The Encore! Production of My Fair Lady, which we worked soooo hard to put on and were soooo nervous about, up to the last minute, was a rousing success; the seven scheduled performances were sold-out well in advance and enthusiastically received. Many people said it was the best thing the company ever did; certainly everyone in the cast loved every minute of it and had the time of their life. One would always like to think that one’s individual contribution played a part – small or large – in the collective success. However, my role was, to be brutally honest, miniscule, and they certainly could have done without me – although I wouldn’t have wanted them to. What I found surprising, however, was that the less I had to do, the more fatigued I became.
We were only going to do seven performances, none of them “out of town,” i.e., in Ra’anana, Zichron Yaakov, or the like. No long bus rides; no getting back to Jerusalem at 1AM. So why did I feel so pooped midway through the run? Perhaps it was because the most difficult thing I had to do was keep track of my costume pieces (even harder than learning Every duke, and earl, and peer is here….).
Careful readers of these articles may remember that I earlier wrote something to the effect that My Fair Lady was a masterpiece in spite of itself. One of the problems with the piece is that it fails to make effective use of the ensemble. (Sir Arthur Sullivan is quoted as praising his collaborator, "Until Gilbert took the matter in hand choruses were dummy concerns, and were practically nothing more than a part of the stage setting. It was in 'Thespis' that Gilbert began to carry out his expressed determination to get the chorus to play its proper part in the performance. At this moment it seems difficult to realise that the idea of the chorus being anything more than a sort of stage audience was, at that time, a tremendous novelty.") In any piece by G&S – or Rodgers and Hammerstein, for that matter – being in the chorus means waiting in the wings for your time to go out and take over the stage; you know that whatever musical business you have is relevant, exciting, and almost always advances the story line.
The justly acclaimed Ascot scene in My Fair Lady is about the only time when the entire ensemble has something important to do; otherwise, we’re pretty much wallpaper, pretending to do something while the main characters carry on their business. (There are, of course, a few scenes in which a smaller group of performers – servants or a bunch of guys hanging around – get involved in the action; but that mercifully did not include me.) In addition, because of serious time constraints during the rehearsal period, there was virtually no choreographed movement for the men, except for Ascot; with nothing for us to learn, we were free to bop about the stage, trying to look as “professional” as we could. As a result, while my sense of enjoyment in being in the cast was high, my sense of personal accomplishment was low. Maybe that accounts for the draggy feeling I felt waiting in the wings. Either that, or I’m just getting old.
Either way, I felt a need to decompress, to “chill out,” once our final scheduled Thurs. eve. performance was over. Normally, I look forward to the cast party a few days after the production is over; it may be the best part of the show! But I was just too weary to attend; plus I would have had to cancel the Rambam shiur that usually meets at our apartment on a Sunday eve. Anyway, it was over. I would have the entire summer to rest up and get ready for auditions for G&S’s Gondoliers.…..No it wasn’t over! Not by a longshot.
When Robert Binder booked our performances in the Hirsch Theatre back in January, he had to decide how many performances to schedule. Just then, his crystal ball was in the repair shop being reformatted, so he had to make a snap decision using only his best judgment. He went the conservative route and chose seven. He could have gone for more, but he was fearful of a half-empty theater. Had he a glimmer of how successful the production would be, of course he would have scheduled more. Was it too late to add a few more performances? Would the hall be available? Would the cast be around or off to who-knows-where? There was talk on-and-off about adding more performances, but nothing seemed to materialize. Then, seemingly out of the blue, we got the word: two more shows on July 5. All the leads and most of the supporting cast were around and available. We were good to go.
Not so simple as all that. At the conclusion of the seventh performance, everyone had handed in the borrowed components of their costumes, tossed them into large boxes: men’s shirts here, caps here, women’s aprons here. They would be cleaned, stored, and, if borrowed, returned to their rightful owners. The process of assigning appropriate and properly fitting (more or less!) costumes usually went on over a period of weeks and even months. Now we would have two or three days to figure out which of the men’s dress pants – all looking reasonably alike, but of widely divergent sizes – had been ours. Fortunately, many of the pieces still had the names of the wearer inside; but it took me almost an hour to retrieve my swallow tail coat, black pants with a stripe, formal white shirt with cufflinks, two pairs of gloves, two different top hats, the other black jacket, a bow tie and a cravat, two formal vests, a pair of spats, a threadbare jacket with mismatched vest, and a grey cap several sizes too small. Plus, there were the few items of my own sitting in my closet (those I could find; just remember not to close the door with a cat inside). The props I would need would be made available as we needed them: an umbrella, a pair of fake opera glasses, a handkerchief, and a walking stick. All of this for the few minutes I scamper about the stage!
A somewhat bigger project would be repacking all the scenery and props, getting them to the theater, and setting everything up (this part of the project I leave to the younger and the stronger). Then the lighting and sound crews would have to reconfigure everything all over again for the two performances that day. Then, sometime after 11PM, the swallow tail coat, black pants with a stripe, formal white shirt with cufflinks, two pairs of gloves, two different top hats, the other black jacket, a bow tie and a cravat, two formal vests, a pair of spats, a threadbare jacket with mismatched vest, and a grey cap several sizes too small would be again tossed into boxes, along with everyone else’s costumes. The set would again be struck: the music stands disassembled, all the electrical wiring wrapped up, the backdrops lowered and folded neatly, the scenery moved over to the loading dock to go back to storage. Life in the Theater is not as fun-filled as it seems!
Something wonderful happened with this production. Usually it has taken months for the filming of a live performance to be turned into a DVD, and the one for HMS Pinafore simply didn’t work. But this time, the DVD version was ready almost immediately, and I was able to get a copy right away. I sauntered over to our DVD player, which is connected to the old TV we use to watch downloaded movies, and gingerly inserted the disc. So that’s what it looked like from the front of the stage, not from the back of the chorus! And that’s what was going on while we were all schmoozing backstage! Both Jonathan Gillis (Higgins) and Miri Fraenkel (Eliza) were even better than I remembered. You could even see me from time to time – if you looked carefully enough.
But you know what was really great? We could sit on the couch in whatever we happened to be wearing, or not wearing, and enjoy the show. I didn’t have to worry that I had with me the swallow tail coat, black pants with a stripe, formal white shirt with cufflinks, two pairs of gloves, two different top hats, the other black jacket, a bow tie and a cravat, two formal vests, a pair of spats, a threadbare jacket with mismatched vest, and a grey cap several sizes too small. I didn’t have to worry that I was wearing the right combination with the right props and whether I would make it on stage at the right time. It’s great to be on stage; but it’s nice once in a while to sit back and just enjoy what collectively you have accomplished. Still, I wonder what the costumes for Gondoliers will look like?