Jesse Palmer & Mark Chandler . Joanne Schmoll & Desire DuBose . Roz White . Sandy Bainum & Rowyn Peel. David James . Felicia Curry . Amy Conley, Harv Lester, Katie McManus & Sam Nystrom . Lily Goldberg . Josh Kaufmann & Devin Wrigley . Zachary Conneen . Alice Ripley
with comments from director Michael Baron and choreographer Matt Gardiner
This winter, there were barricades, bipolar housewives, trombone sellers, biblical characters raising Cain, parodying Sondheimites, gaudy golden lamé jacketed and colorfully dressed dancers, cowardly lions, librarians, and lady composers stealing scenes and offering musical treats on our local stages. Here are eleven scene stealing moments that stole my heart.
Jesse Palmer and Mark Chandler dancing in the “It’s You Ballet” in The Music Man at The Washington Savoyards.
What a joy to see an American classic, that is rarely produced, revived at The Atlas Performing Arts Center by The Washington Savoyards. This colorful production, which is in the creative hands of director Michael Baron and choreographer Matt Gardiner, boasts some of the most exciting choreography that I have seen in a local musical production in years. The “It’s You Ballet” is breathtaking and beautiful, and danced elegantly by Jesse Palmer and Mark Chandler. I asked Jesse and Mark to talk about the ballet, and also asked Michael Baron and Matt Gardiner to enlighten us about its direction and choreography.
Jesse: “First off — to set up the “It’s You Ballet” – Tommy and Zaneeta have been in love since the moment they met (sometime before the actual story of The Music Man. Mark and I decided that they met at school, and then Tommy insisted on walking Zaneeta home), but because Tommy is a trouble-maker and Zaneeta, the mayor’s daughter, their love is forbidden. I am making this sound MUCH more dramatic than it really is.
Throughout the show, mostly through dance, we see Tommy and Zaneeta’s relationship grow, – in “76 Trombones”,”Marion: The Librarian”, and “Shipoopi”. The ballet which takes place in the 2nd Act is, in my opinion, the characters’ peak. After standing up to her father and going against everything she has ever been taught, Zaneeta agrees to meet Tommy, her two best friends – and their significant others – at the footbridge (which can be equated to a modern day makeout point).
I love the choreography in the number! Working with Matt was such a wonderful experience, and it is a nice way to end the show for me. The “It’s You Ballet” is the last dance number I do, and its my little breath of fresh air. It’s low stress for me (not worried about lifts, library carts.. etc), and I really enjoy just getting to dance to beautiful expressive music opposite Mark , who is a very good friend of mine and a wonderful person to partner with.
Really, much like the rest of the show – This number is pure fun for me, and reminds me why I love music theatre, and performing it so much!”
Mark: “This number is great because it’s the pinnacle for our characters (Tommy and Zaneeta). It’s the first time they are alone without having to worry about parents or adults yelling at them or reprimanding them. I love this number because it’s where you really see the true affection that Tommy and Zaneeta have for each other shown through this beautiful “ballet”. It’s simple choreography with minimal lifts and jumps, but caters to the building of Tommy and Zaneeta’s relationship. Matt is absolutely brilliant. He choreographs with such emotion and makes us better dancers with each number he works on. We are so lucky to have him in the DC area…he’s a rare find. I have also been so lucky to dance with such a beautiful dancer and wonderful friend, Ms. Jesse Palmer. They both bring out the best in me every night I’m dancing on that stage.”
Director Michael Baron: “As for the “It’s You Ballet”, I really gave this over to Matt Gardiner, the show’s choreographer. After I brought on the townspeople in couples to express a more mature love on their way to the Sociable, Matt created a wonderful dance to express the fresh and thrilling time of teenage love. We don’t have a traditional footbridge, but a “twinkle lit” romantic version of the town where the ballet can express romantic love on a teenage level. I told the teens that sexually they should be similar to the teens in West Side Story, but with a small town sensibility – not hokey. Both musicals did premiere on Broadway the same year and I didn’t want the teens to seem too innocent or younger than their ages. Tommy, Zaneeta, and their friends are aching for the arrival of a man like Harold Hill – who, though a salesman at heart, is full of fresh ideas about music and dance. I think Matt also has fresh ideas about dance and it’s vibrantly evident throughout the production.”
Choreographer Matt Gardiner: “The “It’s You Ballet” was actually the very last dance we staged. With a very short rehearsal period and only one rehearsal room so our time to dance was very limited and this moment was explored very quickly. But I will say that by this point in the rehearsal process, I knew the dancers so well, and it was certainly the most organic choreography in the show for me because it came from spending time with each couple individually and exploring how best they moved together.
The ballet particularly focuses on and leads to a short pas de deux between Tommy and Zaneeta, who are the “leaders of the pack.” It was a dream choreographing for these two performers (Mark and Jesse), as well as the other dancers, so it was by no means a struggle, but it is a hard moment because it would seem from the outside it’s only real purpose is to cover Marian and Harold’s costume change. I really believed this until I actually spent time working on the piece as a choreographer.
I jumped at the chance to choreograph The Music Man because there are so few shows in the musical theatre that use dance the way this show does. Dance is not simply an accessory, it is an extension of the storytelling in The Music Man, and if you think about it – that is really very rare in the musical theatre. The dancers and I spent a lot of time talking about how dance in this piece is the highest form of expression. We watch as an entire town falls under the spell of Harold Hill in “76 Trombones” – and at the height of the number – the teen dancers shed their rigid Iowan facade and explode in the most expressive way possible – dance. “The Library Ballet” and “Shipoopi” have the same effect. So it seems only appropriate that the climax of Harold and Marian’s romance be heralded in by dancing with the “It’s You Ballet”.
The Washington Savoyards’ production of The Music Man runs through March 8th at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. Tickets: $20-$45. Call the box office at 202.399.7993 or
Special Note: The H Street Shuttle drops off at the theatre. Here’s the schedule
Joanne Schmoll and Desire DuBose singing a duet of “Good Morning Heartache” and “Willow Weep For Me” in Here’s To The Ladies! The Women of Tin Pan Alley at Theater Alliance.
I walked into The H Street Playhouse theatre, which was transformed into an intimate cabaret, sat at a small round table with my friend Lee, and was serenaded by two talented chanteuses – Joanne Schmoll and Desire DuBois (ably assisted by Carl Randolph) – who sang songs and/or lyrics written by women between 1920 and 1948 that shaped the Great American Songbook, like Dorothy Fields, Kay Swift, Betty Comden and Billie Holiday.
Joanne: “We both love singing the duet; in fact we are going to submit it to the Prairie Home Companion Great American Duet Sing-Off to see if we can be a part of that talent show. I chose the two songs because they were both such big hits for the women who wrote them – Ann Ronell and Irene Higginbothem – and both songs were big hits for Billie Holliday. They both talk about such deep loss, but it’s not really about just feeling sorry for oneself. There is a bit of defiance in “Good Morning Heartache” and deep longing in “Willow …” There was a suggestion that we just do one of them because they were so similar in tone, but I fought to keep both of them and then suggested that they be paired up to reflect parallel journeys for both women in the show. And the arranger took that idea and came up with this extraordinary arrangement that plays between the defiance and the heartache and pain, with sections meeting at times, and really bringing the pain to a universal feeling. It was challenging to learn, but once we did, we knew it would be kind of special. ”
Desire: When I sing “Willow Weep For Me”, I am thinking about my journey as an artist, trying to have my voice heard – the highs and lows of it. The closer you get the farther away you feel – how much it hurts to work so hard at something,and have nothing to show for it, and how I have to hide my feelings as the lyricist says, “So none will find me crying and sighing all alone”. Some people think being an artist is so glamorous, or they think it’s something that I chose to do, but I don’t believe we choose our purpose in life. I feel it is predestined, and sometimes I just want someone/something “willow” to empathize and “weep” for me..
When I sing “Good Morning Heartache”, I think of all the relationships I’ve had, and it seems the longest one I’ve had is with “Heartache”. He is always there. Even in my Euphoria, I know he is coming. But I don’t mind! It’s because of Heartache that I can understand what Happiness really is, and speaking of Happiness…
I also think of my grandparents. Not a day a goes by without them being on my mind. After they passed, a wise friend once told me, “It won’t ever stop hurting, but eventually you just get used it. And then you begin to wonder if something is wrong – if you don’t feel it. As the lyricist says, “Now everyday I start by saying to you. Good morning heartache. What’s new?”
So Heartache is my friend. I have known him a loooong time. He is all the qualities I look for in people I have relationships with – faithful, honest, consistent, etc…
Now LOVE is scary! We are still getting to know each other”.
Roz White singing “Ain’t No Life” in Cool Papa’s Party at MetroStage.
What can I say about Roz White in Cool Papa’s Party? When she belted “Aint’ No Life”, I had to hold on to my seat – the house was shaking while Ms. Roz was rocking!
I’ve seen Roz scene-steal in other productions at MetroStage, Two Queens One Castle, Bricktop and Three Sistahs, and her one woman Pearl Bailey show this year held an encyclopedia of scene stealers. So, add one more to the list, because her fiery rendition of “Ain’t No Life” set the tone for the toe tappin’, smooth dancin’ Cool Papa’s Party, and got the audience all fired up. Roz is like adrenalin. You inject her into a show, and she gets you going!
Roz: “Ain’t No Life” is a really powerful song that is basically a grandmother’s declaration of love for her young grandson (Willie Rose Jr. aka ‘Cool Papa’).
Grandma Rose is one of the three characters I play in Cool Papa’s Party. In the opening scene where Cool Papa reminisces over his childhood, His Father willie Sr. and Grandma Rose, his paternal Grandmother does not want her son to take baby – ‘Cool Papa’ – on the road with him. She puts her foot down and declares: “The road ain’t no place for a baby!”
This tune is great because it doesn’t have a lot of verses or tricks and changes. It gets right to the point. That helped me really establish who this character is (Grandma Rose) and what is at stake for her. On the surface, she is protecting her grandson…but deep down she really wants the opportunity to be a mother again in her latter years. This is very close to me as I was partially raised by my own strong, feisty, maternal grandmother”.
Sandy Bainum and Rowyn Peel singing “Goodnight, My Someone” in The Music Man produced by The Washington Savoyards.
There were so many wonderful dances and songs and performances in The Music Man to choose from, but it’s a scene that was simply staged and simply directed that captured my heart. Listening to Sandy Bainum and Rowyn Peel’s angelic voices harmonize in “Goodnight My Someone” was, for me, the most heart-warming moment of The Washington Savoyard’s lush production. The quiet simplicity of this scene spoke volumes about the yearning for Marian and Amaryllis to find their White Knight. Simply put, it warmed the cockles of my heart.
I asked Rowyn and Sandy to describe what their characters are feeling in that moment, and Rowyn tells us why she was the perfect actress to play the feisty Amaryllis.
Rowyn Peel: “The main reason that I think that I was the perfect choice to play Amaryllis was that I have so much in common with her. For one, I, too, play piano, even if I’m a little more advanced than what she plays. Another similarity is that I’m a dark-brown-haired, freckled, hazel-eyed, 10-year-old girl. (This is how I portray Amaryllis in my mind, even before I got the part.) The 2nd-to-last thing, Amaryllis has a crush on a boy her age, but he is, of course, much shorter than herself. I can relate to this totally. Last, but not least, the part is so easy for me to play! I slip right into it as soon as my costume’s on. It is so simple for me to become the childishly-innocent, simple and curious, 10-year-old piano student by the name of Amaryllis, because that is just how I act in real life, sometimes.
One personal experience that helped me to portray Amaryllis was the fact that I do take piano lessons, so i played the piano on stage as I would do at a lesson. Something else is that I had no difficulty pretending to be upset that Winthrop wasn’t coming to my party, because I have asked that to a boy before and, sadly, got the same answer Amaryllis did. Anyways, one last experience I had was that I have a crush on a boy, who simply refuses to like me back, so I used this feeling for one of my lines, “Goodnight, my Winthrop, goodnight. Sleep tight”, as well as when I sing “Goodnight, My Someone.. I wish they may, and I wish they might”, It is so much easier to play a character when you can relate to him/her so well.
When Amaryllis sings the last part of, “Goodnight, My Someone” with Marian, I think she is feeling very sad, but with hope that maybe things will get better in her love life. She’s obviously not too happy with the fact that Winthrop won’t go to her party, and that he always runs away from her, but now she can relate to her uptight piano teacher, and probably feels better that she knows that even Miss Marian has these kind of problems. Just like me, singing about things might make her feel better and relax her. She’s defiantly expressing all her feelings about Winthrop, so she’s probably feeling them more strongly now that she’s letting them out. This is one of the parts in the show where I do feel like myself, despite the fact that I am more totally in character than other parts of the show.
I feel like I really am Amaryllis during that song, that I’m sharing all her feelings, because basically, I am. Perhaps I am Amaryllis, come back to life as someone else. I definitely have enough in common with her!”
Sandy: “”Goodnight My Someone” takes place just after the first time Marian Paroo encounters Harold Hill on her way home from the library where she finds Amaryllis, her piano student, practicing and awaiting her lesson. Marian is a no nonsense, educated woman who is not impressed with Harold’s forward approach or charm. After Marian tells her mother, who is starting dinner, about the stranger who followed her home, Mama Paroo becomes intrigued and wants to pursue a dialogue about Marian’s “single” status. Clearly, this is not the first time they have had this conversation. Shortly thereafter, Amaryllis tells Marian that she wishes on the first star she sees every night so she can talk to Marian’s young shy, lisping brother, Winthrop. When Amaryllis begins to cry because Winthrop never talks back to her, Marian tries to comfort her by assuring her that she has lots of time to find her true love. Amaryllis responds, “Never, I’ll end up an old maid like you!” Upon hearing these words from a young child, Marian realizes that not only does her mother wonder when she will ever find a “someone”, but she, herself, does too.
Although Marian, a self confident woman in a time and place where women were not necessarily empowered to be, is well aware of what she wants in a partner, her refusal to settle for less has her in this “old maid” dilemma. She actually wants a simple, happy life with someone to love and appreciate her. So, when she tells Amaryllis to just say “Goodnight my someone – you can put the name in when the right someone comes along”, she is matter of factly projecting her own feelings.
As the song progresses, she realizes that she has never experienced, but only read about these feelings. Saddened by this reality, she resolves to “rely on a wish and star as long as my heart, doesn’t know who you are”. Yet she hopes and believes that by wishing on a star, one day, her wish to find true love will come true, and that she will indeed find her special “someone”.”
Director Michael Baron: “For “Goodnight, My Someone”, I thought it was important to keep the scene going and not just “break into song” for the purpose of hearing a beautiful melody. I worked with Sandy on having Marian keep the “life lesson” going with Amaryllis throughout the song. What makes the moment so special in the show is the idea that there is someone out there for everyone. We hear this idea early in our childhoods, but it resonates more and more as each year passes. The need to share one’s life with someone – is one of the universals that keep this show still locked in the American musical consciousness. In addition, the “music” of the song is actually a part of Marian’s lesson, so I told Sandy to remember she is making up lyrics to suit this specific moment in her life. As for Rowyn, who plays Amaryllis, my goal was for her to be as natural as possible and to allow her to teach Marian as well about our important need for love. She shows Marian that love is still possible if her heart is kept open. It makes the need for Harold’s arrival even more immediate to Marian and the town. I’m a sucker for the end of the song as two generations of women sing in harmony their wishes to the “evening star”. It gets me every time. It was a goal of mine to make each song fresh and spontaneous in the show – especially since they are so well known and I think Sandy and Rowyn do this beautifully.”
The Washington Savoyards’ production of The Music Man runs through March 8th at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. Tickets: $20-$45. Call the box office at 202.399.7993 or
Special Note: The H Street Shuttle drops off at the theatre. Here’s the schedule.
David James singing and dancing “Drop Me Off In Harlem” in Sophisticated Ladies at Toby’s Baltimore.
He’s no stranger to my Scene Stealers articles. You want to get the audience laughing? You want to get the audience smiling? Bring on 2-time Helen Hayes Award winning actor, comic, singer and hoofer David James, and he will tap himself into your heart. So, that’s what they did when they dropped David off in Harlem. Instantly, Toby Baltimore’s colorful, and joint-jumping production of Sophisticated Ladies took flight. The audience went crazy, and laughed themselves silly, as David James stole another scene. It was the most outrageously entertaining scene I have seen since I was gasping and falling out of my seat when Ron Curameng arrived on the stage at Jerry Springer: The Opera at Studio Theatre. (Where was Ron’s Helen Hayes nomination?)
David: “I actually got this solo by default. Originally the song was to be done by Prince Havely in rehearsals to open the second act. Toby and Terri Klausner -the director – wanted to switch this number into the second act. Then when word came from the top that no switching was to be done, this new concept was born. The new concept was to take a white guy who can’t scat tosing “Drop me off in Harlem” in a “Gold Lamé Jacket” with three African American back-up dancers and singers teaching me to find my inner soul.”
Sophisticated Ladies runs through March 15th at Toby’s – The Dinner Theatre of Baltimore, 5625 O’Donnell St, Baltimore. Tickets $48-54. Call 410-649-1660
Felicia Curry singing “On My Own” in Les Miserables at Signature Theatre.
Felicia Curry told me that, “People would come up to me after the show and say, “We’ve never heard “On My Own” sung like that before!” And, all these people were right. I have seen Les Miserables 19 times, and every version of “On My Own” performed after Frances Ruffelle , the original Eponine, (who won the Tony Award for her performance) left the NYC company – sounded exactly or close to Frances’s version which appears on the London and Broadway cast CDs.
So how nice to see and hear the consummate actress/singer Felicia Curry bring her own interpretation of Eponine’s heart-wrenching eleven o’clock number. Listening to Felcia’s gorgeous voice fill the Max Theatre and bounce off the barricades on to the audience, you could hear audience members saying “WOW!”
I was introduced to Felicia’s extraordinary vocal and acting talents when I took The Ushers to see her Helen Hayes nominated performance of Aida at Toby’s – The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, and her vocally stunning appearances in Two Queens One Castle, Three Sistahs and tick, tick.. BOOM! at MetroStage. When Felicia called me to tell me that she was going to play Eponine in Signature Theatre’s production of Les Miserables, I knew that director Eric Schaeffer had made a brilliant casting decision. All the local critics agreed, and so did the audience members who experienced Felicia’s astounding rendition of On My Own .
Felicia: “Thank you again for including me in the amazing people featured in this article. It was an honor, a pleasure and a privilege to sing “On My Own” every night in this amazing production of Les Mis. What I believe made this song so moving for me was how blindly in love Eponine is with Marius. Despite what he says or what he does, she is hopeful that he loves her as much as she loves him. The magic of “On My Own” is that we all watch Eponine realize that what she has desperately hoped for is not her reality. We watch her mature in this song and the beauty is, she finds out that he does love her. I think Eric did a lovely job staging this number because its simplicity forced the audience to live this moment with her. I think we all have been in a situation where we have loved and lost, and I believe this song is our anthem. I am so thankful that Signature allowed me to bring this character to life for the DC metropolitan area. Vive la difference!”
Les Miserables has closed.
Amy Conley, Harv Lester, Katie McManus and Sam Nystrom performing “A Little Complex” (a parody of Stephen Sondheim’s work) in The Musical of Musicals-The Musical at Dominion Stage.
I never thought after watching the hysterical production of The Musical of Musicals-The Musical at MetroStage two years ago, that I would ever want to see another cast attempt to recreate the hilarity of that cast – Bobby Smith, Donna Migliaccio, Russell Sunday and Jeanine Gulisano-Sunday, but to my surprise, Dominion Stage’s talented team led by Katie McManus, Harv Lester, Amy Conley, and Sam Nystrom brilliantly captured the off-the-wall humor of the show. And, it was in the Stephen-Sondheim parody “A Little Complex” that I almost choked laughing so hard. By slowing down the pace just a little, it allowed this great cast to e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e every brilliant lyric, in this loony, fast-paced, hysterical scene. The crazy cast tells us about performing this manic scene, which character they played, and some of the unexpected mishaps that happened during the show’s run.
Amy Conley: “I loved “A Little Complex” because it seemed that every line of every song was a direct reference to something Sondheim, and if you took too long to laugh at one line, you’ve missed the next. Every time we rehearsed or performed it, I discovered something new. Little snippets of melody or a turn of phrase call up remembrances of favorite songs. And most fans of Sondheim have experienced what is summed up in the opening song: “The sentiments heard here are seldom endearing. It’s kind of slow going, but worth persevering. It may not sink in ’til the third or fourth hearing. Then if you’re bright, there’s a glimmer of light.”
My character of Abby for this segment most closely resembled the “bitter and boozy” Joanne from Company, with “we’re all gonna die” replacing “everybody rise”. But my favorite part of “A Little Complex” was probably Jeune’s Patter that she sang to Abby, which Katie delivered flawlessly at blistering speed every night. There’s always something in every show that I wonder, “What’s going to happen tonight?” and in The Musicals of Musical-The Musical, for me, it was probably the birds – would they actually decide to fly on their own? Would I get them too close to Katie’s hair and get stuck?”
Harv Lester: “I will say that, in “A Little Complex,” my poor character of Jitter was tragically misunderstood – well, misunderstood from the standpoint that none of the other characters really understood what a mad artist/landlord he had become, an artist focused almost uniformly upon his thoughts of murdering his tenants after they cruelly (so he thinks) threw his artwork out with the trash. He was, I think, mainly a mix of the Sweeney Todd character from Sweeney Todd, and George from Sunday In The Park, with a little bit of John Wilkes Booth from Assassins mixed into it.
One of my favorite lines from “A Little Complex” wasn’t Jitter’s, but instead was Juene’s: “Red red red red, blue blue blue blue, picks up the orange, picks up the orange.” What a hilarious reference to Sunday In The Park With George. It made me want to laugh every night.
I also loved singing the phrase, “What would be the matter with the murder of a model, If the model were a moron in the middle of a muddle, And the murderer was manic and admittedly demented and though later he repented when they tried to circumvent it that he meant it.” Why did I like that? It was fast and fun, and it’s a lot of words that, when you really look at them, don’t necessarily mean anything in particular … who are the “they,” and what did “he” mean? But fun to sing.
And the audience always seemed to like “A funny thing happened on the way to decorum.”
It’s also amazing to me how many references to various Sondheim shows exist in that parody. I kept identifying them throughout the run. Although inept of me, I did not even think until closing weekend about the fact that the MOMTM song “Stay With Me” mimics, in some ways, the “Stay With Me” song in Into The Woods. It seems ridiculous not to have noticed that connection until so late, but there were so many references in the show that your brain would freeze with regard to others … until you suddenly realized…
If there were mishaps during the show, I’m sure that I wouldn’t be the one to disclose them. We had a pact. The cast had a pact. (Don’t you guys remember?) Mishaps? What mishaps? (And, really, it was one of most pleasant rehearsal processes that I’ve ever had – in large part because it was so easy and fun to work with Katie and Amy and Sam, and Joan Lada, and everyone else involved.”
Katie McManus: “My role as Jeune in “A Little Complex” is basically a combination of Joanna from Sweeney Todd, Amy from Company, and Cinderella from Into the Woods. One of my favorite lines is “I have birds.” It’s her answer to why she can’t make a decision. She has birds, don’t bother her. I don’t have a particular favorite part in the scene, but I do like the fact that Jeune is slapped continuously throughout the show. I wanted authentic slaps (and I wanted them to be heard). But with all that being said, I was petrified when I knew it was coming. But in a fun way.”
Sam Nystrom: “My role as Billy in “A Little Complex” was a combination of Bobby from Company with a dash of Franklin Shepherd from Merrily We Roll Along thrown in. He’s a songwriter (who’s not very good) – who thinks he’s pretty remarkable. The line that never failed to get groans every night was me saying to Harv Lester, who played Jitter,”I came to check up on Jeune. It sounded like you were making some pretty specific overtures”.
I always liked listening to Harv perform “Getting Away With Murder.” I liked hearing him sing all that tricky wordplay quickly. He never missed any of the words from what I remember. The biggest “accident” that happened during the run would probably have been when one of the fake owls fell off the poles of birds that Amy and I dangled in front of Katie during her “I Hear Birds” song. It snapped right off the string and bounced on the ground in front of Katie. She reacted like a pro and picked the bird up, petted it and continued to sing to it and made sure it was safe and sound.”
The Musical of Musicals – The Musical has closed.
Lily Goldberg singing “Children of Eden” in Children of Eden at Act Two.
I named her earlier this year as a scene stealer for her very moving performance as Fraulein Schneider singing “So What” and “What Would You Do” in Act Two’s production of Cabaret, and now 17 year-old Lilly Goldberg makes the list of Scene Stealers again with her vocally astounding performance as Eve in Children of Eden. Here was Lily gliding up and down several octaves, standing center stage, surrounded by young dancers, bathed in a soft white light, singing Stephen Schwartz’s emotional rollercoaster-like anthem. I’ve heard many talented young actors/actresses sing in productions all over our area, but Lilly Goldberg knows how to sell a song, and here, with the Act One closer, she left the audience applauding wildly and left this columnist emotionally drained. Stephen Schwartz would have been very proud!
Lily: “Children of Eden” takes place at the end of Act One, at the end of the Adam and Eve sequence of the show. Right before “Children of Eden”, Eve is embarking on a new journey – death. She realizes that she is the only one left from her time, and although she is both sad and joyful to be leaving, she accepts the past and learns from it, and passes along words of wisdom to her children and to the generations that will come after she is gone. It is about hope, and how even when everything is lost, you still have something to believe in and look forward to. Hope steams throughout the song, and it is hope that Eve is passing on to her children.
Eve is both melancholy and happy during “Children of Eden”. It is this mix of emotions that create the feeling in the song. Not only is she regretful for her past – she is also accepting that it happened, sad that it is ending, and proud of her children. During “Children of Eden”, Eve is finally “grown up” and has matured, and she is both overjoyed and saddened by that.
For me, “Children of Eden” is all about relationships, endings and new beginnings, something I could relate to. Children of Eden was one of my last high school shows, and just like Eve was ending her life, I will be ending my high school life. It makes me both happy and sad. Like Eve, I am proud of how I have grown as a person, but I am upset that this stage in my life is ending. In the show, when I thought about how I was moving on, it was a piece of cake for me to relate to this beautiful song. Since I don’t have children, I pretended that my younger cast mates were my children”.
Josh Kaufmann and Devin Wrigley singing “With Whatever Time We Have” in Children of Eden at Act Two.
How do you perform a love song without over-emoting? How do you convince your audience that the two of you really are in love and can’t live without each other? You put the song in the hands of two friends, who have affection for each other, and who are great singers and actors – 15 year-old Josh Kaufmann and 17 year-old Devin Wrigley. They both delivered one of my favorite musical theatre songs, “With Whatever Time We Have” with beauty and conviction. I was ready to call in the Rabbi to marry them right on the spot. Josh and Devin talk about how their friendship helped them convey the meaning of the song and helped shape their performances.
Josh: “The scene during the song “In Whatever Time We Have” is a very important scene in Children of Eden. Before the scene, Yonah is told by Noah that she can not come on the ark with Japeth because she wears the Mark of Cain. Yonah is about to leave when suddenly Japeth appears to tell her that he is “not giving her up”, and that she can “hide on the ark until the rain is over”. Yonah does not think that all of this is right because of what Noah and God think, but Japeth goes on to tell her that “he doesn’t care” what they think. Japeth is the rebel son. The song begins with Japeth singing to Yonah that they will make the best of what they have “in whatever time” they have. Japeth is strongly in love with her and has never felt this way about anyone else before. He knows he is going against his father’s commands, but he is willing to do anything to be with her. He can not control how he feels, and his strong emotions take over.
Japeth comes into the scene determined and confident that he and Yonah will be together. His feelings for Yonah become stronger as the song goes on, and by the end of the song, they are deeply in love with each other. This scene and song are my favorite in the show, not only because I was performing it, but because it is such a climatic point where characters go against the grain, and the plot takes a big turn. The song itself is very powerful with these lyrics: “How can I live in a world without you” and “From this day forward nights won’t seem so black. From this day forward we will never look back.” It gives me chills just listening to it, and having the opportunity to perform it with such a talented actress really moved me, and showed me that even when times get rough, we should live our lives to the fullest “in whatever time we have”. And, how nice to have an ending where true love really does conquer all!
Devin: “In Whatever Time We Have” almost immediately follows “Stranger to the Rain.” In “Stranger to the Rain”, my character is basically saying that she accepts her fate, and is used to being treated as a lower race, the race of Cain. She has to come to terms with the fact that she and Japeth can never be together, and wishes him only happiness. However, after the song, Japeth comes to her with a plan to hide her on the ark. He seems excited and thinks the plan will work, but Yonah is not so sure because she knows it is wrong, against God’s wishes. “In Whatever Time We Have” is about how Japeth reminds Yonah of their love, and convinces her that they will always be together. At the end of the scene, Yonah makes the critical decision to follow Japeth onto the ark.
This song is so important to the development of the relationship between Japeth and Yonah. Before this scene, the audience only gets a brief glimpse of the couple together. This scene proves to everyone, including Japeth and Yonah, how powerful and eternal their love truly is. For Yonah, the song is a turning point. Before Japeth begins to sing, she is resigned to her fate, convinced that she must watch the ark sail away. However, when Japeth starts to sing about how much he cares about her, and about how they can withstand anything together, she begins to realize that she simply can not live without him. They both get caught up in the moment and the song becomes a powerfully emotional ballad in which they promise to each other that “in whatever time they have” they will make the most of their love together. At the end of the song, Yonah makes the choice to stand by Japeth and hide herself on the ark, a decision that determines the plot of the rest of the show.
After they sing “In Whatever Time We Have,” the dynamic between Japeth and Yonah completely changes. Before, they seem like a naive couple, a little unsure of themselves, almost self-consciously. However, after they openly profess their love to each other, Japeth and Yonah become completely and openly enamored with each other. Also, after this song, Yonah makes the decision to turn her back on what she knows and enter into the unknown, by entering the ark. This is the hardest decision she has ever made, because she knows it is against God’s wishes. However, she realizes her love for Japeth may be even stronger than her love for God.
I remember the rehearsal when Josh and I (with a lot of help from our assistant director, Eleni Stamoulis) choreographed this scene. Before we choreographed, it had always been kind of awkward to rehearse the scene because we just kind of stood there holding hands and singing while trying to avoid the leaping and kicking dancers all around us. After we choreographed, however, I remember we were both really excited! We ran out of the little room we were working in and made everyone in the studio watch us perform it. I think that was the first time Josh and I really connected as Japeth and Yonah. However, we had a lot of trouble with the song part because it was too high for Josh to sing it in the original key, so it needed to be transposed. That took longer than it should have, though, so we didn’t get to rehearse the song in the right key until the last night of tech week (eek). We were so nervous we wouldn’t be able to get it right in time!! I think we got it right though, it always felt right when we were actually on stage.
It was really easy for me to work with Josh, because I have known him for a long time. I already loved him as a friend, so I guess I just had to transfer that to a different type of love onstage, which really wasn’t too hard. I think we meshed really well together. We always seemed to know what to do together in our scenes and in the song. It’s hard to pull off a major love scene and song like that, but I think we made it work because we were really comfortable with each other. Actually, I was always so nervous to sing “Stranger to the Rain,” that when “In Whatever Time We Have” rolled right up after it, I was totally relieved and could just relax and melt into my role in the song with Josh. I looked forward to this scene, because I though it was really fun to sing such an amazing duet with one of my good friends, who I felt completely comfortable with.”
Children of Eden has closed.
Zachary Conneen singing “If I Were King of the Forest” in The Wizard of Oz at Musical Theatre Center.
He’s like a pint-sized Bert Lahr, Buster Keaton and Lou Costello all rolled into one. He’s 10 year-old Zachary Conneen playing the Cowardly Lion in Musical Theater Center’s lovely production of The Wizard of Oz. Every time Zachary opened his mouth, or glanced at the audience, or fell flat on his whiskers, and moved that tail-on-a-string, and roared and sang, the audience and myself laughed hysterically.
This is Zachary’s second Scene Stealer honor, being named last year for his heart-warming performance as Greyleg, the goose-in-command, leading and singing “The Wild Goose Chase” in Honk! at Musical Theater Center.
And now, for his uproarious performance of “If I Were King of the Forest”, Zachary is back on the Scene Stealers list. Zachary tells us how he “improvised” his performance, after suffering from laryngitis right before the show opened. This kid is going places, and I’m not lion!
Zachary: “When I sing my song, Dorothy and the rest of us are waiting to get in to see the Wizard, and I am imagining that if I get the courage I want, I’d be King of the Forest! My performance was 100% me! From the beginning of rehearsals, I decided to bring my comedic personality to the role. I really like making people laugh, on and off the stage, so I think my whole personality was in this song to make it “my own”! My favorite line in the song was “And the sparrows would take wiiiiiing” because it was a very high note and I made it funny (but still hit the note!). The most difficult line for me was the first line of the song “If I Were King of the forrrrrrrrrest”, especially the last word, where it’s expected that a long high note would be hit. I was not only unsure if I could hit that note, but I was also sick the entire week before the show and lost my voice! So I rrrrrrrrrolled the “r” and accentuated the “sssssst” to set the tone for the song as being funny, instead of worrying about hitting that one note. I think it worked! The costume was really hot and made me sweat the whole show! I enjoyed swinging the tail around behind me and asking people in the audience after the show if they could see the string holding it up, kinda like it was a magic trick. I also liked acting like a “big baby”, crying and stroking the tail when I was upset or scared. I liked over-dramatizing this role!”
The Wizard of Oz has closed.
Alice Ripley singing “I Miss The Mountains” in Next To Normal at Arena Stage.
I had the honor of recording an interview with Alice Ripley in her Arena Stage dressing room on December 16, 2008, shortly after the Broadway-bound production opened and received unanimous raves from the DC critics. I have been a big fan of the show since I saw the Second Stage production in NYC, where it played before its new-and-improved production made its home at Arena Stage. I love “I Miss The Mountains” because it introduces us to Diana’s daily battle with manic depression, and describes with simple lyrics, the horrible daily war that people face, who suffer from this horrible disease. The song is quiet and beautiful and haunting.
The first time I heard Alice Ripley perform the song at Second Stage, I felt relieved. Before that song, I could never really explain – to my friends and family – what it felt like to suffer from horrible mood swings. Now, when they ask me what it’s like, I send them the lyrics to “I Miss The Mountains.” When the newly recorded cast CD of Next To Normal is released, all my friends and family will all be receiving a copy, with a note that will say, “You want to know what it’s like? Listen to Alice Ripley’s powerfulscene stealing performance of “I Miss The Mountains”. (Note: You can hear Alice sing a snippet of “I Miss The Mountains” on our Arena Stage podcast.
Alice: ” “I Miss The Mountains” is Diana’s moment to take action of her own volition and accept the consequences that result from that action. This is the moment in the show when Diana takes her life into her own hands and does what she thinks is right. The song feels like the calm before the storm, and it is.
Diana, with the advice of her psycho-pharmacologist (Dr. Fine), has reached an even keel in the seductive tango with her pharmaceutical cocktail experiments. In order to be more “alert and aware” of her day to day life (namely, to pick up on her teenage daughter’s cues for help), Diana decides to quit all drug use (“I Miss The Mountains”) and in doing so unloosens a sort of devil inside her.
I am pretty much living in Diana’s skin right now, so I see everyday life much the same way she does. Diana’s always looking for a way out of whatever room she’s occupying. As she considers the possibility of greater intimacy with her teenage daughter, she thinks “what can I do to change the expected result here and how can I use that change as a way to get closer to those I ‘love’?” Even without a teenage daughter in my life, I ask myself that question nearly every day.”
Next to Normal opens for previews at the Booth Theatre in NYC on March 25th, with official opening scheduled for April 15th.
Congrats to all my Winter Scene Stealers! I am looking forward to seeing all of you in your next productions, so let me know where you’ll be next, and I’ll pay you a visit.