PUDDING IT TOGETHER
It’s Monday, May 21st. I’m at the Black Box Theatre at Blake High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, eagerly awaiting the first read-through of a new musical called The Tapioca Miracle.
I’ve been invited by co-lyricist and co-book writers Eric Cole and Larry Kaye, (who is directing the critically acclaimed production of The Musical of Musicals-the Musical! now playing through June 3rd at at Metro Stage), and composer Dan Kazemi, a 24 year old multi-talented actor/music director/composer who is currently tickling the ivories at Metro Stage in The Musicals of Musicals-The Musical, to let them know what I think.
I peer through the small window of the door, and I know I’m in the right place because those brown chairs you find in all these black box theatres are lined up in neat rows. There are 20 chairs and as they quickly fill up with eager tushies, there is excitement in the air.
Hey, this show has the backing of the William Morris Agency. Not a bad start, huh?
We’re here to give the creative team some feedback. And they really want to hear what we theatre crazies have to say.
It’s Daniel being thrown into the Theatrical Lions Den. And he knows it.
I’ve never seen so much confidence and anticipation before in a read through. The friends and theatre mavens who were personally invited to this unveiling are hoping that what they will be seeing and hearing is, as Rodgers and Hammerstein once wrote, Something Wonderful.
Before I get too hasty, let me slowly set up the evening with the help of Larry Kaye.
As the presentation begins, Eric welcomes us and tells us the we are the first people to see the show and the young actors on the stage, are the first actors to perform it.
We are told that
(1)There are places where part of a song has been written.
(2) There are places where there will be a song, but that the song has not yet been written.
(3) There are places where you will hear the an entire song that has been written, and
(4) There will be times where only the lyrics have been written, but the music still needs to be written.
You still with me?
Larry is reading the stage directions and the opening number is a choral effort that runs a little too long, but some of the early Bible-based jokes religiously hit home. The audience laughs at “Accept Your Fate Bible Hour,” and has a whale of a good time with the tale of a whale puppet that spits out Jonah. There is more laughter when there is a reference to the Martha Mitchell Elementary School and some clever lyrics of “Rosita And The Five Group Pyramid”
“So without much competition
I audition for this play about nutrition,”
and how Doris, the Mom – and soon to be prophet – screwed up by saying “brains and mice” instead of “grains and rice.” That’s what happens when you go against the grain, because as Doris laments, “In the spotlight, you’ll get burned.”
When we find out that there is a “miracle right next to the coleslaw,” that there is a “face in the tapioca, and it looks like Ernest Borgnine,” and that “it really has the face of Ezekiel,” craziness ensues and the show take off into total lunacy-some of it works and some of it is head-shaking, but all very fun.
And then there is a great musical number called Seeing Red, which has all the making of a splashy production number with colorful costumes. I loved the lyrics,
“You don’t know what it’s like to guess at a traffic light.
I’m seeing red and there’s a rainbow in my eye
Don’t ask me why I’m seeing red.”
And then there is some craziness with doors when the “pudding believers” come to be healed, who “try the healing power of dessert.” And as they arrive to see the tapioca shrine, they are told that, “the pudding will see you now.”
Do you believe this?
And there’s more — Three Wise Men-A Rabbi, a Priest and a Mullah- the “We Doubt Its” (we are told that these are a group of officials who actually know what they are doing”) arrive on the scene to confirm that it is indeed a miracle. We are told that they sing a song called, “Rugelach, Hummus and Fish.”
I can’t tell you if the song is good or if it flounders, because it isn’t written yet, but I can’t wait to hear a future reading.
And then the First Act ends with the creation of the “DMN”- the Dairy Miracles Network, where its theme is, “As I walk unto the valley of death, I’ll have cherries, whipped cream and nuts.”
This is nuts and then the show lights up when the adorable Benjamin Kingsland arrives as Tappy (is his last name “Oca”?) to sing the “Tappy Song.” The poor kid is dressed up in a wienie costume, and frankly, I didn’t relish the costume so much.
In the Second Act, poor Tappy is dressed in an Amish farm hat and beard. He also tells about some of the crazy costumes he has been forced to wear in his line of work -playing a gherkin (the guy’s been in a pickle since he started that job, and how when he was loafing around, he was told by his mother, “You were not bred to be bread.” When Tappy asks Marty if she is eating bologna, he looks at Marty and says, “I played bologna.” I laughed my head off.
Hey guys, keep Benjamin in the cast wherever the show goes. This kid brings lots of heart to your show and that’s no B-O-L-O-G-N-A-!
And now to the Second Act. I know you must dumb founded- “you mean all this mishagas happened in The First Act and we now have another act to watch?
OK. Here goes. The second act gets serious. Lessons must be learned.
Doris has become the prophet/ and Danny’s “yes-woman.”Doris’s daughter Marty is disillusioned although she loves Tappy. Danny, the evil accountant and manager and stealer of the gelt is getting worse.. A line of shoes is created to save “soles,” (souls). Doris and her friend Lucene eagerly await “The Dairy Miracles Network-DMN-The Movie,” where Lucene brags that Jessica Simpson will play here, and Marty goes on TV to “hisss..terical” results, and Doris and Lucene are fit to be tied when they realize that those shoes were made by starving people oversees-and vow to make it right in a song called “32, 23 and me,” where they regain their “souls” (soles) and realize the importance of their close friendship.
“I found someone who still knows me. None of us is past our expiration date.”
Danny is gone and DMN is gone and the dairy believers are gone. But although my brain is feeling like Jello ,trying to keep it all straight, it’s been a fun evening, and well worth the ride!
I smile as I remember a wonderful moment in the second act – a mascot dance scene, where mascots are dance partners.-“Young Mascot Love.”
I looked over at Nancy Harry (who brilliantly choreographed The Musical of Musicals-The Musical), who like me was seeing and hearing the show for the first time, and l could see her brain working out all the moves for this number.
When Nancy drove me home after the presentation, she told me that she was visualizing all the “moves” of that scene. “I could visualize the costumes and all the background singers.”
So could I.
The Audience Speaks
After snacking on cookies and fruit salad, those brown chairs were filled up again and Michael D’Anna lead us in a talk back. The majority of us suggested that the opening number was not clear and needed to introduce the characters to the audience. I referred the audience to my Meet John Doe podcast with Andrew Gerle and Eddie Sugarman where they spoke about how they had written six opening numbers until they decided on the one that opened the show at Ford’s Theatre and how Oscar Hammerstein was quoted as saying, “You have 15 minutes to grab your audience and if you don’t, you’ll never get them back.”
Larry and Eric agreed that writing the opening number has been difficult. Dan told me that because it was the first run through, and that the young cast had only a short rehearsal session before we walked in at 7 PM, it really didn’t sound the way he envisioned it.
And after taking some pictures with Larry, Eric and Dan and rolling out Dan’s large speaker to his car, and shaking hands and offering words of encouragement, it was time for Nancy and I to hop in her car and to share our impressions as we drove towards Old Georgetown Road and The Pike, where I was dropped off at my condo, and where she was to join these the exhausted creators for some coffee and pudding? at the Silver Diner. I really hope they passé d on the pudding and opted for the fantastic carrot cake they have there. I would have killed to be a fly on that wall.
Listen in as Larry Kaye looks back on the night.
A special thank you to Becki Walter Price (Doris), Chrity Frye (Lucene), Tom Graham (Danny), Emily Levy (Marty), Benjamin Kingsland (Tappy), Angie Williams (Cindy), Andrew Burk (Fred), Amanda Brizzi (Tour Guide) and to Maureen Lynch and John Bower who rounded out the cast. You were all terrific!
Mazel Tov Larry, Eric and Dan. Can’t wait to see how you will be pudding it together down the road.
THOUGHTS ON THEO
If anyone asks me in 10 or 20 years what some of my major accomplishments were, one of them will be that I sat down with Theodore Bikel at Theatre J and that my editor/sound recorder LorraineTreanor turned those 45 minutes into magic.
Why did I want to talk with to Theodore Bikel?
He’s one of my heroes. He is one of my favorite singers-I own every one of his LPS and CDs. He is a great actor. We have witnessed that at Theater J with The Disputation and recently with Shylock. He is a great humanitarian- still continuing to fight for causes he believes in, as he does here in “A Mighty Day” dedicated to the survivors and victims of the Katrina disaster:
Mighty Day (download or play this song here from Mr. Bikel’s website
Katrina disaster lyrics by Theodore Bikel
Dear Lord, the poor kept prayin’
Please save us from this fate
When will the rescue come for us
But the rescue came too late.
Now, the leaders of our nation
They tell us all is well
But we know that there’s a special place
Reserved for them in hell.
They’ll twist and turn forever
In the blinding wind and rain
And they’ll only stop for a photo op
When they hear this sad refrain:
Wasn’t that a mighty day,
A mighty day
A mighty day, Great God, that morning
When the storm winds swept the town!
I have been trying to find out what happened to Geula Gill – an Israeli singer whose records I have also loved over the years. She and Theo had recorded a wonderful LP for Elektra called Folk Songs From Just About Everywhere. I have searched for years about information where Geula Gill was, because I wanted to send her a letter or call her and tell her how much joy her music has brought me and Theo Bikel gave me the missing link to the puzzle. So, thanks to him, I will make that call and write that letter.
And I’d like to share a funny story Mr. Bikel told me.
I gave him an LP called Theodore Bikel Sings Songs of Israel to autograph. The cover of the LP is a picture of a beautiful Sabra (Israeli woman) with a hat and a hoe in a field. I always believed that this picture was taken in the Holy Land.
“Let me tell you the real story, young man, where this picture was taken. This girl is not an Israeli. I don’t think she was even Jewish. Elektra didn’t want to spend the money to take a picture in Israel so we took this picture on Long island and we found this young woman there and we took this picture in a field and had we asked her to put on the hat and smile and hold that hoe.”
It was the great storyteller at his best.
So, what else can I say except to invite all of you to sit back and listen to one of my major accomplishments-the honor I had to speak to this great man.
Kol Hakavod Lecha!