The Great Musical Theatre Brunch
Have you ever been sitting around with friends and had that conversation that begins “If you could have any person, dead or alive, sit down and chat with you for an hour, who would it be?” Sure you have! Those of us with musical theatre obsessions play this game all of the time. I’m going to take it a step further because I like to imagine what it would be like to hold a Musical Theatre brunch. A brunch you say? Brunch is my favorite meal, so if I am going to host, that’s what it will be. Crepes, quiche, fresh fruit, pastries and mimosas. The rule of the game is that I can only invite ten people to the event and they must be living (without the latter restriction, I could never whittle the list down). Here’s the guest list and why I chose them.
1. Jerry Herman
When I think of the quintessential showtune, lively and optimistic, full of character and emotion, Jerry Herman easily comes to mind first. He represents a part of musical theatre that was bursting with joy, a reason to celebrate and pop the champagne. This is something that is sorely lacking these days, as most musicals just don’t have this kind of exuberance and pep. Even his darker musicals like Mack & Mabel and The Grand Tour fight the urge to get too bogged down in darkness. Perhaps after brunch, we can invite him to sit at the piano and regale us with melodies from Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage?
2. Laura Benanti
You need someone legitimately funny at any party you throw, and Ms. Benanti is proving herself to be one of the best at making witty commentary on the world. Don’t believe me? Check out her twitter account and tell me if she doesn’t wrap pith and sarcasm in the most delightful of packages. This Tony-winning star would also offer great stories about shows past including Gypsy, Into the Woods, Nine, Women on the Verge…and Swing!
3. Chita Rivera
Who better to have to a Broadway musical brunch than the lady who has appeared in a major Broadway musical every decade since the 1950s? Imagine all that this classy lady would have to offer the conversation? The details of the creation of everything from classics like West Side Story and Bye, Bye, Birdie, to hits like Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman, revivals such as Nine and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, through the divine stories of beloved flops like Bajour, Merlin, The Rink, Bring Back Birdie and The Visit are all in her story trunk. Her longevity in the business is a testament to what a lovely, hardworking lady she is.
4. Tommy Tune
I cannot think of a better director-choreographer to sit down with and pick their brain, particularly about the creation of the visual and dance masterpiece that was Grand Hotel: The Musical. Tune has put together some clever shows in his career, but Grand Hotel was a haunting dream full of sweeping elegance as it commented on the juxtaposition of darkness against light as it pertains to humanity. I want the details as to how this musical came together. Tune also seems like a lively, entertaining person who would be fun to dine with.
5. Telly Leung
I had the opportunity to meet this talented performer and watch him spend a day with the youth in a summer theatre program I oversaw. I was instantly taken by his positive energy, creativity and his willingness to be genuine and sincere with the kids. There was not a phony bone in his body. Above and beyond this, I am so personally excited for the musical Allegiance to open on Broadway (in my opinion, the most exciting prospective offering of the 2015-2016 season) and I would love to pick his brain, from a performer’s point of view, about the show’s evolution as it makes its way toward The Great White Way.
6. George C. Wolfe
George C. Wolfe sees theatre in almost a cinematic way. The plays and musicals that he has directed had such a fluidity and thrust to them that it was easy to make such a comparison. What is even more exciting about Wolfe is that he is attracted to projects that are uncompromising, out-of-the-box, and that push the musical theatre forward. I want to know how he picks his projects and how he knows that he can make them work. This would be my deep conversation of the brunch.
7. Jordan Roth
It’s simple: I have always admired Jujamcyn Theatres as a producing organization. I have been attracted to more shows that have played in Jujamcyn Theatres over the years: Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, Grand Hotel, Jelly’s Last Jam, Kinky Boots, Finian’s Rainbow (revival), Caroline, or Change, Triumph of Love, Something Rotten! Jordan Roth is the president of this organization that I so greatly admire. I would love to know about the insides and outs of how it operates, and hear about Roth’s take on the current Broadway musical climate. And if he happens to walk away with a copy of my resume in-hand, all the better.
8. Joanna Gleason
As most of my readership knows, I am in the early stages of writing a book on the musical Into the Woods, from its creation, through its original production, to its legacy as an inspiring piece of theatre that has deeply impacted so many people. Having watched the original Broadway production several-hundred times, it has always been Gleason’s performance as The Baker’s Wife that has captivated me for its depth and for how much she personally brought to the role. I would love to meet the force behind this indelible performance and hear her story about her journey with the piece. We will chalk it up as an interview for the book that also selfishly gives me an opportunity to dine with my favorite actress.
9. Peter Filichia
If you have ever had a conversation with Peter Filichia about musical theatre and experienced the infectious passion he has for the medium, you will know why he is a must-have at this party. Peter facilitates great discussions about musical theatre with meaningful questions that inspire interesting conversations. Don’t be surprised if you are asked “If you could go back in time and see any one musical in its original production, what would it be?” or “What is your most listened-to show from each decade?” He will keep the conversation moving, and interject his patented “Nevertheless!” when he is poised to share his thoughts on a differing opinion.
10. Stephen Sondheim
I realize that this is probably the most cliché, expected name on this list. I wonder, though, that if you were in the same position, if you would not at least consider this name for your Great Broadway Musical Theatre Brunch. Having created some of the most intricate and fascinating songs of the Broadway canon, not to mention being the mind behind such musicals as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and several others, how could he not be the guest of honor at any musical theatre gathering. So yes, I would have him on my list and I offer no apologies for being the clichéd host that I am.
So, now you know who would sit at a table with me for the Great Broadway Musical Theatre Brunch. I think it would make for one heck of a party. Tell me…who would make your list, and why?