Clockwise from top left: Triumph cast (Top: Roger Bart, Kevin Chamberlin, F. Murray Abraham, Christopher Sieber; Bottom: Susan Egan, Betty Buckley, Nancy Opel); Susan Egan, F. Murray Abraham, Betty Buckley; Susan Birkenhead and James Magruder; Betty Buckley Photo credit: Starla Smith
Also in attendance were the stars of the show F Murray Abraham, Susan Egan, and Betty Buckley, lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Jelly's Last Jam), director Michael Mayer, choreographer Doug Varone, librettist Jeffrey Stock, and Costume designer Catherine Zuber.
Neither Buckley nor Abraham performed any of the three preview songs, because, Director Michael Mayer teased, he wanted to leave "some surprise for opening night." Producer Margo Lion got things underway, referring to Love as "a date show" and "something you want to see with your boyfriend/girlfriend. It's a romantic, musical comedy: young and fresh."
Lion also explained that the reason they decided to open in the fall, instead of closer to the Tony Awards, and that was because "the larger musicals were opening in the winter," they didn't want to be lost in the shuffle.
Director Mayer said, "Triumph of Love celebrates the fun of amorous intrigue and the diabolic power of love." Saying the show is "special and unique" he asserted his confidence in its success because of its great ensemble."
Egan sang the first song, "Anything," set in the Garden of Sparta where the love of her life, Prince Agis (Christopher Sieber), lives with his aunt and uncle. Egan (as Princess Leonide) and Opel (as the servant Corine), sneaks into the garden disguised as men. After travelling miles through the dark of night they arrive in the garden to spy on the young prince in hope of befriending him. Egan's song is an upbeat love ballad confessing her love and devotion for the prince with the lyrics "I'd do anything for him".
Because of the small size of the cast, Egan will be on stage for most of the performance. Asked how she plans to keep up the stamina night after night and the intensity of playing several different characters -- a princess, a boy, a seductress -- she predicted "I have a feeling that when the show begins I am going to become a hermit."
Egan also said that it is vital that she focus solely on the character that she is playing at that particular moment because of the vocal range of playing a soprano princess to an alto boy. "If I am not focused and prepared I could really damage my voice" she said.
The next number, "The Bond That Can't Be Broken," was sung by Egan, accompanied by Christopher Sieber, playing Prince Agis. Sieber said the prince "is a student of reason who was taught to hate women. But when he encounters Princess Leonide he starts to show emotion and for the first time in his life he confesses his love."
The song also takes place in the Garden of Sparta where Princess Leonide, still disguised as a boy, encounters Prince Agis for the first time. The two sing about friendship being the "bond that can't be broken." Falling completely for her disguise, Agis confesses his true identity. He tells how he was rescued by his aunt and uncle and carried to this remote land to live after his parents were killed. But then he speaks of his animosity towards Princess Leonide because it was her family that ultimately caused the destruction of his family. He swears nothing but revenge against her, wishing nothing more than to kill her. Through his words we see that his aunt and uncle have raised him to hate and despise women. He swears the young "man" to secrecy about his plans, not knowing who she really is.
The last song, "Mr. Right," shows Corine (Opel) seducing Harlequin (Roger Bart) in the Garden. A funny little number with acrobatics and dancing, "Mr. Right" gives Corine the opportunity to remind Harlequin of two things he learned in servant school: "don't cross class lines and don't have a heart-- they break." The song had an upbeat tempo with a lot of comedic gestures. At one point she tells him "drop and give me ten" -- and he does!
"Essentially we took 3 centuries and combined them into this show" said lyricist Susan Birkenhead. "It's ancient Greece, 18th century France, and 1997 all rolled into one. There is heightened dialogue and heightened metaphors with Marivaux's line."
Birkenhead worked for three years on the show with librettist James Magruder. Finally, she said "we meet in the middle, our voices now blend."
Birkenhead, who recently finished work on the Broadway-bound High Society, now playing in California, is also working on an adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel, Doctor Zhivago, scheduled for a workshop in January. Her work on High Society includes new lyrics in the opening of the show (to Cole Porter's music), a new second act opener, in addition lyrics throughout the show and a completely new number, "I'm Getting Myself Ready For You" added to the second act. She said she anticipates High Society will transfer to Broadway sometime in April 1998.
The rest of the Triumph of Love cast seemed to be in great spirits. Buckley, who recently had back surgery, was up and walking about with a smile of satisfaction on her face. Concerned camera persons were eager to speak to Buckley and see how she was recovering. Besides returning to Broadway, and still performing in her concerts, Buckley is also preparing for her Carnegie Hall show in May, 1998. When asked how she was coming along she replied, "I feel great". She said she is eager to return to rehearsals and is scheduled to be there for opening night.
In addition to doing interviews, Abraham, an Oscar-winner for Amadeus, was stealing the fun away by taking his own pictures of, not only the cast, but the press as well. He pranced around snapping photos and echoing, "smile!".
Triumph of Love starts previews at the Royale Theatre on Sept. 27 and opens Oct. 23. Tickets are available now by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 and at the box office at the Royale Theatre. You can also order tickets on Playbill On-Line.