Saturday, September 11, 2010

Perfectly Frank

Remarkably, after posting my blog last week, which contained an account of my involvement with a Frank Loesser revue spearheaded by Jo Sullivan Loesser, the lady herself graced us with a visit during rehearsals for How To Succeed...!
Ms. Loesser takes a keen interest in any major revival of Frank's work, and is constantly at work preserving his creations and enlivening interest in revivals and fresh concepts of his lesser known pieces. What a treat it was for us as a company to sit in a circle and listen to Ms. Loesser's tales about her life with this American genius and in particular her accounts of the creation and original production of the show we are working on. Jo is a feisty, no nonsense little lady with a hearty laugh and a shoot-from-the-hip sense of humor. She adored Frank Loesser, even though she amusingly describes him as "a pain in the neck," and from her stories a portrait of Loesser emerges-- of a brilliant musician who talked like a character out of the Damon Runyon books that Guys and Dolls was based upon; a prodigious talent who worked only at night (often pausing for martinis at 4AM), and who created the entire score for How To Succeed in six weeks. Jo related to us the story of the opening of the show, and how Frank hated opening nights; in an early scene of the play, a piece of scenery wobbled when it was moved on stage, and Frank stood up, left the theatre and spent the entire first night in the bar! She talked to us at length about what works best in performance of the material, and how certain pieces of the score came to be created. Frank felt that the satirical nature of the Shepherd Mead book on which the piece was based did not lend it well to the inclusion of a romantic love ballad in the score. When he felt he really needed to add one for the good of the storyline between Finch and his secretary girlfriend, he decided to do a takeoff of the "Maria" number from the then wildly popular West Side Story. The result is the florid and over the top "Rosemary" number which closes Act One. It is tales like this that only someone who was there and witnessed the creation of this classic musical can tell--which made Jo Loesser's visit all the more special for each and every one of us. We truly felt we had been given a glimpse of theatre history through this fabulous little lady, and how grateful we all were for that opportunity!

Rehearsals continue at breakneck speed, as our intrepid director and choreographer push to stage the entire piece in time to allow us a week of refinements and intensive drilling of the material before our technical process begins in just over a week. As of this writing we only have one scene left to stage as well as the finale of the show. Greg and Kelli's work is at once playful and incredibly intense; they ask of us complete flexibility, high energy, and total concentration. The choreography and staging is extremely stylized and detail oriented, requiring a high level of technical ability--this is a true farce in the best sense, and will, in its final form, resemble the whimsical cartoons created by the illustrator "Claude" for the original Mead book, cartoons like the ones found in the classic New Yorker magazines. Each and every gesture and nuance is given special emphasis and the tempos and comedic bits are being intricately worked out. I think that the sheer exuberance, energy and speed of the show are going to take the audience's breath away.

Equally breathtaking will be Gregory Gale's stunning costumes, which are being made completely from scratch for our production. Both of my 1960s slim suits fit me superbly and are sharp as a razor. My fitting this week allowed me a chance to really see what Milt Gatch and my other characters will look like and the style of the costumes is completely in harmony with the snazzy comedy of our performances. I gotta tell ya, this show is going to be a total hoot and expertly crafted on every level. It will be something special not to be missed! Stay tuned for more as we head into week three of the rehearsal process...

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