Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taking the Godspell to the public square

My legs are sooo soooore. From 9:30 to 1:00 pm on Saturday, Oct. 15, I jumped and danced and shimmied and clapped and slapped my thighs, rehearsing with 84 other people for a "flash mob" appearance in Times Square in support of the Broadway revival of Godspell. As I am an investor in the show, I thought this was a wise move. [Pun intended.] Who am I kidding - the chance to rehearse in a Broadway studio and be part of an Event in the middle of the Great White Way - sign me up!

Perhaps in keeping with the inclusive message of the Gospel, uh, sorry, Godspell, we were a remarkably diverse bunch - young, not-so-young, tall, short, thin, not-so-thin, dancers, actors, at least one writer (moi), teachers, all sorts. One woman had flown in from San Diego, another was there with her daughter, a man I met named Patrick had come in from Phoenix.
Rehearsing for the Godspell flash mob event. 

Our choreographer, Nancy Renee Braun, put us through the four sections of the piece, along with some professional dancers starting things off and punctuating some transitions. What a motivated crowd we were, clapping after we successfully executed every succession of eight-counts. It occurred to me that working in theater is like being in perpetual high school, but with grownup requirements such as reliability, leadership, teamwork and persuasiveness.

There was much talk about how the event was in keeping with Godspell's message of love and joy and community, but one of our dance captains stepped in it a little when she said the musical "isn't religious." Well, I'm not particularly evangelical, but in the interest of accuracy, yes, it actually is. What's regrettable is that Jesus has been used as a bludgeon rather than an inspiration so many times. The Christian message - love God, love thy neighbor - needs no apology, and maybe Godspell is a vehicle that makes it simple and clear.

Just before the flash mob
We worked like crazy, lead producer Ken Davenport showed up to see the last few run-throughs, we got a very brief lunch break, then made our separate ways to Times Square, where speakers had been set up around a space on the pedestrian mall next to the TKTS half-price ticket booth.

Spectators were already waiting to see what might go on in the space when a lone girl walked into the center and blew a couple of long notes on a bugle. Our dancers started their joyful swoops around the space to "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord," then we mobbers seemed to flow out of the crowd to "Day by Day." Then, whoosh, the beat started rocking and we started hopping. Halfway through, we took off our jackets and bloomed into a sea of red Godspell t-shirts. You can see it here

There are a couple of other videos on YouTube, taken by people on their phones. My favorite overheard line from a woman chatting to her companion as they film: "This looks rehearsed." I'll say! As we picked up our jackets and walked away, a woman asked me, "What's Godspell?" I answered, "The 70s rock musical, based on the Book of Matthew." 

Now, I'm off to get the Advil. I'd do it again - in a flash.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Godspell According to Us

This theater blog started in April with news that I had become a Broadway producer for the munificent sum of $1,000, courtesy of real Broadway producer Ken Davenport's decision to open up the process for his revival of Godspell. Six months later, I am about to become part of a flash mob in Times Square to support the show.

Solange and Jesus on Broadway
To tell the truth, the sweet earnestness of Godspell was never my cup of tea (sorry, Stephen Schwartz); I usually preferred a drier drink. But nobody else on Broadway was inviting me to this particular kind of dance, so I decided to sign up and, once invested, naturally had a stake in seeing this show succeed.

Couple of weeks ago, about 100 of us investors gathered at the Circle on the Square theater to hear Ken update us on the production just before previews began. (Opening night is Nov. 7.)

The show was just in the process of moving into the theater - note all the boxes onstage and the shop vac at left of the photo below. Ken, wearing his red Godspell hat, shared some of director Danny Goldstein's concept for the show. Ken asked us not to reveal the secrets of some production effects (Jesus will walk on water), but it doesn't seem too outrageous to say that Goldstein's idea is that the cast will be a group that happens to wander into an old Broadway theater.

Ken talked about the sound design challenges in a theater in the round and the location of the band, as well as what some audience members might be doing as part of the show. The production's budget is about $5 million, a number that's been publicly announced, and there are about 600 small investors. I asked if it was the small investors who put it over the top (a planned revival in 2009 never got off the ground due to lack of financing), but Ken responded that we were all "people of Godspell," which is his term for the investment group.    

Ken Davenport updates his fellow producers on the Broadway revival of Godspell

The poster I'm holding, above, was among the promotional items available at our meeting.

In the six months since April, Ken has kept a daily blog of the show's progress, detailing the many steps a producer takes to get a show to Broadway.

In a way, I've felt oddly detached from the experience, but also deeply part of it. Detached because for me, whether I'm directing a show or reviewing it, I'm directly involved. That's what I love about theater, it's in-person. But Ken has done something historic here. The world of Broadway producers can be pretty small and only open to those with serious money. He's invited us in and let us watch over his shoulder.

So, tomorrow (you thought I'd forgotten), there's going to be a flash mob event in Times Square. On a Saturday, I'm going to get up in time to be at a rehearsal studio by 9 am. And I'm going to make a fool of myself at the Crossroads of the World. Maybe a holy fool.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heroes for all ages

On a day filled with human concerns both large and small - I learned of the deaths of two friends, got stung by a wasp and fell on the sidewalk, turning my ankle - I entered the realms of gods and heroes via a dramatic reading of the Greek epic The Iliad at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Broadway actor Anthony Newfield, who edited the selections for the evening using a new translation by Stephen Mitchell, is artistic director of Poetry for Peace, which presents readings of great works that deal with war and peace.

The cast of The Iliad, presented at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. Anthony Newfield is at the far left.
The work was punctuated by percussion and incidental music from Marlon Cherry, whose vigorous bass drumming created an appropriately war-like milieu.

It's a daunting work - some 15,000 lines in all (edited into a two-hour performance), dozens of warriors, gods and goddesses, even rivers and horses and mountains figure in the awesome story of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans.  

The impressive cast, including Theatre Hall of Fame member Dana Ivey as Hera and Hecuba, admirably negotiated Homer's poetry. Bryce Pinkham, late of the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, crafted a particularly intense Achilles. And what a story: the Greek leaders Achilles and Agamemnon arguing over going to war; the Trojan Paris stealing Helen, wife of the Greek Menelaus; the Trojan Hector slain by Achilles and dragged behind his chariot; Hector's father Priam sitting down to dinner with his son's killer to ask for the body. And the gods, above it all yet intervening in human affairs and pursuing their own amorous paths.

The cathedral's magnificent grey and beige stone was a dignified setting for such a tale, one that sent us out into the unusually warm fall night with swords ringing in our ears and the cries of titans.