Archive for March, 2004

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Sunday, March 28th, 2004

Many smiles and much enthusiasm and delight after a gang of us crowded into the Ritz Five to see (at long last) Mr. Smith’s latest. I saw a version of the film over a year ago, and was greatly intrigued by the cuts and changes that have been implemented since then. Luckily, I’m still there, for all of seven seconds or so as Sweeney Todd, and damn masterful, or so my crowd of friends and well-wishers all assured me (of course, there was free pizza and beer at stake). And the Sweeney Todd finale (the “third-act showstopper” that KS so graciously acknowledged in his list of special thanks at the end of the credits) looked just dandy. But the film clocked in at around 140 minutes when I first saw it, and now times out at a brisk 103. Much of the storytelling that was the focus of the first third of the original film – the parts that dealt with the courtship of Gertrude Steiney (Jennifer Lopez’s character) and Ollie Trinke (Mr Affleck) – has been dispatched with a few brisk strokes and a voice-over by little Raquel Castro. Gone, the talk of man-gravy and sister-sauce (don’t ask); gone, the scene at Famous Deli where Gertie reveals her fondness for the musical Sweeney Todd; and gone too the final scene where ghost-mom and daughter share a spin on the dance floor at the Clamdigger Bar with the man they both love. Sic transit…
Friend-spotting was the big fun of the afternoon: who made it to the final cut? There’s Linda Henderson sitting at the piano in the Cats numbers; my mother’s husband Chuck Earnshaw on the stairs as Ben and Raquel make their way to the balcony for the Sweeney performance; Matthew Cloran as Anthony the Sailor, who appears onstage in the Sweeney Todd scene for a few seconds. Drucie McDaniel is clearly evident in the crowd of angry citizens at the Highlands town-hall meeting, but no longer has a spoken line as she did in the first cut I saw. And was that Ratface at the reins of the horse-drawn carriage in Central Park? We’ll have to buy the DVD and do some adroit maneuvering with the pause-button to actually get a clear glimpse of my son Kerry in the crowd at the pageant; he’s there and gone in an instant. Like I said, sic transit…

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Saturday, March 27th, 2004

An action-packed couple of days! Off to New York on Friday AM to meet with the producer of the International Festival of Musical Theater in Cardiff, Wales, Joanne Benjamin. Plans for the University of the Arts to participate in the spring 2005 festival were enthusiastically discussed, along with options for hosting an IMTTS international meeting in conjunction with the Festival.
Then it was only a short hike up the street to Studio 54, where this sight greeted me:

I was ushered into the darkened theater by librettist John Weidman, where a tech rehearsal was in progress. At the lighting desk, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer were feverishly working on lighting “Another National Anthem.”

The stage set is a remarkable fabrication of timbers and lights that suggests the frame of a giant roller coaster. It’s as if the action of the play takes place in a lost corner of an amusement park, down underneath the rides where the fairground flotsam accumulates. The stage is flanked by vivid collages comprised of images from American popular culture, wretched detritus from our civilization including images of Mickey Mouse, smiley faces, Marlboro boxes, Velveeta cheese logos, Fallout Shelter warning signs, and playbills announcing performances by John Wilkes Booth. A winding staircase wraps around the set, ascending to an impossible height and disappearing above the proscenium arch. At the front of the stage, a flight of steps make it possible for the actors to move easily into close proximity to the audience.

The rehearsal progressed very slowly – they only made it through about three minutes of the play during the several hours I watched. I was struck by the ubiquitous presence of laptop computers in the room. Obviously someone had set up a wireless base station, and cast and crew alike were using it. Neal Patrick Harris had his TiBook onstage, and opened it every time there was a pause in the proceedings – which was frequently. When the break came, other cast members gathered around laptops in the house. Email? IM’s? Whatever their purpose, the collection of hardware was unprecendented in my experience – a sign of the times, I guess. (I was happy to note a preponderance of Macs.)

The cast showed itself to be first-rate even at Tech. Marc Kudish, as the Proprietor, has been given a role in “Another National Anthem,” a song in which the Proprietor was not featured in the original production. He is a powerful stage presence, menacing, muscled and masculine, with a gleaming shaved pate. Weidman mentioned to me that he appears much less threatening at the beginning of the play – a sort of Harold Hill image complete with straw boater. Mario Cantone as Sam Byck is a wild bundle of raw energy, with an unforgettable shrill, raspy voice. Weidman mentioned to me that Mary Catherine Garrison, who plays Squeaky, had been corresponding with the real-life Squeaky in prison; he shook his head, clearly having a hard time reckoning with the fact that there was a real-world counterpart to the fictional character he had created in the the play. And when he mentioned that Michael Cerveris had told him he was roughly the same height and weight as John Wilkes Booth, the character he portrays, John wondered how Michael had been able to find that out.

After dinner, it was onto the C train for a quick ride to the Village, where I attended a reading of a new musical at the Manhattan Theater Source.

The evening was balmy, the streets lively, and the little theater upstairs at the Source was packed with curious friends and well-wishers who had come to see Andrew Frank and Doug Silver’s Sidd, an adaptation of Hesse’s Siddhartha. The crowd responded warmly to the talented cast and the moving finale of the show. The Manhattan Theatre Source is a remarkable operation, “a new not-for-profit arts service organization with a groundbreaking purpose: to organize and link the disparate communities within New York’s vital off-off-Broadway movement, and to provide a “one-stop shop” resource center for independent theatre artists and audiences across the nation.” More power to Andrew Frank and his fellow artists and volunteers!

Back in Philadelphia the next day, D and I found time for a brief wander around Queen Village; we’d gone to shop for fabric, but kept wandering into interesting little by-ways and finding sights like these:

Tomorrow: we attend Jersey Girl! I got an e-mail from Kevin McGuire, a student from years ago, who saw the film on opening day and wrote: “I saw Jersey Girl yesterday and what a great (albeit brief) Sweeney Todd you made! [Many of my students have had a gift for sucking up.] I found it a very “Kevin Smith” twist for a 6 year old Catholic school girl to pick a song from ST while everyone else was doing Memory. I wondered if Smith was aware of the old “Sondheim vs. ALW” thing that’s existed for years among theatre enthusiasts. What a hoot to see Liv Tyler performing Toby to a diminutive Mrs. Lovett. The movie was pretty enjoyable as well. You must have had a hoot of a time putting all the musical stuff together.” Kevin’s right, a hoot it was, and a hoot it will be tomorrow. Meanwhile, e-online has an article in which it opines that Jersey Girl will definitely lose the Gigli curse. Google is full of Jersey Girl news right now.

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Thursday, March 25th, 2004

Opened an email from my mom to find this – not her words, but something she received that resonated for her and does for me too:

“I’m reading more and dusting less. I’m sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my family and friends and less time working. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.

I’m not “saving” anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis blossom.

I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries.

“Someday” and “one of these days” are losing their grip on my vocabulary; if it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.

I’m not sure what others would’ve done had they known they wouldn’t be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted.

I think they would have called family members and a few close friends. They might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles.

I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever their favorite food was.

I’m guessing; I’ll never know.

It’s those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited. Angry because I hadn’t written certain letters that I intended to write one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn’t tell my husband and parents often enough how much I truly love them. I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives.

And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God.

“People say true friends must always hold hands, but true friends don’t need to hold hands because they know the other hand will always be there.”

I don’t believe in miracles. I rely on them.

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.”

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Thursday, March 25th, 2004

Sitting in the kitchen on a Thursday morning, waiting for my corn muffins to bake.

Tomorrow will be a New York day – meeting with the producer of the International Festival of Musical Theater from Cardiff, Wales; dropping in on Assassins rehearsal; attending a reading of a new musical by a friend down in the Village. Meanwhile, today, I’m advising students, grading papers, paying bills – trying to be (not in any hierarchical order) a good teacher, academic administrator, father, husband, citizen-artist and not feeling terribly thorough or successful in any of those efforts. I think my corn muffins are a feeble stab at domesticity, an inexpensive bite of Jiffy gratification before I descend into the bustle of my day.

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Sunday, March 21st, 2004

I’ve put together a page on my site about Gemini that includes a character breakdown and musical excerpts for each character. The mp3s are from the reading we did at the end of January, and are there to give prospective actors a little bit of a notion of the various characters’ musical idioms.

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Friday, March 19th, 2004

Snapped at FAP: Kerry plays “Rat On The Wall” with his fellow fencers.

The Senior Class prepares for their New York showcase on Monday, April 12.

Snow on March 19; still no Assassins advance; pre-concerts lectures this week at the Philly Pops. Barely a minute to blog!

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Sunday, March 14th, 2004

“Dishonest Dubya” Lying Action Figure Doll – George W. Bush

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Sunday, March 14th, 2004

My collaborator, Albert, seems to think that I like too many things, and while I’ll admit that I enjoy liking things and talking about things I like, I don’t concede that this is a flaw on my part. I can be as picky and as grumpy as the next guy – I just don’t feel like it adds the same kind of zest to my life that enjoying something does. That said, here’ some happy thoughts about the movie Pieces of April, which I watched this weekend on DVD. I’d seen the little clip with Patricia Clarkson on the Oscars, and Albert told me that he’d read and enjoyed the screenplay. We picked the movie out as the opening selection for a Friday night family film fest, and I’ll admit I felt a little dubious during the first twenty minutes – not about the quality of the film, which was immediately apparent, but about my willingness to go on this particular emotional journey while consuming beer and cheesesteaks at the end of an exhausting week. But I hung in, drawn in by the skillful writing, directing and acting on the screen. I was particularly impressed by the surprises in the screenplay – on more than one occasion, you think you know where the story is going, and then it doesn’t go there. And the way the climax is handled – just when things are about to get really emotional, the film switches to a montage of still photographs to depict events that otherwise might have seemed mawkish – left me deeply moved and gratified. Here’s a couple images from the film:

Work of warning about the official site which I linked to above: it’s Flash-based and takes forever to load. What’s up with that? There, see, I knew I could find SOMETHING to complain about.

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Saturday, March 13th, 2004

Cy Coleman’s Klezmer-Kissed The Great Ostrovsky Opens in Philly March 13: That’s tonight!

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Saturday, March 13th, 2004

Growth for Phila. is a matter of degrees, study suggests: I found this column from the 3/12 Inquirer about the connection between education and the future of Philadelphia quite interesting. There’s a chance to discuss this over on the forum at Phillyblog.com, where I’ve been hanging out the past few days: