To a Land Where the River Runs Free
Douglas Carter Beane directs a starry cast in Free to Be... You and Me for the Drama Dept.
Free to Be... You and Me first came into existence in 1972 as a recording of progressive songs and sketches for children, designed to work against harmful stereotypes related to sex roles, parenting, and other issues. Conceived by Marlo Thomas, the album included performances by everyone from Diana Ross to Carol Channing to Mel Brooks to Harry Belafonte. It was a beloved part of many a child's collection, and a subsequent book and TV special based on the record were also embraced.
"The credits on the album are just amazing," says Douglas Carter Beane, who's directing a stage version of Free to Be... for the Drama Dept. "As a kid, you didn't realize the quality of the people involved: writers and composers like Sheldon Harnick, Mary Rodgers, Peter Stone. And the actors--Robert Morse, Diana Sands, lots of theater people."
The current, three-performance run of Free to Be at Drama Dept.--February 18 and 25, and March 4 at 8 pm--is not the first time that the company has presented the show. "We did it in November," says Beane. "After Rude Entertainment closed, we really didn't have anything else scheduled to be in our theater till June. That was before 9/11 happened. After 9/11, especially downtown, there was a feeling that a lot of people just wanted to go to the theater--to laugh, hang out with each other, and have a good time. We needed a project, so I started to think: freedom... free... Free to Be... You and Me! [The Rodgers & Hammerstein organization] licenses a book musical version of the show based on the original album. It includes an Ed Kleban song from the TV special; it's called 'Hooray for Babies' and it's a real, Broadway-showstopper kind of number."
The cast assembled for this run includes Robert Ari, Mary Bond Davis, Christopher Fitzgerald, Ross Gibby, Julie Halston, Jackie Hoffman, Peter Jacobson, Chip Kidd, Cynthia Nixon, Jessica Stone, B.D. Wong, and others, though not all of these folks will appear in every performance. According to Beane, all of those involved are very high on the project. "Cynthia Nixon, in particular, is a huge Free to Be fan," he notes. "What really interested me when I got the script and listened to the album again was that people roughly our age are the first generation to grow up with this feminist, potentially pro-gay outlook. I think, when you hear the music again or see the show, there's a bittersweet remembrance of what it was like to say those kinds of things for the first time. The first time we did the show, it sold out immediately. The audience loved it. It was a great experience, the best time."