Friday, August 28, 2009

Shoot the Moon

Ever wonder where all those amazing pictures from the brochures, postcards, and posters come from?

Well that would be resident Moon photographer David Allen.

David has been taking pictures since his days at Miramonte High School, in the East Bay. In fact, he started working as a photojournalist right out of High School.

Now he does mostly public relations photography for art groups. He has worked with EVERYONE—from Cal Shakes, to the now defunct American Musical Theatre of San Jose, and just about every art organization in between!

He’s been working with Moon for well over a decade, taking all of our publicity shots and most of our “action” shots (production shots and gala pictures).

He enjoys our new intimate productions. “It’s more theatrical. It makes it more visually appealing as well, and the players can move more freely. That makes for a better image.”

If you can imagine, he takes somewhere between 500 and 600 of those images, which then get whittled down to just a couple of dozen for our use.

Artistic Director Greg MacKellan is the one who helms all the photo shoots, figuring out the shots, and consulting with costumer Louise Jarmilowicz on the "look" each show will need for publicity purposes.
Says MacKellan:

It's hard work - but fun work! - planning a photo shoot. It's a completely different animal from actually doing the show - in the case of the shoot, the number one priority is getting shots that will "sell" the show and also offer a bit of the flavor of what people will be seeing months later. We have to try to capture the spirit of the show in an hour or hour-and-a-half. In many cases, it's the first time the actors have actually gotten together as a group -- the first chance to see how the chemistry actually works. We were really lucky at the shoot for Jubilee and Destry, because there was an immediate working chemistry between actors in both.
For the actors, performing for a camera is also very different from stage performing. Sometimes we'll just set them up in a situation and ask them to improvise through it as David shoot continuously. That happens with a dance routine, too. Some of our best shots come out that way (as opposed to the "posed" shots, which are also effective).

(Dyan McBride, Andrew Willis-Woodard, and Alison Ewing in a candid moment,
one of the 500 pictures that won't make the cut onto a poster. Photo by David Allen)

So which shows has David enjoyed shooting the most?

One Touch of Venus was a great show to shoot. Red, Hot and Blue was also nice, really animated and a lot of energy. Plus, Klea Blackhurst is a blast; I love working with her, lots of energy!”

But from a visually artistic stand point, it’s Coco that he fancied the most. He used low-key lighting, which is “visually more creative and dramatic. I prefer that, but it takes more time so it's a luxury. It reflects more of the mood and more of the dramatic, you're dealing with shadows and light.”

(Alison Ewing helping demonstrate 'low-key lighting. Photo by David Allen)

His last photo shot was for our upcoming production of Cole Porter's Jubilee. Megan Cavanagh, Dyan McBride, C. J. Blankenship and Peter Budinger took part in the shoot. According to Peter, the actors have a ball doing it; "It was quite funny, while they were taking pictures, [Dyan] was running around creating dialogue – in character. Her character in Jubilee name drops and talks quickly, so she was doing that while posing."

C. J. recalls the shoot with a laugh, "It was pretty funny we [C. J. and Peter] were supposed to be these athletic guys. So David says, 'You guys wanna do some push ups or something?' Our egos' slightly bruised, we did it anyway. And he started taking pushup shots."

(C. J. Blankenship, Megan Cavanagh, and Peter Budinger gettin' pumped.
Photo by David Allen.)
That dovetailed into a series of shots between C. J. and Peter that reminded Peter of the gym scene from the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. "We were staring at each other in these series of shots, on a lark, ignoring Megan completely."

(C. J. Blankenship, Megan Cavanagh, and Peter Budinger channeling Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Photo by David Allen.)

What of David’s work for Moon have you liked the best? Which posters or postcards still stick out in your mind? Tell us in our comments. Three of you that answer will be chosen for concession coupons and entered into our quarterly drawing.

Last week’s trivia answer: The first recording of Leave It to Me was from a production in Stuttgart and was recorded in German.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moon for the Misforgotten

I have something to say... I'm a musical theatre fan.

I feel no personal shame or guilt about this…

In fact, I love it!

I love everything about it. I love the shows. I love the cast recordings. I love the playbills. Most of all, I love the stories; I love the history.

That’s why I’m growing to love this company more and more every day.

I might be a little biased, but over the past few weeks I’ve learned a lot about 42ND Street Moon.

First—I have to admit—as I started my affair with musical theatre, programs like City Center’s Encores! and Reprise in Los Angeles were much more… known to me. And I do love them too!

With their “star power,” a number of CD's, and more than a few transfers to Broadway, I thought these were the “original” preservation companies.

Boy was I wrong.

This is my “Did you know” section… bear with me:

Did you know…

  • Moon—inspired by the long-gone New Amsterdam Company in New York—is the oldest Musical Revival Company currently producing in the United States?

  • Moon has been awarded two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for preservation efforts?
  • that most seasons, Moon presents more shows than both Encores! and Reprise COMBINED!?
  • most of Moon’s shows are from the 20’s-40’s, unlike other Companies which typically gravitate toward more recent decades?

  • Moon has produced the American Premiere of three shows: Cabaret Girl (Kern/Wodehouse), The Good Companions (Previn/Mercer), and Three Sisters (Kern/Wodehouse)?

  • Moon has produced the first revivals since the original productions of Darling of the Day Styne/Harburg), Face the Music (Berlin), Peggy-Ann (Rodgers/Hammerstein II), America’s Sweetheart (Rodgers/Hart)

  • brought Cole Porter’s Leave It To Me to the world with the first recording of the complete score?

I was amazed when I found all this out. Can you imagine? Our little family did all that?

I’m proud to be a Moonie!

Of course, it brings up an interesting difference between Moon and other revival companies.

Encores! produces a mix of shows, restorations of rarely-seen classics as well as more standard fare like The Pajama Game and Bye, Bye, Birdie. However, to be able to hear them once again, with their full orchestra and Broadway casts is thrilling. “Encores! is the gold standard,” says our Artistic Director Greg MacKellan.

Then you have us, 42nd Street Moon. Our approach is a bit different, since it's part of our mission to preserve the American Musical; to restore scripts and scores; to present works, with not only glorious music, superbly written books, but also shows with personal stories, with history.

Who should be taking a page from whose book...if at all? Is Moon on the right course by trying to bring uncommon, sometimes literally lost, musicals to San Francisco? What do you think of the Reprise and Encores! model? Would you prefer a hybrid? How many shows a season can be old favorites, not lost gems? Bring it on! Let's hear it!


Trivia question this week:

I mentioned that Moon's recording of Leave It to Me was the first complete recording of Porter's score. There was an earlier recording. Where did it come from and in what language was it recorded?

Friday, August 14, 2009

(God) I Hope I Get It [Part Deux]

Last week on a very special episode of MoonBlog…

We were talking about the audition processes for 42ND Street Moon and we heard from some Moon Actors.

( Sarah Kathleen Farrell auditioning for Moon in June -- Sarah appeared in the June
Gala and is joining us forboth Call Me Madam and Jubilee this season)

Today, we’re lookin’ at things from across the table.

The first time the Director interacts with the actors is, of course, at the auditions. This is a monumental task. Directors will see dozens if not hundreds (in the case of a Broadway show or National Tour, possibly thousands) of actors before they pick the handful that will go in their show.

The Directors at Moon have to base their judgments on these auditions and a callback. Moon doesn't have the luxury of being able to call an actor or actress back four times—like Jerry Zaks did to Faith Prince for her Tony Award winning role in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls… because “he just wasn’t sure.”

In some cases, Moon Directors may have seen an actor’s work in another show. In most cases, the 3-5 minutes the actor gives for a song or two and some scene reading, or a monologue, is all the director gets.

Of course our resident Musical Director Dave Dobrusky loves the throngs of those auditioning. He feels like he's being serenaded, "Normally you have to pay for something like this."

(Bill Fahrner, Anil Margsahayam, Rudy Guerrero and Mike Figueira "on the line" at the Moonspace rehearsal/audition studio)

Part II – The Directors

To recap the answers Greg left in the comments from last week’s blog:
1) Moon engages in colorblind casting and has had some wonderful non-traditional casts in the past.
2) Moon is an Equity house [that means we are a Union house] and casts about 1/3 of the season with Equity Actors.
3) There are times when a very talented performer is simply not right for a role. This happens most often when an actor's voice is in a different range from what's required for a part —imagine an alto auditioning for the role of Cunegonde from Candide… not gonna happen.
So which is more important acting or singing?

Well of course, ideally our directors want someone who can do both and maybe do a little soft shoe too! But again, different roles call for different strengths. Some roles require “legit” singing, generally this falls to the leading lady/man and usually the more dramatic roles. Other roles require “character singing” – think Buddy Hackett in The Music Man. Either way, the best singer in the world, if s/he can’t act, isn’t gonna make it onto Moon’s stage.

So, according to Artistic Director Greg MacKellan, Moon leans (ever so slightly) towards actors who sing, but “who sing with legit chops!”

Lisa Hensley mentioned there is a certain type of song that one should prepare for Moon auditions, but when I asked the directors, they had a slightly different take on things…

Greg considers “story songs that are strongly melodic” as being part of the “classic musical theatre” canon, no matter where or when they came from. Kander and Ebb, Jerry Herman, Jule Styne, The Producers, The Full Monty, Light in the Piazza are all ripe with good audition material.

But remember, auditioning at Moon isn’t “Broadway Night” on American Idol. Leave the vocal runs and pop arrangements at home. “We do need people to sing in a ‘straight’ style instead of the pop style that is needed for Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, most of Lloyd Webber's shows, etc.”

Also, Greg cautions, “bring a ballad and a comedy song. It's sort of amazing how many actors do not have a comedy song in their audition book!”

So if you’ve thought about auditioning for Moon, but haven’t yet… what are you waiting for? Send in your resume and headshot and maybe you’ll get an audition for next year's generals!

Leave a comment and tell us about your favorite audition material – even if you aren’t an actor, what WOULD you want to audition with?

Don’t forget Moonies, single tickets go on sale tomorrow! There is still time to subscribe for the season and get a great discount. And the last day of our very special Salon Series pricing ends TOMORROW as well.


Last week’s trivia answer: Congrats Clifford, you hit it on the ball. You get another concession coupon and another chance at our quarterly prize.

This week: No trivia question this week. Instead, I want everyone to comment on their audition material. I’ll randomly pick three responses for the prize.

Friday, August 7, 2009

(God) I Hope I Get It

Plays and musicals set backstage (Noises Off, Curtains) seem to captivate audiences in a special way. These shows usually take place during rehearsals and performances; they rarely show the beginning of the process.

There was one straight-play I remember, a very funny comedy called The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, that takes place at a backers audition, and gives a little hint of the very beginning of the production process. However, our first look at auditions came thirty-three years ago with the Pulitzer-prize winning A Chorus Line.

42ND Street Moon is currently hosting our auditions at Moonspace, our office/rehearsal space.

I wondered how auditioning for Moon was different from other companies. So I asked some of our Moon actors.

Auditions Part 1: The Actors

The first thing that many of the actors I spoke with mentioned was the ability to sing a full song. It is pretty much an industry standard to only have those auditioning sing 16- or 32-bars of music.

I can understand this from the perspective of having hundreds of people to audition; it would take forever. And I’m sure most casting teams would be ready to shoot themselves if they had to listen to fifty actresses sing “Meadowlark” or worse, “Tomorrow.” However, how can a director get a true sense of the person’s emotive ability in 16 bars of music?

Lisa Hensley (pictured left) really appreciates this difference in the Moon process, “You get the chance to really tell the full story and show different contrasts in your voice.”

Lisa is also grateful for the direction she receives, “directors give you really specific feedback so you’re able to bring the scene to life, even there [at auditions].”

Lisa first auditioned for Moon back in 2001; she remembers it vividly. She had just completed a run of Cabaret and was running to her Moon audition in the same shoes she wore throughout Cabaret’s run. On the way to the audition her shoe’s three-inch heel broke! She recalls, somewhat horror-stricken, “I had to do the audition in my bare feet!”

She didn't get a part that season, but lucky for us Lisa figured better luck (and better shoes) next time... and came back. This time she was cast in Coco and then last season she joined Moon for Girl Crazy.

There are a few Moon actors who have been with the company long enough that all the directors know their abilities. Cindy Goldfield (pictured right) has been with Moon since Sweet Adeline in 1993, the company's inaugural season. Cindy and actor Bill Fahrner, the two performers with the longest continuing association with the Company, made their Moon debuts together. Cindy has since taken the reins as director and choreographer on numerous Moon shows, but she still welcomes the chance to audition: "It’s always an opportunity to see family and friends."

Her experiences with Moon have actually made other auditions easier, “all of the sudden you have all this classical musical theatre to use, and some odd-ball songs that no one ever hears. That’s kind of fun!”

Speaking of music, that seems to be another difference for potential Moon actors. For most theatre companies, you’re expected to prepare a contemporary song. 42ND Street Moon has a general time-period, which makes it safest to break out the Gershwin and Porter songs. This is something many of the actors appreciate, “it’s a treat!”

Both Lisa and Cindy will be in Destry Rides Again from October 28th to November 15th. Single tickets go on sale August 15th, but if you’d like to save 20% on Destry, and all the other Moon shows this season, become a Season Ticket Subscriber.

Next week I’m going to look at auditions from the Directors’ perspective. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask our Directors about how they pick the right actor for the right show? Leave a comment and I’ll ask your question for you!


Last week’s trivia answer: Pearl S. Buck, for Christine.

This week’s trivia question: A Chorus Line is now the fourth longest running Broadway musical in history. It still holds the distinction of being the longest running ___________ Broadway musical. (Hint: the answer is about the production itself, none of its stars or creators).