Monday, September 26, 2011

Open and Running

Audience response has been superb. Heather's Rose is just wowing audiences, and several of my harshest critics have seen the show and are just full of praise for it, the cast, and me.

Here's some things I love about the show:

Upon the cutoff of the overture, the sound of Tristan, who plays Clarence the kid with the clarinet, yelling at the top of his lungs in the mêlée that is Uncle Jocko's Kiddie Show. He has three "mothers" all giving him commands and encouragement at once.

I share a dressing room with Danny Cunningham, the only other adult male in the cast, and he plays multiple roles.  I love crossing paths with him as we change costumes and get ready for scenes. He has several quick changes--one from Pops to a stagehand that I don't know how he manages.

The sound guy, a hot little multi-racial guy named Randy, who endures my affections with style and grace and always makes sure my microphone is in place.

Watching Heather get that gold plaque in her purse on exactly the right beat at the end of "Some People" every night.

Feeling my way through the first encounter between Rose and Herbie and getting turned on by Rose every time. The scene was built on a foundation of connection, but it has become to me all about Herbie's desire for Rose. Heather started ramping up the sexy about a week ago, providing a great knowing laugh from the audience that wasn't there before. One of the many ways an audience is your best scene partner.

I'm not crazy about the way "Mr. Goldstone" turned out--I would have preferred to have way more props involved, but I am a whore for schtick--but it is so fun to do every night, particularly the exchange around "gallstones" and Heather's "OK enough of this crap" response that makes me laugh every time.

The absolute coldness with which Samantha's Louise regards me in the Chinese Restaurant scene, then the Tulsa scene, and its transformation on the railway platform to one of complete love and acceptance after I propose to Rose. Let me tell you, what makes this show so splendid for me is that I have two women to act off of who are thoroughly committed and completely professional--they give me their all on stage.

Dancing and singing with Heather in "You'll Never Get Away from Me," a moment that never fails to move me, even if I lean to the left when I should be leaning to the right.

The moment before my entrance onto the railway platform for the close of Act One, as I manufacture an argument with Dan Hurst's Yonkers.

Jason Rehklau's hilarious "Yes. Sir. Herbie."

The horror of "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Every time. It just horrifies Herbie (and me) so much.

Doing "Together Wherever We Go," which is just "Friendship" from ANYTHING GOES all over again and every bit as joyful to perform as that number was. Although Heather did manage to land her baton squarely on my head once...

Grabbing Adam Magill's Pastey by the tie and hoisting him onto his toes as Herbie asserts his manhood. 

Our strippers are so good--all of 'em aging broads who are total pros and get all the laughs in all the right places. "Gimmick" never fails to bring down the house. What a brilliant performance of a brilliant number.

Herbie's goodbye scene, which is authentic and honest every night, and yet I never say the lines the same way. Ever. I am astounded that it works, but Laurents' writing allows me such specificity and flexibility at the same time, so I can react in the moment. Our director gave me one very powerful note, one that scares the hell out of me each time I do that scene--if I am too close to Rose, Herbie might hit her in his burst of anger. That's how pent up he is. Yet that moment passes in a flash and all the angry goes out of me and I am left with a sadness on my exit that takes several moments to escape.

Listening to Sam and Heather tear through the penultimate scene. Lacerating!

And watching "Rose's Turn" from the wings every night. Call me crazy, but it finally hit me that I will never get to play this part, so now I revel in Heather's performance of it each night.

Our cast doing our backstage boogie to the curtain call music after the final bow.

There's more, but that's what I'm feeling now. Come see us!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If You're Going to Do GYPSY!

I can never take off my director hat, so here's a few things I have learned about this show, for what it's worth:

It is absolutely the best book of a musical ever--it is all there on the page, and it is so tight that every time I think I need to "add" something like a gesture or clarify a reaction, I realize it is unnecessary. Just saying Herbie's lines is amazing, and now that I've really watched the coda between Rose and Louise (post-"Rose's Turn") I see how brilliant it is and how much Laurents' fighting for it made the show better.

When you do it, think of these things:

You really need a passerella--for some reason our Artistic Director decided we didn't need one, and though it can be done without one, it enhances the show immeasurably.

The expanded strip is not in the rental package nor, to my knowledge, an option, so you have to create it with the help of several versions of the show and a kick-ass music director if you want it...and you want it!

Goldstone is a props nightmare and must be in order to be funny. The more that can be on that table and wind up in his lap, the better, so start working on it right away.

Electra's outfit is a fucking nightmare, no matter how you do it, as there is always something that can go wrong with the electrical components. Solve it early and have an electrician on stand-by.

Children AND animals!!! 'Nuf said.

This is not a score that can be easily reduced--we have it down to 14, and that is the bare minimum. Brass is overwhelming, so the sound has to be managed cautiously, cause you can't ask those trumpets to do their job softer in this show.

You are not required to recreate Robbins' choreography, but you would do well to consider it long and hard before making anything but minor changes to iconic moments.

There are really divergent interpretations of the lead characters possible and the shadings that Laurents has given to each give actors a ton of room to work with. I spent a lot of time trusting that Herbie loved her without really knowing why, and though there is a certain amount of bickering in their relationship, there is ample room for actors to create a deep, meaningful relationship, and out of that process came my reasons and rationale for what I do onstage. Likewise, you can really play with how much Louise is party to the decision to Strip and not just make her a victim of her Monster Mama. And Rose, as Angela, Tyne, Bernadette, and Patti have proven, is NOT limited to a Merman-esque interpretation. Playing her straight-on works, but so do multiple oblique approaches. The one thing that must be there, however, is that the actor portraying her must be a star; in addition to being a superb actor and singer, she must own that stage and compel the audience to hang on her every word from her first entrance, not letting up once until the curtain call. I cannot think of a more exhausting role--worse than Sweeney, Cervantes, or Mack Sennett, I can tell you from the look I see on Heather's face every night as we're going home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Almost There!

I don't mean to whine or cast aspersions on anyone, but some folks are in over their heads around here and it seems like they are working so hard but may never get it right.

Director is giving us great acting notes, but she is so often having to attend to concerns created by basic crew inabilities that I know she is very frustrated.

Backstage noise is driving me crazy, on my own behalf and that of Rose and Louise. We have some intense and quiet scenes, and crew and cast are not being quiet!

Costumer is so good-natured, but doing everything alone! WTF?

Sound guy so good about readjusting my mic for me, but isn't it possible to just do it once so it stays put?

Tonight we get an orchestra. Strip has never gone from start to finish without stopping, and it may not tonight, either, but it looks great. Can't tell what the problem is but am afraid that it is too complicated for our novice SM to call.

The moment I walked onto the Fox stage, Herbie got Jewish. Yesterday I got the note to pull him back. I agree. I'm trying not to regionalize him too much--he is assimilated and a traveling salesman to boot, but I want that hint of cultural origin that I hear in Laurents' lines to come through.

I have to resist the urge to fill the space. My gestures are too big, and even though I need to sing to the balcony, Herbie trends inward more than out, so I need to check myself often.

The backstage area and dressing rooms can be damnably hot! Open windows invite onlookers, including a homeless woman who entered the building, tattered wigbox and lipstick in-hand, to let us know she was our makeup lady and was late. And last night the fire alarm went off in Act Two and could not be reprogrammed for love or money. Even though it could not be heard onstage or in the house, it was a royal pain!!

Preview Thursday. Opening Friday! Wheeee!!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Weeks to Go

Had an intense music rehearsal last night, where the MD reassigned harmoinies for "Mr. Goldstone" and "If Mama Was Married," then worked each section of the other songs in minute detail. He loves my voice and is very upfront about it, and he is always pushing me to maximize my few vocal licks. It is quite rewarding--my Herbie sings really well.

We start rehearsals at the theater on Monday after a two-day break--the last break before we open. Many things are happening, but my costume isn't one of them. I am assured I'll have one, though, and I told the costumer and the Artistic Director that I am not one of those actors who makes a big deal about costumes--it's my job to wear whatever they give me and I know I'm hard to fit, so I don't give grief to the costume people.

I feel that Herbie is coming into focus. I have an excellent rapport with Rose, and our scenes have real heart to them. I think people will care about our relationship enough that when he leaves her, it will have impact. I just love doing the part--"Together Wherever We Go" is turning out to be "Friendship" all over again, and a true joyous highlight; "You'll Never Get Away From Me" is so adult and romantic and even sensual; and I am fine tuning the difference between the horror of Herbie's reaction to "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and his crushing defeat when Rose decides to let Louise strip. Stillness is interesting!

I like our cast and am looking forward to the next five weeks of good times at the Fox Theater!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Acting is hard...

Yeah, I know. David Cates says that every time he talks to me about a role I'm doing, it sounds like I am doing nothing but complaining. Some background...

David and Kateri breezed into town yesterday and we had a late night get-together; they, MikeRhone (TM), and myself. I love this foursome! David & Kateri have this great new life in Denver (check out their blog: He Said/She Said Critiques for a look at the Denver theatre scene as well as an example of what a good review blog can be), but we did two wonderful shows together before they left (one with Mike), and Mike and I are joined at the hip, theatrically, and we sit and gab about theatre for hours until David gets bored/tired and then we go home. Mike and I one-up each other with trivia, David stirs the pot and challenges what I say, and Kateri listens and offers brilliant insight like the good behavioral scientist she is. Three of my favorite interpersonal dynamics at one table. It is the best!!

"How's Herbie?" Kateri asks, right off.

"Yeah," chimes Mike, "you haven't been updating your blog!"

Blogger made a big deal out of the ability to post to this blog via text message. I was sure it would make things easier and sent several texts that vanished into the ether. Here they are. They served as the basis for my comments last night to K, D, & M:

1) Had the dance section of "You'll Never Get Away From Me" fixed by our choreographer. We sort of made it up knowing she'd come in and redo it (not my favorite method--dance is hard for me to learn, so why learn something twice?!) Now to practice it (and "Together Wherever We Go") a thousand times.

2) Between directorial advice and my own instincts, Herbie seems to benefit from taking everything he feels and stuffing it so deep inside it can't get out. This is where his ulcer comes from. Basically, if I do that, "trust stillness," keep my gestures toward my body, and focus on Rose so much that I forget about opening up to the audience, I seem to be doing what is asked of me.
3) The organization of this particular show at this particular theatre company is not pleasing to me. Actors are called and not used for long periods of time; actors get released before they are supposed to be and have to be called back; the schedule keeps changing (today's schedule changed four times yesterday!!), and our poor, novice SM seems to be in over her head.

So, yeah, even though I know I am finding my path and will make tremendous strides during the week before we open, I find that rehearsals are hard. If you were to ask me right now which I prefer, acting or directing, acting would win, hands down!

So David thinks I sound a little whiny. He laughingly retorts when I say "acting is hard" with "for some, I guess," but for me, it is.

Friday, August 26, 2011

You're Too Big, Walter!

Three shows in a row now, I have launched into rehearsals with a concept of my character, only to have the director undercut and/or completely change that concept through rehearsals. Even though the director has ultimately been proven correct, I hate how this process feels and am ruminating on ways to address it.

I will cop to my inability to successfully put away my director hat when I act; I see the big picture in all my scenes, but I try to disregard it and only focus on what my character knows, says, sees, or other clues from the script. But the homework that I do as an actor often becomes at odds with the director's concept of the character, a concept that I only fully come to understand through rehearsal, resulting in my feeling as if I am wrong a lot of the time. Often, it is very hard not to notice that the direction is derived from a need to minimize my size, stature, volume, and energy.

"You sound angry," one director said, repeatedly. He was right, even though no anger was in my intent. The world hears my voice and the energy behind it, and it can quail. Not fair. Not remotely fair, but true and something I have dealt with all my life, onstage and off.

"I need to move you over here," another director regularly says to me upon looking at an already blocked scene and noticing I am in the way. I knew when I was initially put there that I would not be staying (director hat), but I always wait for the actual director to decide where I belong. We lovingly refer to this as "Walter, go to your corner!"

My current director is one of those camp counselor cheery-types, full of relentless praise and encouragement for every effort, large or small. This, of course, makes every gentle correction and admonishment stick way out--a simple "don't point so much here" has added weight in the midst of "you're doing a great job."

No matter the style or content, if I have made any kind of commitment to the movement, line reading, gesture, or blocking, I have a bad internal reaction. It comes from my need to avoid feeling wrong. (This is a big thing people misinterpret about me--I do not need to be right all the time, but I have a desperate need not to be wrong!) I know I try to hold it in, but I am sure my face must give a hint as to what I am feeling.

When you get cast, you may have received a little direction at the callbacks, made a little connection with your costar, gotten a script, and started to read and make notes until rehearsals begin. If all that has happened, I walk into rehearsals with a pretty clear idea of where I'd like to go on my journey with my character, and though I am absolutely open to direction, I want to have the chance to explore my choices in addition to theirs.

If there is a read-thru, or a table read, I ask a lot of questions. Often, there is not one; you launch right into music rehearsals, dance rehearsals, and blocking rehearsals with little advance discussion of the play, the role, or even the director's vision. Not so with GYPSY! Several Rose/Herbie rehearsals were held, with much back-and-forth. Still, I find that much of my understanding of Herbie's internal journey is at odds when it comes time to stage the scene according to the director's vision.

What do I do? When I have no preconceived notions until the key to the character is revealed by the director, I run into either A) they give me none, other than "you're too [fill in the blank]"; or, B) they launch right into character analysis and serious stuff in the first blocking rehearsal. I really prefer to just get the sense of where I am standing, when I enter, what business I need to create first, and THEN start putting the character stuff into it, so directors (and musical directors) who start giving you character notes as you are just learning the material get to see my "learning" face, which I gather is a cross between "I am confused" and "I am annoyed."

I am making notes to myself for future directing gigs, assuming that, if I feel this way, other actors must under my direction. This explains so much about what I see on some actor's faces during my own rehearsals. There has to be ways to address this issue, for me and for others.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We've Only Just Begun

Why does "You'll Never Get Away From Me" make me tear up at the end? We've worked hard now on the vocals for this song, with an MD who nitpicks in the best possible way, and I find it intensely moving. Once we put movement to it, a whole other layer will be added, but right now it feels so wonderful.

Haven't done much else. I see a lot of other scenes getting worked on. Tonight we block the Goldstone sequence.