The 6th Floor of Chelsea Studios, NYC
An addendum to my story yesterday about all the actresses lined up for Beauty and the Beast. They got to sing 8 bars. Let me repeat that …” They only got to sing eight bars” !!!! I have never heard of that. 16 maybe. What on earth can you tell about a person, or a voice in 8 bars? This is no business for the faint of heart.
Last night I got called to write a commercial back in DC. If they can wait for me to get back I will probably do it. This is only worth mentioning because it seemed like such a jolt, shaking me out of my Broadway cocoon. I realized that I haven’t read a paper since I’ve been here. Really it has only been two days. But I NEVER go without reading the paper!
Here is a picture of what it looks like before the actors arrive: 14 chairs with 14 music stands. There are pencils, hi-liters and Ricola cough drops. The stage managers, Mel and Tiffany arrive at 9 AM to set up computers and printers. Chris Littlefield arrives around 9:30. He is always early and prepared. The Actors will show up about 9:55AM for their 10 AM hit. They are never late. Like musicians, they learn that lesson early on.
When I first started working with Chris Littlefield on this show ( Around the beginning of the year. ) I tried to rhyme “dream” with “scene” . He looked at me , shook his head, and said ” That is a false rhyme.” To me, at the time, that seemed incredibly fussy. But during the next six months of working with him I learned that he is exactly right. There is a right way to write this music and these lyrics. He has been adamant in his refusal to accept weak work.. When I was first agonizing over these seemingly small things I said something like, ” These are just tiny details” . He stopped and looked at me and said, ” The details aren’t the details” . THIS is quotable. Or maybe the title of his first book. Suffice to say, he is bringing this same attention to detail to his work with the singers. And it shows in their performance.
Ben “Shrek” Crawford just showed up. Everyone is so happy for him. I think he starts as the lead in Shrek on Nov 9th.
In The PM, New York
We are back in the studio. I am listening to John Bolton play “Vic”. He is spectacular. And Chris Littlefield is doing an wonderful job. I just sit here in amazement as little Mel Morgan moves actors around like chess pieces. Actors arrive, actors leave, they sit in different configurations for each song. It just flows right along— so far without many hiccups.
I am realizing that what I really like is only writing this stuff. I don’t need to have much to do with the rehearsing of it. Probably, that means that I am not so much of a theater person. Maybe just a theater music composer. My job here: I am really here as some sort of quality control agent. I try and stay on top of the times when we all feel it needs to be transposed, fix little note mistakes etc, But largely I just sit and enjoy it all. And now blog.
Note: there is no shortage of tenors in New York. The baritones are a more precious commodity. And basses? I’ve never heard one. The girls seem to be able to sing anything.
Oh. This was frightening: When we got in this morning they were auditioning for Beauty and the Beast. (They still are). The entire sixth floor was FILLED with actresses. Miles of beautiful, and probably talented, 21 year old girls. Oh my, what a daunting thing for each of them. How on earth do you keep your ego from crumbling to psychic dust in the face of a hundred other people who can do almost exactly what you do?
Late AM, New York
Note to self: The score and the script HAVE to have the same lyrics! When there is a discrepancy you can just watch the next 10 minutes of your rehearsal dribble away.
Our Liz, Gia Mora, just got here. She doesn’t play the diva at all. I’m so glad that she has this part. We had a chance to go over the music back in Washington. Her ability to learn a LOT of music quickly is just amazing to me. But this room is filled with people who make their livings by being able to do just that. Fred Berman is able to hear any part and remember it. Matt Bogart, same.
There are a few new faces that I have not met yet. Steven Skybell is playing Mank. I’ve not met him yet. Looking forward to that. In our last reading we had Brad Oscar play that role. He was pretty damn amazing. Looking forward to Steven’s take on that character.
Rehersal for “The Last Days of Cleopatra”
Early AM, New York
We started rehearsal today at Chelsea Studios for our 29 hour reading of The Last Days of Cleopatra. This rehearsal studio at 151 West 26th street has to have been here since the Gershwins were rehearsing “Lady Be Good”. The wooden floors have ruts a half inch deep from so many years of pushing upright pianos around. And I dont think that much has changed over the past 80 years of Broadway. Maybe on stage, but not in this part of the process. There are still a few lines of folding chairs in front of a piano. The actors have music and music director, Christopher Littlefield in our case, sits and painstakingly teaches the music to the actors. There is no quicker way to get this done. There are computers involved now and we print parts out instead of having them hand copied. And everyone- really everyone- is constantly checking their cell phone. After all , actors make their living by answering the phone. But at it’s essential core, this process is the same process that has gone on ever since musical theater existed on Broadway. I’m really happy about that. It makes me feel like I am in some sort of tradition or continuum. There is comfort in that. I feel that part of the anxiety of putting up a show like this can be softened by believing in “the process”.
The actors are great. Some are stars, some should be, some will be. Ben Crawford, who is just singing in the chorus on this show, just got the role of Shrek in … Shrek duh.. John Bolton as Vic is soooo good. Fred Berman is an amazing talent. I’ll try and remember everyone’s names over the course of the week.
I spend most of my time sitting at a table with Joe Calarco, my artistic partner in this. He wrote the book and is the director. He is impressive. He keeps the entire arc of the show in his head at all times. And the book is such finely tuned , tight theatrical vehicle. He also happens to be a really good guy.
The other people on the periphery of this rooom are Laurie Issmembert, one of the producers. and two stage managers, Melanie and Tiffany. I have learned that you cannot do this without a competent stage manager. They can take this process from a messy chaos to a smoothly chugging rehearsal machine.
Chris Littlefield is our music director. I am astonished at much control of this project I am happy to cede to him. He is fussy and sometimes drives me crazy, but I have learned a huge amount from him about how to write for the theater. And he has a great rapport with the actors. It is nice to watch him run these numbers with the chorus. We are now in the process of figuring out the first song of the show “Lucky Liz” . There is actually very little music in it. It’s mostly dialog with little bits of music interspersed. 2 years ago I would not have been able to be comfortable with a “construction” like this. But I guess I totally trust Joe and his theatrical instincts.
I know this is music. But it is a world away from my normal world of concert music, or film music or Chaise Lounge. And I will be living in this world for the next week.
More later -C