BY STEVE ROTHAUS
Richard Jay-Alexander is equally at home in Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall directing Barbra Streisand and Kristin Chenoweth, or in a South Beach gay bar listening to off-key karaoke.
“I support the arts. I go to things. Not just the big touring shows. I go to the little companies. I’ll go into the Design District. I’ll go see stuff at the little theater at the Arsht. I’m interested,” says Jay-Alexander, a full-time Miami Beach resident. “I am a busman’s holiday. So when people say, ‘What do you do to relax?’ It’s not like I have a coin collection or I go fishing. I’m reading a script or listening to a new musical. Or catching up on a singer. I love pop culture.”
Jay-Alexander has been part of the local scene for more than 20 years. His first friend here: Charles Cinnamon, dean of South Florida show-biz publicists. “To me, the most important person in my life in South Florida and the longest in terms of my heart and career choice is Charlie Cinnamon.”
On Wednesday, Cinnamon will accompany Jay-Alexander as he accepts a Legends Honor arts award from Unity Coalition, South Florida’s Hispanic LGBT rights group, at its annual Leaders, Legends & Lovelies Ball. Other 2014 honorees are Sebrina Maria Alfonso, founder and conductor of the South Florida Symphony Orchestra; producer and artistic director David Chacón Perez; and Pedro Pablo Peña, founder and artistic director of the International Ballet Festival of Miami.
Growing up as “Dickie Fernandez” in Syracuse, N.Y., Jay-Alexander says Unity Coalition's mission “speaks to me and I need to bang the drum a little bit.”
“I am Latino,” he says. “I’m Richard Jay-Alexander but I was born Richard A. Fernandez. Richard Alexander Fernandez.” He changed his name to join Actor’s Equity – the unions already represented actors named Richard Fernandez and Richard Alexander. He’s known as Richard Jay-.
Jay-Alexander says he grew up gay and bullied. “I was beat up. I still have a chip in my tooth that I kept on purpose to remind me of where I came from.”
After earning a theater degree in 1974 from State University of New York at Oswego, Jay-Alexander moved to New York City and got small acting jobs in the plays Zoot Suit and Amadeus. He soon became a dance captain and stage manager in producer Cameron Mackintosh’s organization.
His big break came in 1987, as executive producer and associate director of Mackintosh’s huge musical hit, Les Misérables.
In 1996, Jay-Alexander cast former Menudo singer Ricky Martin as Marius. “Everybody thought I was nuts to bring him to Broadway. They thought I was insane because nobody heard of him,” he says. “I saw him at Radio City Music Hall and got on my hands and knees and said, ‘Please come do this show.’”
Jay-Alexander says he and nightlife promoter Debbie Ohanian helped connect Martin with Miami composer Desmond Child, who in 1999 wrote the Latin singer’s first big English-language hit, Livin’ La Vida Loca.
After a falling out with Mackintosh, Jay-Alexander reinvented himself as a concert and recording director, working with musical stars including Bernadette Peters, Polly Bergen and Johnny Mathis.
In 2000, Streisand hired Jay-Alexander to take over direction of her “Timeless” tour. Their relationship blossomed and since then he has co-directed (with Streisand) all of her world tours.
“That girl has captured my heart,” he says of Streisand. “As I always say to people, I like her so much I forget how talented she is. Then she opens that mouth when we are working. It’s just a pretty spectacular experience.”
This week, he directed Streisand’s younger half-sister, Roslyn Kind, for her sold-out opening at New York City nightclub 54 Below. He has also worked with Bette Midler, Donna McKechnie and Chenoweth, who appears April 14 on Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live, with Andy Cohen, Real Housewife Vicki Gunvalson – and Jay-Alexander as “guest bartender.”
On May 3, Chenoweth performs at Carnegie Hall in a Jay-Alexander-directed concert, “The Evolution of a Soprano.”
“He has given me confidence, and has complete and utter belief in my talent,” Chenoweth tells the Miami Herald. “I have complete and utter confidence in him and his gifts.” (Scroll below for the complete quote.)
Jay-Alexander is confident and no-nonsense, particularly when it comes to his reputation.
“I’m passionate. It’s genuine. It gets me in trouble a lot, actually. Sometimes people can’t take it. I’m a tornado. You get a lot with me,” he says. “It’s a lot for people to handle and sometimes it’s like ‘We love you, but don’t get too close. We want you, but do it our way.’ I’ve learned to detect this now so I don’t get in trouble when I get hired. It’s hard. If you hire me, you have to be absolutely sure about what you want.”
Jay-Alexander is also not shy.
“The one huge thing that I teach people now is that in the morning, you open the door, wave to your neighbors and you plié for the paper. No more bending over at 60. I plié for the Miami Herald, I plié for The New York Times, I plié for The Hollywood Reporter, I plié for Variety and I close my door and I’m in my own world for the first two hours of the day.”
IF YOU GO
The Leaders, Legends & Lovelies Ball is 7 to 11 p.m. Wednesday at the Fillmore Miami Beach. Tickets $100. Click here to buy tickets.
In the video below, Richard Jay-Alexander sings at the New Year’s Eve 2012 Miami Beach wedding reception of TV weather anchor Sam Champion and artist Rubem Robierb.
Kristin Chenoweth on what it's like working with Richard Jay-Alexander:
It's a easy answer.
It's also a long winded one.
He is a bad influence on any trip to a mall. Or restaurant. He gets me to buy things I don't need.
He gets me to eat things I don't like!
However. In a rehearsal hall, he is invaluable. He has encouraged me to 'let go' of material that audiences expect of me. He has encouraged me and more importantly , Given me permission to try songs I would never normally touch, and tell my 'truth.' He has pushed me to greater heights more than I ever thought possible. He has given me confidence, and has complete and utter belief in my talent. I have complete and utter confidence in HIM and his gifts. He understands music at its deepest level, and he understands a true artist's process. He works with all his artists differently though, because each of us has our own process. That is another talent he processes....
Whoever he’s working with he gives of himself 100 percent. There is no stone unturned ,and Richard Jay works more diligently than me and I'm a crazy person, type A personality! He constantly impresses me with his knowledge of HISTORY of any given song.
So, while he may be a detriment to me when we've been to the mall, I can't imagine not having my Richard Jay to go through my concert life together. He is one of a kind. Singular. And he holds my heart. "