Friday, July 31, 2009

As "Fate" Would Have It

Yes Moonies, that’s right. I’m sure I didn’t fool most of you with my coy deception as to the #1 pick on the Moon ballot in last week's blog.

Fate...? Destiny…? It must be Kismet.

And it is.

Being such a grand show, it got me thinking about large productions and our little theatre. Would we ever be able to do justice to Kismet at the Eureka?

I decided it was time to sit down with Artistic Director Greg MacKellan and have a little chat. We talked about Kismet, to be sure, but also about larger productions and 42ND Street Moon in general. Here’s a little bit of that conversation:

K. So Greg, the people have spoken, what are Moon's plans for Kismet?

G. Kismet is a show we have wanted to do at Moon for a long time—twice it has topped the ballot choices, and our audience members have let us know that they would like us to produce it. The score is stunning—“Stranger in Paradise," "And This is My Beloved," "Fate," "Not Since Nineveh," "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads," "Night of My Nights"—what an amazing collection of songs! I saw the movie again recently, and was reminded how funny the script is. It really is great, old-style Broadway at its best.

However, there is a certain lavishness that is integral to Kismet—both in the physical production and in the score—that we simply cannot provide at the Eureka Theatre on that small stage and with only a piano and a reed accompaniment.

For us to do Kismet, we need to return to the Alcazar Theatre. Our hope is that we will open the 2011-12 season with Kismet at the Alcazar, sometime around Sept-Oct 2011.

K. We have performed at Herbst in the past, will there be other shows mounted there in the upcoming season?

G. Well, no, not at the Herbst, but hopefully yes at the Alcazar. Kismet was designed to be our "big return" to the Alcazar, but in fact we may have something there as soon as the 2010-11 season.

K. Ah, a secret huh? No hints yet? Ok, I’m sure you’ll tell me first though so I can let all my Moon Blog friends know the lowdown! So potentially we have two larger shows coming up, why don't we do more of these large scale productions? Is it simply a cost issue? Or is there more?

G. Cost is the major issue. When we perform at the Alcazar (or the Herbst, as we did once with A Connecticut Yankee), we have larger casts, and we are on a larger [Actors'] Equity contract [the Professional Union of Actors and Stage Managers]. The theatre itself is more expensive, and has a union stagehand requirement that the Eureka does not have.

Add in the musicians, and rental of orchestrations, and it becomes a pricey venture. In the past, we have tried the "Encores" approach for the big shows—ten days of rehearsals and a week of performances. And financially, we simply can't make it work by running only a week.

K. Would a return to the more intimate staging allow 42ND Street Moon to produce more of these shows? Going back to the purely "concert" version of some show perhaps? Or even a studio readings?

G. Well, I think we're navigating that fairly well, so far. Girl Crazy, Ben Franklin in Paris, and Wildcat were all huge shows on Broadway (for that matter, so was High Spirits), and we've managed to do them justice, I think, in a smaller production.

This season, Call Me Madam, Destry [Rides Again], and especially Jubilee were done with huge casts and sets on Broadway, but I am fully confident that we will pull them off and the audience will feel like they've seen the full show. In fact, we did both Madam and Jubilee with less people back when we were doing the strict staged concerts at NCTC [New Conservatory Theatre Center – former home to 42ND Street Moon].

K. I for one hated John Doyle's Sweeney Todd (and sometimes I feel like I'm alone in this), mostly because I felt a central character—the score—was decimated. Whereas the musical treatment he did for Company was much more in keeping with the feel of the story. Are there shows that you'd like to see us do that are too large in a technical sense (either production or score) as opposed to simply a large cast?

G. I loved the Doyle Sweeney! But then I saw it in London in a small off-West End Theatre (before it transferred) and never saw the Broadway-ized version. It was tiny, and it was really scary—maybe the scariest Sweeney Todd I'd ever seen. It wasn't sung particularly well in London, only Sweeney and Toby really had the voices for it, but it was very well performed, and I felt like I was really hearing and responding to Sondheim's lyrics in a way I hadn't since I saw the original on tour with
Angela Lansbury and George Hearn. I think that's why I didn't want to see it in the US version—didn't want to see what Broadway had done to it.

Besides Kismet, off the top of my head I know it would be almost impossible to pull off Robert & Elizabeth—for both cast size and nature of the score—in the Eureka. We did manage to make The Golden Apple happen, but that really pushed us to the limit. That was the one show we've done in the Eureka where I felt in retrospect it needed a bigger space and bigger cast.

Promises, Promises is a show we'd love to do, but we can't get the rights, and I believe it's because Bacharach does not want it done without a rhythm section -- piano only, or piano/reeds only won't fly for that one apparently. So we'd need to go to a larger space for that.

K. What are some other larger scale shows you'd like to do, and that are feasible?

G. Do you mean at the Alcazar? Or at the Eureka? We'd love to redo Paint Your Wagon and do it at the Alcazar this time. Same with I Married an Angel, although that's a very intimate show, but would love to hear it with an orchestra. I'd love to be able to do Kern's The Cat & The Fiddle again with the orchestration (which is small -- only 18 pieces, which was tiny by 1930s Broadway standards).

K. Will the larger shows necessitate bringing in a "name"? If so, who are some of the actors on your wishlist?

G. Well, yes, they do -- we simply can't fill a theatre the size of the Alcazar without some "name" power behind it. For Encores and
Reprise (in LA) it's easy, because so many name musical theatre performers live in both places, but for us it means bringing someone in and housing them, so that's another expense. I would love to have Rebecca Luker come do something with us—She Loves Me, Pal Joey, or perhaps something else.

Gosh, who else?
Emily Skinner, Victoria Clark, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, these are all people who would be wonderful in the kinds of shows we do. Andrea Marcovicci would love to come back and do Tovarich for us. I'd love to be able to get them for some of these shows. And, to dream really big for a moment, I would love to have Bernadette Peters work her magic on Rodgers & Hart or Porter

 So Moonies, what do you think? How do you feel about big shows getting intimate productions? And who is in your dream cast?


Last week’s trivia answer:

P.D.Q Bach, aka, Peter Schickele is responsible for most of the score of Oh, Calcutta! A show I’ve been told we will not be doing at Moon anytime soon.

This week’s trivia question:

Who holds the distinction of being the only Nobel Prize winner to write a libretto for a Broadway musical, and what was the musical?

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