Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“A Nutcracker Musical?! But what would The Nutcracker be without the dancing?”

          Professor Hoffmann, Act One, Scene 3, The Nutcracker and I.

Gerard Alessandrini always believed The Nutcracker could be adapted as a traditional musical comedy. He wanted to transform Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, using all that glorious music, into a book show with his own zany, satirical lyrics. For him, writing this show was a childhood dream.
When we were growing up together, Gerard introduced me to all the classic Broadway musicals. One of his favorites was Kismet, with a score by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from the classical music of Alexander Borodin (a Russian composer and a contemporary of Tchaikovsky). But Wright and Forrest adapted Borodin’s musical themes into songs. Gerard’s idea may have been more ambitious: he wanted to put his words to Tchaikovsky’s music while being faithful to the original compositions. He discovered that Tchaikovsky’s music was a precursor to 20th century song form – so many of his melodies have a classic AABA structure. In other words, he establishes a musical phrase, repeats it, then there’s a “bridge” (or a “release”), then he returns to the original “A” musical phrase. Gerard spent his whole life listening to The Nutcracker score and he could hear songs in the music!
For years, Gerard kept telling me that he wanted to write The Nutcracker as a musical. But the story, as it was adapted for the ballet, was a challenge. In fact, the ballet’s story is rather slight, it’s just an excuse for classical dance and divertissements. The ballet’s source material, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s children’s novella The Nutcracker and the Mouseking (1816), is a richer story, but some of its plot complications might not be recognized by fans of The Nutcracker ballet. What to do?
It took us a while to come up with an original story that is faithful to the spirit of the ballet, but also tells the classic tale in musical comedy terms. For inspiration, we looked at other fairy tales and fantasy stories. But in the end, we came up with an original idea. It’s about a young ballerina who grew up dancing in a local production of The Nutcracker ballet. When she’s finally old enough to play the leading role of Clara, she breaks her leg! We knew we could tell a “backstage at the ballet” story in a totally modern setting. I remembered how Gerard had broken his leg in our high school production of Oklahoma! We were two suburban kids who dreamed of coming to New York and pursuing careers in theater. Suddenly we had it: a young girl, full of dreams, breaks her leg and can’t dance in her favorite ballet… but with the help of a toy nutcracker who comes to life, the girl’s dreams are magically realized. Finally, adapting The Nutcracker as a musical comedy was possible for us. We discovered all it takes is believing childhood dreams sometimes really do come true.
Peter Brash, November 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Birth of a musical

Jersey Arts Culture Vultures’ blogger Brent Johnson spoke with Brian Hargrove — who wrote the book and lyrics to Barbara Anselmi’s music — about the musical’s secrets, surprises and TV connections. (Hargrove, who is married to Pierce, wrote for ’90s sitcom “Caroline In The City” and co-created 2000s sitcom “Titus.”)

Brent Johnson for Culture Vultures:
The show is advertised as a ‘musical comedy for anyone with parents.’ That’s quite an audience, isn’t it?

Brian Hargrove: The other night, we got talking to people who seemed to love the show very much, and one said, ‘I can’t wait for my daughter to come see this. She’s getting married in six months, and she’s just gonna love it.’ And I thought, ‘Yes!’ Because anyone that’s ever been to a wedding or been part of a wedding is going to relate very much to this musical. It’s not about the wedding, per se. It’s about the relationships. And any good show is about the relationships.

CV: In six words or less, what’s the most exciting thing for the audience about this show?

Nothing is what it seems.

CV: How so?

BH: Well, if I told you, then you would know. [laughs] There are a lot of surprises in the show. It’s been a little bit difficult to talk about. But nothing is what it seems.

CV: I understand this is a less a musical with a few lines and more a play with music, correct?

BH: It’s definitely a book musical. It’s a play with songs. It’s much more like — and I’m not comparing this to either one of these, believe me — Gypsy than Les Miserables. Gypsy is a real book musical, and Les Mis is sung through with little snippets of dialogue.

CV: So someone who’s not a fan of musicals will enjoy themselves?

BH: Absolutely. No question. You will love the story. I promise you that you will have a good time.

CV: What’s the scariest thing about opening a new musical?

BH: I would have to say making the changes. There are so many different departments involved — designers and people involved. The hardest thing is making changes and having to wait a few days for them to be implemented. In TV, you make a change, you see it that day. That’s just what happens. Sometimes, we’d write a whole script one night, then in the afternoon they’d rehearse it, we would change it from there, and the next day we’d see what we had written. That’s the only thing that’s a little bit more difficult about this — being patient and going, ‘I know we’re gonna fix that. I think we have the right fix on that. But I won’t know it until I see it.’

CV: Did you set out to make this a Frasier reunion?

BH: It just happened to work that way. David said he liked the piece and he was interested in directing it. Both David Saint [the artistic director of the George Street Playhouse] and the New York producers loved that idea. And I think every director that David Hyde Pierce has ever worked with has said he ought to direct. Because he’s got that eye and that insight and that vision to see the whole of a piece as well as individual characters.

Actually, the part of Georgette, the mother of the groom, I wrote with Harriet in mind. I’ve worked with her as an actor in 1986 at the Guthrie [Theatre in Minneapolis]. I’ve just loved Harriet’s work. And then the part of the wedding planner, played by Edward Hibbert — I also kind of had him in mind when I wrote it. I’ve known Edward for a long time, too. We were lucky to get them.
Then, we got Tyne. And I swear it seems like I wrote it for her. She is so perfect in the part. I told her after the first week that she’s just channeling this woman.

CV: This is your first musical, and it’s directed by your husband. Do you recommend that other writers have their work directed by their significant other?

BH: Well, in this case, yes. David and I have worked together for a long time. So it’s never a surprise. We’ve very much on the same wavelength. But I would say I highly recommend it.

CV: You have noted actors and directors and writers putting on a major play an hour from Broadway. How exciting is it that people can still see strong theater in a place like New Brunswick, N.J.?

BH: It’s great. The people at George Street — David Saint, who’s been valuable in his guidance and the mentoring of David [Hyde Pierce] through his first directorial experience, and just the staff and the crew — have been amazing. It also allows the actors who live in New York to live in their homes, have their cats and their dogs and come and work in a great environment.

CV: How did the idea for the play come about?

BH: My composer, Barbara Anselmi, is actually from New Jersey — about 20 minutes from here. Her mom still lives here. She was in the BMI Workshop, which is a school for people who want to do musical theatre — kind of like the Julliard of musical theater. In the second year, they have to pick a project to work on. They just have to write a musical, not thinking it’s going to go anywhere. It’s just part of their assignment.
She had been to three weddings that summer — none of which she was the bride in. She said the thing that’s interesting with these weddings is all the things that are happening around the bride and groom — like what’s happening in the bathroom over there, what’s happening at this table, different conversations — are almost as interesting or more interesting as the people getting married. So she had this idea that her project would be about a wedding. It was actually called ‘The Wedding Project.’
What she did was she picked different lyricists in class, and they chose a person at a wedding — ‘I want you to write a song for a groom, I want you to write a song for the bride.’ None of these were story-connected in any way. They were songs about individual moments at a wedding. She did about 17-20 songs. She was thinking it’d be some kind of revue if it ever got done. Then, the song ‘It Shoulda Been You’ got written. It went over like gangbusters in class, and somebody said, ‘What happens? I want to find out what happens.’
Then, she went to find a book writer. I heard her music, and I said, ‘I love your music. What’s happening with it?’ She said, ‘Not much right now.’ I said, ‘I want to write a musical with you sometime.’ A few months later, she called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this musical about the wedding?’ I said, ‘Weddings kind of bore me. But if I can think of a story that interests me, I would do it.’

CV: So is now the goal to write another musical that rest of the cast of Frasier can be in?

BH: [laughs] I’ll have to think about that. That’s a very good question.

CV: There does seem to be a lot of TV power in this play.

BH: Remember, all of these people — including myself — come from the theater. [Tyne Daly and David Hyde Pierce have both won Tony awards.] I was an actor for 10 years. David started in New York off-Broadway and then regionally and then Broadway. Harriet and Edward Hibbert, the same thing. They do have names, but they’re roots are in the theater. That’s what so exciting about it. It’s sort of everybody getting back to their roots.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hello, Norma!

Norma Kaplan, who has served as head of Cultural Affairs for Arlington County, Virginia was appointed to a newly-created joint position as Managing Director of George Street Playhouse and Executive Director of the New Brunswick Cultural Center in August of this year. 

 “I am very excited to welcome Norma Kaplan to George Street Playhouse,” said the theatre’s Chairman of the Board, Steven M. Darien.  “Norma has an exemplary track record of the kind of ground-breaking thinking that can help us cost-effectively build programs and do more to enrich the lives of our community through first-class theatre.” 

George Street Artistic Director David Saint said, “Norma is a visionary thinker.  The chance to work with someone with her ideas in bringing arts to the community will bring and exciting new energy to our theatre. ”

That passion for the arts – and its importance to communities – has its roots in her upbringing in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York.  She auditioned for a children’s theater ensemble begun by legendary impresario Sol Hurok.  “I was taking acting and singing lessons and performing sometimes in concert halls,” Ms. Kaplan said.  “So that sort of started my pathway into the arts.  And I guess it just never went away.”

An alumna of City and Adelphi Universities,  she was named Cultural Affairs Division Chief of Arlington County in 1986.  One of her first major projects was the development of Arlington’s Arts Incubator Program, which focused on maximizing resources – offering, for example, emerging theater companies free access to unused buildings as rehearsal and performance space.  Named three times by the Washingtonian as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington, her crowning achievement in Virginia was the development of the Artisphere, an arts center that encompasses three theaters, three galleries, classroom space, a ballroom, atrium and outdoor terrace.  More importantly, through her visionary leadership, she has provided much-needed support to dozens of arts organizations who might not have survived without the assistance provided by the programs she founded .  

 “By doing what I do,” she says, “I empower a lot of artists to do better what they do.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God of Carnage Review Round Up

Here's a collection of the fantastic reviews for God of Carnage. See it now through June 5th.
Have an opinion of your own, comment below!

"Outrageous and Enormous Fun" - The New York Times

"Hilarious..A Bang up Production" - The Star-Ledger

"Powerful Production" - The Home News Tribune

"An Unforgettable Night Of Knockout Theatre" - Examiner.com

"Wicked Fun" - The Princeton Packet

"An Outrageously funny Comedy" -NewJerseyStage.com

four excellent actors" - Us 1

God of Carnage may be an over the top title for the human foibles which are on display, but the literate farce and its George Street production hit the bulls eye. - Talkinbroadway.com

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talking Baseball with Peter Scolari

reposted from Charles Paolino

The coincidence is a conversation piece. For example, I read somewhere that actor Peter Scolari’s ambition to play pro baseball had been derailed by an elbow injury. Baseball is a favorite subject of mine, so when I met Scolari recently I began by saying, “Tell me about you and baseball.” He did. The reference I had read was true: he played high school ball well enough to think that he might turn pro, but he got hurt, had surgery, and after that — well, let him tell it: “I couldn’t get anything on the ball,” although he has played in several theatrical leagues.

But to put that story in context, Scolari told me that his father — attorney Art Scolari — had played baseball at East Side High School in Paterson (this would have been long before Joe Clark got there) and then was an All-American shortstop at Drew University. Paterson? I was born in Paterson. My dad, who was about 13 years older than Art Scolari, went to Central High School where he ran track — particularly relays — and later managed a semi-pro baseball team that played all around the Paterson area.

I haven’t told Peter Scolari this yet, but after our conversation, my web browser stumbled on a story in a 1939 issue of the old Daily Record of Red Bank, N.J., reporting that a teenager named Lawrence Mahoney, who was from Lincroft, had successfully defended his state horseshoe pitching championship for the fifth time in a row. It was no snap, according to the story: breathing down Mahoney’s neck was 15-year-old Art Scolari of Paterson. Mahoney was 9-0 in the tournament; Scolari was 8-1.

I could have talked about baseball all night — it’s one of my many excuses to talk too much — but I was at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to talk to Peter Scolari about his current project, a production of Ken Ludwig’s new play, “Fox on the Fairway.” This play, with a golf theme, had its world premiere last year in Washington, D.C. It’s a farce, and that’s a word that sends up the skyrockets, because farce done badly — or even done “all right” — is a painful experience for an audience. I’ve been there. Scolari, who knows a lot more about it than I do, made that point: “I don’t like to see a farce in which folks do an okay job. I’ll watch ‘The Sunshine Boys’ or ‘The Odd Couple’ and have a great time if everybody does a ‘good’ job. If I go to a farce and everybody does a ‘good’ job, I think, ‘Why did you do this?’ “

Scolari first drew national attention in 1980 when he co-starred with Tom Hanks in “Bosom Buddies,” a TV sit-com about two young men who dress in drag so they can live in a women-only hotel where the rent is dirt cheap and about what they can afford. The show, which lasted a couple of seasons, was indirectly inspired by the Billy Wilder movie “Some Like it Hot.” Since then, Scolari has put together a long resume of television and stage appearances, mostly in comedies, including 142 episodes of Bob Newhart’s second hit series, “Newhart.”

Talking to Scolari, who is witty, thoughtful, and articulate, was an entertainment in itself. If I weren’t aware that I was keeping him from his train after he had spent a full day of rehearsal, I would have prompted him to talk for another hour, just so I could listen. If I had had unlimited time and he had had unlimited patience, I would have steered him back around to baseball, because no sport lends itself to talk as well as baseball does, and my guess is that Scolari appreciates that as much as I do. I asked him which New York team he roots for now that he is living on the East Coast again after his sojourn in California. He could have simply said that he roots for the Yankees, but this wasn’t a guy answering questions. This was a guy talking baseball:

“I follow the Yankees. I make no apologies about it, but they’re not the Yankees. For me the Yankees who owned my heart ended with the captain, with Thurman Munson. I never got over that, to be honest with you, as a fan. So you come back, and they’re your team, and they’re in the Bronx, and that’s really important — but it’s not quite the same.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Heartbreak and Humor

by Anthony Stoeckert

Michael Mastro was performing in West Side Story on Broadway last year when he talked about directing with fellow actor Peter Maloney. Mr. Mastro had directed a few one-act plays and was looking to make the jump to a full-length production, and Mr. Maloney asked what play he’d like to direct first.

”I said something where the scenery doesn’t move with a fairly small cast,” Mr. Mastro says. “Something like — I literally said this — something like ‘The Subject Was Roses’ or ‘You Can’t Take it With You.’”

Two hours later, he ran into David Saint — the Artistic Director at George Street Playhouse and the associate director of West Side Story — in the green room of the Palace Theatre.
”David was visiting to watch the show and take notes,” Mr. Mastro says, “And he said, ‘Do you know the play ‘The Subject Was Roses?’” ”I said, ‘Yes.’” ”He said, ‘I have it in my season and I had scheduled myself to direct it but I realized that’s not going be possible and I was wondering if you’d be interested.’ And I said yes right there and then.”

That moment of serendipity led to the run of Frank Gilroy’s 1964 play at George Street through March 6. Mastro is making his full-length directorial debut at the New Brunswick theater, after acting in three plays there. Working at George Street is a bit different from his last directing gig, which involved rehearsals in his living room and buying props himself at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

”Suddenly I’m at a beautiful live performance theater with a staff of people who have fantastic attitudes, fantastic work ethics,” he says. “To sit at a production meeting with 10 people around the table who are all ready to support me in seeing through this vision of Frank Gilroy’s beautiful play is like a dream come true.” He also calls his cast a dream.

Stephanie Zimbalist — best known for playing Laura Holt on Remington Steele in the 1980s — plays Nettie Cleary, who’s in a troubled marriage with John (Lee Sellars). Nettie and John’s son Timmy (Chris Wendelken) has returned home from World War II, and the family’s arguments lead to significant, painful truths being shared.
”My first take on it was that it’s a family dysfunction piece,” says Ms. Zimbalist. “It’s coming home from the war, it’s a coming-of-age piece for the young man coming home from World War II and all the accouterment thereof. And it’s a piece about how families function and don’t function.” Depsite its pedigree (it won the Pulitzer, the Tony and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award), The Subject Was Roses has never had a Broadway revival and has been, in Mr. Mastro’s words, “sitting on the shelf.”

The director adds that it’s the kind of play that offers various points of view for different audience members.
”People who know people in the armed forces are going to see one play,” Mr. Mastro says. “I think people who are feeling that they’re stuck in marriages that are stale and troubled are going to see another play. I think young people who feel caught between their two parents and caught at home, somehow unable to get out, are going to see another play. I think it’s all those plays.” But for all of those interpretations, he keeps coming back to one word. ”I think that ultimately it’s a play about forgiveness and the power of forgiveness and its power to allow people to move forward,” he says. “There are people who need forgiveness in the play, there are people who need to forgive in the play, I think everybody has a bit of both.

But it’s a word that kept coming up for me as I was preparing to direct the play.”
As much as the play explores some honest, painful emotions, Mr. Mastro says it has a healthy sense of humor. ”This may be a family that’s troubled, but like any family, they would like things to be good, everybody wants things to be better,” he says. “There’s a wonderful sense of humor and love of humor, love of music, so it will be very rich that way. It’s not a constant harangue of screaming and yelling, not at all.” It’s also a play that is sparking discussion.

George Street has chosen it for its program where subscribers read the play and talk about it (a sort of play book club).
”The conversations about the play go on for hours, they have to shove people out the door because people want to talk about this play,” Mr. Mastro says. “They see something of their family in this play. I think everybody, young and old, will see something of themselves in this play.”

Read the complete article at centraljersey.com