Fynsworth Alley: David Shire

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

David ShireDavid Shire is composer of Starting Here, Starting Now, Closer Than Ever, Baby, and Big, as well as an Emmy and Oscar-winning film composer whose work includes Saturday Night Fever, Return To Oz and the recent television film These Old Broads. He is currently working with longtime collaborator Richard Maltby, Jr. on a new Broadway-bound show called Take Flight.

DL: Let’s start out talking about your days at Yale, and how you began working with Richard Maltby.

DS: When I went there, I knew I wanted to write shows, and so did he. He came from a prep school in one place, and I came from a prep school in another place. We were looking for collaborators to write what in those days were called Varsity Shows, to be produced by the Yale Dramat. A mutual friend introduced us in the freshman dining hall one day. He thought I was a hick from Buffalo, and I thought he was a theatre snob. We were both kind of right. We started writing together, and 40-plus years later, we still are. We wrote two shows at Yale which were produced by the Yale Dramat in rather elaborate productions. One of them was later done at Williamstown. And that’s how we met.

DL: Those shows at Yale helped launch your career and brought you some professional notice…

DS: A little bit. They didn’t really affect anything. We were trying to get further productions of the shows. Theatre people came up, and though they thought we were talented and promising, neither one of those shows went any further. Curiously enough, the people in the shows who we worked with at Yale were more valuable in terms of future work, even in films. The stage manager of one of the shows was John Badham, who I later scored a lot of TV movies for, and finally Saturday Night Fever, which was my biggest financial windfall. There were people like Dick Cavett in the show, and Austin Pendelton and Peter Hunt, who I’ve either worked with or stayed pretty close with through the years.

We pretty much had to get to New York. After we got the National Guard out of the way – the six month reserve program – we moved to New York and started writing an Off-Broadway show there which was produced about a year after we got there. That attracted professional notice. It was like a calling card, even though the show didn’t run that long. Continue reading

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Fynsworth Alley: Karen Morrow

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Karen MorrowKaren Morrow is perhaps best known as “one of the most flop-prone performers of recent musical-theatre history,” (according to Ken Mandelbaum), having appeared in I Had A Ball, The Grass Harp, I’m Solomon, A Joyful Noise, and The Selling of the President on Broadway. Since then, she has gone on to success as a television star and cabaret performer. Additionally, Karen is a great teacher of performance, currently on the faculty of UCLA’s Musical Theatre program. Karen Morrow appears on the Fynsworth Alley CDs A Hollywood Christmas, Lost in Boston IV, and The Grass Harp.

DL: How did you get your start in show business?

KM: I went to Milwaukee when I graduated from college to teach school. I had five roommates because I was poor – they certainly didn’t pay much to teach school. I would brag all the time about how I could sing and how I had played all the leads in school. There was an audition at the Equity theatre in town for Brigadoon, so my roommates said, “Okay, smarty, if you’re so good, go over there and audition.” I went “Oh my God…” and went over there an auditioned and got the job! I was in the chorus at the Fred Miller theatre in Milwaukee. Then right from there, I did just about everything in town there was to do. There was a revue in a restaurant called “Highlights of Musical Comedy,” and I was in the original group for that. Then I starred in the big show in Milwaukee with the symphony, and then I went to New York and that was it.

DL: So you gave up teaching?

KM: Oh gosh yes! It was grade school – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! It was just something to make a living. As I do in my act, there’s a whole song Billy Barnes wrote for me… I have this voice and I didn’t know what to do with it. It never occurred to me that I might be able to earn a living using my voice. And suddenly, there I was earning a living. Continue reading

Fynsworth Alley: 10 Questions with Barrett Foa

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley. 

10 Questions with Barrett FoaHow did you get your start in the business? What brought you to New York?

I was born and raised in New York. I went to the University of Michigan musical theatre program. When I graduated, along with everyone else I came here to make it big.

What did you think of Godspell before you were cast in the show? How did this production change your idea of the show?

Actually, I’ve never seen it. I owned the recording and knew some of the songs, but I definitely had pictures of flower children and face painting, hippy-dippy stuff. It was refreshing to revisit it and make it our version of hippy-dippy.

Godspell is the kind of show where the cast really shapes a lot of the action. What was the rehearsal process like for you?

We stripped the script of all of the old jokes. We had our first read-through, and I’ll never forget it, because it was the most boring thing ever. It was Jesus talking for ten pages, with someone saying a line here or there or telling a small parable. We were all falling asleep, it was just atrocious. Then we broke the script down into the separate parables, we sat in a circle and said, “Okay, this parable about the Pharisee and the Tax-Gatherer, what could this be?” We thought, “This could be an infomercial, this could be a football game.” “Football game! All right, someone go out into the hall and make this a football game.” So Chad Kimball jumps up and says, “Hello everybody, and welcome to Synagogue Stadium…” And then Tim would jump up and it would just go on from there. It took about three days just to do the first one, but then we found a rhythm and it just clicked.   Continue reading

Fynsworth Alley: Donna McKechnie

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

donna mckechnieDonna McKechnie is best known for her Tony Award winning performance as Cassie in A Chorus Line, but her career has spanned four decades, from her start in the chorus of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying all the way through the upcoming Broadway revival of Mack and Mabel. She made her first big splash as a featured dancer on the television show Hullabaloo, where she met Michael Bennett, with whom she would create memorable dances in Promises, Promises, Company, A Chorus Line and more. In recent years, Donna has starred in State Fair on Broadway, Follies at the Papermill Playhouse, and Mack and Mabel as part of the Reprise concert series in Los Angeles. She is currently performing in her one-woman show, and she appears on the forthcoming Fynsworth Alley CD, You Never Know.

DL:When you were a little girl, what made you want to be a dancer?

DM: It was never a question for me. I guess I’m lucky that I didn’t need to grow up and go to college to wrestle with what I wanted to do with my life. Maggie’s story in A Chorus Line, in the song “At The Ballet” is my story. I used to dance around the living room with my imaginary Indian Chief. And it was never separated from the music; the music and the movement were both equally important to me. So my mother took me to ballet classes, and I eventually worked my way up from the little local classes to more serious classes. By the time I was in junior high, I was giving lessons to little girls in my basement. Sheila’s story in A Chorus Line is mine, too, watching The Red Shoes and being inspired by the girl with the red hair. From the time I saw that movie, I wanted to dance ballet.   Continue reading