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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Interview with Malcolm Gets

Malcolm GetsPlaying one of the most well known birthday boys in musical theatre, Bobby in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company (review), Malcolm Gets continues a mini-trend of Sondheim performances. He recently appeared in San Francisco and at Carnegie Hall with Barbara Cook and Wally Harper for Cook's "Mostly Sondheim" concert series. And in 1994 he played another Sondheim/Furth leading man, Franklin Shepard, in the York Theatre production of Merrily We Roll Along.

A Drama Desk nominee and multiple Obie winner, Gets has also appeared in Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Delacorte Theater, Michael John LaChiusa's Hello Again at Lincoln Center, and The Boys from Syracuse for City Center.

Gets graduated from Yale Drama School and once aspired to be a classical pianist. He's widely remembered for his role as Richard on the television show "Caroline in the City." His one man theatrical music piece is being presented throughout the country and he has completed work on two films, "Nine Scenes Abut Love" and "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing."

He is happy to participate in bringing this production of Company to Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh CLO.

Ann Miner:  The CLO has quite a knack for putting together great casts. This one looks terrific. Have you worked with any of these actors before?

Malcolm Gets:  Michele Pawk and I worked together twice. We did Hello, Again and Merrily We Roll Along together.

AM:  What a voice she has.

MG:  The whole package, in voice, spirit, talent, intelligence. Michele is a wonderful, wonderful lady.

And Jim Hindman was also in Merrily ... he's one of the funniest people you'll ever meet and it's deceptive because he's really dry, but. he is a wonderfully funny guy. So Jim and Michele I've worked with before. I certainly knew Diana [Canova]... Leslie [Kritzer] I just met because I saw her do Fanny Brice. She was wonderful. She's extremely talented.

The cast is amazing. Barry [Ivan, Director/Choreographer] is wonderful. Tom Helm [Musical Director] is wonderful. You know, putting a show together in a week is a challenge and probably not the most idealistic creative situation, but Barry and I and half the cast got together a few weeks before rehearsals in New York on our own and started reading through scenes and working on them because, you know, it deserves a little more than a week.

AM:   You've done some of the songs before, I assume.

MG:   Absolutely. I was supposed to play Bobby ... once I was supposed to play it and I backed out; I was offered another production and ended up not doing it, so, believe me, aside from having the albums since I was 16, I've always been acquainted with the role. I'm a firm believer in some greater force in the universe than us and the notion that I'm finally playing the part now when I'm the right age ... I'm sure I would have been fine in the past but now I feel like I completely (laugh) understand Bobby's dilemma.

Malcolm as Bobby
Malcom Gets as Bobby in Company

AM:   It's still set in 1970, true?

MG:  Yeah, which I think is a smart move. They've updated it in recent productions and Barry decided to keep it in 1970 which I'm all for.

I think the idea of relationships and commitment and marriage and all of that stuff, the fear involved in it, I think that is timeless. Specifically, I think, some of the score ... I mean Steve is a genius and I think a lot of the score was written to sound like 1970s so I feel like in some of the productions I've seen in past years that have updated it, it didn't quite gel. It wasn't even the book so much as the music didn't.

And you know I think that now - it's hard to believe it's been 30 years - but I think that's about enough time to be able to go back. It'll just be more entertaining for the audience, too. Very specific book and just a little bit more theatrical ...

Because I've known the score for so long ... I have to really say that one of the joys of working on it is discovering George's script. I think George wrote a fantastic script. More than just funny, I think it's incredibly insightful and I think a lot of times George sort of gets overshadowed by Steve and I want to say that I feel the script is equally as good as the score.

AM:   Are you doing "Marry Me a Little" [added in the revival]

MG:   We're not doing that. They asked me my opinion and I said I thought it was better without. I think in a lot of ways the original production was just fine; it was leaner and I feel like "Marry Me a Little" is a fantastic song, but I don't feel like, organically, it went at that point. I feel like George did his job. In the scene, it becomes pretty clear what's happening between Amy and Bobby. It may not be clear for Bobby, but I feel like that's the point. You've already got some of this waiting in "Being Alive" and ... you just have a third song where I'm looking at the audience saying "I'm kinda ready ... but not really."

Having seen other productions where they did that song I did not feel like it enlightened the character Bobby. If anything, I felt like it undercut the power of "Being Alive". "Being Alive" is so brilliant ...

AM:  Is this production a combination of the original and the revised versions?

MG:   That's safe to say, yes.

AM:  They made some changes for the York production of Merrily We Roll Along. You got some nominations and awards, but that show has had trouble being produced effectively.

MG:   Ironically last year it won the Olivier in London.

AM:   I'm wondering if they found the way to do it.

MG:   I didn't see that production so I don't know what version they did. All I can tell you is my experience was that I loved the show. It felt like a fantastic fit, that part for me. Because of a lot of things, not the least of which is the fact that I started as a concert pianist and as a composer so it's such a good fit and that was a euphoric experience for me. So whether or not the critics or people go with it or not - you know it matters to me, but ultimately it didn't matter because that show meant so much to me and I know that it moves a lot of people.

AM:   The two big issues brought up are that it's difficult to watch things go backward in time and, secondly, that the characters are not likeable enough.

MG:   Both of those issues don't make sense to me. There's no reason to do the show if it didn't go backwards. That's the whole point of it. I'm not saying that Merrily is a perfect piece. I don't feel it's as seamless as something like Company. It's a little ... not as smooth, but I don't think that has anything to do with the fact that it goes backwards. And as far as the characters being unlikeable ... applying a little of my own psychology here ... it's too painful to see those characters making decisions that move them away from love and passion. What it is, is incredibly human.

It's funny because in the last three months, when I tell people I'm playing Bobby, they'd be like 'Good luck with that part; it's an enigma." And again I feel really lucky because people said that to me when I got Franklin. I don't see it. To me Bobby is a fantastic part. I totally get what he's about and ... I'm delighted to be playing the part.

You know musicals started as pure entertainment and I love to be entertained as much as the next person, but I like challenging musical theatre. I mean, obviously, a lot of the things I've done in New York, especially with Graciela [Daniele], have not been conventional musicals.

AM:   Hello, Again ...

MG:   Totally Hello, Again, and A New Brain, absolutely ... The thing is, if Merrily were a movie people would never talk about them being unsympathetic.

AM:   That's a challenge with a lot of the contemporary composers, LaChiusa, Jason Robert Brown ... they're not writing Hello, Dolly!'s and some people do still go to the theatre for sheer entertainment.

MG:   Sometimes that's all I want. I'll turn on the TV and I really wanna watch "Bay Watch."

AM:   But not all the time ...

MG:   Exactly, exactly. It's about a balance.

I just read a biography of Michael Bennett and they talked about how much of an influence Michael had in Company and Follies and he was very much of the mind ... obviously I feel he was a genius ... I also feel that he was clearly pushing the limits and really challenging people and exploring darker things, but according to this book he was very much of the mind that if you bring the people into the theatre and make them question everything in their lives you need to let them leave with a little bit of hope.

That's very much my aesthetic. I love exploring the complexities and the dark places in life but I don't want to live there. And I feel like [Company] is famous for the ending, that they wrote three or four songs before they finally came up with "Being Alive" and just for my personal tastes, I wouldn't want to see Company if Bobby didn't have an awakening at the end of the show. That's part of what makes the show great. And the show doesn't end with him meeting the perfect mate, and saying "oh, it's all fixed!" It's him saying "I'm willing to try." It's still a little untidy, but at least there's some hope ... as there is at the end of Sunday in the Park with George, even Passion which is one of the heaviest pieces Sondheim has written. I feel like the end of that piece offers a glimmer of hope and that Giorgio finally realizes that he was capable of loving a person. So I thank God for those glimmers of hope at the end of shows.

AM:   You don't want to be so down when you leave that you're sorry you came.

MG:   Exactly. So I want people to know that it is a complex show but I feel like there's a lot of humor and I feel like there is hope at the end of the show.

AM:   Switching a little but staying on the Sondheim theme, what was it like performing with Barbara Cook? Carnegie Hall ... Barbara Cook ... Sondheim ...

MG:   A dream come true. I was one of those kids, I used to listen to her albums when I was in college. She's incredible, both as a performer and a person. She's the kind of person I'd like to be ... as a person and as a creative person. Because she's had some really good times and she's had some really lean times and she is incredibly human, and generous, and real. I think that's maybe what I love about Barbara the most. She really believes in the music she sings and I think that ... obviously she has a God given voice and spirit, but I think that ultimately she's really interested in sharing her love of the music and that's kind of where I'm coming from. I mean I have an ego like everybody does, but part of the reason I stay in this business is because you know part of the excitement this week will be singing these songs and we're there for the audience and that's what I'm constantly reminding myself of . I'm part Irish and I love to tell stories and so part of the joy of doing a piece like this is like "I can't wait to share this with the audience."

AM:   A New Brain was a very personally piece for William Finn, I guess semi-autobiographical. How was the challenge of playing the part of a man with a brain tumor?

MG:   I guess I'm kind of gullible in a way. My passion for that piece outweighed ... you know I never stopped to think about that. It was an incredible process because I actually worked on it with Bill and Graciela and I have to mention our musical director on that, Ted Sperling, another genius. We all worked on that show for about three years before we did it. Meetings and workshops and development pieces ... I'd never been involved so intensely in the creation of a show like that. And Graciela Daniele, who I adore, really invited my participation as an actor and as a co-creator. So that piece was incredibly personal for me because that show ... you can't imagine how much it changed from the first time we did a reading to the time it opened at Lincoln Center.

I was really proud of that show and I thank God for CDs because obviously we only did a limited run and ... I'm so proud of that CD and I feel like it continues to make a lot of people happy.

Of course the whole thing is ... it's not really about a brain tumor. It was a metaphor. You know how in The Tempest where Shakespeare says "life is but a dream"? I was thinking recently that sometimes I think that sometimes I really have those feelings like "I wonder if this is really happening" or if this is a dream. And the reason I say that is because A New Brain, a lot of shows I've done - Hello Again, certainly Company - they are so reflective of where I'm at in my life that I kind of can't believe it's happening. I guess what I'm trying to say is I learn so much from these shows by being in them and that certainly is true with A New Brain. That period was very similar for me and I didn't have a brain tumor, but I was undergoing a huge, radical change of life myself as far as how I viewed the world and how I viewed myself and that continues, of course. So that was an extraordinary experience and I feel that with Company, I feel like it is uncanny how much the show reflects where I'm at and what I'm exploring in my life.

AM:   I understand you have a solo CD in the works - playing and singing?

MG:   Exactly. I've been working on it with Wally Harper and Peter Matz, who worked with Streisand and Harold Arlen. I'm really lucky.

AM:   Is this going to be similar to the one man piece that you've toured?

MG:   Yes. I did it in Baltimore recently and on Long Island. More than likely it's gonna perform in New York this fall. Most likely we'll do it somewhere like Joe's Pub or Arci's.

AM:   Is there a theme to the show?

MG:   The way it starts is I talk about the big five: Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King & I, and Sound of Music. Because my parents are English and they grew up in London in the heyday of musicals ... when I was four and five years old my mother would put on Carousel or My Fair Lady and within a year I was putting them on myself. So the starting point for the show is that I feel like the course my life has taken is because of those old, original cast albums. So I sort of start there with that sort of stuff, like Rodgers & Hammerstein, and then I go into Sondheim ... and then I expand, I go into pop music because God knows I have very eclectic musical tastes.

AM:   Is there a timeline for the recording?

MG:   Something tells me we're going to record this sometime in the fall.


Company runs through Sunday, August 12. For tickets and schedule see www.pittsburghCLO.org



Also see the schedule of Pittsburgh theatre



-- Ann Miner

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