PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Terrence Mann

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Terrence Mann In the 1980's and '90's, actor Terrence Mann created: The finicky Rum Tum Tugger (Cats); the fanatical Javert (Les Miserables); the furry Beast (Beauty and the Beast); and the French Revolutionary Chauvelin (The Scarlet Pimpernel). With the production of Romeo and Juliet: The Musical from William Shakespeare, which opened Aug. 18 at St. Paul's Ordway Theatre, Mann is trying a new type of theatrical creation; sharing a composing credit with soap tunesmith, J Korman, the two have literally set the Bard's words to a rock 'n' roll score. Mann also directs, a profession less foreign to a man who, as the artistic director of the North Carolina Theatre, has often helmed productions. Perhaps Broadway, the home for many of Mann's performances, will be the next stop for Mann the composer. Before the decision regarding Romeo's next move is made, however, he will take a well-earned vacation in Las Vegas, where his wife, actress Charlotte d'Amboise, is performing the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago.

Patrick Wilson (Romeo), Matthew Bennett (Friar Laurence) and Jennifer Gambatese (Juliet) celebrate the couple's wedding in Romeo and Juliet.
Patrick Wilson (Romeo), Matthew Bennett (Friar Laurence) and Jennifer Gambatese (Juliet) celebrate the couple's wedding in Romeo and Juliet. (Photo by Photo by Michal Daniel)

In the 1980's and '90's, actor Terrence Mann created: The finicky Rum Tum Tugger (Cats); the fanatical Javert (Les Miserables); the furry Beast (Beauty and the Beast); and the French Revolutionary Chauvelin (The Scarlet Pimpernel). With the production of Romeo and Juliet: The Musical from William Shakespeare, which opened Aug. 18 at St. Paul's Ordway Theatre, Mann is trying a new type of theatrical creation; sharing a composing credit with soap tunesmith, J Korman, the two have literally set the Bard's words to a rock 'n' roll score. Mann also directs, a profession less foreign to a man who, as the artistic director of the North Carolina Theatre, has often helmed productions. Perhaps Broadway, the home for many of Mann's performances, will be the next stop for Mann the composer. Before the decision regarding Romeo's next move is made, however, he will take a well-earned vacation in Las Vegas, where his wife, actress Charlotte d'Amboise, is performing the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago.

Playbill On-Line: How would you describe this interpretation of the Romeo and Juliet story?
Terrence Mann: It's a raw, organic, passionate rock musical set in a cage and on a catwalk. It's not set in a place or a time. It's 24 actors acting out the play on a stage.

PBOL: Why Romeo and Juliet? Why not Hamlet or King Lear?
TM: It's a love story -- it's a pure, beautiful love story with a simple moral: "Don't hate. Look what happens when you hate."

PBOL: Was there any piece of the text that was particularly hard to set?
TM: Probably the section where Juliet takes the poison, called "Come Vial." She thinks, "What if the Friar is trying to kill me? What if Romeo reneges on the marriage? What if I wake up too early in the tomb?" I had to really pick out the information.

PBOL: Was there any piece that was particularly easy?
TM: There were a couple that came fairly quickly. One is called "Nightingale." It's the part where she says "It is not yet near day. It was the nightingale and not the lark." We also took the sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" I put that into the play for the morning after Juliet meets Romeo on the balcony. PBOL: You're well known as a musical theatre performer. Where did you get composing background?
TM: My mom was an avocational pianist; my dad was an avocational singer. We always had music in the house. When we were little, we had to take an instrument. We had to take it for a year, then we could quit. I played the flute, the drums and the piano. In college, I took, as a matter of course, composition classes -- but [composing] was always something I did. After I got the idea [for Romeo and Juliet], I called my friend Jerry Corman -- he's a real composer, that's his job. And that was the other half of the puzzle.

PBOL: What is the funniest or most embarrassing thing that's ever seen happened to you on stage?
TM: When I was doing Les Miz with Colm Wilkinson, there were a couple of times when we'd leave a scene together and we'd walk around to our dressing room. This happens twice. [First,] we meet each other; we kind of walk around and chat; then he goes into his dressing room downstairs, waits for about five minutes and then he does the scene with Fantine on the bed when she's dying. The second time we meet, we walk off; he goes into his dressing room to change costumes and I go upstairs. So, one night -- we're in New York about six months into the run -- me and Leo Burmester, who played Thenardier and was also on that track, the three of us walked around and stood by Colm's dressing room. We were talking about Irish whiskey. Colm doesn't drink, but he's an Irishman so he knows all about Irish whiskey. So he started telling us about all the different single malts, what they're like and how they're made. And he started taking off his clothes to make that costume change. But it was the wrong time. He thought it was the second track. He was supposed to just be standing there for about another minute and then go out and play the scene with Fantine. Well, Leo and I were standing there watching him take off his clothes and both of us knew at the same time what had happened. By that time -- six months into the run -- you're looking for anything to give yourself a giggle. So we just kind of let him continue taking off his clothes until he was down to his underwear and his white shirt. By that time Fantine had crawled out of the bed and crawled all the way down to the conductor and was like speaking in tongues. He [Wilkinson] suddenly realized he was supposed to be out there and he started screaming at us and trying to pull his pants up. So, anybody sitting in the audience that night saw Valjean come running out on stage like he'd either been to the local house of ill repute or he'd gone to the bathroom and was buttoning up his pants. It was hysterical.

PBOL: What is your dream project or role?
TM: I'm kind of doing it right now. The other thing to do would be Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.