and are doing well, how has that experience changed you, both in your day-to-day life and your performing?
RH: Well, it’s made me more thankful and appreciative to be alive. When I first started singing after the operation, my voice had lowered a bit and I had to keep singing and practicing to get my range back, but I feel that my voice has produced different colors in that there is more passion and sincerity in my interpretation of songs, particularly some of the Rodgers and Hart ballads. My illness also has shed some new light on how I deal with day-to-day living. I still have moments when I get irritated at the little things in life—everybody does—but whenever I get into that mood, I try not to “sweat the small stuff.” I am now more courageous and am not afraid to take chances or to challenge myself. When I went back to work at The Paley Center for Media after my illness, the whole situation had changed. It was no longer The Museum of Television & Radio. It had become an event space to make money and had become very corporate with a lot of micro-managing. I found that unbearable and so, after 15 years of working there, I decide to leave of my own accord because I wanted to have 15 years of good memories. I left with no job lined up. That was a very brave thing for me to do, but I thought I really didn’t need that grief in my life. I had been through worse and I knew I would be just fine. Six months later, I was hired for two part-time jobs that I absolutely enjoy working at and that provide me with the wherewithal to continue my singing.  
Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner

CS: You’ve obviously chosen to pay it forward by holding this benefit for The Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund. Has the Fund been involved with these events?

RH: No, this is the first cabaret benefit show that the Fund has been involved with. Both Brian R. Hill, the Executive Director and Founder of The Oral Cancer Foundation, and Blythe Danner, the widow of Bruce Paltrow, are thrilled that I am doing this show to benefit the Fund. I met Ms. Danner a few years ago and told her my story, and she was very touched and moved. In fact, I received a lovely telephone call from her a few weeks ago. She expressed her deepest regrets that she will not be able to attend any of the shows since she will be making a film with the actor John Lithgow in upstate New York at that time. But, she thanked me profusely for doing this event. 
CS: Did the Fund offer you any assistance when you went through your treatment/recovery? 
RH: No. I didn’t know about the Fund until after my operation and recovery
CS: Have you made any changes to the show?
RH: Yes, I have. I have opened up the show by adding more narrative and a few songs to tell more of Richard Rodgers’ story. Now, I know a performer must take whatever criticism a reviewer might say about him or her with a grain of salt. After all, everyone is entitled to his/her opinions, but, for this particular version, I took the points that two reviewers wrote about me and was determined to put them to work and use them as helpful suggestions in order to make my show better. For instance, one reviewer wrote a very flattering review of my show, but stated that “it was heavy with details, but revealed little about Rodgers’ essence and, other than Rodgers’ medical problems, the personal difficulties that plagued him.” So, I decided to tell a little bit more about Richard Rodgers’ personal life, his relationship with his wife, Dorothy, as well as his illnesses. Another reviewer was even more critical, stating that my “musical self-consciousness overrides lyric content” and, as a result, my singing was unbelievable and unconvincing. Again, that made me really work on lyric interpretation—what is the song really saying? In this show, I am trying to tell Richard Rodgers’ story through his music without it being a music history lecture. But, there is such a richness of material and I’m very proud of the show. I do think that after audiences see it, they will not only have a better understanding of the enigma that was part of the genius of Richard Rodgers, but they will also have a better appreciation for his music and legacy.
CS: How can those who cannot attend your show but wish to make a donation do so?
RH: They can send a check to:
The Oral Cancer Foundation
Attn: Brian R. Hill, Executive Director & Founder
3419 Via Lido #205
Newport Beach, CA  92663