A journal: Day by day, stepping closer to opening on Broadway

September 21, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Based on an 18th-century French play by Marivaux, the musical "Triumph of Love" is set in ancient Greece, where Princess Leonide falls in love with a young man named Agis. Unfortunately, Agis is heir to a kingdom that was usurped by Leonide's family. Not only that, but Agis has been raised by his philosopher uncle and aunt to favor reason over emotion. Disguised as a man, Leonide insinuates herself into Agis' house, hoping to win his heart.

The author of the musical's book is James Magruder, resident dramaturg at Center Stage. A newcomer to Broadway, Magruder is documenting his debut in a journal, which The Sun is excerpting. This is the second installment of that journal, which he calls, "If It Ain't Broke, You're Not Looking Hard Enough."

Aug. 16

I can't get the tune of "You May Call Me Phocion," the new one, out of my head, which is a good sign. Both music and lyrics, which happened in a day, are delicious, delicate, and give lots of acting possibilities for the Princess and Hesione.

Elayne Boosler out 'til Wednesday. Doing comedy gigs in California. She's now the wild card, what with Betty Buckley in the groove and F. Murray Abraham saying he's having a great time with the show and with Michael Mayer [director]. He insisted we restore Harlequin's old nose joke ("Why the nose you walk around in is bigger than the entire miniature") at his expense -- he said it was irresistible, given the size of his own nose.

Aug. 17

End of the first week. Day ended on a high: seeing the opening number and watching Susan Egan and Betty go to town with their new duet.

In the other room, Koz [Michael Kosarin, music supervisor], Susan Birkenhead [lyricist], and I wrote out a sing/speak reprise of "Emotions" for Murray to perform in Act Two. Comden & Green time -- Koz at the electronic keyboard, Susan at her laptop, me with a sheet of paper, improvising lines into a tape recorder. It grew out of an idea Michael Mayer came up with in his sleep.

Danger is, it all seemed so effortless and right, that it could be terrible. Show psychosis -- everything looks good because things feel in sync.

Aug. 20

Elayne Boosler fun, but tentative. Good instincts, but not a lot of stage training. Susan Birkenhead made the wise decision to exit so she won't be there when Betty and Susan Egan nitpick the lyrics to "You May Call Me Phocion."

Kevin Chamberlin and Roger Bart [who play the servants Dimas and Harlequin] running "Henchmen are Forgotten," our 11 o'clock vaudeville strut with top hats. Doug [Varone, choreographer] has given them some very funny moves. Doug is rediscovering the mixed pleasures of working with actors. Dancers do what you tell them, no questions asked. Actors have a completely different agenda and take nothing at face value. Then Betty and Susan Egan roughed out "You May Call Me Phocion," and it's heavenly -- Marivaux to music. Seeing the two numbers juxtaposed, I think, wow, this show could be something extraordinary if we can just make it through rehearsals.

I'm at a loss to describe the 6: 30 meeting. Arturo Porazzi, production stage manager -- says that Betty Buckley wants to meet with Margo Lion [producer], Michael Mayer, Susan Birkenhead, and me. We sit down. She starts to cry. She announces that she has to have surgery on her back, the result of a spill she took hiking in Vermont the weekend before rehearsals began. She wants to do our show. She has to have this operation. She will be incapacitated for two weeks, and may miss the technical rehearsal. This is not a crisis, not a problem, not a catastrophe, but a cataclysm.

After she leaves, it takes about 15 seconds to reach a decision -- long enough for Michael, Susan, and I to blurt out that we cannot lose Betty under any circumstance.

Aug. 21

A fresh dispatch from Guadalcanal. No sooner do we agree with Betty Buckley to allow her to have surgery a week from next Tuesday than we go to lunch and discuss Elayne. She says she doesn't want to be in "Henchmen" -- can she even dictate that? She doesn't like the number. She isn't exactly resistant doing the scene work with Susan Egan, but she doesn't grab the material by the throat and play her character, Corine, the way she's been conceived and written. She's a natural for it, but she's not committing to it.

Aug. 22

Elayne Boosler withdrew from the show at 11: 15 this morning. "Artistic differences" will be cited. She isn't interested in playing this kind of slightly off-color sidekick. Elayne said she didn't like the rehearsal atmosphere.

We decided to hire Nancy Opel, the understudy/standby for both Betty and Elayne, who we always wanted for Corine. She's been sitting on the sidelines chomping at the bit watching the mangle and wrangle. When they brought Nancy in, she let out whoops of joy we could hear.

Aug. 23

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