It’s my birthday week! This Sunday, February 28 is not only my birthday but also a slew of Broadway folks, including William Finn. We celebrated his birthday early on Stars In The House with a bunch of folks from his wonderful shows. First, we brought on his earliest collaborators, Mary Testa (whom he met when he worked at her college) and Alison Fraser. Alison sang at a high school show (they went to the same school, but he graduated before her) and he called her afterwards, asking her to work with him. She thought it was a joke phone call because he was such a high school legend! All three wound up moving to NYC at around the same time and Alison and Mary would go over to his apartment and work on music. Soon, they set up a date to present Bill’s songs to various people in the arts, but they didn’t have enough chairs for people to sit. So, Bill went out and borrowed some…from the local synagogue. Seriously! Ira Weitzman from Playwright’s Horizons loved his music and offered him a slot to do a show which became In Trousers. Bill and the gang had an unorthodox rehearsal time: 12-4 AM! Yes! They’d rehearse on 42nd street at midnight and go til 4 in the morning!
We also had Chip Zien on the show and he remembered being fed up with New York because he wasn’t getting any work and deciding to go to L.A. On his way to the airport, he checked in with his agent who told him not to leave New York because there was an audition for a new show that he would love. Chip stayed and auditioned for Bill. When he told Bill that he was going to sing “Jackie” from Jacques Brel, Bill informed him he hated the song. That wasn’t an unusual reaction from Bill. As a matter of fact, a little while later, when Michael Rupert was going to audition for Bill, he met with James Lapine first to find an audition song that Bill wouldn’t hate!
In Trousers gave us so many great songs including Alison’s amazing rendition of "Breaking Down" and Mary’s belting and riffing on the ever-tuneful "Set Those Sails".
Chip went from playing Marvin (the role Michael Rupert then began playing) to Mendel, the psychiatrist and they did March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland together. I asked why Bill added the roles of Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia (“the lesbians from next door”) and Bill said it was so the two women from In Trousers could be in it. I don’t know why Joanna Green couldn’t do it, but Mary had high-paying concert work that conflicted and that’s why Janet Metz and Heather MacRae originated those roles. The loyalty of writing his talented friends roles reminded me of what another musical giant, Thomas Meehan, did back in the 70s. Thomas was the book writer of Annie and the show first played at the Goodspeed Opera House. Kristen Vigard was cast in the title role. Kristen was a sweet girl with a great voice, but it soon became apparent that Annie should be less sweet and more street smart. At the same time: the other orphans would often run the show by themselves for fun and play all the different roles. Mary Travers (from Peter, Paul, and Mary) happened to be at Goodspeed and heard the orphans running the show. And she heard the girl who normally played the tough orphan playing Miss Hannigan. She told the creative team how amazing Andrea McCardle was. They soon decided to give the title role to Andrea and move Kristin to the understudy. Well, after the show moved to Broadway, the creative team began working on a new musical called I Remember Mama. Before it opened on Broadway, there were large adjustments being made. It seemed that in order to make the show better, one of the roles had to be cut. That role was being played by Kristen Vigard. AH! Thomas told me he begged to have the night to work on something. He came back the next day and told everyone that there was no way he was going to devastate this child again. Therefore, he wrote her an entirely new role in order to keep her in the show! That's how much he cared.
Back to William Finn: Norm Lewis talked about A New Brain. He auditioned for the show when it was about to open at Lincoln Center and he got a role, but he wound up taking a gig on All My Children instead. Cut to, the show opened and the guy playing Arthur had some vocal problems. They asked Norm to learn the role for the recording in two days! He said that if you listen to the album, you can hear him turning pages. He then took over the role right around the time I became a sub on the show. I loved hearing his gorgeous voice, especially on what is now considered one of his signature songs.
We also celebrated Andréa Burns’ birthday with a surprise party featuring lots of her Broadway pals, including someone she met as a kid at French Woods, the musical theater summer camp: Jason Robert Brown! Jason was cast as Mr. McAfee in the camp’s production of Bye Bye Birdie and the first girl cast as his wife quit the show, then the next girl quit. Jason hilariously claims he was apparently “so difficult” to play opposite that the girls all gave notice. But, Andréa was quickly jobbed in and they’ve been friends ever since. When his first show was produced, he (and director Daisy Prince) cast Andréa and the show put them both “on the map” as they say. The show was Songs for a New World and Andréa’s breakout song was this.
Jason told such a sweet story: during Songs For A New World he was the main pianist and couldn’t see any of the show. But there was one day during tech where Jason’s assistant played Jason’s part during the song “Christmas Lullaby” and Jason was able to sit in the house and watch. Jason said it was the very first time Jason had ever sat in a theater in New York and heard someone sing one of his songs and it meant the world to him that it was his old pal, Andréa. He said he’s always felt that the beginning of his career as a writer was the moment he was able to sit in the audience and hear Andréa sing his song!
Tonight on Stars In The House is our celebration of the anniversary of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway opening in 1989 and, speaking of Andréa, here’s a recreation of her (failed) audition! Peace out!