Gone are the days when a producer calls a young Jerry Herman into his office and says ” Kid – Hello Dolly! is yours. Go write it.” Today, getting a new musical written, financed and produced is daunting. Usually DC audiences get their first look at a show in development at a workshop or premiere. Thanks to Tapioca’s creative team, we can take you behind the scenes into private reads, investor invites, and, if the collaborators get it right – onto that miracle of miracle – the next Hello, Dolly!.
The Tapioca Miracle is a quirky miracle that opens when Doris, cleaning her fridge, discovers the face of Ezekiel the Prophet in an expired cup of tapioca pudding and quickly moves on to issues of fame, faith, and finding your place in the world.
Responding to our questions:
Larry Kaye – co-author of the book and lyrics
Eric Coble – co-author of the book and lyrics
Dan Kazemi – composer
Here is Joel Markowitz’s account of the latest reading.
After seeing the last reading in Philadelphia, I was eagerly awaiting the MetroStage reading – Monday, March 9th.
The buzz is hot for this show, so the theatre was packed with friends and families of the creators and of MetroStage. Larry Kaye began by introducing the blended cast of Philadelphia and DC actors.
The reading kept the audience laughing at the very funny book, and applauding many of Dan Kazemi’s songs. Karlah Hamilton had the audience roaring with her comic delivery. Alex Keiper’s renditions of “Sundae Drive” and “Bad Snake” received loud ovations, and Ron Curameng’s Mujllah Skikda had the audience applauding when he and Steve Cupo and Mark Murphy sang the toe-tapping “Rugelach, Hummus and Fish” and “We Doubt It”. And, there was a lot of talk about Michael Philip O’Brien’s performance as Danny, which I have loved in previous readings. I was so happy that DC Theatre goers could see some of the best talent that the Philadelphia theatre community has to offer.
For me, the writers had made many positive changes – with more to come before the next reading in New York. Now, let’s see what Larry, Eric and Dan learned from the MetroStage reading. What did director John Rando (who will be directing the NYC reading) suggest? What are they adding or rewriting now?
Joel: What were your expectations when you arrived at MetroStage for the March 9th reading?
Larry: Because of the editing we had done, we knew we would be seeing a newer version of the show. We had added some music, taken some away, and worked on strengthening our main character. We were interested in seeing all of these things play out.
Dan: I was certainly excited, as I always am, about seeing everything come together. This was probably the largest cast yet to tackle The Tapioca Miracle, and there was a lot of work to do. I was looking forward to hearing and seeing what the latest changes have done to the show, particularly the arc of our main character, Doris.
Eric: We had done quite a bit of cutting, rearranging, and added a few new songs, so I was listening for how they all came together. I knew this would probably be the most
“staged” of the readings, and was curious to see how that would turn out on a short rehearsal schedule.
Joel: Who was in the cast?
Larry: The cast included Peggy Yates as Doris; Karlah Hamilton as Lucene, Andrew Sonntag as Tappy; Steve Cupo as the Rabbi; Ron Curameng as the Mullah; Felicia Curry as the Ensemble Leader; Alex Keiper as Marty; Michael Phillip O’Brien as Danny; Mark Murphy as the Priest, Sean Patrick Henry as Fred, and ensemble members Maureen Lynch, Amanda Brizzi, and Julian Miller. And, Evan Hoffman read our stage directions and did some great voice over work!
Joel: How did you rehearse for this reading?
Larry: The Philadelphia ensemble rehearsed there and came down. We had one rehearsal a week before the reading and then on the day of the reading for a few hours. The rehearsal took place on the day of that freak snow storm we had so that was pretty dicey!
Dan: I rehearsed with Mike O’Brien, Alex Keiper, and the rest of the Philadelphia ensemble in my living room! Part of the reason why rehearsals took place in my living room was that it was easy… the other part of the reason was I had no method of transportation! After waking up at 5am on the day of the DC rehearsal (a week before the reading) I packed my gear and ventured out into a near blizzard, giving myself plenty of time to take it easy and reach our rehearsal safely. However, about an hour into my drive, my car broke down outside of Wilmington, DE. I pushed my car off the icy road, waited 2 hours to be towed, walked 3 miles in the snow, got a rental car, and finally arrived at our rehearsal at 3pm! So, unfortunately I only had 4 hours of initial rehearsal with the DC cast! Thanks to the internet, much of the music was pre-recorded and sent mp3 style along with pdfs of the sheet music to help the cast prepare.
Joel: Eric, what has changed in the book and lyrics since the Philadelphia reading in January?
Eric: We gave Doris a new opening number (moved its location as well) to reflect her desire to re-enter the world, but her unwillingness/inability to do so. We moved the big production number from the end of Act I to the top of Act II, now ending Act I on Doris’ decision to leave her house and enter that bigger world. We added voices and characters to Doris’ end number as well, to let her reconnect with her family and friends.
Joel: Dan, what changes did you make in the score?
Dan: A new song was written for Doris in the first scene “What You Think?”, “The Revelation” was edited and shaped, some more backup vocals were added for the moving men in “Hook Me Up”, a new version of “Eating It Up” replaced “The Pudding Will See You Now!”, “Believe Time” was extended to a full production number which closed act 1, a gospel choir was added to “See The Face”, ensemble was added to “32 23 And Me” and “Taste the Miracle” was trimmed down and streamlined.
Joel: Larry and Dan: What were you doing during the reading?
Larry: I was watching the audience reaction. I have to admit as well to spending some time watching the reaction of our NY Director, John Rando, who had come down to see the reading.
Dan: I was watching the audience for reactions to the scenes/songs. Luckily I was facing them. I was interested to see what lyrics got laughs. I was also playing the show and keeping actors on track if need be in order to have a good sense of whether any of the material wasn’t delivered well enough, and to see if that clouds reception of and reaction to any of the numbers.
Joel: Overall, how do you think the reading went?
Larry: It was good to hear it again. It went well. We are always interested in tightening so we were able to see some things that need to be addressed before New York. I think we found that we needed a bigger end to our first act, and a way to keep the show funnier and less dark in the second act. We are in the middle of rewrites and have taken some good steps to improve those things.
Dan: I do think the reading went well. It was a learning experience for us all. I think that from the standpoint of someone who had to deliver the material from the stage, a staged reading may be a lot to put together on such short time. From the standpoint of the creative team, I think that it was great to see where the tonal shifts, and the shifts in the seats happened. I think it’s clear that there’s plenty to enjoy in The Tapioca Miracle, but I think DC helped me realize some things about the tone of the piece and, well, I think it’s really important that we tie the play back together in such a way that gets our point across. We’re writing a musical about religion. This is difficult territory. We do need to make sure we have an opinion about it and that we have an opinion about this miracle in order to make sure that the whole experience is enjoyable AND worthwhile.
Eric: It was great yet again to hear it with different actors and a different audience. I was surprised by the shift in tone toward the dramatic and serious, especially in Act II – the play does get a bit darker, but this reading felt VERY dark. We’re looking at why that was, possibly because of the new more serious and heartfelt ending of Act I, as opposed to the huge hilarious number we used to have there. The audience may have felt we were going somewhere we didn’t necessarily want to go.
Joel: What scenes or songs went better than you expected?
Larry: Doris’ opening number was much better than we had before. I think we are nearly there with it. Also, the musicalization of the moment things change for her is well on its way to being solid. I also think we made good decision about getting rid of material that wasn’t working for us. The comic songs in the show are really uniformly solid, and always get big laughs, so those went especially well
Dan: I don’t know if anything went better than expected. I knew that Doris’s opening number was better than it had been before… and I knew going in that it was missing a hook. I think I have a pretty good sense of what works and what doesn’t because we have had so much feedback so far in subsequent readings. I also always say, if I can’t really “see” it on stage, it’s probably not right, or not there yet. I think I have generally good instincts about what is going to work and what isn’t quite there, maybe because I approach all of my work as an actor, composer, music director, and director. I’m rarely surprised at the reaction to the piece.
Eric: It all ran faster than before, and I didn’t miss any of the material we cut, so that pleased me. I think Doris’ opening number worked better than before, though we haven’t nailed it yet.
Joel: What scenes or songs didn’t work?
Larry: We are trying to find a way to musicalize the rapid growth of the miracle. The solution we chose isn’t quite what we need. I think we have found a new solution for New York which seems like it will be very effective. We also have a new end of Act I which should be bigger than ever before, and will really show a nice character arc for Doris before the intermission.
Dan: I didn’t think that we had nailed the “rapid growth” of the miracle before the material was even presented. “Eating It Up” sounds to me like a later stage in the growth of the miracle, and was intended to sound that way. I knew that “Tappin to the Glory” felt better as a glitzy evening event when it was at the end of act 1 in previous readings… this time around Act 2 started with a jumble of songs all within “eating it up”… it was just too much. I think I knew going into the reading that some of the material wasn’t properly streamlined, and the musical moments and important plot points weren’t completely mined out of the piece, and I think everything comes out in the open during a reading.. which is a great thing.
Eric: The changes to the section of Act I where more and more pilgrims are coming to Doris’ house was in the right direction, but didn’t pop like we wanted. Same with the start of Act II, we had song on top of song and kind of lost the thread of how huge (and funny) the pudding empire was becoming.
Joel: Tell us about the upcoming NYC reading.
Larry: It is a reading that will be held mostly for industry professionals — including prospective producers, general managers, press people — people who would like to see the show have a future. We have a terrific New York Director — Tony winner John Rando — who will be directing it. We are also fortunate to have an all-star Broadway cast, including Tony award winner Karen Ziemba, and Washington favorites Brad Oscar and Jason Kravits. Many other great folks as well. Although we have not started promoting the reading in New York yet, we are already getting some inquiries from Broadway producers about it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will be able to find time to stop by and check it out!
Joel: Now that you’ve had time to talk about the MetroStage reading with John Rando, what changes will we see in NYC?
Larry: I think one of the really important things that John has helped us work on is the tone of the piece in certain places. There was some muddiness in tone in early versions of the show which I think we are effectively addressing. I also think we are focusing more of the story on the relationship between Doris and her daughter which is the emotional heart of the show. Another big change is that we are laying the ground work for the love story in the show earlier on in Act I. I am looking forward to seeing what is next!
Dan: Well, I think this time around, we’ll be sending the message home! The piece will have a more clear satirical edge when it needs to, and Doris will get out of the house quicker, leaving the audience less “house-bound” as well! I also think that the musical moments will feel more earned and plot driven thanks to suggestions from John.
Eric: We’re introducing the love story between Tappy and Marty much earlier (now in mid-Act I), weaving in the relationship between Doris and Marty much more strongly, bringing the big dance number from the top of Act II to the end of Act I again, changing the opening number, and many other smaller changes. Can’t wait to see it again!
The audience was invited to leave their comments and suggestions. If you attended the March 9th reading, it’s not too late to comment. Click here.
Following the Tapioca Miracle, Part 2 – the Philadelphia reading
Pudding It Together – the first reading in Silver Spring