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

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