Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who's Who of 1935: An Insider's Guide to JUBILEE

Jubilee was an ultra-hip hit on Broadway in 1935 and lampooned many famous people of the day. Some of the best known were portrayed as thinly disguised characters in the show. For example, the characters of Karen O’Kane and Eric Dare in Jubilee were meant to represent Ginger Rogers and Noel Coward, respectively.   Eva Standing is the fictious representation of Elsa Maxwell, while Charles "Mowgli" Rausmiller represents Johnny "Tarzan" Weismuller. (Click here for a fascinating look at Elsa Maxwell).

But these are the tip of the Jubilee iceberg. Cole Porter and Moss Hart play fast and loose with their name-dropping in the script and score, and a host of 1930s celebrities are mentioned throughout.  Here are a few of the real life personalities of the period who are mentioned in the show...

Neysa McMein was an American artist and long-time love of the famous Broadway Director George Abbott. She was also a member of the famed “Algonquin Round Table” – noted for her parties. A renowned portraitist, her famous subjects included Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Helen Hayes, Dorothy Parker, and Charlie Chaplin. However, her most recognizable work is the image of a fictional housewife… Betty Crocker.

Mercedes De Acosta was an American poet, playwright, costume designer and socialite known for her many lesbian affairs with Hollywood personalities including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, Tallulah BankheadOna Munson, and, allegedly, Adele Astaire. De Acosta detailed these relationships in her autobiography Here Lies the Heart, which prompted an outraged Elsa Maxwell to quip “…and lies, and lies, and lies.”

Aimee Semple McPherson or “Sister Aimee” was American evangelist, creator of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel and Angelus Temple in LA. She was involved in a scandal in 1926 when she disappeared and was believed drowned. When she showed up six weeks later she claimed to have been kidnapped, but evidence pointed to her having been enjoying an illicit tryst in Carmel and Arizona. Her last name rhymes with “person,” not “dear son.”

Grace Moore was famous operatic soprano of the 1920s-40s who started in musical theatre and later did films. Along with John Steel, she introduced Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I do”. She was known as the “Tennessee Nightengale” and Elvis Presley named Graceland after her. She died at 48 in a plane crash.

Giulio Gatti-Casazza was an opera manager, having managed both La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. His name is pronounced like “Patti razzamatazza”

Cecil Beaton was English fashion and portrait photographer who later had an acclaimed career as an Academy Award-winning designer of sets and costumes for film and theatre (My Fair Lady, Gigi, Coco, among others). His portrait of a young WWII victim helped rally support for the war in the U.S.

(Cecil Beaton's portray of a young Blitz Victim)

Herbert Swope was a U.S. editor and journalist of the New York World. He not only coined the term “Cold War,” but created the concept of the “op-ed” piece as well. He was the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for reporting. He famously said, "I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time."

The Dionne quintuplets “Dionne Quints” (born May 28, 1934) are the first quintuplets known to survive infancy. The sisters were born in Canada, and are the only female identical set of five ever recorded.. These are the same “five Dionne babies” Sondheim wrote about in his stage anthem “I’m Still Here,” from Follies.

Elizabeth Arden was born Florence Nightengale Graham. Elizabeth Arden is one of the most recognizable names in make-up. She and Helena Rubenstein were the two beauty gurus of the 1930s.

Fritz Kreisler – world-renowned violinist and composer. Kreisler revealed in 1935 that many compositions that were earlier ascribed to composers such as Gaetano Pugnani, Giuseppe Tartini, Jacques Marnier Companie, and Antonio Vivaldi were actually written by him. When critics complained, Kreisler answered "The name changes, the value remains."

Huey Long was a Democratic Governor and then Senator of Louisiana, noted for his radical populist policies. Though a backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, Long split with Roosevelt in June 1933 and allegedly planned to mount his own presidential bid. Long created the “Share Our Wealth” program in 1934, with the motto "Every Man a King," proposing new wealth redistribution measures in the form of a net asset tax on corporations and individuals to curb the poverty and crime resulting from the Depression. To stimulate the economy, Long advocated federal spending on public works, public education, old-age pensions and other social programs.  Long was assassinated during rehearsals of the original Jubilee, causing Porter ro rewrite the lyric reference to him (which is now restored for 42nd Street Moon's production!).

Averell Harriman was Democratic politician, businessman, and diplomat. Served as Secretary of Commerce and eventually Governor of New York. “Without a train” is a reference to his constant commuting between Washington, DC, and New York.

Billy the Oysterman, William Ockendorf, owned two popular oyster houses in New York in the 20s- 30s.

Lord and Taylor is a Men’s clothing store. Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor founded the company in 1826; it was the first major store on Fifth Avenue. Among other firsts, it was the first store to present innovative Christmas windows filled with holiday displays rather than merchandise.

Ivor Novello – British matinee idol, actor, singer, playwright, composer. Famed for his World War I song “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” His musicals in the 1930s were expensive, spectacular productions, with several scene changes and a large cast including many extras and dancers.

Dorothy Di Frasso or Countess Di Frasso was born Dorothy Taylor in Watertown, Connecticut.  She was a famous beauty noted for her affairs with many famous men and women, including Gary Cooper, Bugsy Siegel and Greta Garbo.

NRA – no, not that NRA.  This one was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “National Recovery Administration.”  Any early attempt to combat the Great Depression.

Ok, now you know all the players... come see Jubilee at the Eureka, and see how many references to the above celebrities of the day you can catch!

Running November 25 - December 13th, with a special "Black Friday" Matinee at 2pm on Friday November 27th.   For tickets click here, or call (415) 255-8207.  This is shaping up to be the most popular show of our season... don't wait. Performances are already selling out!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Destiny of Destry Dancer: Rachelle Reyes

"You make me fall in love with these shows again."

Sometimes you, our faithful Moon audience, are the ones with the fascinating life stories to share, and last week at our final performance of Destry Rides Again, the above words were uttered by a very special audience member: Rachelle Reyes.

(Rachelle Reyes at Moonspace)

Rachelle was born and raised right here in San Francisco, and she still calls S.F. home!  She’s a proud subscriber to 42nd Street Moon and knows from good performances: she was a professional dancer for many years.
In 1939, at age 7, she was already hoofin’ it with the Anderson Sisters dancing at the Treasure Island World’s Fair.  In high school (at Lowell) she began dancing with the San Francisco Opera Ballet under the Christiansons

(Rachelle in a Promo shot for the Mason-Kahn Dancers)

Later she joined the Mason-Kahn Dancers where she met everyone from Ricky Nelson to Johnny Cash.
She told me Cash tried to steal a cab from her in Hawaii where she was performing in the celebration of their Statehood.
I saw him as I was walking to the cab from one stage entrance and he from another.  We smiled at each other and both walked toward the cab just a little bit faster, and smiled a little more, and walked a little bit faster.  We both got there at the same time and I said to him, ‘Excuse me Mr. Cash, I ordered this cab,’ and he said to me, ‘I’ll make you a deal, we’ll drop you off first, and then I’ll pay for the fare.’  Well that worked for me!

She even entertained the inmates at San Quentin, for which she received a lovely note from the Warden which read in part “You’ll always be welcomed warmly at San Quentin.” Rachelle has always wondered, “who wants to be welcomed at San Quentin?” Good question!
Though she was classically trained, she danced in many stage shows, and national tours, from Show Boat with Ruta Lee (pictured with Rachelle on the right) in Los Angeles, to Balanchine’s The Merry Widow.  And, of course, she danced in the national tour of Michael Kidd's Destry Rides Again.
I asked her which was “harder” - Balanchine or Michael Kidd?
Kidd’s choreography is much more athletic.  What we did was much more demanding athletically.  They even had to take Extraordinary Risk insurance out on us because of Kidd’s Choreography, but it was also more exciting!

When it comes to embarrassing stories about the Destry tour, she didn’t have many, but one was a doozy.
The night we closed in Toronto, during the Whip dance my costume got caught on a nail and all this fabric started unraveling, but I was dancing with a partner, I couldn’t just stop.  So it continued to unravel and there was all this fabric on stage!  The other performers who were on the balcony where laughing because I wouldn’t stop dancing.  They were just howling with laughter.  Finally, the Stage Manager’s wife ran down, grabbed all the fabric and just stuffed it in my bloomers! And off I went to finish the coda of that dance…

 (Rachelle in various poses for Destry Rides Again)

Rachelle told me some more wonderful stories, but I only have room for a few:

During Show Boat - she played La Belle Fatima (Left) - there was a moment when most of the actors on stage were facing Rachelle, and away from the audience.  Every night, the actors would try as hard as they could to get Rachelle to break character.  Rachelle would literally bit her lip to keep from cracking up, “I had the bloodiest lip."
Actors!  A vicious bunch I tell you!
She also told me about a time when a man came up to her and said, “Excuse me, my wife would like to meet you.”  She had no idea who it was, but it was Margaret Keane’s husband.  They told her she was the only woman they had ever met that looked like one of the Keane Girls.  Margaret never painted Rachelle, but they did take a picture together, a promotional picture and they had a wonderful time seeing Florence Henderson in The Sound of Music.

(Two looks for Rachelle)

Rachelle last performance was a Television Special in which she danced with Bing Crosby. After that she put up her tap/toe shoes and became a teacher here in San Francisco.  
With all the amazing people Rachelle has met, and all the wonderful stories she has, the thing that struck me most about her was how humble she was.  She never mentioned someone to show off, it was always so matter of fact and she truly didn’t seem to realize how fascinating and interesting her stories were. 
Rachelle, it was sincerely my pleasure talking with you and I look forward to many more conversations in the future.  Thank you for being a Moonie and supporting us!

Next up at 42nd Street Moon... Jubilee. Begins previews on November 25.  For tickets, click here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Toast to Connie Champagne

Connie Champagne is currently starring as Frenchy in 42nd Street Moon's production of Harold Rome's Destry Rides Again. Connie and I sat down for an interview after a performance of Destry.  Find out how she got her start, how she's connected to Molly Ringwald (six-degrees of Kevin Bacon... I think not), and where her fabulous nom de plume comes from.

Enjoy the interview!

Destry Rides Again runs through November 15th at the Eureka Theatre. For tickets click here or call (415) 255-8207.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Tale of a Black Hat: Destry Rides Again From a Different Perspective

We all have our own particular paradigm for how we view things... life, work, musical plots...

Michael Cassidy plays the evil Saloon owner Kent in 42nd Street Moon's production of Destry Rides Again. Hear his take on the Destry story... from the perspective of Kent that is:

Destry Rides Again runs through November 15th at the Eureka Theatre. For tickets click here or call (415) 255-8207.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Destry Rides Again... and Again... and Again

 I found it very interesting in reading Artistic Director Greg MacKellan's program notes that Destry Rides Again is one of the most adapted western stories of our time!

The brain child of author Max Brand*, Destry was first adapted in 1932 by Universal and starred Tom Mix (this is when and how Harry Destry became "Tom" Destry - Tom Mix is pictured left).

While James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich get top honors for immortalizing the characters of Tom Destry and Frenchy in the 1939 version of Destry Rides Again, Audie Murphy and Thomas Mitchell would star in the 1954 remake entitled simply Destry (which would also star Mary Wickes!).

The most interesting remake however has to be the 1951 version entitled Frenchie starring Shelley Winters.

Greg discussed Frenchie during the "talk back" on Sunday, Nov. 1 , here's what he had to say:

The final screen version of the Destry story was a television series also entitled Destry, staring John Gavin (Right). However the character was not Harry or Tom, but Harrison Destry. Harrison, Tom Destry's son, was wrongfully imprisoned and, after he was released, sought justice from those who framed him. Just like his dad, he eschewed guns and violence whenever possible.

Destry didn't make it to the stage until David Merrick (in his debut on Broadway) brought him to the Great White Way in 1959 with the tremendous talent of Harold Rome and Leonard Gershe. The only other major production of the Musical was a London production in 1982 starring Alfred Molina.

Don't miss your chance to catch a truly rare musical, Destry Rides Again stars San Francisco's favorite chanteuse Connie Champagne, and runs until November 15 at the Eureka Theatre. For tickets click here or call (415) 255-8207.

*Max Brand was actually the acclaimed poet Fredrick Schiller Faust. He was one of the most prolific writers of all time having written nearly 30,000,000 words under 19 different pseudonyms. He is most famous for his characters Tom Destry and Dr. James Kildare.