It is appropriately grey and rainy here today. This is the eighth anniversary of 9/11. Down at the site of the former World Trade Center there is the dedication of the new 9/11 memorial. I watched for a while on TV as all of the names of the victims were being read.
Yesterday at 1PM we read through the first Act. For having only two days of rehearsal, it went pretty well. The thing that makes me happiest about this is that I think it holds together as a piece of theater. Having a new cast, we now know that these words and these songs are not dependent on any one performer. The show works on its own. There are, of course, innumerable things to fix in this show that works. Meg Guroff asked me yesterday when it would be done. I abandoned that question in theater a long time ago. There is no “done.” I heard yesterday from Mel Morgan that they are still making adjustments to Phantom of the Opera. That show has been running for 20 years. That notion is contrary to most of my work-a-day psyche. I am at heart a completionist. I make lists and take great joy in crossing off the items that I have completed.
After rehearsal I came back to the Leo House to work on the show for a few hours. Then went to see “Spottiswoode and his Enemies.” They were at the Living Room on Ludlow St in the Village. Nice listening room. He played all new material – really none of his fallback killer songs. And it was all good. He is a really good lyricist and an incredibly theatrical performer. I can see why his band has been willing to work with him for so many years. Like many of his fans, I don’t understand why he is not more of a national figure. I know a few of his band members. John Young on bass. Candace DiBartolo on sax, Kevin Cordt on trumpet. And Wiley McMahon on guitar. Wiley is one of the most artistic, interesting guitarists around. Their performance at times bordered on the psychedelic. Something called Purple River, Yellow Moon??? The band bus trip to the Center of the Earth?? Whoa! I love the fact that the whole band can get into it with total conviction. I invited Johnathon to the Cleo reading on Monday.
Today we are continuing the read-thru. Starting with Act II. There are changes in the song “Toast.” Hell there are changes in everything. When this is all over I will need to see a compiled score to get a handle on all the changes. I have just been writing, sending pdfs to Mel, and then wondering what version we are currently singing…..
Just started with Laura Marie Duncan. She is playing Sybil Burton. She is currently in South Pacific at Lincoln Center. She plays one of the nurses, and understudies for Nelly Forbush. She is completely confident of her ability to learn new material quickly. Her featured song is called “I Know Him.” It is a song that could steal the show. She is singing to Eddie Fisher (Fred Berman).
Today we will have our first read-thru at 1PM. It should be instructive. Although everyone here is a very quick study, they are still reading the notes. Something like this doesn’t really take shape until the actors are off-book ( ie. having memorized their part) . I am hoping that the songs will start to find their natural balances- between chorus and soloist; and that the songs themselves will start to seep into their psyches a little.
Yesterday Clarke learned “That’s a Laugh” That was the song where he had to make some determination of how British “laugh” was. Was it “lof”, “laaf” or about 20 other places I can’t even hear. I’ll be looking forward to how that solidified overnight.
At the end of the day yesterday, we decided that “Toast”, the opening number to Act II needed work. So last night I re-wrote the end of the song. We’ll see today how that came out. Luckily, I am allowed to use the piano at the hotel I am staying at. Otherwise, I would have been working only on this laptop, and that is a drag. In my heart of hearts I am a paper and pencil guy. But I am not crazy. My life changed for the better once I got the Sibelius notation software. And now I can’t imagine how I got by with just my paper and pencils.
I’m staying at the Leo House on 23rd st. It is an odd place to stay. It is sort of a Catholic boarding house/hotel. There is a dining hall ( could that be the Refectory?) on the second floor and they serve breakfast everyday – the buffet is $9. Today I played piano for the breakfast crowd to thank Sister Cathlene, who allowed me to use the piano. It was like a cocktail gig. I’ve played a million of them…. “thank you very much, we’ll be here all week, Try the veal.” It has always been a weird comfort to me to know that if you can play the Cole Porter songbook etc, you can always make a living.
I talked to Cristen Paige yesterday. She is playing Edie Sedgwick in a piece at Yale next month. And man, has she done her research! Edie was one of the stars of Andy Warhol’s Factory, and a casualty those times. She also has done her homework on Liz Taylor.
In these 29 hour readings, there is barely enough time for the cast to learn the songs. It seems that the actual play gets pretty short shrift. Today at least , Joe got a chance to work on a few scenes with the actors. I love watching him work with actors. His book is very cool and I can hardly wait for the time when he can really dig into the staging. the actual performance of the lines.
At 2 Pm Clarke Thorell and Gia Mora went over the scene that leads up to and includes ” Let It Rain”. They both sing the hell out of that song. What was more interesting to me was listening to Joe direct the scene. Beyond his calm ability to get the performance out of the actors- he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Liz, Dick, the filming of Cleopatra, and the entire culture of 1962. Watching Joe and Clarke adjust the degrees or Britishness ( really Welshness) in his accent is a study in the control that actors have over their delivery.
Here is our cast:
Gia Mora- Elizabeth Taylor
John Bolton – Vic
Clarke Thorell- Richard Burton
Laura Marie Duncan- Sybil
Paul Anthony Stewart – Montgomery Clift
Matt Bogart – Rock Hudson
Van Hughes – James Dean
Mark Lotito- Spyrous
Steven Skybell- Joe Mankiewicz
Nick Spangler- Timmy
Jill Abramovitz- Ensemble
Fred Berman- Ensemble
Ben Crawford- Ensemble
Marya Grandy- Ensemble
Cristen Paige- Ensemble
Craig Waletzko- Ensemble