30 September, 2007

Meeting Sheldon Harnick... again...


I just returned home from a The Jerry Herman Gala Concert at The Prince Edward Theatre in Soho. Larry Blank was conducting (he did the orchestrations for Fiddler, and my new friend).

I love Jerry Herman's music. I actually cannot think of a song that moves me more than Ribbons Down My Back. In fact, the beauty of Hello, Dolly! rings so true, and I cannot help but see the beauty of a show that for me is about people choosing to live-- some chosing to start living, others starting to live again. A young man and his best friend who are worried life may pass then by before they experience the joys of life and the world. Two vivacious widows, totally gripped by the loss of their remarkable husbands, and how they decide to live again. It's about begining; and beginning again, and the remarkable courage it sometimes takes to simply "join the human race."

I have a personal affinity for Hello, Dolly! but naturally Mack and Mabel and La Cage Aux Folles are triumphant pieces of theatre as well, and arguably some of the most influential of the 20th Century.

It was also a nice way for Damian and I to "join the human race" as well. We get so few opportunities to have civilized nights out. We enjoyed a lovely Japanese meal before heading to the theatre.

That said, the concert was a very disappointing (terribly under rehearsed, with some very disappointing performances from some rather famous tele-visual personalities and west enders), but the orchestra and Larry were astounding, and the after-show party was worth the entire evening.

The room was filled with lovely familiar faces, and low and behold there were Sheldon Harnick and his wife Margie, and they remembered us from the previous Tuesday evening! They came right over and we spent the whole evening chatting with them. What a treat. What a pleasure and honor.

Margie is a brilliant woman. Vivacious, exuberant, curious, endlessly interesting, and endlessly interested in everything. She is one of those people that makes you feel important. Leaves you warm with her wisdom, her stories, and her interest in yours. She asked about everything. Adventures, Glasgow, London, living and working with Damian.

"That's a hard one. It's all about balance and communication. You have to... share things, be passionate about, love, the same things..."

She looked away. At first off in to the distance, and then her thoughts led her to Sheldon's laughter across the room. Her eyes twinkled. He was talking with a group of people, and when he caught her eye he smiled and raised his glass a little. Margie nodded and looked back at me,

"He is my best friend."

* * *

We talked about the Midwest and about creativity. I asked him if he every felt a need to restructure any of his words, ever felt a desire to update them, improve them.
"Yes and No," he replied. "Sometimes I know that a lyric will never be 'just right' and I know I will have to live with it forever, always niggling at me. But other times, a lyric 'LOCKS IN.' I just know that it is the perfect description, the perfect expression. And I know that I was meant to find it, and that I have achieved something, however small."

He was so kind and interesting, and very sentimental. I told him about the importance of She Loves Me, and it's unparalleled significance to my life. And I mentioned the memory I have of my father's face at Interlochen, sitting in the back row of The Harvey Theatre, watching him sway and smile to during Days Gone By. I will never forget the look on his face, the pure childlike joy, and the pleasure I knew all of it was bringing him.

"Is your father no longer with us?" he asked softly.

"No," I said "... a few years ago."

"I find that very moving..." he put both hands on his chest and became very quiet. "You know, my father never got to see Fiddler either... and he never knew his father. He came over from Austria-Hungary when at just fifteen to find his dad, and he never found him..." he trailed off and looked down for a moment. And then,
"How difficult the train station scene must be for you..."

I nodded. I shifted. I really didn't know what to say.

So he touched my shoulder, and nodded back.


We walked them back to their hotel.
I hope they travel safely.
I hope they somehow know what this evening meant...

20 September, 2007


...Sometimes I really feel utterly overwhelmed by how much I love her.
It is a difficult thing to describe. I shall endeavor to try.
I feel she is a faraway friend, one whom I visit daily (sometimes twice daily), albeit only in my imagination. I know everything about her. What she thinks of her family, what she is and isn't good at, every like and dislike (she dislikes cooking [Tzeitel and Shpritze are the cooks] and is quite the fastidious cleaner).

All characters endear themselves to you, all of them are a part of you, but few weave in and out of your soul with such spirit and zeal, take you over, win you, until you can scarcely tell the difference or detect the line between the emotional truths of one and the other. She's me. She's just me, in a different world. And sometimes I wish I could meet her, and hold her, and thank her for all she has given me.

It's around this time of year that I begin to miss home so much. ("Michigan seems like a dream to me now...") I am after all, pardon the expression, quite far from the home I love...and this time of year I suppose it feels extra far away.

Autumn arrived today. 13º and grey. A peaceful grey though, not too dark.
Time to rearrange the clothes. Insulate the house.
Prepare for cozy.

18 September, 2007

Meeting Sheldon Harnick

Tonight a 8.
No, not really.
Tonight at about 10:45.

What an incredible blessing to meet a man whose words have come to mean so much. Words that have literally orchestrated my entire life. I don't know how to describe the feeling and do it justice, but it was something like simultaneously thrilling and ...right. Like it was meant to happen. And it was moving and significantly meaningful.

He told us remarkable stories. Imagine being there at the beginning! Imagine. He told us they had no idea they had created such a global phenomenon. He told us when it opened for the very first time (previewing in Detroit at The Fisher Theatre!) It was very long and reviews were very mixed. The night before they were set to move the show to Washington DC he was awakened by a violent crash. Startled, he instantly rose and checked his apartment for intruders. The crash was caused by a picture on the wall that had fallen down and the glass had shattered into a million pieces. The picture was of Sholom Aleichem talking to Tevye. Utterly afraid, he got chills. He phoned a friend in New York:

"I don't know if we should take this is Washington, I think we should abandon this project, this is a very bad omen."
"Are you kidding?" said his friend, "It's a SMASH!"

This man is like a sculptor.
The sculptor can see that somewhere deep within a slab of marble, lies an incredible work of art. The sculptor is the only one who can see it, recognize it, bring it out, reveal it to the rest of us.

For a lyricist like Sheldon Harnick, it is exactly the same. The songs are out there, they need to exist. He discovers how to share them.

"Will wonders never cease...?"

Mabelline mascara


... I want my money back.

"Maybe she's born with it..." Or maybe it's just made of LIES.

16 September, 2007

That thing

That thing. That feeling.
The one where you are so unutterably happy, your inner glow so far beyond description, and all because you have just witnessed someone you love succeed, and you love them so much, it feels like the good thing happened to you... yeah. It's nice. It seems so basic but it absolutlely fills me with wonder.

Damian performed in a concert in Kensington last night. When he sings, your heart swells. I'm not alone with the swelling heart thing; he makes music soar.
He's made of magic.
...Just had to get it down.

12 September, 2007

Theatre Rant

People are often asking me about my theatrical tastes, the best theatre I have "ever seen." I have not had the privilege of living in a highly theatrical city for the majority of my life. Detroit leaves much to be desired in that area. New York, London, Minneapolis, Glasgow, to name a few, have a much higher density of theatrical ventures... But. I shall try to oblige.

Also note that many of my choices perhaps strike so deeply based solely upon my specific aesthetic tastes (I have a certain penchant for Carnival grotesques, and for physical theatre styles both classical and contemporary).

But before this list begins, however, I must add that without question the most impressive and viscerally engaging theatre I have ever witnessed has been from a Minneapolis-based company called Theatre de la Jeune Lune (Theatre of the New Moon). Here is there credo:


We are a theatre of directness, a theatre that speaks to its audience, that listens and needs a response. We believe that theatre is an event. We are a theatre of emotions - an immediate theatre - a theatre that excites and uses a direct language - a theatre of the imagination.


Our name - "Theatre of the New Moon" - reflects our commitment to finding theatrical sustenance by looking for the new in the old. The name comes from a little poem by Bertolt Brecht:

As the people say, at the moon's change of phases
The new moon holds for one night long
The old moon in its arms.

The strong and tender care that the future shows for the past describes the dialectic that informs all of Jeune Lune's work: striving to link a past heritage of popular performance traditions - from circus and classical farce to commedia dell'arte and vaudeville - to a present function within the local community and the larger international community of cultural production. While embracing the 'old moon' of theatrical tradition, Jeune Lune seeks to create an entirely new kind of theatre that is immediate, high spirited, passionately physical, and visually spectacular.

Now, without further ado, here are the few choice selections.
These are the best evenings I have ever spent in a theatre...or er, a warehouse....

1. Tartuffe
Theatre de la Juene Lune
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Religious hypocrisy, zealotry and absolutism underpin the story of Tartuffe. Wealthy Orgon is a good man who lives like an ascetic in a sparsely furnished but grand house. He is convinced that the erstwhile vagrant Tartuffe is a man steeped in pious devotion. Tartuffe has ingratiated himself and his two henchmen into Orgon's home and has so convinced Orgon and his elderly mother of his religious fervor that Orgon no longer makes any decisions without first consulting Tartuffe. Orgon, blinded by his absolute zeal for Tartuffe, inadvertently helps him at every turn. Everybody else in the household is acutely aware of Tartuffe's blatant hypocrisy, but they cannot open Orgon's eyes.

To demonstrate he is even closer in his walk with Jesus, Tartuffe labors under an over-size cross. But he puts it down when he tries to bed Orgon's wife. Such is the life of this most famous hypocrite, a self-anointed guardian of God's wishes on Earth. And with its awesome performances, magnificent stagecraft and contemporary resonance, Theatre de la Jeune Lune's "Tartuffe" created a theatrical masterwork of the classic comedy, and was told with fluidity and engrossing verve. It struck more strings than a harpsichord as it revealed, in its stylized ways, that a 17th-century cautionary tale about faith and fraud could be so urgently current.

In our time, when the mix between religion and politics has grown so increasingly volatile, David Ball's sharp translation cut like a paring knife. His writing sometimes bounced us out of the story -- for example when he used rhymed couplets in select parts of the play. The rhyming, which tuned our ears in anticipation, reminded me of the playwright's art, not Tartuffe's artifice. The net result was very moving, girded by deft direction and the masterfully-crafted performances.

2. Fuerzabruta
The Roundhouse
London, England

From the same group of ferociously creative minds that brought us De La Guarda, this was a jaw-dropping blend of aerial acrobatics, cutting edge performance, and dance. Fuerzabruta means ‘brute force’, and this sexy, playful and daring Argentinean production lived up to its name. In many ways an assault on the senses, it's unlike anything else you will ever encounter.

The performance oscillated between passages of tension and moments of release. A solitary figure in a rumpled cream suit, collar and tie, walked purposefully on an accelerating treadmill that advanced into the heart of the audience, bursting through the obstacles that appeared in his path. Later, a man and a woman clung to opposite sides of a vast, circular sheet that gyrated furiously overhead, at times resembling a giant sail, at others a lunar landscape. Then a huge transparent pool containing sportive water nymphs slowly descended on the audience.

There was nothing resembling a narrative. “No one knows the meaning of the work, because it doesn’t have one” assert its creators. But it was possible to discern a pattern. Stretches in which men and women in suits and skirts stoically engaged in seemingly futile, Sisyphean endeavours (the stuff on treadmills, for example) alternated with outpourings of elemental play as figures tumbling through the air or sliding through water. Was a point being made about the constraints of civilisation versus the freedom of nature? It didn't really matter when a show was as joyful and exuberant as this.

3. Lost Ones
Vanishing Point
Glasgow, Scotland

Lost Ones was a surreal, fantastical adventure about a man whose unusual past is coming back to haunt him. Strange creatures are emerging from his body and disappearing through a hole in the skirting board. Each carries a bag in which something valuable is being smuggled to the void on the other side. It all goes back to an incident at the top of a mountain, a class outing years before. A group of extraordinary children at the notorious academy, St Peter's On The Hill, are taken on a day out by their teacher. Only one child comes back, but what happened on that mountain? And why has it come back to haunt our hero now?
Based on a series of extraordinary short stories by Matthew Lenton, Lost Ones was a strange, beautiful and ever so slightly twisted piece of performance, with an extraordinary design and anarchic live music.

4. The Description of the World by Marco Polo
Theatre de la Juene Lune
Minneapolis, MN

Marco Polo's famous book The Description of the World is a fabulous monster of a book - a travel guide, phrase-book, meditation on nature, political tract, recipe collection and a wholesale pack of lies. Regardless of its truth, it opened spectacular new vistas to the medieval mind - and the mind of Kublai Khan, who was so enchanted by Polo that he held him a virtual captive for years, just to hear his stories. Polo's fabled tales of travel and adventure served as backdrop for this flight through sideshow oddity, visual splendour, and inventive cultural perplexities.

5. De La Guarda
Daryl Roth Theater
New York, New York

"De La Guarda" was more than a show...it was an experience. Upon entering the renovated Union Square Bank building, you were ushered downstairs to the social area for drinks, and a chance to check your coat and mingle with other guests. Five minutes before show-time, the staff gives a shout to head back upstairs where the festivities begin.

The lights go out and you are standing in a crowd of strangers when the show literally falls from the sky. De La Guarda has a certain rhythmic vibe created by the beat of the drums, the stomping of feet and screams as the cast flies across and down, to interact with the audience (which stands and moves throughout the 70 minute show). Performers run along the ceilings in unison and you cannot help but look up and follow them with your head cocked back. You got kissed, danced with, undressed, and even taken up into the sky for a ride. Amazing.

6. Pyrenees
The Tron Theatre
Glasgow, Scotland

In a nearly empty hotel a man who has lost his identity and a British Consular official try to work out who he is. He speaks a form of English. Anna a nervy young diplomat - not being an expert - isn't too sure where to place him geographically speaking. The Man hasn't the foggiest, he was found in the snow on the Pilgrims way in the Pyrenees. Using the infinitely talented David Grieg's sparse dialogue, on Neil Warmington's excellent louvered doored hotel balcony set, with beautifully toned lighting and Nick Powell's original sounds; this delicate and beautiful play explored identity seen through the fuzzy boundaries of relationships and nationalities.

Thoughts and comments welcome...


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