Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream, the second Encores! production of the 2011-12 season, is now in rehearsal and will run from March 28 – April 1 at New York City Center. Pipe Dream is being directed by Marc Bruni with music direction by Rob Berman and choreography by Kelli Barclay. We were on hand for a press rehearsal yesterday and we bring you interviews with the cast and creative team and full coverage of the rehearsal!
For the third iteration of Encores! Diary, we’ve decided to try something a little different: Our intrepid blogger this time around is Stephen Wallem (whom you might know as Thor from Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie“), and he will be delivering his daily blog posts via video. We’re very excited to have Stephen as our host this time around. And so, without further ado, we bring you his first installment:
A friend from California called to tell me how much she missed not seeing Merrily We Roll Along at ENCORES!, and asked what was next. When I told her it was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream, she quipped, “Hmm. Two flops in a row.” It caught me up short, I can tell you, and it made me laugh.
It reminded me that Ted Chapin’s original working title for the series was “Flops By Tops”, by which he meant that our mission would be to explore shows by great writers that hadn’t fared well in their original productions. It turned out to be too narrow a mission, but it’s been incorporated into our thinking. Because when great writers write Broadway scores, there’s usually something worth hearing. Over the course of almost 19 seasons, we’ve done our share of old hits – like Bye Bye Birdie, which gave us the opportunity to play the show’s original orchestrations for the first time since the original production (four flutes backing up “Put on a Happy Face”!) And we’ve done our share of shows that had calamitous debuts, like the Gershwin brothers Pardon My English, a show so obscure that the only copy of the book that anyone could find was moldering away in the Library of Congress, deposited there by the authors before there were any songs to insert in it. Librettist David Ives figured out how to refashion it in a way that made room for all that glorious Gershwin music, while reducing the audience to hysterics in between. One of my very favorite ENCORES!, and possibly the biggest flop we’ve ever produced.
In the case of Pipe Dream, the show disappeared because of a legal dispute among various parties representing John Steinbeck, who wrote the original novel, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, who adapted it. For years no one was allowed to produce the show, and gradually it more or less vanished. Ted Chapin, who presides over the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, once again came to our rescue. When I asked him how he had managed to get the dispute resolved, he said, “It was easy. Not only are all the principals dead, all their lawyers are dead.” And so we get to do Pipe Dream.
R&H spent lavish amounts of time and money restoring the score, which hadn’t been played since the original production lost the Tony to My Fair Lady (with The Most Happy Fella a distant second – it was quite a season). Sitting at the orchestra play-through, which was sort of like digging our way into King Tut’s Tomb, not knowing what’s inside, Sondheim’s orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, who stopped by to listen to Robert Russell Bennett’s charts, turned to me and said, “we’re in the presence of genius, you know.” He wasn’t talking about himself.
It’s a beautiful score, and a wonderfully relaxed show. Set in Monterey, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s day at the beach, and they didn’t have many. And although you may not know much (or any) of the music, ten seconds into the overture you’ll know it’s R&H – lush, romantic, celebratory and somehow instantly recognizable. A discovery and an old friend all at once. Audiences, and there are none better than ours, can put another memorable, unique R&H score into their memory banks, and we get to help make that happen, thanks to their support and infinite curiosity. So, yeah, two flops in a row. And I couldn’t be more excited.
Dear Encores! Diary,
As we finished out our closing weekend of Merrily We Roll Along, I remembered the thing that truly makes doing an Encores so amazing and that is the audiences. What a pleasure it is to have an audience that is so on the ball, that recognizes the orchestra and conductor with such generosity, that understands the references and inside jokes and musical miracles that are performed on the stage.
It never ceases to amaze me how a group of two thousand-plus people, strangers to each other, can all enter a building, having had entirely different experiences from their day—the dinner they just ate, how they got to the theatre, where they are from, what made them mad just before, what made them happy an hour ago—and they sit in their seats, the lights go down and all these random people turn into one entity. With a singular personality. To the point that as a performer, you finish your first scene, walk backstage and you are able to sum up an audience with one adjective. They’re smart. or… They’re tired. or… They’re drunk! Because the audience’s performance matters as much to us as our performance does to them. So to do show after show for a really sophisticated, enthusiastic, in-the-know group of people, well that is truly a pleasure. So thank you to all who come to Encores!, you bring us great joy. And you make the communal experience that is theater even more rewarding. Because remember, in the theater every single night is a once-in-a-lifetime event, experienced only by those people who show up to the building on either side of the curtain. It’s remarkable.
Also, Bernadette Peters was there tonight. And Stephen Sondheim. I’m not gonna lie, that makes it fun too.
I thought the show got even better every time we got to do it. I thought the cast was really excellent across the board. I thought Elizabeth Stanley and her boys were hot. I thought Betsy Wolfe sang the s*#@ out of Not A Day Goes By. (I had a mortifying memory pop up that in my senior recital at high school I did a modern interpretive dance to that song while my best friend Jennie Gray sang it to memorialize a teacher who had passed. I bet that was hard to watch.) I thought Adam Grupper was truly fantastic. I think James Lapine is a master. I think Rob Berman is a master. I thought the ensemble was an over-qualified group of people gracious and happy to be there because of what this show means to all of us. I thought the orchestra killed it every single night. And I thought Colin and Celia and Lin found a humanity previously unmined and made us love their trio with brio.
I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to do the show, and also to have been invited to share my random thoughts on this, my first-ever blog.
GO TO THE THEATER!!!!! YOUR LIFE WILL IMPROVE!! YOUR CHILDREN WILL RESPECT YOU! YOUR NEIGHBORS WILL TAKE OUT YOUR TRASH!!! YOUR SPOUSE WILL MAKE BETTER LOVE TO YOU!!! REALLY, I PROMISE.
So long from your pal, Mylinda Hull, aka Scotty the agent in Merrily We Roll Along, 2012
Dear Encores! Diary,
The other night after the show I had the great pleasure of riding the F Train to Brooklyn with Lino Gomez, one of the woodwind players from the Encores! Orchestra. (By the way, “riding the F train to Brooklyn” is not a euphemism for a drug habit, we actually were riding the F train to Brooklyn. Where we both live.) And we had a terrific conversation. It started amusingly enough with Lino asking me if we had ever done any shows together. That’s the funny thing; the way most theaters are set up, physically and the timing of the calls, the orchestra and the cast can go months if not years without actually seeing each other—even though they are in perfect sync, led by the same baton every night. You sort of have to seek someone out. Turns out we didn’t have too many shows in common; he might have subbed on a couple that I was in. But Lino, who plays 5 instruments (flute, e flat clarinet, b flat clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor sax), was talking about the joys of playing the score. He spoke about Jonathan Tunick, the orchestrator, and how the musicians love to play his arrangements because he really understands the voicings and strengths of each instrument, and that there is an inherent logic that makes it a joy to play. Lino is a terrific guy. As you are facing the stage you will see him in the front row of the band, all the way on your right, light grey hair, smoothly juggling his 5 woodwinds. And those are just the ones he plays for us… pretty impressive.
Tuesday night was a magical night in the theatre for the folks who were kind enough to come see our show. There were 20 members of the original company of Merrily in attendance, and they joined us onstage for the curtain call. Then, as a bonus, none other than the man himself, Stephen Sondheim, walked on. Enormous cheers and an outpouring of love from all sides. He shook the hand of young Zachary Unger, who plays Frank Jr., and sobs could be heard. It was quite emotional and lovely. Go to the theatre people, you never know what is going to happen.
Your pal, Mylinda
The 2012 FLAMENCO FESTIVAL is coming to City Center March 1–4, but there’s plenty going on beyond our theater, too. We’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the Festival events:
JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER
Niño Josele & Doug Wamble: Jazz Meets Flamenco – Fri, Feb 24 & Sat, Feb 25 at 7:30 & 9:30pm *$55, $65
92ND STREET Y
Leilah Broukhim – Sat, Feb 25 at 8pm *$25–$85
Words & Music: Federico García Lorca – Mon, Mar 5 at 8pm *$29 / $10 for those 35 and under
Tablao Alegrías – Sat, Feb 25, Mar 3 & 10 at 8:30 & 10:45pm *$20
José María Gallardo Del Rey – Mon, Feb 27 at 6pm
Ricardo Moreno – Wed, Feb 29 at 6pm
Rosa Torres-Pardo – Tue, Mar 6 at 6pm
Nights of Rhythm: Juan De Juan, Jason Samuels Smith, Prashant Shah, Nelida Tirado – Fri, Mar 2 & Sat, Mar 3 at 7:30pm *$20 general / $12 members and students
THE AMERICAS SOCIETY
Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana – Fri, Mar 2 at 7pm *$20 / FREE for AS members
LE POISSON ROUGE
La Shica – Thu, Mar 8 at 8pm *$15 adv / $18 day of
Canteca de Macao – Sun, Mar 11 at 10pm
Pitingo – Fri, Mar 9 at 8pm *$33–$63
Muchachito Bombo Infierno – Sat, Mar 10 at midnight *$20
CLASSES & WORKSHOPS
At City Center:
Flamenco dance classes, open to all levels – Mar 1–4, 1.5 hours before curtain in the Grand Tier Lobby *FREE
Intermediate dance with Juan de Juan – Thu, Mar 1 6–7:30pm, in City Center Studio 4 *$25 Pre-registration required by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Peridance Capezio Center, 126 E. 13th St.:
Intermediate dance with Carmen Cortés – Sat, Mar 3 12–1:30pm *$25
At Instituto Cervantes:
Guitar with José María Gallardo del Rey – Tue, Feb 28 6:30–7:30pm *FREE
CONFERENCES & PANEL DISCUSSIONS
At Instituto Cervantes:
Flamenco Dialogues (with dancers Carmen Cortés & Rafaela Carrasco; Javier Rioyo, Director of Instituto Cervantes, and Angeles Carrasco, Director of Instituto Andaluz del Flamenco) – Mon, Mar 5 at 6:30pm *FREE
At King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square
Transatlantic Influences on Flamenco (Panel with Carlota Santana, William Washabaugh, Le Meira, Peter Manuel and others TBA) – Wed, Feb 29 at 6:30 pm *FREE
Dear Encores! Diary,
Okay, what did I miss…? BlahBlahBlah, opening, BlahBlahBlah, backstage celebrities, BlahBlahBlah press, BlahBlahBlah. Okay!
Let’s really talk about Merrily. It is a hard, grown-up play. This is no beautifully fluffy Gershwin score where boy and girl meet cute. We got divorce, child custody, adultery, alcoholism, selling out, the dissolution of epic friendships. And the story is told in reverse order!!!! Listen people, you have got to pay attention. I really think it takes a moment for the uninitiated to figure out what is going on, or rather how it is going on. What’s fun is a moment in the second act when you can actually hear the audience fully get on board with the format, and really start to enjoy it: Gussie says in one scene, “Remember when I told you a couple of years ago fate brought us together,” and then in the next scene (which takes place a few years earlier) she says, “Fate has brought us together”, people laugh with the giddy, knowing joy of comprehension.
I know that there are many movies and tv shows that use a flashback format, but usually there is a “present” to which the story returns to check in. We just keep going back and back. Another challenge is that we join the story in the first act when the characters are at their most unlikeable, and then as the greek chorus continues to ask through the night, “what was the moment?” “how did you get to be here?” we go back showing certain episodes that perhaps got them there and all of our main characters become more and more innocent, and idealistic and lovable. And then we get to “Our Time” and you weep not only at the beauty of the song and the lyrics, but because you now fully understand the implication of all that has been lost.
I hear that Valentine’s Day is sold out.
Listen, I had a thought and you’re going to have to stick with me for a minute on this one. I take Bikram Yoga—you know, the one in the crazy hot room. And there are these 26 postures, or poses, you do, in the same order, for the same amount of time every time. And all of these poses are preparing your body for the final pose. Now the final pose is actually quite simple. Most of the other poses are much more complicated. The final pose you just cross one bent leg over another bent leg and twist to stretch your spine, you easily could do it before the start of class, but you wouldn’t get the same effect out of it. But after you have done those other poses, you are prepared to receive the full benefit. The instructors actually use the words (I’m sure they are copyrighted!!!) telling you to wring out your spine, as you are twisting, as though you are wringing out a rag. And I sort of feel that “Our Time” is like that. You could just sing it at the top of the show, and it is a real pretty song, but somehow after watching all of these episodes, when the time comes you have been prepared to receive the full impact and it will wring you out.
Not quite as sweaty though.
I really feel like our production benefits so greatly from the casting of incredibly likable people, (who are also so fantastic in each of their roles). So that even when you jump in and they are behaving badly and you don’t know what is going on, you do immediately care about them and want to know what the story is. I am writing this on Sunday, before our final show of the week, and every show has just gotten better and stronger and more confident and you really wonder what we could have done had we had more time. ”There’s not enough Time!!!” to quote the end of “Opening Doors.”
When you come to see the show, be sure to take note of that talented piano player in the Downtown Club cabaret show scene, none other than our beloved Rob Berman, music director and conductor extraordinaire.
Your pal, Mylinda
Well, it’s the Sondheim Superbowl this year. Did anyone else notice before the game when Eli Manning was asked what final words Coach Tom Coughlin had for the team before they took the field? He said “It’s our time”. It’s Our Time??? Clearly, Coach Coughlin had been quoting Merrily We Roll Along in the locker room, drawing some Sondheim parallels. What else could he have been saying? In fact, I think I just saw Eli holding up that trophy and saying “At last, my right arm is complete again.” I honestly did not realize there was such a strong musical theatre connection to the NFL. I might watch a little more often. Because There Are Giants In The Sky.
We had Sitzprobe Friday, working up to Superbowl Sunday. The sitzprobe is the first time the orchestra and the cast come together to play and sing the music together in the same room. It is enormously exciting. The musicians are absolutely the best on Broadway. To sit in that room with all of those people is a real privilege; it is the kind of moment you tuck away in your memory pocket for a rainy day. Jonathan Tunick was there, his orchestrations are outta this world. Mr. Sondheim was there giving helpful notes to musicians and actors alike. I know a couple of the musicians from other shows. A terrific fella named John Beal is on bass—he told me he also played the original production. I love Beal. I sometimes sing with a jazz band and he is our regular bass player, and I always feel incredibly lucky to sing with him.
Tomorrow, Monday, is the big day. That’s the day all the technical elements come together and everyone does in one day what it usually takes several weeks to perfect. Lighting, costumes, sound, all of it. For my money, the sound department has the biggest challenge. Then we’ll have one more rehearsal Tuesday morning before our invited dress rehearsal Tuesday night. You know, a friend of mine recently shared with me her concerns about a family member who wants to go to school for theatre, and she wasn’t sure if he had the caliber of talent to make a career of it and thought it was maybe a waste. I shared my opinion that anyone who takes part in the theatre, whether in college, community theatre, summer camp, wherever, comes out of it better suited for life as a whole. You learn teamwork, how to meet a deadline, kindness to your fellow man, and how to own your joy and your pride. All of those things are certainly on display here at Encores!. And also, with the Giants.
Your pal, Mylinda