All Over the Map
Romance/Romance in New Jersey, The Winner in Dallas, and The Teapot Scandals in Chicago.
First seen on Broadway in 1988, Romance/Romance is a pair of complementary one-act musicals. The first, based on Arthur Schnitzler's The Little Comedy, concerns two society folk who set out to find meaningful relationships by pretending to be paupers; the second, "Summer Share," is an update of Jules Renard's play Pain de Ménage, about two friends who consider having an affair with each other. The Paper Mill production is directed by Mark Hoebee, with Danette Holden and Mark Ledbetter rounding out the four-person cast.
One of the Bogarts was very familiar with the show before starting rehearsals. "I knew every song," says Jessica. "My mother has a little theater in Chicago, and they did it when I was in college. I remember driving home from school every weekend to see Romance/Romance. It was so intimate and so exciting." As for her husband, "I knew some of the music, but it's pretty fresh for me. I think it will be fun," says Matt. "Jessica and I work very well in tandem, whether as actors or administratively or when we're teaching master classes."
The Bogarts don't know what their next gig will be, but they'll carefully consider whatever offers come their way. "We're trying to be diligent about the pieces we choose," says Matt. "One of the nice things about doing this show at Paper Mill is that it allows us to live at home, instead of just letting our apartment function as a very large mailbox."
"Johnson stole the election," says Flinn. "That's a fact. It's all documented, and very shocking. This was sort of the first political campaign where real money was spent and the media was used. It changed the face of American politics. But the show isn't only about the campaign; it's also a behind-the-scenes look at the love story between Johnson and Lady Bird, the things that happen on the campaign trail, and how all of that affects their relationship."
The Winner has been aborning since 1996. "Joe came to me with the idea," says Flinn. "We did workshops in New York and elsewhere in the late '90s, but then we sort of ran out of steam and put it on the shelf. It's a relatively large show for regional theaters, and it's tough to cast because you need all these rough, Texas-type guys. Then the 2000 election happened, with hanging chads and all that, and it sparked some new interest in the show."
Though the action of the musical takes place long before Johnson became the 36th president of the United States in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Flinn notes that it does contain "some implications as to what's going to happen to him in the future. Act II opens with a nightmare sequence that foreshadows the Vietnam War, and there's a lot about race in the show. Joe was very intrigued that Johnson doesn't really get enough credit for the Civil Rights Act."
Flinn describes The Winner as "Threepenny Opera meets Ragtime, explaining: "There are some Brechtian elements in it. Hopefully, it causes the audience to reflect and think, 'Hey, this kind of thing is happening now.' The show really isn't pro- or anti- LBJ. It's more about what Americans want in our leaders."
The show is set in 1923, two months after Harding has died in office. Mrs. Harding and various politicians decide that the best way to explain to the public the various scandals of his administration -- including those in Harding's personal life, such as a mistress and an illegitimate child -- is to do so through song and dance. "Harding seemed to have been surrounded by an almost Shakespearean array of personalities," says Steinhagen. "That's really what I tried to focus on. The scandals were almost peripheral."
Musically, Steinhagen has attempted to replicate the sounds of the era, with early Jerome Kerr and George Gershwin as specific influences. "The title song is a Charleston, and we have a blues specialty number and a lovely little concert waltz," says the composer. "There's a ukulele number, because Hawaiian tunes were very popular in the day, as well as cake walks, ragtime, and a barbershop quartet. Every scene is set up in some kind of stylized way and requires a different kind of musical pastiche."
While it's inevitable to compare the Harding scandals with those of more recent presidencies, Steinhagen insists that he "didn't want the show to have the benefit of hindsight, with a modern cast saying, 'Isn't this just like Nixon, or Clinton, or Bush?' I wanted to firmly set it in the period, without all these winks and nudges, and let audiences draw their own conclusions."
But you don't have to be a history buff to appreciate Steinhagen's take on events. "One of the reasons I wanted to do this as a musical revue is that it's a way of dumping a load of information on people without making it look like a history lesson," he states. "It's kind of like Schoolhouse Rock for adults."
In addition to The Teapot Scandals, Steinhagen is starring this month as Mack Sennet in Circle Theatre's production of Mack and Mabel. "I think it's helpful for an author to get involved in other aspects of theatrical production," he says. "I've been a music director and arranger for years, and having the acting side of the thing too is fantastic, because you see how material flies and what actors are used to. Doing the daily grind of rehearsing and performing a show is invaluable."