Rising from tears to 'Triumph' Journal: The final installment from the musical's book writer, James Magruder, as the show opens on Broadway

Baltimore to Broadway

November 02, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck

The musical "Triumph of Love" opened on Broadway Oct. 23 to mostly glowing reviews. (The notable exception was the New York Times.) A nonmusical version of the show -- based on an 18th-century French comedy by Pierre Marivaux -- originated in 1993 at Center Stage, with a translation by the theater's resident dramaturg, James Magruder. Last winter Center Stage premiered the musical, which has a book by Magruder.

A newcomer to Broadway, Magruder has documented his debut in a journal, which he calls, "If It Ain't Broke, You're Not Looking Hard Enough," and which The Sun has been excerpting. Before the first installment, Magruder told The Sun: "I'm just naturally not an optimist. [The show] never opens until it opens."

Now the opening has come to pass, and today's final installment traces the musical's progress from preview performances through that fateful night.

Oct. 6

"Clarify" and "tighten" -- buzzwords of the week.

We're all of us too grouchy/exhausted/sick to notice that we're not in the terrible position of having a show that doesn't work, that audiences don't follow or care about, or laugh at, that we don't know how to fix. We are in great shape. No one has insisted that we write a new song. No play doctors have been called in. Nobody is writing jokes on little slips of paper to go in every night.

My agent said there's already interest from Japan, Germany and Scandinavia. Producer Margo Lion says Britain is on her case. I like having the Royale as my playground. Broadway theaters have always been so temple-like. I get a charge marching through the stage-right door and blasting through the curtains into the filling house, letting the customers know I am on the inside.

Oct. 8

I turned 37 at Sam's [a popular theater-district restaurant] at a frazzled post-mortem after a slower-than-molasses-in-January preview. Jack Viertel, the show's quasi-official dramaturg, giving notes; everyone shrieking about how the opening has to change. The catch, as far as I can follow the argument, is that audiences don't want to get information in dialogue, but they don't listen to lyrics either -- so how do we start the show?

What did work tonight was the girls [Susan Egan and Nancy Opel] entering from the trap door over the orchestra pit despite my inability to deliver a satisfactory first line. Director Michael Mayer too tired to be despondent; he and I just listened to everyone else's harebrained schemes to set up the show.

I feel chipped away. Or, as Hermia says in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "I am amaz'd and know not what to say." It did strike me as important -- maybe for the first time -- that I am keeping this journal. I'll need an accurate chronicle of just when and how I stopped caring enough about "Triumph of Love" to fight for what I believed in. When I detached or when I lost my mind. No one willing to believe show is working. Back to rewriting tomorrow.

Oct. 9

Early a.m. My birthday over. Maybe one of the worst ever. I gave Michael Mayer my rewrites for the girls at the top of the show and he said it was too long and I felt rejected and unappreciated and I about started to cry right there. I said to Susan Birkenhead [lyricist] and Michael that I couldn't have dinner with them, I was too depressed and teary, and so I walked across 46th and up Ninth avenue crying all the way.

Back at the Royale I avoided my other collaborators, wanting to punish Margo for making me feel that our show was in big trouble. After a lackluster show with a wonky audience, I slipped out to meet friends at Joe Allen's [another theater-district restaurant] -- too embarrassed to be seen needing attention on my birthday.

So, just as I am running my collaborators down to my dinner companions, Margo Lion and Susan Birkenhead burst in with a gift from the company that Michael Mayer later tells me he was almost going to present to me from the stage after curtain call, with Betty Buckley leading the singing of "Happy Birthday."

I felt bad for making them hunt me down even as I was glad they took the trouble to hunt me down.

Oct. 10

Betty Buckley pretty great on Rosie O'Donnell this morning. Sadly, her interview time was cut short because a 92-year old woman with a recipe for chocolate truffles turned into a demented time hog during her cooking demonstration. Even Rosie got tired of her. We were worried Betty would be singing "Serenity" while the closing credits rolled, but she was up next and killed with the song.

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