13 August, 2012

Love Story Announcement

I am so (beyond) excited to officially announce my next theatrical adventure... 

From Playbill:
The American premiere of Love Story, the musical, based on the best-selling Erich Segal novel, will star Broadway and West End vet Alexandra Silber to play doomed co-ed Jenny Cavilleri in the American premiere of Love Story, The Musical at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre with Will Reynolds (Mamma Mia! on tour) as Oliver Barrett IV at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.
Direction and musical staging are by Annabel Bolton, who worked on the original English production. Performances begin Sept. 4 prior to a Sept. 12 opening for a run to Oct. 21 on the WST Mainstage.

The show — which premiered at Chichester's Minerva Theatre starring Emma Williams and Michael Xavier in June 2010 before moving to London's West End in December 2012 — features music by Howard Goodall, book by Stephen Clark and lyrics by Clark

"Inspired by Erich Segal's best-selling iconic novel of the same name, and one of the most romantic films of all time, this life-affirming musical will have audiences remembering the first time they fell in love," according to WST notes. "When Oliver Barrett IV wanders into a library in search of a book, he discovers Jenny Cavilleri. They came from different worlds. He was a Harvard man, she was Radcliffe. He was rich, she was poor. But they fell in love. This is their story."
 Musical and vocal direction are by Douglass G. Lutz. The creative team also includes set designer Peter McKintosh, lighting designer Shon Causer, costume designer Colleen Grady and sound designer Will Pickens. 

The cast includes Charles Pistone as Phil Cavilleri, Jane Labanz as Alison, Paul L. Nolan as Oliver Barrett III, plus Pierce Cravens, Lisa Marie Gargione, Sarah Gliko, Charles Hagerty, Danielle Herbert, John Jarboe and Scott Langdon.
For tickets and information, call (215) 574-3550 or (800) 982-2787. Tickets are also available by visiting WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com

So... here's the thing. Emma Williams? The original Jenny Cavilleri in Chichester/London? Yeah, she is one of my very best friends. I remember listening to the demos for this musical way back in 2007. I remember weeping when I saw her play the role for the one single night I was in London at the beginning of 2011. When you love a character, it is a deeply personal thing to pass the baton to another player whom one can only hope will love and hono(u)r the creation as much as you have. Therefore it is quite a magical thing when one is given the opportunity to carry the torch for a person you admire and love beyond so many others.

This is going to be a very special one. Hope to see you there.

10 August, 2012

For the Love of Words

One thing no one ever tells you about death, is how awkward it is after the first week. Not for you—for other people. You have counted off an entire week of days one by one, and have most likely been swept into a flurry of activity surrounding memorials and relatives and been distracted by that flurry—making plans and picking people up from airports and cleaning your home so that people can see how clean your bathroom is in your darkest hour.

Then there is the tsunami of flowers, donations, pots of casserole, plus the cards and phone calls (all ranging from the shallowest to the deeply felt). There was what seemed to be a State Park forest of trees planted in Dad’s name in places we’d never heard of, and, if you can believe it, even a small, terribly special collection of sympathy emails.

Ten days after the funeral, the food and cards and letters and trees being planted in Wherever-a-stan-erica-ville all stopped coming. Fruit baskets began to rot. Homemade borsht went off in the refrigerator. The mail returned to its normal flow of bills and unsolicited advertisements. The mailbox would open and all one could hear was the crushing silence of other people moving on.

But then came the letter from Lady Chu.


Judy Chu to be precise, for that was her real name. Well into my senior year at Interlochen I was presented with a problem—I needed another liberal arts credit in order to graduate with highest academic honors, and as a fully fledged perfectionist I wasn’t about to let three intense acting scenes, a budding secret romance, Shakespeare’s wordiest heroine or a father with cancer stand in my way. I reported to the Admissions office to comb through my options.

The options were sparse.
    “What about Psychological Lit?” I asked the counselor, Kelly.
    “Full” she replied.
    “Political Process?”
    “You already took it” she said, narrowing her eyes at me, “last year…”
    “What is available?” I huffed, arms flinging upward.
    “British Literature” Kelly said, smiling broadly at my predicament.

The world was ending.

British literature, I winced, are you kidding me? I saw weeks of quippy Austen and dreary Brontë passages ahead of me. I couldn’t cope. I buried my head in my hands like a petulant child and realized this was not only my fate but my fault.
    “Who teaches it?” I inquired, hoping the answer would improve things—perhaps my favorite teachers taught it and I simply didn’t know it!
    “Judy Chu.”
    “...Who on earth is Judy Chu?”

Judy Chu, as it happened, was a young, energetic, year-long adjunct teacher from Southern California, brought in for a liberal arts teacher on sabbatical.

    “Apparently the students really loved her first semester,” Kelly explained, “and apparently her classes are very exciting. Enrollment is light because so many of you want to take the ‘greatest hits’ before you graduate— but you are a bit late to the party. Obviously.”
    “Obviously” I droned. 

I signed up and left the admissions office in a mood, reporting to third-period British Lit the following morning, to a class of eight other people.

Judy Chu began with a bright smile, and by asking each of us why we had enrolled in British Literature. Dear God, I thought, not wanting to admit the truth, and I think I squeezed past the issue by explaining that fate had brought me here.

But fate had brought me to Judy Chu. Her class became the most important literary experience of my life.

This thoughtful young teacher was tough but fair, with complex weekly handouts, and uncompromising standards for grammar, essay construction and literary criticism. Plus, I can honestly say she taught me everything I’ve nearly forgotten about punctuation, verb tenses and second person narrative.[1]

But nothing will ever expunge the greatest lesson and gift she gave me—Judy Chu taught me how to read, and perhaps more crucially, why. Lady Chu (which I named her myself, for she is a lady first, and a teacher second if you ask me and you are) was bibliophilic magic. She handed you a book and gave you special incantations required step inside the pages— like the children in Mary Poppins jumping inside Bert’s sidewalk chalk painting. That final semester of High School at Interlochen was just the beginning.

When she assigned Howards End, she blew my literary mind. The copy still sits proudly on my bookshelf adorned with well-thumbed pages, color-coded highlighting, and adorable teenaged margin notes (such as “Love is a ‘He’?” and “when you show your homeland to a foreigner how do you show it all?” and “Oh… more LIFE!” and, of course, “Is love the only way to connect?”). I can recall how much I loved it more with every turning page! The deeply-feeling Narrator, the poetry in the slightest of prose, the humanity, and of course, my beloved kindred spirit; Howards End’s heroine Margaret Schlegel. With every word Margaret uttered my heart leapt in recognition, for Margaret Schlegel lived in me.[2]  I didn’t dare to hope Judy Chu could see it too.

For Judy Chu, I think Interlochen must have been a marvel— a place of such artistic energy and possibility. She seemed inspired, impressed by and deeply cared about her students which was evident when I saw her in the audience of As You Like It. She met my Mom and Dad and shook their hands, exchanged smiles.

At the end of the year, Judy Chu bid Interlochen farewell, but not before leaving our tiny class with one final handout. The simple sheet of white paper quoted Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” and  T.H White’s Merlin (beckoning us to “learn”) on one side, a personalized note to every one of us on the other. I still have this piece of paper, for last on the list was my name with a very simple message:

Al:  You are Margaret Schlegel to me.


I stood outside in clothing I had worn for days. Beside the mailbox, in a light rain spitting down from a sheet-white sky I extricated a letter.  A small envelope about the size of my hand with  the mark of a black and red Chinese dragon traveling from back to front. I recognized the small, perfectly neat handwriting immediately.

Dear Al,

I know that you, with your strong, strong heart, shall see through pain to hope and prosper.

With love,

Judy Chu

I held the letter to my heart. It said so little, and meant so much.
I wrote back to say so. It would be the first of a lifetime of letters.
Letters to and from Judy Chu to every single address I would ever have in my adult life.

[1] I must say: I owe my love of Russian literature as well as my understanding of Objective correlative to Jean Gaede, and my love of words themselves to Howard Hintze.
[2] She still does.

ten years later at our annual "Only Connect" dinner at the address I now know by heart.


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