Eric Schaeffer On the Signature Sunset and Kennedy Center Follies

Special Features   Eric Schaeffer On the Signature Sunset and Kennedy Center Follies
 
This season Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer, who is represented on Broadway with the Tony-nominated musical Million Dollar Quartet, will direct the Washington debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard (at the Signature) as well as the Kennedy Center's starry, $6 million production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

Eric Schaeffer
Eric Schaeffer Photo by Aubrey Reuben

"I've never done an Andrew Lloyd Webber piece before, but I've always loved Sunset Boulevard," Schaeffer told Playbill.com Dec. 1, "and I just thought that an environmental production of it would be really, really fascinating and really, really cool. It's something that I've always wanted to do."

His production in Signature's 276-seat MAX Theater in Arlington, VA, will boast Broadway favorite Florence Lacey, a long-time Evita, in the role of faded silent-screen star Norma Desmond, the part created in London by Patti LuPone and later on Broadway by Glenn Close.

"Well, the interesting thing is that they actually auditioned Flo originally for it," Schaeffer explains, "and then they came back to her and were like, 'We need to have a big movie star in it.' So she got to sing those songs [for the original audition], and I just knew her voice with those songs would be amazing, that she could really, really do it. And, it's interesting because it's kind of almost full circle with her having done Evita for seven years, and now coming back and doing the next big Andrew Lloyd Webber female role that he'd written. It's been great, and she just is amazing in the role, as you can imagine. I mean, she just is absolutely breathtaking."

Schaeffer says the Signature staging will feature "a whole different physical production, completely. We've actually turned the whole theatre into the back lot of Paramount Studios, so you feel like you're sitting in the back lot and there's sandbags and catwalks overhead, and then that actually transforms into the mansion."

Schaeffer says his Sunset will also utilize five filmed sequences created specially for the production. "We did an underwater photo shoot of D.B. Bonds [who plays Joe Gillis] floating dead in the water. We got all these different film sequences — there's a whole film sequence that goes on during 'Sunset Boulevard' when he sings the opening of Act Two."

Bernadette Peters
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The director will follow Sunset with what may be the most eagerly awaited musical production of the spring: the Kennedy Center's revival of Follies, whose starry cast will include two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters as Sally, Tony nominee Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer, stage and screen star Ron Raines as Benjamin Stone, multiple Tony nominee Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone, Olivier Award winner Elaine Paige as Carlotta Campion, Florence Lacey as Sandra Crane and Tony winner Linda Lavin as Hattie Walker, among others.

Schaeffer, who was the artistic director for the Kennedy Center's 2002 "The Sondheim Celebration," says Follies "was one of the shows we actually didn't do it at that time, and it's one of [Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser's] favorite shows, and he asked me if I would like to do it, and I said, 'Absolutely, I would love to do it!' We actually reunited the [creative] team from [The Kennedy Center] Mame of [choreographer] Warren Carlyle, myself and [musical director-conductor] James Moore. We've been working on it for over two years now, so it's exciting that it's finally coming around the corner."

The production will mark Schaeffer's second time directing the musical, about a reunion of former Follies stars who address new and old wounds. He directed Lacey as Sally in the Signature production during the company's 2002-03 season. "Yeah, that was the workshop production," he says with a laugh, "because that was in a garage that had 136 seats, and the stage was maybe 20 feet by 30 feet. So I thought, 'This'll be a lot different than that.' And, also, the resources that we have to do the production: It's going to be a $6 million production of it rather than what we could afford back at Signature. I think we spent $400,000 on it. So it's going to be quite different from the physical design [standpoint], just having it in that space." Follies will run May 7-June 19, 2011, in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.

The Kennedy Center mounting, says Schaeffer, "will be the original New York [version], so we'll be doing 'Lucy and Jessie' and not 'Ah, But Underneath' for Jan [Maxwell as Phyllis] … and no 'Country House.'"

About the prospect of working with Broadway royalty Peters, Schaeffer admits, "I'm thrilled about it. We met and we talked about it, and I was telling her what we were going to do with the show. So she got a really [good] sense of the feel of how we were designing it as well as the whole tone of the show as well as being able to have the original orchestrations. I think we have a 26-piece orchestra. I think for an actor to be able to sing with a real orchestra in a musical these days is a novelty, and I think that's really, really appealing to actors, and it's also one of the great musicals that was ever written. "What's great is at the Kennedy Center, they'll put the resources behind it and really give it the production it deserves to have, and so I think [Bernadette] was very, very excited to know what we were going to do and how big and grandiose it's going to be. And, it's a part she's always wanted to do, and she'll be fantastic in it!"

For more about the Signature Theatre, visit www.signature-theatre.org; for more about the Kennedy Center, go to www.kennedy-center.org.

(Look for a full interview with Florence Lacey in the Dec. 3 Diva Talk column on Playbill.com.)

<i>Follies</i> will play the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater
Follies will play the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater
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