Starvoice • 01.20.12

edBy Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Ellen DeGeneres turns 54 on Thursday. The comedian/talk show host has won 13 Emmys during her career while parylaying successful endeavors as a spokersperson for Cover Girl and voicing the role of Dory in Finding Nemo, set for a 3D release this fall. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also named her Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness in November 2011.

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THIS WEEK

Mars is turning retrograde and will backtrack through Virgo until April 13. In this period, recent pet peeves, critical arguments, bitchy outbursts and intestinal inflammations will come back to haunt you. Keep an eye on self-improvement without beating yourself up.

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CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
Old arguments highlight your need to reconsider ideals you’ve taken for granted. Be careful that shrewd insight doesn’t push you to disillusion friends. You can be realistic and respectful.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
Your debonair wit could easily backfire. The line between incisive epigrams and rude bitchiness is too easy to stumble over. If you need to be naughty, find an appropriate partner and a room.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
It’s very easy to talk your way into a hot little affair, but you may soon find it harder to get out of. Be sure of where the exits are before you step into anything.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
You’re cranky, even aggressive, especially with colleagues. Obsessing over details can distract you from bigger issues and dangers. But do heed details that concern your health.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
Being nice comes off as manipulative. Use your overactive charms to deal with problems in a straightforward fashion. Resist the urge to gloss over them. Flirtations lead further than intended.

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
Disagreements at home get out of hand, especially when you just settled the problem. Be as patient and diplomatic as you can. Your attention soon turns to more interesting problems.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
A new passionate fling probably seems a lot more serious than it really is. Or less. Either way it’s sure to surprise you and probably a lot more people than you’d like to have know about it.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
It’s too easy to react to others. Your natural instinct is to be a control queen, but more productively, try to see why your nerves are so raw. Vigorous exercise will help your balance and insight.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
A cautious approach to a problem will open to more possibilities. Take that inspiration to work to find ideas pointing to new methods. With a solid grounding, advance bold new techniques.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
Hitting a plateau is a natural stage. Don’t let it discourage you. Keep at whatever you’re doing, although if you can figure out why you’re stuck you may find better ways of doing it.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
Frustration has more to do with your expectations. Brace yourself for problems to come back at you. Mouth off to friends who’ll help you develop a better perspective.

SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Talk with relatives about family health issues to get rude surprises to prepare your doctor than the other way around. Brush up on skills and get updated on technology that will help you at work.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Sorry? No, ‘Grateful’

John Bucchino calls Stephen Schwartz his best friend and Stephen Sondheim his mentor. So how come he’s not a huge fan of musical theater?

I WRITE THE SONGS  |  Composer John Bucchino has his turn performing his music with a cabaret show at Theatre 3, which is holding a mini-festival of his music this fall.

I WRITE THE SONGS | Composer John Bucchino has his turn performing his music with a cabaret show at Theatre 3, which is holding a mini-festival of his music this fall.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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AN EVENING OF CABARET
Theatre 3, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Nov. 17. 7:30 p.m.
$50. Theatre3Dallas.com.

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If you look at John Bucchino’s web page, you’re immediately struck by how, under “biography,” he lists only the compositions he’s written and recordings made of his songs and awards he’s received. No date of birth, no hometown, no pet peeves. It’s as if his life story can be expressed through his work alone.

And the thing is, Bucchino doesn’t really disagree with that.

“I guess I do feel that way,” he says with a sudden flash. “I figure on a website, it’s not about me as a person but me as a songwriter. I do feel the work — especially It’s Only Life and the albums — are incredibly open and incredibly vulnerable insights into me. Ninety percent of them are directly from experiences in my life. I’m so wrapped up in what I do — probably unhealthily so — but I’m perfectly open. I need to get those two things in a better balance.”

In fact, doing so might make for a good song.

It’s not as if Bucchino doesn’t have a fascinating story of his own. One of the most respected composers of cabaret songs for more than two decades, he broke into Broadway with the acclaimed 2008 musical A Catered Affair, which wraps up its regional premiere at Theatre 3 Saturday. But that’s hardly your last chance to experience Bucchino. On Nov. 17 — his birthday! — he’ll perform his one-man show at Theatre 3, and the next day, previews of his revue It’s Only Life begin in the Theatre Too space. It’s a mini-festival of Bucchino in Uptown.

It’s surprising — to Bucchino, especially — that he’s become a staple of Theatre 3’s schedule, since he personally never had much interest in musicals. Even today, while he numbers Stephen Sondheim as a mentor and calls Stephen Schwartz his best friend of 25 years (he even claims credit for getting Wicked made; more on that later), he doesn’t really “get” lots of theater references. In fact, he never intended to be a composer at all.
“When I started writing songs, my goal was to be a singer-songwriter,” he says. “I started out playing piano at age 1; it became my favorite toy and still is. I just started noodling around with songwriting, which naturally evolved out of playing piano in high school. I figured I’d be a [piano playing pop star] a la Elton John or Billy Joel. But noooobody was interested in me — they wouldn’t give me the time of day. It wasn’t on my radar that other people could sing my songs, but that’s what took off.”

His songs have been recorded by everyone from Barbara Cook (“It doesn’t get better than Barbara Cook — her version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ just knocks my socks off. But her version of anything knocks my socks off”), Kristen Chenoweth, Audra MacDonald and Patti LuPone; he wrote the music for a children’s book by Julie Andrews and her daughter; he calls Grateful probably his most important work. The song was also a watershed for him.

“It was Saturday. I was cleaning house and suddenly found myself at the piano playing the chorus for ‘Grateful’ and I just started to cry. But that’s as far as it went for month. Then came the sweat of crafting these lyrics and bridge around this perfect chorus,” he says.

Bucchino invited his friend Art Garfunkel over to listen to it and give feedback. As soon as it was over, Garfunkel said, “Don’t give that to anyone else: It’s mine.”

“From that reaction, I knew something was going to happen with it,” he says.

Still, his ascension to Broadway was a long one.

“I didn’t really know about live theater. I kind of thought of pop songwriting as somehow cooler — theater writing as less complex and two dimensional,” he says. “But Stephen Schwartz is the one who encouraged me to write for the theater.”

How can a gay guy involved in music not be a theater queen? Bucchino seems unfazed by the idea. He says he “wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with Stephen Sondheim” when Broadway’s greatest composer-lyricist called to say he was “really excited by my work.” But then came the pressure to produce something he wasn’t wholly conversant in. “It became terrifying to write for musical theater, because all these lofty people were encouraging me.”

A Catered Affair is his only show to open for a Broadway run, but his song cycles have been staples of regional theaters; Theatre 3’s Terry Dobson has been an especially enthusiastic supporter. (“I’m still not a musical theater geek just because I’ve done it,” he says.)

So how does he take responsibility for Wicked?

“Holly Near [for whom he has been a long-time accompanist] and I had gotten a gig to do a lesbian music festival on Maui. Stephen [Schwartz] was working on [the score for the animated film] Prince of Egypt in Los Angeles. I told him to come with me and we could hang out. He did. We were on a snorkeling trip with Holly and her partner and she said, ‘I just read the most interesting book.’” It turned out to be Wicked. When she described it to Schwartz, he immediately saw the potential to become a musical. “So if I hadn’t invited Stephen to vacation with us, it would never have happened!” Bucchino crows.

Bucchino acknowledges some have called his songs “not immediately hummable,” but that’s a good thing.

“That’s because you haven’t heard them before. I’d like to think that’s a reflection of my unique voice. What I go for in my writing is surprising inevitability — a chord progression or turn of phrase that makes you say, ‘I didn’t expect it to go there but, gee! How satisfying.’ I think the songs that are immediately memorable are derivative or formulaic in a way,” he says.

He also strives for a timelessness of sentiment, which is why, although often recorded by gay artists, his songs are usually gender neutral.

“If you look at the love songs on the Grateful CD, because I had not come out or to terms with my sexuality, I just decided not to use pronouns. There are no ‘he’ or ‘her,’ but ‘you.’ Maybe that’s a copout but also makes them more universal. We’re all people — gay or straight, male or female, we all go through the same stuff. I’m trying to reach that commonality which transcends gender or sexual orientation. Sometimes I wish my art were more overlapping into commerce, but I’m happy doing what I do.”

What’s the word? Oh, right: Grateful.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens