Heading for a Wedding: A Catered Affair Readies for Broadway

News   Heading for a Wedding: A Catered Affair Readies for Broadway Tony Award winners Harvey Fierstein and John Doyle return to Broadway later this month with the new musical A Catered Affair.
Leslie Kritzer, Matt Cavenaugh and Faith Prince in A Catered Affair.
Leslie Kritzer, Matt Cavenaugh and Faith Prince in A Catered Affair. Photo by Jim Cox

Featuring direction by Doyle, a book by Fierstein and a score from New York composer John Bucchino, A Catered Affair arrives on Broadway March 25 at the Walter Kerr with an official opening April 17.

According to press notes, "Funny, heartbreaking and oh so human, A Catered Affair reveals relationships strained to their limits when a couple must decide whether to spend their life savings on a family business or to launch their only daughter's marriage with a lavish catered affair.

In preparation for the big day, the producers of A Catered Affair invited members of the press to visit New York's infamous Kleinfeld Bridal boutique to meet with the cast and catch a song from the intimate musical.

Fierstein described his inspiration for adapting A Catered Affair as a musical and the resonance the characters had for him. "I knew them — it's the people I grew up with. I knew these women that gossiped, and I knew these guys that worked so hard. Now, I was lucky enough not to be in one of those families with an ignored child, but I did know a girl who all of the stuff went to the brother and the girl was ignored and what that felt like for her."

Bucchino, the composer of A Catered Affair, makes his Broadway debut with the new musical. Bucchino echoed Fierstein's familiarity with the characters at the core of the story. "They were so well written," Bucchino says, "it was easy. They're people I know — they're relatives, they're people I grew up with. That's what people found in San Diego when we did the show, and I hope will people will find in New York. And, yes, it's a poor Irish family in 1955, but the emotions and the family dynamics, the interpersonal dynamics have been resonating for everybody. That's what I always want to do with my work anyway is do something universal, and this feels universal." Composing for the musical theatre, however, wasn't a task Bucchino originally felt inclined to tackle. "It scared me," he admits. "I don't know theatre, and I [didn't] know if I [could] do that. It's not what I grew up doing or aspiring to do — it's a different world. And, writing a song is very different than writing a song for theatre. And, while other people may — from listening to my songs — have assumed that I would be able to do this, I didn't trust that, so it was terrifying."

Referring to his Tony-winning collaborator Fierstein, Bucchino jokes, "And to be doing it with him — who I didn't even know — you know this famous guy? We didn't have John Doyle yet, but I knew it was sort of playing in the big leagues of musical theatre. It was just scary, so I said, 'No,' and luckily [Harvey] talked me into it."

As a composer, Bucchino discussed the challenges of writing a new musical set in a musically familiar era such as the 1950's. "Initially, I thought, 'Okay, it's theatre. I'm supposed to come up with a [specific sound].' And, for about a minute-and-a-half I thought, 'Oh, fifties … Do I want to go with a fifties style of music?' And, then, luckily, I just did what I do. I just wrote my music. I didn't go for some fifties pastiche or try to be period. I just responded to each moment, each character moment, each emotion, the way it hit me and let whatever came out come out… As I've tried to do this, it makes me appreciate how hard it is to do and value the abilities of other writers who do it brilliantly."

Rather than inserting songs into an essentially complete story, Fierstein felt that the original screenplay for "The Catered Affair" had room to grow, offering, "I didn't think it went as far as it could have gone. I didn't think it was totally successful in telling its story. If you watch the movie, actually, it's a little bizarre. At the end of the movie, they miss the wedding. I would never take something that's perfect and finished and just put it on stage. Why bother if it's perfect?

 

Harvey Fierstein
photo by Jim Cox

"I saw an opportunity to tell another story," Fierstein continues. "And then there was that uncle. In the original he was just the uncle who slept on the couch; he had no sexuality at all in the MGM version. But I saw this opportunity to talk about confirmed bachelor uncles or maiden aunts. You know, what they really were . . . They were gay people that didn't know you could have relationships, that didn't know it was actually a possibility for them."

About Aggie Hurly, the role portrayed by Tony winner Faith Prince, Fierstein says, "We've got this woman living in a marriage for 20-something years with a man she's crazy about and never allows herself to think that he could possibly love her, just doesn't allow herself to think that — it would be too difficult to think that he could love her. They're brother and sister [Fierstein and Prince's characters], and I saw this possibility of telling the story of the brother also thinking it's not a possibility to have a relationship and the two of them having to get brave enough eventually to put themselves out there. I think that's a story worth telling, which is why I don't think of it as old-fashioned at all."

Prince, who stars as the mother of the bride, spoke of her role in her first new Broadway musical since James Joyce's The Dead. "Well, it's funny, when I read Aggie, my grandmother came to mind, and she's one of those women who has taken care of everybody else her whole life, including the family she had growing up…1950's blue collar people in the Bronx… Someone who never had a wedding herself and really doesn't even think about it until the wedding with her daughter comes up. And, it's after the death of their son in Korea.

"Life happens like this to me," Prince says. "Every once in a while you're motoring along, and then four things come at you at one time. I think that's what happens in the course of these 48 hours for these people. You start to see the shell break away from this woman. When she first appears, [she's] a little cold, a little shut off, and as these things start happening to them, you start to see what's underneath. It's powerful and the journey is so interesting.

"What I found interesting about the play," Prince continues, "having done it in San Diego, is pretty much anybody who walks into the theatre, it becomes universal [for them]. You can relate in some way. I can't tell you the people who came up to me and said, 'Oh my God, you were my aunt growing up. You were my grandmother, you were my mother. You were my mother's brother's wife.' They all could relate to this woman, and I love characters like that."

Prince describes the delight of working on a brand-new project: "When I got mailed the script, I just thought, 'Oh my God, not only is it new, it's not a revival.' Which I have no problem with — I mean, people get all spiraled up about that, but they never think that about opera. You know, it's like you can do Puccini forever, but for some reason [with a Broadway revival] it's a big deal. But if it's good, I don't mind doing a revival. But how incredible to create a role? This experience reminds me of Falsettoland in terms of the family's situation, the people involved, the quality of humans in it, as well as the talent and the art of it. It's been an amazing experience."

Prince also speaks highly of working with director Doyle, who is best known to Broadway audiences for his work on the award- winning Sondheim revivals incorporating actors as musicians.

"I think a couple of directors have tried to get out of me what he [has]," Prince says. "He has such a great way of leading you there. He never makes you feel like you're not right — it's just 'We're gonna get this side of you to go this way. It's like good parenting; his direction is like good parenting. I'm in love with him."

 

Tom Wopat and Faith Prince
photo by Jim Cox

The young woman in Catered Affair's white dress, Leslie Kritzer, echoes Prince's enthusiasm for working with Doyle, simply stating, "[He's] the best director I've ever worked with."

"He's made me a better actress," Kritzer adds. "He always reminds me that I don't have to be so big and I don't have to work so hard to be a good actor. That's the essence of all good acting: Come from where you know and come from yourself and be simple, and you can color later."

Well known for her comedic gifts, Kritzer explains the challenges of playing Janie, the bride-to-be: "I usually get to do funny roles, roles that are funny and over the top. This is just a plain simple girl, but it's a very complex role and a hard role to play because she's stuck in the middle of all this chaos. She doesn't want a big wedding, her mother does. . . [She would just like] a City Hall little thing and make it real simple . . . and then the whole family gets involved."

Doyle's real gift, Kritzer says, is his understanding of subtelty. "He also surprises you when you least expect it. In rehearsals he would do things to to bring out [our] performances . . . you didn't have to do very much, and they were so powerful. He would shut off the lights all of a sudden in the middle of rehearsal, and it would bring us to a different place. We were in darkness, but just little things like that, little adjustments, helped me so much."

The proud papa of A Catered Affair's Hurly family is Broadway veteran Tom Wopat. Wopat, whose Broadway credits run the gamut from City of Angels to Annie Get Your Gun, tackles his first original role in a completely new work for Broadway.

"This is a different animal altogether, of course," Wopat says. "This is one that's never been a musical before, and all the music is original. It's exciting and it's dynamic and again, it's something that we aspire to do. You know, you can replace somebody on Broadway as many times as you want, but it's not the same thing. It's the difference between being a stepfather and a father I think."

Wopat describes A Catered Affair explaining, "It's constructed a little like the O'Henry short story 'The Gift of the Magi.' It's kind of a little urban fable. The characters are very interesting; you care about them immediately I feel. It's a really really human piece. It's unlike anything on Broadway now."

The former "Dukes of Hazzard" star portrays hard-working cab driver Tom Hurley, who owns shares in a cab with two business partners in order to support his family. "He's been saving their whole marriage — he's been saving to buy another share in the cab. And what happens is when Aggie (Prince) gets the big idea of having a big catered affair, basically, it's gonna eat all their money, so his dream will be put on hold again."

The character Wopat portrays resonates deeply with the actor. "My number," Wopat explains, "I would liken emotionally to 'Soliloquy' from Carousel — it's really a culmination of things he's wanted to say and he hasn't. This takes place in the fifties, and I liken it to my father. My father was a man of very few words. He was a dairy farmer and raised eight kids. Tom gets to have a moment late in the show where he really expresses himself. It's very emotional, and it's very dramatic."

"The thing about [A Catered Affair]," Wopat concludes, "is it's really engrossing. I can't really draw a parallel with too many other things because I think it's a unique piece — both in the construction of the piece and in John Bucchino's music. Everyone gets to express themselves in one way or another. It's a really fulfilling meal."

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The company of A Catered Affair includes Harvey Fierstein as Uncle Winston with Tony winner Faith Prince as Aggie Hurley (mother of the bride), Tom Wopat as Tom Hurley (father of the bride), Leslie Kritzer as Jane Hurley (the bride) and Matt Cavenaugh as Ralph Halloran (the groom).

Also in the company are Philip Hoffman (Mr. Halloran and Sam), Katie Klaus (Alice and Army Sergeant), Heather MacRae (Delores and the Caterer), Lori Wilner (Mrs. Halloran) and Kristine Zbornik (Myra and the Dress Saleswoman). Jennifer Allen, Britta Ollmann and Matthew Scott are understudies.

The marriage-minded musical (based on the Paddy Chayefsky TV film and movie) is directed by Tony Award winner John Doyle. Constantine Kitsopoulos is the show's musical director.

The design team comprises David Gallo (sets), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lights), Dan Moses Schreier (sound), Zachary Borovay (projections) and David Lawrence (hair).

A Catered Affair will be produced on Broadway by Jujamcyn Theaters, Jordan Roth, Harvey Entertainment/Ron Fierstein, Richie Jackson and Daryl Roth.

Tickets are currently available by phoning (212) 239-6200, or by visiting www.telecharge.com

For further information visit www.ACateredAffairOnBroadway.com.

The Walter Kerr Theatre is located in Manhattan at 219 West 48th Street.

<i>A Catered Affair</i> stars Harvey Fierstein, Matt Cavenaugh, Leslie Kritzer, Faith Prince and Tom Wopat.
A Catered Affair stars Harvey Fierstein, Matt Cavenaugh, Leslie Kritzer, Faith Prince and Tom Wopat. Photo by Jim Cox