FISHER: Oh, well, Chicago.
TM: Did you know it was going to hit like it did?
FISHER: Of course not. When we did that invited dress [rehearsal] and people started cheering and screaming for the vamps leading into songs...I knew it had a special place in people's hearts, but I had no idea how much. John [Kander] and Fred [Ebb] were the same way. They were completely stunned.
TM: So why do you think the reaction was so enormous?
FISHER: That's a big and complicated question. I think about it a lot, because with eight companies running, I think about Chicago frequently. It's actually two different questions: Why did our audience react that way and why has it been so successful everywhere else? Chicago is kind of quintessential show biz. To have two musical-comedy divas competing is a dream for a lot of musical theater fans. And that score is so fantastic and perfectly orchestrated to the note, by Ralph Burns. Then we struck gold with that casting--and that casting also came together pretty late. I never like to reveal how late! In the bigger picture, people were reacting to the Americanness of the show; also to the lack of sets and production, with the focus on the performers instead. It was such a refreshing change. It seemed so new. People have told me they'd forgotten that you could connect individually to performers the way you can in Chicago. You can't really do that in some of the big British shows, for example.
TM: The classic sociological explanation for the success of the revival has been that the country has gotten as cynical as the show is.
FISHER: Right. And there was the timing--post-O.J.
TM: When you've finally got the parts together and you've ironed the kinks out and you're making decisions on tempi and dynamics and so on, how much does the original cast album of a show influence the interpretative decisions you make?
FISHER: I refer to everything that's available. I'm always interested in knowing what the original tempos were, but you can't always rely on the cast album as a record of what they did on stage. Occasionally, tempos are marked in the score, but that's rare in show music--although, with this Bernstein, there's a metronome marking for almost every piece.
TM: That Allegro cast album never sounded like a cast album to me. That's one of the Encores! titles I appreciated most.
FISHER: Yes. That was a great musical experience for me, because I found the score so beautiful. And the Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations are sensational.
TM: This is the seventh season for Encores! Has it changed for you since it started?
FISHER: Yes. There's been a constant, subtle escalation of production values. Everything is still done cheaply, but it's not as minimal as it once was in terms of sets and costumes. As far as choreography and movement, there's less of people just holding their books and delivering straight out. There are more body microphones, which allows more staging. All of that seems to make the audience happy. It's quite a nice cross-section of people that comes to these shows. And devoted! There's no audience that's better anywhere, for anything.
TM: Has the fact that each Encores! show has become an event changed your role?
FISHER: I'm still there as kind of the score keeper, the keeper of the notes. There is more pressure, because the expectations are greater and the visibility is so high now. People are more careful about saying yes to roles.
TM: I heard that, when Tyne Daly did Call Me Madam, she told all of her actor friends, "Hey, you've got to do one of these; it's so much fun, and not a big time commitment."
FISHER: She was great. She was the first star of that stature to do Encores!, and she's been a great P.R. voice for us.
TM: A lot of people feel that these classic musicals in concert--Encores!, the York Theater's "Musicals in Mufti," and the Mel Miller shows downtown, and series in London, L.A., and Chicago--are so popular because there aren't a lot of good, new shows. Do you agree with that?
FISHER: There are other reasons. People like to be reminded of this way of writing a musical, and of the spirit in which they were written. Whatever the vocabulary is for writing in the year 2000, to be able to write in this spirit is a wonderful thing that, I hope, can still happen.
TM: Meaning, the spirit of optimism?
FISHER: There's an underlying energy of exploration and invention that's so strong in these shows: "Let's try this." In all these shows, it's as if the creators got together and their talent exploded. I hope people can find a way to use that in creating new things. It seems optimistic, I know.
TM: This season, in one form or another, I got to see 70 Girls 70, Dearest Enemy, Ben Franklin in Paris... Are we in danger of running out of shows that deserve to be done again?
FISHER: Not for a while. There is a finite number, but it's a big number.
TM: You can't tell me anything about next season, can you?
FISHER: Not a chance!