Well hello there Playbill readers, remember me? I'm Al(exandra) Silber (you might know my on-stage self from Hello Again, Master Class or London's Carousel) and I'm baaaaaaack. After such a fun stint taking you through the ins and outs of MTC's Master Class last summer, how could I resist a return?
This time, I come bearing new kinds of gifts! No, smart kid in the back, not frankincense and myrrh, but a new kind of peak inside the lives of those in the theatre. In a world where artists make instantaneous, inexplicably close friendships, romances and collaborations that last a lifetime... I bring you...
People in the theatre bond in a very unique and meaningful way-- which is, frankly, ineffable. And while one can't always describe the hows or the whys of these magical happenings, one certainly can agree that they most certainly do happen and they deserve to be explored!
Not all "Showmances" are focused on Broadway lovebirds. Showmance casts a wider net, featuring various kinds of friendships and bonds that tie theatre folk together. This could include strong friendships made during a show or in training, family connections or especially tight ensembles.
If you are reading this, then welcome! Join me, and allow Broadway to Showmance you...
NIKKA LANZARONE AND NICK ADAMS Picture this: Two drop-dead gorgeous dancers climbing all over each other like spider monkeys talking at the same time. High-pitched squealing, lots of collapsed-over giggling "that makes other people on the street look at us like we should be committed," the girl says, "Which maybe we should. Do they do musicals in psych wards or just plays?” Suddenly, the boy begins to sing “Snikka Lanzarone Snikka Lanzarone" to the tune of “Gary, Indiana” from The Music Man.
These two have now greeted one another.
"It was in 2001 at The Boston Conservatory," Nikka reports when I ask about their origin story. "Capezionik@aol.com!" says Nick, “We chatted online (with my mothers dial up Internet) before we were Freshman and I knew then we would be in kahoots."
So. Because this super-stretchy pair's friendship blossomed at The Boston Conservatory, (aka “BoCo”) I bring you:
Now, everyone knows that college has the potential to be a veritable wilderness of insecurity, so it is always handy to have a companion. Nick and Nikka were matched instantly in and out of class.
“We were always paired together, since we were The Dancers," Nikka reports. But their Bostonian duet wasn’t always fun and games (or jazz hands and high kicking). “It also brought a lot of personal struggles and hurdles” says Nick. “Nikka and I knew we had a very special bond early on in college.”
In fact, it was those particular struggles that helped to define the friendship further.
“I think the two dancers doing Shakespeare together our senior year of college truly defined our friendship,” says Nikka. “We didn't mean to wind up in this super-serious acting class, but it was the only one we could take that allowed us time to take ballet with the dance majors!” Quite.
“It was WAY outside both of our comfort zones, but we knew we had to rally if we were going to do this in real life. That was the moment I knew that we were truly in this together, and that we would support each other forever.”
But what makes this College-to-Broadway friendship extra special?
“I can be myself with Nikka” Nick chimes, “I can be intellectual and silly all in the same conversation. She's that kind of girl…” Thinking further he adds, “She also inspires me with her incomparable fashion sense! Girl can put a look together.” Super high-fashion Nikka Does. Not. Mess. Around. with the clothes. But in all seriousness he adds, "Nikka is the definition of unique. She's smart, beautiful, talented. I can always count on Nikka for a polarizing opinion and she has the ability to read my mind.”
And it is not just the love, but the admiration that is mutual for Nikka, "Nick's tenacity, drive, and spirit is one of the most amazing things I've seen in action. He's gotten to the level he's at and has kept the pure love for what he does intact—that is incredibly inspirational."
From where I stand, it appears Nick and Nikka inspired one another to become the inspiring adults entertaining the Broadway community today. The last two years have had the extraordinary pleasure of watching one another catch their respective “great white whales.”
"Watching her make that legendary entrance for "All That Jazz" as Velma Kelly in Chicago on Broadway," reflects Nick, "with tears streamed down my face and my hands clutched my heart… I'll never forget that.”
"There is nothing like watching one of your best friends in the world get entrance applause while starring in a Broadway show," Nikka adds. "It's such a magical moment, especially thinking back to all the late nights in college, dreaming of what our adult lives would be like. I cried watching him in Priscilla."
Nick is currently playing Adam/Felicia in the Broadway production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Palace Theatre.
Nikka is currently playing Florinda in Into the Woods at Baltimore Centerstage through April 15, and at the Westport Country Playhouse from May 1-26.
SIERRA & SUMMER BOGGESS
The Broadway community is no stranger to siblings residing together on the Great White Way: The Fosters, Gummers, Marshalls, Keenan-Bolgers and of course the legendary Booths of yore come to mind, to name but a few. But we all know sisterhood is an extra-special bond. The point is, there is nothing like growing up side-by-side; sharing your dreams, ambitions and no doubt a community theatre stage (or five) together, and then seeing those dreams become a reality.
But unlike the siblings mentioned above, the Boggess sisters had differing art forms and artistic ambitions (Summer as a cellist and Sierra as a performer)... but they just happened to land in the same destination.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The SoRo-mance And what a sister act it is!
Growing up in Denver, Colorado, Summer and Sierra Boggess were the eldest of a set of three sisters, all born two years closer apart. All closer than close; best friends and favorite playmates.
Their first memories are of growing up re-enacting their favorite movie, Disney"s "Sword in the Stone." Summer played Merlin and Sierra played Madam Mim.
“We had a small plastic inflatable pool in our backyard and we would have wizard's duels,” they cackle, “We'd stand back to back, count off, and march in place, trying to knock the other over into the pool.”
They also made up countless imaginative worlds. "And they were really involved," Summer, the eldest of the Boggess sisters, reports, "I was 'Lucy' and Sierra was 'Sophie' and they were best friends… who were also microscopic.”
Um. Why, you ask?
“Why not!” They respond.
Summer, Sierra and their younger sister Allegra, all began playing piano at the age of four, and then went on to selecting the musical instruments they wanted to play for their elementary school band. As they grew, their exceptional musical abilities became apparent, and they began playing together.
“We would play trios in church, and for a few weddings,” Sierra explains, “Summer on cello, me on the flute and Allegra on oboe and sometimes piano. Allegra was definitely the family pianist.” Sierra smiles.
Musical Theatre quickly became Sierra’s primary passion. “Summer loved and breezed through her academics, but just like a lot of people, high cchool was hard for me! But getting to school so I could go to Band, Orchestra, Drama and Choir? Those classes all saved me! Before long musical theatre became my world, and I knew I had to study it in college and become a professional.” But what of the flute? “Oh I still continued to play the flute! Though it is more of a hobby.”
I mean... my hobbies are bringing on crime drama on my DVR.. but, no, flute is cool too.
As for Summer, she went off to college at University of Colorado without a crystal clear path. "But I had an amazing cello teacher there named Judith Glide who opened my eyes to being a professional.”
Summer switched her major to Cello Performance and soon she was spending ten hours a day in a practice room, and went on to get her Masters from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
When asked what made her take the Broadway route, Summer responds (and beautifully I might add), “Well, of course we all grew up watching musicals! But in college I always volunteered to play for every musical or opera— I loved working and collaborating with singers on vocal repertoire so much. I love how expressive they have the capacity to be, and I like supporting them. As a collaborative musician you have to be so aware and tuned in to a vocalist’s slightest variations in breath or expression—they always do a different show every night! Also, I have so much respect for the fact that a singer cannot hide behind an instrument. Their voice is who they are. It take so much courage. I consider it to be the ultimate expression.”
All three Boggess sisters have all gone into different areas of the music world, but they all began with, and majored in, music. As for Allegra, she got her Masters in Piano at Oberlin Conservatory and now she has a job teaching piano and oboe in economically disadvantaged areas of the world.
Being part of the Broadway community together is an ultimate dream come true. One almost can't imagine a more perfect living metaphor for the way each sister views and cherishes the other. “I have always admired Sierra's courage to make her own path.
“When I was singing in The Little Mermaid,” Sierra says, “It felt incredible knowing that Summer was in the orchestra pit playing her cello. Whenever she subbed for Mermaid I would listen for her solo cello-lines and it made for such an amazing performance…” Sierra stops a moment, then adds, thoughtfully, “I trust Summer with my life. I know she always has my back.”
Summer is currently playing in the Broadway orchestra of Porgy and Bess at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Sierra is currently playing in Love, Loss and What I Wore until March 25 at The Westside Theatre and can be seen on the DVD and Blu-Ray recording of "The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert" at The Royal Albert Hall, starring as Christine Daaé.
An audition downtown for Olive Garden. Hundreds of young attractive people are there for the complex characters of Waiter and Patron. Among them: Max von Essen (of Broadway's Les Miserables, Dance of the Vampires and currently playing Magaldi in Evita) and Elizabeth Stanley (of Broadway's Company, Cry-Baby, Million Dollar Quartet and recently of Encores' Merrily We Roll Along).
They know of one another and have many mutual friends, but up until this moment, they have never met.
"I flipped for her performances in Company and Cry-Baby” reports Max, “so I already had a talent crush on her.”
Elizabeth concurs, “Max was this legendary hottie to me for years before we actually met,” says the girl who is affectionately known by those who love her as "El Stans." *
That is technically, how it began, but try THIS on for size:
Max and Elizabeth REALLY made magic happen when they were cast opposite one another in the National (and Japan) tour of Xanadu. Lights, camera, roller skates…
Now THAT is how the magic REALLY began.
Because although the theatre can bring you together like nothing else, just like Jack Kerouac taught us, that there is no bonding like the bonding you get busy doing ON THE ROAD. Seeing one another looking disgusting and un-showered at the Des Moines airport at 5am to catch a quick flight to Dallas? Pure glamor. Bonding in lonely hotel rooms in Indianapolis because you don’t know anyone else in town? What a fairy tale. And seeing the world together during the day while you kick ass and take names on stages all across the country at night? Well—no actually, that is pretty amazing. These two not only lead the road company, they roller skated right into one anothers’ hearts.
I bring you:
TO-AND-FRO-MANCE - The pals that met on tour.
Because let’s face it: “UNLIMITED-SOUP-SALAD-AND-BREADSTICKS-MANCE”… well, it…look, it just sounds a little clunky…
I got to know Max and Elizabeth when we all worked together in Michael John LaChuisa’s Hello Again at The Transport Group last year Off-Broadway with Max and Elizabeth playing opposite one another once again as The Soldier and The Nurse. Hello Again was one of those productions where the cast had no choice but to [achem] "get close.” And so we promptly did (and continue to engage in epic email chains).
When I asked both of them what their friendship's motto would be they both responded almost in unison with "Do What You Can."
“That's just a little phrase I used to say to Max before each performance of Xanadu.” Elizabeth is known far and wide for her bone-dry, razor-sharp wit, and here is Exhibit A.
Max clarifies, “She started saying that to me in the wings of every theater we worked in on tour. I'd be in my teeny short shorts, head-band and tank top gearing up to play Sonny Malone, and she'd calmly walk over to me, pat me on the back and dryly say 'Do what you can.' It stuck.”
“But in truth I think it could be a bit of a motto!” Elizabeth insists, “we bonded early on over a mutual human respect for honoring what one CAN do.”
“To get back at her, I'd often give her notes while she was making quick changes. She'd literally have 30 seconds off stage to make a change, and I'd run up to her and say ‘Hey Stans, you're doing great, but I want you to make two quick adjustments...’ Good times.”
“I've fallen in love with Max's kindness and tenderness” she continues “I felt early on in our friendship that Max would be a ‘lifer,’ but this past year there were some tough times for both of us. I knew when I was able to cry in front of Max, he was here to stay.”
Max agreed, the relationship deepened this past year, off and on stage, “I often think of our experience together in Hello Again in 2011,” he says. “My character had to literally unravel and [Elizabeth] was forced to be extremely vulnerable. It was difficult to see the hurt in her eyes during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show. I was proud of us both for being so fearless…”
“I think we first bonded over a strong work ethic,” says Elizabeth. “I appreciated that he was always so committed to being his best. I really admire that quality in anyone.”
But also? They laugh. They weep with laughter. “I can't imagine my life without his wit!” she exclaims.
On tour they were “exploring partners,” seeking out what each new city had to offer, “We'd wake up on our day off, grab breakfast and our guide books, and get on the subway or some bus to somewhere,” Max says. “I loved when we were exploring one night in Seattle and passed a coffee shop called ‘Uncle Elizabeth's.’ Well you can be sure the mustache came out.”
Back in NYC they still love to explore. “We'll grab coffee or a meal and a glass (or glasses) of wine and catch up.”
“No matter what, though,” says Max, “it never seems like enough time.”
Like I said— something special.
I need you to take a look at this photograph (below). Wanna know how this photograph began? We were DONE taking the photographs. The shoot was complete. Suddenly El Stans makes her way over to Max’s piano and says: “Hey Max, wanna play a little something together?”
“Sure” Max replied, smiling at the thought.
“Do you have the Pathétique?”
Um, I’m sorry: THE PATHÉTIQUE? As in Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as Sonata Pathétique?! I thought we were doing a photo-shoot that literally five minutes ago included false mustaches on Max’s bed and now we’re playing Beethoven on some sort of casual whim?! Where am I, Manhattan School of Music?
“When I first met Elizabeth, I knew I'd met a young, beautiful, kind and extremely talented woman. What I didn't know was that I had met someone who would become one of the greatest friends I'd ever have. Yes she's beautiful, yes she's talented, but to me she's just Stans, my treasured friend.”
Incidentally? Max just did happen to have the Pathétique.
And then what happened?
They mutually agreed, without discussion, through some form of frightening telekinesis, to assign the right hand to Max, the left to Elizabeth.
“Do what you can…” went their mutual inner monologues.
AND THEN THEY PLAYED IT.
Really, really well.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
In recent memory, it would be hard to recreate the palpable on-(and off)-stage chemistry, the extraordinary effervescence, and the striking, penetrative emotional bond of the entire creative ensemble of The Scottsboro Boys, and it is this, that leads us to introduce a Showmace that includes this especially tight group.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:
In 2002, Susan Stroman first met with Thompson, Kander, and Ebb.
“I'd collaborated with Kander and Ebb before (on And the World Goes Round, Steel Pier and Flora, the Red Menace among others), and we all wanted to work together again,” says Stroman.
They started from scratch, all sharing the desire to tell a true story, one based entirely in fact. “In the theatre, most worlds are fantastical. We wanted to do something true." With that, the team went about researching the great American trials—one was the trial of a group known simply as ‘The Scottsboro Boys.’” As Douglas O. Linder says in his book The Trials of "The Scottsboro Boys":
“No crime in American history—let alone a crime that never occurred—produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged [crime supposedly committed] by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March 25, 1931.”
The Scottsboro Boys ordeal lasted over two decades, and served as a catalyst for a host of civil issues, all still chillingly relevant today. Stroman, Thompson, Kander and Ebb met once every week or two developing the project, until, sadly and suddenly in 2004, Fred Ebb passed away. The project went on the shelf. But four years later, compelled by the nature of the work they had done, Kander called and wanted to look at it again. They started back at it. A reading with actors was arranged by Doug Abel at The Vineyard Theatre. Then it moved to The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. And then on to Broadway.
Casting was a tall order— the creative team had to assemble a group young men with a very specific, highly developed, and wide range of abilities. The young men had to play many parts— not merely the individual The Scottsboro Boys themselves, but also the minstrels, the female accusers, the defense lawyers, prosecutors, guards, and judges. “They truly got to stretch their chops” Stroman confirmed. It was a triple threat tour de force for everyone involved. But what you cannot always measure in an audition room is the heart of each individual, nor can one predict the manner in which a company will weave itself together.
“It is something you always hope for,” Stroman says when asked if the team consciously attempted to create so tight an ensemble. “You try to pick a company that will get along! But sometimes—and this can’t be helped—people have one foot out the door. Everybody was ‘in it’ at The Scottsboro Boys; every last person was present, feeling it in the moment.”
The cast had their “roles” within the group, too. "Many times a leader comes out of the company, only had it a couple times in my life. There I had it. Colman Domingo really became a father figure who gathered them together. And we were fortunate to have John Cullum leading the company,” she says of the actor who celebrated his 50th year on Broadway during the run of the show. “He’s a wonderful actor for a director who challenged me to think and make decisions, you could tell the boys learned from him.”
UP AND RUNNING
“I felt so proud to hand the show over to them on opening night,” Stroman muses, “I have never been involved in a company that was so invested in telling the story. I knew they would treat it with care and respect.” “It was like being in a big pool together, sometimes swimming, sometimes keeping one another afloat, but always fueled by our passion for the show.”
They were doing something that hadn’t been done before. “Of all the shows we’ve ever done, the most fulfilling emotionally. The entire time we were working we felt alive.”
At the end of every day, the team was so drained by the story, everyone had to connect—they couldn’t leave the building without connecting with someone physically or verbally in a lovely positive way, it became something necessary for them to do.
"But what was most extraordinary…" adds Stroman thoughtfully, "…When stage management would call places, someone — usually Christian Dante White — would start to sing. Gospel, Broadway, whatever it was. Each guy would hook on in harmony, singing along as they descended the stairs, and by the time they got to bottom they finished singing backstage in great harmony and joy! All to bring them together to start the evening. Then they would put their hands together and 'remember The Scottsboro Boys…'"
After what the real-life people, as well as this extraordinary piece, company and creative team gave us— how could any of us ever forget?