Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The business of the show: Listen in on creative conversations on Broadway!

NYC – Welcome to Theater Week in NYC.

More than 511 attendees from 119 cities and 32 states (plus Ottawa) trekked to this theater capital to share war stories, challenges and successes related to producing and presenting Broadway shows.

This is the annual spring road conference of The Broadway League, formerly the League of American Theatres and Producers, a trade organization that wisely and accurately has added “Broadway” to its name.

Your Tampa Bay PAC reps will see three or four Broadway shows, squeezed around three days of meetings plus “Creative Conversations,” in which creative teams for new shows talk about their inspirations and their process.

So why should you care? Excellent question.

Conference attendees will hear from representatives of Cry-Baby, the new John Waters musical; A Catered Affair, featuring Harvey Fierstein and Faith Prince; Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen representing the all African-American cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Morgan Freeman and Mike Nichols from The Country Girl and Mel Brooks from Young Frankenstein.

If past years are any indication, no media outlet covers these insightful, witty and inspirational conversations.

But you can listen in. Just check back here regularly or request an RSS feed and you’ll have instant access to some of the best theater talk in the country, as well as some early notices on new Broadway shows in previews or opening soon.

A report from the first day follows.

– Michael K

I love theater – Part I

“The thrill of theater is when people go to see something, be spellbound by it and be changed enough that when they leave the theater their dreams get bigger and better.”* – Marvin Hamlisch, multiple award-winner for A Chorus Line and so much more

* Disclaimer: All quotations guaranteed to be an approximate estimation of actual remarks, give or take some fast talkers and multiple speakers. – Michael K

I love theater – Part II

“The arts have this incredible connection to how people think and feel about this world. It’s about how we deal with the loss of this thing that we couldn’t live without.”* – Marsha Norman, ’Night, Mother, The Secret Garden and The Color Purple

* Disclaimer: All quotations guaranteed to be an approximate estimation of actual remarks, give or take some fast talkers and multiple speakers. – Michael K

John Waters strikes again

NYC – Because Hairspray has been such a huge hit, Broadway is hoping to strike polyester again with Cry-Baby, based on Waters’ relatively mainstream 1980 movie starring Johnny Depp and a conflict between Baltimore “drapes” and “squares.”

Waters, of course, is the pencil-thin-mustachioed director of much less classy fare, such as Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble.

Although Waters didn’t attend Tuesday's session, he has pretended to be horrified that his edgy work somehow has become mainstream.

And he envisions Michigan matrons liking the Broadway Hairspray, renting one of his earlier works, such as Flamingos, and being totally grossed out – which always was one of measures of success.

Of course, everyone has a different notion of what’s offensive.

“I was offended at the barn-raising scene in ‘Witness,’ ” he said at a similar conference in Orlando.

Anyway, a whole batch of the creatives behind this show, which opens on Broadway on April 25, offered their take on Waters’ bizarro world.

The team included David Javerbaum, executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Adam Schlesinger, of the rock band Fountains of Wayne, who collaborated on the songs.

A sampling of the chatter, with Waters’ presence hovering over the gathering like a slick-haired spirit*:
“You don’t say no to John Waters.”

“John Waters is edgy, independent, out there. Broadway is beautiful, splendid, thrilling, wholesome. We bring the two together.”

“We’re trying to be tactless, not offensive.”

“We’re trying to be true to the Waters’ ideal.”

“We tried not to make judgments about the two groups, but the drapes are just cooler because they’re the outcasts.”

“It’s more of a dark show than ‘Hairspray. …’”

“… Because it was so unsuccessful!”

“They’re used to me doing a bunch of outside work. As long as I don’t make them sing those songs {from the show, my band} is happy.”

“John Waters is the godfather …”

“He’s kind of like the superintendent of schools. He drops in every couple of months to see what’s going on.”

“ ‘Pink Flamingos’ ” should be an opera, not a musical. A musical comedy would not be adequate.”
* Disclaimer: All quotations guaranteed to be an approximate estimation of actual remarks, give or take some fast talkers and multiple speakers. – Michael K

An ‘Affair To Remember’

NYC – From their web site: "A CATERED AFFAIR is all of the moving, funny, difficult stuff that we survive as members of that thing we call family. Who said what to whom? Who did what to whom? Who didn't say what they should have said? It's about the loves, the hurts, the regrets and the laughs that can only be shared with the people who know us best."

Or, in a shorter pitch, also from the web site: “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be home by 10.”

Two of the stars, one also the writer, of A Catered Affair spoke with Tony Award-winning director John Doyle of Sweeney Todd fame about this new production, which opens Thursday, April 17. Most of the critics already have seen it, so you’ll know their opinions soon enough.

Here’s what the cast and director had to say.* (By the way, Harvey’s keeping a blog of his own at, so check it out. But if he really wants to attract an audience, he needs to read it in that distinctive voice that’s like a load of rocks in a blender with a dollop of honey.)

From actress Faith Prince
“I was looking for something with a lot of depth.”

“What attracted me is that it was about the things that we stuff in our lives that we don’t deal with … and the things that trigger the dominoes that fall … and it all comes tumbling down.”

“I didn’t get in the business to be a star.”

“That sense of intimacy lacking in the relationship, that was terribly appealing to me.”

“I knew I was in good hands. I was willing to let go of everything to see what was there.”

“I was testing myself. There were a couple of nights when I went home and said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ ”

From director John Doyle
“I’m fundamentally interested in being a storyteller.”

“There was a mountain of things that we played with … rather like a toy box. When I was a child, there was always a day when my mother would come in and say ‘Get this place tidy.’ And it’s that process we went through. … We had to get rid of this stuff to get to the humanity. Someday I’m going to do something with absolutely nothing at all.”

“How do we highlight the mundane moments? Making a bed. Scrambling eggs. Because that’s when these moments happen.”

“I’m 55. How could I be revolutionary? I was trying to do this 30 years ago.”

From writer and star Harvey Fierstein
“It’s hard to be a writer in the room when there all these actors saying, ‘My character wouldn’t say that.’ And I always want to say, ‘Well, you’re playing the wrong character because THIS ONE DOES.' ”

* Disclaimer: All quotations guaranteed to be an approximate estimation of actual remarks, give or take some fast talkers and multiple speakers. – Michael K

The ties that bind

Coming up later Wednesday: Thoughts and quotes on August: Osage County, which The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood called "The most exciting new American play in years."

But I'll leave you with this: Although all families as unhappy in their own way, this family is hilariously unhappy in their own way. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Letts manages to find humor in this three-hour tragedy.

OK, here's a teaser quote: "I spent a lot of time in that bedroom upstairs pretending that pillow was my husband. ... that pillow was a better husband than any man I ever met." **

** This one's exact; I bought the script. -- Michael K

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