Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meet the cast of BEING AUDREY...

Tuesday night was a very exciting next step in the making of BEING AUDREY: the first readthrough and meet and greet with the cast! It’s a completely new experience for everyone to hear the script being read for the first time with the people who will bring it to life on stage. The enthusiasm for the script was palpable, the laughs were plentiful! Read on as we introduce you to the actors who are making it possible. More soon from behind the scenes!

Lori Fineman, Executive Director

Cheryl Stern (Claire, additional book and lyrics) A proud Transport Group veteran, Cheryl is thrilled to be back with Being Audrey. She received critical acclaim as Mamie Eisenhower in Transport Group’s Drama Desk nominated First Lady Suite and was also featured in Requiem for William. Cheryl contributed lyrics for TG’s Requiem for William, the Drama Desk nominated musical The Audience, and the 2005 production of Normal, starring Barbara Walsh (Normal, with music by husband, Tom Kochan and book by Yvonne Adrian, received the Jonathan Larson Award and is now touring the US as the centerpiece of the Normal in Schools program, Broadway credits include The Women (Roundabout; filmed for PBS) Candide (NY City Opera), Laughing Room Only. Off-Broadway, Cheryl recently starred as Alice B. Toklas in 27 Rue De Fleurus. Other credits include: I Love You, You’re Perfect…, Game Show, That’s Life! and The Immigrant. National tours: Grand Night for Singing, Les Miserables, Evita, and Fiddler on the Roof. Regional: starring roles in Hats (New Denver Civic: original cast recording), The Sisters Rosensweig (Geva/Studio Arena), Lost in Yonkers (Tennessee Rep), Light Up The Sky (Seattle Rep.), Closer Than Ever (San Jose Rep.), The Times (Long Wharf), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Cape Playhouse.) TV: Guiding Light, All My Children, As The World Turns, Sondheim at Carnegie Hall, Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Film: Brooklyn Lobster with Jane Curtin and Danny Aiello. Additional writing credits: Are We There Yet? (Westchester Broadway and regional theatres; written with Jim Hindman, Ray Roderick and John Glaudiini), That’s Life! (Outer Critics nominaion), Buffalonia (E.S.T. one woman show), A Christmas Survival Guide, The Littlest Light on the Christmas Tree (Vital Theatre, also with Hindman), Famous, written with Yvonne Adrian and Tom Kochan had its premiere reading at Ensemble Studio Theatre in November. Cheryl is a graduate of Northwestern University.

Brian Sutherland (Man) Mr. Sutherland has played leading roles on Broadway in The Sound of Music, 1776, Victor/Victoria, Steel Pier, Cats, Dance a Little Closer, A Change in the Heir, and 110 in the Shade (NYC Opera). National tours include The Light in the Piazza, Disney’s On the Record, Guys and Dolls (with Maurice Hines), Cabaret (with Joel Grey), and 42nd Street (European tour). Numerous regional theatre includes Kiss Me, Kate (St. Louis Rep), Shenandoah (Fords Theatre), Man of La Mancha (Pittsburgh Public), The Pirates of Penzance (Guthrie Theatre), Breaking Legs (Coconut Grove Playhouse), She Loves Me (Cincinnati Playhouse), and Enter the Guardsman (Indiana Repertory Theatre). Many concerts with orchestras worldwide- frequently alongside his wife, Diane Sutherland.
Stephen Berger (Dr. Givenchy and others) Broadway: Little Me, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Wonderful Town, True West, The Dinner Party, Into The Woods and The Pajama Game. Off-Broadway: A New Brain, That’s Life, Beau Jest, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, Isn’t It Romantic, and Nite Club Confidential. National tours: Annie, Rumors, and Ken Hill’s The Phantom of the Opera. Regional: Denver Center Theatre Company, Fulton Theater, Dallas Theatre Center, Cleveland Playhouse, Stage West, George Street Playhouse, Paper Mill Playhouse, Cincinnati’s Playhouse In The Park, Repertory Theater of St. Louis, Walnut Street Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Festival and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Television: Law and Order. A proud member of Actor’s Equity Association since 1975, Stephen is married to the beautiful and talented actress Jan Leigh Herndon.

Andrea Bianchi (Dr. Leraby and others) Andrea is so pleased to be part of Being Audrey and thanks Jack Cummings and Transport Group for the opportunity. New York credits include original casts of The Cocoanuts at American Place Theater, Italian-American Reconciliation at Manhattan Theater Club, Lusting After Pipino’s Wife at Primary Stages and The Bubbly Black Girls Sheds Her Chameleon Skin for NAMT. Regional work includes The Guthrie, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Eugene O’Neil Theatre Center, Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center, Stamford Center for The Arts-Rich Forum, Syracuse Stage, Maltz Jupiter, The Barter, Riverside Theatre, Premiere Stages and others. Also, twice named “Best Actress” of the New Jersey theater season by The New Jersey Star Ledger. Television work includes multiple episodes of Law and Order, As The World Turns, Here and Now, as well as shows for The Disney Channel, Court TV, and Nickelodeon.

Valerie Fagan (Trina and others): Forbidden Broadway 25th Anniversary: Rude Awakening (original cast, cast recording, 2008 Drama Desk Award), Forbidden Broadway SVU: Boston’s Elliot Norton Award nominee and Forbidden Vegas (“Vegas At Its Best” Entertainer). National tours: Man of La Mancha opposite Robert Goulet (Aldonza) and Les Miserables (Fantine). Regional: Hairspray (Prudy) at North Shore Music Theatre. Published co-author of award-winning musical 6 Women with Brain Death (New York Musical Theatre Festival). Valerie was honored to sing “God Bless America” for NBC which started the New York City Marathon. Recently, Elaine Paige chose Val’s “On My Phone” as a “Broadway Essential” for BBC Radio.

Mark Ledbetter (Dr. Williams and others) Mark is thrilled to be working with Transport Group again after appearing in their inaugural production of Our Town as well as Requiem for William. New York and touring credits include Robert Martin in The Drowsy Chaperone (First National), Phil Davis in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (San Francisco, Detroit and St. Paul companies), the Policeman in Mary Poppins (Broadway), Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie (First National), Willie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Of Thee I Sing (City Center Encores!). Favorite regional credits include Leo Hubbard in Regina (Kennedy Center); Cosmo in Singin’ In The Rain (NSMT); Riff in West Side Story (Pioneer Theatre Company); Romance, Romance and Miss Saigon (Paper Mill Playhouse). Film/TV: It Runs In The Family, The Producers, The Job, and South Pacific at Carnegie Hall. Graduate of Northwestern University. Love and thanks to family, friends, BRS and JT.

Michael Maricondi (Pablo and others) A recent graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts who is addicted to Japanese pop music and Scrabble, has just finished a critically acclaimed run as “Mercury” in New Jersey Rep’s production of Cupid & Psyche. In New York, he has appeared in many new musicals including Be Like Joe, Rainy Day People, Extraordinary, Welcome to New Jersey, and others as well as the Northeast tour of I Feel Great! (Kevin) and has performed with Pacific Opera Encores at Carnegie’s Weill Recital hall and in Il Tabarro (Tinca). In addition to performing, Michael is a playwright and composer—his What Fairy Tale is This, Anyway?! The Musical played a sold-out run at The Producers Club and his newest children’s musical, When Push Comes to Shove (with collaborator Rachel Bloom) is set to premiere sometime this coming year. He is also a voice teacher and acting coach. Michael would like to thank Robin and Dana for their support and wisdom, Caitie for making him laugh, “Boopsie” for those late night inspirational talks, and, most of all, Mommy for being his angel.

Blair Ross (Dr. Think Pink and others) Miss Ross most recently appeared in The Women at The Old Globe in San Diego directed by Darko Tresnjak. Broadway: 42nd Street (and National Tour). Off-Broadway: Exactly Like You, Hysterical Blindness, Smoke on the Mountain, Berlin to Broadway, etc. Regional: CenterStage, Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Cincinnati Playhouse, Goodspeed Opera, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Ford’s, Walnut Street, Denver Center, McCarter Theatre, St. Louis MUNY, etc. Writer: The History, Discovery and Travel Channels (story producer) as well as the upcoming musical Touché with composer Randy Redd. Education: Vassar College

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Composer/Lyricist Ellen Weiss on bringing a new musical to life we are 12 years later . My obsession with trying to write a modern musical about a very classic icon Audrey Hepburn is about to be satisfied on April 4, 2009. The official opening of Transport Group's production of BEING AUDREY. How do I feel...ecstatic and terrified and mostly grateful. I am grateful for my amazing collaborators, Jim Hindman...Book, Cheryl Stern...additional book and lyrics and of course baby genius, Jack Cummings III...director and master choreographer...Scott Rink.

BUT....The person who holds the biggest part of musical heart is Lanny Meyers...arranger...orchestrator...musical director. What can I say about this amazing brilliant award winning talent...He Gets Me.
I want to say a bit about people who support the arts. I have been blessed by the support of THE SHEN FAMILY FOUNDATION for the musical component of Being Audrey. Knowing that this foundation selected my piece gave me the confidence and motivation to do my best and most complete work to date. The National Endowment for the Arts also supported this production along with many other private individuals and friends who have believed in me. Bless them all.
If you're wondering where I'll be every night of the run of BEING AUDREY... I'll be in the audience at The Connelly Theater 220 East 4th Street. I hope to see you there. I'll be the one with her thumb in her mouth.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Director Jack Cummings III on casting BEING AUDREY

Casting any show is always exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time. What’s exciting is getting a chance to see the depth of talent in New York City—it’s amazing to see these people come in and hear great song after great song. It’s this reason that I prefer musical auditions over play auditions—what would you rather do for 8 straight hours in a small midtown rehearsal studio—sit through dry monologue after dry monologue or hear the great American songbook!? The nerve-wracking part comes with the knowledge that any mistake in casting, slight or large, can come back to haunt you later in the process when you don’t have time to fix it. But as my friend Mary Testa once said to me, “You always wind up with the cast you’re supposed to have.” I have always believed this and once an actor is cast I stand behind them 100%—I have only had to let go of an actor once in my career and it was because this person just couldn’t learn her lines—the “learning your lines” factor is a tough one to audition—you kind of have to hope they will just learn them since its one of the most basic requirements of an actor’s job—still, you’d be surprised! Then, once you finally have your choice, you have to pray the person is not only available but that they actually want do your show—just because they come in for you doesn’t guarantee you of anything!

I’ve always believed that the actor isn’t just auditioning for us but rather it’s a 2-way street: we, the creative team, are auditioning for the actor as well. My wife, Barbara Walsh, has taught me everything I know about how to treat actors. She’s done this by letting me know how it is from their perspective and this knowledge has made me very actor-friendly. Every time an actor comes in for me, I tell myself that this could be my wife and how would I want her to be treated at an audition. So early on, I set a few rules for myself that also apply to anyone from the team in the room with me: be very friendly, always say nice things no matter what (this actually isn’t hard at all because for me the act of auditioning is brave in and of itself), no writing, eating, or drinking while the person is actually performing, and be sure to thank them for coming in. I want people to do their best work and so it’s important that they feel safe and supported. I think this is all common sense yet I am continually shocked when all too often my actor friends tell me horrific story after horrific story of bad audition rooms.

For the Being Audrey auditions, we were looking for two women and one man. The other 5 roles were cast with straight offers. I prefer to just offer roles rather than audition (saves lots of time and money!) but then once I meet a fantastic actor through an audition, I realize the value of them. We were looking for people who were great singers, actors with depth, and also hilarious comedic actors—oh, and if they can move well, that was a real plus too. So basically we were looking for a bit of the impossible. Most people could sing well but then weren’t naturally funny or vice versa—it was maddening after a while—we would think that we had it figured out and then we’d forget that this person in this track would also have to do such and such which then turned out not to be their strong suit and then we’d have to start all over! In the position of director, I not only have to please myself (after all, I’m the one who actually has to work with them) with my decision but I have to please my collaborators as well—this gets difficult as we all have slightly different tastes to a degree and different priorities. I had to make sure that Ellen Weiss, our composer/lyricist was pleased with their singing and then I had to make sure that Jim Hindman, our librettist was pleased with their comedic timing—not always so easy to please this many people but that’s the art of collaboration as they say.

One thing I became concerned about with the younger actors that came in to read for us was their lack of knowledge and feel for old movies. Being Audrey references Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, Funny Face, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In order to pull our script off, the actors have to know the stock characters from these types of movies. I became alarmed as the auditions went on how the younger actors simply had no reference for these types at all. I said on a break to Cheryl Stern and Scott Rink (our wonderful choreographer) that theatre students should be required to study and watch every old movie from 1930 – 1960. For my generation (I’m 41), these films were key to our sensibility, to put it mildly. When I first met my wife, she told me, “I learned 100% of my comic timing from watching I Love Lucy.” I get worried that young actors today have never even seen I Love Lucy! As a result, one role from the auditions was cast a bit older than originally planned.

The other quality I have to somehow feel out during an audition is whether or not this person is up for a new musical. New musicals are a peculiar beast—they can be treacherous in that songs come and go, and scenes come and go at will. The emotional toll this takes on an artist can be quite significant. Not everyone has the stomach for it and I have to truly trust that the person I’m casting will be a team player and up for anything, which includes cuts of material that they might have grown attached to. I made a mistake a few years ago by not thinking thoroughly about this part and I really paid a big price for it.

I am thrilled with our cast –they are all fantastic, funny people that are real pros when it comes to putting together new material. We start on Tuesday and I am so excited to finally get in a room with actors and other artists—my favorite kind of room!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cheryl Stern on developing and starring in a new musical

So we start rehearsals in a little more than a week and there are so many feelings reeling around in my brain it’s hard to begin to let you all in there. But I will do my best. We are creating a brand new musical that takes a contemporary woman in crisis and thrusts her into a wild fantasy ride via the movies of Audrey Hepburn in order to discover her own strength and identity. YIKES!!! It’s the biggest challenge of my life as a writer and I know it will be the biggest challenge of my life as an actress.

We have an amazing team creating this piece and we have been working like demons to carve out this unique story without killing each other in the process. “Art Isn’t Easy!!” But we love each other madly and “You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet”. Am I full of cliché quotes or what?

Anyway, we just did a reading last night of our most recent draft with a group of lovely and game actors who donated their time to help us see what we have and where we need to go together. It is always harrowing to hear your work read and with the double duty I have been given on this journey, I am acting the role and listening to the whole text at the same time. Not an easy task but also a gift. I am sitting in the unique position on this one and it presents opportunities and challenges daily.

As additional book writer and lyricist, my job has been to assist in the dialogue and storytelling with Jim Hindman and to shape lyrics with Ellen Weiss on a number of the songs. I am often a liaison between the two writers and find myself bouncing back and forth in phone conversations and writing sessions during the course of any given day. I am broker, sounding board, big picture person and clarity police; Sybil meets Henry Kissenger.

Now, on to the acting part. The role of Claire is the kind of role that middle aged short Jewish girls can only dream of having. And it’s mine!! This is a true gift. To be able to contribute to the creation of a role that is made in heaven for you is just the dreamiest and though it presents it’s own set of pressures, anxieties and responsibilities, it is the coolest thing ever and I am beside myself about getting started.

We have a creative team that is just stupendous and we are assembling a cast that I know is going to be genius. I am thrilled to be playing opposite the brilliant Brian Sutherland and my dear old buddy Steven Berger is joining the cast as well. He is the funniest human alive and I cannot wait to share the stage with him once again. We have Blair Ross as the Kay Thompson character. She IS Kay!!! So excited. Also onboard is super talent Mark Ledbetter. Today we go into auditions to find the rest of our cast.

It is going to be the ride of a lifetime and I cannot wait to begin it. I am so grateful to Jack and Transport Group for continuing to give me the richest and most rewarding opportunities as actor and writer. Will keep ya posted.

UP NEXT: Jack Cummings III discusses casting.