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Episode 47

MAKING A STAR

A Power Breakfast With Des Derrick.
Monday, December 21

"I want you to know right from the start that there are precious few people I would get up this early in the morning for. I hope that's strong coffee."

Good morning, Des. It is strong coffee. Or, would you prefer tea?

"Scotch, actually. Do they serve it at 6 AM?"

Sorry.

"Coffee, then. So what is so bloody important I had to get out of a nice warm bed in the middle of the night?"

Jonathan Frank.

"Who? Oh, yes . . . that Jonathan. What about him?"

You caught his act Friday at The Lighthouse, didn't you?

"Part of it. The traffic was terrible. Thanks for the table. Sorry I didn't get to speak to you, but we were on our way to a party afterwards."

No problem. What did you think - of what you saw, that is?

"Not bad. Not bad at all. For cabaret, anyway. Whose dinner jacket was he wearing?"

His own. We didn't have much time and had to buy off the rack. There wasn't a chance to get it fitted properly.

"Well, it needs to be properly fit or he needs to stop waving his arms around like that. Preferably both."

What did you think about the lighting?

"God-awful. The poor boy looked like a corpse."

Did you think he talked too much between numbers?

"Not too much, no. But, he needs to have what he says scripted. For the life of me I don't know why singers think they can get up on a stage - even a nightclub stage - and say whatever pops into their head and expect it to be entertaining."

How about the songs he sang?

"Don't get me started. A few were okay. But, there didn't seem to be much of a concept guiding the selection of most of them. At least, none that I could see. One of the things Marlene taught me - "

Dietrich?

"Yes."

That's right. You directed a couple of her last concerts, didn't you?

"That was years and years ago. But, yes. She taught me how to present cabaret; the rules can't have changed much since then."

They haven't. What are you doing for the next two weeks? I need a very big favor.

"I was planning on taking it easy through the holidays. Something tells me I'm not going to be able to, if I say yes to your request, whatever it is."

Yesterday, Liza canceled her New Year's Eve booking at The Lighthouse. I've convinced them to replace her with Jonathan Frank.

"How in heaven's name did you manage that?"

Long story. Anyway, it all depends on you agreeing to stage his New Year's Eve show.

"I see. Why me?"

Frank went over pretty well last weekend, but not good enough for them to risk presenting him without someone like you, with your reputation, qualifications, and track record tied into the deal. They feel that if you put together the show, it's not such a risk presenting him on the most important night of the year.

"Very flattering, I'm sure. What's your angle?"

Angle?

"Why do you want this to happen?"

Neverland.

"How so?"

We've already got a couple of songs from Neverland ready to go. I want to use this venue to introduce them - particularly "We Are The Dreamers." I'm thinking about doing a live recording of the New Year's Eve show and possibly releasing "Dreamers" as a single in the spring. Maybe even have him lay down a techno dance cover too.

"We've only got slightly less than two weeks, you know."

Aren't you the guy who took over Lassie - The Musical, out of town, in rehearsals, and completely reworked it in six days?

"And on the seventh I had a nervous breakdown. That bitch hated me from the start."

It ran for three years.

"That was a long time ago. Although, I still find the occasional flea . . . "

So, you're telling me you can't do anything like that anymore?

"Of course I can."

Well?

"Damn you."

Can I take that as a yes?

"It'll be expensive."

I know.

"We'll have to work around the clock."

Think of the challenge!

"Think of the stress. I'm not as young as I - "

Well, if you honestly think you're too old to pull it off -

"I didn't say that!"

Well?

"Damn! . . . Mark my words; someday, somehow I'm going to make you pay for this!"

Then, it's a yes?

"Yes."

Good. I've taken the liberty of setting up a meeting for you with Sam Winston - I've hired him as our musical director - and Jonathan to select the music. Let's go. I've got a cab waiting. This early in the morning the traffic is light enough we shouldn't be late.

"Wait a minute ... you've already hired the ... you bastard!"

Come on, the cab's waiting!

"Why did Liza ever get sick?"

She's not ill.

"Why did she cancel, then?"

I'm not sure. Something about being stalked and threatened by some guy who claims to be Bob Fosse. Come on! We can talk about what you'll need for lighting in the cab and -

"Bob Fosse? Isn't he that guy who you - "

Nonsense! Now about costumes; what do you think of . . .

Tom Stoppard's new play The Invention of Love; extracts from the reviews:

Who would you rather have been? Oscar Wilde, who threw his life away on a flamboyant infatuation with Lord Alfred Douglas, or A. E. Housman, Latin scholar and author of A Shropshire Lad, whose unrequited love for a sporty Oxford contemporary, Moses Jackson, had to be repressed and channeled into the passionate pedantries of textual criticism and the obliquities of lyric verse? "Better a fallen rocket than never a burst of light," is Wilde's view of the matter, when the disgraced aesthete makes a late, scene-stealing arrival in The Invention of Love. Tom Stoppard's excellent play movingly refuses to adjudicate on this issue. Through the figure of Housman, whose dying mind provides the dream landscape for this fantasia-like memory play, Stoppard makes a powerful case that it is simply impertinent to regard the professor's lonely, exacting scholarship as a retreat from life. On the contrary he shows it to be life lived at an extraordinary pitch of intensity. What struck me most was the skill and insight with which Stoppard connects Housman the homosexual and Housman the scholar; in one scene, Jowett, the Master of Balliol, mentions a typewritten copy of a letter he had written that refers to his "solemn duty to stamp out unnatural mice". The mistake the typist has introduced nicely telescopes two kinds of corruption: sexual and textual. By an irony which Stoppard's drama makes both learnedly playful and endlessly poignant, Housman spent his life trying to eradicate errors of transmission in texts that emerged from a culture where love between men was not regarded as corrupt "beastliness". As he tells his young undergraduate self in the incomparable scene where the two meet, "it's all in the timing". In the ancient world, you could die in your comrade's arms; in Victorian England, where the classics, suitably heterosexualised, are considered a major civilising force, you are left to nearly die in Reading Gaol. -- The Independent

At the heart of Tom Stoppard's new play The Invention of Love lies a melancholic, meditative reflection on the mystery of existence. In the great, first-act scene where the dead A. E. Housman communes with his younger self, he tells him it is hopeless to seek "the lost autograph copy of life's meaning which we might recover from the corruptions that have made it nonsense". But the supreme irony of the scene is that while the older man urges the younger to pluck the fruit while there is still time, he is incapable of altering either events or his own character. He knows that lie is doomed by the repressions of his nature and the circumstances of late-Victorian England, to nurse a hopeless passion for his Oxford friend Moses Jackson. But the art of the play lies in the way one idea bleeds into another. Stoppard is also concerned with the notion expressed in his punning title. Does love really exist before its literary invention? And is love itself capable of endless inventiveness? Wilde, whose presence haunts the play, tells Housman, "Bosie is my creation, my poem." Equally, the unexceptional Jackson becomes half of Housman's life and the source of his best poetry. Wilde and Housman are presented as diagonal opposites - the extrovert aesthete and the introvert scholar - yet both are strangely joined by their belief in the transfigurative power of love. A play that will keep analysts happy for years also deals, like so many Stoppard works, with our misunderstanding of the past and our creation of false Edens. Victorian Oxford exists in the literary imagination as a sunlit idyll; Stoppard exhibits its ignorance and prejudice. The Victorians see a classical education as the path to virtue and understanding; Stoppard shows how that is based on faulty scholarship, corrupt texts and an inability to accept the erotic implications of male comradeship. Here he reveals both the transcendent nature of Housman's love of textual scholarship - exulting in the discovery of a misplaced comma in Catullus - and his sense of pain at life's missed chances. Stoppard's pervasive sense of life's fragility and mystery is deeply moving. -- The Guardian

It is not that Tom Stoppard's new play The Invention of Love is witty, though it is. Nobody but Sir Tom could have got a memory-play moving by bringing on Charon the Stygian cabbie, let alone given him so entertaining and effortlessly informative an exchange with the newly dead A. E. Housman. It is not that it exudes an exhilarating curiosity about a dozen interlocking subjects, from textual emendation to aestheticism to shifting attitudes to sex, though it does. No, it is surely that The Invention of Love is about grief, pain and the difficult feelings that were long concealed beneath the scary brilliance of Stoppard's dramaturgy. True, in both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jumpers, his first big successes, one was aware of a Beckett-like regret for our insignificance in the universal void. But from The Real Thing through Arcadia the emotions have become more human and particular: a lost love, a dead girl. And now the Stoppard heart is ticking almost more strongly than that famously formidable organ, the Stoppard brain. Indeed, The Invention of Love is actually about emotional repression. The long, excited discussions about the exigencies of classical scholarship are reminders of how profound feelings can be sublimated or evaded. The omnipresence of Oscar Wilde, first as an offstage legend, then as a man exulting in the erotic blaze that has consumed him, is a wry comment on those who live more warily. Then there is Housman himself - or, rather, themselves. . At the start, when he is as old as he will get, he comes across as a genial buffer; but that is because, as he says, he is delighted to be dead. And then he shows you why. Housman's brain has tried to crush Housman's heart and has failed. Could there be a more telling metaphor for Stoppard's own writing career to date? -- The London Times

The loveless life of A. E. Housman, in which nothing wonderful happened even once, inspired Tom Stoppard's exquisite comedy at the expense of Victorian values and those smugly upholding them like clean linen. Stoppard's wit, which incites wry and rueful laughter, still works wonders. The Invention of Love comes over as a tremendous work of theatrical imagination. -- The London Evening Standard

The Invention of Love
by Tom Stoppard
List Price $11.00
Publishers' Group West
ISBN 0802135811


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