Paul Weinstein's new play, A Moment Too Soon, opens Off Broadway this Thursday, September 14.
It took me about 20 years to realize I didn't have to be Mickey Rooney or need a barn to scream out, "Let's put on a show!" Now that I'm doing it (I have 1,000 postcards and a listing on Talkinbroadway.com to prove it), I couldn't be happier. I could use a little less pre-production trauma and a little more sleep, but I'm happy.
The hardest part of producing this show was being able to sincerely answer the first question my investors (friends and family) asked - "How much of my money will I get back?" At first, I hesitatingly and coyly answered, "Some of it I hope." Now I say it confidently and even quip, "Bring 800 of your closest friends and there's a good chance you'll get more than some of it back." As it happens, because I found, by accident, a beautiful and relatively inexpensive space in the Shurin Theater, I will be able to pay back a good part of the money unless I can convince the investors to let me keep the money for another show.
Never before have I had a show produced. I've had several staged readings and came close to a real' performance about 12 years ago. That was called off an hour before curtain because the director had a heart attack. That was his story. His heart never skipped a beat. Turns out he was skipping out on some financial obligations dependant on the show actually going into performance. That was the last I saw of him until recently when I was flipping the channels and found him hosting a very under-produced public access talk show.
Another close call was when I developed a relationship, through a friend, with a prominent Broadway producer. There was one catch. I was forbidden to mention that I was a writer. You see, this producer's anxieties and neuroses centered round her perception that most of her so-called friends were just hanging around because of her stature in the theater. They all wanted something from her. Obviously, since I was a writer, I would want something from her, too.
I did get the chance to play piano for her at a party. I snuck some of my songs into the mix of show tunes. She was impressed and asked, "How come I didn't know you were a writer?" After I briefly pitched my Boy Meets Girl musical, she glared at me and grumbled, "Nobody's doing musicals anymore." She was as disappointed as I was. At that time, Andrew Lloyd Weber and the Starlight Express era had taken over Broadway.
That encounter, along with other distractions (i.e. two children) kept me busy. I never stopped writing, though. I have a drawer full of rejection letters for a group of childrens' books. I was so frustrated with that process, I made photocopied booklets of several stories and left them on the shelves of bookstores. I also put them on my webpage (http://www.escape.com/~boeing) and got feedback from all over the world.
Surprisingly, many of the letters asked me "How can I become a writer, too?" I sent back the lyric from A Chorus Line - "God I'm a dancer and a dancer dances." One letter, from a high school teacher in Texas, asked permission for her student to use a story as a performance piece. This proved one thing to me. If I continued to put my stuff out there, something will happen.
The next thing that happened was a battle writing a screenplay. Through the years, I've had a close association with the racetrack. One colorful racetrack character, Howie, introduced me to another colorful racetrack character, Steve, to help with some statistical analysis. Next thing I know, I was convinced if I wrote a colorful racetrack story it would be shown to a powerful and colorful Hollywood producer who used to be a - guess what.
I came up with a Boy Meets Girl romance that took place at Belmont Park. Steve, with actual TV production credits and quite well versed in theater and film, had some minor concerns. He suggested the main character should be more like Rocky Balboa. I had no problem with the concept. A rags to riches twist never hurt any romantic comedy. After a rewrite we met and he still didn't think the character was enough like Rocky. To get his point across he uttered the word "Rocky" an average of 1.3 times per sentence.
After another rewrite and the "Rocky" frequency upped to 1.6 times, I got concerned. I said it was like Rocky. Steve insisted my main character didn't win the fight at the end, or in this case win a lot of money. I paused. "Rocky didn't win the fight at the end," I said.
"He didn't?" Steve asked confused.
"He lost the fight, but got the girl. That's what was important," I answered. Embarrassed, Steve didn't utter the word again for months.
Weeks passed before I heard from him after he gave the script to his Hollywood producer friend. After some small talk, I finally asked him what the producer thought. "I didn't give it to him. He wouldn't like it. It's not enough like Rocky." So it goes.
In the middle of all this, I wrote a treatment for a remake of the James Stewart film Shop Around the Corner. Steve hated it. He's just not the romantic-comedy type. He was nice enough to call an notify me to stop working on the idea because Nora Ephron had just written You've Got Mail. All of a sudden, it became a great idea for Nora.
The other great idea I had was to turn Paddy Chayefsky's Marty into a musical. I'd been working on that on and off for 20 years now. After the Rocky incident, I picked it up again to have something to work on. Apparently, the Chayefsky estate has always closely guarded rights to his work, but I needed something to work on that I loved. I even thought Jason Alexander would be perfect as Marty and had him in mind while writing a new song.
Soon after, while at dinner with some friends, I was at one end of a long table talking about my Marty idea, while at the other end the conversation was about the news that Charles Strouse and Lee Adams had secured rights to the project. I think I blacked out before I heard Jason Alexander was cast as Marty.
While relating these anecdotes to my friend, Chris Pelzer, an Oscar winner for best live action short film, we found a common bond in the pitfalls and pratfalls of getting our work out there. After that conversation, he invited me to the Academy screenings every week. After each movie, we had long discussions and found out we had very similar approaches and thoughts regarding movies and theater. Even though Chris has never directed a stage play before, I asked him to direct my show. I couldn't be happier or more confident in that decision. He's helping to make it all happen.
Now that it is happening, I don't know what to make of all of it. Too much of it is like all those backstage musicals from the 30's. Last week, I got my 10-year old daughter to watch 42nd Street with me. She loved the movie but kept wondering why I was laughing so hard. "The truth is funnier than it's ever been to me," I told her.
Nobody has broken their ankle in A Moment Too Soon, so far, but I did have to replace the leading lady. During auditions, we fell in love with one woman. Unfortunately, she was going to be away the weekend before opening. We liked her so much, we rescheduled opening night and she accepted the role. Now, that I had a cast, a professional photographer friend, Scott Frances, offered to take publicity shots and cover all the expenses. Of course, after all the time, effort, and expense, the leading lady quit.
I listened to some excuses before I hung up on her. All I wanted from her was the $30 metrocard I gave her to cover transportation expenses. I got the metrocard back with a letter of explanation. I kept the card and threw the letter in the trash. As it turned out, I'm ecstatic about her replacement, Krista Lepore. She's so eager, supportive, and dedicated, I'm kicking myself for not going with Krista in the first place. What I took away from that experience is the ability to identify, on my own, the "Diva Gene" my friends spotted in my original choice.
The biggest problem I'm having at this point is answering questions from my cast. Krista asked me what her character did for a living. I said I didn't know. She didn't seem to like that answer. I panicked and tried to come up with a profession, but remembered that the character actually answers that question in the play. She says "this and that." Thank goodness I have a director that has better answers for these questions than I do. Honestly, while sitting through the readings, I can't remember what comes next. There are some lines I would need a Vulcan Mind Meld to remember writing.
There are also murmurs of confusion running through my cast. Behind my back, they accuse me of being unlike any writer they've ever worked with. Why? Because I don't mind changing lines for them. The thought has crossed my mind to be adamant about every letter just to make them more comfortable with the process, but like I said, I don't remember writing half of it so why should I be so stubborn?
It still hasn't hit me that I'm actually doing this thing, but I've gotten a lot of supportive friends and family, a director, a stage manager, and a cast convinced that it is going to happen. For the moment I'm still playing along.
A Moment Too Soon opens September 14th and runs through October 8th at the Shurin Theater, 311 West 43rd Street. Schedule and Reservations (212) 591-1405
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