Everything Is Already Something Week 43: Kander And Flubb or Don’t Make Me Sing

Allison Page, mistress of horror. And singing. 

Gather ‘round the campfire, young’uns— for here comes the tale of the most foolish of ideas which have so far come to pass on this great earth. YES, this is the tale of Allison singing “Cabaret” with piano accompaniment.

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The year is 2006. I had just finished my first paid acting gig, as Myrtle Mae in a summer stock production of HARVEY several months before. I got that part by way of auditioning with the least age-appropriate monologue for a 21 year old – Martha from WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and when they asked me to sing my song as part of the general audition, I said proudly, “No. I will not be singing a song for you today, for I do not wish to waste your time or mine. I am an actor, but I am not a singer.” I thought perhaps that would mean they wouldn’t even consider me for something, being that I was a weirdo and didn’t do everything they asked. So when I got a part, I was beyond thrilled and surprised and delighted and all that shit. Being paid to act was some super cool bragging rights for me, particularly because I’m not sure I had ever known anyone who’d gotten paid to act before. (This is a good time to remind you that I’m from a tiny town which might as well be on the moon.)

So much was my confidence boosted, that when I scheduled my audition for the same company’s next season, I decided I would sing. It would be magnificent. I chose the song “Cabaret” because…I like that movie, Liza Minnelli made it look so easy, and it didn’t seem as crazy high and complicated as some songs that I had heard in my life.

Definitely exactly how Allison looked in her living room.

Definitely exactly how Allison looked in her living room.

I took a voice lesson. That’s right, a voice lesson. We worked on the song for an afternoon. I was what I like to call Diet Confident. It’s sort of like being cautiously optimistic but pretending not to be cautious even though you are.

On the day of the audition, I drove the 90 minutes to the theater. Sure, there was some wringing of hands, some clenching of teeth, but I considered myself ready to go. I went in and said hello to the person working the door, waited until I was called, went into the theater and greeted the people I had worked with last season. So far, so good. I handed my music to the pianist.

I was probably sweating. I had to be. I don’t like singing. And obviously I don’t like it because I’m not good at it and it makes me nervous. But today would be the day! Today I would crush my own feelings down – pack them in hard like potato chips that have settled to the very bottom of the bag after riding in a truck. I showed the pianist where I wanted to start in the song. I had a specific place I wanted to go from because there was a note I was avoiding. An awful, awful note that I just knew I couldn’t hit. I was avoiding “What good is sitting” because it just felt too low and I didn’t want to start on it for fear of falling apart when it inevitably went awry. All was planned for. All was right.

“Uh, I’m Allison, obviously, you guys know that…and I’m gonna sing Cabaret, from…well, from Cabaret. Heh.”

I look to the pianist, the pianist looks back at me, smiling. I do a big old inhale so I don’t run out of breath. Aaaaaaaand…

“Put down the knitting, the book and…the…UHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

The pianist is not playing the same thing as I’m singing. I can’t be sure where the pianist was in relation to where I was but it wasn’t the same place, I can tell you that. It fell apart so quickly. All that practice and thought and the whole things collapsed. At some point it just petered out and we didn’t address it. I just paused and then went into my monologue, which – SHOCKER – didn’t go very well because I was freakin’ panicking like the last Tickle Me Elmo was snatched out from under my nose on Christmas Eve 1996 and Tiny Tim was waiting back at home for the last gift he’d ever receive which would now have to be a tube of toothpaste and a necktie. It was a disaster. I piled myself into my ’87 Dodge 600 and drove the 90 minutes back home, crying all the way.

…And that is why I don’t sing, kids. Now eat your s’mores and go make out in your tents, Miss Page has to watch puppy videos on her phone to forget the torment of the past.

What good’s permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret

SLEEP TIGHT!

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director/comedy person. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Whose Play Is It, Anyway?

Dave Sikula asks an important question that comes up again and again in the theater community. Can he answer it too?

In our last thrilling installment, I’d been asked at a “Farnsworth” talkback why we hadn’t just added a prologue and/or epilogue debunking Aaron Sorkin’s presentation of the historical record.

As soon as that question was asked, I was immediately reminded of two stories I’d just read involving theatres and directors playing fast and loose with the scripts for their plays.

Now, before I begin this saga, let me state that I don’t think there’s a director working who hasn’t either altered the script s/he’s working with or, at the very least, thought about it. It’s not right and it’s not legal, but we’ve all done it. Most of the time, the changes are minor and banal, done strictly for logistical reasons. A character can’t be told to stand since he’s already standing, or is standing next to a table rather than the chair indicated in the script. It could even be something as simple as an actor’s height or hair color differing from the one in the text.

Me, directing. Looks exciting and glamorous, doesn't it?

Me, directing. Looks exciting and glamorous, doesn’t it?

But to the stories I’d read. The first story concerned a production of “Hands on a Hardbody” that had opened at Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars, or TUTS for short. The musical, by Doug Wright, Trey Anastasio, and Amanda Wright, is based on a documentary about a group of people who were trying to win a new pickup truck by keeping their hands on the car. The last person with a hand on the truck would take it home. The show flopped on Broadway (28 previews, 28 performances), but will probably have some sort of life in regional companies.

Doesn't look real enticing to me, but who knows?

Doesn’t look real enticing to me, but who knows?

TUTS was the first of those companies (as far as I know) to present the show. The director, Bruce Lumpkin, invited Wright and Green to opening night, but neglected to tell them he had made changes to the show, mainly involving cutting sections and reassigning lyrics and songs to the characters for whom they were intended.

To quote Howard Sherman’s recap of what happened:

Green described to me her experience in watching the show. “They started the opening number and I noticed that some people were singing solos other than what we’d assigned. As we neared the middle of the opening number, I thought, ‘what happened to the middle section?’” She said that musical material for Norma, the religious woman in the story, “was gone.”

When the second song began, Green recalls being surprised, saying, “I thought, ‘so we did put this number second after all’ before realizing that we hadn’t done that.” As the act continued, Green said, “I kept waiting for ‘If I Had A Truck’ and it didn’t come.” She went on to detail a litany of ways in which the show in Houston differed from the final Broadway show, including reassigning vocal material to different characters within songs, and especially the shifting of songs from one act to another, which had the effect of removing some characters from the story earlier than before…

Describing her post-show conversation with Lumpkin in Houston, Green says, “When it was over, I was flabbergasted. I had been planning to go to the cast party, but I couldn’t. Bruce came over to me and said, ‘I know you’re mad and I know you hate it, but you know it works better’.” Green continued: “He was pressuring me to make a decision and say I liked it. So I left.”

Amanda Green, in happier days ...

Amanda Green, in happier days …

After much back and forth, Samuel French pulled the right for the show and made the company close down the production.

Now, bullying of Amanda Green aside, what Lumpkin did – and he’s apparently well-known for doing things like this with the shows he directs – was both hubristic and stupid. It’s one thing to make wholesale changes and hope you can get away with them. It’s another to do it and invite the creators to see how you’ve “improved their work,” which in Wright’s words, they’d “spent years building and honing … and had very specific character-driven moments. People didn’t just say things.” But it’s in a whole other level to demand that those creators approve changes. As of this writing, Lumpkin still has a job, but I find it hard to believe that any licensor will rent him a show without, at the very least, keeping a close eye on the product in progress, let alone the final production.

As usual, I’ve hit a critical mass of verbiage before coming to a conclusion, so I’ll leave matters here until our next meeting.