Vol. 6, No. 3, Winter 2000
Wise Guys is canceled for this season as the authors continue work on the project
The journal of a production staff member takes us inside the Wise Guys workshop
News & Notes
A major retrospective of Sondheim's works and appearances on television will highlight tributes honoring his 70th birthday year
West Side Story canceled after complaints of racism; a Company concert raises funds for an AIDS agency
In St. Louis, Sondheim delights a crowd of 1,300 with theater stories
Putting It Together
With Carol Burnett starring, Putting It Together lands on Broadway
What critics had to say about the production
Kathleen Marshall will direct the New York premiere of Saturday Night
David Campbell will star in Saturday Night
With book and score revised, Do I Hear a Waltz? is seen in New Jersey
A production of Company tours the East Coast
Pacific Overtures returns to New York
Follies turns up at a dinner theater in Maryland
A Pennsylvania director presents Follies again
Marry Me a Little becomes a gay romance in Los Angeles
There's still life in Getting Away with Murder
How do you translate Sondheim into Dutch? Carefully, says the translator of Assassins and Company
Paul Kerryson returns to Sondheim with Sunday at the Haymarket Theater
For Your Amusement
When the glorious revival of Kiss Me, Kate opened on November 18, some of the highest praise was reserved for Kathleen Marshall, the choreographer.
"Breathlessly inventive," said the New York Daily News. "It feels as if it danced in and out of the past- -and that's a compliment," said the Associated Press.
"The director Michael Blakemore and choreographer Kathleen Marshall have shaped a show that is broad, brazen, often shameless and finally irresistible," said The New York Times.
That was in November. Now that Kiss Me, Kate has settled in for what is expected to be a long run, Marshall has turned her attention to a new and exciting project. She will direct and choreograph Stephen Sondheim's first Broadway-bound musical, Saturday Night, written in 1954 but never produced on Broadway. It will finally have its New York premiere when the off-Broadway Second Stage company presents it from January 18 to March 26, 2000.
Saturday Night had languished for forty years before its world premiere at the tiny Bridewell Theater in London in December 1997. Pegasus Players in Chicago presented the American premiere in May 1999, with the original book by Julius Epstein sharply edited by Sondheim, with two original songs restored and with new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.
Marshall, the artistic director for the Encores! concert series, was also the choreographer of the Broadway revival of 1776. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Marshall is the youngest of three children; twins
TSR: How are you managing to simultaneously juggle the choreography for the Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate and the preproduction work on Saturday Night?
KM: It is a little nutty. When I got the call about Saturday Night, my first thought was: How can I
possibly do this? And my second thought was: How can I not? I've already been in design and casting sessions; we start auditions next week. It was just an unbelievable feeling to get this opportunity. I
mean, this is the New York premiere of a Sondheim musical. I think, like a lot of people, I knew some of the songs from the Stephen Sondheim Evening recording that had "What More Do I Need?" and the title
song and "Isn't It?" A couple of the songs showed up on the Unsung Sondheim CD, and an earlier Sondheim celebration recording--the one that looks like a Scrabble game on the front (Sondheim: A Musical Tribute). You hear traces and echoes of things that remind you of Company or Follies, Night
Music or Merrily. I think it's very sophisticated musically for something written in 1954. There's a wonderful sequence, "In the Movies," in which the entire scene is musicalized. There are several parts
TSR: Did you read the script before or after you joined the project?
KM: Oddly enough, I had seen a script. At one point, we had talked about it with our advisory committee for Encores! I don't know if we could even have gotten the rights. We decided that it really wasn't right
for Encores! At that point, there were no orchestrations. This was before the Chicago production, which Jonathan Tunick did orchestrations for. It seemed wrong for us--creating, rather than re-creating, art.
This is exactly what I thought should have happened with the piece--that it should have its New York debut in a real production. Second Stage has this new theater (formerly a bank) on the corner of 43rd
and Eighth. It's beautiful--very modern and interesting. Saturday Night is going to be the first musical in there, so that's going to be a challenge. Once we have the cast and the design in place, that's when my
TSR: In the London production, a dancing couple was used to interweave the action, but the Chicago production didn't use them. Do you plan any devices like that?
KM: I'm still debating. The idea is that Gene has pretenses of living in Manhattan. We're playing with different ways of how to represent Gene's vision, which is more heightened than what the realities are. There's a little of The Wizard of Oz feeling in learning to appreciate what you have in your own backyard , and there's a wonderful sense of treating Manhattan as if it's the Emerald City. Design-wise, I think things will be a little whimsical. I'm trying to play with different ways of how to get glimpses of Gene's fantasy world--the glamorous nightclub-and-martini life in Manhattan. It's something mysterious and untouchable, sort of in the distance, but it's not really tangible because it's not real. So, I don't know if there will be a dancing couple coming through, but we need to hint as to what that fantasy world is.
TSR: Does the show call for a lot of choreography?
KM: There's not a lot of dance in the traditional musical-theatre sense. There's no dancing ensemble. But I think what we have to find is the kind of synergy of how the whole piece moves. These characters are young and energetic. They don't sit still for very long. I think the energy in the way the whole piece moves will be the challenge in the choreography. There is a little dance involved when Gene and Helen (the female lead) first meet; they sing "Isn't It?" while they're dancing, outside the Plaza Hotel ballroom.
TSR: Since the characters are young, do you foresee mostly unknowns being cast?
KM: I think so. I think one of the reasons that Second Stage offered me the job and that Sondheim approved me for the job was because they saw Babes in Arms at Encores!. That had a similar group of people. When we were casting, I had the same reaction as Rob Fisher, who's the musical director for Encores! and is going to be musical director for Saturday Night; he's the best! He and I realized that you can't fake freshness. (Laughs.) You've either got it, or you ain't! Some people who are young in years are experienced, very polished, and they don't seem natural. Obviously, we want very professional singers and performers, because this is very difficult music to sing. But you just want that fresh spirit. We are not necessarily looking for unknowns, but it'll probably end up being people who are new, or up and coming. (A week after the interview, it was announced that David Campbell, who made his New York musical theatre debut in the Encores! production of Babes in Arms, had been cast as Gene. In the original production, the role of Gene was to have been played by Jack Cassidy.) I told Sondheim that the guys in the show remind me of the guys in (the movie) Diner, and he said, "Yes, that's it." These are individual, unique guys, but the dynamic they create together is something special in and of itself, and that's what's most important--that's the motor that drives this piece.
TSR: Gene could be seen as an anti-hero like Franklin in Merrily We Roll Along, and some people might see his friends as jerks and womanizers. Will it be difficult to make the people likable?
KM: You can think of Franklin Shephard, but you can also think of Billy Bigelow in Carousel. And the boys
are pretty blunt in what they want out of their dates. I think that when you see it through the vision of young people who are learning, you forgive young people a lot. They're just finding their way. And
there's a way that the young men's cockiness and single-mindedness is humorous. You think: They just don't get it; there's so much to learn. It is tricky. Gene makes some big mistakes in the course of the
evening, but his friends forgive him--and you hope the audience forgives him as well. It's the trickiest part to cast and direct, because he has to be charismatic and charming enough so that we like him
despite his flaws. I think that's someone who's more interesting than a goody-two-shoes. He's not as cynical
TSR: Do you think Sondheim will attend rehearsals?
KM: We're hoping. Depending on his schedule, he'll be around as much as he wants to be. We'd love to have him! Of course, Putting It Together opens this fall, and he's in the middle of Wise Guys. It's a big year. I had a meeting with him when I got the call from Second Stage. They arranged for me to go and meet him, which was unbelievable! (Laughs). I mean, I was so nervous, I couldn't even eat breakfast that morning. He was wonderful! You sort of sit there and get caught up. His memory is amazing! The details he was telling me about--the development of the show, and what happened at the backers' auditions, and the unexpected death of Lemuel Ayers (who was going to produce the musical). Ayers was coproducer of (the original) Kiss Me, Kate, so there are these interconnections. Well, you get involved and start asking questions, and every once in a while, it hits you: Oh, my God, I'm sitting in Stephen Sondheim's house, talking to him.
Michael Buckley writes for Broadway Beat Online (www.broadwaybeat.com) and also is a frequent contributor to Show Music magazine.
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