Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Dreamed a Dream...

In 1985, when I was a sophomore in college, I received as a holiday gift the original London cast recording of Les Misérables.  This album came to the States long before the show ever did, and I became instantly obsessed with it.  I was a serious acting student in a theatre program and to me this show represented a bridge between my two favorite theatre genres, classical theatre and musical theatre.  Imagine-- an epic pop opera based on great literature produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company!  I was in heaven.  

Sometime over the next year or so, the tour of the show came through Boston and I went.  I can still remember the impact the original production had on me... it was so sweeping, so impassioned, with such spectacular stagecraft.  The finale literally lifted me out of my seat.  So great was my appreciation of the show, I did the Marius/Eponine duet, "A Little Fall of Rain" for my senior showcase presentation.

I moved to New York right after graduating college, and was here less than a year before I returned to Boston to get more experience and be better prepared for the demands of life in NYC.  But during that brief time I was here, I went to every single audition for the Broadway production of Les Misérables I could get into.  I was 22 years old, ambitious and in love with the idea of being one of those guys on the barricade.  After several calls where I got 'typed out' each time, the casting director, Vinnie Liff, took me aside, put his arm around me and, after praising my singing and my audition, told me I was simply too short for the show.  I was disappointed but am to this day grateful to Mr. Liff (may he rest in peace) for being so generous to tell me why this coveted show was out of my reach.

Well, fast forward over 25 years and I am now a character actor, with a new goal: to play the show-stealing, shameless, hilarious and villainous Thénardier.  Over the past few years I have done numerous auditions for the role for regional theatre productions and for the recent 25th anniversary tour... chasing the part with the same determination with which I chased John Adams in 1776.  It always seemed I was losing the role to an actor who, without the aid of makeup or costume, looked more 'charactery.'  But I knew that I had the stuff to bring both the comedy and the chilling evil of the character and the transformative ability to look the part as well.

Fortunately, director DJ Salisbury and Orlando Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Jim Helsinger 'got it' this season, and have cast me in what will be the most ambitious production in the theatre's history, amidst a company that includes Broadway greats like Davis Gaines, and dear friends like the sublime Lianne Marie Dobbs, whose successful debut cabaret act I directed here in New York.  In just a couple weeks I will become the 'master of the house' and finally get to be a part of this fabulous piece of musical theatre, fulfilling an ambition I've cherished for nearly 30 years!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

'My Dearest Friend'

"As founding father John Adams, actor James Beaman has incredible chemistry with Christiane Noll, who plays his wife, Abigail." ~Cape Cod Times

More gushing from beautiful Cape Cod, this time about my leading lady, the lovely Christiane Noll.  The touching glimpses of the relationship between John and Abigail Adams in 1776 are all based upon the immortal letters the couple exchanged during their many separations.  These interludes serve to humanize Adams and to give a strong female voice to the male dominated action of the play.  I could not have a more masterful Abby than the one brought to the stage by Christiane.

There's no denying I was intimidated when I learned that this Tony-nominated, accomplished singer-actress was to play my wife in my long awaited debut in this show.  Christiane not only has given unforgettable performances on Broadway in shows like Jekyll and Hyde and Ragtime, but she is also an international concert artist and has recorded a half dozen solo CDs.  While I am confident in my abilities, I was daunted by the idea of having to sing duets with Christiane and somehow meet her level of artistry and proficiency.

Christiane Noll as Abigail. Photo: Seacia Pavao
Christiane put me at ease with her professionalism, clarity and no nonsense attitude from day one.  And she's a superb actress, connecting with me from the get-go with the warmth and intimacy our director wanted us to find.  The result has been, I think, touching and memorable.  Christiane makes Abigail strong and witty, and of course, her vocals are unsurpassed.

There's no doubt that I have had vocal struggles with this role.  It is a very demanding part vocally, with Adams shouting and haranguing his fellow congressmen almost continually for over 2 and a half hours, in between singing about two thirds of all the musical material in the show.  I approached our two week rehearsal period having done voice work on the sung material, but I never anticipated that my attack on the book scenes would exhaust my voice so thoroughly!  And the quick turnaround process here at Cape Playhouse (after a week of run through rehearsals in New York, we arrived here with about 36 hours to tech and open the show) leading into a full eight show week... well, we had no day off, and very little rest.  All of this led to a vocal fatigue that has made this first week of shows a struggle for me.

I mention this only to highlight the generosity and advice Christiane Noll offered me.  She has been very encouraging and has offered remedies and tips for recovering my vocal health.  Not only has she been lovely and helpful, but so has her talented husband Jamie LaVerdiere (who is giving a chilling and masterful performance in the show as Rutledge) and her mother, an accomplished opera singer who has come to the Cape with the couple to help with their gorgeous 5 year old daughter who is here as well.  It's quite a family.

Actors of any ambition want to do their 100% best at all times in their work and careers.  And we also dream of working with people who have achieved the kinds of things in the business that we aspire to.  It's a bonus when they are also kind and lovely people.  I have been blessed in so many ways on this show, and working opposite Christiane is one of those blessings.