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
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?