Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Last Tango in Los Angeles: The First Plateau.

Last Tango in Los Angeles: The First Plateau.: "An eye-opening rehearsal last night, to say the least. This is my 112th professional, Equity production as an actor. And over the course o..."

The First Plateau.

An eye-opening rehearsal last night, to say the least.  This is my 112th professional, Equity production as an actor.  And over the course of those shows I'd like to think (although sometimes I'm not so sure) I've learned some things.  One thing I always wait for in the rehearsal process, and it nearly always happens, is what I like to call the 'first plateau.'  It usually happens about two weeks into rehearsal (for non-musicals, usually a little earlier).  This is when the cast has a rehearsal that finally gives everyone a glimpse of what is possible.  It's a heady feeling.  This is what happened last night. 

One of my co-stars in this piece is a remarkably talented actress named Kelly Lester.  She, like myself I'm surmising, has a long history in this silly little business.  And in this play, she, too, has a brutally long and complicated song.  Her major song comes at the top of the show, right out of the gate.  Mine is about halfway through.  So when the curtain metaphorically goes up, the first thing the audience will see and hear is Kelly.  And as anyone who's done musical theater can tell you, it's crucial, absolutely crucial, to knock 'em out immediately. 

Kelly's song, even more so than mine, I dare say, is a combination of impossible range, intensely complicated rhythms and complex counting on the part of the actor.  Kelly came in last night and hit it out of the park on the first swing.  During the break I told her, completely sincerely, "You've just set the bar impossibly high for the rest of us."  I meant it.  It was a dazzling display of virtuoso talent.  Even Alan (Alan Patrick Kenny, our encyclopedic musical director, himself unbelievably talented) normally somewhat subdued during rehearsal, was whooping with excitement.  I am not, at least vocally, involved in the first number, so I only had to sit and listen to it.  Our ensemble nailed it right along with her.  Alan has said a couple of times in this process thus far, "Musical theater at it's very best must appear as though the actor is composing the score 'on the spot.'"  Well, that's what it looked like.  It is, and will be, a tour de force for her.  I often tell my students that a play is only as good as its weakest actor.  I hope I'm not getting ahead of myself here, but I honestly don't think we need worry about that with this piece.  There simply are no 'weak' actors. 

The next 'plateau' will probably occur during the sitzprobe, which is German for 'sit and sing.'  That has been my experience, anyway.  We'll continue along on this current path, working at this high level of expectation, that is to say, and I suspect the next time we all jump to a higher plane will be when the orchestra is present and we all hear the fullness of the score underneath us.  That day is always tremendously exciting.  I remember the second time I did Camelot I did it with an orchestra of about twenty-five musicians.  We were all in an acoustically perfect rehearsal hall in Pennsylvania and when the music (remember, we had been used to working with simply a piano) and the strings swelled beneath us, it was a little bit of magic.  Always works that way.  I've done a play called 1940's Radio Hour a total of six times around the country.  That play, as the title would suggest, is all about jazz/swing music from the forties.  The first time the cast works with the onstage full orchestra, complete with swinging brass, it's electric.  Every single time. 

So, we're finally off and running.  Off and flying, actually.  The rest of the evening went well, too.  I was even a little happy with my massive number, Zero's Confession.  There are still spots in the song that concern me deeply (there are two moments in which I'm compelled to sing high Fs...and by the time I get to them they are, well, just not there) but I have some ideas.  I mentioned to Alan last night that I'd like to 'negotiate' with him about the spots in the song that I can emotionally express without actually singing.  He smiled and said, "Okay."  I think it will be up to me to demonstrate whether they can work or not. 

So, finally, a rehearsal yesterday I didn't walk away from in angst.  I knew it would happen, I just didn't know when. 

See you tomorrow.