Category — Musical
Caissie Levy hurtles into the revival of Murder Ballad
Welcome to Building Character, TDF’s ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles
It’s almost necessary to describe Murder Ballad with urgent words.
A rock opera about a love triangle that ends in blood, it hurtles forward like a bullet. With book and lyrics by Julia Jordan and music and lyrics by Juliana Nash, the show, now at Union Square Theatre, evokes not only the passion that makes us kill for love, but also the thrill of watching a violent love story. It wants us to get heated up and then wonder what our enthusiasm means.
That’s partly why director Trip Cullman puts the audience in the midst of the action, placing patrons at tables throughout the stage. Patrons are often just inches from the actors as they fight, seethe, and kiss, which makes it easier to feel the story’s energy.
For Caissie Levy, there’s been a similar wildness behind the scenes. She plays Sara, a woman torn between the stable man she married and the dangerous rebel she loves, but unlike everyone else in the cast, she’s new to the production. Murder Ballad had a successful run at Manhattan Theatre Club last fall, and when it was time for the Union Square remount, all the actors returned except the original Sara, Karen Olivo. Once Levy got the part, she had to catch up at warp speed.
“The whole thing has been so fast,” she says. “I had one week of rehearsal alone in a room with the director and the writers and the music team. Then I had a week with the cast members, then we went into tech. That’s the fastest I’ve ever put anything up that wasn’t a reading.”
She found some benefits in working so quickly. “I’m a very detailed, borderline neurotic actor,” she says. “I want everything to be perfect. I want to think through everything. I want to know my character inside and out. I want to know what their astrological sign is. But what’s been nice about this process and how fast it’s been is that I’ve had to rely on my instincts. I’ve had to make fast decisions about what makes sense for the character and not second guess them.”
That’s a major change from Levy’s recent jobs. She originated Molly, the female lead in Ghost the Musical, on both Broadway and the West End, and before that, she played Sheila in the Broadway revival of Hair. “Compared to that, Murder Ballad has been a very ‘Off-Broadway experience,’” she says. “It hasn’t been months and months of tech and rehearsal and meet-and-greets and photo ops. It’s just, ‘Okay, here you go. Here’s your costume. That looks good. Now let’s get on stage.’ It hasn’t been about anything but the story.”
As she tallies up performances, Levy is discovering new textures in the material. “It’s a rock show for grown ups and grown-up issues, and that’s what I’m responding to,” she says. “You have the kid and the marriage and the job, but not everything is feeling right. It’s a relatable story, and it’s set to this kick-ass rock score with grown-ups singing instead of teenagers. It’s refreshing.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor
Photo by Joan Marcus
May 17, 2013 No Comments
How Jeff Calhoun stays connected to his hit show
On a hit Broadway show, a director’s job is never quite done. Working with a team of associate directors and stage managers, directors must keep tabs on their long-running productions to make sure their artistic visions are still being honored. They might guide a new cast member, tweak a scene, or even overhaul a moment altogether, all in the name of keeping the material fresh.
That’s why Jeff Calhoun is still thinking about Newsies, the Disney musical he directed that opened at the Nederlander Theater in March 2012. “It’ll never be over as long as it’s running,” he says. “It’s like you’re a parent and you have children: They may go to college, but that phone is still going to ring in the middle of the night.”
Based on the early 90s film musical, this story of New York City newspaper boys going on strike has been popular enough to outlast most of its original cast. That means a new crop of performers needs to be directed.
May 6, 2013 No Comments
Robert Cuccioli finds the human side of a comic book monster
Welcome to Building Character, TDF’s ongoing look at how actors create their roles
To understand the challenge of performing in a musical based on a comic book, just look at Robert Cuccioli’s role in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
At first, Cuccioli plays Norman Osborn, a brilliant, neurotic scientist who’s trying to improve the world with his genetic experiments. One of his mutated spiders escapes and bites a dorky teen named Peter Parker, giving the kid the powers that make him Spider-Man, but the spider’s escape also starts a chain of events that leaves Norman desperate and abandoned. In a frenzy, he performs an experiment on himself, which turns him into the villainous Green Goblin.
In other words: Cuccioli plays a human being and a spectacular freak, and as an actor, he has to honor both extremes. He has to craft a performance that contains recognizable humanity, but also acknowledges a comic book’s splashy fun.
May 3, 2013 No Comments
Ayub Khan Din’s strange journey with his new musical at The New Group
It sounds like something out of an old Hollywood screwball comedy: A madcap new musical is about to bow on the boards, but after just a few preview performances, the lead injures himself and is forced to quit. The creative team frantically convenes. They have two choices: Cancel the show, or get the writer to go on.
That’s exactly what happened last month when doctors ordered actor Erick Avari to withdraw from the New Group’s Bunty Berman Presents. Left with no other options, book writer/lyricist/co-composer Ayub Khan Din stepped into the title role.
Unlike most playwrights, however, Din is no stranger to acting. Best known for his autobiographical dramedy East is East, about culture clashes within a Pakistani-British family, Din first came to prominence as a performer. After studying drama at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, he starred in the controversial 1987 indie Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, as well as a number of British television series. But he traded acting for writing in the late ’90s and hasn’t appeared on stage in more than two decades.
May 2, 2013 No Comments
Inside the Choreography of “Here Lies Love”
Choreographer Annie-B Parson, who founded Big Dance Theater in New York City, creates with a post-modern style all her own, and while she was influenced by dance giants like Merce Cunningham, she was also inspired by another giant from the world of pop music. “I’ve always been a huge fan of David Byrne’s gigantic, imaginative powers and omnivorous appetite,” she says. “When I was at Connecticut College and first heard his music, I was enamored by his particular aesthetic of detachment, a blend of nobility and paranoia that thrilled me. When I went to his concerts, his music totally rocked. Everything was factual and functional with a sense of being what it was, not an illusion. And, the way he danced, with a fantastic, detached quality in terms of how his limbs related to his torso with a separate grace. In my young mind, this was it.”
As fate would have it, admiration led to collaboration. Parson eventually choreographed two of Byrne’s world tours, and now, she’s choreographing Here Lies Love, a musical based on Filipina First Lady Imelda Marco’s life that is playing at the Public Theater.
April 26, 2013 No Comments