This song by Michael John LaChiusa is technically not even really a complete song as having an established beginning and end goes. This is sort of…a musical 'amuse bouche' if you will, from the breathtaking musical First Lady Suite which I had the intense pleasure of doing at the Transport Group a few years ago.
This very short and very sweet three pages of music is my favorite section of the entire score- which is saying a lot because I absolutely want to french kiss this entire show like, all the time, every day of my life.
In our production, I did not get the chance to sing this songlet, which was fine by me because that meant I could sit stage left and watch the absolutely beyond gifted and talented Mary Testa not only sing the shit out of it, but kick it in balls, wrestle it to the ground and then give it the finger.
Now, let’s just talk about Mary Testa for just a moment, shall we?
Mary Testa, is probably one of the most brilliant stage actresses of our generation.
And if you need to re-read that sentence, go right ahead.
If you just thought to yourself,
"HELLS YEAH! I totally agree! FINALLY! Someone SAID it!"
Then feel free to skip to the * because I'd obviously be preaching to the choir, and I'm sure you're all very busy, incredibly intelligent people with tons of shit to do.
If you just just thought to yourself,
"She' s GOT to be kidding! Mary Testa?!! The comedienne?! Mary Testa??!!"
Then you have NO CHOICE but to keep on reading....
And i've got 'eyes'.....
However, if you're crinkling your brow and thinking,
"Who's Mary Testa?" then...
oh my GOD
you must GO
to the Lincoln Center LIBRARY
and watch the Transport Group's PRODUCTION
of First Lady Suite to WITNESS
one of the most genius theatrical performances ever (thankfully) captured on FILM.
Ya see Timmy....
If life was fair, and if our business was even remotely sane...Mary Testa would have moved into a bigger apartment because she would literally not have enough room for in her place for all the awards that would have been SHOWERED on her for her genius in the theatre by now.
But it's not.
Lemme tell you a li'l something about Mary Testa and why it's NOT necessarily common knowledge-
like in KANSAS, common knowledge-
that Mary Testa is indeed one of the finest theatrical actresses of our generation.
It is because....
Brilliant actors like Mary Testa are rarely given material that's worthy of them.
In fact, they're usually given the worst material in the business because they're the only ones who can do anything with it....and producers, directors -- everyone on the inside knows it.
Occasionally, they can spin that shit into gold and manage to get some actual credit for their efforts.
Most of the time they can spin it so it just matches the level of whatever good material might actually be in the rest of the show so there's no noticeable 'dip'.
But sometimes they try vainly to push that enormous turd ball up a hill with a piece of straw in order to save the rest of the village...
And rarely does the material (or the director, for that matter) get blamed...
it's more often than not that -- the actor takes the hit.
They get blamed for being 'over the top', or 'scene stealing' or (my personal favorite) 'working too hard' when....yeah! You BET they're working hard. They are working their TITS OFF UP THERE with subpar crap and taking bullets all night for actually showing some sweat. While reality show rejects are handed the built-like-a brick-shit-house material because they can't handle anything less without dropping the ball all night.
And believe me...it's not just the Mary Testas that lose here. It's everybody.
The actors lose because with the WORST material- all they can hope for is to come of slightly better than average in the end.
The writers lose because their BEST material is always in the hands of some fucking doof-nut who has no business even being on a stage.
And the audiences lose because instead of watching A-game actors, doing A-game material, resulting in an A-game show...they're instead treated to an evening of a complete white-wash of MEDIOCRITY from all sides.
making Michael Phelps and Paris Hilton compete in a swimming competition. Except Phelps has to wear 500 pounds of weights on his body- while Paris Hilton is given a state of the art swimsuit complete with a built in motor.
And then everyone sits back and wonders not only-
why the race is boring as hell to watch...
but why the fuck that slow pokey Michael Phelps' eyes are about ready to pop out of his skull.
to the crazy bizarro-world of Broadway.
there is that silver lining...
usually found Off-Broadway, and sometimes even Off-OFF-Broadway btw...
When the rare opportunity comes...
that actually COMBINES a brilliant actor with brilliant material...
like Mary Testa and the part "Hickock" in First Lady Suite....
or Michelle Pawk and the part of "Louise" in Hollywood Arms...
or Emily Skinner and the part of "Lizzie" in 110 In The Shade...
well, then holy fuckballs in hell, people....
strap yourselves IN-
and keep your hands and arms INSIDE OF THE CAR 'cause...
watch OUT suckahs!!!
Your brain is about to be explodified!
Which is exactly what happened to me every single night, when I watched Mary do the third act of FLS...but mostly when she sang this song in particular.
And I watched her every single show.
I couldn’t help myself.
I was hypnotized.
I had to sit stage left every time she was on because I knew, no matter how many times I would see her do this role, it would never be enough once our run was over. I would always miss it.
And I learned a lot from watching her night after night.
I learned about planting yourself.
I learned about beyond exposed honesty.
I learned about ‘saving’ the belt.
I learned about going with the moment whatever that moment is.
I learned that it's ok for the actual character to have a sense of humor too, and not just the actor playing the character.
I learned about the mastery of timing.
I learned that humor sometimes comes from the most painful of places.
I learned that if you play every moment straight, it won't matter if you get a laugh or not...but most likely you will.
I learned that it's better to pace the laughs to build up to one big release, than to appease your own ego and disperse the build up by gobbling up a bunch of smaller yet more frequent chuckles along the way.
I learned to not give a shit about anything but the moment.
I learned the true meaning of the phrase "mining the material".
But mostly I learned that some things can’t be learned. And some things can't be applied. Because some things are just so unique to certain people that to even try to attempt making them your own is one of the most futile exercises in the theatre.
I learned to sit back and appreciate someone else's mind blowing uniqueness....
I learned to be once again....be an audience member, and not an actress.
Let's talk about the song itself.
* (Welcome back Mary Testa fans).
I love this song for so many reasons my jaw bone dislocates on its own.
It’s structure is beyond insanely perfect. It’s a spotless build, the lyrics meld so completely with the movement of the notes underneath it and it’s like a complete three-act play in three pages of music.
Musically, this was by far the arrangement I was most proud of on the album. There’s a very specific time period feel to this song. Even if you hear it wild, you know that it’s from the 1920s-1930s because of the subtle hint of ‘rag’ in it. So it was so important to me for this to sound like something you might hear in the lobby of a very expensive hotel from that time. Piano, violin and cello. That’s it. A perfect ‘piano trio’ of sound.
It was also extremely important to me that I played every single note in the piano perfectly because part of Michael John’s genius is that he will very specifically set up a ‘conventional’ melody line and then underneath it throw in some very purposeful literally feral notes just to make you subconsciously feel slightly off balance.
Plus, I think Michael John must have the biggest hands in show business because there are chords spans that I don't even understand how one hand can reach.
So I recorded this piano part literally, one hand at a time. And sometimes 'one' hand meant using both hands to actually hit ALL the notes in the chord.
And it took me hours.
Just the piano part.
And i fucking loved every fucking minute of it!
So if you ‘think’ you’re hearing wrong notes in there…I assure you they are not. If you're momentarily feeling, 'Oh hey...wait a minute...what's...'- then you're right on schedule my darlings.
Those wayward notes are part of Michael’s absolute brilliance and they serve every moment emotionally.
Also, just a fun tidbit was since...it really doesn't have a definite beginning and a definite ending...I was able to make them UP!
Of course, I had to resist the urge to make it all fancy-pants and shit...
and I finally settled on the simplest of simplest of simplest bookends.
Because it served the piece the best.
this is my tribute to Mary Testa and Michael John LacChiusa.
Two of the most talented, and under appreciated people in our business.
Rest assured, this version is actually nothing like Mary's version...
I'm very very proud to say this version is all mine.
Which in my way, is the best and most sincere way I can ever truly pay tribute to Mary.
Because as I said before,
one of the best lessons I ever learned from her, is that-
what she does...
no one else can do.
Track #13 my darlings.
What I do.