Monday, June 1, 2009

The Buddy Hackett Tenor

We all remember Buddy Hackett, right? The roly-poly comic was a fixture on sitcoms and late-night talk shows during the 60s, and headlined in Vegas for many years. He also appeared in a few musicals, including the film version of The Music Man (he sang a song called "Shipoopi," whatever the hell that means...) His comic trademarks were rubbery facial expressions and a spittle-spewing speech impediment, and live performances which were quite raunchy. He was never a favorite of mine, but his name has popped up regarding my gig at Wayside. When I was chatting about playing Sancho with our musical director, Steve called the role a “Buddy Hackett tenor,” and though I had never heard that term, I knew exactly what he meant.

Sancho Panza is written as a tenor, but does not, thankfully, require the pure sound of, say, Phantom of the Opera’s Raoul. Instead, it’s a character voice. The role, as written, is too high for my voice, which is much more comfy on lower baritone notes, a fact which did not seem to dissuade the Powers at Wayside from casting me. I’m glad they are taking a chance.

Our first week’s rehearsal was spent on music, and Steve proved himself to be one of those musical directors who cares more about the overall sound of the piece, and the comfort of the actors, than strictest adherence to the score. He has, quite magically, turned a huge musical into a chamber piece, with lots of guitar, bass, and exotic percussion, and the occasional clarinet and trumpet. He transformed the existing orchestrations, written for who knows how many pieces, into ones being played by only four people, and sometimes less. You would think the sound would be disappointing, but you would be wrong. The rustic, environmental sound which we are hearing from “Pitland” (which is onstage with us, as the music is being performed by the actors), suits our show far more than the larger, more Broadway-type sound normally accompanying the piece. It’s extremely exciting.

As for yours truly, I’m plugging along. In the choral numbers, Steve has wisely moved me to lower notes, and my solos are coming along, too (Sancho sings three numbers alone, and contributes to four or five more). But time is of the essence. We have been sharing director Warner and music director Steve with Totem Pole Playhouse, where they are remounting Cotton Patch Gospel ( I wrote about seeing the show last month here at Wayside). Two weeks of simultaneous rehearsals have not made it easy on anyone, and with apologies to Ray and Larry, my buddies in Gospel, I couldn’t care less how prepared their Totem Pole show is.

I want more Me of La Mancha Time.

This second week, we have been staging the musical numbers (there are more of them than you remember), and we’ll soon be heading into our final week, where, miraculously, this huge monster will come together (and during which I will be turning from sidekick into onstage prop rehearsals, for me, will be presenting another adventure in itself).