Fynsworth Alley: Peter Filichia

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Peter Filichia

Peter Filichia

Peter Filichia is the drama critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, as well as a daily columnist for BroadwayOnline.com. He has provided the liner notes for several Fynsworth Alley releases, including Subways Are for Sleeping.

DL: How did you get to be Peter Filichia, theatre guru? What were the steps along the way?

PF: Truth to tell, back in 1968 I was a student at the University of Massachusetts, and a kid I knew from high school in Arlington, Massachusetts, came up to me and said, “I just became the editor of the school newspaper; will you review plays?” I’d never thought of doing it before in my life. So, I did that, and what was really interesting is that within a year, [a new newspaper] started in Boston, which is now called the Boston Phoenix, and they were looking for people to review, and I decided to review for them. After a while, it got to really difficult financial constraints, and I quit because they weren’t paying.

What had happened was, that I realized all the influence I’d been building up for the Boston community, you know, getting quoted in ads and what have you and even to the point, this is a kind of an interesting story, in 1970, the Broadway musical Gantry, with Robert Shaw and Rita Moreno, decided not to go out of town. What they were going to do, is invite the out-of-town critics, to come see it in New York, they were going to pay to have them come and they invited Elliot Norton and they invited Kevin Kelly, and they invited Bernie Shear from Philadelphia and people from all the tryout towns, and they included me. So things were really quite nice, but because the paper was going through hard times, I got on my high horse and decided I was quitting and aside from my marriage, I view that as the biggest mistake of my life. Because, for 17 long years, nothing happened, I didn’t do anything along those lines, in terms of any theatre writing whatsoever. And I said to myself, if I ever have a chance to do this again, I will never make the mistake of worrying about money. Because the thing is, when you’re printed, people don’t know what you’re getting, you know. When you’re printed, they think you really know.  Continue reading

Fynsworth Alley: Carol Hall

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

 

Carol Hall

Carol Hall

Carol Hall is the composer/lyricist of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, for which she received two Drama Desk Awards, a Grammy nomination, and an ASCAP “Most Performed Country Song” award. She’s also written music and lyrics for Sesame Street, Free To Be You And Me and its follow-up, Free To Be A Family, as well as for off-Broadway shows including A… My Name Is Alice, Good Sports, and To Whom It May Concern. Her songs have been performed by Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John, Tony Bennett, Lena Horn, Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein, RuPaul, Frederica von Stade, and Big Bird.

DL: How did this production of Whorehouse come about?

CH: That actually may not be that interesting for you. Because it really all has to do with [producer] Manny [Kladitis]. Manny specializes in road trips, road tours. He had gotten the rights from us and I believe Ann-Margret’s people called him looking for a project for her, so it’s not that zippy.

DL: So the idea wasn’t to do the tour for her initially when he got the rights?

CH: No. He wanted to tour it; he thought it was time for it to go out. She called him, which is kind of unusual, I guess, when you think about it. Or her people called his people.

DL: You ended up being pretty involved in this production. Is that usual for the original authors to take part when a tour goes out?

CH: I don’t think that is usual, and I’ve been having a really good time with it. In fact, in a lot of ways I’ve been more involved then the first time. I think part of that is the request Ann-Margret came up with for a new song. Just for her. It was interesting to me because there is nothing better than improving something you’ve written. I love rewrites; rewrites are actually my favorite part of writing. So, the idea that I can actually add something and improve it and make it better was actually very exciting to me. The hard part, the dark side of that particular moon, is that if a show has been out for twenty years, and if you have crafted it as carefully as you can, it probably doesn’t need a song. So I had to find the path of truth between those two things: the excitement to do something new, with not wanting to knock down the first domino that would make everything else crumble. Luckily for us there had always been a song that had moved around, “The Bus From Amarillo”. We put it in one place when the show opened. It had not ever worked really as well as we thought it should, so in London Tommy Tune had moved it to the end of the show – without telling me, I might add. Well, actually he did tell me; he told me in my ear on opening night right before they sang it in an unfamiliar place. He leaned over and said, “You’ll be real surprised at this.”

And so we’d gone back to see the show in Texas last year, we being Pete Masterson, Carlin Glynn, Larry King and I since we’re all from Texas and we all happened to be in Texas last summer and it was at Casa Mañana, a big musical theatre down there. We all went to see it and that production had put the song back into the pre-London spot which is actually where it is now. And we said to each other, “You know what? That will work with a new song at the end. Let’s put it back in the original spot.” It was a funny little juggling thing, but that song always had been juggle-able, so… But to answer your question, that was the beginning of more involvement for me this time. And then I was really interested in updating the arrangements, because twenty years ago when this show went up, no one had seen a six-piece country band on a Broadway stage before. That was wildly innovative, and as a matter of fact, I think Ain’t Misbehavin’ stole the idea of having the band on the stage from us. No one had ever seen clog dancing on a Broadway stage before. We couldn’t get by now with a six-piece country band, so [music director] Keith Levinson and I had some fun updating the arrangements. Arrangements are something that no one knows how to talk about. You never hear anyone describe arrangements because people, I think, are terrified to discuss music. I think it’s really easy for everyone to critique lyrics, but no one knows if they’re supposed to be saying, “You know the diminished seventh is really the wrong choice there.” So they just don’t say anything about music. But you know the fullness or the thinness or the quality of the arrangements is the bones of the whole thing, so we were interested, for instance, using synthesizers this time around, which we never used [in the original production]. So in that sense I was more involved. And then I don’t really quite know how it really happened. Except in the process of working with Ann-Margret, we had fun so we did a little bit more than usual.
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Fynsworth Alley: Rebecca Luker

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Rebecca Luker

Rebecca Luker

REBECCA LUKER is currently starring in The Music Man on Broadway. She has also starred in The Sound Of Music, Show Boat, The Secret Garden, and The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, and she can be heard on her Fynsworth Alley cd, Anything Goes: Rebecca Luker sings Cole Porter.

DL: You’re from Alabama, and I understand you were recently inducted into the Hall of Fame there. What’s that about?

RL: Paul Luney started this whole thing three years ago, down in Tuscaloosa. He just wanted to honor Alabamians that had done something in the arts. I am very, very honored, because the night I was honored this past March, To Kill A Mockingbird was also being honored, and Truman Capote was also being honored. I was flattered to death. It was a lovely ceremony. I’m still not sure why it happened, but I’m very, very honored that it did, and now I’m on a plaque on a wall at a Tuscaloosa college, and I have a plaque on my coffee table. It’s very sweet. It was just a lovely night.

DL: When you grew up there, were you involved in theatre and the arts in the community?

RL: Certainly as a young child I was not at all. I sang at church, at school, and in various groups, but we weren’t theatre-going people. There wasn’t much to see around there. I saw the occasional children’s theatre, but there just wasn’t time for that. It wasn’t part of our culture. As I grew up, I began to watch movie musicals when I could, but I still was very removed from that world.
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Fynsworth Alley: Bill Russell

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Bill Russell

Bill Russell

BILL RUSSELL wrote the book and lyrics of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, which he also directed. He’s perhaps best known as the lyricist and bookwriter of Side Show, for which he was nominated for two Tony Awards. He is currently working on Everything’s Ducky and Kept, both with his Side Show collaborator Henry Krieger. His songs appear on the albums Duets, Unsuspecting Hearts, Broadway’s Biggest ’97-’98, Emily Skinner, Haines His Way, and of course, Elegies.

DL: Let’s talk about the show from the beginning. I know you’ve told the story about how you came upon the idea of a Spoon River Anthology about AIDS – what was it about seeing the AIDS Quilt that connected the idea to Spoon River to give birth to Elegies?

BR: I was at the initial unveiling of the quilt in October of 1987, and I was looking for something to do in that free-verse style. I had written poetry in that style for years and years, and shortly after seeing the quilt, I had the idea that I could possibly do a “Spoon River of AIDS.” I was very familiar with Spoon River – I had studied it in high school; I had appeared in it in college; I had directed it also at a summer theatre. All of that came together, and it started out really as an exercise. I just thought I would go where it takes me. I wrote monologues about friends I knew who had either died or who were sick at the time. It went well, and I quickly decided there were theatrical possibilities. I called Janet and asked her if she’d like to write some songs to accompany the monologues, in the way that when Spoon River was adapted for the stage, Charles Aidman incorporated classic American folk songs along with the poems. Using that as a model, that’s what we did.
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Fynsworth Alley: Michael Kerker

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

MICHAEL KERKER is the Assistant Vice President of ASCAP, the American Society for Composers, Authors, and Performers, serving as ASCAP’s authority on musical theatre and cabaret. He coordinates the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, the Sunday Night Songwriters series at the Firebird Cafe in New York, and other programs to encourage work by emerging and established writers in the musical theatre idiom. He has served on the boards of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, The Johnny Mercer Foundation, The Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame, and The Society of Singers.

DL: Let’s start off talking about your job. For people who have no idea what ASCAP even is, how do you explain it?

MK: To explain what ASCAP is, it’s nice to tell this short story: When Puccini came to America towards the turn of the century for the American premiere of his musical The Girl From The Golden West, he invited the great American composer Victor Herbert to the opening night. When the performance was over, they went to a very famous restaurant in New York on 14th Street called Shanley’s – kind of like the Harmonia Gardens restaurant in Hello, Dolly! Most restaurants at the time had little four-piece orchestras, and when they walked in, because Herbert was the composer of the day, they struck up some Victor Herbert melodies and played them during dinner. Puccini said to Herbert, “Isn’t this wonderful that while we’re dining, you’re earning money?” Herbert didn’t know what he was talking about. Italy had already established a performing rights organization to protect songwriters, to ensure that songwriters would be paid for their music when it was played publicly. Cutting to the chase, Puccini explained what this performing rights society was like, and thus Herbert got the idea that the United States needed an organization comprised of songwriters so that songwriters would be paid when their songs were performed publicly. That’s what ASCAP is. Herbert started it, and the story goes that in 1913, he invited the major songwriters of the day to a meeting. The meeting was held at Luchow’s on West 14th Street, another very famous restaurant. Because the weather was so bad, only eight people showed up! So those eight, plus Victor Herbert are the nine founding fathers of ASCAP. Of interest to your readers, one of the people who showed up was John Golden, for whom the Golden Theatre on Broadway is named; he wrote the song “Poor Butterfly.”

Essentially, what ASCAP does – any place you hear music performed, and that can be bars, grills, restaurants, nightclubs, radio stations, bowling alleys, airports, radio stations, television stations… ASCAP licenses the rights to use music. All that money in turn goes back to the songwriters in the form of royalties. It’s a very complicated system as to how it goes back to the writers, so I won’t go into it now, but that’s essentially what ASCAP does and how it got started.
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Fynsworth Alley: Terry Trotter

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

 

Terry Trotter

Terry Trotter

TERRY TROTTER is one of Fynsworth Alley’s most prolific recording artists, mostly as the arranger and pianist of The Trotter Trio, the jazz combo famous for its Sondheim in Jazz series, which includes Passion, Sweeney Todd, Company, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, A Little Night Music, and Follies. Most recently, the trio ventured off-Broadway for their jazz rendering of The Fantasticks.

DL: Let’s start talking about how you began playing piano.

TT: My mom is a wonderful classical pianist, so when I was about four years old I started messing around with the piano to see if I had some talent. I started studying when I was four. My mom didn’t teach me, but she sat with me every day. I had to practice every day from the time I was four until I left high school. Of course, by the time I was thirteen, I wanted to practice, you couldn’t get me away from the piano. Before that, I had to do a certain amount in the morning and a certain amount in the night – I practiced a lot, every day including Christmas and New Year’s. I had a one-week vacation every year where I couldn’t physically get to a piano, but the rest of the year, I had to practice or suffer the consequences.

DL: How did you move into the jazz world?

TT: When I was about twelve, my mom could see that my interest was not as strong as it had been. I heard some jazz music, and she decided to let me go away from the classical for a while. I got really interested in the jazz music, but in classical music also. I studied jazz for about two years and then went back to classical and studied for another ten years with great teachers including Victor Aller, Joseph Levine, and Leonid Hambro who used to travel with Victor Borge as his second pianist. He was also the orchestra pianist for the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein.
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Fynsworth Alley: Victoria Maxwell

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Victoria Maxwell is one-third of the Momentum Productions, the producers of Bells Are Ringing. What’s more, Victoria is one of the last of an endangered breed — the independent producer on Broadway. In an industry that seems to be dominated by corporate producers like Disney and SFX, Victoria has carved out a successful career putting on shows as diverse as Damn Yankees, Jeffrey, Stomp, Play On!, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, and last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Dinner With Friends.

DL: How did you get involved in producing?

VM: Well, I’m partners with my brother, Mitchell Maxwell. He’s eleven years older than I am, and he was producing plays. He produced his first play in New York when he was 21. Then he directed in England, and soon he was producing more plays. In 1984, he was producing a wonderful play called To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, which starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Cheryl McFadden, and David Rasche. I was working at the Writers and Artists Agency as sort of an interim receptionist; it was not really a very fun job, but both the writer and the director on that project were represented by the Writers and Artists Agency. So, I had already read the contracts, I had already seen the play. So when they were staffing the show to move it from the Ensemble Studio Theatre to an off-Broadway theatre, I said to my brother, “You have to hire production assistants for the show anyway. I’ve already read the contracts and seen the project, why don’t you try me?” And I did really well – I did everything! I threw the opening night party, I closed the partnership, I spoke to all the investors… I was a one-man-band. I realized that it was really fun and really exciting. There was always a fire to put out, there was always someone to talk to, and then the thing that made it most exciting was at the end of the day, 350 people sat in a theatre and saw your work. The non-stop energy of it, and the immediate audience feedback, people were immediately touched or you made them laugh or you made them cry – it was exciting!
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