June 26, 2018

Ellise sampling one of the meat pies

Dateline: New York, New York-

Another relatively leisurely day. The second and last day I get to spend with Ellise Mayor before she has to go back to Birmingham. We spent the daytime hours visiting with some of her old friends. She lived in NYC in the 80s pursuing the dream and still knows lots of people in town. Breakfast coffee with a friend who works for Stella Adler acting studio, then up to the upper East Side for lunch with the elderly gentleman who employed her as a nanny. He’s been around NYC acting circles since the late 40s and had many delightful stories of old Broadway and its personalities. Then back to Gramercy to put our feet up before showtime.

Tonight’s show was the off-Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theater in the West Village. A cast of eight and three musicians leap all over a theater completely redone as the interior of a pie shop, complete with pre-show meat pie dinner (which was actually pretty good). I had just seen Sweeney at the Atlanta Opera a few weeks ago and the two productions couldn’t be more different but both were incredibly successful each in their own way which shows how strong the underlying material is.

The eight actors and three musicians filled the space with sound and with scenes being played inches away or even on top of the table at which you had just been eating, you were made part of the action. I know the show well and know what happens, but I still had a couple of major scares as I was afraid Sweeney was really going to lose control and come after audience members with his razor. The Mrs. Lovett found every ounce of humor in the part garnered laughs on lines that I had never thought of as particularly funny in the past. Both Ellise and I were blown away and had to repair across the street to Marie’s Crisis for cocktails and showtune sing alongs afterwards.

I’ve already told my Sweeney story, so here’s a Sondheim story. Years ago, in the infancy of the internet, there were various chat boards and mailing lists. One that I belonged to was devoted to Stephen Sondheim. At one point, a topic of discussion was what might happen if he were ever to collaborate with Tom Stoppard on a project, with the general consensus that the result would be so esoteric that no one would be able to understand it. I wasn’t so sure. Stoppard’s play, Arcadia (my favorite of his works), had recently had both London and Broadway productions and I was familiar with it and had a copy of the script so I decided to put my hand to a fictitious Sondheim/Stoppard collaboration. I collapsed the entire plot of Arcadia into a parody of ‘A Weekend in the Country’ from A Little Night Music beginning with Thomasina singing:

Look here a new equation,
One which defines nature’s forms
And see, the x-y relation
Doesn’t obey Euclidian norms…

I posted the end result to the chat board and folk were highly complementary. One of the people on the board was a friend of Sondheim’s and sent him a copy and he was quite taken with it and, in turn, sent it to Tom Stoppard who also thought it was great fun.

And that is how I received an invitation to lunch with Stephen Sondheim.

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