HomePast ColumnsAbout
Broadway Bound

Episode 19

THE ONLY MAN ALIVE WHO COULD DO JUSTICE TO NEVERLAND AS A MUSICAL IS THE PHENOMENAL JERRY HERMAN
(ANOTHER LUNCH WITH DREMA Continued)

Coffee?

"Yes, please. I'm sated. We're going to have to sit here and talk for a few minutes. I don't think I could possibly move after that lunch."

Drema, I think you're wrong.

"About what?"

Steve. I don't think Neverland is his type of show. Really, there's only one man alive who could do justice to it as a musical.

"Do I get three guesses?"

Need three?

"Billy Finn discovers Broadway and the direction of the rest of his life when he sees a matinee of Hello, Dolly. Would you be thinking of Jerry Herman?"

You're reading my mind.

"I'm reading the script. Would it surprise you if I said I think I agree?"

A little. Why?

"The story of Billy Finn's journey of discovery is a simple one. It needs to be told in ballads and duets. Soft and sweet and gentle. That's the essence of the character. But, you can't put together a musical using only ballads and duets. A musical needs umph!"

Umph?

"You know what I mean. Billy Finn's story is set during and told in terms of the Broadway of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Neverland will get all the umph it needs from playing Billy's story against the big, splashy glitz and glamor of the Broadway sound of those three decades. Jerry Herman created that sound. Think about it. From Hello, Dolly in the early 60s through Mame, Dear World, Mack & Mabel, Grand Tour, ending with La Cage in the 80s, Jerry Herman was Broadway. Who better to give you the authentic sound than the old Master himself?"

I'm wondering how I can pitch the idea to him. It sounds like I'm asking him to rewrite all his greatest hits, to go back and top himself when the originals are virtually perfect as is. If I were him, I don't think I'd want to try and do it.

"But you're not asking him to rewrite all his old material, darling. It's a different world, in case you haven't noticed. The Neverland score would have to be written for a 21st century audience. But it must be written by someone who understands and loves the classic late 20th century Broadway sound. That's Herman, period."

It's odd to think that year after next, all the shows and music we grew up with will belong to the previous century.

"Especially if you happened to have lived through most of this one. What's the matter? Feeling your age, darling?"

A little bit.

"Keep thinking about the future, what you're going to do this fall and spring, next year. That's the secret."

What are you up to now? What's the next project for Drema Paige?

"Take the summer off, first. I need a rest. I was going to do a show down in Texas this winter, but the deal fell through. I suppose I'll put together some tour of something or other over the summer. It's getting to the point where I wish I could just settle down in one place for a couple of years."

Why not do a show here in New York this winter?

"Far too expensive for my investors. As costly as a tour is to put together, we still make money. I know how to do Ďem good and cheap."

What if you could get a good deal on a new theatre and worked with a co-producer?

"Darling, are you offering? I'd love to. What do you have in mind?"

A couple of months ago I was reading some over-the-transom scripts and one struck me as having possibilities.

"Characters?"

Two. One male, one female.

"Set?"

One, interior. It's not even a set, really. A staircase unit and a couple of pieces of rehearsal furniture on a bare stage.

"Everything depends on lighting then, right?"

We would need a good lighting designer.

"Costumes?"

The play takes place in 1926. The man needs a suit and a silk dressing gown. The woman is wearing an afternoon dress and uses around a half dozen different hats, a couple of pairs of gloves, a fan I think, and a long string of fake pearls.

"Period costumes then, but not too expensive. So far it sounds like I've got everything we need in storage somewhere. How long is it?"

Two acts. First act about 70 minutes. Second act about 45 minutes.

"What's it about?"

The title is The Rehearsal. It's about NoŽl Coward rehearsing Laura Hope-Crews to play Judith Bliss in the Broadway premier of Hay Fever.

"Darling, you're kidding!"

Actually, it's rather good.

"No, I mean I saw that production! It was the first play I was taken to as a child. I still remember every detail about it. It played at the old Maxine Elliot Theatre, such a beautiful house. Hell, I've probably toured Hay Fever and played it in summer stock at least twenty times. What a wonderful idea."

Hay Fever by NoŽl Coward: The Bliss family is ultra-Bohemian. Mother is a retired actress who makes a crisis out of every scene and father is a novelist. The daughter and son are handsome and ill-mannered. One weekend each one announces they are expecting a guest; mother has invited an athletic youth who is in love with her, the daughter has invited a diplomat for a flirtation, the son has invited an intense young woman, and the father has invited a vapid flapper whom he wants to study for a novel. The guests receive an unusual and rude reception. Soon mother is paired off with the diplomat, the daughter with the athlete, the son with the flapper, and the father with the son's young woman. Dramatizing for all it's worth, the mother fears she must tell her husband about her romance with the diplomat, then realizing her daughter is younger and more attractive to young men, she enacts a scene of noble sacrifice, and, noticing her husband's flirtation, she quickly follows with a poor unhappy wife scene. The family is used to such displays and is unimpressed, but the guests are bewildered.

The timing's good. There is yet another minor Coward revival going on in London this season. Apparently Coward is currently regarded as the cool dead playwright of choice. I was toying with the idea of doing a revival of Fever or Private Lives or even Blithe Spirit until Rehearsal came along.

"How soon could we get started?"

The theatre and rehearsal rooms won't be ready for occupancy for another six to eight weeks -

"You have rehearsal space too? Wonderful!"

But we'll need those two months to put the production together. If everything falls into place schedule-wise, we could open in late August or early September. We're using the theater for Neverland, but that's not coming in for a year, so we could easily do an open run.

"Darling, this is the answer to a girl's prayers. How soon can you get me the script?"

I'll get a copy made and drop it off tomorrow.

"Tell me about it."

The original production of Hay Fever opened in London in 1925 and ran for a year, which made it a massive hit back then. Coward wasn't allowed to bring the British cast to America because it was supposedly too expensive to do so. In fact, the Shuberts' seriously miscast the play with Americans before he even arrived. The first act is about Coward rehearsing Laura Hope-Crews, trying to get her to play the part of Judith Bliss the way Marie Tempest was playing it in London. Hope-Crews, being a popular and successful actress of the time, with her own style, was fighting him every step of the way.

"She did that. She always knew exactly what she could get away with and would fight like a she-devil to play a part her own way. Remember all those stories of her rewriting her lines while they were actually filming her scenes when she played Aunt Pitty Pat in Gone With the Wind?"

Anyway, the first act is quite funny, what with Coward playing all the different roles in Hay Fever, trying to get Hope-Crews to understand what the play is about.

"Whom can we get to play Coward?"

We'll find somebody. Then, in the second act, they've sent out for something to eat and agree not to argue about the play over dinner.

"Very Private Lives."

Yes, it's a nice touch. Of course, while they're eating they start to talk about themselves and their careers, really opening up to each other. They hit common ground when they discover that both of them are under a lot of pressure to live up to their reputations. Hope-Crews was supposed to be a strong, independent woman for the time, but underneath always felt weak and vulnerable. Coward, in a roundabout fashion, admits to feeling the same way because he's gay. Then Coward uses this mutual understanding to explain what he wants from Hope-Crews in the play, she finally gets what he's talking about, they run through a short final scene that's the funniest thing I've ever read and which should play like pure gold, and everybody lives happily ever after.

"Except that Hay Fever only ran six weeks on Broadway. A dismal failure."

Hay Fever is all about over acting and playing roles in polite society. The critics never got it and gave it terrible reviews.

"I love it. Let's do it."

Dramatist and songwriter NoŽl Coward epitomized effortless sophistication, but as this extensively researched biography reveals, his life was every bit as precisely crafted as his dialogue. NoŽl Coward: A Biography by Philip Hoare looks behind and beyond the mask Coward created for himself, and reveals how the image of NoŽl Coward compares with the real man.

NoŽl Coward was a remarkably prolific writer with dozens of plays, several films, hundreds of songs plus volumes of autobiographies, stories and verse to his credit, produced in his rapid-fire style from the 1920s through the 1960s. His plays defined postwar Britain and are among the wittiest works ever written. Yet, despite the spotlight he attracted - not to mention several biographies of the man - the full story of Coward, complete with his less-admirable sides, has remained untold. That is until Philip Hoare's striking biography, which offers insight into Coward's work and private life. NoŽl Coward's plays will not be forgotten; this biography will keep the man himself alive.

NoŽl Coward: A Biography
by Philip Hoare
List: $18.00
Published by University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 0226345122


Back


Wanna' talk to others about this column or anything else theatre related? Check out All That Chat!




Terms of Service

[ © 1997 - 2014 www.TalkinBroadway.com, Inc. ]