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Archive for July, 2015

‘Sophie Mania’ Returns

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

The Huffington Post
‘Sophie Mania’ Returns
By Katherine Kramer
June 30, 2015


I had the rare pleasure of seeing The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, a new documentary feature currently playing in select theaters. It opened the recent 2015 Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, and is a genuine “rags to riches” show business story that will inspire today’s performers and certainly empower women of all ages, shapes and sizes. The film is directed by Academy Award nominated filmmaker William Gazecki, and written and produced by Susan and Lloyd Ecker. “The Last Of The Red-Hot Mamas” Sophie Tucker was known as the “female Al Jolson” and she paved the way for such icons as Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Midler, Cher, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, even Amy Schumer.

The Eckers have been working on this in-depth documentary for eight years including immersing themselves in Tucker’s personal scrapbooks, interviewing numerous family, friends and show business personalities. Some of the on-camera interviews include Tony Bennett, Barbara Walters, Bruce Vilanch, Michael Feinstein, Carol Channing, narrated by David Hyde Pierce. Sophie Tucker was a pioneer, a woman ahead of her time as an entertainer, and a leader in Social Media. From 1906 through the beginning of television, her brash, bawdy style prevailed as a “star” attraction.

I spoke to the Eckers about their passion for getting Sophie’s story on screen, and they plan both a Broadway musical and feature film about The Outrageous Sophie Tucker. Is Sophie still relevant today? “Sophie represented that strong personable female voice that you see reincarnated today in performers such as Lady Gaga and Amy Schumer,” Lloyd Ecker explained. “Bette Midler started doing Sophie routines in her one-woman-shows which she still performs to this day, and Bette named her daughter Sophie. And Mae West was an early mentee of Mae West. Without Sophie there would not have been Mae West saying “Come up and see me sometime.” She was also a mentor to the young Judy Garland. According to Susan Ecker, “Sophie was the Forrest Gump of the first half of the 1900’s. She was close with U.S. Presidents, King George VI,young Queen Elizabeth, Charlie Chaplin, J.Edgar Hoover, Al Jolson, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, and every other notable of her era.”

Was she a feminist? “Sophie definitely believed a woman should receive equal pay to a man,” Lloyd Ecker stated. “When the suffragette movement came about, first she was against it, when it was in vogue, she was for it. Sophie Tucker fought for herself, created an environment and image, and rode the trends. But all she ever wanted was equal pay to a man.”

She sang “Some of These Days” and “After You’ve Gone” and she interpreted sex and innuendo in a way no woman had before her. Even though she was overweight, she stated boldly, “This is me. I’m comfortable in my own skin.” And if she were alive today, you can bet she’d be the Queen of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vines, Periscope and all forms of social media.

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker is an intriguing documentary feature that celebrated an original and lets us in on the creation of a Show Business Pioneer’s life and struggles.

Bruce Vilanch Hosted Very Successful Project Inform AIDS Walk Raising 2.7 Million Dollars July 19th

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Bay Area Reporter
AIDS Walk ‘re-energizes’ HIV fundraising
by Sampson McCormick
July 23, 2015


Last weekend’s AIDS Walk San Francisco saw a resurgence in fundraising that left organizers pleased, especially in light of donor fatigue when it comes to HIV/AIDS causes.

The July 19 event at Golden Gate Park saw about 20,000 participants raise $2.27 million for Project Inform, the lead nonprofit, and 42 other Bay Area agencies. The total is slightly larger than last year’s $2.24 million. (Last year, Project Inform said that $2.3 million was raised, but Executive Director Dana Van Gorder said a mistake was made in the 2014 projection.)

Under sunny skies last Sunday, walkers and others were upbeat during the opening ceremonies.

“We’ve taken major steps as a community, and in this country. We’ve achieved marriage equality, the Confederate flag has come down in South Carolina, the trans community will be able to serve in our military, and the Supreme Court has ruled that health care is a fundamental right,” declared an energetic Van Gorder from the podium in Golden Gate Park’s Sharon Meadow, referring to recent U.S. Supreme Court victories on marriage and health care, and recent news that top Defense Department brass are working on a plan to allow transgender people to serve openly in the military.

“The idea of that should give us the courage to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Van Gorder added.

The tone of the day was similar to that of an upbeat church revival, blended with the swagger of a neighborhood block party, a celebration of justice, community, and progress, all while serving as an urgent reminder of the need for diligence in a fight that a community is determined to conquer.

The event began with a crowd that filled most of the seats and lawn area of the meadow by 10 a.m., and there was never a dull moment as Culture Shock, a popular Oakland-based dance troupe, opened the ceremony, followed by a rousing gospel number from another Oakland-based group, The Messengers of Hope. The gospel choir was created and led by Ernest Larkins, 44, who’s lived with HIV for over 25 years. Larkins created the group, not only to sing songs of hope, but to challenge the views and stigma of HIV in the black church.

“There is a lot of work to be done, and music is how we push the message of hope in the community,” he said.

There were wide variations of messages delivered about the need for action and continued commitment in how the community battles the disease. Speakers and guests included AIDS Walk founder and senior organizer Craig R. Miller, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Joe Wilkins, elected officials, AIDS activists, and corporate sponsors.

Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian Bruce Vilanch served as emcee for the ceremony, helping to keep an already energetic crowd in good humor, praising the work of Project Inform and the steps being taken to further encourage safe-sex practices.

“It’s great that we have options like PrEP now, we take those around my house like Flintstones vitamins,” Vilanch quipped, referring to pre-exposure prophylaxis that studies show can prevent HIV if taken as prescribed.

While embracing the lighthearted references toward the new drug, Jen Dowd, a retail services manager at UCSF who has been participating in the AIDS walk for 14 of the 15 years that she’s been there, feels that public enlightenment around sexual health options is mandatory, and needs to continue in order to make a difference. Her motivation to attend AIDS walks, fundraise, and advocate for treatment options was fueled by an AIDS-related death of a close friend who was an event coordinator in 2006.

“If I can eliminate the amount of suffering of someone living with AIDS, I do what I need to do,” Dowd said.

UCSF boasted the top spot for AIDS Walk fundraising, raising over $107,000.

The attendees, varying in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and walk experience remained in good spirits throughout the six-mile trek. Afterwards they were treated to music from local bands and even an underwear show by Stag Condoms models, which work to make condom use look and feel sexy.

As the walk portion of the afternoon came to an end, participants were greeted at the finish line with more celebrating as AIDS Walk organizers announced the grand total raised. In a post-walk email, Van Gorder said that the fee paid to MZA, which produces the event, was $162,500, a decrease from a couple years ago.

VILLAIN: DEBLANKS to Benefit ASPCA Monday, July 27 at The Rockwell Table & Stage

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Broadway World
VILLAIN: DEBLANKS to Benefit ASPCA at Rockwell This Month
July 13, 2015


(VERB)____ until your sides hurt on Monday, July 27 at The Rockwell Table & Stage, where Villain: DeBlanks will be performed to benefit the ASPCA.

Starring six-time Emmy-winner Bruce Vilanch (Get Bruce!, “Hollywood Squares“), stunningly prolific Missi Pyle (Gone Girl, The Artist), three-time Tony-nominee Kevin Chamberlin (Disney’s “Jessie”), Tony-winner Annaleigh Ashford(“Masters of Sex,” Kinky Boots), omni-present voice artist/actor Robin Atkin Downes (How to Train Your Dragon, “The Strain”), and Tony-winner Daisy Eagan (The Secret Garden, Sunday Brunch of Shame), proceeds will benefit the ASPCA.

A Time Out NY Critics’ Pick written by Billy Mitchell, Villain: DeBlanks is an uproarious improvisational comedy where the cast says words you put in their mouths! The audience provides nouns, adjectives, and verbs (the wilder, the better), and the actors provide the laughs—uncensored and unrehearsed—as they enact the story of Philip DeBlanks’ untimely demise. It’s “Clue” meets adult “Mad Libs,” performed by some of the funniest people in show biz. Like a ride to summer camp in the back of a station wagon, this hilarious performance will be ridiculously one-of-a-kind.

Villain: DeBlanks benefit for ASPCA will play The Rockwell Table & Stage (1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA) on Monday, July 27. Show: 8pm. Cover charge is $10.00-$25.00 and there is a 2-item minimum per person. For tickets & information, call 323.669.2550 ext. 20, or visit

Bruce Vilanch In Provincetown August 20 – 22 With The Skivvies

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Bruce Vilanch and Nick Cearley, Lauren Molina (aka The Skivvies) and special guests will be in their underwear Aug 20-21-22 in Provincetown. They may even be walking in their undies during the Carnival Parade on Aug 20