Press Release

Foxtrot and Friendship and Florida Sunsets
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks
By Richard Alfieri
at the Ivoryton Playhouse

dancing close upIvoryton – The Ivoryton Playhouse is leaving the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and heading to the Gulf Coast beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida. Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is a touching and human comedy about a formidable retired woman, Lily Harrison, who hires an unusually difficult dance instructor with an acerbic personality, Michael Minetti, to give her private dance lessons —one per week for six weeks— in her gulf-front condo.

What begins as an antagonistic relationship blossoms into an intimate friendship as these two people from very different backgrounds reveal their secrets, fears, and joys while dancing the Swing, Tango, Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, and Contemporary Dance. Michael and Lily learn to overcome their outward differences and discover an unlikely but profound connection. By the final lesson, Lily shares with Michael her most closely guarded secret and he shares with her his greatest gifts, his loyalty and compassion.

A poignant comedy with music and dance, the play also addresses the serious issues of ageism and intolerance.

Written by Yale grad, Richard Alfieri, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks premiered in Los Angeles and opened on Broadway at the Belasco Theater in 2003. The play has since been translated into 14 languages and has traversed the globe with productions in 24 countries. The play has established itself as an international hit and one of the most produced plays in the world.  A film was also made of the play starring Gena Rowlands and Cheyenne Jackson.

dancingFeaturing seasoned actors Michael Ianucci* and Valerie Stack Dodge*, the play is directed by Sasha Bratt, choreographed by Apollo Smile, set design by William Stark, lighting design by Marcus Abbott and costume design by Lisa Bebey.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks opens at the Ivoryton Playhouse on May 4th and runs through May 22nd 2016. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.

Tickets are $44 for adults; $39 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org  (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.

Photographs by Anne Hudson

Pictured: Valerie Stack Dodge* and Michael Ianucci*

*denotes member of Actors Equity

Members of the press are welcome at any performance.

Please call ahead for tickets.

 

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Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story
by Janet Yates Vogt & mark Friedman

– Equity Principal Auditions by Appointment

Ivoryton Playhouse    Ivoryton, CT    SPT     $750.

Executive/Artistic Director: Jacqueline Hubbard

Director: Brian Feehan

First rehearsal: October 11, 2016;
First performance: October 26th;
Close: November 13th, 2016.

Equity Principal Auditions by appointment (Centerbrook, CT):

Monday, May 2nd, 2016
Noon – 8pm
(break 5-6pm)

Rehearsal Studio
22 Main Street
Centerbrook, CT  06409

Sides are available by following this link.

Please bring a picture and resume, stapled together. Call 860-767-9520 ext 206 for appointment

Open Auditions by appointment (NYC):

Monday, May 16th, 2016
11 – 4pm

Pearl Studio
500 Eighth Ave, #1210
New York, NY

Sides will be available on line at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

Prepare a song in style of period.

Please bring a picture and resume, stapled together. Call 860-767-9520 ext 206 for appointment

Looking for:

“TENDERLY” focuses on Rosemary Clooney in 1968 (age 40) as she is recovering from her infamous on-stage breakdown.  Thru flashbacks, “TENDERLY” charts her rise to stardom and then her healing process and reinvention; from her humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to Hollywood stardom, pill addiction and a triumphant second career.  Classic songs alternate with scenes between Rosemary and her therapist.

Roles:
Rosemary Clooney:  Looking for an actress, 30+ to play the famous singer.   She is charming, feisty, straightforward, and vulnerable.  Not looking for someone to impersonate her, necessarily, but rather can communicate Clooney’s courage, strength and sense of humor.  Seeking seasoned dramatic singer/actress who excels at a variety of musical styles.

Doctor:  to play Rosemary Clooney’s psychiatrist, along with a wide variety of other roles, both male and female, including Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.   Seeking a 30+ seasoned dramatic actor who can sing, move well and who can instantly convey a range of recognizable and believable characters.

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ronny_pic_2-200x200International Jazz pianist Ronny Whyte to perform exclusive concert to benefit Ivoryton Players at Centerbrook Meeting House

Ivoryton:  World renowned jazz musician, Ronny Whyte will be performing a benefit concert for the Ivoryton Players on Saturday, April 30th at 7pm at Centerbrook Meeting House in Centerbrook, CT. Mr. Whyte will be performing an evening of songs from The Great American Songbook – including works by Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Ronny Whyte is not only considered a premier interpreter of classic American popular song, he is also an outstanding jazz pianist and an award winning song writer. He has been featured on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR and his lyric Forget the Woman was recorded by Tony Bennet. He produces and hosts Midtown Jazz at Midday in St. Peter’s in Manhattan and was inducted into the Cabaret Jazz Hall of Fame.

Whitney Balliett wrote in The New Yorker “Whyte (handsome, dapper, easygoing) is a first class cabaret singer. His diction sparkles…his songs ring and float and shine.”

Ronny Whyte will be accompanied by bassist Boots Maleson and there will be a special guest appearance by Deborah Mott. Tickets are $25 and are available by calling 860 767 78318 or can be purchased at the door (seating is limited). There will be a reception following the performance.

RonnyWhyte (Small)-2

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East coast Premiere of brand new musical
The Road: My Life with John Denver
at the Ivoryton Playhouse

BackHome#5This Connecticut premiere event is a captivating celebration of the life and music of folk musician John Denver, including hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Leaving On a Jet Plane.”

John Denver was about more than country music. He had enormous international appeal, and was equally popular with country and pop audiences. In addition to music, he was an activist and humanitarian whose biggest causes were land conservation and environmental awareness. He supported space exploration and was vocal about his stance in music censorship. He was quite an interesting guy!

Featuring versatile musicians David Lutken (Ring of Fire), and Katie Deal – who have been with the show since its original production as Back Home Again at Milwaukee Rep – they present an unvarnished rendition of Denver’s music with gorgeous harmonies, solid musicianship and honest to goodness talent.

BackHome #2Created and directed by collaborators Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, this production does not offer a standard biography of Denver. Instead, Wheetman presents his own story, as a musician who’d known Denver as an Aspen neighbor before touring with him for eight years. As embodied by Lutken, Wheetman’s story sheds light on Denver’s own, with parallels including a love for Colorado, the hardships of life on the road and the consequent toll on marriages. But as Denver once sang, in another song included in this show, it’s his guitar that gave him his life, his living, and “all the things you know I love to do.” Focused on that guitar, “Back Home Again” movingly captures what those things were and why Denver’s music still matters.

Directed by two time Tony award nominee, Randal Myler and Musical Directed by Dan Wheetman, the set is designed by Dan Nischan, lights by Tate Burmeister and costumes by Vickie Blake.

BackHome#4The Road:  My Life with John Denver opens at the Ivoryton Playhouse on April 6th  and runs through April 24th, 2016. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.

Tickets are $44 for adults; $39 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org  (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.

*denotes member of Actors Equity

Generously sponsored by Essex Savings Bank.

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All tickets for all shows now on sale.  Call the box office at 860.767.7318 or book on line 24/7 by clicking here.

Ticket prices will be going up as of June 1st.  Book your seats now!

7-play, 5-play and 3-play passes also available.  Please call Sue McCann at 860.767.9520 x 203 to secure your subscription.

 

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South Pacific Playbill CoverIncrease Your Reach with an ad in Playbill! If you need to make the most from your advertising dollars, the Ivoryton Playhouse is the place to be seen – a 10 month opportunity where you can promote your business to 26,000 people.

By advertising in the Playhouse Playbill your ad is circulated and read by over 26,000 patrons from April – December. Playbill is read from cover to cover and taken home and kept as a souvenir. For many visitors to the area, Playbill is a primary source of information on where to eat, stay, shop and explore on the Connecticut Shoreline.

What better place to promote your business to a statewide demographic!

We are currently putting together our 2016 Season Playbill that will showcase our community partners. This year, more than ever, the Playhouse is committed to promoting those businesses that support us!

For just pennies on the dollar you can promote your business and get your message out to new and expanding audiences. Your ad in the Ivoryton Playhouse Playbill is both cost effective and good for business.

Our reasonable rates can suit any ad budget. We hope you will click here to download the contract and return it to us with payment and camera-ready artwork by February 9th.

Ivoryton Playhouse 2016 Season Playbill Ad Rate Sheet

Thank you for partnering to make 2016 a successful year for our whole community.

As a special thank-you, we are offering all our advertisers two complimentary tickets to a preview night performance for any show in our 2016 season. An $88 value!

To book you place or to discuss options, please call either Krista or Diane at 860.767.9520 or email krista@ivorytonplayhouse.org. Thank you!

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Corporate sponsorships available now!  Partnering with the Ivoryton Playhouse is a smart business move that is good for our community, too!  Our partners are leaders in the business community who value the arts and want to make a positive impact.

Partnership with the Ivoryton Playhouse allows the unique opportunity to market your company through positive exposure statewide.

Let us show you how you can link your name with this historic theatre!

  • Your company is thanked before a live audience every show – that is 150 performances a year! Where else can you get that kind of personal touch?
  • Your company logo will be linked on our award winning website. Get your brand name where it can be seen!
  • Your ad in our Playbill will be seen by 25,000 people. Playbills are souvenirs that people take home, read and keep!
  • Host events for clients or employees in our unique and elegant outdoor setting. A terrific opportunity to network and entertain plus access potential new customers!

The Ivoryton Playhouse offers you opportunities in marketing, entertainment and access to new customers. Put your business in the spotlight by partnering with the Ivoryton Playhouse in 2016. For more information, please call Krista May at 860.767.9520.

IPH Sponsorship Benefits table 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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2016_icon_gold2The Ivoryton Playhouse 2016 season will open on April 6th with seven glorious productions to keep you smiling and singing all year long!

Back Home Again: On the Road with John Denver (April 6th – April 24th, 2016) by Randal Mylar and Dan Wheetman is a celebration of folk musician John Denver’s life and music, including hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Leaving On a Jet Plane.” Featuring versatile musicians David Lutken (Ring of Fire)and Katie Deal, BACK HOME AGAIN offers a rare glimpse of the man behind the music and the stories behind the songs.

A poignant comedy about dancing and life opens on May 4th – Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks by Richard Alfieri. .An aging but formidable woman hires a dance instructor to give her lessons in her home. What begins as an antagonistic relationship gives way to friendship as they swing dance, foxtrot, tango and cha cha while sharing their secrets, fears and joys.

We travel across the pond and back in time  in June with THE 39 STEPS ( June 1st – June 19th, 2016) by Patrick Barlow and John Buchan. Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python and you have THE 39 STEPS, a fast-paced whodunit for anyone who loves the magic of theatre! This 2-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, over 150 zany characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of 4), an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers and some good old-fashioned romance!

Summer officially opens with all that jazz on July 29th when the sizzling hot Broadway hit musical CHICAGO by Jon Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse opens for a four week run. Winner of Six 1997 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival, CHICAGO has everything that makes Broadway great: a universal tale of fame and fortune, one show-stopping song after another a lot of razzle dazzle!

The inspirational rock musical, RENT by Jonathan Larsen runs August 3rd – August 28th, 2016. Loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme, RENT is set in the East Village of New York City.  Exuberant, passionate and joyous, RENT is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the TONY Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, RENT has become a pop cultural phenomenon.

One of the world’s most popular musicals, MAN OF LA MANCHA, by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion runs from September 7th – October 2nd, 2016. The “Impossible Dream” musical, is based on Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote, and tells of the adventures of a delusional Spanish knight who sallies forth on a quest to restore chivalry to the world, and to claim his lady love.  Winner of 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical –this production will star David Pittsinger as Don Quixote.

The Ivoryton Playhouse season will close with a beautiful new play, Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman (October 26th – November 13th, 2016) America’s favorite girl singer comes to life on stage in this exhilarating and inspiring musical biography. TENDERLY, THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY STORY is not a typical “juke-box musical.” It offers a fresh, remarkably personal, and poignant picture of the woman whose unparalleled talent and unbridled personality made her a legend. With her signature songs woven in and out, we learn both the story of her successes on film, radio, and TV, as well as her struggles in her personal life.

Subscriptions are on sale now and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318.  To download a subscription form please follow this link.

Individual tickets go on sale mid-February 2016.  Group rates are available.

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Best of Logo 2015 jpegThe Ivoryton Playhouse has been voted “Best Place to See Live Theatre” by the wonderful readers of the Shoreline Times.  Thanks, friends!!!

To see the whole list, following this link.

 

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LIBERACE: Interview with playwright Brent Hazelton
By Henrik Eger

Eger: What was the impetus for your writing the script?

Writer Brent Hazelton

Writer Brent Hazelton

Hazelton: A deadline!  The project was an emergency replacement for a very last-minute and therefore unexpected void in the 2010/11 season at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, where I serve as Associate Artistic Director and Director of New Play Development.  Our Artistic Director, Mark Clements, gave me the assignment, even though—aside from toying around with some literary adaptations which no one has or ever will see purely for mental exercise—I had never written a play before.  Regarding the subject, it would frankly be a lie to say that I had long-harbored a burning desire to tell Liberace’s story—or even considered it before the project was assigned to me.  Having grown up in Wisconsin myself, I knew that he was “one of ours” (he and my father grew up in the same first-ring Milwaukee suburb, forty years apart), I had the vague recollection from my ten-year-old self that he had died of AIDS and that at the time that was in some way a very big deal, and I had an even earlier strikingly vivid memory of him performing on the Muppet Show.  Beyond that, I knew absolutely nothing about him—aside from the general image of opulence and excess with which he worked so hard to associate himself, and a general sense that people seemed to enjoy satirizing him a great deal.

Eger: Describe the process of researching the material.

Hazelton: In addition to my theater background, I’m also a history major by education, so the compulsion to exhaustively research and dig deep for every potentially useful detail is second nature.  Particularly so when facing the prospect of a blank computer screen, a serious dearth of knowledge, and an opening night already on the calendar and tickets already on sale, given that we’d announced the season in which LIBERACE! would play two months before I even got the assignment to begin writing it!

My first step was to collect as much source material as I could.  And, thankfully, there’s no shortage!  Liberace worked very hard to message his own persona and create a certain mythology around himself, and in addition to a consistency of performance and many of the same rote answers in interview after interview, he published several books, including an autobiography that reads a bit more like a book-length press release and a few coffee table picture books (which are fascinating and instructive more for what they don’t say than what they do, aside from being beautiful and fun).  Bob Thomas wrote a biography that’s not too far from the autobiography, but the real coup de grace in the process was discovering Darden Asbury Pyron’s exhaustive and remarkable biography, Liberace: An American Boy.  Not only is it a comprehensive study of Liberace’s life, it’s a piece of scholarship to be applauded, and simply one of the finest pieces of biography I’ve ever read.  Pyron contextualizes his subject as a uniquely American phenomenon operating in direct response to the cultural and social conditions of the culture throughout his life.  And that approach certainly resonated with me, given that my historian training taught me to analyze the world through exactly that lens.  I also purchased a number of DVD collections of Liberace’s performances throughout his career.  The only books about Liberace that existed in 2010 that I didn’t obtain were his cookbook (since I couldn’t find a copy), and Scott Thorson’s Behind the Candelabra (which I couldn’t find for anything less than $150 given it’s out-of-print nature, a price too dear at the time relative to what I thought it would unearth for me).

rep-240Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts also established a partnership around the premiere production, and the Foundation’s representatives provided me with a few of their own resources.  The play exists in partnership with the Foundation today, and I’m delighted not only in the resurgence of interest in Liberace, but the accompanying upswing in Foundation activity, as well.  Hopefully all of his wonderful artifacts will be back on display again soon in some manner so that they can continue to delight audiences.

While I was waiting for all of that material to arrive (much of which came from small used book stores, given that the cultural awareness of and interest in Liberace in 2010 was significantly different from what it is today and almost all of it was out of print), I jumped on YouTube.  And the first videos that I saw there were of a very young Liberace wearing  a very tasteful tuxedo performing fairly straight-up classical songs and standards, sometimes in the context of little set-piece vignettes, on what seemed to be a very restrained, dignified, and technically ahead-of-its-time, black-and-white television program.  I suppose—if I even thought about it at all, which I can’t say that I really did—that I’d always carried an assumption that he’d been an outsized performer for his entire career.  But here he was, in a tuxedo and backed up by a trio fronted by his brother, George, working through mostly-traditional renditions of well-known piano compositions, with the music and his relationship to it at the center of the program.  While one could argue for the era that that Liberace was also outsized in his own way, regardless, the juxtaposition between the 1950s TV Liberace and the sequins-and-feathers Liberace that I recalled from the 1980s was immediate and jarring.

It quickly became clear that that evolution in performance style and packaging was a conscious choice.  And the more that I explored that choice (as well as its inspirations and impacts), the narrative frame of the play—as an exploration of the duality of human identity in the context of our public versus private selves—essentially created itself.  That remained the question that propelled me through the research phase, as well as the “why” at the core of the play.

Eger: What were the things that surprised you the most on this journey into the life and the mind of an extraordinary artist and troubled human being?

1297926829_liberace_2Hazelton: I found Liberace’s biography not only continually surprising, but also very moving and of towering centrality to so much of 20th Century pop culture.  The project quickly evolved from an assignment to a story that I passionately believed deserved—and needed—to be told, and one which held real value for audience members of any background.

I learned what a truly gifted performer he was.  Not only as a musician—you can say what you want about his interpretations of the music since that’s a subjective taste-based assessment, but you cannot disparage Liberace’s technique and physical skill as a player—but as an accessible human being who worked in service of pleasing his audience in a genuine effort to share something meaningful with them in order to allow them to walk out in a better mood than the one in which they walked in.  I find that very ennobling, and a performance perspective worthy of profound respect.  I always figured that the glitz served to cover up a deficiency as musician or in stagecraft—but he didn’t have any.

Certainly, he faced challenging choices in trying to balance and mesh his personal and private lives—including some real no-win situations that did him and those closest to him irreversible damage.  There’s a fascinating contradiction of savvy perception and childlike naiveté at the core of his personality that seemed to have led him into troubling situations where he was blindsided by a response that, in retrospect, should have seemed obvious for someone as skilled at taking the temperature of and connecting with large groups of people as he truly was, but I don’t see him as any more or less plagued by demons than any of the rest of us—his were simply magnified in proportion to his career and the scale of the character that he played.  But it’s that naiveté and ultimate emotional innocence at his center that I think was warped by the personal attacks upon him, and which ultimately prevented him from having many normative personal relationships throughout his life.  If there’s any tragedy in his life, I think it’s that—the inability to develop a balanced, stable, and full inner emotional life in light of him having to move through so much of his life as something “other” than his fully true self.  And that, I think, is the lesson for us all in his story—the damage done when we can’t take at face value the totality and complexity of ourselves and those around us.

I do find him deeply sympathetic as a human being, and I think it’s unfair to characterize him as a victimizer if one does also not equally look at the ways in which he himself was victimized, and the degree to which he internalized what he seems to have deeply felt would be a genuinely destructive rejection should his sexuality become common knowledge.  I found that every choice he made was as a result of learned behavior—a cause-and-effect relationship, that once one understands his core motivation (which I take to be a genuine desire to make as many people as happy as he possibly could—with the added bonus that it made him almost preposterously wealthy along the way!), I think very clearly casts his entire life as a set of choices and decisions made with that objective in mind relative to avoiding as many of the obstacles that stood in his way.  Was he always successful?  Of course not.  Was he always his best self?  Far from it.  Did he do things that he probably dearly wished he hadn’t?  Assuredly so.  But given the inherent generosity of that objective (despite the benefits that he reaped in achieving it, he genuinely never seemed to have the elevation or betterment of the self as the primary end to his work), it’s difficult for me to either judge him harshly or look upon him as some kind of monster, despite his having done some things in his personal life that could easily be categorized as monstrous.  But, at the end of the day, which of us hasn’t?  As Hamlet says of his father: He was a man, take him for all in all.

Eger: It must have been tempting to write an entertaining piece. What gave you the strength to become brutally honest with Liberace’s darker side?

LIBERACEHazelton: I don’t think that I ever made a conscious choice to favor one over the other—nor do I think the two are mutually exclusive!  My own favorite experiences in the theater are those that reveal something human and universal—where I learn something about myself and the world around me while I’m experiencing other human beings’ journeys.  And that catharsis—for me personally, at least—is always delivered in the form of a human revelation that, in my own subjective opinion at least, seems to be fundamentally honest.  It can be a primarily emotional journey that unlocks the intellectual, or an intellectual exercise the potency of which triggers a core emotional response.  I like to think and feel in equal measure when I’m in a theater, and I think (hope?), that most people would agree with that.  But it’s all in service of the revelation of human truth, and that honesty lives in the relationship between the light and the dark, the highs and the lows, and the triumphs and the failures.

And that philosophy dovetails nicely with Liberace’s own journey.  So, for me, the exercise in creating the play was to determine my own specific, human viewpoint on Liberace’s life, figure out how that was relatable to human beings on a larger and more general level, and write that story in whatever way would make that truth resound most clearly.  And, in this case, that meant a great deal of warmth and heart and what I hope people find to be some terrific laughs, as well as an honest exploration of his struggles.  If they cry at the end, I don’t think they’re crying for him—I hope that they’re tears of recognition and relationship.  Perhaps what I’m most proud of is that, during that 2010 production, the nightly cheering ovation was consistently led by obviously-straight men in their 50s and 60s.  My assumption is that that was either out of apology for perhaps taking actions that resulted the most deeply in people outside of norms having to hide their differences, or from them being born into a generation with probably the most proscriptive gender roles in American history and therefore having to hide a great deal of their own selves to fit that limited definition of masculinity.  I recall the father of a close friend saying to me through his own tears after one performance, “I wish I could knit.”  We talked a bit about it, and as a child in the early 1950s, he loved to knit with his mother and grandmother.  But his own father intimidated that desire out of him, and he gave it up.  But fifty-some years later, he was still carrying regret that that wasn’t a thing he was allowed to do for reasons that likely impacted him fairly deeply as a young child.  And, for that man, the damage done by his father’s refusal to let him knit was every bit as equal as the damage done through Liberace having to hide his own sexuality.  People will decide the moral equivalence of those things for themselves, but, for me, that fifty-something straight white Protestant male achieved a profound level of empathy with Liberace, and, therefore, with any other person who might self-identify as gay.  I don’t think as theater-makers that we have the power to directly change the world anymore.  The audience is too small and popular tastes have shifted too much to other mediums.  But we can change hearts and minds, one at a time, and if we can develop enough of a critical mass of those individuals, then meaningful change is possible.  For me, that’s the point of the exercise.

Jack Forbes Wilson

Jack Forbes Wilson as Liberace

That turned into a bit of a digression.  Anyway, I also don’t know that we’re necessarily being brutally honest—though, of course, that depends on one’s definition of the truth of actual events.  The Liberace that I’ve worked with since the inception of the piece, the almost criminally talented Jack Forbes Wilson, described the take of the play very well in an interview that we did together during the recent 2014 Milwaukee Rep remount.  Every interviewer for that production asked us about the Steven Soderberg movie in comparison to the play, and Jack offered that they were attempting to achieve two different ends: if Soderberg’s movie was Behind the Candelabra (which, we should remember, is an adaptation of Scott’s book, not anything directly from Liberace’s own perspective), then our play could be considered to be “in front of the candelabra.”  The focus is much more on the private events and personal choices that informed what his audiences saw and experienced than on any sort of exploration of a specific relationship between he and Scott (or he and anyone else, really).  But, unlike the movie, the entire play takes place directly in front of an audience, with whom Liberace is having an in-the-moment conversation—and that relationship would also color the content of that conversation.  So it’s not intended as a private confessional, but as a very intentional means by which Liberace can achieve something from that audience.  And, as a reflection of that, thematically It’s about the relationship between him and his work and his fans and how the personal informed and influenced that—and, depending on one’s own perspective, whether that influence was for the positive or negative.  So I don’t think that I consciously went for “dark,” nor would I if I had it to do over again—I went for honest and human, and disappointment is part and parcel of that experience.

Interestingly, when Jack and I started talking about the project (I had the luxury of knowing that I was writing it for him and working with him to shape it), we both wound up completely independently of one another with the same desired final image for the play—wouldn’t it be cool if we allowed Liberace the opportunity to strip away all of the glitz and just play a beautiful song, simply?  We took the fact that we both landed on it to be a sign that that was at least an interesting idea, and that closing image informed my take on the biography and research, certainly.

But Jack’s really the strong one.  He’s the one who has to get up there and do it every night for two hours with no net and only a piano and an audience as his scene partners.  That ain’t easy.

Eger: LIBERACE is a twofer: a riveting play, and a concert, all rolled into one, not to mention the costumes, which, in addition to the music, represent the fourth dimension of the play. Could you describe the musical evolution of this piece, with you and Jack Forbes Wilson (what a name!) working out the musical numbers that would best represent Liberace’s music and your play? Again, here it seems that your research into Liberace’s world, and Jack’s knowledge of music and capacity to play certain pieces created a wonderful artistic cooperation between the playwright and the actor. Tell me more about that process.

Hazelton: I treated it as much structurally like a musical as I could, insofar as the music advances the narrative and reflects the intellectual and emotional themes in the play—while also making sure that there were enough of Liberace’s “go-to” songs in the show that fans would find familiar.  So winnowing down that considerable catalog was a fairly easy task with those guidelines in mind—the story informed the songs.  Add to that that we had only about five months from my getting the assignment and Jack being hired to play the role until opening night, and we also had to default in many cases to songs that Jack already had in his repertoire (which, thankfully, is nearly as vast as Liberace’s own).  Jack did a marvelous job of “Liberace-ing up” his own arrangements (as well as creating some original show-stoppers), and continually made sure that we were making the right choices (I always argued; Jack was always right).  All told, we wound up with almost three-dozen pieces of music intertwined within a nearly non-stop 105-minute monologue.  It’s a brutal piece of work for a performer, but Jack never fails to carry it off with grace and charm.

But it’s also a sensational gift as a writer and director to be able to say to a performer, “Hey, I think here we’re going to do a monologue that covers 15 years of Liberace’s rise to superstardom in about four minutes, and you should play The Saber Dance while you say it,” and to then have the performer say, “Okay”—and do it!  There are not a lot of people in the world who could do that, and I’m beyond lucky that we had one of the best already living and working in Milwaukee in Jack.

As for the costumes, Milwaukee Rep’s costume shop is nationally known in the industry for its level of quality and attention to detail.  Our Costume Designer, Alex Tecoma, has been a member of that shop staff for almost two decades now, and has really come into his own as a designer of serious merit in the last ten years or so.  He’s a wonderful friend and a great artist, and having him design the costumes was a no-brainer.  And the costume shop and prop shop (also a nationally-known element of Milwaukee Rep under the leadership of Jim Guy), collaborated on all of the clothes that we see in the show that Liberace doesn’t wear.  Again, it’s a real gift to be able, as a director, to suggest that level of detail and opulence on a relatively small budget and to have it come off so spectacularly.  It’s a credit to the professionalism and craftsmanship of Milwaukee Rep’s artisans, and I’m proud to be able to share that work outside of the city as the show travels.

And I love the set that Scenic Designer Scott Davis has some up with, and the execution of it by our scene shop and in particular Milwaukee Rep’s paint shop, under the direction of Jim Medved, another of our nationally-lauded production artisans.

And three different lighting designers—Lee Fiskness, Aimee Hanyzewski, and now Scott Parker, continue to create the opulence and emotional landscape of Liberace’s world to great aplomb.

Eger: What were the most difficult parts of writing this play?

Hazelton: Figuring out the idea at its core.  Once I could say to myself “It’s about love, dummy,” things dropped nicely into place.  But it took a couple of months of writing myself down dead-end alleys to get there.

Eger: You integrated Philadelphia references, for example: when “Liberace” referred to the most outrageous outfit as a piece from the Mummer’s Parade, a statement that brought down the house. Tell me more about your research into Philadelphia references that you integrated into this version.

Hazelton: I honestly can’t take credit for that.  As originally conceived for a Milwaukee audience, there were no shortage of local geographical and cultural references that delighted the audience (which, I think would hold true for any audience—people enjoy seeing themselves reflected on stage, and if it’s done in such a way that doesn’t feel like pandering, can be a strong force in uniting a room as well as telling a story using collectively relatable terms and concepts).  Liberace himself, who toured extensively and developed relationships with individuals and communities that he returned to over and over again, would also try to localize his performances as much as possible.  I think this is another example of his generosity of spirit both onstage and off: approach people on their own terms.  Make them feel familiar and at home and welcome, and do them the courtesy of learning something about them while you’re with them.  We learned early on in the original 2010 production that if something worked for Liberace (whether it was a specific moment or joke or overall philosophy), it was going to work for us, too, given that Liberace had spent years refining his stagecraft.  So we applied that lesson to the localizing references, as well.

When Walnut Street committed to presenting the show, one of the first things that I sent Siobhan Ruane, Walnut Street’s terrific Associate Production Manager, was a list of all of the Milwaukee references for which we were hoping to find Philadelphia substitutions.  There were about a dozen, if memory serves, and Siobhan put together a little Philly “local color” team who made terrific suggestions about just the right substitutions, both in tone and fact.  We wound up finding good solutions for about eight of them.  The other four we just cut, as they weren’t totally germane to the core narrative anyway, but the Mummer joke didn’t surface until we were actually in the theater, and the resonance with that giant feathered costume on stage was just too good to pass up for the natives in the room who saw it unveiled.

Eger: Are you and Jack planning to take this piece on the road and adapting it to the various localities, the way you did with the “Eagles song”?

Hazelton: If it continues to travel, it will continue to be adapted to reflect the locality in which it’s being presented.  There are actually suggested substitutions written into the script, and presenters or producers are encouraged in select, noted moments, to shift references to suit their communities.

As for its future, Jack wanted to use the Philadelphia run to see if the piece worked outside of Milwaukee before committing to any further productions.  So we’ll know in a few weeks what that verdict is, and we’ll assess from there.  But the property is available for licensing (through Steele Spring Stage Rights), and will have been independently produced by about a dozen other companies by the end of next year since its licensing release in 2013.

Eger: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Hazelton: Here’s another question that Walnut asked that I thought was interesting.

Q. What’s different about your version of Liberace than other portrayals of the artist?

A.  At the time we created it, other than some Saturday Night Live sketches and the odd impersonator here and there, I don’t know that there were many other portrayals out there.  Certainly nothing in a “legit” stage play…at least that I knew of.  Since then, there’s been the Soderbergh HBO movie, and how the news that Liberace will be back on tour again—as a hologram!  And Lady Gaga continues to name drop him in lyrics.  So he’s definitely vaulting back into the public consciousness over the past decade, and deservedly so.  But my goal in telling his story (relative to those short-form comedy exercises certainly), was to really reach for something honest, real, balanced, and fundamentally human that hopefully reaches the level of universally-applicable metaphor—to reach back to that initial fascination with my own discovery of him as something other than a drag clown in millions of sequins and a couple hundred pounds of seashells or feathers, and find the real guy.

But, aside from that, after 3000 words, I’m feeling a touch dry at the moment.  So, no, not right now.  Feel free to shoot back anything that you’d like further clarified or expanded, and I’ll do my best.  Thanks again for your interest!

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