Well, dear readers, I do believe we had our very first rehearsal for Levi yesterday and the journey has begun. Actually, for me it began late last year when Richard Sherman brought me the demo CD and the script and asked me to read and listen and if there was any way there could be a reading of the show, as the authors had never had one and really would have a dream come true to hear their baby out loud. I said that no matter what I would absolutely put together a reading of it for Richard and book writer Larry Cohen. Then I read it. And I could see there was a really good show buried in the script and score if it could be excavated. The story of Levi Strauss coming to America as an immigrant and finding success in business (and massive success at that) while never finding success in his personal life, and trying to protect his Chinese workers from the horrid racism in San Francisco at that time in our history, well, it was dramatic and compelling and yet told with a great deal of humor. I made notes all over the script, sometimes so many that you couldn’t actually see what was on the page anymore. I discussed some with Richard and he agreed with everything, and so we set up a meeting with Larry, a lunch at Jerry’s. I was very strong about the work that needed to be done – I felt the entire opening of the show was in the wrong order, that one part of it had to go away completely, and that other parts of the script were simply too unwieldy to be done on the stage, and that I had to get the cast size cut down, rearrange scenes, lose scenes that weren’t germane and that we’d add scenes where they were needed. They were both very high on getting it done, and at that point I told them that I was willing to cancel what I was originally going to direct at LACC (Bells Are Ringing) and do a full production of Levi. The look on their faces was priceless.
Well, months went by – I said I’d get all my notes to them, but never found the time to type them up. I finally sent some general notes to Larry and never heard back. Richard kept telling me I should just make the changes, but that felt weird to me, but one morning after he’d spoken to Larry about it, Larry called me and told me I had his blessing and complete support to just do whatever I felt was necessary. And so, I sat down and did a complete revision of the script, start to finish. I spent a lot of time getting the opening right – that was absolutely key, and then it was just smoothing things out, especially the ins and outs of scenes, cutting stuff that wasn’t working, adding material where necessary – all throughout the script. Whenever I wrote new material, and in certain places that was substantial, I did my best to write in Larry’s voice, because a lot of what he wrote was just wonderful and had a distinct rhythm and sound. I felt really good about it, and I let Richard read it and he absolutely loved it.
Then we did a private reading at my house and that evening was amazing – the whole show just played wonderfully. So many laughs and tears, even in a cold reading. I sang the songs with Richard Allen at the piano, and Richard Sherman would join in frequently. Even for that reading, I’d already done some substantial arrangement work on the score. The stuff we hadn’t worked on score-wise would definitely need addressing, especially after I heard it all at the reading. I then smoothed a few more things out, and one scene in act two I felt was crying out for a song – the final line of the scene was a perfect song title, I felt the character needed a second act number, and it solved a problem getting our leading man from one scene to another, which would have been impossible the way it was written. And I felt the opening of act two was not right in terms of musical energy. They’d written a very slow song for the miners, like an aren’t we tired from all this mining song along with their woes and their endless hopes of hitting pay dirt. So, I addressed that by making the entire number up-tempo and energetic and fun. That fixed that. I thought about the missing song and I finally just sat down and wrote a lyric that said what needed to be said for that character, using the final line of the scene as the song title – So Many Empty Rooms. I sent the lyric to Richard Sherman, and literally two or three hours later he called and played it for me over the phone and it was just beautiful and perfect for the scene. So we had our new song.
And now we’ve begun rehearsals. Because 90% of the students have not really done musicals or been part of that process, the beginning of rehearsal was rough. But boy were they giving it their all and Richard Allen was tough but good with them. The idea was to do all the group numbers, of which there aren’t that many. When I felt they’d learned the opening well enough, they went on to the finale and then I got up and began doing the detail work on phrasing, cut-offs, intention, and literally within minutes they were singing loudly and well, getting all the timing things and they all seemed to be having a great time. We now have five guest artists in the show, four of whom were with us and two of whom are kids. Our leading man doesn’t show up till Monday. We went back to the opening number, which is not easy and involves a huge counterpoint section, but I am very patient and just went phrase by phrase until they knew the phrase and only then would we go on. And by the end of that they sang it perfectly. Kind of amazing, really. I felt the energy in the room was good and I’m looking forward to more of the same today. It was just a wonderful first rehearsal.
Prior to that I’d gotten seven hours of sleep, got up, shaved and showered, and then was on my way first to Doug Haverty to drop off some materials to him, and then to a noon-fifteen meeting of some importance. This is something I’ve been nudging along for a year now, and hopefully it will now begin progressing rapidly. I can’t really talk about it, but it will be a wonderful thing if we can get it together. I had a little Eyetalian sandwich of ham, salami, cheese, and Eyetalian dressing and a small salad for my meal.
Then I picked up a package, came home, did a few things here, and then headed over to LACC for a meeting and then the rest you know. After rehearsal, I came right home, made myself a burger for my snack, and then caught up on all manner of things.
Today, I’ll be seeing Grant Geissman in the morning, then I think we have a Robert Yacko rehearsal at one that either has to move earlier or that I can’t do, as I have a production meeting at LACC at two that I can’t miss. After that meeting, I’ll go grab a quick bite to eat at some nearby eatery, then at five we have our second rehearsal. I’ve called everyone but the kids – we’ll review, and then I’ll let some people go and we’ll work on the smaller group and solo numbers and get as far as we can.
Tomorrow is more of the same – rehearsal begins an hour earlier and we’ll be through by seven. The weekend is figuring out the Kritzerland show order and writing that commentary, as well as writing the second set of liner notes.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, see Grant Geissman, perhaps have a rehearsal, have a production meeting, and have our second rehearsal. Today’s topic of discussion: What are your favorite Eyetalian dishes – especially ones you like to make and do feel free to share recipes – we haven’t done that in ages. Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, happy to have begun our Levi journey and equally happy that we had a great first rehearsal.