It's a little unusual for the composer of an award-winning musical to make substantial changes to the work specifically for a regional production. But that's exactly what Michael John LaChiusa has done with his 1994 show Hello Again, which is being presented by Chicago's Circle Theatre.
The musical's structure, based on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, follows a progression of characters who engage in sexual encounters. Each of the ten scenes is linked by a character from the previous one, with the final scene uniting the first and last characters. "Michael John has been really great," says director/choreographer Kevin Bellie. "He's given us some new rewrites -- and each time it's been a major rewrite. Not that we requested them, but he had some ideas that hadn't come to fruition yet." For example: In the original production, there was a silent movie segment but "now it's sort of a behind-the-scenes, Singing in the Rain look at relationships," explains Bellie. "The actual bulk of the scene is a new song for the character of the Actress and a new intro by the character of the Writer."
LaChiusa's relationship with Circle began with the theater's 2002-2003 season opener, The Wild Party. "We wanted to do the Chicago premiere, but we're a smaller theater and, sometimes, shows hold out for a larger space," says Bellie. "So I thought if I could get a hold of [LaChiusa], I could tell him that I got the idea from his work that his sensibility would fall into place with us." The strategy worked, and the relationship was so productive that Circle wanted to end its season with another LaChiusa musical.
Bellie was particularly attracted to Hello Again. "I love the use of dance as a storytelling element," he says. "Michael John describes [Hello Again] as a ballet, even though there's quite a bit of singing. It's a ballet in its sensibility and has a more heightened theatrical feel to it than most musical theater."
LaChiusa will be coming to Chicago to see the new production. And on Saturday, June 21, he'll participate in a special "champagne brunch" where he'll answer questions about the creation of Hello Again as well as discuss his current projects and the process of getting a musical to Broadway. To RSVP for this free event, patrons should call 708-771-3299, ext. 2.
Best known for playing the wacky Harry Solomon on the TV series Third Rock From the Sun, French Stewart takes on another kooky character in Larry Shue's The Nerd. The actor stars as Rick Steadman in the Colony Theatre Company's production, opening June 7. "Larry Shue has written a terrific comedy of manners gone awry, and to have French Stewart play the title role in this production is a producer's dream come true," says Barbara Beckley, producing director of the L.A.-based theater.
The play centers around ex-G.I. Willum Cubbert, whose life is turned upside down with the unexpected arrival of Rick Steadman, the man who saved his life during the war. As it turns out, Steadman is annoying, socially inept, and well... a nerd. He causes trouble with Willum's boss and wild hijinks ensue as Willum's girlfriend Tansy and roommate Axel get involved in the plot to rid themselves of this bumbling oaf.
Stewart is no stranger to the L.A. theater scene, having previously appeared in critically acclaimed productions of the Cast Theatre's cult hit Zombie Attack (he performed in that show for five years) as well as Party Mix, Intervention, and Pot Mom, the last of which earned him an L.A. Weekly Award.
"It is with great joy and excitement that we open our 2003-2004 season and our second year as an Equity theatre with this wildly funny play," says Beckley. "Our subscribers and audiences are in for a hilarious ride, and it's a wonderful way to start the summer."
They Can Do It!
The image of Rosie the Riveter is iconic. With sleeves rolled up to expose some muscle and the words "We Can Do It!" spelled out in large letters, J. Howard Miller's legendary poster of Rosie captured a unique era in American history when women came out in huge numbers to take blue-collar factory jobs while their male counterparts were fighting overseas during World War II. Julie Jensen's Cheat, presented by the Detroit Repertory Theatre, is set at the very end of this era.
The play revolves around Roxy, a female worker at a munitions factory. She finds fulfillment in her job as well as romance with her co-worker, Reva. However, with the end of the war, everything is about to change. "The G.I.s legally got all the jobs," explains Jensen. "Women were told they didn't have to work anymore, even if they wanted to. Any leeway that they might have had early on was significantly reduced, as was the chance for a woman to have a life as a working person. It was a big cultural shift. From a certain vantage point, it looked as if everything was going to be wonderful. But from a woman's point of view, it was, in fact, awful."
Coupled with this diminution of employment opportunities was a swing towards conservatism that had obvious ramifications for women who had previously found comfort and pleasure in sexual relationships with others of their sex. "As soon as the war was over, the notion of the nuclear family and the cat and the dog in the garage was really pushed at people," says Jensen.
This conservative worldview permeated the era to such an extent that, to this day, some people refuse to believe that real life didn't always conform to that worldview. "We had a reading at a theater in New Jersey, and there was a talkback at the end," says Jensen. "One woman raised her hand and said, 'It's all well and good for you to talk about gay relationships now, but I can tell you because I was there that they did not have lesbians in World War II.'" Jensen laughs. "That doesn't mean that it wasn't going on 50 years ago. It was. We just didn't talk about it."