There’s a lot going on at PTC these days – here’s a front-of-house rundown of what you’ll see just from the lobby of our super-popular, oversold, recently extended, SparkleJollyTwinkleJingley production of Elf—The Musical:
Candy Cane Corner
PTC is partnering with local nonprofits on a Holiday Gift Drive this year. In the northeast corner of our lobby, you’ll find a sleigh filled with toys and other gifts for families served by the Candy Cane Corner.
“Candy Cane Corner was started by YWCA volunteers as a way to empower parents,” said spokesperson Amberlie Phillips. “Rather than simply giving pre-selected holiday items to families, Candy Cane Corner allows parents to ‘shop’ for themselves and their children, and therefore choose the items they most need.” All items in the store are free to those who need them. Last year, Candy Cane Corner served 548 families and over 1,300 children.
A list of items needed is available at CandyCaneCornerSLC.org. The list includes toys, clothes, small appliances and other household items. All items must be new, and must be unwrapped.
Donations can be made from now through December 23rd, when the store closes at any of three official drop-off stations:
Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre lobby, 300 S. 1400 E. Salt Lake City, UT, from Monday – Friday from 10:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m., and from noon until 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays, or before the show for ticketholders.
The Road Home, 210 Rio Grande Street (455 West), Salt Lake City, UT, every day from 7:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m.
YWCA of Utah, 322 East 300 South, Salt Lake City, UT, Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
In the center of our lobby, you’ll find a photo stand for your little elves. Use the cutout of 6’4” Buddy and his more appropriately-sized elf companions to see your Elf Self, and then show us your photo on Facebook! It’s not a selfie – it’s an Elfie.
Preshow performances by students from the University of Utah Musical Theatre Program (MTP) take place during several of our performances. These groups perform traditional holiday classics to the Baby Grand piano accompaniment that happens prior to almost all of our performances throughout the season. The acoustics in the two-story lobby make this a real pre-show treat.
Every show, PTC’s The Loge Gallery features works by a different local artist (or groups of artists). For Elf—The Musical, local painter Mark Slusser’s works are on display for enjoyment before the show, or during intermission. Those works can be experienced on the loge (or, mezzanine) level of the lobby. The gallery is also open for non-ticketholders Monday – Friday at 10:00 a.m. and is free to see.
Who knew that there was an actual Santa “clause” surrounding the use of the celebrity’s likeness? Actor Daniel Marcus, who is cast as Santa in our upcoming production of Elf – The Musical, just found out in no uncertain terms:Dasher, Dancer, Prancer & McCormick Legal Services The Rudolph Company, LLC. North Pole, N.P. 00001-0001
to: Daniel Marcus (‘santa’) cast of “Elf” @ PTC
It has come to our attention that you intend to perform the role of SANTA in the upcoming performance of “Elf”. We must advise you that the role of Santa is to be played only by the person who shall herewith be known as ‘Santa’. Santa resides here in the North Pole and has full and sole claim to both the name and likeness of himself. If you check the contractual arrangements we have with many organizations and stores (parades, cartoons, advertisements for video games) you will see that we only license to those using Santa as the second of two names such as: ‘Marvin’ Santa, ‘Sally’ Santa etc. Do not think you can fool us btw in choosing such names as ‘Klaus Santa’. We must also advise you that you may not array yourself in all the traditional accouterments of said personage while changing the name to “Jimmy”. Only one person may wear the universally recognized red-suit attire while also going under the fully trademarked name ‘Santa’ and if you’ll pardon the informality Mr. Marcus: it ain’t you.
As an actor we appreciate your need to perform in roles and in situations other than your own and we feel there are many other possibilities for you such as Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Mr. Spock and any number of dwarves, ogres, sprites and congressmen.
We will of course allow PTC to honor your contract and in the playbill for this production you may list yourself as playing the role of ‘SANTA’ but on no condition are you to actually perform the role.
Mr. Claus himself will be arriving in Salt Lake City in time for your performances and will take over the role for all performances of “Elf”. Please advise your theatre’s marketing and publicity departments to let the public and in particular the children know that character of SANTA in your production is in fact the REAL Santa Claus. No need for fittings or rehearsal-he will provide his own costume and he’s known the lines for several centuries.
Good luck with what’s left of your career.
R. Rudolph, Esq.
by Janine Sobeck, Other Desert Cities dramaturg
In 1939, dissatisfied with the Broadway theatre scene that he had ruled for over 14 years, American playwright titan Eugene O’Neill retreated to his San Francisco home to grapple with demons of his youth. In his resulting work, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, O’Neill explores the time in his life right before he committed himself to playwriting, offering very raw accounts of the depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and general dysfunction of his family. O’Neill told his wife that he honestly believed he had reached a state of compassionate detachment that allowed him to write about his family with “loving and forgiveness.” However, upon the play’s completion in 1942, he asked his publisher to place it in a vault and contracted an agreement that it would not be produced until 25 years after his death.
His wife skirted the contract, resulting in the play being first produced a mere three years after his death, and it was, as we know, received with great acclaim, winning the 1957 Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of the season. O’Neill was also posthumously awarded the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. For many, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is considered O’Neill’s masterpiece, a poignant, compelling, and brilliant piece of drama.
Unless, of course, you are his mother.
That question of the artist’s right to self-exploration versus his responsibility to the living is something that Jon Robin Baitz continues to explore in his play Other Desert Cities. Baitz himself left behind a successful New York playwriting career (his play A Fair Country was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996) to move to Hollywood and pursue his television show Brothers and Sisters. After only one season, and amidst extremely nasty disputes with studio executives, Baitz returned to New York and secluded himself in his Sag Harbor cottage. After spending a year “in silence,” a year that Baitz says was full of bitterness, rage, and depression, he started to write, channeling his confusion, anger, and frustration over life events into the play that would become Other Desert Cities.
Through his character Brooke, Baitz finally felt he could fully explore the questions that had plagued him while working in Hollywood – questions about staying true to yourself as an artist, the cost of that truth, and the delicate balance between truth and diplomacy. As Silda says, “telling the truth is a very expensive hobby,” and yet as Baitz, O’Neill, and many other artists have found, the potential expense has not eradicated the need to explore events, moments, and even secrets of life in order to understand themselves.
However, while understanding that need, Baitz does not ignore the very real emotions and repercussions of those whose events, moments, and secrets get revealed in the process. O’Neill repeatedly told his wife that he had to write this story in order to “forgive his family and himself,” and Baitz, through Brooke, opines that this sort of self-exploration is “something that makes me possible.” Yet the question of how it affects the lives of those the author exposes – and whether the clarity received by the author is worth the potential devastation of others – remains open and valid.
While Baitz does not provide any easy answers, he does invite you to join the Wyeth family in this exploration of the balance between artistic self-exploration and familial loyalty. As he, O’Neill, and other artists have discovered, there is much to be revealed along the journey.
 Gelb, Arthur, and Barbara Gelb. O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo. New York: Applause Theater Books, 2002.
 Sessums, Kevin. “Broadway’s Comeback Kid.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 02 Nov. 2011. Web. 09 Oct. 2013
People have been asking me, “What is Other Desert Cities about?” for months now – and I still don’t have a good, short, answer.
It’s about family, it’s about politics, it’s about love and compassion and art and personal perspective and tragedy and forgiveness and truth. No, really, it’s about all of those things!
Maybe some info from our dramaturgical packet, compiled by the show’s dramaturg Janine Sobeck, can shed some light. This is an article about a real-life incident very similar to the inciting incident in Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz. Unlike most stories, the central incident of the narrative occurrs long before the action of the play takes place. Brooke Wyeth’s family lives in Palm Springs, at least the family that’s still alive – her brother passed away when Brooke was young. She has written a memoir of her perspective of this tragedy, that doesn’t necessarily reflect her family’s perspective.
And therein lies the drama.
Maybe a little context will set the stage, but to know what it’s really all about, you’ll just have to see the show. Tickets are still available for this last week of performances.
Dwight Armstrong, Who Bombed a College Building in 1970, Dies at 58
June 26, 2010
By Margalit Fox
Dwight Armstrong, one of four young men who in 1970 bombed a building on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, killing one person and injuring several others — a political protest that, gone violently wrong, endures in the national memory as an act of domestic terrorism — died on June 20 in Madison. He was 58.
The cause was lung cancer, said Susan Lampert Smith, a spokeswoman for the University of Wisconsin Hospital, where he died.
The bombing took place on Aug. 24, 1970, during a time of intense agitation against the Vietnam War. At 3:42 a.m., an explosion tore through Sterling Hall, a building that housed both the university physics department and the Army Mathematics Research Center. The center, which operated under a contract with the United States Army, had been the target of many nonviolent protests since it opened in the 1950s.
Though the bombers said afterward that they had not intended to hurt anyone, the explosion killed Robert Fassnacht, a physics researcher who was working late. Mr. Fassnacht, 33, a father of three, was, his family said afterward, against the war.
On Sept. 2, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a nationwide hunt for four men charged with the bombing: Dwight Armstrong, who had turned 19 five days after the explosion; his brother, Karleton, 22; David S. Fine, 18; and Leo F. Burt, 22.
Placed on the bureau’s most-wanted list, the four lived separate, fugitive lives, in some cases for years. Of the three who were eventually apprehended, Dwight Armstrong remained underground the longest, for nearly seven years. Mr. Armstrong, who had driven the getaway car after the bombing, was arrested in Toronto in April 1977.
That May, he pleaded no contest to a state charge of second-degree murder and guilty to federal charges including conspiracy. In June, in a plea agreement, he was sentenced to seven years on the state charges and seven on the federal, to be served concurrently. He was paroled in 1980.
In 1987, he was arrested in Indiana on charges of helping operate a methamphetamine lab there. Sentenced to 10 years, he was released in 1991. Afterward, he returned to Madison, where he drove a cab and helped take care of his mother.
“My life,” Dwight Armstrong told The Capital Times, a Madison newspaper, in 1992, “has not been something to write home about.”
Dwight Alan Armstrong was born in Madison on Aug. 29, 1951, the youngest of four children of Donald and Ruth Armstrong. His father was a machinist; his mother a bakery worker. By all accounts, Dwight was an ordinary Midwestern boy, fond of playing baseball and bicycling around his exurban community.
An indifferent student, Dwight left high school in 1968, in 10th grade. By 1970, following his elder brother’s example, he had became an ardent opponent of the war. On New Year’s Day of that year, Dwight and his brother, known as Karl, stole a light plane from a Wisconsin airfield. With Dwight at the controls — he had only about 10 hours of flying experience — they took to the sky and dropped homemade bombs over a local ordnance plant. None detonated.
The watershed moment in the brothers’ activism, Karl Armstrong said, came on May 4, 1970, the day members of the Ohio National Guard, responding to a demonstration at Kent State University, shot and killed four students there. “My brother and I just looked at each other,” Karl Armstrong said in an interview on Wednesday. “And I just said, ‘Army Math.’ ”
On Aug. 16, 1970, as described in the F.B.I.’s affidavit charging the four men with the bombing, Karl Armstrong bought about 100 gallons of fuel oil at a local service station. On the 19th, at a farmers’ cooperative, he bought about 1,700 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The manager of the cooperative, the affidavit said, cautioned Karl that if the fertilizer were mixed with fuel oil and used in conjunction with dynamite, a tremendous explosion could result. But Mr. Armstrong already knew that.
On Aug. 24, in the predawn hours, Karl Armstrong parked a stolen van packed with fertilizer, fuel and dynamite outside Sterling Hall. The men chose that time, Karl later said in interviews, because they thought the building would be empty. Dwight, meanwhile, was waiting a few blocks away with a yellow Corvair borrowed from their mother. About 3:40, after looking in the building’s windows and seeing no one, Karl lighted the fuse.
As he drove the getaway car carrying the four men, Dwight Armstrong abruptly pulled over.
“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Karl Armstrong recalled Wednesday.
“He said, ‘You have to look.’ And there, above campus, was this huge fireball going up.”
The blast inflicted millions of dollars’ worth of damage on Sterling Hall and surrounding buildings. Besides killing Mr. Fassnacht, it injured at least three others. The Army Mathematics Research Center itself sustained minimal damage.
The four men drove to a truck stop north of town, where they celebrated with a round of Cokes, Karl Armstrong said. Soon after, they heard on the car radio that a man had died in the blast.
The brothers returned the Corvair — they had promised their mother they would. As Karl recalled Wednesday, she asked them, “Did you hear thunder last night?”
The four men soon scattered. The Armstrong brothers made their way to New York but separated not long afterward.
In the interview with The Capital Times, Dwight Armstrong expressed qualified remorse for the killing, arguing that the bombing itself was a political necessity. “We did what we had to do; we did what we felt a lot of other people should have done,” he said. “I don’t care what public opinion is; we did what was right.”
Mr. Armstrong was divorced. Besides his mother and brother, he is survived by a daughter, Drew, and two sisters, Mira and Lorene.
His confederate Mr. Fine was arrested in California in 1976, pleaded guilty and received a seven-year sentence. He was paroled in 1979. The whereabouts of Mr. Burt remain unknown.
Karl Armstrong was apprehended in Toronto in 1972. The next year, after pleading guilty to a variety of state and federal charges, he received a 23-year sentence. He was paroled in 1980 and returned to Madison.
In the winter, Karl Armstrong drives a taxi. In the warmer months, as he has for nearly three decades, he operates a juice cart. The cart is on a pedestrian mall at the edge of the campus, a few blocks from the rebuilt Sterling Hall, where a plaque honors Mr. Fassnacht’s memory.
Guest Blogger Perry Sherman, who plays Marius in our production of Les Miz (I’ve heard rumors that the cast members refer to him as “Perrius.” Who doesn’t love a good portmanteau?!) comes to the role for the second time in his acting career. According to Perry’s bio, he is “grateful for the opportunity to reprise this role, having butchered it once in high school,” and dedicates this performance to Rob Fessler, a teacher who has been particularly supportive throughout his career.
I watched my high school’s production of Les Misérables the night before I flew to Salt Lake. I tell ya, there’s nothing better than laughing at your younger self. If you don’t have any old videos, film something this week. You’ll thank me one day. That production was recorded 8 years ago, and here I was, sitting on my couch in Long Island, mouthing every line. I hadn’t sung these lyrics in almost a decade and somehow my brain had catalogued them. Amazing! In the middle of Act II, right before “Empty Chairs,” my animal instincts kicked in. I jumped up, threw the coffee table out the window, and took center carpet. I may have even moved an “empty chair” in from the kitchen.
Standing in front of the TV, waiting for the spotlight to land on my 16-year-old self, I felt something weird form in my gut. It was new, but that was the only positive thing about it. It felt like a tangled Slinky. But I shook it off and started singing. As I had expected, it was all still there, even inflections of phrases. Choices that I had made years ago were mindlessly repeating through muscle memory. Once I noticed what was happening, I got completely freaked out. Here I am trying to make bold, adult choices, and my body is remembering awkward, 16-year-old half-gestures. Even the Slinky in my gut now felt familiar. I turned the DVD off after that and tried to get some sleep.
But I couldn’t sleep, wondering what was waiting for me the next day, just a few sentences away from the next chapter in my life (cue music). When I’m about to begin working on a show, that’s what it feels like: a new chapter. Older and wiser me meets the unknown. Actors have the incredible fortune of chronicling time this way. When I’m in my sixties, I’ll still remember where I was at 24, doing Les Mis. Strangers become people you can’t remember not knowing. Chapter by chapter the book comes together. My fear was that choices I had made in the prologue were going to creep into chapter 5. Every project has its challenges and I knew what I had to do…burn the DVD.
We rehearsed the show all of April – which gave me a lot of time to figure out Marius Pontmercy. Thankfully, Chuck and Karen steered me clear of adolescent acting choices (I didn’t start moving my arms till week three). And, I realized that I hadn’t remembered the lyrics and melodies quite as well as I had thought. Actually, our music director figured it out. And he told me. Performing the show for 5 weeks is such a gift. Having that kind of time is a luxury actors rarely get when working regionally. I’ll feel something different on a given night, or a line will come out in a new way, and I’ll go home and think about it and decide if it’s something I want to play with. The joy of this show is that it’s an ensemble piece and the relationships are getting more complex and beautiful each night. Marius is in a delicate love triangle. Every night, I tweak the love meter a little between Eponine and Cosette. Who knows, one night I might rewrite the story. You can’t help who you love, right? When we’ve figured it out, it’ll be time to close.
PERRY SHERMAN* (Marius) PTC debut! First National Tours: Next to Normal (Henry/Gabe Standby) and Spring Awakening (Chair of Rock). Regional Theatre: Avenue Q (Princeton/Rod) directed by puppet designer Rick Lyon, and most recently at the York Theatre Walk on the Wild Side (Dove). He is grateful for the opportunity to reprise this role, having butchered it once in high school. For that reason, this is dedicated to Rob Fessler. Trained at Carnegie Mellon University. Love to my incredible family.
Kelly McCormick wears many hats – and wigs! PTC’s Fantine (in both this production and our 2007 production of Les Misérables) is blogging about her Salt Lake City experience for BroadwayWorld.com. Take a look at her latest blog entry about her personal wig (and hair) experiences, and about PTC’s fantastic resident Hair & Makeup Designer Amanda French.
KELLY McCORMICK* (Fantine) is honored to return to PTC, where she appeared as Fantine in the 2007 production of Les Misérables. National Tours: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Truly Scrumptious); Les Misérables (Factory Girl, Fantine u/s). Off-Broadway: The Extraordinary Ordinary; Her Song. Other favorites: Guys and Dolls (Sarah Brown, opposite Kevin Vortmann – North Shore Music Theatre); Hello! My Baby (Frances Gold – Goodspeed); Heidi in [title of show] and Babe Williams in The Pajama Game (Arizona Theatre Company); 1776 (Martha Jefferson – Pittsburgh CLO); Pal Joey (Linda – Prince Music Theatre); Children of Eden (Ford’s Theatre). Kelly holds her M.M. (Voice) and M.F.A. (Drama) from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and has appeared as a featured soloist with the Cincinnati and Omaha Symphony Orchestras. Love and gratitude to Chuck and Karen. For JCB.
AMANDA FRENCH (Hair and Makeup Designer) has been a Makeup and Hair Designer for over 20 years. She has worked for The Utah Shakespeare Festival, The Utah Opera, Egyptian Theatre Company and the University of Texas at Austin. She is a contributing writer in the tenth edition of Stage Makeup by Corson, Glavan and Norcross, and her work can also be seen in The Costume Technician’s Handbook by Ingham and Covey, and Wig Making and Styling: A Complete Guide for Theatre and Film by Ruskai and Lowery. She attended the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where she studied with Hair and Makeup Designer Lenna Kaleva. She is a member of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) and a current University of Utah instructor of wigs and makeup.
In a world that has changed so much – even in my (relatively) short lifetime – it always brings warmth to my heart to hear of the random act of kindness. Did I give away my age? The heartbreaking simple deed from a stranger that makes your day just a bit brighter, the gracious gesture from your next door neighbor, or the unexpected surprise given by a loved one are all things that hit the heart. You know, that little elbow jab to the heart that makes you want to grab your chest and whimper in feelings? Of course, you won’t see me break down emotionally… not in public, no, never. Not me. Nope, you are mistaken, that wasn’t me.
Well, not too long ago, a stranger asked me if I needed help pushing my 300-pound scooter up-hill after tens of cars passed me by without a second look. After I had broken down, picked up my belongings that scattered across busy Highland Drive, and found my new sunglasses bent from the disaster, it was heartwarming to hear her voice of willing help.
There’s something about Les Misérables that always brings out Utah audiences. Last time Les Misérables came to Pioneer Theatre, the show ran several weeks longer than scheduled. I think it’s that soul-grabbing feeling. It’s that tale of a reformed brute taking in a stranger’s child as his own. And the fact that it’s a classic doesn’t hurt, either, I bet.
The combination of my recent scooter tragedy and re-watching Les Misérables led me to this topic. What random acts of kindness has the cast experienced? Here are some elbow-jab-to-the-heart tales, accompanied by everyone’s very best “Strength of Jean Valjean” pose.
MAGGIE SCOTT/Young Cosette
“On one of the very first days of rehearsals for this play, we ran out of gas about half-way down the canyon…. We had to pull over and started running down the road to see if anyone would help us. And this couple pulled over who had just come back from skiing in Park City. They pulled over, let us in their car and they drove us down to meet our carpool so we could come down to rehearsal. It was really cool.”
Neil Simon based the character of Felix on his older brother, Danny Simon. “Danny Simon was a comedy writer, who together with his brother, Neil Simon, wrote for such classic 1950s television series as “Your Show of Shows” (1950). It was Danny who mentored his younger sibling and nicknamed him “Doc.” They worked together in radio in the late 1940s and then in television, a period of their lives chronicled in Neil Simon‘s 1993 play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.””
While the names of the sisters – Cecily and Gwendolyn – are the same as the female leads in Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Neil Simon claimed in interviews that it was unconscious and the coincidence didn’t occur to him until years later.
Walter Matthau, who played Oscar in both the original Broadway play and the movie, asked the play’s author, Neil Simon, if he could play Felix instead. This was because Matthau thought Oscar’s personality was too similar to his own and the role would be too easy; whereas playing the persnickety Felix would be a real acting challenge. Simon replied, “Walter, go and be an actor in somebody else’s play. Please be Oscar in mine.” Matthau finally agreed to it.
So the film was done in 1968, and Neil Simon wrote that, too. There were a few changes made, a few scenes added outside of the 8-room NYC apartment.
In one such sequence, Oscar misses the high point of a baseball game he’s writing about because Felix calls him (at work) to tell him not to spoil his appetite for dinner on frankfurters. This scene, and it’s pivotal “triple play” that happens in the background (unbeknownst to Oscar), was filmed at Shea Stadium before a regularly scheduled contest between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates on June 27, 1967. Originally, Roberto Clemente was supposed to hit into the triple play. However, the fleet-footed Pirate kept beating the throw to first base. After several takes, Clemente slowed so much he appeared to be walking. Bill Mazeroski, a more lead-footed athlete, was offered the part instead.
During one scene, a sports radio program playing in the background reports an item about a baseball trade involving a player named Hank Moonjean. Hank Moonjean was actually the assistant director on this film.
Monica Evans (who played Cecily Pigeon) and Carole Shelley (who played Gwendolyn Pigeon) also reprise their roles in Disney’s The AristoCats as a pair of English geese on a walking tour of France. (Carole Shelley also has played roles on Broadway like Madame Morrible in Wicked, and Grandma in Billy Elliot, to name just a couple out of a whole bunch.)
Then, the TV series:
Early episodes from the first season were titled “Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.” Simon objected to this, having nothing to do with the television series, and not wanting to leave the impression left that he did, not knowing the quality of the television scripts. (He did continue to receive a ‘Based on the Play created by’ credit.)
During the first season (1970-71), the show was filmed in the same apartment as the one in the 1968 movie in single camera format with a laugh track. Beginning with the second season, the show was filmed in a studio in three camera format before a live audience.
In one episode, characters from the show walk down the street in New York City and encounter playwright ‘Neil Simon’.
Felix and Murray (the cop) played together in a band that specialized in 1930s music which was called “The Sophisticatos.” In one episode, the band played country and western music and went by the name “Red River Unger and his Saddle Sores.”
And now the Couple are at PTC–and, they can also be seen on Youtube, for a few secs:
The article in the magazine lets us know that Mark is a straight-shooter: “Ask him a question, get a straight answer!”
Jeff Talbott recently wrote a play called The Submission that received rave reviews, critical acclaim, and the 2011 Laurents/Hatcher Award for best new play. Thematically, The Submission is a little bit similar to the last play PTC produced, Clybourne Park, in that it’s about race relations and things we do (and don’t) talk about these days.
Here’s a photo from the show’s off-Broadway production, which starred Jonathan Groff (of Tony-nominated Broadway and Glee fame) and Rutina Wesley (whom fans of HBO’s True Blood will recognize immediately).
We’d like to introduce to you Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon, Oscar and Felix’s flirty, frolicsome British neighbors. Here’s a little clip of the adorable duo before they take flight:
The Sisters Pigeon (“You don’t spell it like ‘Walter Pidgeon,’ you spell it like ‘coo-coo pigeon!’”) don’t descend on Oscar and Felix’s eight-room apartment until Act II of the show. That means that actors Amy Bodnar and Helen Anker have a lot of time outside of rehearsal to descend on Salt Lake! We caught up with them for a few minutes between The Copper Onion and mastering the Park City slopes.
PTC: Have you worked on Neil Simon before? If so, when and where?
Helen (who is originally from England): I was lucky enough to play Peggy Olson, an American role, in the recent Broadway production of Promises, Promises. It was directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, who I had worked with in the UK before, so it was a wonderful introduction to living and working in NYC. I also had the pleasure of meeting Neil Simon—he was very involved in the rehearsal process!
Amy: Years ago, in Los Angeles, I was in a production of The Goodbye Girl. I was part of a trio singing a song called “Too Good to Be Bad” where I was in a huge hamburger costume with a giant pickle on my head. The other two girls were a giant milkshake and a box of french fries.
PTC: What’s your favorite part of doing comedy?
Helen: Well, the dancing hamburger and I just appreciate doing something that makes people laugh and forget their problems for a minute or two. Simple answer, but true.
PTC: You two are (mostly) onstage together, and work off of each other really well. In fact, one could say that the title The Odd Couple could apply to the Pigeon sisters as well. How have you bonded during this process?
Helen: We have had a great deal of time to get to know each other, as we’ve not been needed in the rehearsal room as much as the guys, and we have found that we have many things in common.
Amy: we played the same role in Trevor Nunn’s Oklahoma! Helen in London’s West End, and me on Broadway! I even wore Helen’s costumes and we both understudied the lead role of Laurey.
Helen: Our real life sisters have the same birthday, and our birthdays are the same numerically, but reversed (in England we write our date of birth day, month, year). Our commonalities have made us fast friends.
PTC: If you two found yourselves on a double date with Oscar and Felix, who would get whom?
Both agree: We think Gwen and Cecily are still looking for their dream dates at “Slenderama.”
PTC: What sorts of activities have you done outside of rehearsal – gotten to see any SLC sites?
Helen: We have just about mastered the Trax, and visited the various shopping malls, and the Broadway movie theatre.
Amy: Last day off we hired a car and visited the beautiful Park City area, and saw the Olympic Park, such wonderful views and we loved Main Street.
As you see from the photos, Amy and Helen mastered the slopes—not bad for beginners!
Artistic Director Karen Azenberg and Managing Director Chris Lino talk about the results of our annual Audience Survey.
“One of the annual rites of the theatre season at PTC is our audience survey, a tradition that dates back more than thirty years to Keith Engar’s tenure as Artistic Director. For all those years we’ve been asking our patrons to give us their reactions to musicals and plays we’re considering for the following season.
“Almost as interesting as the survey results themselves are the questions our patrons ask in the comments section, and in letters and e-mails to us.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on our 2013-14 season, which we’ll announce in the next few weeks, but we thought we’d take a moment to answer some of the commonly asked questions we receive from patrons:
With all the new musicals that have just come out on Broadway, why don’t you do more new musicals, rather than revivals of old musicals?
“We’re always on the lookout for new musicals, and in the past few years we have produced the Utah premieres of a number of new musicals— Ragtime, The Light in the Piazza, Next to Normal, and In the Heights—which we thought our audiences would enjoy. There are several other fabulous new musicals—Once and Newsies are examples—that we will produce as soon as we can get the rights.
“At the same time, there are some musicals—the “blockbuster” musicals like Wicked and The Lion King—for which the rights are simply not available, and won’t be available for professional regional theatres for many years. Generally, if a show is still running on Broadway and the national tours of those shows are out, the rights to those shows will not be granted to regional theatres like PTC. Bear in mind that when PTC produced Les Misérables in 2007, we were the first theatre in the country to be given the rights to produce that musical—and that was more than twenty years after it opened on Broadway.
“Finally, to be blunt about it, every year there are a number of musicals which open on Broadway which we just don’t think are very good. Sometimes those shows have great titles and marketing hooks (we won’t mention any names, but you passionate musical lovers may be able to guess what shows we’re talking about), but they just don’t measure up. I (Karen speaking here) see every musical and play on Broadway every year because I’m a Tony voter, and every time I walk into a theatre on Broadway I’m hoping I’ll be blown away, but it doesn’t always happen. It costs PTC between $600,000 and $1 million to produce a musical, so before we invest those kinds of dollars in producing a show we have to really believe in that show.”
Why produce a musical like Fiddler on the Roof when you’ve done it before and so many other theatres in Utah have produced it recently?
“OK, we’ll take some of the suspense away: we’re not doing Fiddler next year, even though it was the most requested musical on this year’s survey.
“But this does raise a very challenging question for us. There are a relatively small number of musicals that are generally regarded as masterpieces of the musical theatre form—Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man, (add your own favorite to the list). And, when you include community theatres, high school productions, and Ward productions, there are a lot of theatres in Utah, and they love to produce these musicals.
“But if we only did musicals that no one else produced, we’d be limiting ourselves to most of the Stephen Sondheim catalogue (no offense, Mr. Sondheim!) and a few other interesting but fairly obscure titles. And, like the classics of Shakespeare, we happen to think that great musicals are worth revisiting, not every year but what we’ll call generationally—that is, roughly twenty years apart, when a new generation of theatergoers will be experiencing these shows for the first time.
“And, at the risk of sounding egotistical, we do believe that we can produce these shows at the highest professional levels—at our best, as good as you’d see on Broadway—and we think there is value in that.”
Clybourne Park was fantastic. My friends and I loved it and have been talking about it for weeks! Why don’t you do more challenging new theatre like that, rather than the safe, conservative theatre that is done by a lot of other theatres in town?
Clybourne Park was disgusting! Why do you do shows like that when your audience doesn’t enjoy them? The night we were there the theatre was only half full, and many people, like us, left at intermission.
“Well, of course, these two questions answer each other to a certain extent. In Salt Lake City, as in New York and everywhere in the world that theatre is produced, musicals and comedies draw larger audiences than challenging new work. But a significant portion of our audience—let’s say, unscientifically, from our box office results 60% of our season patrons— crave challenging new work and would like to see more of it. And there’s another theatre audience out there, generally younger, who only comes when we do this kind of work. They find our older shows boring, and if we don’t reach out to them with some of our programming choices we’re going to find ourselves with no audience in twenty years.
“At the same time, to our audience members who wish we would do more challenging work, you have to recognize, as we do, that the audiences for those shows are smaller than for other types of work we do. It would be nice if every show we did had a huge and inexhaustible audience, but it just isn’t so. The 500 people a night who came to Clybourne Park are all very well and good, but if we didn’t produce a few shows that drew 800-900 people a night, we’d be in serious trouble pretty fast.
“And, in the final analysis, a season of nothing but uplifting and pleasant musicals would get pretty bland very fast, just as a season of nothing but serious, topical and thought-provoking dramas would be pretty overbearing and, frankly, exhausting—for us and for our audience.
“We’re just like you: we like to laugh, we like to hum the tunes as we leave the theatre, but we also like, from time to time, to be challenged. And so we try to tread a very careful line in mixing up our season offerings.”
You say you’re committed to classics, but that seems to mean only Shakespeare and the occasional Tennessee Williams. Why don’t you ever do other classics—Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw or, on the American side, Albee, Miller and O’Neill?
“That’s a fair criticism. We should mix up our classic offerings, and we’ll look to do that in coming seasons.”
And, speaking of Shakespeare, when you do Shakespeare, why don’t you do it in the period Shakespeare intended, rather than trying to show us how clever the director is by setting it in different periods?
“This is a tricky question to answer, because in fact in Shakespeare’s day he produced all his plays in Elizabethan costumes, no matter where and when the play was set, with men playing the women’s roles, because those were the conventions of the time, and what his audiences expected.
“We think the legitimate criticism behind this question is, “If the setting you choose for a Shakespeare play doesn’t improve our enjoyment and/or understanding of the play, then the production hasn’t succeeded.” That is a good point, but we’ve both seen Shakespeare productions set in different periods that worked marvelously well, and others that didn’t, and we’ve seen Shakespeare productions in Elizabethan settings that worked marvelously well, and others that didn’t.
‘We agree that the setting and period for Shakespeare should increase the audience’s enjoyment of the piece, not distract or detract from it, but we don’t agree that only productions set in Elizabethan periods can do that.”
Thank you for all your feedback, and watch for an announcement of another fantastic season of theatre that explores the breadth of human experience!