Country heaven wrapped in bacon, a dizzy tribute to sainthood, a rock bodybuilding musical, Shakespeare gone loud rock and tongue-less, a lost monkey and a family going bananas, a maiden in love with a pi-rate, a woman who is not so pretty as a picture, and an insensitive girlfriend comprise this first installment of this year’s Fringe Musical Scene Stealers.
These outstanding performers are from Captain Squishy’s Yee Haw Jamboree, Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s Roadside Revue – The Saints, Fictitious, Titus X, Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical, Life In Death, The Pirates of Penzance, and Magnum Opus.
It was sweltering in The Tent when I saw Captain Swishy’s Yee Haw Jamboree, but it was really sizzlin’ when, in the middle of all this running around, gender-bending, psycho actresses and townsfolk, came a sizzling song called “Bacon”, and Joe Cronin lead the very enthusiastic cast in a hysterically, knee-slapping ditty that made this theatre ham laugh with glee.
Joel: Tell us about yourself.
Joe: I’m a character actor and have been working for about 30 years in New York and here in DC. I’m a DC native, a CUA grad with an MFA in acting, and have worked in theaters all over town, including Arena, Theater J, Rep Stage, Olney, Washington Stage Guild, Solas Nua, Keegan and American Century Theater among many others. Over the past year, I’ve played Burgess in Candida at Bay Theater, Father in Life With Father at American Century, Eddie in Take Me Away at Solas Nua, Karl Hudlocke in Marriage of Bette and Boo at Spooky Action Theater, and now Captain Squishy here at the Fringe. I keep a lot of great photos of these shows and others on my Facebook page.
Joel: Who do you play in the show?
Joe: I play a lot of comic roles. Captain Squishy is the host of a variety show called Captain Squishy’s Yee Haw Jamboree which is a spoof of the old 60’s TV show Hee Haw. He is very country, down-home, and prone to using what he calls “country aphorisms” in reaction to the antics of the other folks on his show. Such as, “Your ideas are worse than a blind date with Eleanor Roosevelt!” or “What in the name of Aunt Jemima’s delicious pancake syrup are you talking about?” I think of Squishy as the calm center of the show, around which rages a storm of crazy characters such as Renard Fox (always trying to sell me sketch ideas such as the singing man-size chicken), Daisy (country diva), Moonshine Monkey (inebriated primate), Guy Texas (World War I German spy), etc., etc.
Joel: tell us about “Bacon”.
Joe: “Bacon” is a musical number sung by Squishy, and joined by the full chorus. It ain’t complicated. It’s an ode, a love song really, to bacon, “the king of salted meats”. It was written by Chris Davenport, who gives it a great set-up, in which Squishy sings about his “life long love affair”, not with a lady, nor with a man, but with bacon. The rhyming is just plain delicious (maybe even maple-cured), such as the refrain that goes “I’m achin’ for bacon, every mornin’ when I waken” and “my constitution’s shaken, but you’ll not be forsaken.” Even though his doctor has told him to give up bacon, Squishy won’t have anything to do with “sissy tofu diet plans” and finally pledges his eternal love, even though “Bacon, you’re breakin’ my heart!”
Joel: How do you relate to the song?
Joe: Well, I relate to “Bacon” (the song and the food) just like the rest of overweight America does. I love it! My mom used to pour the bacon drippings all over her special German potato salad and it was one of my favorites. We kept bacon drippings in a can in the fridge just like in the song. Sure, it was bad for the heart, but it was good for the soul. You know, they talk a lot about obesity in America these days. I heard recently that as many as 75% of Southerners are obese–not fat, obese. This is a song for all of those folks and I love that it’s a love song. I also think of “Bacon” as Captain Squishy’s signature song. Like Bob Hope had “Thanks for the Memories”, Squishy has “Bacon”. When he goes up to accept his Emmy for the Jamboree, “Bacon” is what the orchestra will be playing. Paula Dean should put this song on her Food Network show.
Joel: Tell us about your Fringe experience this year.
Joe: This is my first experience with the Fringe. Because the festival has been getting bigger and better every year, it’s inevitable that I finally got involved. I’m sure glad I did it with Chris Davenport, who I worked with years ago in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I played a country rascal named Phineas Fletcher in that show, a man who helps the slaves escape via the Underground Railroad. That character was somewhat like Squishy, and that’s probably what Chris was remembering when he asked me to play this role. Chris and Nick Greek, who co-wrote the show, have a wonderful feel for very zany, silly comedy. They are both accomplished comic actors, but their writing is truly amazing. And the theater needs comedy like they know how to create.
As always, I worried whether I would get the laughs. You know, your fellow actors stop laughing during rehearsal after they’ve heard the comic dialogue once or twice. But once we got in front of a live crowd in the Baldacchino Tent, it just took off. Our musical director, Deborah Jacobson, also deserves special credit for “Bacon” in that she transposed the music to a higher key that made it do-able for me with my higher timber voice. The Fringe Fest really rocks. I’ve seen several shows other than ours and I’m amazed by the quantity and quality of the program. It makes me very proud of the Washington theater community.
Composer Chris Davenport on “Bacon”:
Chris: Originally that spot in the show was set aside for a song we were calling “I Love America So Hard,” but I was having a hard time writing it. Not because I don’t love America hard – I do – but because I just couldn’t find a coherent idea for it. We wanted a song that was like an anthem, so we decided to chuck the America song in favor of something else that’s easy to get behind. The first thing that came to mind was bacon. I wrote the chorus in my car. When I came up with “Bacon, you’re breakin’ my heart” I figured that would be the hook that would pull the song together. The rest of the music and lyrics just sort of fell into place.
Joe’s performance is perfect. It’s almost like he really does like bacon. I’ve never asked him, but I’ll bet he does. Bacon is awesome. Why would anyone not like bacon?
Laura: I’m originally from Savannah, Georgia and moved up here to go Catholic University in DC to study musical theatre. I studied voice with N. Thomas Pedersen and Jane Pesci-Townsend. My most recent projects include a webisode series written, produced, and acted by local DC actors. It’s called “Hamilton Carver” – look for it in the fall! Also recently I was seen as Belle u/s in Beauty and the Beast at Toby’s of Baltimore. I plan to move to New York in the fall, which I’m very excited about!
Joel: Talk about Therese of Lisieux..
Laura: My character in The Saints is Therese of Lisieux. When we first started work on this new DMLRR show, I did a considerable amount of research on Therese and the other saints that we depict in our show. She was the youngest woman ever to become a Carmelite nun, and was also made a Doctor of the Church. While still being an achievement, it feels more impressive to me knowing the time period when she grew up. I really respect her for the way in which she impacted the church in such a subtle way.
Joel: How do you relate to this character?
Laura: The night before we opened The Saints at the Fringe Festival, I was running over my monologue in my head before I fell asleep. Just as I was about to drift off, I realized why I felt so attached to Therese. Her strength and quiet suffering that I find so touching – remind me very much of one of my very close friend’s struggle with a lifelong illness. She was actually in the audience on our opening day, which was very emotional for both of us. I just can’t believe it took me until the night before opening to realize why she meant so much to me. Funny the way things work out.
Joel: Talk about the song “Therese of Lisieux”.
Laura: To me, it is a culmination of the stories in the show. She doesn’t perform any great miracles, she didn’t see visions, but she was so filled with faith and belief that her message is just as powerful to me – if not more than any of the other stories. The message of her song is simple. All she has to offer is herself and her soul in its simplicity.
Joel: What’s your Fringe experience been like?
Laura: My Fringe experience? Fun and HOT! I love the tent, I think it fits our aesthetic perfectly, (and the bar comes in really handy when it comes to putting people into the mood!) and it makes me really happy to see people – who love theatre and art and music so much – so dedicated to the festival and all of the shows that take part.
Andrew Baughman never ceases to amaze me with his numerous talents, and here he sways and shakes his booty, as he and the kooky cast make waves to the beat of Tom Hyndman’s feel-good song. Andrew, you really are funny!
Joel: Tell us about who you play when you sign “Across the Bay”.
Andrew: I play the role of the TJ (Theatre Jockey) in Fictitious. He’s sort of like the Greek Chorus: sometimes a narrator, sometimes commenting on the story, and often jumping in to portray many of the bit players in Hugh’s story. I grew up admiring and studying performers like Rich Little, Tracey Ullman and Eddie Murphy. They were masters of portraying many distinctly diverse characters – the less make-up and costume involved, the more impressive it was to me. Those are the types of roles I prefer and have the most fun with.
In the song “Across the Bay,” my character is a spaced-out 70s Brit-rocker-wannabe who is stuck working as a flight attendant in the UK. He sings a song about all the opportunity that Hugh will find in America.
Funny and ironic story about this song. As Artistic Director working with Tom [Hyndman, the show’s composer] way back at the start of production talks, I was trying to convince him to cut “Across The Bay” (!!). Actually, I always thought it was one of the best songs in Fictitious the Musical, but I was encouraging Tom to rework the lyrics and put it in another place in the show, maybe as the Finale song. Between “Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?” and “I Wanna Be That Man,” I thought there was enough expositional singing and that we should get into the plot earlier. In fact, I was really keen on cutting the role of “The Porter” who sings the song altogether. I didn’t think such an inconsequential character merited such a big song.
Anyhow, long story short (too late), I ultimately lost that negotiation and the song stayed where it was. And when Melissa [Baughman, the director] came into the picture and it was time to assign the various roles to actors, I got “stuck” with it.
And now you have chosen it/me for your Scene Stealers column, and my foot is really in my mouth. 🙂
I will say that as an actor who does a lot of musicals, there was one moment in rehearsal for “Across The Bay” when I realized I was part of a REALLY GREAT SONG. That rarely happens to me, and I suspect it rarely happens to Baritones in general. I wondered if that was how it felt for actors to sing “Seasons of Love” or “You Can’t Stop The Beat” for the first time, knowing that you are about to unleash a powerfully catchy new song on an audience. Hats off to Tom for writing such an awesome song, and I’m thankful to have been a part of it.
Joel: Tell us about your Fringe experience this year.
Andrew: Working on Fictitious The Musical has been a blast, and one of our most successful collaborations with a local writer to date. I mean, Tom and I are both pretty laid back guys, and we were always able to negotiate creative issues without one of us throwing a fit and storming out the door! I have always felt that Fictitious The Musical was a little “bigger” than Landless. I hope that we have demonstrated the potential of the work on the Fringe scale, and that a bigger-budget producer will pick up the show for further development. I do have a few more collaborative projects I want to pitch to Tom, and I hope we’ll continue to work together.
Composer Tom Hyndman talks about Andrew’s song:
In regard to Andrew’s performance of “Across the Bay”, here is where Andrew Baughman proves his talents as a true character actor. Andrew plays no less that five parts in the show. In the song “Across the Bay ” he portrays a British porter at London ‘s Heathrow Airport. Andrew’s British accent is valid as is his dancing, singing and dialogue during this very up tempo number.
Harv Lester proves once again that he is an incredibly gifted singer and dedicated actor as he pumps up the audience and sets his site on “Calee-forneea”. Arnold would have been proud. You are the man!
Joel: Tell us about your character.
Harv: Hugh Diffendoffer is strangely familiar. He is a bodybuilder who came to the United States from Nonexistia to compete in the Mr. Universe contest. Although he did not initially win, he met Joe Goldwilder (not to be confused with Joe Gold, who owns Gold’s Gym where Arnold Schwarzenegger, whoever he is, used to train) who sets him up at Goldwilder’s Gym. Joe gets Hugh into top competitive form, and Hugh realizes his dream to become Mr. Universe. But Hugh quickly realizes that he wants more and to give more. Soon, he is an action movie hero in films like “The Annihilator” and meets and marries Sophia Tennedy-Snyder, of the famous Tennedy family. Then he becomes Governor of California and, after the citizens of the United States pass a constitutional amendment to allow foreign-born citizens to become President of the United States, . . . well, you get the idea.
But he has always had a difficult relationship with his jealous brother, Gunnar Diffendoffer, and Gunnar constantly questions Hugh’s decision to leave Nonexistia and questions whether he has become a traitor to his homeland. When Gunnar, who is a bit of a lunatic, becomes Premier of Nonexistia and threatens the United States, President Hugh has a difficult decision to make.
Joel: Set up “I Want To Be That Man”.
Harv: Hugh has come to America to become Mr. Universe, only to lose in the final round . . . something he never expected. He is absolutely confident that he will win, and has never even entertained the idea that he could possibly lose to another bodybuilder. Yet, losing makes him a better person and a more determined force. At the competition where he loses, he meets Joe Goldwilder, who will become his biggest champion and help him obtain the title that Hugh always believed would be his. Hugh begins explaining to Joe in song why he wants that title – he identifies his dream that people will look at him and that he can achieve something that others can’t – but, as the song progresses, he realizes that, maybe, his dreams are even bigger . . . that, maybe, he wants people to look to him and that, maybe, there will be something that he can do to help others. And, most importantly, he has this epiphany moment while wearing a bodybuilding-competitive Speedo-like swimsuit . . . and nothing else. And somehow he works impressions of Jack Nicholson, Ed Sullivan, Bill Clinton, and Cher into it.
Joel: How do you relate to the song?
Harv: Well, obviously, I have always wanted to win the Mr. Universe title. I tried to fight the costume designer’s decision to wrap me in a fake muscle-bound body suit (with lovingly detailed painted pectoral muscles and abs), believing that I should just go au natural, but more rational minds (including those of Melissa Baughman, who directed the show) prevailed, and the body suit stayed. The song is really fun to sing. Tom Hyndman wrote an incredibly catchy song that conveys a lot of humor, shows you why Hugh is so driven, and develops Hugh as a character. Its theme – about the dreams that we have when we are just starting out on our own in life and what we really want – is pretty timeless and universal.
Joel: Talk about your Fringe experience.
Harv: I have absolutely loved working with Landless Theatre Company. I suspect that Karissa Swanigan, who is both the choreographer for the show and plays multiple characters (including the very flirtatious Kali From The Valley), recommended me for the show – I’d worked with her once upon a time in another show, and, I have to say, she has a gorgeous voice that can just stun you — and Andy and Melissa Baughman were incredibly wonderful to give me a shot at working on it. Landless has a second show in the Fringe, Diamond Dead, that is going on to the New York Fringe Festival next month, and I don’t how Andy and Melissa, along with our stage manager and assistant stage manager and three other cast members who are also doing double-duty with Diamond Dead, kept everything straight during the rehearsal process, but everyone in the cast and crew has been really great, and it’s been a really enjoyable experience.
I have never worked on a show that was getting its first full production before, and Tom Hyndman, the composer/lyricist and book writer was there with us through the whole process of learning the songs and putting the show on stage. With Fringe, you can’t have a complete set because of the 15-minute time constraints placed upon the set-up and strike before and after each performance, and we could not have a complete run of the show on the actual set before we opened, but everyone just got it done and had fun doing it. It always amazes me how so much work can be so much fun. My main concern now is that, since we started the run, I keep having cravings for protein shakes and wiener schnitzel, but I’m hoping that they will end soon.
Composer Tom Hyndman on Harv’s performance:
Tom: One of my working titles for Fictitious at one time was Body Lingo. Harv used his wonderful talent as an actor, to use his body language to convey the three previous mentioned aspects of this song. Especially, during the “I want people to look up to me.” (The Actor) verse. Harv has to do quick, abbreviated impressions of Cher, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Ed Sullivan and Bill Clinton. I believe he nails it every time. Also Harv’s great vocal range allowed Music Director Mary Sugar to get the very best out of Harv’s voice for this number.
This is one of those performances that left me and the audience tongue-tied. Suffice to say that you will watch your vowels carefully after you watch this tongue-de-force!
(Anne Marie: Easy for you to say!).
Joel: Tell us about yourself and the characters you play in the show.
Anne Marie: Well, I’ve lived in D.C. for 10 years and am a graduate of Catholic University’s Drama Department. School is actually where I met Shawn [Northrip], the playwright, and began work shopping the show with him.
I love working with children and reading books, and I try to participate in artistic endeavors of all kinds. The two characters I play in Titus X are the Tribune and Lavinia Andronicus. The Tribune is a representative of the government and wants to put the returning popular war hero, Titus, on the throne. I went for the “mouth piece of the man” character (which is ironic considering my other role), pretty easy to channel in this city!
The character of Lavinia is near and dear to my heart. Shawn’s expression on her is a rockin’ one. I love how she’s fun and young, serious and tragic. What befalls her is horrible – rape and mutilation are nothing to laugh at. But the absurdity of the situation, and the retaliation and retribution she and her father take, is not only ridiculous and over the top, but a way of empowering the character. In other productions of Titus Andronicus, the character of Lavinia tends to fade into the background until her death, but in Northrip’s take, she rocks out her revenge.
Joel: Please set up “BALLAD”.
Ann Marie: Lavinia has watched her husband murdered at the hands of the same men who then rape and mutilate her. Without hands or a tongue to tell her father what has happened and who has done these horrible things to her, she becomes frustrated. Her brothers are accused of her husband’s murder and are sentenced to death. At the point in the show where “Lavinia’s Ballad” takes place, she has attempted to show her father who the actual persecutors are and in desperation resorts to what she knows, speaking. The song has actual lyrics, but without a tongue, well, you get the picture.
Joel: How do you relate to the song?
Anne Marie: I think that I often have difficulty feeling completely understood. Actually I think most people have the experience at some point in life of trying to communicate but not getting their message across fully or how they mean. And actually, when I get angry, I cry. I’ve always done it and it used to frustrate me to no end, because what I’m trying to get across is often lost because of the tears. I think in that specific way I can relate to Lavinia’s frustration in the song. I also work with children, and sometimes children who don’t necessarily even speak yet, know what they want but have no way of telling adults. They can get full on tantrum upset, though usually their communication issue is about a toy or a snack, not murder and mutilation.
Joel: How difficult was it to learn this song, and to sing it?
Anne Marie: I worked with Shawn in the beginning of his creation of the show, so I very luckily have had years to work with it. And yes there are lyrics! and when performing the song I am in fact singing them, you just can’t understand them as I have “no tongue”. In one rehearsal I actually forgot some of the lyrics and started singing random vowels. Shawn was wise to me though and let me know that he knew. I’ll tell you what, it was a blast to get to rock out to a song while having no tongue!
Joel: Talk about your Fringe experience.
Anne Marie: I have participated in Fringe the past two years and have had a great time. I was lucky enough to work with Shawn Northrip and Shirley Serotsky both years, and the casts and crews have been exceptional, talented and fun individuals. I think Fringe is a great time (though I don’t get the button thing), and this show in particular was a blast. Fringe is like tasty little treats sprinkled through the month of July, and it was awesome to be a part of something people were eager to see while they could. Leave them excited and wanting more, right?!
Director Shirley Serotsky and Composer Shawn Northrip talk about Anne Marie’s performance:
Shirley: I have to be honest and say I don’t know how much directing I actually needed to do with this song, either this time or the first go-around five years ago. The song moves in three phases, and it does so with an ease that it makes my job easy. The first sixteen bars or so are about the audience catching up with what’s going on – Oh she’s singing, how is she singing, wait, she’s singing without a tongue! Oh my god she’s singing without a tongue!- and that whole process takes a beat or two to settle in. I’ve always loved watching an audience get that moment. From there it moves into this really well -motivated “I want” song for Lavinia, it’s simple and direct, but the stakes are high (she wants revenge on the people who raped and mutilated her, can’t get much higher stakes than that).
At the end of the song, the music moves into a higher register which sits beautifully in Anne Marie’s voice – it’s everything a punk rock anthem (if there is such a thing) should be – it’s belty and angsty and powerful. When I came to this show, Anne Marie had already been living with the role for a little while – in readings and workshops – and she’d figured a lot of this stuff out already. My job, as with much of this show, was just to nudge a little bit here and there, to make sure we were telling the story clearly, and to empower the actors to go all the way with the material. Shawn has a motto for all of the work we do to the effect of “If you’re going to fall, fall hard”, in other words, don’t hold back, go all out, commit fully and if you fc*k up, that’s cool, and so much better than playing it safe. I agree whole-heartedly with that.
Shawn: It is awesome.
Cyle and John are just adorable as they sing about the joy of having their monkey arrive at their door. Simply put – sweet, and cute. Why couldn’t I have brothers like these guys when I was growing up in Buffalo, NY?
Joel: Tell us about yourself.
Cyle: Well, to start, I am a cliché. I am the working actor who serves as a waiter. I do this at a restaurant called Cedar on E Street in Penn Quarter (shameless I know).
I am actually a DC native, though I made it a point to explore the rest of the country. Between here and there, I have lived and worked in Ouray CO, Nevis, Sedona AZ, Boulder CO, Boston, Orlando, New Orleans, Durango CO, Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Diego, L.A., New York, Fort Myers FL, Rehoboth Beach and Philadelphia, so I’ve seen a few things and I’ve done a few things. One thing that I found as an actor is that seeing such an incredible variety of people and behaviors gives you a sense of freedom on stage. To all the actors out there: No matter which direction you want to go with your character DO IT! because there is someone out there who really acts like that. No matter how outrageous you might think a character is, there is someone living just like that somewhere in this country.
My father is a priest and my mother worked for the government. I will let you judge whether you like the outcome of the union of church and state. I love quantum mechanics and philosophy, and eventually I think that the cutting edge of science will be curved back round to meet the first science of philosophy and I can’t wait! I’m not really sure what else to say….oh…I like to sing.
I always liked going to the theater. My folks would take me to the theater as a kid in Temple, Texas–what a great escape in hot weather to sit in a cool dark room and lose yourself in a story. Back in the 5th grade, I was the pitcher in our class production of Casey at the Bat. That was in ’89 I think; I didn’t take the stage again until the spring of ’05 when my friend, Stephanie Neumen, at USC took a chance on me, and cast me in her production of The Glass Menagerie. How cool is that? By day, I was testing stunts for Fear Factor and by night I was reading Tennessee Williams. From then on, I was thinking that it would be a good experiment to get on-stage, but even then I knew it was gonna take years for the right situation. Right now, I’m having a great time working in TV. I’ve got two shows right now on Channel 69 (Ch. 38 if you have Fios), the sitcom “Arlington News Network”, and the comedic sports journalism show, “”The Other Sports Show. My new character, Rock E. Cavanaugh, and his early 90s inspired fitness program Flow Bo Fit is really gonna take it, “From One to Winfinity.”
Joel: Cyle and John, set up your songs.
Cyle: “It’s Here” is a song about that incredible anticipation that you feel before any big event is begun. For Patty, played fantastically by Suzie Mellring, it’s about the anticipation of being accepted into a social echelon she believed she existed beneath. She is finally getting recognition from people she believes to be her superiors. For Tim – that’s my character – and Chris, played by John Moriarty, it’s about the fantasy that they have created over the last few months with regards to the monkey that’s coming. They have decided that this is going to be the most amazing pet ever and that he will, in fact, be doing their chores and rocketing them right to the top of their playgrounds version of the food chain. This is that wonderful moment before the real world has time to destroy the perfect fantasy that they have created.
Joel: How do you relate to the song and your character?
Cyle: I relate to the song because all people do. I feel that moment all the time. Every time I step on stage I get that adrenal rush from the anticipation. We all have those moments when we are forced to set our fantasies up against the armies of “reality” and see who will win – 99 times out of 100, reality will be victorious…but we keep setting things up because of that one time out of a hundred when it is truly is perfect.
Tim is a precocious young boy attempting to extricate himself from his banal surroundings using comic books to expend his imagination. It’s great, because I did that same thing growing up too. Tim thinks the world should work a certain way, and gets incredibly disappointed when disabused of that thought.
John: “He’s Here” is the song that marks the arrival of Pepe. Me and Tim have been anxiously awaiting the delivery for like three weeks, and when the mail carrier (Dick Dyszel of Captain 20 fame, Count Gor De Vol) gets to the front door, me and Tim are about to come unglued. I love that scene so much as an actor. When Dick says that “the monkey is gonna surely die if he sends it back to Florida” and Cyle and I get to react to that one, that’s hilarious. My hat is off to Jon Gann for writing some truly funny material.
As for my character, I think that Chris Tate represents the All-American hunky older brother. And I think that his rebellious streak is a call for action; he just wants to shake things up a bit. I think that teenagers like doing crazy stuff just to see how they can affect their world. Hell, I’ve been heavily medicated before. I’ll say this, it’s more fun to order a monkey from a comic book than it is to writhe around on lithium and lamictal.
Joel: Tell us about your Fringe experience.
Cyle: This is my first professional performance, so it’s also my first Fringe. I have loved it, the excitement and the randomness of it all just allows for everything to come together magically.
John: I’m new to Fringe Festival this year, and it’s cool. I wish I could get out to more of the shows. Fringe is all about what D.C. summers are supposed to be about: Going out early in the summer (before it gets hot as hell) to see a show. Get some friends together and go to the theater, or a rock show. This whole “going to the club” thing seems sort of passé if you don’t get some culture along with it.
Pepe! Co-lyricist Jon Gann:
Jon: Working with Cyle and John has been amazing. From the moment Cyle walked into the audition, we all knew he WAS Tim – hyper and funny and a little nerdy. John’s process was quite different, and it was not until 3/4 of the way thru rehearsals that the role “snapped” and he was Chris – mean, tough and conniving. Together, their harmonies are beautiful – but it is their chemistry that makes the roles work.
I fell in love with this show at Page-To-Stage last year, and now it’s better than ever. When you hear Bridgid’s voice fill the small Redrum space, it’s haunting and thrilling and gorgeous. And then there’s that power, which will lift you out of your seat. It’s a performance that I will never forget.
Joel: Tell us about yourself:
Bridgid: I’ve recently finished my doctorate in vocal performance at The Catholic University, studying with Sharon Christman. I teach at the Frostburg State University. I love to perform, and I want to continue performing to bring the love of music and all that entails into my students’ lives.
I have appeared in the operatic roles of Birdie in Blitzstein’s Regina, Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’Icoronazione di Poppea, Athena in the world premiere of Andrew Simpson’s The Furies, and Mrs. Gibbs in the Washington, D.C. premier of Ned Rorem’s Our Town. I’ve also performed throughout Europe including Germany, Austria, Ireland, and most recently, I had the honor of singing with world renowned tenor Luigi Alva in Perugia, Italy.
Joel: You have starred in all three productions of this show, including the performance at The Kennedy Center’s 2008 Page to Stage, which I wrote about here. I loved your performance then, but now I feel your performance is even better. How has the show and your performance evolved?
Bridgid: The first time through a production everyone is feeling their way along. As a performer in a new work, you have to create the role and define the character. It’s rare to realize a work anywhere near as fully the first time through as when you revisit it later.
During the opera’s second production we had a new director, Jay Brock. Jay made minor – but important – changes. For example, he incorporated the dancer who depicted the spirit of Emily in a more pronounced way. By the third performance we all had more time to reflect and absorb the work. We found the energy of the piece and threw ourselves into it. Jay directed the work again, and this time Emily, the singer, took on the role of narrator, telling the tale while the dancer acted out the story. Because I had the opportunity to develop the role of Emily over the course of the three productions, I had time to deepen the character and understand what she truly about.
Joel: How do you relate to Emily?
Bridgid: Emily and I have nothing in common. Emily is neglected and takes it all, not even asking for bread and water. I would have at least asked for a nice case of wine.
I was just floored! When 15 year-old Kelsey sailed her way through “Poor Wand’ring One”, I was speechless for one of the very few times in my life. The shy kid who was in the ensemble at Act Two’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was shy no more. Now I was watching Kelsey command the stage as she sang this very difficult aria with ease. The audience and Frederic, the Pirate Apprentice, fell in love with Kelsey instantly. BRAVO to the entire young cast of terrific singers from The G&S Youth Company. You were all scene stealers!
Kelsey: I am 15 and will turn 16 in August. I am a junior at T. S. Wootton High School, where I am in the chambers choir. I take voice lessons with Kay Krekow, who has inspired me to sing opera. She has taught me for four years, and is the most supportive teacher. I have appeared in the following productions: Tosca and Rondine at The American Center for Puccini Studies, Beauty and the Beast, Grease and Honk – all at Wootton, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat at Act Two Performing Arts.
Joel: Please set up “Poor Wand’ring One”.
Kelsey: Mabel sings “Poor Wand’ring One” to tell Frederic that she will love him. Gilbert and Sullivan take cadenzas from famous opera arias and use them in the song because “Poor Wand’ring One” is all about showing off vocal ability. I love performing this piece because normally, I add high notes and trills to songs. For “Poor Wand’ring One”, I didn’t have to. I am a coloratura soprano and this song is perfect for my range. I really enjoy singing it!
Joel: How do you relate to Mabel?
Kelsey: Mabel is assertive and headstrong. She is more rebellious than the other girls, and she falls in love with Frederic while her sisters shy away. Honestly, I am not like Mabel. It was great to play a character like her. It was more of a challenge.
Joel: Talk about your Fringe experience..
Kelsey: It was so great to be a part of the Capital Fringe Festival. I have never gotten a lead role in anything before and it was an amazing experience. The singing came easily to me, but I have never had to act as much as I did. I couldn’t have done it without the direction from Pamela Leighton-Bilik and help from the rest of the G&S Youth Company.
When Sarah sings the beautiful “By the light of the moon,” it’s a small appetizer of her powerful, clear, and gorgeous singing yet to come. Sarah is not just a wonderful singer – she’s a terrific actress.
Joel: Tell us about yourself.
Sarah: I have been singing almost my entire life, my first performance being a four-year-old Munchkin in The Wiz at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts. In my early 20’s when studying in Paris, I made the transition from musical theater to opera. For the past few years I have performed in regional companies such as Summer Opera Theater and Opera Theater of Northern Virginia and in concerts and recitals throughout the DC metro area. Jay Brock and I co-founded Opera Alterna in 2007, because we shared a desire for a more creative and fresh approach to the art form. I enjoyed and appreciated all of my experiences with other opera companies but craved an opportunity to perform in productions that would both push the envelope of opera and be accessible to a wider audience. Since the start of Opera Alterna, I have performed the roles of Dido in Dido and Aeneas, Mother in The Women, Clara in Signor Deluso and Claire in Magnum Opus. In the fall I am moving to Philadelphia to be closer to my voice teacher Bill Schuman, but will be involved in the upcoming Opera Alterna season, which will include some interesting twists on opera classics.
Joel: Set up “By the light of the moon”.
Sarah: In this scene Claire, an up-and-coming opera singer who has been on tour for a few months, has just returned home to her husband Robert. Her friend John, a charming young composer, has escorted her home. He announces that he has composed a song and thinks it is perfect for Claire. Claire, in true Diva form, revels in the attention and flattery and agrees to sing through his song at that very moment-although the moment stirs her husband’s jealousy.
The song itself is based on a famous Brahms Lied and is meant to be a bit saccharine-to highlight John’s devotion. Regardless, Claire throws herself into the sappy poetry of the song with conviction. Being an up-and-coming opera singer myself, I can relate to this scene easily. As a performer I know that it would be especially flattering for someone to write a piece specifically for my voice. And I know that you never turn down an opportunity to sing. Regardless of the situation, you commit musically and emotionally to the song in front of you, à la Claire.
Joel: Talk about your Fringe experience.
Sarah: Fringe has been a great experience. It is very difficult for a small grassroots company to afford the kind of venue Fringe provides, not to mention the amazing opportunity for exposure to the public and the press. There are definitely challenges involved in doing a Fringe show, such as setting up, lights and all, in 15-minute as well as having only a few hours in the space to do tech and run the show before opening. But the challenges provide a great opportunity to practice flexibility and quick thinking, pre-requisites for live theater. I am grateful to Fringe for giving Opera Alterna and me a venue to perform and exposure to the greater DC audience.
Magnum Opus Composer Michael Oberhauser on Sarah’s performance:
Michael: Sarah gave an excellent performance of this song. I like how she begins the first verse a little more tentatively, but once she gets the hang of the song (which, of course, Claire is sight singing) she gets more confident with it. By the lower third verse, Claire is comfortable enough to really act the song. At this point, Sarah darkens her voice a little bit to be the boy’s voice, and I think what she does is really effective. For the fourth verse the speaker is a girl again, so Sarah softens and sweetens her voice again. At the climax of the song Sarah sings a beautiful pianissimo high g that brings the song to a wonderfully sweet ending.
by Joel Markowitz
More Scene Stealers coming, plus a special feature taking a look at the creators of some of Fringe’s most successful musicals.