Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell tell what it's like to more or less play themselves in [title of show].
The kicker is that Heidi and Susan are playing themselves, more or less. As [title of show]'s many fans will gladly tell you, the show first came into being when composer-lyricist Jeff Bowen and book writer Hunter Bell decided to submit a script and score to the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). The problem was that, with the deadline for submission three weeks away, they were empty of inspiration -- so, necessity being the mother that she is, they decided to write a musical about writing a musical. Soon added to the project were Susan, who had worked with Jeff and Hunter some years ago at PS 122; and Heidi, who met Jeff when they were both in a tour of The Who's Tommy.
Given the concept, it was only natural that Jeff and Hunter and Susan and Heidi would play themselves when [title of show] was chosen for inclusion in the festival. Directed and choreographed by Michael Berresse, it created quite a stir and went on to a very successful run at the Vineyard Theatre earlier this year. Now, it's back at the Vineyard for an eight-week return engagement, by popular demand. (Really!) Because Jeff and Hunter dreamed up the whole thing and did almost all of the writing, they've received the lion's share of publicity attendant to the show; so we at TheaterMania thought it would be interesting to discover a few things about who the hell Heidi and Susan are and to speak with them about their meta-theatrical experience.
THEATERMANIA: It's great to have the show back again, and I'm happy to see that you're still getting some good press.
SUSAN: We had an interesting interview a few days ago. We had to make stuff up. (looks at reporter's digital recorder) That's the tiniest recorder I've ever seen.
TM: Thanks. Are you guys still blogging on the website, www.titleofshow.com?
SUSAN: Yes. We try not to be weird. We don't air our dirty laundry.
HEIDI: Anything that's relevant to the show, we blog about. But sometimes, it's: "I saw Superman, and Susan and I are having a fight about who likes Brandon Routh more."
TM: Can you each give us a few words about what it's like to play yourself in a musical?
HEIDI: Well, I was the last to join the family. In the show, I talk about the fact that, for the first time, I am the mold of the character; I don't have to fit someone else's mold. Susan and I were at the understudy auditions, and it was so bizarre watching people audition to play us.
TM: Have any of the understudies gone on yet?
HEIDI: No. We've only had them for a few days.
SUSAN: I don't think we were required to have them before this run, but now we're on a different contract.
TM: Since you're all playing yourselves, sort of, do you feel that the show could work with none of you guys in the cast?
SUSAN: I think we've all come to the realization that this is a crafted book musical. There has been speculation in the world as to whether other people could play these roles. Some have questioned if the characters and themes are universal enough for the show to be done with other actors. My vote is "yes." It was humbling to watch those understudy auditions and think, "Wow! That person can play me as well as or better than me."
HEIDI: I hope the show will be done with many different Heidis, Susans, Jeffs, and Hunters. The characters are modeled on us, but they're exaggerations of our traits.
SUSAN: One of the great things about this show is that we didn't have to write extensive character studies of ourselves.
HEIDI: Right! We didn't have to do that Graciela Daniele thing and make up back stories for our lives. We didn't have to write about what happened on some fictional person's fourth birthday.
TM: I love the new glossary that's being handed out to the audience.
SUSAN & HEIDI: The [tos]sary!
TM: Yes. It's well designed and helpful, but also very funny. Before you had it, did you sense that a lot of the references in the show were going over people's heads?
SUSAN: I would say the number one question people had was, "Who is Mary Stout?"
HEIDI: My mom loved the show, but she said, "I don't know who any of those people are who you were talking about!" So it's nice to have that little booklet to give to my mom and dad. There is some profanity in there -- but I figure if they can watch me take my shirt off on stage, they can read the [tos]sary.
TM: So much of the material in [title of show] is based very closely on real life occurrences, yet I don't think we can assume that every word is true. I'm wondering in particular about the sequence where it's hinted that Heidi might be replaced by another actress.
HEIDI: There are certainly seeds of truth in that, but the exact episode is conflated. It's the same with the "awkward photo shoot" scene. We did have a photo shoot and it was awkward, but there was no yelling and no crying.
TM: At one point, Hunter reads a nasty post about the show that someone supposedly made on talkinbroadway.com's "All That Chat." Is it verbatim?
SUSAN: (looks at Heidi) It's based on a real post, but there was some seasoning added.
HEIDI: I think the scene where Hunter goes bananas is completely real. Every creative person has a moment when someone gives them negative feedback and they want to tell that someone to suck it. We don't often get that opportunity in real life; we have to be gracious.
SUSAN: I have a stage-fright vampire that frequently beats its leathery wings against my head. It's alleviated in this show because I'm working with people I really trust. Oh, and I have a singing vampire. We sang at a fancy benefit the other night with all these Broadway babies, and I had an adult diaper moment.
HEIDI: I also have a stage fright vampire. Certainly, [title of show] has been great medicine, because we talk about that stuff.
TM: When I saw the show again the other night, I noticed some tiny changes. There are references to Lestat and Legally Blonde that weren't there before. I also hear that you may be putting in one or two new "phone messages" from Broadway stars, like the ones you already have from Victoria Clark, Marin Mazzie, and so on. Can you give our readers the scoop?
SUSAN: She's the Queen Bee!