Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Dream A Little Dream in a Paper Bag

The anniversary of Cass Elliot's death is today, so she is the star of this week's Dance Party. As one of my favorite old-timers, she has graced these pages several times in the past, including one of the more bizarre clips in the history of this series. In fact, the very song which Elliot is singing below appeared here, in a very different context, last year, when I was reminiscing about the little British film, Beautiful Thing.

This particular tune is the biggest hit Cass had as a solo artist (in fact, though it is remembered as her breakout solo hit, the song was recorded with Elliot's group The Mamas and The Papas, with Cass singing the lead. As the release date neared for the single, the group was clearly falling apart, so ABC/Dunhill, the record company in question, gave Cass separate billing on the recording, a move which angered Papa John Phillips and which hastened the group's disintegration). Her rendition of this song, which was written way back in 1931 and recorded by Ozzie Nelson's band and everybody else under the sun, has become the definitive version. And it crosses my mind, and lips, during every performance of The Nerd, in which I have been appearing at Wayside Theatre.

There is a moment in this very silly comedy in which the characters play a parlor game dreamed up by the eponymous nerd. The rules involve shoes, socks, and paper bags, as you can see:

During the game, the contestants are required to stick their fingers in their ears, turn around in circles, and hum. This ain't Noel Coward, folks, but it gets its share of guffaws. The song which I inevitably hum under that paper bag is "Dream a Little Dream of Me." I have a hunch it does not rival the rendition below. We're still playing your music, Cass!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Good Samaritan and the Unexpected Understudy

It was a pretty hectic two weeks, getting The Nerd up and running out at Wayside Theatre, more on that in a mo'. But I was very, very glad to pull up to my condo building late Sunday afternoon. After an awkward matinee that day (during which I knocked a full cup of drawing pencils off the table, dumping dozens of pencils onto the stage floor, gotta love live theatre), and a very hot 90 minute drive back to DC, I was ready to relax for a few days. 'Twas not to be.

Monday morning, as I was lazily preparing to head out into the heat to run some errands, my cell phone rang. A woman who does not know me, nor I her, was calling in a neighborly fashion, to alert me that a black bag had been delivered to her doorstep in the middle of the night. According to the label, the bag belonged to me.

I hurried downstairs with a sinking feeling which was justified as soon as I stepped outside. My car had been burgled in the night, the glove box had been ransacked, and my trunk emptied. Well, not completely emptied: the thief had left behind the skanky towels I use at the gym. But the black bag which contained my laptop was gone. I was feeling quite the fool as I walked around the corner to the neighbor's house to retrieve my empty bag. (Well, again, the bag was not completely empty: the thief had apparently been unimpressed with my 8x10 headshots, and had left them behind. Everybody's a critic.)

It was my own stupidity which made the Big Heist possible. My car was not broken into, I had apparently left it unlocked. And it was more stupidity which persuaded me my laptop would be safe overnight in the trunk. For several hours on Monday, I kicked myself for my oversight, even as I recognized the ridiculousness of the feelings. I, the victim, was feeling guilty, while the perp was happily walking around with my laptop. (And several dollars worth of quarters, which he had also snatched from the car. Even lowlifes have to feed the meters in DC.)

Such things happen regularly when living in urban settings, which is where I choose to live, so what the hell. I suppose I should feel lucky that the sleaze did not know how to start a car without a key, as I drive a Honda Civic, and I'm told they are prized on the hot car market.

I was feeling violated for a couple of hours, but it is amazing how a gig improves my mood, no matter what is going on. The Nerd is in full swing now, after a rocky final rehearsal period.

One of our actors took ill only a few days before our opening, and it was determined that he could not perform our first weekend. Wayside, like most theaters its size, cannot afford understudies, so our director stepped into the breach. Luckily, Bill Higgle is an actor as well as director, with strong comedic chops which he showed to great advantage during our two preview performances, and again opening night. After only two rehearsal days, he was able to bring a lively tempo and hysterical timing to the character, which is several decades too old for him, but nobody cared. Bill infused his time on stage with real drive, and his performance proved the pace necessary for his scenes to be truly funny. I had a great time with Bill onstage, and was sorry to see him return to DC, his home base, once his performance was no longer needed. The experience was another in a long line of "The Show Must Go On" stories which all actors cherish.

We have two more weeks of the show, afterwhich, who knows what's coming next?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Dance Party: The Monkees At The Movies

The stars of this week's Dance Party are all repeat offenders. The Monkees have appeared in these pages twice before; if you are interested, I wrote a bit about their invention (not many musical groups can claim to have been "invented," but The Monkees can), and another one at Christmas time last year. The Monkees have popped up on my radar lately as I've been reading about their current tour. Well, only three of them are currently touring, Mike Nesmith has declined to join them. A recent interview with Davy Jones somewhere indicated that Nesmith was the sly one of the group in their early years. While the other three performers were accepting merely a paycheck for their services to TV studio Screen Gems, Nesmith was negotiating to hold the rights to the B side of all the songs which The Monkees released as singles. Smart guy. The other star of this week's Party also appeared here during Christmas time, and it's a very nice little song. Bobby Sherman left the business years ago to become an emergency medical technician, but his name is still remembered as the breakout star of the TV series Here Come the Brides. Interestingly, just a little while before he landed that career-making gig, Sherman guest starred on The Monkees, and it is that appearance which includes today's clip. It's been mentioned here and elsewhere, and who am I to quibble, that The Monkees invented what would become known as the music video, as their television show always included at least one filmed presentation of one of their songs. That's all you need to know to enjoy this short clip, except that Bobby Sherman looks pretty ridiculous as a platinum blond. He turns 68 years old today. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Ginger Taps

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ginger Rogers, so of course, she stars in this week's Dance Party. She has appeared in these pages twice before, in both instances with her most famous dance partner, Fred Astaire. My favorite of all the clips of the two can be seen here, and just last year, I celebrated Rogers's birthday with another fun clip.

This week's entry comes from the final film made by the dancing duo, and it was fairly accidental. Astaire and Rogers had not made a film together for a full decade, leading to gossip that there were frosty feelings between them (they both denied those rumors). The Barcleys of Broadway was intended to pair Astaire with Judy Garland, as a follow-up to their success in Easter Parade (the script for Barcley's was being prepared even as filming was ongoing for Parade). Sadly, as so often happened in Garland's career, her substance abuse problems and her emotional troubles caused the plans for another big musical role to derail, so our Ginger was approached as a replacement.
Released in 1949, it was the only Astaire-Rogers movie to be filmed in color. Ginger received some snark about her figure, which had blossomed a bit in the decade since she had last hit the dance floor with Fred, but I surely don't see any problems here.

I'm a sucker for a tap number, and these two deliver the goods. Happy Birthday, Ginger!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nerd Notes: Furniture Booties

As we head into the third and final week of rehearsals for The Nerd at Wayside Theatre, I have to mention the unusual space in which we conducted our initial rehearsals. Our first two weeks were largely spent in the ballroom of a private home in Winchester, VA.. Apparently there is a generous patron of Wayside who has offered the use of his ballroom as rehearsal space. The building is an old and stately home, with a huge front porch greeting us every day, plus wood floors everywhere and banistered stairways leading to the third floor ballroom.

The building has a pleasant aroma of aged wood, and reminds me of the grand house I visited twice during my early childhood, where a great-grandmother lived.

This rehearsal space is located in a real showplace, but since people actually live there, we were not offered a guided tour. But as a former waiter, I felt sorry for the hired help who must serve whatever functions happen in the ballroom, as it's three flights away from the kitchen. The house is big enough to accommodate a back staircase (I inadvertently took it one day, and landed in the kitchen), so guests were not required to bump into the servants on their way to the Big Event upstairs.

My previous shows at Wayside have been rehearsed in the council room of Middletown, VA's town hall. That room was conveniently located across the street and across a parking lot from the theatre itself, and I have no idea why that space is no longer used for rehearsals. Anyhoo, nowadays, the first few weeks of rehearsal for Wayside's shows are conducted about 10 miles down the road from the theatre, in that swanky ballroom sitting atop the stately home.

There was nothing whatsoever unpleasant about this arrangement, but I started thinking about the various rehearsal spaces in which I have worked over the years. Rehearsal space always seems a challenge to theater companies, no matter what their size. The lucky theatre companies which are attached to universities fare pretty well with their rehearsal spaces; Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, for example, is located on the campus of Shenandoah University, so they have access to some of the rehearsal/practice halls which students use during the school year. The Kennedy Center has lots of rehearsal space, and Olney Theatre, where I just finished working, now has a rehearsal hall located in their new theatre building.

But throughout most of my career, it has been rare to rehearse a show on the same campus in which it is performed. Wayside occasionally enlists their own bar/cafe for such uses, but has no actual rehearsal space on their property, and that is in no way unusual. Even huge theaters such as The Shakespeare Theatre in DC rehearse their shows largely off-site. This fact has always perplexed me, particularly when companies build their own theaters. The Shakes, for example, recently spent more than 80 million dollars constructing a state-of-the-art theatre, but failed to include appropriate rehearsal space. Ford's Theatre, the oldest theatre in DC (and one of the oldest in the country) recently underwent a multi-million dollar makeover, and did not include rehearsal space in their redesign (their shows are rehearsed on the top floor of a church building several blocks away). Until their recent revamp, Arena Stage, considered one of the grandfathers of all regional theaters, rehearsed their shows in a mini-mall down the street. The fact that rehearsal space is not considered a vital and necessary part of a theatrical facility baffles me.

But back to the current gig. The ballroom in which The Nerd has been rehearsing has beautiful wood floors. The gang at Wayside spent a lot of energy hauling rehearsal furniture up those 3 flights, and to insure the integrity of those floors, we spent some time during the first rehearsal tying makeshift protection on all the furniture. (Moments like these make me love working with small theater companies, who are always confronted with problems which must be solved in creative ways.) We have since moved into the theatre proper, so I don't expect to see that ballroom again anytime soon, but I won't soon forget the sight of our various chairs and tables spread out across the ballroom floor, wearing booties.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Dance Party: No Rehearsal

Hard to believe a sloppy number like this ever made it onto national television. Dean Martin was notorious about his refusal to rehearse his variety show in advance; he drove everyone crazy by showing up on the day of taping each week, and winging it. For some reason, back in those days, variety shows included group numbers with all of their guest stars, even when those guest stars had no business being in a musical number.
It's no surprise that the only two troopers who acquit themselves adequately are Buddy Ebsen and Charles Nelson Reilly, the only ones with musical stage experience.

I am just completing my second week of rehearsal for The Nerd at Wayside Theatre, and I feel as under-prepared as these guys look. We have another full week before the audience shows up. I hope they bring their canned applause like the crowd below. I gotta get back to learning these lines. Happy Dance Party, everybody!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Life's Full of Tough Choices, idn't It?

I recently received an email from somebody who claimed that this July, which begins today, has special significance. This year, July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays. In other words, five full weekends. This email, which was spam (go figure) claimed that this occurred only once every 823 years, and it was cause for people to send other people money. Ha. A brief investigation reveals that every month which contains 31 days enjoys a five weekend month about every 7 years. It's not that special at all.

But the first of July always holds some special significance to me, personally. I have written about early July in the past. Tomorrow is my birthday, and I have occasionally written about its importance to me. Birthdays come and go, I don't really care all that much, but when I am working on my birthday, I feel pretty good. This year, I will be spending my birthday learning lines for my current gig, but two years ago, when I was performing in Man of La Mancha, I wrote about one of the nicest ladies I have ever run across, Pat Carroll. Please go here for my remembrances of her. As she crosses my mind each and every birthday these days, it is only appropriate that this week's Dance Party feature Pat's most famous performance, one which she inherited after the original actress, Elaine Stritch, clashed with the musical director and was replaced.