Friday, September 3, 2010
"HOW TO SUCCEED..." BEGINS!!
I am delighted that Goodspeed Musicals invited me back for another great show this season: the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning classic, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. This time around, I get to join an outrageously talented ensemble of performers and play the very amusing featured role of Mr. Gatch, the office 'grabber,' in this send up of corporate politics and ambition. It's an exciting time to be working on a fresh new production of this piece, as Broadway will soon see a major revival starring Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter. After this first week's rehearsals, I can safely say we will be giving any production of this show a run for its money!!
Our How To Succeed... is directed by the talented Greg Ganakas, a Goodspeed favorite, and choreographed by the inventive Kelli Barclay. Greg, in addition to being enormously creative and clever, is hysterically funny, with an outrageous and completely disarming sense of humor. His energy blends beautifully with that of Kelli, whose methods of working are exciting, spontaneous and infinitely skillful. Greg calls this show a "crackerjack" piece and he has absolute faith in this tried and true material, with its witty book by Abe Burrows and timeless score by Frank Loesser; he is being true to the spirit of the piece while applying his imagination and sense of whimsy in some amazing and unexpected ways, using the 1960s swanky style of the hit TV series "Mad Men" as inspiration for the world of the piece. He has assembled a cast of such unique and vivid performers that each and every one--from our leads, to our ensemble singer/dancers--is a standout. I feel fortunate to be of their number.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the first time I have been asked to perform as part of an ensemble in literally twenty years, and even though I was daunted by the prospect initially, this week has reminded me how much I love to dance and how very, very hard ensemble performers work. Our 'chorus' provides the personnel, the color and flavor of the World Wide Wicket Company, and is an integral and essential part of the piece. My 'dancer brain'--the one that picks up steps and choreography--is having to be retuned, and my body has to readjust to the rigors of the choreographic rehearsal process, but I have to say, I am having a total ball doing this stuff. While my ambition from the time I was 12 was to be a classical actor, I also grew up in the late 70s, when A Chorus Line and films like "All That Jazz" and "Fame" made jazz dancing a national craze; so I was also obsessed with dance from an early age. I trained in jazz, tap and ballet and performed as a dancer in musicals for many years, and I am reminded every day during these rehearsals how thrilling it is to move. I am really proud and happy to say that...well... I still got it!
I have an interesting history with the incredible genius of Frank Loesser, best known for How To Succeed... as well as the immortal Guys and Dolls and Most Happy Fella, not to mention the countless songs he wrote for the musical movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, songs that became an indelible part of our collective American culture: "Baby, It's Cold Outside;" "Heart and Soul;" Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition;" and so many more. A number of years ago, I was asked to be a part of a revue of Loesser's songs created and directed by Richard Sabellico, entitled Heart and Soul. Loesser's widow, the Broadway singer/actress Jo Sullivan Loesser, had long wished to commission a successful retrospective of Frank's work, and this project was intended to fulfill that objective. All the text for the revue was quoted from things Frank Loesser actually wrote or said, and it was chock full of his greatest songs. At the time, I was still a well known female impersonator, specializing in portraying Marlene Dietrich, for whom Loesser wrote what became signature numbers, most notably the saloon song "The Boys in the Back Room." So in the revue I appeared as Dietrich and as Bette Davis (singing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" written for Davis for the wartime flick "Hollywood Canteen"), then led the finale as myself in the wonderful Guys and Dolls number "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." The show was presented at a regional theatre but never made it to New York; however, it was such a great experience, and to this day I still use the Tiffany key chain Jo Loesser gave each of us performers on opening night, with a heart shaped charm on it engraved with "H&S" for Heart and Soul. I understand Ms. Loesser is coming to see our production, as she is passionately dedicated to the preservation of Frank Loesser's works. It will be nice to be reacquainted with this legendary lady.
So we are off and running, and I look forward to giving you a peek at the inside of this process. Stay tuned!