STAGE TO SCREENS: A Drowsy Chat with "Smallville" Star John Glover; Herman Gets Documentary

News   STAGE TO SCREENS: A Drowsy Chat with "Smallville" Star John Glover; Herman Gets Documentary
 
This month we talk to John Glover ("Smallville") who joins The Drowsy Chaperone as Man in Chair, and chat with filmmaker Amber Edwards and songwriter Jerry Herman about the PBS-aimed documentary "Words and Music by Jerry Herman."
John Glover
John Glover

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Fans of John Glover as the duplicitous Lionel Luthor in CW network's "Smallville" may not immediately recognize the character's similarity to Man in Chair in Broadway's The Drowsy Chaperone, but they will see another of the many portraits in the gifted actor's gallery.

A Tony winner as twins John and James Jekyll (he should have gotten two trophies) in Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, Glover succeeds Bob Martin (star of and Tony-winning co-librettist for the musical) on April 17. "My agent called and said, 'They're interested in you,'" explains the actor, "so I flew myself to New York and auditioned. I hadn't auditioned for anything in so long that I found myself very nervous about it.

"I hadn't seen the show, because I commute between L.A. and Vancouver [where his series films]. I read the script and thought: I have to play this part. It's so good, and I relate to it. I've since found out that most people who see [Drowsy] relate to the role. I ran into John Hickey [L!V!C! colleague John Benjamin Hickey], and he said, 'I just found out you're going to do Man in Chair. I'm Man in Chair!' Other people say the same thing. I think that's one of the beauties of the piece.

"In February, I was here for two weeks to rehearse with the understudies and standbys. Bob Martin was very generous. We had dinner between shows a few times. I saw the show the night of the day I auditioned. What fun! 'That's just what this show is — fun.' [Laughs] That's one of my lines." Man in Chair sings briefly at the end of the musical, and Glover's only other experience with singing was in 2000, when he played Hans Christian Andersen in San Francisco, at ACT's Geary Theatre. Director-choreographer Martha Clarke had Irish poet Sebastian Barry write the book to accompany the Frank Loesser score from the 1952 movie, starring Danny Kaye. Glover describes the show as "very dark, and the songs are very light. [The book] was not a perfect fit. Jo Sullivan Loesser was there [during rehearsals]. What a beautiful woman, and so supportive."

He has not acted in many comedies. "I got typed early on as a villain. Lionel Luthor is not exactly a comedian. He thinks of himself as one, but people aren't laughing a lot. Villains are some of the best roles. I think it's because they move the action of the plot along. They're either neurotic or psychotic — and that's always fun to play."

An only child, Glover was born in Salisbury, MD. Growing up, he "was fascinated by movies, especially backstage stories and movies about making movies. I saw the national touring company of Oklahoma! when I was in third grade, but I didn't see another play until I was in college. I went to [Towson University] to be a teacher; I didn't think I could be an actor. After freshman year, I did summer stock at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. I played the lead role in Look Homeward Angel; Ned Beatty played my father, and there were some wonderful actors [in the cast]. I thought: I guess I could be an actor. After graduation, I moved to New York."

Every year, Glover returns to Towson to work with students. "It's very exciting, and kind of grounds me. It reminds me of what having a career in the theatre is about. The students always want to know, 'What do we have to do to make it?' I tell them, 'Enjoy it.' It's the only way to have a life in the theatre."

Glover's been nominated for an Emmy five times: "An Early Frost" (1986), "Nutcracker: Money, Madness, and Murder" (1987), "L.A. Law" (1991), "Crime & Punishment" (1993) and "Frasier" (1994). He received a 1972 Drama Desk Award for The Great God Brown. Says Glover, "The two biggest things in the world are looking good and winning prizes. [Laughs] Now if I could just look good." I tell him that he looks fine to me. "That was a cue, so I appreciate that."

How did he get "Smallville"? "They were doing a pilot. The guy they had dropped out. They called a day or two before shooting: 'Are you interested?' I said, 'Sure.'

"It was supposed to be the pilot and maybe a couple of episodes. After eight episodes, they gave me a contract. So I sold my soul to the WB [now called CW]. [Laughs] I had dinner recently with Dana Delany, who described being on a series as 'having golden handcuffs.' It's kind of a beautiful phrase."

During each of the series' six hiatuses, Glover returned to the theatre, most recently last year in the Philadelphia premiere of Terrence McNally's Some Men. "I'm seeing [the New York production of] that this weekend. I'm also seeing The Year of Magical Thinking. I've had the honor to play with Vanessa Redgrave twice: in 'Julia' and the TV version of 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane' that she did with her sister Lynn."

Which of his many stage roles has given Glover the most satisfaction? "It's always the one I'm doing. I had a great time with [Some Men], playing six different parts; Love! Valour was a dream role — two people who wanted to be each other; and The Paris Letter was magnificent to play. I'm lucky; I get wonderful roles. I couldn't say one is better than the other. They all seem to be so different. I'm a lucky guy!"

John Glover will play Man in Chair "for four months. The [TV] season starts mid-July, but 'Smallville' has very generously let me have an extra month." He muses, "I've been working in his business since the late '60s, and have done a lot of other stuff, but chances are I'll be [best] known as Lionel Luthor on 'Smallville.' How ironic!"

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Producer-director Amber Edwards has made an extremely entertaining (and often touching) documentary about the life and career of Jerry Herman. I recently enjoyed a screening at Manhattan's Players Club, and the 90-minute film may be seen (prior to PBS) at Florida's Sarasota Film Festival (April 14-15), and at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y (May 23) and the Museum of Television and Broadcasting (June 18).

Edwards told me, "I'm thrilled [with the documentary]. I got the idea in 1993 or '94, and we started shooting in 2002. You raise money, do filming, run out of money, raise more, and shoot again. Fully, a third of the budget was spent on footage. 'The Ed Sullivan Show' [footage] is very expensive, but you have to have it. The unsung heroes [of the film] are [music director] Don Pippin and [historian] Ken Bloom. They went on treasure hunts.

"Don's home movies of Mame [with Angela Lansbury rehearsing, singing, and dancing] raised the bar very high. The only show we didn't get footage of is Milk and Honey [of which stills are included]. And Ken, who worked with Jerry on his book of [Herman's] lyrics, was so generous. They were hugely helpful."

Wife of author Justin Scott, Edwards' credits include the PBS documentaries, "The Dancing Man — Peg Leg Bates" (1992), "Vladimir Feltsman in Moscow" (1993), "Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance" (1994); and "George Segal: American Still Life" (2001). Among her numerous awards, she's won 12 regional Emmys, and since 1988 Edwards has been host/producer of NJN-TV's "State of the Arts."

Following its PBS showing, a DVD will be released, and among the "extras," says Edwards, are "scenes from Act Two of Mame and the entire Charles Nelson Reilly interview."

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I've had the pleasure of interviewing Jerry Herman on several occasions, and as we speak he's just returned from "a cruise of the Mexican Riviera," on which his songs were performed (on three different nights) by Brent Barrett, Sally Mayes, Jason Graae and Klea Blackhurst. "The four of them knocked me out!" exclaims Herman.

I tell him how much I enjoyed the documentary and that it so captures his spirit. "What this really is for me is a great gift that I didn't expect. I had no idea [how good] it would turn out," Herman says. "I did several interviews with Amber Edwards, and I knew that she was interviewing people who were part of my life. I thought it would be kind of a 'And-then-I-wrote' film. I didn't know I was going to be so moved. I'm absolutely thrilled! It's hard to do a person's life in 90 minutes, and Amber Edwards chose very astutely. For me, [the film's] a chance at longevity — for people, 50 years from now, to know a little about me and my work."

Incorporated in the film are photographs and archival footage (much of it never seen in public), including Carol Channing doing the original Hello, Dolly! title song, Super-8 film of Angela Lansbury in Mame and Dear World, numbers from Mack and Mabel, scenes from La Cage aux Folles, Pearl Bailey singing "Before the Parade Passes By," George Hearn's "I Am What I Am," and film of the college musical, Sketchbook, that Herman penned, in 1955, at the University of Miami.

Among those appearing are Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury, Charles Nelson Reilly, Marge Champion, Arthur Laurents, Michael Feinstein (speaking of Herman's songs: "To be simple without becoming cliché is almost impossible"), Fred Ebb, George Hearn, Phyllis Newman, Charles Strouse (who claims, "The three strongest drives in human beings are food, sex, and re-writing somebody else's musical"), Don Pippin, Francine Pascal, Leslie Uggams, Jason Graae, Miles Kreuger and Ken Bloom.

Asks Herman, "Isn't [the interview with] Charles Nelson Reilly the funniest thing you've seen? He's one-of-a-kind; always has been. Then, after all the laughs, he looks into the camera and says, 'It was the best time of my life — because we were young, and we had a dream.' That was so moving." Also touching are moments when Herman speaks about his beloved mother (whose reason for throwing a party one time was because "It's Today") and remembering his late partner, Marty Finkelstein.

Regarding Michael Feinstein's statement about Herman's "simple" lyrics: "I think that's the one thing that hasn't been said clearly in the documentary. Everyone has a different reason why I write the way I do. I really am true to the source material; I love getting immersed in it. I love writing for character. That's why it took eight months to come up with the idea for 'I Won't Send Roses.' It's not the way I think, it's the way that Mack Sennett thought. Getting to that is just as important as the writing time. I love that song." Herman writes music and lyrics simultaneously, much like John Kander and Fred Ebb worked — except he does it alone. "I talk to myself a lot. 'What do you think of this line?' I get excited and say, 'Well, I've got to write a melody right there.' Sometimes, I invent things in bed and run to the piano in the morning. The music and lyric happen sequentially. I never put a melody to a lyric, or a lyric to a tune."

Is it true, as stated in the film, that Herman can't read or write music? "Yes. I am still not adept at writing music down or reading a new piece of music. Through the years, I had to find a language that I could use with my orchestrators. I know chord names and all the terminology that trained musicians use."

I ask about his saying in the film that writing a title song for Dear World was a mistake. "Oh, what an enormous mistake! They really threw stones at me for that — and, in that case, [the critics] weren't wrong. It was very hard to say no to the producer [who insisted on a title song]. Today, I would say no, because I'm more secure. I think the show would have been better without that song." He's very fond of the song "And I Was Beautiful."

He still believes "that Mack and Mabel had as much going for it as Dolly and Mame put together. The book [by Michael Stewart] was a problem. But now, Francine Pascal [Stewart's sister] has re-written it."

Before saying goodbye, I give him best wishes from Marcia Lewis (whose Broadway debut was as Ernestina Money in Dolly, with Phyllis Diller and then Ethel Merman). The night before, I had dined with Marcia and her husband Fred Bryan, who were visiting from their Tennessee home. "Oh, I love Marcia! I always thought that she would be a great new Dolly. She has all the equipment to do a new Dolly — without copying."

For more information about the Jerry Herman documentary and to see a preview clip, click here.

Amber Edwards and Jerry Herman
Amber Edwards and Jerry Herman Photo by Helen Montgomery-Drysdale
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