Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Is Anybody There?"

If you've been a follower of my blog, you know I love to gush over things and people that I admire.  I feel like genuine appreciation and enthusiasm make life richer and fuller and I never hold back when I am inspired to gush.  And few collaborators I have worked with in recent years deserve appreciation the way director James Brennan does.

I first worked with Jimmy last season in The Sound of Music at North Shore Music Theatre.  Max Detweiler was a role I had coveted for a while and I was so fortunate Jimmy cast me in his production, which was not only the best Sound of Music I have ever seen, but was peopled with extraordinary actors, led by Lisa O'Hare as Maria (Lisa is now playing the lead in the Tony winning blockbuster A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder).  Jimmy has a way of not only attracting the best talent to his projects, but a gift for assembling an extraordinary cast.  He has done just that with 1776.  It is a piece that requires truly unique and memorable performers, as each character has his or her special moment.  Our ensemble, from veteran Broadway actors like George Lee Andrews, to Tony nominee Christiane Noll... to actors like Ric Stoneback, who has a long history with this show... to gifted up and comers like the exquisite Stephanie Rothenberg... it's a treasure trove of talent.

James Brennan (R) as Adams in the Geva production
For me, this experience is enhanced by the fact that James Brennan has played John Adams four times in his career--twice at Sacramento Music Circus, at Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY, and at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.  This is the second time this season that I have been directed by a fine actor who has played the part I am undertaking.  And just as with Michael Kostroff in Laughter on the 23rd Floor, I have been blessed to have Jimmy's incredible insights without ever feeling that he is imposing his performance on me.  

Jimmy's acting career has been astonishing... his range mind-blowing.  To meet him, you'd never expect that this thoughtful, gentlemanly, understated man has done some of the most challenging song and dance parts in the repertoire, from Crazy For You to Me and My Girl; he has assayed some of the most hilarious comic leads from Pseudolus in Forum to Horace in Hello, Dolly!.  In short, he is the kind of actor I aspire to be.  And then add to this his enormous gifts as a director...??  Wow.

James Brennan directing
The climactic moment for John Adams in 1776 is his big solo toward the end of the show--his 'eleventh hour' number--"Is Anybody There?"  It is a big, soaring aria expressing Adams's determination to achieve American independence against impossible odds, and his vision of glory for generations of Americans to come. Jimmy has shared with me the images and choices he has used to bring this challenging piece to life--an act of generosity that has cracked open the song for me and taken me to another level.  Such specific directives in the hands of a less skillful director might have gotten in the way, but I can't express enough gratitude for the way Jimmy has shared his inner actor's mind in this huge role and helped me to find a deeper connection to it.

As of this writing, we are finishing our first week of rehearsals in New York, which means this precious four week adventure is one quarter over!  It's impossible to describe the mix of exhaustion, exhilaration and even sadness I feel as I go into my day off.  But I truly feel supported by this wonderful cast, and especially by my gentleman director, the great James Brennan.  

If you have missed any of my vlog, "Becoming John Adams," I have created a playlist on YouTube so you can binge watch to your hearts content.  To enjoy the video blog, click here.

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