Soup, Two Nuts
Today’s forecast for our production of STONE SOUP is … mild concern.
Oh, the show is looking pretty good, I guess. But, well …
Tech day was Monday, and that day should really be about, well, tech. We should be able to stop worrying about actors for a moment and focus on the tech aspects, which, on this show, aren’t insignificant.
But still, I’m seeing actors forgetting blocking, screwing up moments David has given them notes about two or three times, lacking commitment, etc. In a couple of places, they’re still “playing the roles” instead of really playing the roles. But most of all … it’s just slow.
And that is the one thing this play cannot be. This needs to move at a breakneck pace. The second act, in particular is susceptible. That’s the big court scene. I knew that was a risk, having a scene about debate and such in a performance space where characters’ differences are usually settled via pie fight. But it could work if it goes blazingly fast.
Actors are never fast enough for me, I know. And it’s a failing on my part when I complain that they aren’t speaking quickly enough. There are any number of reasons why you shouldn’t talk too fast. But it’s the cues, the spaces between the lines that are killing us. Look at it this way … there are probably 300-400 lines of dialogue in this play. Suppose there were a one-second pause between every one. That’s five or six whole minutes of time. This play should only be an hour, including fifteen minutes for intermission. Five or six minutes could KILL you.
So, I have a lot to worry about. Oh, I think the show will be fine … should definitely be in shape by opening day.
But I worry. And I probably worry more because I’m powerless. All I can do is relate y concerns to David … he’s the director. I’m just a kibitzing playwright.
And, look, David is doing a great job. He’s perfectly tuned to direct my work. And he feels the same frustrations I do … just how many times can you tell actors to do it faster, louder … better?
But, like I said, I think we’re okay. I doubt this will top EMPEROR, but it should be a damn fine morning of theatre.
I want to talk briefly about the songs. David and I don’t really have a foolproof system for how to unify song and script yet, and this is our fourth time doing this. Working 200 miles apart doesn’t help.
On BREMEN TOWN MUSICIANS, I wrote the script and David and I chatted a few times about what songs would go where, so I knew where to put the holes for the songs. But I don’t think I heard the songs until rehearsals, and David didn’t write two that I had thought he would (I can’t recall if I knew this before I handed in the script).
With PIPER, David had all the songs except the finale worked out a few weeks ahead of time, so I was able to tweak the script pretty well to accommodate them -- working bits of expository dialogue into breaks between lyrics, creating more-or-less seamless lead-ins, etc. EMPEROR was like that, though we had the weird experience of working with a script I had written five years earlier that was just now being musicalized. David gave me the songs (which he more or less chose, as to which bits of dialogue to replace with music) on the Friday before we started rehearsals (I had been in Paris) and I had that one, jetlagged weekend to kit-bash the script to fit them in.
Somehow, this time we went back to the BREMEN method. I don’t know how that happened either. I wrote the script, with suggestions for where and what the songs should be. I assured David that these were all negotiable, and if he wanted to cut songs, create ones I hadn’t suggested, etc., it was all cool. But he seemed to like my ideas and wrote exactly the songs I suggested … sort of.
See, he put songs in the places I left room for them, but for the most part, they weren’t quite the songs I had expected.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re, to a song, as good or far, far better than the very loose ideas I had in mind. But it does go to show the peculiar places where David’s and my mind, usually quite compatible, diverge.
It’s like last year when I suggested a “veterinary love song” for the two juveniles in EMPEROR. I was thinking of a sweet, pun-filled flirtation song, kinda like the tennis song in CITY OF ANGELS. You know, plays on names of animals, veterinary terms (you know, all those veterinary terms we use all the time …), etc. Instead, David wrote a fun, silly song called “I Want to be a Vet,” with lines like “Like a band needs a majorette/I want to be a vet.”
This year’s songs …
“Here We Are” -- The baseline David and I started with was On the Town, so he and I both figured this would be "New York, New York." Problem is, that song already exists and it's not at all like what David writes. Then, in writing the lead-up to it, I somehow wound up writing it so that two of the soldiers think thw town is boring and one wants to give it a try and uses the song to convince the others. So I thought it would have lyrics about how great the town could be, in a small town way: "Maybe they invented the clothespin" and stuff.
But David made it a more personal song for the one soldier to sing, and since he's the country boy, he made it a hoedown. A very fun one, too.
"Stone Soup" -- Some day I will stop rewriting THE MUSIC MAN. Basically, that's been the last three musicals. Whoops. This is the song where Sarge pitches the Stone Soup idea to the town. I thought it would be "76 Trombones." Like, it's the three soldiers singing about how great Stone Soup is, about how their moms made it for them as kids, etc (Amanda thought it should have lyrics about all the other ingredients you add, but I think that's tipping our hand). David went a little deeper though and made it about the larger goal of the soup, to make everyone in town come together. Quite a pretty song (though it has no ending) and certainly effective.
"It Isn't Food Unless It's French" -- I threw a song into the middle of act one to cover a costume change. Really, that's why it's there. I figured the French chef character could sing a little quick number about ... I dunno, food. Or we could cut it. But David had this title in his head from the beginning and really wanted to write one. He tried to capture a French sound and it wasn't coming, so the song turned into this rocking cajun dance number for our chorus of children. Very fun.
"Love Song" -- Okay, that's a little generic, but there's no real chorus, other than "ooh" so what you gonna do. David joked early on that he wanted to write a sextet love song. But I took him at his word and wrote one for all three couples to sing to each other. David handled this one really cleverly and wrote underscoring that allows the actors to start singing pretty much at any time, so he could interweave my dialogue and his music. The result is really lovely, and, luckily, short, so we can get back to the wackiness quickly. This has the "you're the words to my favorite song" lyric, which as I said, I love. The part Sarge sings ("I've been where/Even brave men get very scared/I was a fool in a corner chair/It was you who kept me safe") is a little weird -- it sounds like something you'd say to a long-term lover rather than someone you just met. I think I'll add some dialogue for future performances and publications ... something about how Sarge stayed alive during the war by imagining someone he could come home to, and now he's met her.
"Chase" -- I got a little overambitious with the end of act one. I imagined a song that would start with the townfolk singing about how much they anticpated the soup, then turned into a chase when all hell broke loose, then turned back into a song for the act one finale, now baout how disappointed they were in Sarge and the gang. I knew it was a tall order, and ... well, it didn't happen. But that's cool. It works well the way we have it, with it sounding like we'll reprise "Stone Soup" then some really great chase music comes in. Great act finale.
"Stone Throw Jail" -- I think that's what it's called. I forget. This is the only song that is pretty much exactly what I expected. My only request was that it should be "Like the act-two opener in HAIRSPRAY, except not so lame." David thinks he ripped off "Jailhouse Rock" and, yeah, he did, but it's a really great, energetic song. The only problem is, I didn't write "real" dialogue to lead into it, and what David has placed there seems ... well, sounds like it was invented in rehearsal. Also, I think the staging is a little frantic. But the song itself is great.
Elty's Song -- This is, by far, the least motivated song I have ever dropped into a show. Lt. Elty just says "I want to sing a song about how awesome I am." And David wrote some truly wonderfully awful lyrics "I am the singer of this song/It's not too short, it's not too long." Our actress is great, but not a singer, and takes fulls advantage of how ridiculous she sounds singing. Again, I think staging is a little weird, until we get Secondcop on to dance ... and he can really dance.
"You Gotta Believe" -- Well, I knew enough not to tell David Nields how to write a finale. As always, he knocked it out of the park, and timed it with the dialogue perfectly.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Soup, Two Nuts