Production: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (Working In The Theatre #332)

Production: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (Working In The Theatre #332)


Thank you very much, and welcome to the seminar. This is one of the Production seminars, and
the show that we’re going to be talking about today is called DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. I’d like to introduce the panel. From my right, Jerry Mitchell, the choreographer. (APPLAUSE) Norbert Leo Butz, one of the stars. (APPLAUSE) David Yazbek, composer-lyricist. (APPLAUSE) That’s Broadway’s David Yazbek! With his Broadway hat. Broadway’s Jeffrey Lane, the librettist. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL; APPLAUSE) Broadway’s
darling, Sherie René Scott, star. (APPLAUSE) Yeah! And director Jack O’Brien. (APPLAUSE) Now I thought I’d begin, for
the loyal Theatre Wing supporters and people who like watching these seminars, lest you
think that a play called DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is a recently unearthed Eugene O’Neill play
about teamsters and longshoremen (LAUGHTER), we would start by looking at a little clip
of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, which I think will give us an idea of what it is that we’re
dealing with. So let’s watch the clip of DIRTY ROTTEN
SCOUNDRELS. A dirty rotten guy like you! Almost a religion! The need to take a pigeon
And to play the part with elegance and zest! But when it’s time to fold the act,
And your duffle bag is packed, Take comfort in the fact
That you’ve been workin’ with the best! It was a blast! It was a ball! It was a gas! I loved it all! ‘Cause I was hanging with the man, and that’s
a blast (PH) Oh, Freddy! You’ve got the verve! You’ve got the guts! You’ve got the nerve! You’ve got the nuts! I guess we’re dirty rotten, Dirty rotten
Dirty rotten Oh! It was a trip! It was a bust! It was a shame! It was a bust! (PH)
But it was almost too religious (PH) to discuss! Till we got screwed for fifty grand I think we still deserve a hand! Dirty rotten scoundrels like us! (MUSIC; APPLAUSE) Norbert Leo Butz and John Lithgow, the co-star
in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. As you can see from the clip, it’s not what
I described earlier. It’s a musical comedy about two con men
on the Riviera. And I thought that we would start by asking
how this got started? I looked at the Playbill before coming here
and I realized that, sometimes, as you know, musicals start with the producers and I doubt
that either David Belasco or Florenz Ziegfeld, both of whom are listed as producers, are
the ones who called somebody up and said, “Let’s do this.” But I figured, somewhere between these two
guys is where it started. David? Well, I had wanted to do a musical as a Eugene
O’Neill play about longshoremen. (LAUGHTER) It got confused! Couldn’t get the rights. (LAUGHTER) I was watching television – watching
television, and it was – you know how you’ll have one channel showing the same movie for
a week, over and over again? So it was the DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS channel. I said, “Oh, I’ll watch it. I remember liking it.” And I watched it, and I thought, “This could
make a musical. The setting, and the highbrow/lowbrow, you
know, the characters. And the movie was just flawed enough to make
me feel like it would be really fun to work on it and just try to get into it. And my agent called MGM, who was very excited
about the idea of a musical version of it. And as soon as they said, “Yes, yes!” I just shut down and (LAUGHS) didn’t call
‘em back for a long time, because it would have meant working. (LAUGHTER) It does mean that! So, but about six months, eight months later,
we got a call from MGM and they said, “There’s this guy, Jeffrey Lane, he’s a TV writer,
and he’s been asking about it. And you know, are you still interested? Because – ” And we all, depending on who
you speak to, whether David Belasco or MGM or my agent, somehow somewhere we all said,
“Well, let’s have the two of us meet.” And – I mean, you take it from there. When you called – you also contacted MGM? Yeah, I had actually contacted [them]. They had a list of properties they were looking
to license, and I still have the list. It has THE EXORCIST on it (LAUGHTER) which,
the turntable possibilities are endless. (LAUGHTER) Turntable within turntables! But it had DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, where
it had the little checkmark next to it. And I just thought, “Yeah, this – ” Con
men have always fascinated me. And I just thought, “This could be really
cool.” I met with them. They said, “Who do you think, you know,
would be a good composer for this?” And I said, “Well, David Yazbek.” Not knowing David, just knowing from FULL
MONTY. And they said, “Well, he had actually called
and then never called back.” So we met in New York. We had lunch. We lived three blocks apart from each other
for about twenty years, until we started working together, and then David moved upstate (LAUGHTER),
which I don’t take personally! But we sat down and talked, and I had worked
out an outline. And we just started to feel like we wanted
to do the same show. And when it got to the point where I said,
“You know, I think there should be a song here called ‘Love is my legs, and you are
my love, so you are my legs,’” and David said, “My love.” (LAUGHTER) And we knew, “Okay, this’ll
work.” (LAUGHTER) “We can find a middle ground.” Exactly. I should point out that MGM On Stage, which
owns these rights – Right. There are two people who run it, Darcie Denkert
and Dean Stolber, [who} are very open to this kind of [thing]. Yeah, they were great. I mean, for years they’ve been trying to
encourage this. And of course, piece of trivia, do you know
who Dean Stolber was? He was Harvey Johnson in BYE BYE BIRDIE! Those of you who grew up with your BYE BYE
BIRDIE cast albums, he’s Harvey Johnson. So you guys started. Was there a producer? Was there a director? Or just – We met with several producers, one of whom
sat down to lunch with us (DAVID LAUGHS) and before we said anything, said, “You know,
I have a problem with this. They’re scoundrels!” And I said, “Yeah. In fact, they’re dirty rotten scoundrels!” (LAUGHTER) And David suddenly remembered he
had to pick up his son from school (LAUGHTER), and I had to go through the rest of the lunch! You still haven’t forgiven me for that! No, I haven’t. And I won’t! Oh, in the next show, you’ll get over it! And then we met with David Brown and Marty
Bell, and they were really enthusiastic. And again, it’s finding people who want
to do the same show, and they seemed to want to do the same show we did. Yeah. They asked all the right questions, too, I
think. And we just left there saying, you know, “There’s
no substitute for that kind of enthusiasm and that kind of focus.” And one assumes that, obviously, the genre
you were going into was musical comedy, for lack of a better term. But it certainly seems that in the last few
years Broadway has become more hospitable to musical comedy. I mean, did you sort of say, “Okay, you
know, let’s go full out and make it as silly and funny as possible?” I don’t know. We just kind of started writing it. I don’t know if we thought that much. You know, we’re not – (LAUGHS) Well, you know, I think we’re both comedy
writers and we both have sort of a Spy-D (PH?) sense, you know, for what we can play with
and make funny, and you know, that’s part of it. But I just want to continue the process here. Yeah. And you know, in our minds, from the very
beginning, we sort of had our fingers crossed that Jack O’Brien might honor us (LAUGHS)
with his directorial – Oh, brother! (LAUGHTER) You know, I’m trying to be someone I’m
not! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But we really were
hoping that Jack and Jerry would do it with us. Because you had done FULL MONTY together,
right? Yeah, Jack, Jerry and I had done FULL MONTY
with Terrence McNally, and it was a great experience. And talk about, you know, what opened the
door for musical comedy on Broadway, I think that show, and then, of course, a little show
called THE PRODUCERS (LAUGHS) in the same season! (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) Oh, yeah! Right, there was that show. Yeah, sort of got that going. And I don’t even remember when we came to
Jack and Jerry with it. Well, there’s a little hook left over, because
in the tsunami that was THE PRODUCERS’ year, and we had also done FULL MONTY and were proud
of it and thought it was terrific. And we were thrilled about David, because
we had actually sort of birthed his process, through the intercession of his friend Adam
Guettel. We got his name, I called him on the telephone,
I said, (LAUGHS) “Do you want to do a musical?” And of course, he sort of did. And then he sent some material. We had his albums, which we found wildly theatrical
and kind of original and fun. And he submitted some songs that went straight
into the show. But in that year, when PRODUCERS did overwhelm
everything, it was harsh, to say the least. Not that we didn’t love THE PRODUCERS. We all thought it was great. But it’s tough when you think there’s
only one show in town, and that usually isn’t the case. And amongst the grievances that I felt, and
there were several – I, notwithstanding – was David, whose score was sort of passed
over that year. And we were sort of concerned about it, because
we thought, “Gee, this is his maiden voyage. Will he (LAUGHS) ever recover from this blow? And if he does ” – and we said this, Jerry
and I said this, you know – “If you’ve got another show, we’re here for you. Let’s get up on the horse and do it again.” So I don’t remember how it came, either. I think you had already worked on a script
– you guys already pretty much had a script. You’d asked us to do it, but then you went
ahead and wrote it. We wrote it together. And we met at Jack’s apartment and read
the script. Right. And you played us two songs at that time,
I think it was, “Give ‘Em What You Want” and “Nothing Is Too Wonderful.” Oh, really? Those were the first two? I think they were. And “Great Big Stuff,” I think, also. “Great Big Stuff,” yeah. “Great Big Stuff” was in it, yeah. I remember “Nothing Is Too Wonderful,”
because I just – I remember so clearly! (LAUGHTER) I just do! Well, I wanted to ask – this is probably
the wrong – you know, an impolite question to ask a composer, but it seems to me that
it sort of wanders with great affection over several decades of kind of movie music and
pop music. Did you think, specifically, “Oh, I’ll
write a Henry Mancini song,” or “Oh, I’ll write this song” or did you just write what
came to you? Usually, it’s sort of – you know, I wish
I could remember how I write stuff! (LAUGHS) I mean, because sometimes I’ll
be writing something and it’ll be going really well, and I’ll think, “Just make
a mental note and remember how you’re doing this!” And I think, for the most part, it’s whatever
feels right and whatever comes to mind. Every now and then, like with “Love Is My
Legs, and You Are My Love, So You Are My Legs, My Love,” sung by these two, you sort of
know that you’re spoofing, like, maybe a David Foster pop song, a Celine Dion kind
of thing. And so, it suggests where you’re going. This show, probably there was a little bit
more of that than with FULL MONTY, because you know, I really wanted to attempt to pay
homage to the Gershwins and to Noel Coward, and you can hear that in the show. Right. But I think you’ve just got to – my mother
always used to say, and still says, “Make sure you have a broad frame a reference.” And I do, musically. About what was your mother speaking? Tell me about it! (LAUGHTER) She was talking about sex! (LAUGHTER) You know. I wondered! But I’m talking about music, and I do have
a [broad frame of reference]. There’s all kinds of garbage floating around,
and who knows what’s going to float to the surface, like the hand at the end of DELIVERANCE,
and then become a song. Right! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, that’s an idea. There’s another musical, DELIVERANCE. However, I remember when I listened to the
CD that you gave us, and on it was her lyric, “How It Paints a Silver Ribbon on the Waves,”
which I found particularly affecting and, if I may say so, un-Yasbekian (LAUGHTER) or
dis-ray (PH) Yasbekian. (LAUGHTER) Because this – you, in blue-collar
Buffalo, with THE FULL MONTY, with all the grit and all the edge that that music has,
made a kind of sense. You seemed completely at home in the genre. You seemed to know much more, in a sense,
than we did, about where it was going. In this case, you on the Riviera in a white
tux, (LAUGHTER) right away I’m laughing, do you know what I mean? Yeah! (LAUGHTER) And plus the fact that I felt so completely
that you were going into sort of dangerous territory, a much wider spectrum than almost
anybody I know, and nailing ‘em all along the way! That’s what I think is, again, so much fun
about the score. And when the album reaches its apotheosis,
as we know it will, people are going to get into that, because the styles are wildly divergent,
and they’re all fresh and apt. I just have to tell you one thing my dad told
me. Good God! (LAUGHTER) Like, two or three weeks ago. He said I was – some of his friends were
at his apartment, and I was saying something about remembering my parents banging on my
door to turn my stereo down when I was listening to Black Sabbath. (JEFFREY LAUGHS) And my dad said, “Yes,
but I also banged on your door to turn the stereo down when you were listening to ‘Bobby
Short Is Crazy for Gershwin.’” (LAUGHTER) Same – And it’s all there! And it’s all there. I want to talk about, for a second, a song
in the show that was added very, very late, which is the eleven o’clock number. It’s called “Dirty Rotten Number,” right? Right. The one we just saw? Yeah, it’s the one that was on the clip. Which to me, is the Yasbekian – And this was, if I’m correct, ‘cause I
got the same demo that everyone got, and we did – we went into rehearsals and rehearsed
a month. And you guys kept saying, “We need a tune
for John and I to sing, the two, you know, anti-heroes to sing, to sort of celebrate
this journey that they had been through together.” And I’ve gotten to sing a lot of great music
on stage. I’ve gotten to sing a lot of great composers’
works, but I have never ever been more rewarded by a piece of music, by performing a piece
of music on a stage. I mean, what – to watch – it’s a wonderful
moment in that moment every night where John and I connect on a very very deep level in
that song. It’s a fun song, but there’s a lot going
on under that song, dramatically and emotionally! And the audience is caught up in it. We’ve had to – you know, we talk about
adding a refrain to it, because sometimes the ovations go on for a full minute. A couple times, they’ve stood up. I mean, I’ve never had that experience before! And this came really really late. And I remember (LAUGHS), this was – I was
so – you know, I’m not a writer. (DAVID LAUGHS) And you know, I’m a journal
writer, and I know how private that is. But you had to come up with that tune. And I remember we were in San Diego, and you
had to present it to us. Like, they were harping at you, “We gotta
get this song! We gotta get this song!” (JACK LAUGHS) And you were – was it a writer’s
block? I don’t know what it was, or if you were
just afraid of it, but we were all out in the green room area, and you had to do this
presentation in like a couple hours. And I can remember you playing the chords
and singing along with it, “I had a ball – ” (SCREAMS) “Oh, I don’t know this,
how to write!” (LAUGHTER) And then you would throw things. And you were alone in that room. It was – I thought I was alone in that room! (LAUGHTER) I’ve had two children, and it was in the
same ballpark as sort of passing those babies out, as I watched their mother do that. Right. Jack had asked for the song for a year. Mmm-hmm. We had been talking about the song for a year. Did you resist it? Did you not – were you not sure what it
should be? And then, how did you come up with such a
great opening lyric? “You may be master of your chosen occupation,
with several strings of polo ponies in your stable. You must remember all the same that at the
crux of every game is knowing when it’s time to leave the table.” So – ! Well, I can tell you exactly how I came up
with that! Because at some point, Jack – it was either
Jack or Jeffrey, I think it was Jack – Oh, sure. Blame me, go ahead! Jack did a performance of the entire – No, no, at some point, Jack said, “You gotta
know when to leave the table. That’s what this is about.” One of you guys said that. So “table” rhymes with “stable,” and
then, boom! (LAUGHTER) Said it right! (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) But the process of writing the song came out
of a dramatic thing? It didn’t start with a groove or a drumbeat. It started off with like a – I’m just
interested, ‘cause I don’t – Well, no, it started with – (LAUGHS) I don’t
know. It seems like ten years’ worth of this,
but it was probably about a year of Jack saying, “We need a – we need that Roxie and Velma
moment!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And then he gives
me this jazz-hands-aphobia, and he’s sort of like, “Ah-da-boom! Right on the bom!” (DEMONSTRATES “FOSSE” HANDS; LAUGHTER)
And everything that scares me about Broadway is, like, coming flooding at me, you know? It’s all the stuff like, “Oh, no! I’m too hip for that! I’m too hip for that!” Eleven o’clock number? Yeah. You were worried I was gonna put them in leotards
and tights? (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Well, it was just that “Boom! There, boom!” I’ve worn before, and looked damn good in,
I just want to tell you. (LAUGHTER) Well, when I first did the outline, and I
said, “And here, you know, this is the eleven o’clock number and sort of that,” and
David said, “Oh, you don’t need an eleven o’clock number!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It’s like, “Well,
yeah, you do!” And he said, “No, people want to go home
by that point.” (LAUGHTER) So you were resisting, from the
beginning. I thought we had a good, big sort of bang-up
thing. And actually, Lithgow agreed with me on that. You know, we were both wrong. But Jack kept hammering, hammering, hammering. And then, I finally just, I guess – and
then Jeffrey, you were hammering, too. And I just sort of weakened, I guess, and
I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do it.” And the thing that I latched onto, that made
me stop being embarrassed about “This!” (DOES THE “FOSSE” HANDS) was a groove. And it was that “sock-it-toom, bock-it-ch-oom,
du-doon-gah, git-ch-oom!” And then – Off of any early Steely Dan record. It’s a great, great groove! Right, it was very Steely Dan-ish. And as soon as that groove started, I felt
like – and as soon as I realized it would be in a minor key, I just realized, “Okay,
I can just go with this, and still give everyone, you know, what they need and what the audience
wants.” There’s also, I mean, there’s also the
structure of the lyric which, you know, is like classic! Because you keep turning it, with each time
you do it, to a slightly different syntactical tone. It is of such – (TO NORBERT) I mean, I’m
with you. Starting out with that verse, and then going
into it, and how it lays itself out and falls down for you at the end is – I mean, I too
must say, in my theatre-going, theatre work experience, I’ve never ever been near a
piece of material that thrilled me to the degree that that one [does]. I mean, it was – It dignifies my – (DAVID PRETENDS TO HIDE
BEHIND HIS HAT; LAUGHTER) I mean, seriously, I – I’ve got to tell you, in the playing
of it – It’s sort of bigger than all of what we
have done. I mean, it’s what you hope for, and almost
never get! That you get to the last moment of the show,
and your butt gets kicked (TED LAUGHS), and you think, “Whoa, I was still having a good
time! I had no idea this was coming at me!” But also, just for the actors that are going
to play this role of Freddy Benson, and there will be hopefully exhibitionists for years
to come that will take this part on – I’m going to come in after you, I think. And you’ll be great! I’ve never done it before, but – You know, he’s a clown! He’s a child. You know, the actor’s asked to do a lot
of broad, physical, out-there stuff. He’s the comic engine of the thing. And yet, by giving him that number and taking
in lyrics that are that smart, it dignifies Freddy. He gets it. It bookends his journey. He’s gone through, you know – Education. A huge education! He’s been in the gutter, and he’s gone
through it, and he’s looking at a survivor. It’s a song about two survivors. It’s a song about beating – “We’re havin’ a good time!” “We’re havin’ a great time!” But who have gone through it, you know? You talked about the play as being a blood
sport (LAUGHS), you know? They go through it! And it’s a very dignifying moment for, especially,
my character. It’s invaluable. You know what I was going to say, that’s
interesting about this? I’ve done new musicals with pop composers,
and the process of doing a new musical is a rarity. But what’s even more rare is to see a song
being created while we’re within the process. Because nowadays, the songs are done. You go in, and you kind of have to fit your
story around what’s there. And you don’t, actually, like the old days,
get to see composers in a room working on stuff. I’ve done musicals via fax machine, basically,
where lyrics are sent in from other countries, and you go, “Okay, we’ll try this!” But I think that’s why this was so exciting. And that’s why the show is so exciting. It’s the perfect blend of an old-style musical,
an homage to that, with, you know, bringing it up-to-date, into this generation. And that process, in “Like Zis/Like Zat,”
which is another song that was put in at the last minute, is so exciting, because it’s
just like the old days that you read about where the composer comes in the room – plus,
he writes the music and the lyrics, which is rare now, too! And to have both of these guys come into a
room and play a song for the first time, and everyone sit around and – it’s the most
collaborative process. I mean, I remember talking with the swings
about the eleven o’clock number. You know, “We don’t need an eleven o’clock
number!” I mean, there was this battle between like,
you know (LAUGHS), everyone! You know, talking to Jack about, “No, let’s
just let David go! Leave him in peace!” It was fodder for the bar every night! Yes, everyone was discussing, you know – I didn’t know that, really! (LAUGHS) “We don’t need more music!” I mean, and it’s so great to see everyone
involved with the process, instead of, like, “Let’s, you know, try to fit around an
already-created piece that can’t be adjusted.” And then, that number, we were rehearsing
it in San Diego during the last week in techs. Mmm-hmm. It came, that number came the last week of
techs. And “Like Zis/Like Zat” came the last
week in the room, literally. So you know, we were working, and continued
to work all the way into New York. Did you feel that – because, by the time
you wrote both of those numbers, you knew who the actors were, did you feel you were
influenced by the actors? Oh, yeah. I mean, by the type of energy that they were
showing. I mean, who knows? If it had been other actors, it could have
been a completely different song. But I mean, that’s part of the process. I mean, you know, the tradeoff for losing
what I used to have when I used to make my albums and be in charge of every aspect of
it, was not being in charge of every aspect of it. But what you get in return is this incredible
collaboration and, you know, that song is a really good example of it. And starting with the fact that I just kept
getting all this information from Jack. And I would, you know, Jack and Jeffrey, I
would just sit down and just say, “Give me more! Give me more!” for a lot of these songs. Because I knew that just something they would
say would click. And once it clicked, all this other stuff
that they’d said would come into play. I don’t even remember whose is what, you
know? Jerry, Jack, Jeffrey. And then, knowing who your actors are, knowing
what they’re doing with the character, having them create the character, you’ve really
got a show. You know, you’ve got a real show that’s
of a piece. And Jeffrey and I agree that the biggest compliment
we can get about the show is when people say, “You know, it seems seamless,” you know? But that’s a compliment that has to be extended
to the director and to the choreographer and to the performers. This may be opening a can of worms, but it’s
kind of fun, because there’s a lot of talking and a lot of stuff that goes around. But my work with Jerry is on a far more abstract
level, because he is parallel tracking everything that I do, and we’ve learned how to sort
of tag-team it over the years, ‘cause this is our fifth or sixth experience now. So I mean, we’re in such incredible shorthand. But so, I watch him very carefully, because
his degree of ease or his degree of complete “get out of my way, I know what I’m doing”
is dependent, very much, on the success of the number itself. That when he works hardest, we haven’t sort
of given him what David’s talking about, enough stuff to tell his story. But in the case of this number, in the case
of “Like Zis/Like Zat,” I would look at him and say (LAUGHS), “So what do you think?” And he would say to me, basically, “It’s
done. It’s all done!” And “Like Zis/Like Zat,” I think you did
it in twelve minutes or something! “Like Zis/Like Zat,” yeah! I heard the song once and I said, “Oh, my
God!” And I went in the other room, and I came back
in twenty minutes, the number was done. I mean, and it’s a charming idea and a wonderful
idea. And the song that was there, I liked too,
in the last workshop. I didn’t give you what you needed, though,
so definitely. I know, but it wasn’t – I liked that song. And David, I remember David saying to me,
“Do you like that song? Can you do something with that?” I said, “Yeah, I really like it. I can see them on a bench making out, kind
of a dance number, and where are we going with this?” Yeah! Oh, yeah. But, oh my God, am I glad we didn’t do it! (DAVID LAUGHS) Am I glad we got “Like Zis/Like
Zat,” because it’s just, it’s charming. And there are numbers that we almost continued
to work till the last possible moment and continue to do it – And we’ll work on them in the first national
tour. Yeah, we certainly will, to sort of fix it,
because we’re still not where we want to be. Well, that’s the fun of it. I mean, it’s a myth, I think, that most
people would agree with, that by the time you open to the public, you walk away thinking,
“Well, there, that’s done!” you know? Michael Bennett changed the second act opening
of DREAMGIRLS when he did the tour. Just completely re-did it, and then put it
in the Broadway production. And we kept changing things with MONTY and
putting them back in the national – in the Broadway – Yeah, and HAIRSPRAY, the same thing! Yeah, I expect to. Can you tell – because in “Great Big Stuff,”
my first big number in Act One, which went through a couple of versions, but real early
on, you seemed to have a great eye. You would put it on its feet, we’d work
really hard for two days, getting it blocked. We’d run it twice, and you had absolutely
no problems cutting it and starting from scratch again. It would be amazing! It didn’t go on for weeks and weeks, and
we’d try to make it work. You could – You know – Is it, are you able to look at the bodies
on stage, going “They don’t look comfortable”? Or the story isn’t clear? No. I feel that when you’re doing a musical
– this particular musical was more about musical staging than it was about choreography. And you know, the lyric, nobody writes funnier
lyrics than David. They lyrics are hilarious. If people are moving and jumping around, it’s
very hard to hear what they’re saying, and you miss the joke! Okay, on that note, we have a clip of “Great
Big Stuff.” Let’s watch what you’re talking about,
and then come back and pick up the discussion. It’s so great! “Great Big Stuff.” (MUSIC) I want a mansion with a moat
Around which I will float With some vast-bottomed babies
In my glass-bottomed boat! A house in the Bahamas,
Paisley silk pajamas, Poker with Al Roker,
And our friend, Lorenzo Lamas! CHORUS
Give me great big stuff! I really do deserve it! CHORUS
Great big stuff! With servants who will serve it. CHORUS
Great big stuff! I don’t give a damn what it’s for,
Every day’s my birthday, Every night is my bar mitzvah! Hey, hey, hey, oh! (MUSIC)
Oh, give me a home Where the centerfolds roam
Guccione on the phone We got a party goin’ on! And Hef’ll has me over
To play some naked Twister, Blotto in the grotto
With a Playmate and her sister! CHORUS
Great big stuff! Ooh! Rap stars’ll love me! CHORUS
Great big stuff! Give me a posse, a’ight? CHORUS
Great big stuff! Chillin’ in the city,
Sittin’ pretty in the Caddy With P. Daddy or Puff Diddy, or whatever! I’ll change my name, too! Get my hatchback all pimped out! (APPLAUSE) Those lyrics don’t stop. They don’t stop. They’re telling the story of Freddy being
in this house for the first time, and what he wants. And so, that’s going to last until eleven
o’clock. So, if we mess it up there – But also, it’s fascinating, watching it,
how he is – you know, the focus has to be on him, but some of the stuff that’s going
around – Has to be on him! Well, there’s an interesting layered – the
levels of Troy story about this number, because – and let me see if I get this right. We went through an early version where we
threw everything out. Four versions. Yeah. Then Jerry – (LAUGHS) he sometimes does
this to me! – suddenly he said, “You do it!” And sort of left the room! (LAUGHTER) And he said, “It isn’t about
choreography! It’s not about choreography. It’s about – you have to do that.” And so, I remember we sort of looked at each
other, and I start – I don’t even know if any of the stuff – And there were no people on stage. No servants. No, there was no one. There were servants, then there were no servants. There was no servants. Then we brought the servants back, and then
– But I can’t remember if any of the stuff
that we discovered by ourselves is – But you know what? It’s so fascinating that we’re talking
about this right now, because it was wrong to have me alone on stage, but by taking all
that away from me – Everything away! I had to start using my imagination. And coming up – you couldn’t have choreographed
those movements. No. Everybody asked me, “Did you make up all
those movements [your]self?” And I suppose I did, but it happened because
– We were telling a story. It was an acting story. We had let [out] everyone else in the room,
and I had to find it in my body. Yeah, we did. Then, when we added the montage, it was this
great, totally accidental process. It was really stunning. Yeah. And also, there was a thing about this show,
which you talked about earlier, highbrow/lowbrow, that I had to have my eye on from the very
top of the whole, creating the show with David, Jack and I and David. How was the show going to move, seamlessly? How was it going to take us to the places
we had to go? And how is going to look like a place where
rich people go, who have excess money, that you’re not going to feel bad when he takes
advantage of them, when the con men con them? So you’ll still love the con men. So it was all about the glamour of the place
and how it was going to move. I had already done the tacky place – not
the tacky place, but you know, the drag queens are down the street! That’s another French show! (LAUGHTER) This was a different French show. This was another French show. Long dresses! Yes, these are real girls! Right! (LAUGHTER) So, it had to have another style to it. And that elegance needed to be placed right
at the very beginning, when you see the girls in their dresses. I mean, those dresses that we first had in
San Diego were not pretty enough. And so we went back to Gregg [Barnes], and
said, “No, no, no, it has to be more elegant!” And then he came up with a second set of dresses
which are just unbelievable, so – Is the highbrow/lowbrow that you talked about,
are you talking about the writing or the production? Yes. All, all! In order for him to be this lowbrow, everything
has to just be glossy and fabulous. And otherwise, he doesn’t – he’s not
funny. Somebody, one of the – at the very first
preview of this show in San Diego, Bruce Vilanch, our current Edna in New York, was the Edna
on the road. And he and Marissa [Jaret Winokur] came down
from Los Angeles, where they were appearing there, for the opening. Yeah. I think it was the opening night. And Bruce said to me – he was the first
person to find me when the show was over – and he said to me, “Do not let them make you
clean this up! Because it’s the most extraordinary blend
of elegance and vulgarity I’ve ever seen. (LAUGHTER) And that’s what makes it work.” And you know, sometimes – I mean, people
tell you a lot of things, right? But occasionally, one of your friends looks
you in the eye and says, “Don’t screw this up!” (LAUGHTER) And you think, “Oh, I think I
get it!” He got what we were trying to do. And Jerry is absolutely right. It was creating a climate in which it was
okay to watch reprehensible people doing something reprehensible. If you had a lot of sympathy for those people
that they were ripping off, we were dead in the water. (TO DAVID) That first person you talked to,
saying, “These are scoundrels. This is a problem,” was somehow channeling
that and not seeing that we could bounce it off another ethos, if you will. And it was also interesting to see that first
round of reviews in San Diego. Yeah! And there were some people who were like,
“What an elegant, beautiful, elegant – ” And then there was one review that was like, “This
is the most vulgar, disgusting – ” You know, it was just like, “Whoa!” Both right, both wrong! Well, yeah. I mean, you put ‘em both together and you
got something new and different. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But if you only
see, you know, one or the other. Right. Sherie, I wanted to ask, as a performer, this
lowbrow/highbrow thing, were there moments when you thought, “Ooh, I don’t know that
I want to go there,” or – ? She’s very vulgar! (LAUGHTER) I’m assuming she’s highbrow! Oh, my God, no! She’s worse than all of us put together. I’m keeping my mouth shut right now. (LAUGHS) One of my best friends – as John Lithgow
says, your best friends bring out your naughtiest side! Fortunately, I get to observe a lot in this
show. And it was interesting in San Diego, because
I always felt that that would be a difficult audience to play for, because of – people
don’t like to see themselves portrayed on stage (LAUGHS) sometimes, which is interesting,
because there was a lot of rich people in San Diego, and they go to a show to see rich
people being taken advantage of, and that was going to be interesting, to see how they
responded to that. But I mean, I think that it’s not difficult,
because we’re playing the piece, you know. And we love these characters, but more, we
love the writers and we trust them so, and the director, obviously. So anything that they ask to do is fine. And plus, I mean, I don’t know if I’m
maybe too young for my age, but I mean, I’m of a generation that this is not vulgar to
me. This is just funny. (LAUGHTER) You know what I mean? I mean, SOUTH PARK: THE MUSICAL is, you know,
I think, one of the best musicals ever. (LAUGHTER) I mean, it’s so – I’m a person
that, you know, I was always like, “Let’s go further,” you know? Yeah! (LAUGHS) “Where’s the word ‘poop’? Can we put that in somewhere?” (LAUGHTER) I mean, you know, but I mean, I
think that’s what we need to do. I mean, and we can, you know, talk about other
things, but I think we do the show and we need to, need to, to save musical theatre,
and we keep talking about saving it, no one’s really doing it, but I think people like David
are, where we have to – sorry, older ticket-buying audience – we’ve got to bring younger
people in. And it’s a compromise between getting the
people that can afford the tickets to come and see it and please them, and still try
to cultivate a younger generation, without talking down to them, but still giving them
material that they can, you know, get into and think is cool. And I know I, as a performer, have always
dreamed of being in shows that I think are cool. You know, we have to do shows that are like,
“Oh, this is a great show, and I understand that,” but you know, afterwards, people
come, and you’re like, (WITH LITTLE ENTHUSIASM) “Yeah, it’s fine, it’s good, yeah, thank
you.” And this is a show that you actually tell
people about – “I think this is cool! I think it’s the perfect blend of coolness
and sophistication, and still able – ” I mean, twelve year olds can come and be entered
into this world for the first time, and maybe appreciate in a way that they wouldn’t other
musicals. Maybe, if I may – this is appropriate, since
there’s one woman on the panel today, that we pay this compliment – this is the cream
center of our Oreo cookie! (LAUGHTER) Okay? And as such, we went through a series of workshops,
and Norbert wasn’t available at first, although we always had our eye on him, but we were
not always able to get him. And John wasn’t, John joined us late, so
there were several – we were trying to put the chemistry together. But Sherie was there from the beginning, and
I remember saying to Marty Bell, calling him up and saying, “I don’t know what’s
going to happen with the guys or where we’re going. I can not do this show without her.” Because there – this is a very special kind
of quality. You’ve got two incredibly funny, accomplished,
basically clowns. And I remember saying to Sherie really early
on, “This is the musical people should see twice. They should see it once for what we’re throwing
out. Then they should come back and watch her character,
from second sight, to know what’s going on.” Because you can’t have the funny girl up
there, trying to get the laughs. It’s not the way her part is written. Although she must be irresistibly loopy and
sort of klutzy, she can’t ever know she’s doing it, because the character she’s playing
is far too smart for that. Uh-huh. So, you know, I can not think, and I say this
at the risk of the rest of my professional reputation (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), of anybody
else who could pull that off but Sherie. I will be a klutz again! (PH) Let’s stop right there. We have another clip. Perfect! Great! (LAUGHTER) Great segues! You guys are great segues. Here’s a clip of Sherie in the show. I mean, the air is French,
This chair is French, This nice sincere Sancerre is French,
The skies are French, The pies are French,
Those guys are French, These fries are French! (LAUGHTER)
Pardon me if I fly off the handle, Les (UNINTEL) jardins (PH) can’t hold a
candle! So veni, vidi, vici, folks,
Let’s face it, je suis ici, folks! Excusez-moi if I smoke,
I’m betting (UNINTEL) je ne sais quoi (PH) I’m sorry to shout, but here I am! (APPLAUSE) And she sings a little bit, too! I was about to say, not a bad song! (LAUGHTER) Little bit, little bit! How is it performing – I mean, the lyrics
of this show are very funny, and one of the things that I think is extraordinary is that
there are laughs within songs. Did you find, as you were playing with audiences,
that you either had to make adjustments because certain laughs in the middle of songs would
then make people not listen to the next songs? No, he writes that way. I mean, he wrote that way in MONTY. I’ve never, ever in my life worked with
material like this, or a lyricist who serves his music that way, because he’s a joke
writer, too. As I’m sure Jeffrey will be the first to
say, they work so beautifully off each other in terms of their wit, that they understand
each other. But he’s hilariously funny, and so, he takes
care of his own jokes. And they’re all there. We’ve never had to make a single adjustment. Nnn-nnnh. You know, sometimes you have to add – “Let’s
add another four beats here, because they’re laughing.” Right. You know, the perfect example to me, and the
one that’s complicated is, “I’m Still Here” [from GYPSY], because there are moments
when those lyrics did land and get jokes, and then, you know, twenty years later they
don’t get the same laugh, and you’ve got this empty measure here, right? And that never happens with David’s work. It just never does. Did David do the fine tradition of stealing
from you for his lyrics? You know, a little bit. (SHERIE LAUGHS) But he’s welcome to it. A lot! I didn’t just steal from Jeffrey. (LAUGHS) He also – I cannibalized what he
had already written, but he also just kept a, you know, a constant flow of ideas coming
to me. And while some of the rhymes weren’t that
good, the jokes were great! (JEFFREY LAUGHS) And he actually wrote, like,
full quatrains of some of the stuff in the show. I’ve got to give him credit for it, because
it was a lifesaver, especially toward the end of the process when I was, you know, had
not much toothpaste left in the tube. (LAUGHTER) I just have to ask about one lyric, though. “Nothing is too wonderful to be true,”
is that right? Mmm-hmm. It’s a quote from a physicist. Is it? From a nineteenth century physicist, yeah! Frame of reference, wide frame of reference! His frame of reference. Very good. I’ve pondered over that phrase. I mean, it comes across like a Frank Sinatra
song, and I thought, “Right.” It’s one of those phrases that you hear,
and you think, “Right … what is that?” (LAUGHTER) I thought it was, you know, right in keeping
with the style of the show. It’s like, oh yeah … a little twisted,
a little bit, but not too much. See, it’s always made perfect sense to me,
so maybe that’s why I’m playing (LAUGHS) – and singing that song! Right! With such incredible conviction. Yeah. I did want to say, because I thought what
you said about helping the musical theatre is important, and you know, just a plug, because
I don’t know if anybody else has done what you and your husband, Kurt Deutsch, have done
in starting a record company, at the time when most of the major record companies are
becoming less and less interested in theatre music, to start Sh-K-Boom Records – to start
it, I believe, to get the kids into the theatre, and then of course, people like me give you
THE NEW MOON, which isn’t exactly what you were talking about. Well, so we had to start another division. I mean, everyone was fleeing the cast album
– I mean, they were shutting everything down in the major labels. And we were of the mind that RENT was not
a fluke, that it wasn’t just because of Jonathan [Larson]’s death that all these
young kids were coming, that they really wanted to come. They just need something to – Come to see and hear. Come to see, and to be their entrance into
this world that’s kind of, you know, very closed-off to them. And so, we had this idea that, you know, to
start this record label, initially for individual artists, Broadway artists. And then, I started to become an employee
of my own company, because we were – these cast albums, these shows that we felt needed
to be recorded and preserved, recording shows gives them a life. If they’re not successful, necessarily,
critically, if they’re recorded, they have a life around the world, to be done in other
productions and to live on. The perfect example – I have another segue
– is LAST FIVE YEARS, that Norbert and I did together downtown [at the Minetta Lane
Theatre] for three months. Just as it was building an audience, it closed. And the cast album that the producers invested
money in, within three months made its money back, because it spoke to people around the
country that didn’t get a chance to come see it. David Yazbek did get to come see THE LAST
FIVE YEARS, and made our show go up late, because he kept the cast, which consisted
of two people, in a bar until ten minutes before eight o’clock (LAUGHTER), down the
street at the Minetta Tavern. Which I always wondered, if that was like
– did you start thinking of us for DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS? Like, were you working on that then? No, in fact, your husband, when he heard about
it, he said, “Well, Sherie would be perfect for that,” and I said, “Oh, no, no!” (LAUGHTER) I mean, I didn’t know you well. I just knew sort of what you – Right. I agreed! I just said, “Nah, she’s too sexy!” Yeah, that’s what I said! And she’s not! (LAUGHTER) I go from cream to not being sexy! She’s also sexy! How’s that? You can be the cream if Jeffrey and I can
be the chocolate wafers! (LAUGHTER) But I mean, back to business. (LAUGHTER) The point is that now we are so
busy, I think we have eleven releases coming out, within a span of two months, including
SPELLING BEE, LITTLE WOMEN – oh, what’s that other show that we did? I can’t remember … DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS! And it’s fantastic. Because the idea is, why are we, you know,
giving away this fantastic product from our community? We’re so, you know, we think so little of
ourselves sometimes. You know, we’re always trying to get with
the big boys, so we go with major labels that, if the show’s a hit, it sells itself. If the show’s not a hit, the labels won’t,
you know, promote it anyway. They’ll just shelve it. So now, we’re like, “Let’s keep it for
ourselves! We own the shows. Why don’t we own the CDs and just do them
ourselves?” The music industry’s changing, so we’re
doing that, and it’s working out really, really well. Do you think she’s passionate about this? It’s great! It’s fantastic! I think we can also say — (APPLAUSE) Oh, God, God, it’s not me! I’m just the power behind the throne. I don’t really do day-to-day business. I can say, because I’m an outsider, that
from the get-go, this show has had some very inventive thoughts about the cast album, and
if you stay tuned, you might be able to get that invention later on. (SHERIE LAUGHS) So is that good enough to
plant a seed? Yeah, we can plant – we can say that, you
know, this is a big Broadway show. And we were pretty resolved, from a pretty
early point, to not doing the album the way it’s usually done. And so, the production is doing with Ghostlight,
which is the other label – these guys’ other label – we’re doing it ourselves. You know, it’s different – if you’re
a small show, and you really – you don’t have to – (LAUGHS) it’s very expensive
to do a cast album! Yes, yes. On a Broadway show. Much less expensive on an Off-Broadway show. So it was a big deal to do it this way, and
it took a lot of finagling from our producers. I mean, they did a lot of finagling to make
it work. And we all did, and yeah. It’s interesting, too, you know, because
I think, you know, certainly my generation, I think other generation, the cast album was
the calling card. It was the entrance into the musical theatre. And without them, you know, one wonders if,
you know – I mean, I remember the first show I ever saw was BYE BYE BIRDIE, and wondered
what was all that extra music they were playing that wasn’t on the album? Why did they put that in? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It was like, “This
is what it is!” That’s not what I expected. It’s also, I mean, we’re gonna do something
with this album, an initial thing with this album, that will hopefully – Don’t say too much! I can’t say too much. Be noticed. But will be really, really noticed and really
different, and we’ll hopefully get people, some people coming into the show whistling
the tune, instead of leaving the show whistling the tune. That’s good, we like that. It’s like psyching up before a rock concert
by listening, you know? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) That’s good. Norbert, I wanted to ask you, because Jack
said Sherie was in first, when did you join the team here? Was it that CD that got you intrigued? The CD was intriguing, because he was singing
all of the material! (LAUGHTER) And this one doing a Viennese accent
is – Not a good – not a pretty sight, yeah. Kind of amazing. With a (DOES THE WHIP SOUND EFFECT) kwipp! With the whips? He was. He’s such an actor, too. He’s such a performer! I’m waiting for the day when – Eight shows a week, no way! I’ve never seen your band perform, but I
know it’s – It’s work. Do I see a road company here? I was asked to do a reading of it, and was
in WICKED at the time. And I injured my neck and was sort of sidelined
for a couple of months. I had to have a surgery, and so I wasn’t
able to participate in that reading. And then did the next one, and had a really
great time. It was two weeks, I guess, we spent working
on it. I guess it was like a big, sustained, two-week-audition
for me! (LAUGHS) But if it was, it was the most freeing,
liberating sort of audition, because the material, I really responded to right away. Well, you and John are so perfectly matched
on stage. I mean, I, you know, I sort of can’t imagine
anybody else, you know, doing it. I know there will be others! Yeah. But you know, and the whole – it’s just
extraordinary. They really are great parts! And I get excited when a new, great part comes
along into the – They’re all great parts. They are great parts! All five of them! But he also gives you – ‘cause – But you know, for guys like me, for the Norbert
Butzes out there (LAUGHTER) – And you know who you are! Right, you know who you are! (LAUGHTER) You know, who fall just smack dab
in that crack between leading man and character actor, you know, and just get lost in it,
so many times, this is a part that asks you to do both of those and so much more. It’s a part that if you’re – I’m learning
to be humble enough, as Jack is constantly reminding us, you know, “Hold your horses! I know you’re getting a lot of laughs, but
it’s actually because the writers are really, really good! (LAUGHTER) It ain’t so much you. You’re doing okay, but remember that there’s
a story and a structure and a long way to go here.” So I do think it’s going to be a really
rewarding role for lots of people for a long time, and I do think the show’s got a life
in it. I assume part of your task, as director, was
to keep the reins on people, yes? Or – Yes. That’s a sort of pejorative term. (LAUGHTER) No, not meant to be! Stable, you know? Yes! (LAUGHTER) Polo ponies. Picking up on the image, we’re in the horse
[world]. Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, I was having dinner last night
with a very close friend, Mike Nichols, and we were talking about this deadening quality
of comedy, how tortuous it is to the actor, how unfair. Because comedy is basically spontaneous, and
the performer has to be surprised, so that the audience is surprised, and the minute
you know when it’s canned or it’s being remembered, it isn’t funny in the same way. But when we are constantly – when we’re
innocent in the face of comedy is when it’s at its freshest. And a long run is a very hard, numbing thing
for talented people to do, because they are creative and they’re restless and they want
to go further. And if you got a great laugh on that on Tuesday,
on Wednesday you don’t get it, you start to try for it. And the minute you try for it, you don’t
get it. Or you get it by sort of demand, which is
not the same kind of comedy that you started out with. So if you’re directing a comedy piece, you
have to return to the company much more frequently, to sort of get the barnacles out. Take the improvements out. Well, it isn’t improvements, because I don’t
feel rigid about it. I love the fact that they’re playful, and
that they find new colors. I do mind that they collect laughs like slave
bangles. (LAUGHTER, ESPECIALLY FROM THE PANEL) Because
then you hear them clunking through the performance. And it’s this kind of language that just
makes working with him so difficult! Slave bangles! So, you know, so you have to constantly remind
yourselves, all of you, that as I say, “Put this on your makeup mirror: You’re not funny. It is.” And if you serve “it,” you have a better
shot of being a naïve in the face of comedy. I will say this about the role, is that it
has become – as it was written, there were opportunities for physical gags. They were rife with them, especially for Freddy. The process of finding what those were, coming
out of the story, figuring out a logic to them, finding a reason that I have to roll
around on the floor to get a bite out of a piece of beef jerky, and make that as, you
know, honest as I can, is really a challenge, man! And that’s why I’m not – I do have ADD,
and I do have a hard time in long runs. I never do a play longer than a year, not
– because I honestly think I’m not – I just can’t serve it any more after that. This one, I think I can go for a while, because
man, is it a challenge! It is a challenge to find – it is a marathon
that we’re running. And I love blood sport. I love that idea. Not just the intensity of how much these characters
want what they want, but for the actor, for my own instrument, I have a long way to go
each night, and how can I find a way to do that with less effort? Or less effort in the shoulder, and maybe
put more of it in the stomach, where the audience is going to see it? How can I aerobically prepare during the day,
through what I’m eating, through the vitamins I’m taking? It’s a real holistic experience, and it’s
thrilling. It’s a fascinating process. We were just talking yesterday, to Carly [Jibson],
who’s our lead in HAIRSPRAY. I mean, she’s twenty-one years old, and
she’s playing the lead in HAIRSPRAY, and she’s just now beginning to understand how
to do the show eight times a week, and yet still be able to live during the day, because
she hasn’t blown her wad at the theatre every night – given a hundred percent, but
still saved something to actually wake up the next morning! Right. It’s a process. But Jeffrey, like, I mean, it’s interesting,
because he has written so much comedy for television, and he’s one of – you know,
people here are always trying to make money and go do television (LAUGHS). And here’s Jeffrey coming back, writing
years of comedy, doing television, wanting to come back to Broadway. So that’s, to me, been like a godsend. Did you enjoy it more than television, or
different? Yeah. I had great times in television, I had terrible
times in television! It just wasn’t fun any more, and it wasn’t
a challenge. And I do my best work when I’m scared. And I hadn’t done this before, and it scared
me, you know? And the collaborative process was something
I was looking forward to again, and you know, was blessed by the group of people. I mean, going off of what Norbert was saying
now, I mean, we’re really blessed with this cast because what all of them bring is there
is a reality underneath the comedy, you know? We had a couple of people audition before
Norbert came in, and we always kind of knew we wanted Norbert but we just, you know, had
to be sure! Right. But, you know, I just remember one audition
where I started here (GESTURES IN FRONT OF HIMSELF) and by the end of the audition, (GESTURES
BEHIND HIMSELF) I was back against the wall, because people were pushing it so hard! And what all of them do and, you know, what
Norbert does, is there’s a reality underneath. My favorite moment in the show is toward the
end when Norbert shakes John’s hand and says – he’s about to leave, and you see
he just doesn’t want to go! And that’s underneath, you know, all of
the performers, so we’re really blessed there. Now, you took this show to your theatre in
San Diego, so in a way, it was today’s version of out-of-town, which I think we all have
to salute the producers, because in this day and age, that adds to the budget. Boy, does it ever! But it was obviously worthwhile. Oh, yeah. I mean, you know, Jerry and I talked a lot
about this. I mean, as the economics of shows become more
and more prohibitive, we are encouraged to work in front of the audience, basically. And it’s not conducive to taking chances. The more the budget goes up, the more millions
are on the bottom line, the less reckless you feel. You feel this huge obligation! And one wants to feel sassy and sort of fun
when you’re doing this sort of thing, because it’s communicative. And we learned with MONTY and we learned – and
then we insisted, and to their credit, to the producers of HAIRSPRAY, the we needed
to go away, we needed to be with the company, we needed to find our own society. And also, our common denominator of humor,
when we’re not worried about what the Internet is saying or what “Page Six” on the Post
is reading, you know? I mean, the appetite for this kind of feeding
frenzy is debilitating, to say the least. And so, you know, “My folks have this theatre
in San Diego!” (LAUGHS) And so, I’ve had it for years,
and I know what hermetically sealed, what an incredibly nourishing environment that
is, and it was – Jerry and I, you know, we play when we’re together. And so, that’s where the joy comes from
the work that we like to do together. And so, it was greatly to the producers’
credit that they allowed us to do this, greatly to the credit of the Globe that is that kind
of organization, that maintains that kind of climate. And it made a huge difference for us, because
we were able to get almost all of it, if not all of it, up on its feet. And so, when we came in, we knew what our
assignments were, and we went to work on them. What were the biggest things you learned in
San Diego? Wow … Well, I learned that – I sat next to Jack
at the last preview – Oh, wow, yeah. And I watched “The More We Dance” number,
and I said, “That is the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” (LAUGHTER) And the worst thing you’ve ever done! I said, “I’m starting over!” But – Well, it was, you know, let me just say something
about that, because that is your brilliance. Jerry, as a creative partner of mine, came
to this as a supporter. And he came into it, realizing that it was
text-funny, and it was fraught with plot, and that it wasn’t a dance show. And he kept saying, “Well, it isn’t about
choreography,” right? Then he did a wonderful job, and he put it
up. And as the leavening was going on, as the
jokes were starting to bloom, as we were finding more and more about rhythm and things like
this, Jerry went right away, before we even opened in San Diego, to do CAGE AUX FOLLES,
where he laid out some of the most dazzling tracks of choreography of the year! And knocked everybody into a cocked hat with
what he could do. And meanwhile, we’re getting better out
there. And I’m watching the show go, and I’m
thinking to myself, “Boy, this is starting to look really good. I think Jerry should see it again!” (LAUGHTER) Get my choreographer back! Because he had been able to celebrate his
particular genius as a choreographer where it was being asked for, where it was absolutely
essential that he take young men and turn them into these hilarious but very convincing
women, and through the use of dance. And he came back, fluffed and glossy (LAUGHTER),
thinking, you know, “Yeah, I’m happy to see this show!” Because his work, you know, wasn’t in shape
– I knew what he could do, I knew what he was capable of doing – and we’d gone on. And then it was time for him to sort of look
at it again. And I think you changed every single thing
you did in the show! Well, I certainly changed “The More We Dance”
completely. But we changed the writing of it and we changed
the story of it, and we made it clearer. It was quite chopped up. It had, like, nine sections, and we just got
it all much tighter, the storytelling of it tighter. It always comes down to the storytelling. It’s always about the storytelling. And then I was listening to David’s music,
fresh from LA CAGE, and I hadn’t seen the show in, you know, six weeks. And I’m sitting there, and the overture
starts, “Dunh! Dun-dunh, dun-dunt, dun-dunt, dun-dunt, da-da
da-da da-da da-da da-dunt!” And I go, “I want to dance to that!” (LAUGHTER) That’s what I said to Jack, I
said, “I want to dance to that!” So suddenly, I had this idea in my head of,
you know, seeing the cast in full tableau, on the Riviera, swirling it up as we reveal
John. And that idea came from seeing the last production
in San Diego, and then executing it here in New York. And I think it gives the show a new beginning,
that it so needed. It needed that fresh breath of Riviera air,
in order to set you in the right place. Oh, it’s great. Where did the subplot – the Joanna Gleason
– Greg Jbara plot is not – I mean, the characters are in the movie, but they’re
quite different. When and how did those characters get created? Well, we needed to give the principals a rest. (LAUGHTER) So – Practical? Great art! Great art comes – It started that way. It was basically a three-person story. And we just needed [more], just for the rhythm
of the piece. And here were these other people in it. And actually, the character that Joanna plays
actually started out much sillier. She was a much sillier, you know, not as bright,
vain woman. And so, when we were doing the workshop, somebody
brought up Joanna Gleason, we said, “No, no, no, she comes off as too intelligent.” And then we thought, “You know what? It’s Joanna Gleason. If we can get her, let’s see if we can build
something around her.” And she came in, and it was a very small part. The romance was there, but it was really not
written. Greg’s character was originally written
for Denis O’Hare, who’s a completely different performer. And as we had the two of them, we just started
building it more and more. And at first, I kept thinking, “Oh, we’ve
got to go back to the secondary characters.” And then Jack pointed out, these are the characters
who, as, you know, John and Norbert and Sherie are knocking themselves out with the plot
and the humor, here are the characters who can carry the theme of the show, which is
that everybody’s looking for a fantasy, but what you really want, as Jack put it,
is, you know, somebody that you can sit at home with a cup of coffee and watch TV at
night. That that’s what people are really looking
for. Fantasy’s great, but. And when he said that, it just opened up those
two characters for me, and I think for David as well, that we knew this is what we wanted
from these two. And the two of them, Joanna and Greg, really
just informed us so much about who those people were. So their music came later than others? Yeah, I’d say. Yeah. Well – Her first song was always there. Her first song was always there, and his – was
his first song always there, “Chimp in a Suit”? Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You did that during the workshop. The second workshop. But the song that they sing together totally
came out of that. “Like Zis/Like Zat,” yeah. “Like Zis/Like Zat” came out of – Jeffrey
really, really, really worked hard on that aspect of things. And I didn’t get it. (LAUGHTER) But then I got it! And when I got it – You did it! When I got it, I did it, yeah. I’m a little slow on the uptake on that
one. It just felt to me, also, looking at the material
dramatically, that if we didn’t have someplace else to look, if it was just the three scoundrels
sort of doing their number, that it was awfully sort of two-dimensional, and that you had
to have – you couldn’t have a conventional shift there, but it did need something. And I felt that the values – I mean, we’re
always looking in the shows that we work on for where the heart of a show is. Not only where it’s clever, but where it
is meant to touch you, to grab you, to surprise you, and that’s always the heart. And we felt that people, at a certain point
in their lives, who feel they’ve either not been up to romance or have been past it,
that could be astonished by finding it, then maybe there was hope for the scoundrels, as
well! (LAUGHS) Right! I mean, in other words, a con is a lonely
thing to do. If you’re conning somebody, you really can’t
take somebody in on it. You’ve got to do it yourself. You’ve got to believe your little performance,
and you’ve got to go through with it, but you can’t share it with somebody. That’s an interesting thing. So this whole quality to me of loneliness
at a certain point in one’s life was very, very interesting to me. And I thought, “Boy, there’s common ground
for all of them in there.” I have to say that they’ve written – but
also because it is Greg and Joanna – they were allowed to write, like, what is some
of the most classic musical theatre moments. We sit there every night and watch. We watch their shadows sometimes. I mean, it’s like a master class, these
actors. And the scene – I mean, you won’t get
any better scenes in any show anywhere. (NORBERT LAUGHS) And you won’t get them
played any better than what Greg and Joanna can do. I mean, it’s masterful writing, and it’s
masterful acting. And “Like Zis/Like Zat” is, to me, the
heart of the whole show, because it allows the piece to – right then, I mean, it goes
to another level. The show moves into classic, to me, and … and
to everyone else who sees it! (LAUGHTER) That’s what they say. I think it’s cool because the – I want to ask you something. When we were in the rehearsal studio, it is
– we’re talking about what changed – there was a moment, Greg and Joanna have their classic
– what has become known as “the balcony scene” – Mmm-hmm. That started with a hung-over pantomime (SHERIE
LAUGHS), involving a cup of coffee – Sunglasses! And some sunglasses. And we did this thing in the rehearsal hall
in San Diego, and the whole company of [actors],the dancers, we’d all run in and just sit and
watch the thing, and would laugh ourselves sick at the brilliance of this really ingenious
physical thing. And it never made it into the show. How – and I forget that journey. I thought, as I was watching the non-spoken
physical comedy they were doing – but it didn’t make it. Why? Umm … (LAUGHTER) Because the show would have been four hours
long! I mean, there was so much funny stuff. Amongst the fortuitous influences in my life
is George Abbott. I was actually the last person to work with
Mr. Abbott, when he was a hundred and five, on DAMN YANKEES. And George Abbott, there were a lot of – in
those days, in the theatre, there were sort of maxims, you know, which we keep forgetting. And they’re really there because they’re
really great. But Mr. Abbott was a great subscriber to “Build
to the curtain.” He would put a clock, an emotional clock on
the evening. And you have to then, as you start moving
towards your goal, you have to sacrifice some of your best work, because we love it, but
they don’t love it. They want to go home, you know? Enough already! And I knew in our show, we had so many laughs. It was such a funny book and it was such a
funny score and you had such funny actors, I thought to myself, “Gee, pumping this
up with laughter is not what the name of the game is! Committing ourselves to the line-through is
what the name of the game is.” And so, it became very clear, after a while,
that we were just entertaining ourselves (LAUGHS). And we did! And that what they had written, what he had
written in the script, was really what I had to serve, not just how much fun we were having. So it became – you’ll learn these things
after a while, I hope! (LAUGHTER) I don’t think I ever will! (LAUGHTER) You’ll have to direct everything
I ever do again. I’ll never learn it! So save it for the Christmas party. Okay, yeah! I wanted to know when – there are some ingenious
ways that the fourth wall is broken in this show, and I wanted to know how they – did
they creep in? Did they – No, they were in there from the very beginning. When I first read the book, and they had written
– Jeffrey had written that Norbert’s character appears in the box. And I thought, a real flag went up and I thought,
“Whoa! I can’t do that!” And then I thought to myself, “Gee, maybe
I can, if other people do it.” Because again, I was constantly aware that
we were playing a game that is a game within a game within a game. Has to do with her character, has to do with
the nature of the theatre, has to do with the nature of a con. How many ways could we pop that and still
keep the integrity of it? And there were quite a few more, when we started
out in San Diego. We were breaking the fourth wall a lot. And I was castigated in the press and by my
dear friends for doing it too much. And I listened to them and thought, “Oh,
okay, I can fix that.” And so, we just simplified it, basically. But it was, you know, it’s a delicate balance,
because you can stay too long at the fair there, and I was worried about that. But we had a great time. I loved every one of them, including the – is
it one time that they ask for something from the conductor? Yes. I always think that’s a wonderful silly
thing, if you can – Yes, it is. It’s good. If you can sort of get away with it. So are – actors, are you sort of optimistic
about the Broadway that you’re very important players in? Right, this season, yeah! (LAUGHTER) Wow! I mean, this show in another season would
be a runaway, couldn’t-get-a-ticket-for-eight-months type of a thing. That sounds so familiar to me! (LAUGHTER) No, but it’s not a PRODUCERS. It’s not that situation – there, it’s
all – you know, we are – there are still four major musicals (LAUGHS) to open before
the end of the season! It’s just incredible to me. And there’s a lot of great work going on,
as well as a couple of fantastic new plays! Holy cow! Mmm-hmm. I mean, not just, like, okay plays, but you’ve
got DOUBT and PILLOWMAN, like two major new plays! It’s kind of great. It’s very great. I don’t know. I don’t have the kind of mind that can,
like, analyze this thing. You’re an important player on Broadway. Am I? Can I ask you a question? Am I a player or a playah? Why can’t you afford socks? (LAUGHTER) Sherie can’t either! Neither can I. I can’t afford hose. Because I take my cues from him. That’s right. Style! It’s all about style. This is a sock, my friends. This costs, like, twelve bucks. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. But I’m not going to wear that hat, either,
so you know – Oh, yes, you are going to wear that hat! (PUTS HIS HAT ON NORBERT; LAUGHTER) But do you mean, optimistic about the state
of theatre in general? Yeah, I wanted to – picking up on what you
had said. I was going to say, in San Diego, I remember
– you know, I’m so out of touch, because I have a new baby! – but one of the things
that I did know, and that we did talk about, was that at one point, when we were in San
Diego in the fall, there were two plays on Broadway – Each one, one actor. Each with a one-person cast, so there were
actually two people on stage, in plays, on Broadway. That was it! And I think for a week there was maybe one
play on Broadway, with one person. I mean, that’s – I just can’t even believe
it, when I look at – Well, there were even more than that. There were three or four at one point. Yeah. It was just – I mean, that was it, for plays! I mean, and musicals, there wasn’t that
many either. When you look at the pictures of the old theatres,
and how many shows are running. And I know gypsies that are – you know,
that went from show to show and raised children, you know, for thirty years. So I’m optimistic, but I do think we need
to make some changes. For instance, this season, even, we’re acting
as if there can only be one big musical on Broadway in a season. Meanwhile, in the movies – not that we have
to compare to the big boys all the time – but you know, there are a lot of blockbusters,
every year, and they’re able to sustain themselves, of course, because they don’t
pit an action-adventure movie against a, you know, a great comedy, you know, blockbuster. I mean, musicals are both the same genre,
but we have to be able to support each one as its own entity, you know, and not pit them
against each other necessarily. Unless it’s good press, and we all need
press, to like keep sustaining ourselves. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But I’m optimistic about theatre, but I
do think I’m not into maintaining the status quo. I think we need to (POUNDS HER FIST IN HER
OTHER PALM), have to support new writers, and that’s the only way. Because we’re excluding them, we’re making
them – (APPLAUSE) I mean, people are not encouraging them. And they’re encouraging revivals, on the
other hand. They need to say, “This may be not my cup
of tea, my perfect thing, but I see its value, I see its weight. I see its ability to last into the future.” And we have to start doing that. And otherwise, we’re going to kill ourselves. We are. Most eloquent. I agree. Yeah. I think certainly, part of what you’re talking
about is, you know, in a way, the fact that, you know, there are collaborations that continue
and then welcome in new people and stuff like that. I also think that your show is being positioned
and publicized absolutely accurately. I love the five stars (GESTURES, INDICATING
THE POSTER DESIGN) in the show, you know. “Sold out of” mugs and stuff like that,
you know. (LAUGHTER) I mean, I notice them, and I think
to myself, “You know, listen, everybody. This is the sense of humor that these guys
are doing. This is a silly musical comedy, you know. And I love that it hearkens back to a time
when there’s a really scripted musical story that, you know, is about scoundrels. As the guy said, you know, I have no problem. So, you going to do another one? I hope so! I’d like to, with all these guys. (LAUGHTER) You know? It means you’ll have to work. Work?! (LAUGHTER) I mean, yeah. Well, that’s, yeah. But no, I just went back to L.A. to put my
house up for sale. Yay! Because it’s like (LAUGHS), you know, I
think I’m done there and I’m happy here. So. Well, good! Yes!! (LEADS THE APPLAUSE) Great! Can we talk – we didn’t talk about John,
and how he’s – John Lithgow. Let’s talk about John. Who? (SHERIE LAUGHS) He’s truly – Let me talk about John. Talk about John. Well, I mean, it’s probably safest that
he isn’t here. (LAUGHTER) He is the rarest of theatre animals
that I know of. He is the authentic American light comedian. Now, the fact is that John can play serious
work. He can sing. He can do any one of a number of things. He’s a great classical actor. He comes by an extraordinary tradition. And I had not – I knew his family. I had known him casually, but we were not
friends. I had never had him in a show or directed
him before. And the graciousness, the intelligence, the
selfless ability to lead the company, without equivocation. No complaints. I’ve never seen anyone work harder physically
at dance work (JERRY LAUGHS), you know, ‘cause he’s not a natural dancer, and yet he’s
gotten greater and greater and greater. Every performance gets better. He sets a tone that, you know, is frankly
money in the bank. And if you’re fortunate enough to have Lithgow
up your sleeve, you’re probably three-quarters of the way there. The difficulty is, he can make even sort of
moderate stuff look really good, and you get comfortable trusting him. So you have to look beyond his particular
brilliance at your own work and be your own judge, because he’s going to be there with
the goods no matter what happens. And he’s worthy of the best material all
of us can bring. The fact that that man, who has had a major
career in television, one in the films as well, nominated for or won every award you
can get, chooses to do eight performances a week on Broadway, when comparable actors
in his status who will be nameless can’t be bothered to think of themselves working
that hard is one of the most moving things that’s ever happened to me in my career. That’s what I think about John Lithgow. (APPLAUSE) I also watched him do something extraordinary
the other night. The audience was standing – (LAUGHS) Oh, yes! A standing ovation, and because it’s Broadway
Cares/Equity Fights AIDS week, he came down and he said to everybody, “Thank you for
standing. I have something to say. You may sit down now.” He said what he had to say and then he said,
“And now you may resume your standing ovation.” (LAUGHTER) And everybody went back up! And I thought, “No, only a genuine person
can get away with that!” He is so incredibly comfortable in his skin. When we were in San Diego – this is a fun
story that I like to tell – but John was so gracious to me, being the nobody sort of
that I am at this point. And you know, he had been on a major, major
television show. And he would invite me out for sushi and he
knew one of the managers of the Padres and he took me to a ball game one night. (JACK LAUGHS) And we met at his downtown hotel. And I thought that there was some protocol
that a big star had to do to go into the – no, he just, “We’ll just walk down to the
ballpark.” It was about a half a mile walk, down through
downtown. And we walked through very crowded streets
of downtown San Diego, with outdoor cafés. And I’m walking along – John is six foot
eleven! (LAUGHTER) He’s just an enormous man! So, so recognizable, just that big mug, you
know? And we’re passing, and people are calling
out, “John!” Or you know, waiters, you hear trays dropping. (LAUGHTER) I’m not kidding! Whole trays dropping in cafés. I’m looking around and he knows it’s happening,
but very detached from it at the same time. An incredibly healthy perspective. And then we go to the ballpark, and we sit
in these V.I.P. seats, right behind home plate. I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals fan. He’s a big Boston fan, and we know how that
turned out! (LAUGHTER) But we’re watching the Padres,
and these batters, you know, Khalil Greene, they’d come out to the batter’s box, and
they would tip their hats to John before they would go to home plate and bat! And it was – I’m like, eleven! (LAUGHTER) I’m just so, like this (LOOKS
AROUND, WIDE-EYED), you know? And the ball boy is tossing balls to me, and
they’re signed. And John’s calling them by their first names,
and, “Come on, Cab (PH), go hit a ribby (PH) for us!” “I’ll do my best, Mr. Lithgow!” (LAUGHTER) And they’d go up to the plate. And then (LAUGHS), we’re looking at the
big screen. And John, who has been photographed at major
events and is very comfortable on camera, obviously, and he’s tastefully got a cap
on, trying to be, you know, somewhat discreet. And I look up, and there’s the two of us
on the huge screen, and I go, (SHRIEKS) “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Look, look, look!” And John’s like, “Easy, Freddy!” You know, because we were getting into character
already! It was so funny. I just – I also heard there was one evening in California
where he was honored or part of one of those benefits, something like that. And there was a question about what the dress
code was, and his assistant had told him it was black tie, and it wasn’t. So he was the only one in the place in black
tie. So he got up at the microphone, and he said,
“I’m so embarrassed for all of you.” (LAUGHTER) He knew exactly how to do it. That’s good. Well, you guys are great. Anything else, any sort of – since we’re
winding down here, any final things we haven’t covered? Thank you for bringing up John! Thank you, Sherie. No, I mean, it must be evident that we’ve
had a wonderful time together, that we care about each other, we all respect each other. It’s been, as Jeffrey pointed out, it is
the essence of collaboration. And it’s also for me a kind of miracle. Because when it works well, it seems easy
and breezy and kind of fun. And it isn’t. It’s the hardest, probably, art form in
the performing arts, because there are so many people who need to be folded in, listened
to, and accommodated. And it only works, really works, I think,
when everyone is vibrating on the same frequency. And you know, I think that one of the concessions
we need to make to each other, and here today, is that it wasn’t a walk in the park. It was a great privilege and a great honor. And I love the fact that in this day’s climate
and in this country, with whatever we may be feeling about it, it is not an ignoble
thing to make people happy and laugh for two and a half hours and forget the other parts
of their lives. And for that, I am grateful to everybody here. And on that note, I would like to thank you
all for being here. This has been the American Theatre Wing seminar
from the City University television studio in New York. Thanks very much. (APPLAUSE AND WHISTLES)

1 thought on “Production: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (Working In The Theatre #332)

  1. Thank you so much for this interview.  As a director and actor this kind of background information is invaluable.  As a theatre geek… it's amazing!!!  

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