The road to Broadway for the musical Curtains has been a long and rocky one, in large part due to the deaths of original author Peter Stone and lyricist Fred Ebb. But now that it's a reality, Tony Award winner Debra Monk, who stars as tough-as-nails producer Carmen Bernstein, couldn't be happier. "I am having the most fun in my life," she says. "I first did a reading of the show six years ago, but when Fred passed away, I thought it was really the end of our journey. But then John Kander [the show's composer] decided he really wanted to finish this, both for himself and Fred. And I felt after Fred's passing that I had to do the show no matter what. He was such a mentor of mine and such a good friend. And in a way, it's so sad that Fred can't be here to see the audiences loving his show."
Monk says Curtains has changed considerably since its out-of-town tryout at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theater last summer. "There were great bones, but I think we've gotten rid of the fat. Everything that's been done was to make the story better. And what's been wonderful is that there have been no egos involved," she says. That statement applies doubly, says Monk, to the show's star, David Hyde Pierce. "He is one of the greatest people in show business. He's brilliantly talented, generous, and kind. He knows the names of every single person on stage and backstage. I just can't wait to be on the stage with him every night."
Monk's big number is called "It's a Business," and the actress admits there's been some speculation that her character is based on a real business person. But she swears that's not the case. "Everyone thinks Carmen is based on Fran Weissler, but Peter based my character on women he knew years ago. After all, the show is set in the 1950s," she says. "I really get all my information from what Peter and Rupert Holmes (the show's new co-author) gave me. And I really like Fran." So has the role inspired Monk to become a producer? "No, I can't imagine ever doing that. The only time I acted like a producer is when we first put together Pump Boys and Dinettes, but that's because we had no one and we were looking for a producer," she says with a laugh.
Another reason Curtains is so special for Monk is that it reunites her with many of her compatriots from the short-lived Kander and Ebb musical Steel Pier, including co-star Karen Ziemba. "I think it's hard for many of us to get over the fact that it closed when it did." Making the memories even more bittersweet was the recent passing of that show's star, Daniel McDonald, from brain cancer last month. "That was a really hard day. We were in rehearsal when we died. Our set is supposed to be the Colonial Theatre and it has the big brick wall in back. So that day, we wrote Danny's name on the wall; in L.A., we had written Fred and Peter's names. Now, it's lovely to feel that Danny is part of this show."
I LIKE IT LIKE THAT
Why is the newly-formed poortom productions serving up an all-male version of the Bard's As You Like It at HERE? Do they have something against women? "I think there's a lot to be discovered in Shakespeare's work by returning to that kind of casting," says Joe Plummer, poortom's producing artistic director. "Seeing a guy dress up as a woman is an absurd act, but as soon as we accept this as an audience, we realize anything else is possible, which is the point of Shakespeare's plays. Plus, I like shattering the idea that theater is about recreating reality."
Plummer will also be onstage as Celia, best friend to the play's heroine Rosalind. "I've always been intrigued by the role, plus being the producing director, I didn't want the show to be about me," he says in explaining why he eschewed the lead role (to be played by Erik Gratton). "I'm finding her to be quite strong and quite determined, yet very emotional. I think a lot of the female characters in Shakespeare are much more intelligent and interesting than the men."
While the company's actors are not well known, there is one celebrity involved with the project: Tony Award nominee Malcolm Gets has composed an original score for the show. "I can't imagine the play without music; it really adds a different dimension," says Plummer. "Malcolm and I worked together last summer at Williamstown on Anything Goes and we would just go to the green room and he could just play anything on the piano. It was phenomenal. I thought if anyone could make Shakespeare's songs sparkle, it was Malcolm. So I asked him -- and it turned out he did music for this show many years ago. But he's giving us brand spanking new music."
SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL
Working with Terrence McNally has been a special experience for many young performers, but co-starring in the Second Stage production of the playwright's new work Some Men, about the history of same-sex relationships, has particular resonance for Pedro Pascal. "I remember during my adolescence going to the mall in Costa Mesa, California and taking his plays off the shelves at the book store and reading them," he recalls. "What's always amazed me about Terrence is that he has such humanity and that the humor is so well commingled in his plays. One minute, everyone is laughing their asses off, and the next, you're crying. There aren't that many people who entertain us while also making us think."
Like all the other members of the all-male cast, which also includes Broadway veterans Frederick Weller, Romain Frugé, and Michael McElroy, Pascal plays many different parts in the show. "It's been a wonderful challenge, and the great thing is that we're not just creating specific boxes for each character in advance. It's more like we got on our feet during rehearsal and discovered them," he says. Pascal admits that not all the characters have come as easily to him as others. "I'm playing this wealthy young man who has an affair with his chauffeur in 1922 and that's been hard to get a grip on; but there's this one group therapy scene that's very contemporary, and it's never been so easy for me to slip into a character."
Pascal says the best part of this experience has been working with his fellow actors. "The chemistry between us on stage -- and off -- is so good. I've really learned how important casting is during this experience. Everyone is so willing to both take and give focus to each other," he says. "In fact, I was worried that I was having too much fun during rehearsals just watching everyone."
COMING ATTRACTIONS Matt Letscher will star in the Pacific Resident Theatre's production of Arthur Schnitzler's Anatol, March 16-May 27 in Los Angeles. Broadway stars Lea Salonga, Raul Esparza, and Brian Stokes Mitchell will be the special guest spellers at The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on March 18. On March 19, Les Miserables star Drew Sarich will perform at Ars Nova's Broadway Spotlight series; and Carole Shelley, David Alan Basche, Matthew Cowles, Deborah S. Craig, and Jeremy Shamos will headline a benefit performance of The Importance of Being Earnest for the Resonance Ensemble Company.
Moving right along, playwright John Guare will be honored at a special benefit performance of the Public Theater's King Lear on March 20; that same night, Kathleen Chalfant will read selections from the work of author Jane Austen at the New York Public Library's Donnell Center. Dana Ivey and John Turturro will read selected works by Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley on March 21 at Symphony Space. Former Jacques Brel star Gay Marshall will give a one-night concert at the Zipper on March 22.
Award-winning comedian John Fugelsang will unveil his new solo show All The Wrong Reasons: A True Story of Neo-Nazis, Drug Smuggling, and Undying Love at New York Theatre Workshop, March 23; the same night, Chad Hoeppner, Lawrence Lau, and Matthew Mabe will begin a three-week run in Martin Casella's new play Scituate at the Barrow Group.
As the month comes to a close, West Coast singing sensation Devlin will make her NYC cabaret debut at Helen's on March 24. Danny Aiello will read Tennessee Williams' "The Timeless World of a Play" on March 25 as a benefit for next fall's Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival; that same night, author Norman Mailer will lead a discussion after the reading of his play The Deer Park at Makor. Heading northward, famed solo performers Dael Orlandersmith and David Cale will collaborate on The Blue Album at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, March 28-April 29; and another solo star, Mike Daisey will bring his acclaimed new show Invincible Summer to Yale Rep's New Theater, March 29-31, before heading off for a month-long stint at Cambridge's American Repertory Theatre in April.
And last but not least, congratulations to Christine Ebersole, who will have her caricature added to the walls of Tony's DiNapoli on West 43rd Street sometime in the very near future. Brava, diva!
STAR SPOTTING Linda Fiorentino, Eve Ensler, and rock legend Lou Reed joining author/performer Lawrence Wright and director Gregory Mosher at the opening of the Culture Project's My Trip to Al-Qaeda; Tony-winner Jeff Marx and co-creator Rick Lyon helping to celebrate the 1500th performance of Avenue Q; composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa taking in the NYCO's The Pirates of Penzance; Tony winner Cynthia Nixon, film director Taylor Hackford (without Oscar-winning wife Helen Mirren), and Public Theater head honcho Oskar Eustis at the New York Philharmonic's glorious concert of My Fair Lady starring Kelsey Grammer and the amazing Kelli O'Hara; the fabulous Carolee Carmello (who is heading to Virginia to star in Kathie Lee Gifford's new musical Saving Aimee) and pal Jack Noseworthy popping into theater district favorite Cara Mia for dinner.
Spotted earlier this week: Tommy Tune and John McDaniel separately taking in the opening night of the highly entertaining Be at the Union Square Theater; and Tony winner LaChanze, choreographer Maria Torres, and Dancing with the Stars' hunk Mario Lopez helping PepsiCo to launch the new nationwide Smart Spot Dance! program at the McBurney Y.