Saturday, June 30, 2018

Do You Believe?

Children separated from their parents.  A land in turmoil. Indigenous people under attack. A theatrical and lawless tyrant run amok. Sound familiar?

This is the state of affairs in Neverland.

Now, I am not trying to be cute.  Nor am I trying to impose dark and political significances on to "Peter Pan."  But, as I have been rehearsing this first whirlwind week at North Shore Music Theatre, I have been continually moved by the way this bittersweet children's classic has resonated with me, in light of the increasingly tense and frightening reality of American life.

An actor friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that he feels our work--namely, entertaining audiences through live theatre--is frivolous, useless and almost an insult in light of the grave challenges that face our nation.  But I disagree.  Theatre, and art in general, are here to lift us up in times of darkness, and to remind us of our common humanity: the experiences of being human that we all share.  

What experience could be more universal than the experience of childhood?  "Peter Pan," more than perhaps any other fairy tale, speaks to us from the deep recesses of a time when we were all wide-eyed, innocent youngsters.  It isn't all sunshine and treacle; the story vibrates with other, deeper themes: the fears of parents that they might not be able to protect their children... the terror of growing up and growing old... the possibility that magic can't save everyone, even the most magical of creatures, Tinkerbell.  Yet, there is one panacea that pierces all darkness, and that can bring fairies back to life: our belief.

Some might define the opposite of Fear as Courage. Others might define it as Safety. Or Acceptance.  I think the opposite of Fear might be... Wonder.  I've heard Fear being described as an acronym: F.E.A.R. False Events Appearing Real. And in a way, our Fear is often more Dread than anything... the fear of the unknown.  And Wonder is our ability to remain curious, open and playful... to believe that magic exists even if everything in our adult lives tells us it's fantasy.  

Wonder is what J.M. Barrie wanted to tap into with "Peter Pan."  When Tinkerbell is at death's door (after drinking Peter's medicine--poisoned by Captain Hook--in order to save him), Peter tells us to clap if we believe in fairies.  Our applause, indicating our willingness to declare our belief, brings Tink back to life.  Of course, Tinkerbell is a flickering light... Peter is a woman dressed as a little boy, who flies through the ",magic" of machinery, and wires, and stagehands.  And yet... young and old... we clap.  We clap because we believe.  We clap because we want Tinkerbell to live... we want her to be real.  We clap because we all want to be children once more and to have that natural, effortless, and thrilling experience of wonder again.

I think our country and our world need theatre more than ever.  We need to commune as humans from different walks of life, from different experiences of the world... to gather together in the dark, and return to that time when everything was magic. To see with the eyes of a child and to believe in innocence, in hope, and in possibility.  When we do this, we discover our common shared experience as human beings and we reinvest in our hearts and our sense of tenderness and compassion.  

I believe with all my heart that our production of "Peter Pan," so exquisitely crafted by director Bob Richard and choreographer Diane Laurenson with honesty and soul, devoid of sentimentality and falseness, will take our audiences, young and old, back to that sense of wonder.  I am so proud to be a part of this show, at the venue where I as a small child had my first wide-eyed experiences of theatre--including seeing my first "Peter Pan."  I hope it softens hearts and opens minds, and brings home to people that children are the purest and best of what makes us human.  They deserve to be cherished and to be safe and secure.. with their parents, free of fear, enveloped by love.

"Peter Pan" runs July 10-22 at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA. Come fly with us!



Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hooked!

"The man is not wholly evil; he has a thesaurus in his cabin."
~J.M. Barrie


If you follow me on social media, you gotta know by now: I AM PLAYING CAPTAIN HOOK.  So geeky am I about it, I have been posting biweekly photos and profiles on Facebook of all the great actors who've played the character over the years.   I am now blogging about  it.  But those friends of mine not irritated by the overkill will attest to two things: this is one of my dream parts--and I am only sharing my enthusiasm.

In an industry where material benefits are rare, and fame is for the lucky few, one thing we can pursue and sometimes land is our dream parts.  The parts you want one crack at before you go.  The parts that you spend years planning your glorious interpretations of.  And of course, those parts are the same parts every other actor dreams of doing.  The line forms to the left.  So to get even one shot at a John Adams, a Thénardier, a Nathan Detroit.... well, you TAKE IT. And I have been blessed to do all of the roles listed, and more.

So yes, indeed, I am playing the dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in the musical classic "Peter Pan" at North Shore Music Theatre in my hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts.  This will be my fourth production for North Shore, and how I love the special energy and challenges of this in-the-round arena.  And having my close family living a few miles from the theatre is pretty fantastic, too.  So, there's a full circle story that's kind of magic about my doing this particular role at this particular theatre...
George Rose as Hook with Sandy Duncan on Broadway

As a kid, our school field trips would occasionally be to a show at North Shore.  And in 1978, my twelve year old self saw "Peter Pan" with Tovah Feldshuh as Peter and the great George Rose as Hook.  I remember seeing this show so vividly, but all I remember is Rose and how brilliant and shameless and colorful he was. Seeing him perform struck me like I was a tuning fork.
It was one of the moments I determined to be an actor! So to return to North Shore Music Theatre 40 years later to play Hook myself?  Wow.

Captain Hook is the greatest of all stage villains (except perhaps Richard III) and he is everything you'd ever want to be to chew the scenery down with over the top zeal. He's vain, petty, ferocious, melodramatic, prone to operatic depths of melancholy, and the snarling, cackling embodiment of evil any ham actor could wish for--all wrapped up in velvet, ostrich plumes and black Charles I ringlets.  I am tickled to pieces to get to play Hook and I know I am in for a workout.  It's an epic role.

"Peter Pan" runs July 10-22 at North Shore Music Theatre, directed by Bob Richard.  Bob has shared some of the designs and concepts for this production and I gotta tell you--it's gonna be spectacular.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Shakespearean Season

Thankfully, it’s easy to find the words to describe Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s “Shakespeare in Love”: Romantic, sprightly, joyous, heartfelt. In short, it’s a delight. ~Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel


I have to own up: I am a very lax blogger.  My last post was before the holidays, a lapse of more than three months.  Mea culpa, dear reader.  2018 got off to such an intense start I haven't had a chance to put my thoughts down.  On New Year's Day I flew to Orlando Shakespeare Theater to begin work on the repertory season-- "Shakespeare in Love" and "Twelfth Night."  The two plays rehearsed simultaneously, and, having not done a rep season in many years, I found it quite the whirlwind!  But what a joy to spend the winter in sunny Florida, fully immersed in the rich and rollicking world of Elizabethan England.

Fennyman takes stage as "The Apothecary"

"Shakespeare in Love," adapted by Lee Hall from the Oscar-winning film, is perhaps the most produced play in regional theatre this season. Will Shakespeare, longing for love and inspiration, meets Viola DeLesseps, a lady who dreams of being an actor--at a time when women are banned from the stage.  It's a comedy with a huge heart; a love letter to the theatre and to Shakespeare.  I play Hugh Fennyman, a moneylender (and, in my interpretation, a piratical thug with a dueling scar across his face) who secretly adores the theatre!  It's a delicious cameo to perform amidst this talented and multifaceted cast, directed by Richard Garner.  

At the final curtain of "Shakespeare in Love," Will is hard at work creating "Twelfth Night," so it was a rather brilliant stroke by Artistic Director Jim Helsinger to pair the two plays in rep.  But our "Twelfth Night" is a rare and special production.  Performed entirely with Elizabethan stage practices in a replica indoor playhouse of the 17th century, all the roles are played--as they would have been in 1602--by men.  And the language is spoken in original Elizabethan pronunciation.  Ours is the first ever professional American production of Shakespeare performed in this way and I am so proud to be a part of it, playing Feste--one of the great clowns.  He's a true jester of wit and wordplay, and I get to sing several Elizabethan songs, accompanied by a live consort. Our cast was blessed to be directed by the sublime Carolyn Howarth.

As Feste, with company of "Twelfth Night"
Why do Shakespeare in this odd dialect?  I think, because it teaches us so much about the language.  Original Pronunciation (Elizabethan dialect) expert David Crystal (who  phonetically transcribed and audio recorded the entire play for us) teaching us that people of the period spelled things the way they sounded. This helps us, as well as the odd rhymes of words like "love" and "move" which sounded like "luv" and "muv"--O.P. helps us fulfill the clever wordplay Shakespeare intended.  As an actor, I find the dialect brings an earthiness, a vitality and speed which make the words come alive. We were all blessed to have the expertise of dialectician Paul Meier to keep us sounding just right.

Orlando Shakes is calling this the "Time Machine Twelfth Night" because audiences are transported to an indoor playhouse during Elizabeth I's reign, lit by hundreds of candles, accompanied by live music played on period instruments, and inhabited by an all male cast in sumptuous period costumes.  Yet never does it feel like a museum piece.  On the contrary, the play comes to rollicking life and the audience is swept into it with us.  For a Shakespeare geek like me, this rep season is a dream job-- stepping back into the Elizabethan era with one of Shakespeare's great comedies, as well as a vibrant fantasy play about the great man himself.  Oh, and did I mention that it's in the 80s and sunny here in Orlando?  That doesn't bother me one bit, either.