by Joel Markowitz
FIRST TEENY SWEENEY, NOW SIGNATURE’S TEENY LADY TICKLES THE IVORY (2 OF THEM), AND A LOCAL STAR EMCEES, WHILE LOLA CAUSES A FUHRER AT ARENA.
TOBY DOES IT TEENY WITH HEART
Helen Hayes Award Winning local Director Toby Orenstein has been doing it for years-it’s in your face theatre, taking musicals that were “epics” on Broadway, and reducing them, so the story and lyrics are the stars of her productions, not the special effects and not the gorgeous sets and costumes.
(She describes this “method” in the interview I conducted with her
On July 29th, press night at Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story..
It’s the rage now on Broadway-and it’s cheaper to produce. The slimmed down version of Sweeney Todd, (which closes on September 3rd) utilizes 10 actors (who also double as musicians), a ladder, and a coffin on two wooden horses on a stage made of wooden planks.
Very few Broadway Sondheim productions (A Little Night Music made money) have recouped its investment, but this “scaled down version” of Sweeney Todd recouped its $3.5 million investment in 19 weeks (as of March 12th).
Has John Doyle’s (This year’s Tony Winner for Best Director of a Musical) stripped down Sweeney Todd on Broadway and his stripped down Company, transferring from Cincinnati to Broadway next month, started a trend where we will see empty orchestra pits on The Great White Way and in our local theatres? Or is this just a phase that that will lead to the eventual return of the mega-musical?
ELIZA IS ALL KEYED UP-WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THAT MUCH NEEDED BRASS?
A two piano arrangement for My Fair Lady was written in the mid 1950’s by dance arranger, Trude Rittman, and she wrote it under Frederick Loewe’s supervision. (Trude Rittman was credited for creating the ballets of Oklahoma.) The two piano arrangement disappeared, until it reappeared in 1999, when director Amanda Dehnert mounted a production of My Fair Lady, with a cast of 27, at the Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, Rhode Island. The traditional orchestra was replaced by two grand pianos around which the actors and action performed. The actors and actresses who were not part of the current action, watched from the sidelines.
In 2004, after a successful tryout at Chicago’s Cort Theatre, The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey presented a scaled down production of My Fair Lady with 10 actors and an “orchestra” consisting of 2 pianos. Director Gary Griffin’s production focused on Eliza’s emotional journey and not large production numbers and eye-popping costumes.
Director Gary Griffin made his Broadway debut last year with The Color Purple. His “reduced” production of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures was seen at London’s Donmar Warehouse and received the Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production. In New York he has directed The Apple Tree, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pardon My English and The New Moon for City Center Encores! and Beautiful Thing at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
In his June 17, 2004 review for The New York Times, Neil Genzlinger wrote,
“Rather than the musical spectacle of Broadway and the screen, this is an intimate ”My Fair Lady,” staged in the McCarter’s new Berlind Theater with just two pianos providing the accompaniment. The house, only 360 seats, pulls you into the story like benevolent quicksand, and likable, assured performances by Michael Cumpsty as Prof. Henry Higgins and Kate Fry as Eliza Doolittle add to the effect. As they argue and make up, you feel as if you’re an eavesdropper, not an audience member…Here the director, Gary Griffin, places the pianists (Thomas Murray and Charles Sundquist) on the stage in what would be the upstairs of the Higgins home, to wonderful effect. With the pianists able to watch the actors and read their deliveries, notes can be drawn out, pauses extended, paces varied. Thus the classic numbers — ”Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” ”The Rain in Spain,” ”I Could Have Danced All Night” rest — are made fresh and personal.”
First he reduced Pacific Overtures like Gary did in his Chicago and London productions with a cast of 10. (except not a single Asian was to be found in the Signature production-like David Leveaux’s Broadway Goyishe production of Fiddler on The Roof)), and now Signature Theatre’s 10-time Helen Hayes Awards Winner Eric Schaeffer goes from the mega Mame to My Wee Fair Lady. I tried to speak with director Eric Schaeffer about his “concept,” but was told that Eric didn’t want to spoil “the surprises of the new Signature production.” All I can do here is guess. Talk to me Eric sometime. I’m really nice.
Will Signature Theatre’s final production in the Black Box (before it moves into its new digs in Shirlington) mimic the productions at Trinity Repertory and the McCarter? Will it also deal with Eliza’s emotional journey and also forgo elaborate sets and costumes? We’ll have to wait and see. I like being surprised and Signature Theatre’s musicals always surprise me with their innovative staging.
I do know that we are in for a treat because Helen Hayes Award Winners Karma Kamp (this year for Urinetiown) will be contributing the choreography, and James Kronzer (too many Helen Hayes Awards to mention here in this small space), will be creating what should be a very stunning and functional set.
And look at this great cast-consisting of brilliant Signature talent, many of whom are Helen Hayes Award Winners:
THE ICE MAN COMETH TO LONDON:
Andrew Long, who scared the hell out of me and audiences as the psycho child killer in Frozen a this year at Studio Theatre, will play Henry Higgins, who I always felt was a linguistic monster of a man. If anyone can defrost the cold Henry Higgins. and bring new life to this one dimensional character, it’s the multi-talented Andrew Long. He’ll kill’em with his performance.
My favorite Singnaturites Harry Winter, will play Long’s sidekick Colonel Hugh Pickering, and Steve Cupo will play Jamie. (Who is Jamie?)
Eliza Doolittle will be played by Broadway Vet Sally Murphy, who has appeared on Broadway as Rose of Sharon in The Grapes of Wrath, as Julie Jordan in the Lincoln Center revival of Carousel, as Sally in Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party, and as Tzeitel in that Goyishe 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Her other stage credits include Brutal Imagination, The Lover, A Man of No Importance, and can be heard on the new cast recording of Michael LaChiusa’s Lincoln Center production of Bernarda Alba. Sally can act and sing, and Marni Nixon won’t have to dub for Sally.
Will Gartshore will boom out On The Street Where You Live in his beautiful tenor voice (as Freddy Eynsford-Hill). Terrence Currier will beg us to Get (Me) Him to The Church on Time, and Dave Joria will employ a thick accent as Professor Zoltan Kaparthy.
Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith play Cockneys, as do Evan Hoffman and LC Harden, Jr. and Priscilla Cuellar, Erin Driscoll Lauren Williams and Eleasha Gamble play maids.
The under-utilzed and very talented Channez McQuay plays Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and Thomas Adrian Simpson will play Harry. Who are these two characters?
It will be terrific to see My Fair Lady presented in an new light and innovative and non-traditional way, With a lil’ bit of luck, the production will be very loverly indeed. I’m all keyed up!! (that’s 176 keys total).
OH DAMN! THE DEVIL AND LOLA ARE NOW CAUSING A FUHRER AT THE KIT KAT CLUB!!
They’re back from hell-Broadway vet and local boy made good (from Aspen Hill) Brad Oscar and Helen Hayes Award Winner for her role as Lola in last year’s rousing production of Damn Yankees at Arena Stage, have been transferred from one hell to another-Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party who promise their fellow countrymen and countrywomen and country children that Tomorrow Belongs to their blonde haired blue eyed Aryan nation.
MOLLY’S VISION-WAKE UP AMERICA-THE BILL OF RIGHTS IS CHANGING AND WE’RE SLEEPING!!
I had the great honor of speaking with Director Molly Smith on Friday, August 11th as she was returning from a rehearsal for her new “environmental production” of the 1968 Tony Award Winning Best Musical, Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, at Arena Stage.
I asked her why we need another production of Cabaret since the revival made several stops here at The Warner Theatrer. The 2000 Warner production featured Tony Award Winner Norbert Butz, (He won his Tony playing the outrageous Freddy Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 1995). Another bus and truck tour of Cabaret returns to the Warner for one week in March 2007.
“Certain Musicals are produced in certain times in history. In the past six years, our Bill of Rights has changed with a loss of information. As in the world of Cabaret, people tend to be a little asleep. This production of Cabaret will hopefully wake us up.”
THIS KIT KAT HAS THE SNAP OF THE 1987 BROADWAY REVIVAL:
Molly Smith’s production in not based on the 1966 or 1998 revival, but rather on the 1987 Broadway revival, which again starred Joel Grey in his Tony Award and Oscar winning role as The Emcee.
Kander and Ebb made changes in the 1987 revival. These changes included the “deepening of characters.” The “implications” of the first production regarding characters’ sexuality, have now been “opened up.”
Some scenes were rewritten and songs eliminated. Musical numbers that appeared exclusively in the Original 1967 version included Meeskite and Why Should I Wake Up? Numbers that exclusively appeared in the Revised 1987 version included I Don’t Care Much, Don’t Go and The Money Song. Both versions include Willkommen, Perfectly Marvelous, Sitting Pretty, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, Cabaret, Don’t Tell Mama, It Couldn’t Please Me More and Two Ladies.
In the original 1966 production, the engagement party scene in the fruit shop, at the end of the first act, was staged with a drunk Herr Schultz singing Meeskite (which means really, really, really ugly person), and then revealing his “secret.”
In the 1987 production, and in the Arena Stage production, Meeskite bites the dust, and the scene is staged differently. I won’t get to the core of how this scene is now staged in the fruit shop. You’ll have to see the Arena Stage production to find out. (If I did, Molly would go bananas and would be raisin’ hell with me).
THE ENVIRONMENTAL FISCHLANDER-HEY MISTER MASTER OF CEREMONIES- CAN YOU HEAR ME?
“The whole theatre is a cabaret,” says Molly Smith, and the entire Fichlander Theatre will be a cabaret, and the audience will be enveloped in the environment of the show (Remember, this is an environmental production). Some of the boxes in the theatre will be opened up so audience members can buy a drink or two like a real cabaret. I’ll drink to that! (But please, don’t sell those nasty loud unwrapping candies-please Molly).
To ensure that everyone in the audience hears every word and sound, microphones will only be used in the musical numbers, and not when dialogue is spoken, because “I like the sound of the human voice and I switch to theatrical sound when they (the actors) sing.”
Makes sense to me. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than paying good money for a ticket to a musical where can’t hear the lyrics of a beautiful score or when you’re missing part of the dialog.
George Fulginiti-Shakar (one of the nicest and funniest theatre people I know, who always conducts himself well) returns to Arena Stage, after leading the Damn Yankees instrumentalists last year, to wave his baton over the Cabaret band. For this production, four members of the band will sit on the stage, while the other five members of the band will sit in the aisle way. All the band members will be cross-dressing. Shouldn’t they receive double pay for this double role?
“Life is a cabaret, and the cabaret is reflected in life, so why not put the two together?”
To demonstrate this philosophy, George will be playing a grand piano when we are in the cabaret, and when we are in the boarding house, the same piano will be covered up and will become Cliff Bradshaw’s bed. Holy sheet! It must be instrumental in what happens to him in the show.
THE SET AND COSTUMES-THEIR HEARTS BELONG TO DADA:
According to Molly Smith, Anne Patterson, the set designer is a “visual painter.” Her sets for Cabaret have a sculptured look. They are not symmetrical, but have a hypnotic feel.” For as Kander and Ebb have written,”And The World Goes Round and Round and Round,” because life is a cabaret ol’ chum, and we are always in the cabaret. (I’m getting dizzy!)
The production team for Cabaret conducted extensive research on dada and studied the exhibit that visited the National Gallery from February 14 to May 19, 2006. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5191892
Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in neutral Zürich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1920. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature (poetry, art manifestoes, theory), theatre, and graphic design, which concentrated its anti war politic through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada#What_is_Dada.3
As for the staging, one big slice of the (stage) platform will have grating on it, so audience members can look all the way down and see the actors dressing. That is very cool. Austin Sanderson’s costumes will also reflect the “times,” and as the old song says, “his heart will (also) belong to Dada.” (Daddy)
AND NOW THE REMARKABLE CAST: THANK G-D ALL THOSE SHOWS CLOSED ON BROADWAY!!
Wow! What a cast! You must feel lucky Molly that The Light In The Piazza and The Woman in White closed and Sweeney Todd will be closing on September 3rd. As Fred Ebb wrote for Babs in that Funny Girl sequel, “Gee How Lucky Can You Get!”
THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES: NO GOOSESTEPPING AROUND THIS ROLE:
I’ve loved Brad Oscar since I saw him in Forbidden Broadway eons ago. Not only because he is a local Jewish Guy from Aspen Hill, but because he is really talented and a hell of a nice guy! He returns from one hell (Damn Yankees) to enter another hell-Berlin. He’s a big guy in stature and talent and will be a powerhouse on the stage in the role made famous by Joel Grey and Allan Cummings, both Tony Winners for their performances.
Look, Brad’s has had the German indoctrination -he played the crazy Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind in the original Broadway cast of The Producers. His manic rendition of Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutche Band, left me in convulsions when I saw it in the Big Apple. All that German/Yiddish Mel Brooksian gibberish should help him in his new role (I think).
Off the record-no one, not even the Tony Award Winner for Best Actor in A Musical for that musical that won a record 12 Tony Awards, whose name will remain nameless-I’m not going down that lane-portrayed Max Bialystock funnier and vocally better than Brad Oscar. I feel better now that I let it out! Where’s my blue blanky?
In this production of Cabaret at Arena Stage, Brad Oscar portrays the Master of Ceremonies as a Gay Jewish Man (now, that’s a stretch!) who realizes the horror(s) that envelopes him as the musical progresses. To continue Molly’s theme of both world’s colliding and crossing over, Brad also plays other minor roles, including a train conductor (nice to see he’ll be on the right track). I’m glad Molly doesn’t make him be a taxi driver, like they did in that horrid film mutilation of The Producers. (What was Susan Strohman thinking? Move that camera Susan!
MEG BOWLES THEM OVER:
She shared the Helen Hayes Award with Erin Driscoll (Urinetown) this year for her high-energy performance as Lola in Damn Yankees, and now she’s tackling Sally Bowles. Meg can dance, Meg can sing and Meg can act. There will be more steamed heat when Meg performs Mein Herr and the theme song, and according to Molly, if John Kander gives his blessing, she’ll knock the stockings off Maybe This Time. I hope that choreographer, David Neuman, who Molly describes as someone who “choreographs through character and ideas,” will utilize Meg’s extraordinary dancing talent and abilities. I’m sure it’s a real kick working with Meg.
THEIR SHOWS CLOSED AND NOW THEY’RE HERR AT ARENA STAGE IN CABARET!
The Woman in White closed quickly this year on Broadway, and now Walter Charles, who played Mr. Fairlie, is playing Herr Schultz in Cabaret.
Walter Charles-what can I say about this man-except that I’ve seen him in the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Festival’s productions of Sweeney Todd as the scary Judge Turpin, and Company as Larry, Albin in La Cage Aux Folles, the Doctor and the Preacher in Big River, Aegon in Roundabout’s production of The Boys from Syracuse, Harrison Howell in Kiss Me Kate, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Marcel in Aspects of Love and as Old Deuteronomy in Cats, the only show where I found out I was allergic to fur and Webber.
Last November, my social group, The Ushers, saw Walter Charles in a charming musical –the Immigrant, at what was then called the Dodgers Stages in NYC. He played Milton, a tough Texan who learns to love his Orthodox Jewish neighbors. The show’s run was short, but Walter’s beautiful, powerful voice gave me chills. After the show, he signed autographs and took pictures with my group. Walter is a real mensch, and always spends time with his fans after his shows. I can’t wait to hear that beautiful voice sing my favorite song in Cabaret-The Pineapple Song.
Dorothy Stanley, who will be playing Frauline Schneider, comes directly from John Doyle’s Tony Award Winning production of Sweemey Todd, where she had been the standby for Mrs. Lovett and Pirelli. She played Madame. Renauld in the recent revival of La Cage Aux Folles, Dee Dee West in the 2004 revival of Follies, Peg in High Society, and Ellie in the 1994 revival of Showboat.
Glenn Seven Allen was a swing in The Light in the Piazza, where he also understudied the roles of Fabrizio and Giuseppe. He was recently seen in the York Theatre Company’s mounting of A Fine and Private Place, and his many regional credits include Pirates of Penzance, Julius Caesar, Student Prince, Ligiea, Tales of Hoffmann and A Michigan Man. He plays the confused Clifford Bradshaw in Cabaret.
Local theatre legend Sherri L. Eedelen plays Fraulein Kost. This is a role where she really gets paid well. Listen to the interview I conducted with Sherri at Round House Theatre on June 6, 2006. The Helen Hayes Award Winner for Signature’s Side Show is funny and charming. http://dctheatrereviews.com/review/2006/06/06/hugh-will-love-this-show/
Here’s Cabaret’s talented ensemble: Julie Burdick, Deanna Harris, Lynn McNutt, Billy Bustamante, Hillary Heather Elliott, Monique L. Midgette, Kyle Pleasant, Carlos Ponton, Diego Prieto, Jason Strunk, Erica Sweany, and Swings-Jenna Edison and Brett Teresa.
Come see Eliza and Henry and The Master of Ceremonies and Sally, and see why both classic musicals in the hands of two masters-Eric and Molly-will be all new again.
AUF WIEDERSEHEN! CHEERIO!
MY FAIR LADY
Broadway Run: Mar 15, 1956 – Sep 29, 1962
Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical: Rex Harrison, Best Director, Best Conductor or Musical Director, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design
1966 Broadway Production
Cabaret won Tony Awards for Musical, Composer and Lyricist, Director, Choreographer, Scenic Design, Costume Design, Supporting or Featured Actor (Joel Grey and Supporting or Featured Actress (Peg Murray).
1998 Broadway Production
3 Tony Awards for Revival, Actor (Allan Cumming), Actress (Natasha Richardson), and Featured Actor (Ron Rifkin)
3 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Revival, Actor and Actress
3 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Revival, Actor and Actress
Cabaret played for 1165 performances on Broadway at the Broadhurst, Imperial and Broadway Theatres and for 336 performances in London at the Palace Theatre. It was revised for Broadway, first in 1987 and played for 261 performances at the Imperial and Minskoff Theatres, and most recently in 1998 at Studio 54, where it played for 2,377 performances.
My Fair Lady plays at Signature Theatre from September 26th through November 19th. .
Cabaret plays at Arena Stage from September 8th through October 29th.
Barbara Bear says
I’m hoping Signature’s version of My Fair Lady isn’t too "cheapie." That will be a big disappointment! Seeing Eliza’s transformation from dowdy dresser to georgeous dresser has always been a big part of the show for me.
Will makes very good points, but I’m certainly open to this version. From Joel’s article, it sounds like numbers were cut and added to move the story along. That’s important to me, because I don’t have a lot of patience with songs that pause the story or go on too long. If I want to just hear songs being sung, I’d rather be at a concert.
I just noticed the feature to be able to add an audio comment. Is that something new? Anyway, I thought it would be fun to try and see if it worked. It would be also fun for other posters to post audio comments as well.
I did. Thanks for the nice audio comment. I appreciate it. Joel
Not to change the subject, but did anyone listen to my audio comment?
Will Smith says
Sorry to be contrary — and this is a great Schmooze, again, Joel, so this is not directed at you at all — but, please Eric Schaeffer; a cheapie My Fair Lady? Why not just do Pygmalion? 70% of the uniqueness of the musical is that they took Shaw’s masterpiece and turned it into a big budget visual extravaganza. Yes, the songs are glorious and timeless, but this musical is about more than that — it’s about taking a play nobody thought would work in a Broadway context and proving that it could dazzle. Take the dazzle away, and you have little more than a rehearsal piece, so again — why not just do the original play? Whatever. But Joel continues to amaze in his gracious, warm, witty way, and keep up the terrific work!
I’m looking forwad to seeing Signature’s My Fair Lady.
The Elden Street Players in Herndon, VA is a small gem that The Ushers found 14 years ago. ESP have consistently mounted fantastic, intimate productions. Blood Brothers, which we attended last night, was the highlight for me of The Ushers’ 15th season. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I highly recommend that all of you try to get in and see it. An incredible, powerful production, with a tremendously talented cast. Thanks ESP for many years of memorable shows.
Barbara Bear says
Great article Joel. I’m looking forward to the upcoming theatre season. Also, I really enjoyed the production of Blood Brothers last night. It was even better than I expected. Also enjoyed dinner at Taste of the World and dessert following the show.
I want to thank Molly Smith for taking time out from her very busy rehearsal schedule to speak with me. Thanks also to Kirstin Lunke for setting up the interview with Molly. Joel