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Broadway Bound

Episode 43

SOMETIMES YOU'RE JUST TOO TIRED TO GO OUT FOR DINNER


Broadway Day by Day

It's A Sticky Situation

What do George & Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe, Lorenz Hart, Meredith Willson and Frank Loesser have in common? Yes, they've written some of the best music and lyrics the musical theatre has ever known - that's a given. What else? Well, yes, they are all dead. What else? Give up?

These nine Broadway Legends will debut next September on six new US postage stamps, the last in the "Legends of American Music" series launched in 1993 with that tacky but best-selling Elvis Presley stamp. (First class postage increases by a penny in January, so each stamp will cost you 33˘.)

Postal Service rules dictate that no one can be honored with a stamp unless they have been dead more than a decade, so let's not hear any complaints that Sondheim has been overlooked. (What is the latest word on Wiseguys, anyway?)

Getting A Job In A Broadway Show Just Got A Lot Easier

Bon vivant and well-known Man About Broadway Wolfgang von Zaftig threw another of his infamous parties this week, in celebration of the successful launch of Actors' Equity's new searchable nationwide "Casting Call" database of audition information from Equity producers. The service offers on-line postings and background information for Equity auditions being held in all 50 states.

(A personal note to Mr. von Zaftig: Give me my pants back. Now!)

Internet users can click the "Casting Call" symbol on the Actors' Equity home page at www.actorsequity.org to get to the welcome page, which will lead them through the overview; audition hotlines for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; audition codes and procedures; and audition notices.

Crime of the Century?

Some rumors about the Livent woes may have been exaggerated in the last couple of days by doomsayers eager to demonstrate how savvy they are in the dark, secret, behind-the-scene ways of Broadway. To all the pundits quick to predict the imminent demise of the former House of Garth, I reply: "If Livent is really as desperate to find ready cash as you would have us believe, why did Michael Ovitz refuse a very generous offer from Lincoln Center Theater to buy out Parade?

Giving Birth To A New Musical

Undaunted by the September loss of The Rehearsal, which looked to be the hit of the season, and their flagship theatre in the Drema Paige Theatre fire, Neverland Theatricals is charging full speed ahead in the development of Neverland, The Musical, their next scheduled project, set to open next fall.

I dropped by an early rehearsal of Neverland to meet Jonathan Frank, a young, unknown actor who - like Douglas Sills of Pimpernel fame - has been cast in the lead role of Billy Finn. Frank, a native of Seattle, won the role on the recommendation of the late Drema Paige, for whom he had auditioned for other roles in the past.

Jonathan Frank rehearsal On this day, the rehearsal centered on Frank learning how to sing, repeatedly belting a song phrase to a G, while executing a difficult dance sequence. "I'm not a dancer," said Frank on a short break, "I'm an actor/singer. Acting and singing I know how to do. But, doing them while moving across a stage dancing is something I think I need to work on."

Apparently not too much work. A run-through of a complete number a few minutes later showed Frank to be a quick learner. The choreography for the song "Broadway" was pure Fred Astaire, complete with fast and complicated moves involving a top hat and cane, and repeatedly jumping on and off a big box standing in for a grand piano. It's the type of number that guarantees a standing ovation at every performance. Jonathan Frank did it flawlessly. And then he did it flawlessly again. And again.

I left the rehearsal impressed with Frank's stamina and his obvious dedication to a sense of effortless perfection. And he sings good too. Neverland will be one show to keep a close eye on.


Monday, November 23
Conversation over a late dinner

I thought his name was Franks, not Frank.

"It is."

According to Mandelbrot it's Frank. Jonathan Frank.

"Then why have I been calling him Franks for the last five days?"

And what happened to the goatee?

"I asked him to shave it. He's got an expressive face, but it was hidden behind the beard."

So he can dance?

"We've been rehearsing the number Mandelbrot saw for five days. He's not a natural dancer, but he can fake it."

Are you going to be ready for me to come in and take a look Wednesday?

"How about Thursday?"

You don't sound confident.

"I just gave him a new scene to learn this afternoon. Could you let him have two days to work on it?"

I guess. Okay. But, I'll be in bright and early Thursday morning.

"We'll be ready. I'm glad you could make it for dinner tonight. What have you been up to this week?"

Do me a favor. The next time I come over for dinner, order from a different Chinese restaurant. This Lemon Chicken tastes like it's a week old.

"No. Only three days."

What?

"It's still good. There's no mold."

I think I've had enough. Do you have any coffee that hasn't been sitting around for a month?

"I'll make a fresh pot."

Thank you.

"So, what have you been up to this week?"

Going through the warehouse with the museum people.

"How's that going?"

Not good. I thought we had everything set when I got them to agree on a division where the Billy Rose Collection got everything on paper and the City of New York got everything else. Then we started going through the trunks. Now they're back fighting over every little piece.

"Why?"

You know Drema never, ever threw anything away, right?

"Yep."

And you know that she was in the habit of buying an entire Broadway production - costumes, set, props, everything - when a show closed so she could tour with it, right?

"Yep."

Well, so far we've found the entire original Broadway productions of Rodgers and Hart's A Connecticut Yankee from 1927, Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page from 1928, the Gershwin's Strike Up The Band from 1930, both The Band Wagon and Of Thee I Sing from 1931, and Coward's Design for Living from 1933. And we've only been digging in one corner of the basement! The museum people are - how do the children say it these days? - freaking out?

"Sounds grim. Coffee should be ready in a couple of minutes."

It is. I'm dreading telling them about all that stuff that belonged to Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, and Eleonora Duse that Drema bought for a song during the Depression.

"Sarah Bernhardt? Isn't she that comedian with the show at the Booth?"


Manuela Hoelterhoff defines her style at the beginning of Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera With Cecilia Bartoli, a bright, gossipy book about one of opera's youngest superstars. She starts off by discussing Rossini's Cinderella opera, La Cenerentola, which she then uses as a recurring metaphor throughout the book. Her description is accurate when she calls it "music that dances, whispers, charms and dazzles from beginning to end." But if one substitutes "prose" for "music" in that quote, she might well be writing about Cinderella & Company.

Hoelterhoff's style is deliciously appropriate for her chosen subject, the world of mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. It is even more suited to the story's background: the larger-than-life style of the world's great opera houses and the colorful personalities of many people found there - onstage, backstage, and even in the audience. In terms of eccentricity, Bartoli does not stand out; she has a fair share of phobias (flying, computers, microphones), and she cancels performances more frequently than her fans would like, but her primary interest is musical: a voice, not very powerful but beautiful, which she uses with a fine sense of bel canto style, considerable acting skill, and a careful choice of the right music.

Much of the book's appeal lies in its descriptions of people, which tend to be short, pungent, and devastatingly on target: Maria Callas, "the queen of whatever opera company she wasn't feuding with"; conductor Herbert von Karajan, who "had a reputation, entirely deserved, as a voice killer"; baritone Bryn Terfel, "a guy with the body of Meat Loaf and an exuberant performing style"; agent-publicist Herbert Breslin, "a motor-mouthed, bullet-headed . . . egomaniac . . . I used to go through the obituary section of the Times looking for his"; Luciano Pavarotti, a "crumbling monument"; and lots more. Here are tantalizing glimpses of divinities large and small: Kathleen Battle's famously chilly limousine ride; Plácido Domingo flying through three time zones to step into the boots of an ailing Otello; Luciano Pavarotti aiming for high C in his twilight years. And we meet the present players in Bartoli's world: Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, a.k.a. the Love Couple; Jane Eaglen, the Wagnerian web potato monitoring her cyberspace fan mail; the appealing soprano Renée Fleming, finally on the brink of stardom. At once informed and accessible, Cinderella & Company brings the world of grand opera into sharp focus - right up to the last glimpse of Cecilia Bartoli waving triumphantly from Cinderella's wedding cake.

Manuela Hoelterhoff received a Pulitzer Prize for cultural criticism at the Wall Street Journal, where she has served as arts and books editor and is now a member of the editorial board. In addition, Ms. Hoelterhoff is the author of the libretto for Modern Painters, an opera by David Lang based on the life of John Ruskin, which had its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 1995.

Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera With Cecilia Bartoli
by Manuela Hoelterhoff
List Price $25.00
Random House ISBN 0679444793


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