Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Theatre Droppings: New York, 1977

Fast Forward two years, to 1977, when I was just a toddler. The week between Christmas and New Year's, I was able to enjoy some Sondheim, some Strouse, some Shaw, some shivers, and a seductive Broadway debut.

I have confessed previously to have seen the musical revue Side by Side by Sondheim twice in a single week, due to the presence in the cast of Nancy Dussault and Hermione Gingold. Well, this is the week in which I did that unusual, slightly disturbing thing. In my own defense, the cast was top-notch, and Sondheim's music always benefits from repeated hearings.

I attended two other musicals that week in 1977, both of which held surprises for me.

I enjoyed the heck out of I Love My Wife for a few reasons. The comic lead was a gangly livewire named Lenny Baker, who had already won a Tony for this role. He dominated the show, but not to the exclusion of a sedate, subtle young woman making her Broadway debut. In a largely reactive role, Joanna Gleason made such an impression on me that I left the theatre wondering who the hell she was (according to the program, here is one of the things she was: Monty Hall's daughter, a fact which seems missing from her subsequent bios).

Nobody ever does I Love My Wife these days, despite its being a relatively small-cast show (only four principals, and an on-stage band; no orchestra needed) with a fun-filled score by Cy Coleman. It's very much a Period Piece, that period being the swinging 70s. I Love My Wife is about wife-swapping.

The other musical I saw that year was one of the biggest hits of the decade. I thoroughly enjoyed Annie, though for the first 20 minutes or so, I was confused. Not by the story, which was simplicity itself, but by the casting of a milque-toast young girl named Andrea McArdle in the title role. In those early scenes in the orphanage, she literally vanished among the group of livelier kids, who always took the focus from her. But about 20 minutes into the show, sitting on the floor of a blank stage, in a pinspot, with Sandy the dog curled up at her side, she revealed why she was in the show. As that anthem of optimism, Tomorrow, was belted by that naive little pre-teen, I swear the lighting fixtures in the theatre started to quiver. By the time she hit those final phrases, the walls were shaking, the seats were vibrating, and the audience's mouths were open.

Nobody could believe such a sound was coming out of such a young human.

McArdle was nominated for a Tony, but lost it, quite rightly, to her co-star, a woman who had been knocking around Broadway for years, appearing in flop after flop. With Annie, Dorothy Loudon became the success she had always deserved to be. Every comic moment landed perfectly in her performance, and her showstopping number, Easy Street, remains one of the most dynamic songs I have ever witnessed onstage.

I saw two straight plays during that trip, both of which were dominated by the star at their center. Frank Langella received raves for his reinterpretation of Count Dracula as a sexual being, and I have to admit his suave performance was a far cry from Bela Lugosi. Still, I don't remember much about this production, which was the basis for a movie version co-starring Laurence Olivier.

But this was one instance where I fulfilled that old adage, and left the theatre "humming the set." The design elements of Dracula, both sets and costumes, were handled by Edward Gorey, who was primarily known as the author of macabre short stories and cartoons. The Addams Family television series was in part based on his caricatures, and his drawings can still be seen in the opening credits of PBS's Mystery.

The last show I saw during this trip was my first George Bernard Shaw play, a production of Saint Joan, with Lynn Redgrave in the lead (and Robert LuPone, fresh from A Chorus Line, in support). I couldn't have known at the time that I would be meeting and, for one night, studying with Ms. Redgrave, almost 20 years later. While I was interning at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, Redgrave came to town specifically to conduct a Master Class for the younger members of the company. But there was a twist: this "class" took place in front of 400 patrons who had paid dearly for the chance to watch Lynn Redgrave teach. There were only a handful of us actors involved, all of whom performed a Shakespearean monologue. Redgrave was a truly gracious coach, and the evening was a successful one, partially due to her ability to calm our nerves in the green room before the class began. She brought out a slim volume of Shakespeare which had belonged to her father, Sir Michael Redgrave, and explained that she never went onstage without spending a moment holding this worn, dog-eared, cloth-bound book. We all took our turn with this mysterious ritual; we were not about to decline this chance to participate in such a Redgravian tradition.

The theatrical voodoo worked, and that evening remains one of the most exciting and fulfilling I have ever spent on any stage, anywhere.

A few years later, Lynn premiered her one-woman show, Shakespeare for My Father, which dealt with her complicated relationship with her dad, and I'm sure she spent a moment backstage before every performance with that slender volume she inherited from him. I imagine she did the same back in 1977, right before that performance of Saint Joan which introduced me to Shaw, and to this extraordinary actress.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I'm not much good at waiting, which is a shame, since I spend so much of my life doing it.

Tonight is a perfect example.

This afternoon, I attended an audition at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. I've auditioned there at least once a year for, I don't know, 6 years or so. I always get great response from the auditors before hearing nothing. Today's issues were Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew. I was particularly interested in the former, as it has several good roles for me, and is being directed by a lovely woman who has always been enthusiastic about my work. We had a long discussion about my participation in Shear Madness, which will overlap 12th Night rehearsals a bit.

That is, it MAY overlap. I heard today that the closing date of the spring company of Shear has not been finalized, so it's entirely possible that there will be no conflict. Or, it's possible that the Shear contract may extend, putting me out of the running for the Balto Shakes gig completely.

So, tonight, I wait for word on a callback while I wait for word on exactly how long my commitment to Shear Madness will be.

There's more waiting to be done, too. Tonight, at a gala cocktail party or something, the annual Helen Hayes Award Nominations are being announced. I really hope my director for Opus, Steve Carpenter, receives a nod, as he certainly deserves one. (The last time I worked with Steve, he got one, so maybe I'm his good luck charm?) I suppose there is also a slight possibility that the show itself could be nominated, either as Best Resident Production (that one is not very likely, as the smaller, low-budget shows are usually overlooked in this category), or in the new category of Best Ensemble.

It would be a nice boost for the Washington Stage Guild to get some publicity with a nomination, as the company is not producing any fully staged shows this season.

So, there's waiting to be done.

Waiting for a callback.

Waiting for a contract length.

Waiting for a kudo.

Not waiting for a cocktail, though. I'm no good at waiting.

That's why I drink.

Phone Rings, Door Chimes, In Comes "Company"

The new video of last season's Broadway revival of Company is a welcome addition to the Sondheim on Screen collection, about which I have already written.

Seeing it reminded me of the acclaimed Sondheim Festival which ran at the Kennedy Center back in 2002. KenCen produced six full-scale productions, and imported one from Japan (Pacific Overtures). I saw five of the six, but as finances are always a consideration in my life (Welcome To The Theatre), I skipped Passion, which I just can't bring myself to admire.

The five shows I did see were successful for me in varying degrees. I had the biggest problems with Sunday in the Park with George, which surprised me because the piece always moves me greatly. The concept at KenCen, however, placed the action in an art gallery, with the actors moving among paintings on easels, a distinct departure from the original concept. I never got used to it, and as such, came away disappointed in the production, and in its leading man, Raul Esparza.

But when I saw Merrily We Roll Along, I started to wonder if I had misjudged Mr. Esparza. Here he tore up the stage as Charley, and with the terrific Michael Hayden as Frank (the only production of Merrily I have run across in which Frank is sympathetic), they produced the single most memorable, most moving moment of the Festival. When, as college chums hanging out on the roof, waiting for Sputnik to appear in the sky, they sang hopefully of "Our Time," I embarrassed myself by breaking into tears.

I don't have strong memories of A Little Night Music, which surprises me, as it starred one of my favorite quirky actresses, Blair Brown. One of the Festival's few major casting missteps happened with this show, in the casting of Barbara Bryne as Madame Armfeldt. Ms. Bryne has a long history playing Sondheim mothers, having created both Jack's Mother in Into the Woods and George's Mother in Sunday in the Park. But as Desiree's mother in Night Music, she was pretty lackluster. I never for a moment believed this woman, in her prime, could have been granted a duchy for her sexual exploits with the King of the Belgians.

Surely the starriest of the Celebration was Sweeney Todd, with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baransky. They were both exceptional, and I fell in love with Baransky, who completely erased images of Angela Lansbury in the role. (I later enjoyed her in another Lansbury role, Mame, in a production which was rumored to be moving on to New York, but didn't.)

Which brings me back to where I started, Company. At the Kennedy Center, the main attraction was Lynn Redgrave as Joanne. I am a big fan of the younger Redgrave (I have a personal memory of her Master Class which I will save for another blog entry), but the night I saw the show, she was having vocal problems and came off a bit growly. But then, the creator of the role was Elaine Stritch, so nobody really cared. At the center of this Company, in fact billed above the title, was John Barrowman. A very pretty man, with a strong set of pipes, but he succumbed to what I think is a common problem with Company: everybody surrounding Bobby is more interesting, and he often fades into the background. It's hard to be dynamic when the role requires so much observing.

In this respect, then, the most recent Broadway Company's Bobby(Raul Esparza, by coincidence) had a distinct advantage. I cannot judge how he came off in the theatre, but with the benefit of screen close-ups of his reactions on the recently released video, he became the center of the piece. In fact, everyone involved with this Company came off very well, including the book writer, George Furth. In the past I have found some of the scenes unrealistic and a bit cunning, but in this production, the strength of the book writing came through. I confess that I was not wild about the concept of the cast playing their own music, which has become something of a trademark for director John Doyle. Perhaps it worked better in the theatre, but on screen, I just could not get used to seeing the actors hauling around their instruments while they were, you know, acting. Hard to infuse your character with emotional realism while nonchalantly holding a French Horn.

But I enjoyed the staging of this revival very much. There was no dancing at all; instead, the almost constant movement of the actors, including those on the periphery, reinforced the restlessness of this group of New Yorkers. I bet in the theatre it was real dynamite.

But please, get rid of those horns...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Theatre Droppings: Catholic Tastes

I saw three local productions this week, all of which included a zealous Catholic influence.

I caught up with The Tricky Part at Signature Theatre on its last day. Martin Moran wrote and performed the one-man piece, and has been doing the show, off and on, for several years (in fact, the show was announced for last season at Signature, but Moran landed a gig in Broadway's Spamalot and postponed). I found this piece to be both touching and alarming. Moran is a quiet, ingratiating presence onstage, as he wanders out from the wings and begins chatting with the audience. Gradually, his story unfolds, and the picture of himself as a child, which sits on the table behind him, takes on added significance. The show is well-directed, and the climax of the piece, in which Moran reads from his journal, is set apart from the rest of the show, as it should be. It's a horrific story of child abuse, and a redemptive story of healing, all told in Moran's eloquently quiet, conversational style.

Olney Theatre Center, the scene of one of my recent crimes, is producing the John Patrick Shanley winner, Doubt. The buzz in the lobby beforehand was all about the touring production which had swung through DC a little while back, with Tony winner Cherry Jones in the central role of the Nun on a Mission. So, local actress Brigid Cleary had her work cut out for her, and in fact, I haven't read a single review of her work that did not mention Cherry Jones. So perhaps I had an advantage because I had never seen the play, and I could absorb Olney's production on its own merits. It's a terrific piece of writing, and is well-played by this cast. As with The Tricky Part, the abuse of an adolescent by a member of the clergy is at the center of the show, though here, we are never really sure if the abuse took place. Doubt will continue to generate debate through this production, and through the upcoming release of the film version, with Meryl Streep taking the role of the accusatory Sister Aloysius.

Keegan Theatre is remounting their 2003 production of Brendan Behan's The Hostage, a show which figures in my professional history. Back in LA, I appeared in a production directed by my late mentor and coach, Bobbi Holtzman, so of course, I'm sure her direction is superior to any others I may encounter. But I can say without hesitation that Keegan's Dave Jourdan, playing the central role of "Pat," is far superior to the sour, embittered actor with whom I worked. (In one of her few missteps, Bobbi hired a broken down old drunk to play a broken down old drunk. Big mistake.) But back to Keegan's production. It's a large and unwieldy script, full of musical diversions and audience interactions, but I think Keegan did a creditable job. I'm afraid some of the dialogue was lost to the audience, a result of poor projection of thick Irish brogues, and frequent clompings of actors' feet as they stomped up the stairs and onto the upper platform which framed the playing area.

The story concerns the Irish Republican Army's abduction of an English soldier to be held hostage, in retaliation for the Brits having condemned one of their own IRA boys to die. Joe Baker is goofily likable in the title role, and in fact, all of the major roles were very well played. As so often happens in a non-union production, the actors surrounding the leads were occasionally a bit wobbly, but I came away with a renewed affection for this unusual play, as well as lots of memories of my production so many years ago.

(that's me, standing in the "O", as hustler/crossdresser Rio Rita)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Theatre Droppings: New York, 1976

I have realized that my previous entry, covering my '75 trip to New York, was incomplete. On that excursion, I actually saw one more Broadway show, though technically, it was not in 1975 but rather in 1976. On New Year's Day, 1976, our group was returning to LA in the evening, giving us all a chance to attend a matinee beforehand. We spread out in various directions, to catch one more show before heading home. No one else was interested in my choice so, by myself, I attended the very first New York performance of Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures. I was very excited to view the beginning of what was sure to be a long and healthy run (it wasn't). I took an immediate liking to this strange story, told in Japanese kabuki style but with an exciting Broadway bent. The music, which has become my favorite of all Sondheim's scores, is an eclectic mix of traditional-sounding Japanese music and top-drawer American musical theatre. The audience seemed a bit confused by the episodic book, which concerned the prying open of Japan's hermetically sealed civilization by foreign forces. Sounds pretty dry, but the story was engagingly told by various participants and observers who would wander onstage, tell their small part of the story, then disappear.

Ah, but that score! "Welcome to Kanagawa," sung by a Madam instructing her new recruits on proper seduction techniques, "Chrysanthemum Tea," sung by the Shogun's mother as she adroitly poisons her son, and "Pretty Lady," perhaps the most gorgeous of the songs, sung by three British sailors to a shy young woman, right before they attempt her rape. The score contains two absolute showstoppers: "Please Hello" opens Act II with various Western ambassadors steamrolling their way into Japanese affairs, and "Someone in a Tree," an ingenious sequence covering the first treaty negotiations, a song which is reportedly Sondheim's personal favorite of all his songs ever written.

Sadly, Pacific Overtures has never caught on like some other of Sondheim's shows. Neither an off-Broadway revival in 1984, nor a major Broadway revival in 2004, generated much interest, and most think of it as one of Sondheim's "interesting" pieces. But I think it's terrific.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bill Hamlin

The DC theatre community is struggling with the loss of one of our elder statesmen, Bill Hamlin. He passed away yesterday after a battle with lung cancer.
I never had the opportunity to work with Bill, though he was a true gentleman to me the few times we met. And I witnessed many of his performances on various local stages such as the Washington Stage Guild, Theatre J, Everyman, and The Shakespeare Theatre.

He was at home in a wide variety of styles. Here he is in Shaw's The Philanderer at Washington Stage Guild.

Here he is in one of the most hilarious of his recent performances, in Michael Hollinger's Incorruptible, also at the Stage Guild.

In his last weeks, Bill's theatrical family rallied around his bedside, which must have made his final days easier. I hope he had a happy, fulfilled life.

Rest in peace, Bill.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Theatre Droppings: New York, 1975

I saw some memorable things during my first trip to New York in 1975. I was still in my stroller, of course, but sufficiently advanced to recall some specifics.

I have bragged many times that I witnessed true theatrical magic in the original production of Chicago. Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, and Jerry Orbach played the hell out of the piece, which was not a financial success during its initial run. (Nowadays, of course, it is the longest running revival of anything on Broadway.) I remember being impressed with Verdon and Orbach, but Rivera was the one who really blew me away. I left the theatre thinking she stole the show from the legendary Verdon, and I was sure she would win the Tony for her smashing performance. Alas, the steamroller that was A Chorus Line couldn't be stopped that year, and Donna McKechnie won instead.

McKechnie was such a sensation, she not only landed the Tony, she landed on the cover of Newsweek. It seems a cliche to say so, but the night I attended A Chorus Line remains one of the most breathtaking evenings I have ever experienced in a theatre. It's difficult to imagine now, but back in 1975, it was unheard of that a dancer could also fill the theatre with her singing, then knock your socks off with her spoken words. But everyone in the original Chorus Line accomplished that feat, and when, after more than 2 unrelenting, riveting hours, the show ended, I couldn't get out of my seat. A new type of musical was born with that production, and a new Broadway inhabitant was birthed as well: the Triple Threat. And they were all superb, from Pamela Blair's hilarious "Val" (Dance:10, Looks:3) to Kelly Bishop's Tony-winning "Sheila" to Priscilla Lopez, who brought the house down with her comic rendition of Nothing, then belted out what would become a show biz anthem, What I Did For Love. And of course, Sammy Williams, the shrimpy little dancing boy, shut the show down cold with, of all things, a monologue. Standing still in a spotlight, hands jammed into his jeans pockets, he told the story of growing up gay in an immigrant household, and in that moment, he forever shattered the illusion that dancers were not actors. (He won the Tony, too.)

Chicago and A Chorus Line were worth the price of the trip, but I saw four more productions during that first excursion to New York. A young actor/writer from the revue Beyond the Fringe, Alan Bennett, was just launching his career as a playwright back then, and he was represented on Broadway by Habeas Corpus, a farcical comedy which starred one of my favorite aging British sexpots, Rachel Roberts. It was her presence which attracted me to the production, though the cast also included Jean Marsh, who had recently won the Emmy for Upstairs, Downstairs. This was a pretty starry cast for such a light-weight piece of fluff: Roberts and Marsh were joined onstage by Celeste Holm (who has her own Dance Party in these pages) and June Havoc (remember June Havoc? Her early childhood had already been splashed across the musical stage in Gypsy, I wrote an obit for her here). Playwright Bennett went on to write The Madness of King George III and The History Boys and much more. According to my program of the show, I also saw a young actor who would soon move to Hollywood and become one of the country's biggest sex symbols: Richard Gere (I don't remember him in the play. He must have been dressed).

Another comedy I saw that week remains burnished in my memory as two examples of spectacular comic acting, and both performances were given by actresses better known for their dramatic work. I couldn't believe my luck when I read about Absurd Person Singular, which included in its six member cast, two of my all-time favorite actresses, Sandy Dennis and Geraldine Page. On the same stage! At the same time! Dennis's performance was darkly comic, illustrated at the top of the second act, when she, wordlessly, attempted to commit suicide in her own kitchen, while her husband obliviously prattled on and on about his disappointing career. This doesn't sound very funny in the retelling, but I have rarely laughed so hard in a theatre.

Act Three was Page's time to shine, as a drunken grande dame. For reasons I don't remember, she ended up on the floor, crawling across the stage in a full-length mink coat and martini in hand. Believe me, it all made sense at the time, and was hysterical.

Another straight play I saw during that trip in '75 had already been running for quite a while. I don't know exactly when Equus first opened on Broadway, but its original stars were gone by the time I caught up with the show. I was pleased to catch Francis Sternhagen still in the cast, as Alan's mother. The troubled teen at the center of the story, who blinds six horses because of a convoluted psycho-sexual trauma, was played by a totally unknown, totally nude Tom Hulse. The doctor who treats him, originally played by Anthony Hopkins, was by then being played by Anthony Perkins. Yes, that Anthony Perkins. The guy from Psycho.

I've seen close to a dozen productions of Equus over the years, but that first Broadway production was the only one in which I found the doctor to be creepier than the patient.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


As usual around here, the weathercasters wreaked havoc with their dire predictions of a Winter Storm, due to hit DC this afternoon. Events were canceled, schoolkids were sent home, disaster loomed. But instead, we received a light dusting of the biggest, fluffiest snow flakes imaginable.

So, tonight, for the first time in a very long while, I lit a fire. The crackling makes one of the most relaxing (and most exciting. Go figure...) sounds in all of Nature.

A simmering fire, a martini with all the trimmings, and all is well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Getting With the Program

My previous rant against Manhattan started me wondering just how many New York shows I have seen over the years. There is one way to tell, by digging out my programs.

When I first started attending professional shows, I saved every program, but that collection soon grew way out of hand. If I had continued that habit, I would now need a separate building to house so many tons of paper. So, I do not have concrete evidence of all the shows I have seen. It's too bad, because those first shows I attended, as an early teen, all live on in my memory. Growing up in Atlanta, I saw several seasons of Theatre of the Stars, the summer stock company which brought in mid-level celebrities to star in various older shows.

It was there that I saw one of my favorite clowns, Paul Lynde, in Neil Simon's Plaza Suite, starring opposite Elizabeth Allen, who went on to costar as his wife in his sitcom. During those summers, I also saw Joel Grey in 1776, only a year before he won his Oscar, Ann Blythe in The Sound of Music (she was waaaaaay too old), and Betty Grable in Hello, Dolly! Guess who swung through town as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof? Leonard Nimoy.

Vincent Price came through Atlanta as Fagin in Oliver, and as I was only about 12, you would think I would have imagined myself as Oliver, or more likely, the Artful Dodger. But no, I came away from the show wanting to play Fagin. It remains on my list of roles to play.

Well, I'm glad I still have those memories, because I long ago threw out the programs.
But I made a point of keeping all the programs from Broadway shows I have seen over the years. Yesterday, I rummaged around downstairs and found them. Some of them have not been examined in over 30 years.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that a group of us from college made the trip from LA to NY several times, and my programs verify that memory. I took trips to Manhattan in late 1975, in late 1977, again in 1978, then again in 1991. Over that period, I saw well over 30 productions, including some masterpieces and some mistakes.

I've made a cursory examination of these programs from the past, and have found some really surprising stuff. I'll sort it all out, and report back my findings.

You can't wait, can you?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

So Many Possibilities

I have a love/hate relationship with New York. I'm in the hate phase these days.

For many years I was in the love phase. Those were the "tourist" years, back when I was in college, and a group of us made the trip from LA, every year, the week between Christmas and New Year's. We made the trip solely to see shows, and, with the holiday matinees staggered throughout the week, one could see 10 or 12 shows if you tried hard enough.

And I always did. Rather than spend a lot of time on touristy traps, we spent our time On Broadway (and occasionally, Off-). I have already mentioned that these trips afforded me the chance to see many now classic shows with their original casts.

In the same week, for example, I saw the original Chicago, with legends Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, and Jerry Orbach, and the original A Chorus Line, right after it moved uptown from the Public Theatre.

But I never go to NY these days to see a show. I bet I've only seen two or three there in the past decade. Instead, my NY trips are simply schlepps north, looking for work. I am only brought to the City That Never Sleeps when I have an audition there.

I used to look forward to these audition trips. I had some nice success with them early on, right after I finished grad school. In fact, the very first time I ever went to NY for an audition, I booked the gig. It was with Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, and it began a relationship which continues to this day. I've already written about that theatrical birth in a previous blog.

I've had limited success with other Manhattan auditions. Most of them run together in my fading memory, but I do recall one or two with some humor. Every time I'm summoned to NY to attend one of these overcrowded monsters, I try to remember one instance years ago. I don't even remember what the gig was, but I had been given some sides to study out in the hallway before being called in to read. This ante-chamber served as the waiting area for at least a dozen auditions happening in various rooms at this rehearsal studio. So, many people were sitting around in states of nervousness (or feigned indifference, or what have you), preparing to be called into the Principal's Office.

I couldn't help noticing an odd duck among us, a young man with (what's the PC term these days?) a developmental handicap. He had clearly wandered in off the street, looking for something to audition for. He was seated excitedly among us, waiting for someone, anyone, to come out of one of the doors so he could announce his intention to audition.

I glanced up at him, and he beamed a huge grin at me. "So many doors!" he exclaimed with wonderful anticipation. "So many possibilities!"

I remember that guy every time I am called up to one of those horrible rehearsal studios where auditions are held. Sometimes, it helps.

Here's one time it did. The gig was a summer stock production of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. After performing my standard monologue, the director proceeded to tell me all about his concept for this production. Shakespeare's treatise on Young Love, Courtly Behavior, and Growing Up, was to be set in...outer space.

The director got more and more excited, telling me all about this new interpretation which would shed so much light on Shakespeare's play, including the fact that it would take place on the Planet Navarre. I kid you not, the Princess and her ladies were to arrive on Navarre via spacecraft from (wait for it): The Planet France (my first thought was, "are they coneheads?", but I kept my mouth shut).

Though the four sets of lovers would all be human in appearance, the rustics local to the Planet Navarre (Costard, Holofernes, Nathaniel, etc) would be in alien form. Don Armado and his page, Moth, would be visiting from the Planet Spain.

I could feel my eyes glaze over as I smiled and nodded and tried to react enthusiastically to each more outrageous concept (I needed the job). I was given a speech of Boyet's (attendant to the Princess of France) to look over, out in the hall. Ten minutes later, I was called back into the room to impress everyone with my mastery of rhyming iambic couplets. But, only a second before I opened my mouth to begin, the director proclaimed, "Oh, by the way, you're an android."

The next 90 seconds are a complete blank in my memory; I only came to when I escaped from the room.

I booked the gig, and the highlight of the Centennial Theatre Festival's 2000 season was "Love's Labour's Lost in Space."

So many possibilities...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

(Don't) Stop The Madness

There is finally something coming down the turnpike at me, and it's not a runaway truck. It is instead a return to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where I will once again be appearing in their resident production of Shear Madness.

It's always fun to be a part of their spring cast, which works only four days a week. The city is overwhelmed with tourists during the spring, largely due to school trips, and Shear has shrewdly taken advantage of that fact. For about 15 weeks from March to June, two complete and separate casts cover a total of 12 performances of the show per week.

There is a reason this show celebrated its 20th anniversary in DC last August. It is extremely well-produced.

I'm sure I will be blogging more as we begin rehearsals next month. In fact, I will get less than a week's worth, as the director will be spending much more time on the two newbies joining the cast for the first time. The remaining four cast members have done the show before, so less personal attention is needed.

As I've noted before, Shear Madness is the most fun gig in town, and also the most challenging. Look out!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Roy Scheider


It's Showtime.

Album Droppings: Unexcused Absences

I deserve a pink slip for some of the gross oversights in my CD collection.

I have finally reached a resting point in my mammoth undertaking: the transfer of my vinyl record collection to digital format.

It's taken over three months, but I have now completed the bulk of my task. But there is still plenty of work to do. I have about a hundred records which are not cast albums or soundtracks. Believe it or not, I actually purchased many "regular" albums, by "regular" musical artists.

But before I launch into that chasm, I have to confess that there were some very serious oversights regarding my theatrical collection.

I transferred well over a hundred albums, but I skipped about a hundred others. These were albums which fell into one of two categories: they were either pieces which I had already purchased on CD, or they are shows which I have decided I really don't need on home-made CD. Among those in the latter category are such items as the original Guys and Dolls (don't need it, I've got the Nathan Lane revival on CD. So sue me.), or the soundtrack to Flashdance (what was I doing with that, I wonder?).

But I have run across a handful of albums which I never re-purchased on CD, and should have. These items are imperative to have in digital form, and it is incomprehensible to me that I overlooked purchasing them, when they became available at the CD store.

The most egregious example of my neglect is certainly the original cast recording of Sweeney Todd. Yes, I have the recent Patty LuPone revival, which is terrific, but why the hell I don't have the original Angela Lansbury / Len Cariou / Victor Garber recording on CD is just incomprehensible. The vinyl release is a double album set, and includes the controversial sequence which is almost always cut these days, the judge's self-flagellation scene. God, that's good!

I'm also surprised that I never purchased the original cast album of Chicago, considering I saw the production live. Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach, supported by Mary McCarty and Barney Martin, all sharing the theatre with me, and I never bothered to pick up the CD? Whatever happened to class?

Oh, and while I'm thinking about Kander and Ebb musicals, I'm stunned that I never purchased the CD release of an album I listened to hundreds of times in high school, the film soundtrack of Cabaret. This film may be the perfect example of how to translate a stage show to film, without alienating a modern audience.

Of course, I didn't recognize that at the time, all I knew was, I wanted to play the Emcee.

(and in 1989, I did.)

There are a couple of other film soundtracks which I have on vinyl, and should have purchased on CD. Hard to believe, but I never tracked down the soudtrack to Funny Girl, which is surely Barbra Streisand's finest film musical. I almost wore out my vinyl copy. I have the Broadway cast album, but Streisand really came into her own in the film, and the soundtrack is testimony to that. Everyone says it contains the finest recording of "People" she ever sang, but I'm not so sure (I think she always sang it better live, in concert). But it definitely contains the most exciting rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade" ever recorded.

What did I have that I don't have? The soundtrack to On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, though again, I have the Broadway album. The movie was not all that effective, due to the unfortunate miscasting of Yves Montand as the male lead, but our Babs is a quirky hoot, and sings the score much better than Barbara Harris, who played it on Broadway.

And what am I doing without a single CD of Sweet Charity? I don't know. I've transferred my album of Gwen Verdon's original cast recording, but I can't really understand how the years went by without my ever having purchased any digital recording of this classic show. There's gotta be something better than this...

If my friends could see me now...

In a day or two, it's time to start on the next section of my project. It's time to tranfer all my other music to CD. I'm hoping this goes a bit faster. I know I purchased a great many of these albums just to get a single song. I have the ability to transfer just one track from a full-length album, and I have a hunch I'll be doing that a lot.

It will be an eclectic group. I have everything from Gloria Gaynor to Joan Rivers to Billy Idol to Flip Wilson to Melanie to Dionne Warwick to Glen Campbell to Lily Tomlin to...well, you get the picture.

As before, the best place to start is at the beginning.: