“It's a vehicle to communicate. It might be a way to make someone forget their worries, laugh and hum a few bars. It might be a way to get someone to think about an issue. You can do things and say things with music and dance that you can't say with text alone”. (Susan Egan)
Last week we touched upon the shows and performers that first got our contributors interested in musical theatre. As we enter our second week of The Inspirations Project we look at who, in the theatre world, has influenced them and the theatrical experiences that have most moved them as members of the audience.
To begin I simply asked which performers they have drawn inspiration from
DC Anderson responded equally simply, “Patty Duke, Robert Preston, Jo Henderson (US regional theatre actress), Barbara Cook,”
Matt Harrop” I wouldn't say that performers as such have inspired me in a fundamental way, more that pieces of theatre have done so... Although thinking about people that I admire in musical theatre, I guess I would have to mention Barbara Cook as one, I wish I could have seen her perform when she was younger, as I saw her at Drury Lane in about 97, and she totally blew me away then...”
Anne Kerry Ford “There are so many, it is hard to choose. I adore Bernadette Peters for her confidence and panache. She is simply masterful, and can also be so extremely simple. She is breathtaking when she just stands with her arms to her side and delivers a song, so real, so personal. Watching her is like taking a master class in musical theatre. I adore Patti LuPone for the same reasons. They are both fearless.”
Susan Egan “I loved Bernadette Peters growing up. She played all the roles I loved. Patti LuPone as well. The ones who inspire me the most, though are probably Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews.”
Maureen McGovern “Gertrude Lawrence, Elaine Stritch, Victoria Clark & Kelli O’Hara (Light In The Piazza) and Christine Ebersole (Grey Gardens)”
D.C. “Victoria Clark -I saw her as the ditsy matron in 'Titanic' on a Sunday afternoon and the following Tuesday evening she was Fraulein Kost in 'Cabaret' at Studio 54 - two distinctively different characters both played with depth and honesty.. Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl' on screen - a dynamic combination of exquisite comedy and drama in one performance,”
Anne “Kristen Chenowith inspires me vocally, as she is in such command of her voice. It impresses me when someone like that, at the pinnacle of their vocal power, uses the voice with such nuance that you can tell they are in complete control of their technique. Actually, sometimes Chenoweth simply throws her head back and lets it rip with bravado, like she did with Glitter and Be Gay, a sensational performance. Thrilling! Also, I love Kevin Kline because he creates broad and colourful characters (such as the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance) and inhabits them fully. He doesn't apologize for being a ham, and that kind of joy is infectious. Actually, all of those performers look like they have such a good time onstage too, which is a good reminder to enjoy the work”
As our youngest contributor it’s no real surprise that A.J. O’Neill draws inspiration from the new generation of Broadway leading men, but first also a fellow Irishman “Years ago Colm Wilkinson, parental influence again, then as time went on I found what I liked myself, Anthony Rapp, Norbert Leo Butz, Raul Esparza, I saw Neil Patrick Harris in Tick Tick Boom and was stunned... and not just cause he winked at me... My reasons for admiring people have changed but I'm still really impressed by a great voice and a humorous attitude towards characterisation. I really admire versatility. Linda Eder owns it. OWNS IT. Yer man who plays Princeton (Jon Robyns) in Avenue Q, but purely cause I wanna be him. And he was great. And hot. lol. I shouldn't be writing this where it can be read.”
Of course being a musical theatre performer doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired by non musical performers….Maureen McGovern almost seems to be ready to burst into a chorus of “There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame” as she cites “Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Diana Rigg, Lynn Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Helen Mirren, and Dame Judi Dench” for instance.
The inclusion of Dench is borne out by Matt who says “If I had to pinpoint anyone else I think I would be Judi Dench, a performer of great natural talent. When I had the opportunity to meet her, she was so self deprecating, and generous, that I realized that is what an actor (and generally people) should be like, not, how many people can be in this business, full of self confidence and arrogance... hate it, hate it, hate it!!” But for Matt it’s not just the performers that move him,” I think I am a fan of directors! I had the great luck to work briefly with Trevor Nunn when I was in Les Miserables, and we moved the show from the Palace Theatre to the Queens Theatre... He came in to work with us for a week or so, and it was truly wonderful to spend some time with him.... I was lucky also as I was playing the part of Bamatabois, who attacks Fantine in the Lovely Ladies scene, as the guy who played it usually was on holiday, and although we didn't talk much about the character to have him watch me do that, and be accepting of my performance was a real thrill for me, and something I wont forget..”
D.C. also gives a special mention to producer/director “Harold Prince - because of the respect and trust he has for actors.”
Caroline Sheen” I get inspiration from a lot of people, I love how Nick Hytner is running The National Theatre. I love going to see a Shakespeare play done brilliantly. I recently Saw Henry VI Part I in Stratford. Inspiring Stuff! I don’t understand how some people who work on stage shy away from going to the theatre. It baffles me.”
Anne Kerry Ford “Of course, I am inspired by the great songwriters. I love Leonard Bernstein's music (so soulful), and Kurt Weill's music, too. And Sondheim. None of them try to emulate someone else; they are presenting their own wholehearted expression, therefore they inspire me to find my own unique expression as well, which takes courage. I also really adore Oscar Hammerstein's gorgeous lyrics. He was such a master story teller. He never, ever "cheated" a lyric or stuck something in as a handy rhyme. That guy slaved to make every word count, make every lyric carry the song forward as an emotional piece. I also find Agnes DeMille's choreography in the film "Carousel" to be absolutely brilliant because she understood the characters so well that every move in the dream ballet has the truth of emotion in it and tells the story so beautifully.”
So, moving on, what of the actual shows?
AJ has already touched upon “Les Miserables” and Colm Wilkinson, so it’s not surprising that the Les Mis’ experience affected another of our group
Anne “I saw the original cast of Les Miserables on Broadway and thought I had died and gone to musical theatre heaven. I just loved it. Colm Wilkinson singing Bring Him Home -had to be one of the shining moments in musical theatre history”.
Matt “OK, well I think that two of my greatest theatrical memories have been at the National Theatre, firstly seeing Guys and Dolls there, and the number of encores for Sit Down Your Rocking The Boat. I will never forget that, a brilliant night at the theatre, SO entertaining, the best version I have ever seen, and also I saw the last night of A Little Night Music there, again amazing, Judi Dench just wonderful in the lead, and a generally stunning cast and production.. Oh and Sondheim was there and came onstage at the end... the audience of course went crazy!!”
Maureen McGovern seems to be a Sondheim fan too as also mentions A Little Night Music, along with Sweeney Todd and Sunday In The Park With George (particularly the first act!) along with more recent ( non Sondheim) works Grey Gardens and The Light In The Piazza. The latter seems destined to be a future classic as it was also mentioned by D.C.Anderson who gave a special mention to Victoria Clark’s performance. British performer Caroline Sheen must be especially pleased to be working on Adam Guettel’s earlier work Myths And Hymns given that Piazza also had an impact on her.
Caroline” I recently saw The Light In The Piazza in New York and thought it to be the most touching sensitive piece of musical theatre. Stunning music, wonderful performances and a heart warming story – who could ask for anything more?”
And AJ? Well, he’s not about to forget that wink from Neil Patrick Harris! “My favourite trip to the theatre would be Tick Tick Boom which was on at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I was taken as a birthday present by my friend Robbie. We both loved the music and I came away feeling great about life, musical theatre, people... I felt like it really affected me, and I was really glad to be doing what I was doing even though college was not enjoyable at the time. Nearly danced down the street :-)”
For our stateside contingent many of their highlights have been non-musical productions, and it’s a testament to British Theatre that, with the exception of DC mentioning Angels In America at The Mark Taper Forum in Los ANgeles, all of their choices have been UK productions. DC also enjoyed Medea (with Fiona Shaw), as did Maureen - but in her case with Dame Diana Rigg. Now we have already established that Maureen has a thing about dames! Can there be anything else I wonder?
Maureen – “Bed Among The Lentils (a filmed monologue) with Dame Maggie Smith….anything with Dame Maggie Smith in it!”
Susan- “Nicholas Nickelby -- all 8 hours -- performed by the RSC. I received a student ticket for free and ate up the whole thing. Loved it.”
Anne” There was also a production of Pygmalion with the Royal Shakespeare Company that must have been over three hours long (good old G. B. Shaw!), yet I was riveted to every single moment of the stellar production. In particular, there was a scene where Eliza, the street urchin, is forced to take the first bath of her entire life and she is terrified of the water and is screaming and kicking and crying as she is thrown naked into the tub, and then, magically, the scene changes, and the scenery starts to shift, and in the next scene she is dressed in a long, flowing kimono, and her hair is wet and slicked down flat, and she enters running down this very long flight of stairs with her arms stretched out, and the kimono is billowing behind her, and, without her saying anything, simply by the way she runs in like a butterfly, you can FEEL (so poignantly) how wonderfully CLEAN she is for the first time ever, and how good she feels. I started to cry like a baby. I still get chills thinking about it. It was an unforgettable theatrical moment.”
Before we leave this epic second instalment of The Inspirations Project I also asked who in the world beyond musical theatre has inspired our contributors. Many of the responses to this were still very much Theatre centred so the responses are covered above and some of them were very personal in that they deal with working relationships. As next week we will be looking at our groups own careers I will include these then. However, there are a few exceptions (unsurprisingly many of which still have a show biz bent!) which I will conclude with now!
Anne” I admire artists who don't copy other people, but create something which is truly and uniquely their own. For that reason, I love the modern dance choreographer Mark Morris because he is brilliant and original. I am inspired by the poetry of Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings and Wislava Symborska, all unique and inspired wordsmiths. Because they love language so much and play with it so masterfully, they inspire me to love language and to see the emotional possibility and power in great lyrics. I am inspired by the paintings of Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Georgia O'Keefe because of the passion and fearlessness in their canvases. They inspire me to have the willingness to look closer at my own world and see things through my own eyes. I am very inspired by the late, great Eva Cassidy, who was simply (in my opinion) the most soulful singer, and yet so simple, so emotionally raw. Andrea Marcovicci, the cabaret singer, inspires me with her ability to wrap an audience around her finger. She weaves a magic spell on people... it's amazing!”
DC “Cheryl Wheeler - folk performer, Christine Lavin - folk singer, producer Both highly creative women who have devoted their lives to storytelling. In Christine's case - to bringing creative people together also.”
Anne “I am inspired by Meryl Streep throwing herself completely into her roles so that you don't recognize her...what commitment to the work she has! She inspires me to work very hard and dig beneath the layers of a song, to explore the song whole-heartedly, like she does with the roles she inhabits. I am also inspired by Martin Short... there is always room for humour.”
Susan “I am inspired by the people who don't forget where they came from. People who understand their good fortune and give back. Paul Newman, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Audrey Hepburn.”
AJ “My parents. Some of my teachers. My friends. I take most of my world view from my parents and their friends that I've become close to and respect. My mother dying meant that I re-evaluated a lot of my life and I've realised who I learned all that I value from - and mostly it was her and my dad. She wanted me to do this, and always saw me being successful, even though I didn't. Turns out she was right, to a point. I work towards hopefully proving her right in the long term.”
What better way to end this chapter than AJ’s poignant words? Well maybe it’s not a better way but we can’t go without a further handy household hint or two!
DC “As I look at the disaster that is my apartment - I realize I have no hints - unless I could suggest that picking up after oneself has its rewards. When I think of how long it takes me to find my keys on a daily basis.......”
Anne “Well, I don't know if it's a "household hint", but a good feng-shui tip is to keep your slippers at the FOOT of the bed, down where your feet are. I got that one from a Taoist feng-sui master!”