Part II of a three part series of my travelogue to New York.
MCKNOTES NEW YORK TRAVLOGUE PART II
A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine, Gary Anderson, sent me a play he had written. “Naked Darrow” was that play. After reading it, I suggested that some incidental music would appropriately break up the intensity of the drama. Anderson agreed and we set to work. The premiere of the show was in St. Paul, Minnesota at Park Square Theatre. I drove to St. Paul for that event and was pleased with the result of the project.
After rewriting and adjusting the play, it was decided to take it to New York. The premiere in New York was June 7th and I was there.
I wrote bassoon solo music that I believe expressed a sound that helped to define the character that Darrow became during his battle with dementia. There is powerful emotional material in such a situation, and this is Anderson’s strong point. He is thoroughly invested in relating the emotions, strengths and even shortfalls of the character he plays.
There was a reasonably sized audience on hand for the opening, and the play generally went well, but there were some first night jitters that caused some minor glitches in the technical aspect of the performance. Still, the audience was quite taken with the power of the story and the strength of the storyteller. The music, too, was well received and claimed just the right amount of attention without dominating the action.
I would return on my last night in New York to see another performance of the play. The crew had made a special effort to let me know they wanted me to see the show without errors. There was an after show gathering at the very restaurant I had chosen in my neighborhood. I felt comfortable to know where I was and to be in a place with which I was familiar.
The weather took a nasty turn the night of the opening. A storm named Andrea swept up the east coast and pounded the entire area with flooding rains and strong winds. I even bought a raincoat earlier in the day due to the forecast of the foul weather. I ended up mailing my new raincoat back home so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it my luggage.
The next day I had a ticket to see Bette Midler in “I’ll Eat You Last.” I had seen Midler in person in Las Vegas some years ago. She is an amazing performer with impressive energy. This play is a conversation with Hollywood agent Sue Menger, now deceased. She only catered to famous people and made her mark representing them with whatever half-truths and outright lies she could manufacture in order to acquire parts in which she thought they would do well. There’s no doubt that she learned and knew her business completely. The one woman show written by John Logan is simply a monologue with Menger in her own Hollywood home. She chain smokes regular cigarettes and joints while she relates gossip about those she loves and those she hates. Much of the theme revolves around her representation of Barbra Streisand, which she comments that she landed when Barbra spelled her name with the extra “a”. In fact, Menger may have had much to do with Streisand’s success and business acumen, mostly because Sue recognized the magnitude of the young Streisand’s talent in her really early days.
The conversation is aimed directly at the audience and it is clear that she has disdain for anyone who is not famous, but lowers her standards for this one-sided interview. It is non-stop laughter as she mimics Menger’s manner of speech. She invites a gentleman up from the audience to fetch her silver box with “cigarettes” in it, but he is not to walk on the carpet with his shoes on. When he removes them, she notices that he has no socks, so she redirects him so that he will only walk around the edge of the Persian run on the parquet flooring. He is used again in the show to fetch a decanter of gin, again shoeless and barefoot on the parquet floor. She then shoos him away like a gnat causing her minor irritation. It’s all done with wonderful humor that is Bette Midler’s stock in trade. She sits through the entire 80 minutes dressed in a silk caftan with her feet curled beneath her and sneers at everyone she has gossip about. Most anyone would recognize the names she calls, and she takes no prisoners with her slashing comments of those who have, in her opinion, wronged her.
The play is a triumph, but what else could it be with Midler at the helm. I’ve seen her twice now in person, and her energy is unbelievable. She has such a wonderful understanding of humor and timing and treats her audience to a smorgasbord of witticisms.
I was completely thrilled after this show, so I purchased a ticket to see an evening performance of “Annie” starring Jane Lynch as Mrs. Hannigan. It’s a delightful show with about 8 little girls who drip with talent that I’m afraid some may be renting. They belt their tunes, which are exhilarating to hear, but I worry that their years of singing will be limited unless they are taught how to sing correctly without the strain that belting puts on their throat. Of course, they’re all put together differently, and many survive, able to sing on into their adulthood. Somewhere along the way a vocal coach will do some correcting for those who earn a long career.
The sets, choreography and music are all handled with aplomb, and I enjoyed the show completely. There are so many shows to see that it’s almost overwhelming. The choices are without limit. I don’t regret any of my choices, but that is not to say that I saw all of the best offerings. I had one of the times of my life, and that made it all worthwhile to me.
The next day would be my last full day in “The Big Apple,” and I had big plans. Tune in for Part III of my travelogue in a few days.