Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Performing Howard Ashman

A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing honor of singing in the cabaret event, “Gone Too Soon: A Tribute to Howard Ashman” at the Metropolitan Room in NYC.

It is always so wonderful being able to sing with some of my favorite performers, including Adam Shapiro and Janice Hall. But as the concert date approached, I realized that the event was fulfilling a long held dream I had forgotten I had: offering my own interpretation of Howard Ashman’s amazing lyrics.

The event's host, Adam Shapiro, reached out to me and said that each singer would get to perform two songs, and though I could choose anything I wanted he hoped that I would be willing to sing, “Part of Your World.” I was so thrilled and said yes immediately, and then made my own special request - would he be willing to join me for the duet, “Suddenly Seymour” (a long held favorite of mine)? He agreed, and my challenge was set.

The performance was scheduled for January 19, exactly two weeks after my last round of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, I had caught a severe chest cold during the holidays which my poor, compromised immune system could not fight off, and it was lingering well into January. I started to worry if I would be able to perform fully. I laid low and did all of the things singers do to preserve their voices - limited my talking, upped my intake of water and local organic raw honey, steamed until my asthma got the best of me, practically freebased slippery elm and licorice root, and packed in all of the antioxidants I could muster. The day of the show arrived, and I was (thankfully) in full voice and ready to perform.

When I got to the venue for sound check something hit me. I had been spending all of my time worrying about my body being able to perform that I forgot the magnitude of what I was about to do. My god - I was about to sing two classic Howard Ashman songs at his tribute! I immediately started tearing up, and nostalgia set in. I was transported back to my childhood when the renaissance of Disney began to take hold, with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. I was transformed into my childhood self who wore out her little record player, then cassette recorder, then CD player with the full gamut of Disney albums. With those deep memories came the dreams and hopes present in any child whose whole life is ahead of them. It’s not a cliche - I truly felt like a kid again.

But there was a somber air to the performance as well. Howard Ashman died 25 years ago from complications from AIDS. The tribute was not only a celebration of his music but also of his life, which was snuffed out too quickly. And I sat there throughout the concert realizing, “My god. I also have a life threatening illness, just as indiscriminate as HIV. Will my life be snuffed out too early, too?” It brought to the surface so many fears, and I ached for what Howard and his friends & family must have experienced.

In the end, I was left with how lucky I was to be able to share my personal expression with so many people that evening. How art is the great connector that transcends all of the barriers that tear a community apart. It made me even more determined to continue to make art happen, even if conventional wisdom says I should be laying low.

I didn't get any photos or recording of this event, but I have performed & recorded a version of "Part of Your World" in the past (with a surprise comedy bit added.) Check out the video, with the incomparable Cris O'Bryon on piano. 

As always, thank you for your support. If you're looking for ways to help, you can check out this blog post with my wish list, which is making all the difference in the world. 

Erin :)

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit

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