Archive for December, 2004

Counting Down – minutes til 2005

Friday, December 31st, 2004

A quiet New Year’s Eve at home with D’Arcy and Kerry. Alex is off playing his first New Year’s Eve gig, with a band called Mulch. Tasty risotto (chicken, sharp provolone) and salad for our dinner a deux. Good to be home tonight, to celebrate the end of an eventful year and the beginning of the next one. There’s so much to be thankful for in the past year. Tonight we watched Napoleon Dynamite, which Kerry is fond of – I thought this quirky, mannered fable was fun, but D found it pointless and bailed out midway thru. Earlier, our neighbor Ahmen stopped by with homemade buns. Coming up shortly: the burning of the Christmas Tree, a jolly blaze to light a winter night in the middle of 12th Street and kindle bright wishes for 2005. Tomorrow the Mummers march up Broad St in what promises to be fine weather. Happy New Year, all!

Anyone Can Whistle – more musings

Sunday, December 19th, 2004

As I continue to prepare to direct next month’s production of Anyone Can Whistle at the Prince Music Theater, I jotted down a few thoughts for a reporter who’s doing a column on me and the show. I reproduce them here for what they’re worth:

Anyone Can Whistle opened in the early 60’s, at the end of the very conformist 1950’s (the era of the Hollywood blacklist which Arthur Laurents describes vividly in his memoir “Original Story By”), and its message is a non-conformist one. It’s a dystopian fantasy with overtones of The Cradle Will Rock, 1984 and Urinetown, set in a down-at-heels town run by a ruthless mayor and a troika of nasty advisors. The ruling elite is well off, even though the town itself has fallen on hard times – a state of affairs not too different from the present day, one could say. In this town, there is a local sanitarium called the “Cookie Jar” which is actually a lock-up where the “socially pressured’ are kept quarantined. Who are the Cookies? All the interesting people in the town, as it turns out – thinkers, activists, artists, dancers, musicians, homosexuals, people of color – anyone, in short, who is different in appearance or ideology from the conservatives who are in charge. The play can be seen as a parable of liberalism vs conservatism: the conservatives are wealthy, mean and concerned with protecting what they’ve got, while the liberals are diverse, interesting and given to quixotic ventures. The heroine of the story is the head nurse at the Cookie Jar, a woman named Fay Apple, who tries to set her Cookies free, with the help of a Mysterious Stranger named J. Bowden Hapgood who arrives in town during the first act and is embraced as a sort of Messiah. As it turns out, Hapgood is another Cookie, but a charming rogue nonetheless, and Fay falls in love with him.
Through the course of the action, Fay strives to keep her Cookies out of the Jar, but her efforts are ultimately foiled by the machinations of the Mayor and her Controller. The play leaves us with the idea that the world needs crazy people, that its vitality depends on people who don’t think in lockstep with the powers that be.
The main reason for doing ACW is the score, which is widely regarded as ingenious, sophisticated and ahead of its time (its contemporaries are Fiddler On The Roof, Funny Girl and Hello Dolly). The book is considered a bit of a problem, and reviews of recent revivals (in Los Angeles at the Matrix Theater and in London at the Bridewell, both in 2003) suggest that today’s theatergoers are still likely to find the show overstuffed with ideas and inconsistent in tone, veering wildly from wacky to pretentious. Personally, I wish there was a way to fix the ending to bring it more in line with my own liberal agenda. There’s no way of ignoring the fact that the Cookie Jar is more gulag than asylum – nearly all its inmates yearn to be free – and what are we to make of an ending where the bad guys go scot-free while the artists and thinkers wind up helpless behind bars? That’s way too much like real life. The efforts of Hapgood and Fay don’t really seem to change the status quo, which is much the same at the end of the story as it is at the beginning. The piece has got its dramaturgical challenges, and I don’t know how much hope there is of effecting meaningful improvements on its most glaring problems.
Meanwhile, I find myself wondering if there isn’t a way to treat the variety of tone in ACW as a feature rather than a bug in this production, much like Assassins does. As director of the Prince’s production, my first job is to make sure that the piece is well-sung and as well-acted as it can be, then to make sure the tone of each section is clear and to manage the transition between contrasting sections in a way that keeps the audience abreast of the authors’ complex point of view. It’ll be a big challenge, and an exciting one.

A Week Before Christmas – Cafe Update

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

Writing today from an internet cafe in Old City, near the Arden Theater, where I’m doing double-headers of “A Year With Frog and Toad” on Thu, Fri, Sat and Sun this week. The show has settled into a comfortable routine that’s on the threshhold of monotony, and so I try to keep my mind active with various diversions, including doing Finale input of “Made By Two” in the dressing room before and between acts of the show and dashing out for a hit of caffeine and HTML between shows.
There’s been an unbelievable amount of activity in my life the past weeks, as the paucity of my blog entries will attest. With school wrapped up for the fall, I’m down to mere quadruple-tasking: preparing two shows which I’m directing at the beginning of the year (“Anyone Can Whistle” at the Prince, “Made By Two” for U Arts and the Cardiff Festival), packaging “Gemini The Musical” so it can be sent out to prospective producers, and doing eight to ten shows a week with my amphibian pals at the Arden. Readers of this blog are no doubt weary of the “too busy to blog” theme, and may even find themselves exhausted (as I am) by these breathless posts that barely manage to enumerate my activities before signing off. So where, you ask, is the BEEF? A question my family and friends must be asking too, since I feel like I’m a shadowy presence in the lives of the people I love the most when my days get like this.
So what’s my excuse? Well, the buckram dollar, for one – it’s a boon to be able to earn some bread in the professional theater; a lot of lean years to make up for, and opportunity is not a lengthy visitor. And every one of these projects has their charms. ACW is a musical I’ve dreamed of doing since my undergrad days, when I drove my roommates crazy playing the album on a daily basis, and actually began to produce a version of it with my pals in E-52 Theater, the student organization I was chairman of. Made By Two is beautiful, distinctive and challenging, and it’s a pleasure to contemplate rescuing this unusual work from ill-deserved obscurity. Gemini The Musical was a terribly exciting experience, and one whose promise has yet to be entirely fulfilled, I think. And Frog and Toad has its artistic charms too. So I’m certainly not complaining, even though it may sound that way. But I understand if my pals find me a dull dog these days – all work and no play has that effect, I hear.
If I’m lucky, I’ll get a quick nap before half hour for the 4 pm show. Such is the height of my ambitions at the moment – forty winks.

Frog and Toad

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

Seems like I spend more of my time with these two guys these past few weeks than with my nearest and dearest. You can find us all at the Arden Theater for the next month or so…