Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Rehearsal with Seth Rudetsky

from Onstage & Backstage

Tyler Maynard and I drive to the George Street Playhouse a lot with Lauren Kennedy, and we were discussing onstage mishaps (my fave). We were saying that the gun at the end of West Side Story often fires by accident or doesn't fire at all. Apparently, Lauren knows of one performance where Chino went to shoot Tony at the end of the show and the gun didn't go off. Tony had to die, so he feigned that the sight of the gun….gave him a heart attack. What? Then when Maria brandished the gun to the Sharks and the Jets, instead of saying, "How many bullets are left in this gun? Enough for you? And you?" She made it more specific and said, "Enough to give a heart attack to you? And you?"
Tyler Maynard and Seth Rudetsky

The last story sounds like folklore, but Tyler was actually at a performance of Sweeney Todd where the guy playing Sweeney shooed the Beggar Woman out of his shop with his signature "Off with you! Off with you." Unfortunately, it was the scene where he was supposed to kill her! The whole end of the show rides on the fact that the Beggar Woman is dead, so Mrs. Lovett came out and decided to save the day by killing her with an ax. But, it was a real ax and too dangerous to use close to someone's body. So, as she yelled, "Die! Die!" and swung the ax downward, she was forced to stop a good two feet above the Beggar Woman. I guess it allowed the audience to use their imagination. And ask for their money back.

Well, the dress rehearsal went great! I can't wait until the show officially opens this Friday! And I have the whole cast coming to my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show on Wednesday. I'm interviewing them and then we're going to sing from the show! Come by the Times Square Information Center Wednesday at noon (next to the Palace Theatre) to see us. And furthermore, peace out!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Conversations with Susan Mosher

By Sherri Rase, Qonstage.com

QonStage.com recently published a review of “Hairspray,” at the Paper Mill Playhouse, with a dazzlingly talented cast. Playing a variety of character roles was the versatile and talented Susan Mosher. An actress whose face is as mobile as the shadows of clouds across the prairie, she took a few moments to speak with us as she’s preparing for her role in “[title of show]” by Hunter Bell, on book, and Jeff Bowen, the music and lyrics. George Street Playhouse’s opening will be directed by Matthew Lenz and opens on November 19.

QoS: Susan thank you for taking some time out to speak with us. The schedule must be grueling.

SM: Well, I am commuting in from New York City every day so I’ve become VERY familiar with the Northeast Corridor line. It’s only about a four walk block to the theater from the train.
QoS: Four blocks? That’s nothing for a city girl! Are you originally from New York City?

SM: I was born in Tampa, Florida, and raised in San Diego, California, where life revolves around a beach lifestyle and it was a very looks-ist environment. I am an only child and come from parents who are funny in a cerebral way, so my style of comedy is more outgoing. They divorced when I was eight years old and there were two very different sets of rules between homes. I became a major attention whore. I really found my niche, though, in the theater. The first time I went to New York, there was and is so much life of the mind that I knew I had found my home. I’d never live anywhere else.
QoS: Many of our readers have seen you at Broadway at the Beach, hosted on Mondays by Brandon Cutrell, at the Ice Palace, out in Cherry Grove. What is it that you enjoy most about the Grove?

SM: Broadway at the Beach has such a slumber party feel, because those of us who travel out to perform are staying the night. There is such a happy feeling, a feeling of freedom and the sense that we can play with wild abandon and take risks. Freedom, and it’s such a good time–plus the margaritas are delicious!

QoS: In your past, were there any events or occurrences that helped prepare you for your glamorous life as a singing, acting comedy star?

SM: (laughing a little) I don’t know that I’d really call it glamorous. There is some anxiety around pursuing your dreams and doing the things you want to do. Right now it’s wonderful, I’m preparing for this show and everyone is creative and talented. David Saint (director/artistic director of George Street) lives up to his name. He’s a lovely man and very giving as an artist. For the barren times and the waiting and the auditioning, I remember that this is the path I’ve chosen. Someone who chooses theatre as their life has those golden moments, like working on this role, but it’s an odd life.

QoS: That’s a lot to consider! Let’s move from the practical to the fantastical for a moment. Where would you live, or vacation, if given absolute freedom of choice?

SM: Hmmmm, as for vacation…I LOVE Greece and Santorini, it’s just beautiful. But there is nothing like living in New York City. Wherever you go, there are always a lot of people around you.

QoS: You’ve got so much going on right now, what’s next in your career?

SM: I am a writer as well as an actress and I’ve got a one-person, called “The Great Daisy Theory,” that I’ve been performing, writing and refining. It’s written by me, for me and directed by Matt Lenz, who’s directing this production “[title of show].” I am a big believer in creating your own work and all the people I see around me, whom I respect, are always pushing and writing and creating. Work will continue and you’ll see some performances scheduled in January, in and around New York City.

QoS: That’s super! You and I both attend a lot of theatre. Do you feel that there are enough people attending theatre to keep it alive and growing? I know that many of the productions I see are well attended by elders in our community, who see the value of strong performances, but what of people our age and younger?

SM: I saw “Circle Mirror Transformation” here at George Street Playhouse. I noticed that the many of the audience around me were those who develop a relationship with their local theatre. These people, subscribers, are very important. When I see shows in the city, there are a lot of people of all ages in the theatres. These people who love live performance, many of whom are subscribers, are the backbone of any regional theater. People need to come together to experience live events and to feel “This play is me.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rehearsing [title of show]

ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Rehearsing [title of show]

By Seth Rudetsky

Hello from lovely New Jersey Transit. "Lovely" means crowded and hot, right? I'm on the train to get to [title of show] rehearsal. It's a lovely hour ride each way (see previous definition of "lovely"). The other fun part is there are young pretty college girls sitting in front of me passing around juice laced with alcohol. It's completely appropriate because it's 10:30 in the morning. Regardless, I'm loving rehearsal. We spent the first three days learning the music, and I appreciate the score even more than I did before. It's so lean, and all of the lyrics are so specific to the characters and the "journey" (not to sound too actor-y) they're on. Thankfully, my co-star Tyler Maynard has the high notes of a young Patti LuPone, so I've manipulated him into taking the top part in every harmony section. At one point, I finally offered to switch a section with him, but he saw through my generous offer and mentioned that the "high note" I was willing to take was an F. As Samantha Stevens would say… "Well?"

On the first day of rehearsal, there was the signature fun "meet and greet" that is done at most shows, AKA everyone introduces themselves and the producers usually splurge for bagels and some sassy side dishes. Well, George Street went all out, and the food spread was a lot more than just bagels. There were cakes and cheeses and general deliciousness. The other pertinent information is that David Saint, the artistic director of George Street, listens to my Sirius/XM show. Unfortunately, this created a perfect storm because he happened to hear me talk on the radio about going on a diet for [title of show] and, during the meet and greet, as the all the scrumptious food was unveiled, I was unceremoniously handed a bucket that had printed on the outside: "Seth TOS Diet." It was filled to the brim with veggies and fruit. How helpful…and devastating.

We were all talking about the number "Monkeys and Playbills," where my character has a stack of Playbills from crazily obscure flop musicals. The stage management team has been frantically searching eBay for the Playbills, but when David Saint heard the names of the shows he was like, "Where's the obscure part? I have them all at home." Turns out, he grew up in Boston, and he saw every single show that passed through there before Broadway. And there were some doozies he got to see! Dude, Got Tu Go Disco, Prettybelle. He told me that he has the original program for Follies that describes the place and time of the show simply as "A party on the stage of this theater." It was then promptly changed. Why? Well, it didn't literally say, "The show itself is a party on the stage of this theater" it just said there was a party on the stage of the theater. Therefore, half the audience stayed after the show expecting a party!

Certain mornings, Tyler and I have been able to get a ride in the spacious car driven by Lauren Kennedy. I cannot wait til we get into tech rehearsals and have to entertain ourselves while they set lights for hours on end because I'm sure that Lauren has some juicy stories to tell. Let me simply say that she was in The Ten Commandments with Val Kilmer, Lone Star Love with Randy Quaid and Sunset Boulevard…with Faye Dunaway! She has enough material to last through a Coast of Utopia tech. Speaking of Faye Dunaway, when Tyler was in high school, the tour of Master Class starring Faye came through his hometown of Dayton. Tyler told me that he and his theatre friends heard that Faye was on a Dayton rampage; first she tried to get the hotel staff fired because they wouldn't re-do her room, and then she tried to get the backstage crew of the theatre fired. The Victoria Theater in Dayton has one night a year where the best theatre students from Ohio high schools put on a big musical. Of course, Tyler was cast every year in the shows, so he knew all the backstage crew (who had been working there most of their adult lives), and he and his friends were so angry that she would try to have their jobs taken away. They wanted to protest the way she was treating people, so a teenaged Tyler got a group of his friends together to wait at the stage door and when she exited, they all brandished hangers and chanted, "No wire hangers!" over and over again. Tyler tried to describe the way she looked but couldn't because he said he has never seen that much rage on a face before. Suffice it to say, no one got fired from the theatre or the hotel. And Faye has not toured through Ohio since. But, hopefully, she is coming to [title of show] opening night.

read more at playbill.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sandy Duncan on Teachers, Mom, and Wheat Thins

Reprinted from the October 6, 2010, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper

Sitting around one of the tables at the then-empty cafe at George Street Playhouse, my conversation with actress Sandy Duncan very soon seemed like catching up with a friend of long standing. For me, it was long standing, as I remember seeing her delightful romp as Maisie in the Broadway revival of the musical of “The Boy Friend” back in 1970 and flying over my head as “Peter Pan,” again on Broadway nine years later. But, of course, she didn’t see me; she just has that warm and ingratiating persona that makes for instant relationships.

New Brunswick audiences, disappointed that she didn’t appear as planned in last May’s production of “Creating Claire,” can heave a sigh of relief as producer David Saint has invited her back to appear in “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which is now in previews and opens on Friday, October 8, to kick off George Street Playhouse’s 37th season. Last May Duncan had an unfortunate collision with a mismarked bottle of vitamin D, which prompted a nearly fatal overdose. She is grateful to local doctors for identifying the problem and taking swift action. Fortunately, she is now back, good as new.

“Circle Mirror Transformation” by Annie Baker was a major hit in New York’s last theater season. Produced Off Broadway by Playwrights Horizons, its run was extended a number of times, was nominated for Best Play by several critic groups, and won the OBIE Award for Best New American Play and an Emerging Talent Special Citation from the Drama Desk. This was Baker’s second play to make a big splash in New York City, garnering strong reviews and award nominations, all the more amazing considering how young she is; she was born in 1981.

The play is set in a small town in Vermont, in an exercise room in the town’s community center. The life of the play takes place over a span of six weeks of an acting class for adults. Duncan plays the teacher who leads a disparate group of locals in exercises that probably won’t produce actors and actresses, but certainly opens doors of understanding into their own psyches. As Duncan says, “It’s not really about an acting class. It’s a play about self discovery that happens through this acting class.” According to a press statement, these characters reveal secrets they never intended and are transformed in ways they never expected.

Though Duncan has never taught an acting class, “I don’t have the patience, not even for dance classes,” which were her first introduction to the world of theater, but two very special teachers in Texas and two more in her early New York City days had a deep impact on her life. “Some of the most valuable people in our society are teachers,” she says.

When Duncan was performing as Roxie Hart in the musical “Chicago” (1996) as a replacement cast member in that long-running Broadway show, she had an opportunity to make a public tribute. As she tells me about this, Duncan’s voice breaks. “I’m starting to cry.” One of her teachers, Uta Graham — “we called her Miss Utah” (pronounced with a Southern drawl) — attended a performance, for the first time seeing her former student in a big New York City theater. (She had seen Duncan in touring shows when they went to Dallas.)

At the curtain call, Duncan stepped forward, asking Miss Uta to stand, introducing her teacher to the rest of the audience, saying, “Every step I know is because of this woman.” Duncan remembers those classes with Miss Uta. “We did our exercises holding onto pool tables at the VFW hall.” Not too unlike the Vermont community center in “Circle Mirror Transformation.” This was a glorious moment. How often we don’t get around to thanking special people. Miss Uta died a year later.

Another teacher Duncan remembers with gratefulness is Zula Pearson, who taught at a community junior college in Jacksonville, Texas, which Duncan attended for one year. “She was an amazing teacher and taught a lot of people who ended up working in this business, including Tommy Tune. She absolutely got rid of my Texas accent before I came to New York. She just insisted.”

Duncan’s college career was cut short when she went to New York and got work in the theater right away. Her first New York shows were at City Center, and all were revivals: “Carousel,” “The Music Man,” Life with Father,” and “Finnian’s Rainbow.” At age 22 she replaced the leading lady in the popular Off Broadway rock musical, “Your Own Thing,” an updated version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” In New York City she studied with the legendary acting teacher Wynn Handman and voice teacher Jack Lee, both of whom she credits for a large part of her professional training.

Duncan was born in Henderson, Texas, and began performing professionally at age 12, as one of the princesses in a production of “The King and I.” She appeared in 24 shows in Dallas before she came to New York. It was the custom then for professional touring shows to bring in the stars and use local performers to fill in the supporting roles. This proved in actuality to be a very useful “acting class.”

Her dad ran a gas station and her mother was a stay-at-home mom with the dreams of an artist. “Mom should have had my life,” Duncan says. Her mother would spend hours making a beaded gown for her. “I think I was the only girl in Texas who had a hand-beaded gown.” She was also an artist and the then-governor of Texas bought one of her paintings. “She was very creative, but she got stuck in a time and place where she couldn’t get out,” Duncan says. “So, she sort of vicariously lived through me.” That’s a heavy burden.

“I know my mother’s life story more than my own because I’m carrying that with me, too. I became aware at one point that I wasn’t living the life she would have chosen; she would have done it differently.” Her mother’s story certainly helps her understand the needs of the characters in “Circle, Mirror.” “People are so emotionally tight. That’s where something creative can make a big difference. People can start to open up.”

She says she finds the style of Baker’s writing to be a challenge as it has concise directions to the actor, down to the length of a pause. “It has to be performed with the precision of choreography.” Certainly, Duncan has the dance background to master this material. And in life, she admits to being a neatness freak. As we talk, she spills the sugar packet when she sweetens her iced tea. Everything has to stop while she cleans this up. So “concise” should be no problem for her.

Duncan is probably best known for her television work in a number of television variety shows and series, including a musical adaptation of “Pinocchio” with Danny Kaye and Flip Wilson and “The Hogan Family.” She received Emmy nominations for “Funny Face” and a dramatic role in “Roots.” And no one could have missed her as the smiling spokeswoman for Wheat Thin crackers.

More recently she has done more straight dramas, including playing Amanda in a production of “Glass Menagerie” at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, and the Miss of the title in “Driving Miss Daisy” at Casa Manana Theater in her home state. Her teacher, Miss Zula, should note that a southern accent can come in handy sometimes. Other dramas and comedies have followed. In 2002 she starred in the A.R. Gurney play, “The Fourth Wall” at Primary Stages in New York City under the direction of George Street’s David Saint. That was a providential meeting.

Read more

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When Science and Religion Collide

from U.S. 1 Newspaper by Lucyann Dunlap

When something needs to be done, ask the busiest person — or so the saying goes. And it often seems to be true. So it wasn’t surprising that when I got a call saying Sandy Duncan, scheduled to star in the title role of George Street Playhouse’s new play “Creating Claire,” was ill and couldn’t talk with me, but that playwright Joe DiPietro could fill in. (Due to Duncan’s illness, George Street announced that the actress will be replaced by 1992 Drama Desk Award winner and Tony nominee Barbara Walsh.)

I soon found myself chatting on the phone with DiPietro, indeed a very busy man. A look at his schedule would daunt almost anyone. Currently, however, he is focusing on one of his newest plays, “Creating Claire,” which goes into previews on Tuesday, May 18; opening night is Friday, May 21. Of course, he has paused occasionally to celebrate award nominations as they accrue for his current Broadway success, the musical “Memphis,” which received eight Tony nominations.

Last summer “Creating Claire” was workshopped at the Cape Cod Theater Project in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where professional theater directors and actors work with American playwrights, holding staged readings of their work in development. DiPietro then gave the draft to David Saint, George Street’s artistic director. “He read it and called me the next day saying, ‘I want to do it,’” says DiPietro.

DiPietro has enjoyed success at George Street before. In 2008 John Rando directed the musical “The Toxic Avenger” with book by DiPietro, music by David Bryan (of Bon Jovi fame), and lyrics by both of them. Dealing as it did with the swamps of home (New Jersey), it was a big success and emerged again Off Broadway, opening in April, 2009, also directed by Rando, to run for eight months and garner accolades, including the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off Broadway musical of the season.

Claire is a tour guide in an upstate New York museum of natural history. While making her usual spiel to the visitors regarding Darwin’s theories of evolution, she suddenly begins to include her own ideas regarding “intelligent design.” Her personal religious awakening has seeped into this very scientific world. In addition to infuriating her boss at the museum, who fires her, there are also repercussions with her husband and her daughter, who is autistic.

DiPietro says the idea for the play came to him when he saw a newspaper article about a group of religious fanatics who went to a natural history museum “Evolution of Life” tour. “They had peppered the guide with questions, pressing their agenda: ‘How do you know what you’re saying is right? How can you explain this?’” Realizing that most of these guides are “retirees or stay-at-home moms who want to get out of the house a few hours each day,” he could imagine how overwhelming this might be. “And maybe it might be more interesting if the tour guide herself began espousing these things. That started my journey writing this play.”

Following a theme that has been evidenced in a number of his previous plays, the humor and humanity of the situation appealed to DiPietro’s imagination. The playwright has been noted for his comic point of view since his school days in northern New Jersey, continuing through his college years — he graduated from Rutgers with a degree in English in 1984.

When I ask him about his own philosophy, he says, “I like to think of myself as a humanist. We writers need to empathize with our characters.” He says he feels that “Creating Claire” doesn’t take a particular political or religious side. “It’s a show about four people trying to make sense of their lives. As a dramatist, I try to understand everybody; I want to write four complete human people.” And we can count on DiPietro to also make the most of the humor in human behavior, even when they are being serious.

Claire’s husband is a religious agnostic. “What do you do when your spouse changes fairly drastically? He’d just like to get his normal life back.” This is an interesting description from the author of the hugely successful “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” This was the play that jumpstarted his career in the theater, opening on August 1, 1996, and playing for a record 5,003 performances. It has been performed all over the world, from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, from Barcelona to Budapest. This revue about suburbanites dating and marrying explores the irony that the “perfect mate” becomes someone else once their union is “legal.” Now, 15 years later, Pietro says, “People change. One needs to adjust.”

He thinks that audiences, whatever their religious beliefs, will follow the journey of each of the characters. This sounds very serious: science versus religion. “Perhaps I think we need both,” says DiPietro. “Humankind needs both. There are limits to each of them: how God deals with science and how science deals with God — it’s complex. That’s why I’m really proud of this one.” He has been working on the play for about three years, mostly thinking about it. “It wrote itself easily, which is usually a good sign to me.”

A lot of things seem to have come easily since his days growing up in Oradel, New Jersey. In high school his teachers discovered his talent and he won a national playwriting competition. His father was a banker (now retired); his mom was a stay-at-home mom until he and his sisters, one older, one younger, were out of the house. One of his creative genes came from his mom, who “has become quite a fine painter,” he says.

I first saw his work in 1994 at the American Stage Theater (no longer in existence) in Englewood, where a number of his first plays were produced. Off Broadway was next.

In 2005 DiPietro made his Broadway debut with the musical “All Shook Up,” a “jukebox musical” featuring the music of Elvis Presley. He wrote the book loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” (See how a degree in English literature can be helpful?) Though it ran for a month of previews and six months of regular performances, it wasn’t the hit that had been hoped for. He had worked on it for two years and was disappointed. Considering what to do next, he decided not to “lick my wounds and slow down,” but instead to write as much as he could as fast as he could. “It was a good life lesson. I know now. Just do your show. Write something that means something to you. Get people around you who you trust, and take it from there.”

One of those people he trusts is David Saint. “He’s a terrific guy and a top rate director,” says DiPietro. “He creates a very creative and fun rehearsal room, loves theater and theater people, and can turn anyone into a believer in what he’s doing. Once in a while he’ll give a direction and I’ll think, ‘I’d never thought of it that way. This is much better than my original idea.’”

Once “Creating Claire” is underway, he has a busy schedule for the summer that will have him traveling a lot. That post-”All Shook Up” writing marathon is paying off. Hands-on with the George Street production of “Creating Claire,” he will also do the same for “Falling for Eve” an Off Broadway musical he was commissioned to write for the York Theater. A retelling of the Adam and Eve story, it opens Tuesday, July 6.

At some point, he’ll go to Chicago to see the production of his play “Fucking Men,” which opens Saturday, June 26. He explains the title, sort of: “I wrote this as a writing exercise, never expecting it to be done because it calls for an economically unfeasible 10 actors, has no lead role to attract a star, and I gave it an aggressive title.” (“Aggressive” is one word for it.) However, it was produced successfully in London this past fall. He describes it as a gay twist on the Schnitzler play “La Ronde.”

DiPietro’s friend and everyone’s favorite TV mother from “Happy Days,” Marion Ross, asked him to write a play for her and her husband, who are both in their 80s. He was a little anxious about writing for someone he knows. “What if it’s not good?” However, they performed “The Last Romance” last year in Kansas City and it went “really well,” he says. Now the play is being mounted at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater, opening Friday, July 30, for its West Coast premiere.

Undeterred by all this activity, he and David Bryan, his collaborator on “Toxic Avenger” and “Memphis,” are working on another musical, this one about songwriters in the early ’60s titled “Sing the Song.” As with “Memphis,” the music is new, but “inheriting the soul of the old music” of that particular time. Explaining how this worked on “Memphis,” he says, “Know the time period but write a score through modern ears. Some of the chord progressions would not have happened in the ’50s. It sounds like the ’50s but it’s not rock and roll, it’s much more sophisticated than that.”

There’s also talk of a film adaptation of “Memphis.” DiPietro says, “I think it’ll happen; we should be selling the rights soon. And I hope I’ll be able to write the first draft or two of the screenplay.” But he admits that he doesn’t understand the film world and definitely feels more at home in the theater. “I love theater and am fortunate to be able to work in it. During the ’70s when I was growing up, my folks took me to see shows. I saw ‘Annie,’ ‘Shenandoah,’ ‘The Elephant Man,’ ‘The Wiz.’” So theater was never that foreign to me, and I always loved it. This is a good argument for exposing your kids to culture.”

He assures me that he has lots of ideas for new projects “ruminating” in his mind but he does hope to take a breather once his summerfull of shows is over. He says he plans to “throw” his dog Rocko (an eight-year-old pug) into his car and “get away from New York and my life” to his Connecticut home. He plans to relax — and write, of course.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

GSP (almost) goes to the Tonys!

George Street Playhouse has always attracted high caliber artists on and off our stage. We also work with burgeoning talents who maintain successful careers in New York on and off Broadway.

This year, GSP alumnae have accumulated a collective 8 2010 Tony Nominations for their work, and you saw them here...FIRST

Joe DiPietro and David Bryan are nominated twice this year for their musical Memphis, (technically bringing our alumni total to 10.) Mssrs. Bryan and DiPietro are both nominated for their score, while Bryan is also nominated for his Orchestrations (with Daryl Waters) and Joe DiPietro is nominated for his book to the musical.

Joe's currently working on Creating Claire here this month, and you saw their Toxic Avenger here last season.

Earlier this season we presented the musical Calvin Berger. The set designer for that show, Derek McLane, won last year's Tony for 33 Variations, and was represented on Broadway this year with three shows Ragtime, The Miracle Worker and Million Dollar Quartet, and was recognized for his tiered set for Ragtime.

Speaking of Calvin Berger, Martin Pakledinaz who created the chic high school fashions for our cast, is nominated this year for his costume design on Ken Ludwig's farce Lend Me A Tenor.

In another design category Robert Wierzel was nominated for his lighting design in the musical Fela! Mr. Wierzel was here two years ago with Theresa Rebeck's play The Scene.

Don Holder's lighting design for Come Fly Away is also nominated. Mr. Holder, who is incredibly busy on Broadway, was last at George Street Playhouse in 1998 during Voices in the Dark.

In Acting Categories, Rosemary Harris and Maria Dizzia are nominated this year in the Featured Actress in a Play. Ms. Harris who was here in Oscar and the Pink Lady is nominated for her extraordinary performance in The Royal Family at Manhattan Theatre Club earlier this season. Ms. Dizzia performed at GSP several seasons ago in Agnes of God, and is nominated for Lincoln Center's production of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play.

A hearty congratulations to all the nominees!

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Sylvia" Review Round Up

Critics and Audiences agree, Sylvia is a hit. Take a look... "

"Hilarious, splendid, and warm...the cast delivers the best-acted comedy that Jersey has seen
" - Read the review from The Star Ledger

"a splendidly acted, smartly directed new production," -
The New York Times

"Dratch pulls no punches in her portrayal of man’s best friend. She begs, scratches and sniffs with canine abandon. Her dog-like candidness had the audience howling at the plays opening night"..."Stephen DeRosa...is singularly worth the price of admission" - Recorder Newspapers

"A genius "Sylvia" comes to life at George Street Playhouse" - Home News Tribune

"Dratch delivers a totally winning performance" - Asbury Park Press

Do you agree? write your own review below!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tails of Canine Devotion: Part II

The honor for most articulate and purple prose regarding the relationship between dog and man would have to go to George Graham Vest. He served as a Confederate Congressman during the Civil War and would go on to serve as a US Senator. Between the fall of the Confederacy and his future political career, Vest returned to his law practice in Missouri. In 1870 he took up a case representing a plaintiff whose hunting dog, a foxhound named Old Drum, was shot and killed by a sheep farmer for trespassing on his property. Vest’s winning closing testimony has been immortalized as the “Eulogy on the Dog”:

Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death. – Burden v. Hornsby (1870)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tails of Canine Devotion: Part I

"If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around." - Cowboy Wisdom

For the last 12,000 years of human history, man has depended on the canine as hunter, herder, and companion. Their significance stretches back to claims of sled dogs being used to transport the first humans across the Bering Strait, to the use of Irish Wolfhounds by the Celts in the sacking of Delphi in 600 B.C.

Shakespeare’s lone starring quadruped through his entire canon is a dog, named Crab, from Two Gentlemen of Verona. Why the non-sensible name? Could it be that the true affection expressed in the relationship between man and dog can’t be fully addressed with language? To paraphrase the Bard: A dog by any other name…will love you just the same.

Argus, from The Odyssey by Homer, was Odysseus’ loyal old dog and the only one, of man or beast, who recognized his long-lost owner when Odysseus returned from his wayward journey in a beggar’s disguise.

The relationship between dog and man has had proven significance within the academic and clinical realm: Sigmund Freud kept his pet chow chow, Jofi, with him during psychotherapy sessions, believing that the animal comforted his patients. His observations of these interactions served as the basis for his writings on pet-assisted therapy.

With the progress of audio technology in the early 20th century, the dog again took center-stage in the shape of a Jack Russell Terrier named Nipper whose presence on the “His Master’s Voice” advertising campaign turned the tiny dog into an icon. Even in the new century, it is an image that has been retained by brands such as HMV and JVC. What better way to assume the ability to perfectly replicate sound then to present a dog taking its master’s commands from a gramophone?

Stay tuned for more tales of Canine Devotion

Monday, March 29, 2010

Actress Is in the Doghouse in "Sylvia"

reprinted from U.S. 1 News

I’m still wearing my collar. It helps me keep in character as it makes a little jingling sound. And it’s good for scratching and such,” says Rachel Dratch in a phone interview during a rehearsal break for the comedy “Sylvia” by A.R. Gurney, which goes into previews on Tuesday, March 30 and opens Friday, April 2, at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. Not the usual opening remarks, but then Dratch is playing not-the-usual title character, who just happens to be a dog. In the play, a man brings Sylvia home, much to the dismay of his wife. “I become a bone of contention between them. No pun intended,” says Dratch.

This role can be enriched by what actors call “sense memory.” When Dratch was a little girl a stray dog, a collie-huskie mix, ran up to her in the family’s front yard. Indulgently, her parents let her keep her and she named her Muffin. In “Sylvia” she plays another mixed breed mutt. We’re told it is a labradoodle — a cross between a Labrador and a poodle. Dratch assures me that dog lovers, pure bred or non, will love this play.

Most of us are more familiar with Dratch as other characters she played for seven years on “Saturday Night Live.” Remembering her Debbie Downer expressions, one can certainly imagine that her Sylvia must have a very expressive face. “I’ve never played a dog before except for Snoopy in a high school production of ‘You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.’ But I’ve certainly played a lot of creatures and critters over the years.” And she’s not unfamiliar with characters who relate to pets as we remember her as Phoebe, a woman whose giant pets (a parrot and a cat) ruin her dates.

Some of her other memorable SNL characters include Martha Stewart, a Junior High boy named Sheldon, a space lesbian, Harry Potter, Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Taylor. She and Jimmy Fallon played Boston teenagers. And with Will Ferrell, the two of them were professors called “The Luvers” whose most memorable scene had them in a hot tub. “I played lots of dudes [male characters]. It’s bizarre. Although one of them I wrote for myself because I thought it would be funny — this 80-year-old sleazy Hollywood producer Abe Scheinwald.”

She says that SLN cast members usually write much of their own material, and she enjoys writing even though, with the performance deadlines, “It was trial by fire.” She would like to do more writing but misses the pressure she thinks she needs to produce it. Her brother, Daniel, is a writer in Los Angeles who has written for television and received awards for work on “Monk” and “The Chris Rock Show.”

Dratch grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, where her mother (now retired) directed a transportation agency for the state and her dad is a radiologist. She remembers watching SNL when she was only in the third grade. “I was fascinated by SNL but never thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be on that some day.’” She was in school plays every year and went to summer theater camp. “But it was always just something fun, not like pursuing it as a career. After all, the odds of making it are pretty daunting.”

At Dartmouth College, she earned a degree in drama and psychology. “I did think about becoming a therapist and still have on occasion when I’m not getting jobs or am sick of the business. But then I realize I’ve put so much time in as an actor, and it’s so much fun. I think I’m in it for life.”

She was part of an improv group in college who decided to take a trip to “Improv Central,” a.k.a. Chicago, to visit the well-known comedy venue Second City. “I didn’t want to not try just because I was scared of it. So, in Chicago, slowing but surely — certainly not instant success — I got into the Second City Touring Company, which led to moving up to their main stage. Then, you’re really in it.” She wrote sketches and appeared in them for four years. For two of the sketches, she won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress in a Revue. At Second City, she and Tina Fey developed and appeared in a two-person show that eventually made it to New York City at the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater. My friend Jeff Knapp (theatre director and sound designer) saw this and remembers it as one of the funniest evenings ever, especially their “Wuthering Heights” spoof.

Dratch joined Saturday Night Live in 1999. In addition to sketch work, she has appeared in other television programs and made film appearances. “A lot of them are on late night cable. Adam Sandler put me in a bunch of his movies. Sometimes I get recognized from those. I haven’t done as many movies as I’d like to.”

Also in New York she has appeared as part of a rotating cast at the Triad Theatre on the upper west side on Monday nights in “Celebrity Autobiography.” “We read from various celebrity autobiographies. The people who wrote them didn’t mean them to be funny, but now — time has passed.” She has “done” Joan Lunden and Vanna White, but says, “My favorite has interchanging bits from autobiographies by Burt Reynolds, Loni Anderson, and Burt Reynolds’ secretary. I read the secretary.”

She has spent quite some time involved with the on-again, off-again new musical “Minsky’s” with music by Charles Strouse (“Bye Bye Birdie,” “Annie”) lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (“Jelly’s Last Jam”), and book by Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”). When it opened in the spring of last year at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, New York Times theater Critic Charles Isherwood flew to LA and favorably noticed Dratch. He wrote, “Ms. Dratch and Mr. [John] Cariani as the matched misfits almost steal the show with a sour-grapes duet, ‘I Want a Life,’ a plaintive song about the allure of the untheatrical life. ‘I want a life where pies are dessert,’ Mr. Cariani sings in a nasal drone matched by Ms. Dratch’s. ‘Where flowers are flowers and none of them squirt.’”

She says she was thrilled to meet and work with Strouse and told him that “Annie” was the first professional musical that she saw. “I used to dance around the living room to the record from ‘Annie.’” She never dreamed that she’d grow up to be in one of his shows. For now, “Minsky’s” keeps “going into limbo. Just last week I heard there had been another rewrite. I keep waiting by the window — another year — still a possibility.” Let’s hope.

Meanwhile, mark your calendar for Dratch’s special appearance on Saturday Night Live on May 8, when a group of alumnae gather to support Betty White as the evening’s host. But first, there’s “Sylvia.” Woof. Woof.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Rehearsal with "Sylvia"

posted by Joe Marchese

The sign on the door off the theatre lobby reads “SYLVIA: Rehearsal in Progress – Quiet Please.” But inside, things are anything but quiet. At any given moment, there’s yapping, barking, singing – and much laughter. How could there not be? Veteran comedienne and actress Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live, Minsky’s) leads our stellar cast, channeling her inner canine as Sylvia. She’s joined by multiple Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines (Contact, Gypsy) and his real-life wife, the deliciously dry Kathleen McNenny (George Street’s Human Events, Sight Unseen) as Greg and Kate, the married New York couple “adopted” by Sylvia. Versatile comic pro Stephen DeRosa (Into the Woods, The Man Who Came to Dinner) rounds out the four-person company, playing a variety of roles. With this cast, hilarity is expected. But by the conclusion of Sylvia, audiences won’t only have laughed non-stop, but they might even have learned a little about themselves, too.

In A.R. Gurney’s play, Greg and Kate’s life is changed in ways they never anticipated when Greg finds (or is found by?) the stray dog named Sylvia at a New York City park. Since its 1995 New York debut, theatergoers worldwide have embraced Gurney’s play, identifying with his semi-autobiographical work. But the story of Sylvia also rings true for the dog-friendly ensemble under the direction of Artistic Director, David Saint. Key to any rehearsal process is exploration of a play’s themes and text, and Sylvia’s is no exception. Many discussions of our four-legged friends occur daily, and we even had a guest appearance one afternoon by Boyd and Kathleen’s dog, the adorable Cinders. Perhaps to inspire Sylvia in a pivotal scene, Cinders was generous enough to show off some of her tricks!

Dratch has drawn particular inspiration from her beloved friend Muffin. Rachel told the GSP Blog that she met Muffin at age twelve when the stray dog ran onto her front lawn and approached her, much in the way Greg claims Sylvia found him in Gurney’s play! Rachel immediately connected with Muffin, a collie/husky. For around three days, Muffin followed her around. In those pre-Internet days, the Dratch family put up signs looking for her owner, and when nobody appeared, they subsequently brought her to the pound. Pound policy was that if Muffin’s owners hadn’t emerged within ten days, the Dratches could adopt her. Rachel noted that her father wasn’t a “dog person,” so prospects didn’t look likely. But Rachel visited Muffin over the ten-day period, and at its conclusion, her dad had been convinced. The answer to “Can we keep her?” was a resounding “Yes!” and Muffin became a permanent “member of the family,” loved by all…including her dad.

Rachel’s performance captures the sometimes-frenetic animal physicality of Sylvia whether she is being called upon to roll over, catch, or even get caught in a leash. Rachel is careful to avoid, in her own words, becoming too “person-y” in her portrayal. As a result, she has frequently recalled Muffin’s mannerisms and behaviors in creating Sylvia for George Street audiences. Like Sylvia, described in the play as having a certain “hybrid vigor,” Rachel says that Muffin was a bit more rugged than her name would indicate. But the name stuck anyway! Each rehearsal is definitely a workout for the tireless Ms. Dratch.

Rachel revealed in rehearsal, though, that Sylvia isn’t exactly her first canine role – she once starred as Snoopy in a theatre camp production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown! (Yes, Rachel sings, too, and recently starred at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre in the Broadway-bound production of Minsky’s!)

Playwright Thornton Wilder is believed to have said, “The best thing about animals is that they don’t talk much.” Well, with all due respect to the late and estimable Mr. Wilder, he was wrong! We hope you come see Sylvia – all-talking, all-dog, all played marvelously by Rachel Dratch, Boyd Gaines, Kathleen McNenny and Stephen DeRosa. We begin previews in less than two weeks, on Tuesday, March 30. See you at the theatre!

JOE MARCHESE is the Assistant Director of Sylvia.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Setting Life to Music : Q&A with Barry Wyner

What drew you to music?

From as young as I can remember, I just loved it. Simple as that. This motivated me to try to replicate on the piano songs that I heard on the radio. I started playing piano when I was eight. I really liked Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Journey, Queen, Styx– very melodic rock. I still love these groups. I was always very motivated with piano lessons. My parents wouldn’t have to crack the whip to get me to practice. They would have to tell me to stop practicing. I think I react to things more than most people. When I watch musicals and people are chuckling, I’m usually howling and laughing. If other people are whimpering, I’m sobbing. Things just hit me a little harder.

How did you start working on Calvin Berger?

I wrote to Stephen Sondheim my senior year of college and asked, “So what do I do to become a theatre composer?” He said get a Masters in classical music, so I got a Masters from Queens College in music composition. But I had no idea how to connect to the real theatre world you read about in The New York Times. So I joined the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, which is a fantastic training ground for musical theatre writers. So many successful Broadway writers have gone through this workshop, so it has a great pedigree. It gave me feedback and a sense of community. In the first year, you complete individual song assignments, but in the second year you need to write songs all for one show. So the summer of 2004, going into my second year, I was traveling in Africa and started looking at Cyrano de Bergerac [the play Calvin Berger is based on], which had always been one of my favorites. It is so romantic but also has so much humor. When I got back, I began writing songs for Calvin Berger, and they were always well received, so I just kept going.

Who was Calvin Berger written for?

I was just thinking personally. Around that time, my hair started thinning, and I was very insecure about it. You have that paranoid feeling that people are always looking and fixating on it, like it’s an elephant in the room. And of course, they’re not, but it all feels so magnified in your own head. And then I just thought, “Oh Cyrano, well he’s insecure about his nose, same way I’m feeling now.” And so I just wrote it from a personal place. I thought high school made sense because when you’re at that age you’re all the more insecure about your physicality. It felt like such a natural setting for this story. I never once thought of it as a show primarily for a young audience, and still do not. It has been a lucky accident that teens love it, and I’m very grateful for that. But my hope is that it is universal and everyone sees some of themselves in the characters. Everyone has a big nose, so to speak.

Have there been a lot of changes made since you started working on Calvin Berger?

Tons and tons and tons of changes. Sometimes I tell people who know the present version about how things were in older versions, and they’re like, “Really?!!?” But I always knew and trusted the adage that great musicals are not written, they are RE-written. And then there’s the horrible expression that writers must be willing to “kill their babies.” If you fall in love with everything you write and stubbornly defend it, the work can’t evolve and you shoot yourself in the foot. Each time this show has had a workshop or production, including this one, there’s been a whole round of major re-writes. Since I wrote the book, music, and lyrics, jobs usually done by 3 different people, I have to be careful not to think in a bubble. I have to compensate for not having that team of opinions by being extra open to outside opinions from friends, collaborators, audience members, ushers…anyone.

Are there any themes that you consistently write about in your work?

No, not really. In the years after college I thought I had to write things that were dark and serious. And then I just realized, I’m a comedy guy. There will always be people who do dark much better than I do. I’m much better crafting a joke. I remember I said that to [Broadway composer/lyricist] Bill Finn, and he said “don’t worry, you’ll find your darkness.” Well, that’s something to look forward to. (laughs) I can’t rule anything out though. Woody Allen’s first jobs were TV joke writer and stand up comic. I bet he never imagined he’d make something like Crimes and Misdemeanors.

No one would say that this isn’t a tough business. Where do you draw your motivation?

I mostly just focus on the work itself. If you focus too much on the externals, the work will suffer. I’m not as savvy as many other writers about self-promotion. Recognition is nice, and puts fuel in your tank, but it’s really about the work. I just passionately love this art form. Songs in a dramatic context are so much more meaningful to me. I love the idea of trying to set life to music and capture its magical moments in a chord or a melody. Drama is like a heightened form of life, whereas music is the most abstract of the arts. Something about marrying these two elements continues to fascinate and excite me.

Which musical do you wish you had written?

Falsettos and Rent are probably the most special to me. The writers that I admire most are the ones that can embrace tradition yet still be incredibly unique. From the older generation, Frank Loesser and Jerry Bock come to mind. Sondheim is, of course, the ultimate iconoclast and someone I revere. It’s not that I could have written either of those shows. Only Jonathan Larson could have written Rent and only Bill Finn could have written Falsettos. These are all incredibly colorful people who manage to get their individual, outsize personalities across in their writing. They inspire me to have a “voice” in my writing as unique as theirs, and as reflective of my own personality and life experience.

Are there any inspiring words you’d like to leave to other emerging artists?

I once asked that question to Billy Joel, and he said: “First thing, hire a lawyer. Then hire a second lawyer to watch the first lawyer.” I’m going to try real hard to avoid the cliché answers, too. For aspiring writers, I would say make sure you really love the art itself, because if you are just after recognition, there are probably better ways, or at least faster ones. Musicals are inevitably a tortoise industry—they average at least 5 years in development, and usually many more. So it can be 5 years of hard and often solitary labor for 5 weeks of recognition. Not a great ratio. That said, there is no feeling more thrilling than having actors bring your writing to life. They teach you things you didn’t even know were there. That makes it all pay off. I would encourage writers to study convention before trying to break from it. You have to understand the “rules” before you break them. You can chart that evolution in the work of almost all artistic giants, whether it’s Beethoven or Sondheim or The Beatles. The last thing I’d say is be judicious whose advice you follow. Some people are smart and really want to help you, while some just want to hear themselves talk. If you have a strong instinct, trust it.