Rich Flanders, 2015

Tell us a bit about your professional background.

I appeared on Broadway in “Shenandoah,” toured in the First National Company of “Annie,” and have recorded two albums of music of the American West, “Yondering” and “Ride Away,” which were critically well received. It was an honor to receive The Will Rogers Cowboy Award for “Yondering,” but what was even more special was the recognition we received for the song, “Thirteen Voices,” on the “Ride Away” album. Written by Ken DeAngelis and my late wife, Amy Ober, the song is a tribute to the Thirteen International Indigenous Grandmothers – elders from Cheyenne, Apache, Lakota, Tibetan, and various African, South American and Arctic native cultures dedicated to helping the world live in harmony with nature, to bring balance to the planet before it’s too late. “Thirteen Voices” was nominated Best Original Song by The Western Music Association, but even more meaningfully for me, was praised by The Grandmothers themselves and chosen by them to be broadcast at their 2010 global conference. That’s an honor that’s hard to top in my book because, for me, these are real “royalty.”

Upon graduation from The American Musical & Dramatic Academy, where I first knew Anne, I was hired as understudy for John Bowen’s Off-Broadway comedy, “Little Boxes,” starring Tony Tanner, then cast by Philip Burton as one of four performers for his revue of the American Musical, “Set to Music,” which toured colleges across the country. Years in stock, repertory and dinner theatre preceded the role in “Shenandoah” on Broadway. Performing that show at Wolf Trap in Washington DC for the 1976 Bi-Centennial Celebration was also a highlight.

After touring in “Annie,” I left the NY scene for a while, married, moved to the country, and for many years focused on becoming more financially independent by building a wellness enterprise with the Shaklee Corporation, a company similarly dedicated to helping people live in harmony with nature. I had experienced wonderful health benefits with the products, and helping others similarly has been a deeply fulfilling experience.

But no matter where we lived, I kept up the voice, singing in whatever genre offered itself, including a stint with a doo-wop group. Finally meeting up with Sarah and Broadway Concerts Direct put me solidly back on the performing track.

When and why did you become involved in Broadway Direct Concerts?

The greatest joy I ever experienced in this business was the two intensive years of training at The American Musical & Dramatic Academy, studying voice with Paul Gavert, acting with David Martin and Philip Burton, musical theatre with Karen Gustafson, on and on…and the four summers at Theatre by the Sea in Rhode Island. As performers, we blossomed in the warmth, freedom and encouragement those places offered, and it wasn’t until I met Sarah Rice and the Broadway Concerts Direct company that I again experienced that kind of magical atmosphere.

Sarah had a home near us in the Hudson Valley, and had gathered together a group of current and former Broadway, opera and cabaret performers for concerts. In 2006 she invited me to join the group for a benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity in Wurtsboro, NY. I was hooked from the start, and have missed only a couple of concerts since. The BCD rule of only performing songs you personally loved was irresistible, a performer’s dream come true. Equally appealing, to me, was the group of performers she’d gathered. You only have to look at the people drawn to BCD to see who Sarah is. They are not only high-caliber artists, but also kind, generous of spirit, and devoted to supporting and inspiring each other. That’s what performing should be about, but often isn’t. Seeing Anne, our latest member, come into her own at the concerts, has been an added joy.

Many collaborative projects have come out of the group, and some treasured friendships. Celia Berk showed up one night a few years back, and almost instantly we discovered that we loved harmonizing together, so much so that we developed a little cabaret show, “Double Standards,” and recorded some songs for iTunes and CD Baby. When Anne and I married, she and Sarah, and many of the cast, performed at our wedding. Seeing all the excitement and recognition over Celia’s first album, “You Can’t Rush Spring,” and her stunning cabaret debut at The Metropolitan Room has been deeply satisfying to all of us.

How do you pick songs?

This is a pivotal time. Whether you want to be part of it, or not, you are. Every action – every song – counts, one way or another, and more than ever before. So I make the most of what I sing. I only do songs I love, haunting melodies or rhythms I can’t shake loose of, or songs of such depth for our time, that I feel driven to sing them. And that, by the way, is all that our producer, Sarah Rice, exhorts us to do, “Sing only what you love!” Which makes for a win-win situation for both audience and performer alike.

My folks were in the Big Bands, and I grew up on the music of the swing era of the ’40’s. The rhythms and melodies of “the great American songbook” are in my blood, as are the best composers from the musical theatre of that time, like Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Lowe. Performers whom I like to think of as enlightened, like Peter, Paul & Mary, deeply inspire me as well.

I find I’m often most moved by music of the American West, such as The Sons of the Pioneers, music of earth, sky, and the great lone places, music that honors “all our relations,” as the Lakota say, two-legged, four-legged, furred, feathered or finned. A theme of my life seems to be about living in harmony with nature, honoring all of life. We’re in this together.

How do you prepare?

I sing a song over and over to work the music into my body and voice so that it becomes my own as much as possible. I make the lyrics personal to me. Usually, I hear arrangements in my head that I can then develop with the pianist.

What do you like about performing?

It’s just what I do. I need to get music from my heart into other people’s hearts, and when that happens, bullseye! Moving people, inspiring them, bringing them joy, hopefully making a difference…. it doesn’t get any better!