The Choice was Mine and Mine Completely

Taylor Pietz and Todd Schaefer as Eva and JuanWe've come to the final step of the creation process -- putting all the pieces together (band, lights, costumes, props, mics), and doing the final polish. From now on, no more singing with the rehearsal piano. The coming week will be intense and a little stressful, but it's the best part of the process. We always take big steps forward during Hell Week, as the show finds its final form.

In some ways, our Evita probably won't feel drastically different to some people who've seen it before. We haven't rewritten anything and despite the questions I keep getting, no, we haven't added nudity to it! We've only used nudity in four or five shows over nineteen years, but still every show, people ask if we're adding nudity... I guess we can chalk that up to America's pathological fear of the human body...

But in other ways, our Evita may feel very different. It's obviously much smaller, physically. I think the score will sound different merely because of the instrumentation. No strings or harp this time, just piano, bass, guitar, drums, a trumpet, and reeds, a nice-sized rock band. Our dramatic approach is very different from the original Broadway production, but most people didn't see that, so they won't make that comparison. I do think our staging is really cool and it emphasizes the ensemble more than most productions. More than anything, I think merely because we're musical theatre artists in 2010 instead of 1979, we have more and different tools at our disposal. Musical theatre is a very different art form than it was when Hal Prince first staged Evita.

Case in point...

A couple nights ago, I put in my DVD of the documentary Broadway: The Golden Age. It's not a film I really love because the whole thing is interviews with old Broadway stars talking about how wonderful theatre used to be, and how awful it is that it's not wonderful anymore. I've encountered several musical theatre books with that mindset as well.

And it drives me fucking nuts. No, the Rodgers and Hammerstein model is not the pinnacle of the art form, just one step along the way, a step we were done with FIFTY YEARS AGO.

Still, this documentary does have a lot of interview footage with some major Broadway names, so I thought it'd be fun to watch it. But right off, I got pissed. All these people are talking about how amazing it was that so many great shows could all be running at once during the so-called "Golden Age," and several of them recite lists of famous shows as proof. But these folks forget about all the awful, wretched pieces of crap that also opened during the "Golden Age," like Wildcat, Drat! The Cat!, Shangri-La, Skyscraper, Bravo Giovanni, Flower Drum Song, Subways Are for Sleeping, and who can forget It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!...?

One part of this documentary was everyone remembering their first Broadway show. Mine was The Pirates of Penzance in 1981, with Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, Estelle Parsons, Tony Azito, and a kick-ass, high energy cast. (The next year, my brother managed to find one of those brass ticket keychains with Pirates of Penzance on it, which I still carry.) I'll never forget that show. Once it started, it never stopped for a second. It was the rowdiest, funniest, sexiest, most outrageous thing I'd ever seen on a stage. And it absolutely thrilled me. I think it was the first time I understood that musicals can be smart-ass and vulgar and rowdy -- three of my favorite attributes! -- and also really smart and artful, at the same time.

I've always credited my (still evolving) directing style to my work on Assassins and Bat Boy, and the outrageousness and freedom both those shows gave me to play with. But I realize now that my directing style really goes back to Pirates. Seeing that show was one of those moments when I thought to myself, Holy shit, musicals can be like THIS? Though Assassins and Bat Boy were clearly important stops along the artistic road I'm on, I think that my taste was first and most fully molded by Pirates all those years ago, and that later drew me to shows like Assassins and Bat Boy.... and Urinetown and Return to the Forbidden Planet and Spelling Bee...

Pirates (and the others) taught me fearlessness (you can even see it in the poster), to take a running jump off the artistic ledge and just see whether we fly or not. Sometimes I make mistakes in those leaps, but it's always in the name of adventure. I see now that I owe a lot to Kevin Kline. I can still see him as the Pirate King, sword-fighting with the conductor. Thanks, dude! I'm especially noticing the effect of all this on The Wild Party and Evita. (The other night at rehearsal, I told the cast I wanted the show more aggressive, and Petersen said dryly, "Imagine that!" Smart ass.)

If you're interested, there is a DVD availablenow of a live performance of this production of Pirates of Penzance that essentially changed my life. It was filmed at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, before the production moved to Broadway where I saw it (this is not the film version with much of the same cast, which I don't think is as good). It's every bit as crazy and rowdy as I remembered it. If you want to understand my taste, watch that DVD.

We have lots of work ahead this week, but it's the most fun kind of work we do. Evita is a very complex show, but this is such a terrific cast and everyone is working so hard, I know something really cool and interesting will come out of it. I am so lucky to work with artists this talented and dedicated.

Long Live the Musical!