23 March, 2012

SHOWMANCE! The To-and-Fro-mance: Max & Elizabeth

At rise…

An audition downtown for Olive Garden. Hundreds of young attractive people are there for the complex characters of Waiter and Patron.  Among them: Max von Essen (of Broadway’s Les Miserables, Dance of the Vampires and currently playing Magaldi in Evita) and Elizabeth Stanley (of Broadway’s Company, Cry Baby, Million Dollar Quartet and recently of Encores’ Merrily We Roll Along). 
They know of one another and have many mutual friends, but up until this moment, they have never met. 
     “I flipped for her performances in Company and Cry Baby” reports Max, “so I already had a talent crush on her.”
Elizabeth concurs, “Max was this legendary hottie to me for years before we actually met.” Says the girl who is affectionately known by those who love her as ‘El Stans,’ “Ahh... Google images. Thank you.” 
Here is an imaginary conversation I made up to illustrate this meeting:
     “Would you like some more bread-sticks?”
     “No thank you.”
Neither books the job. 
     “I assure you it was some of our best work” says Max. 
And THAT is how the magic began. 

[: : …Crickets… : :]

WAIT. That is technically, how it began, but try THIS on for size:
Max and Elizabeth REALLY made magic happen when they were cast opposite one another in the National (and Japan) tour of Xanadu. Lights, camera, roller skates…
Now THAT is how the magic REALLY began. 

[: * :  Fireworks! : * :]

Because although the theatre can bring you together like nothing else, just like Jack Kerouac taught us, that there is no bonding like the bonding you get busy doing ON THE ROAD. Seeing one another looking disgusting and un-showered at the Des Moines airport at 5am to catch a quick flight to Dallas? Pure glamor. Bonding in lonely hotel rooms in Indianapolis because you don’t know anyone else in town?  What a fairy tale. And seeing the world together during the day while you kick ass and take names on stages all across the country at night? Well—no actually, that is pretty amazing. These two not only lead the road company, they roller skated right into one anothers’ hearts. 

I bring you: 
TO-AND-FRO-MANCE - The pals that met on tour. 

(Because let’s face it: “UNLIMITED-SOUP-SALAD-AND-BREAD-STICKS-MANCE”… well, it…look, it just sounds a little clunky…)


I got to know Max and Elizabeth when we all worked together in Michael John LaChuisa’s Hello Again at The Transport Group last year Off Broadway with Max and Elizabeth playing opposite one another once again as The Soldier and The Nurse. Hello Again was one of those productions where the cast had no choice but to [achem again] “get close,” and so we promptly did (and continue to engage in epic email chains, as well as disgusting reunions for such occasions as “The Twelfth of May” and to see the Muppet movie…all together…at midnight…). 
Speaking of Muppets, when I asked them who would play them in the movie of their friendship, Elizabeth responded first, 
     “Well... I enjoyed when we were cast as Muppets...” 
The Nurse & The Soldier
Because that’s right—the company cast Hello Again… with Muppets…
“I [The Soldier] would be played by Animal and she [The Nurse] would be played by Janice” Max chimed in. 
But Elizabeth related it to each of them as well, 
     “Janice is calm, but can also be a bit, well, kooky, and Animal is also tame until he cuts loose and then... watch out!!!”
Well said El Stans. We shall watch out. 
     “If we were to be cast as ‘real’ people” she continued “I'd vote for Magnum PI, Tom Selick to play me (because I've loved mustaches for quite some time), and I would want it to be a movie musical feautring Max’s soprano,” (which is AMAZING for those of you who haven't heard) “…so...  Shirley Jones?  Tom should be called ‘Stans’ and Shirley can be called ‘Maxi.’”
     “Um” Max insists, “if it was a movie musical, WE'D PLAY OURSELVES!” 
I am certain we can all heartily agree. 

When I asked both of them what their friendship’s motto would be they both responded almost in unison with "Do What You Can." 
     “That's just a little phrase I used to say to Max before each performance of Xanadu.” Elizabeth is known far and wide for her bone-dry, razor-sharp wit, and here is Exhibit A. Max clarifies, 
     “She started saying that to me in the wings of every theater we worked in on tour. I'd be in my teeny short shorts, head-band and tank top gearing up to play Sonny Malone, and she'd calmly walk over to me, pat me on the back and dryly say ‘Do what you can…’ It stuck.” 
     “But in truth I think it could be a bit of a motto!” Elizabeth insists, “we bonded early on over a mutual human respect for honoring what one CAN do.”
     “To get back at her, I'd often give her notes while she was making quick changes.  She'd literally have 30 seconds off stage to make a change, and I'd run up to her and say ‘Hey Stans, you're doing great, but I want you to make two quick adjustments...’ Good times.”

Max and Elizabeth’s bond on and off stage moved and intrigued me as I got to know them throughout Hello Again, and our friendships have continued to grow. There is something special about these two. They are passionate artists and speak with great knowledge and agency about their lives, their work, and their world. 
     “I've fallen in love with Max's kindness and tenderness” she continues “I felt early on in our friendship that Max would be a ‘lifer,’ but this past year there were some tough times for both of us. I knew when I was able to cry in front of Max, he was here to stay.” 
     Max agreed, the relationship deepened this past year, off and on stage, “I often think of our experience together in Hello Again in 2011,” he says, “My character had to literally unravel and [Elizabeth] was forced to be extremely vulnerable,” he continues, “—it was difficult to see the hurt in her eyes during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show. I was proud of us both for being so fearless…”
     “I think we first bonded over a strong work ethic,” says Elizabeth, “I appreciated that he was always so committed to being his best. I really admire that quality in anyone.” 
But also? They laugh. They weep with laughter. 
     “I can't imagine my life without his wHit!” she exclaims. 

On tour they were “exploring partners,” seeking out what each new city had to offer, “We'd wake up on our day off, grab breakfast and our guide books, and get on the subway or some bus to somewhere” Max says,  “I loved when we were exploring one night in Seattle and passed a coffee shop called ‘Uncle Elizabeth's.’ Well you can be sure the mustache came out.” Back in NYC they still love to explore,  “We’ll grab coffee or a meal and a glass (or glasses) of wine and catch up.”  
     “—And at some point sharing Max's favorite, M&M's” Elizabeth adds. 
     “No matter what, though,” says Max, “it never seems like enough time.”

Like I said— something special. 
I need you to take a look at this photograph. 

 Wanna know how this photograph began? We were DONE taking the photographs. The shoot was complete. Suddenly El Stans makes her way over to Max’s piano and says 
     “Hey Max, wanna play a little something together?”
     “Sure” Max replied, smiling at the thought.
     “Do you have the Pathétique?”

[—Record scratch—]

Um, I’m sorry: THE PATHÉTIQUE? As in Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as Sonata Pathétique?! I thought we were doing a Playbill photo-shoot that literally five minutes ago included false mustaches on Max’s bed and now we’re playing Beethoven on some sort of casual whim?! Where am I—Manhattan School of Music? What is this— the CURTIS INSTITUTE?! I thought I needed a camera and witty banter for this article—my kingdom for a piano degree. 
     “When I first met Elizabeth, I knew I'd met a young, beautiful, kind and extremely talented woman. What I didn't  know was that I had met someone who would become one of the greatest friends I'd ever have. Yes she's beautiful, yes she's talented, but to me she's just Stans, my treasured friend.”
Incidentally? Max just did happen to have the Pathétique.  
And then what happened? 
They mutually agreed, without discussion, THROUGH SOME FORM OF FRIGHTENING TELEKINESIS, to assign the right hand to Max, the left to Elizabeth… 

Do what you can…” went their mutual inner monologues. 


Really, really well. 

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