Five Burning Questions with Anything Can Happen In The Theater Tony Award Recipient Gerard Alessandrini
Gerard Alessandrini conceived and directs Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Songs of Maury Yeston, the new musical revue starring Robert Cuccioli, Alex Getlin, Justin Keyes, Michael Maliakel, and Jill Paice that runs off-Broadway through October 21. The creator of the iconic Forbidden Broadway series and the current hit Spamilton, Gerard Alessandrini is an OBIE & Drama Desk winner and the 2006 Tony Award Honor for Excellence in Theatre. In the new show, he pairs Maury Yeston's greatest hits (Nine, Titanic, Grand Hotel) with 20 all new songs New York has not heard before.
BroadwayBox caught up with Gerard to talk about this exciting musical revue, his casting process, and staying a step ahead of the audience.
1. How did the concept for this show first come to you? Was Maury game right away?
About two years ago, I was at the Drama Desk Awards with Maury Yeston, and he was very charming. I had worked with him before; I had directed a regional production of his musical In the Beginning and we are both veterans of BMI. I said to Maury, “I know you have a lot of songs that have never seen the light of day—they were written for projects have had been abandoned or just really good songs you’ve written—why don’t you do a revue of your material?” He liked the idea, and we started meeting immediately and going through his song catalogue, which is at least 500 songs. There’s a lot of great stuff people have never heard before and he even wrote a couple of new numbers for this revue. I would say half of [this show] is new, and a lot of this material is just as good as anything he wrote for Nine or Grand Hotel or Titanic. I wanted to do a revue that put these songs in front.
2. As a director, how are you approaching this new material and putting it side by side with his beloved scores?
Well in this case with Maury Yeston, I took a different approach than I do with something like Forbidden Broadway, which is heavily costumed. I thought the material is quite intelligent and the lyrics are brilliant and dense, and it’d be great to just put the material up front. So, there’s no costumes and not many props. Then I learned from Forbidden Broadway and Spamilton that it’s all about the cast you get, so we put in the effort to get a really superb cast. I wanted to keep it simple. They are great songs that are almost like one-act plays, so it’s a series of little shows all strung together. I did have a basic theme I looked for: songs about different types of love, (unrequited love, happy love, friendship). It gives it a little subtext.
3. What aspect of Spamilton are you most proud of?
It’s so hot. It’s jam-packed with information, jokes, and subjects. Of course, it’s a completely fictionalized, demented idea of what Lin-Manuel’s mind was like creating [Hamilton]. We really filled every spec of it with music and dance. I like shows that are dense—and I mean dense in the best sense. There are a lot of lyrics, a lot of thought, and a lot of ideas going on. I like to keep one step ahead of the audience. In fact, I think thats why Hamilton is a huge success—the audience never gets ahead of it. It’s always a surprise; it keeps going; it’s full of incident and information; and I think that’s what audiences want nowadays. I think a lot in recent musicals the audience gets ahead of the show, and they are waiting for something to happen or they know what’s next. So, I took a cue from Hamilton in that, I tried to keep Spamilton very dense. It’s very true of Maury Yeston’s show too. His lyrics are so full of ideas and ways to look at life in a way you’ve never thought before.
4. Tell me about how you discover and harvest talent for your shows.
Over the years of doing Forbidden Broadway, I have a good eye for where the hidden talent is. It’s like digging for gold. Sometimes it’s not apparent right away that someone is a super talent but if you take them through their paces you can really find a good talent. Then when I find the talent, I gear the material around what they can do. With Spamilton, it was all about discovering new young people. I thought wouldn’t it be funnier to see someone about 15 years younger than Lin-Manuel and them doing those parts—and it is. Most of that cast is right out of college. Now we have this wonderful girl Nicole Ortiz—what a voice. I really think she has a future ahead of her. With Maury’s show, it was a combination of using talent we knew was dependable and had star quality (Robert Cuccioli and Jill Paice) and some new young talent. Alex Getlin is a real find. I’d be willing to bet good money that within five years, she is going to win a Tony for something. I really think we’ve hit the bullseye.
5. Have you ever heard from an artist who was offended by a Forbidden Broadway sketch?
No, I think everyone’s a good sport about it. You have to remember with Forbidden Broadway—even though I’m mean sometimes—I’m never really as mean as most of the critics have been to actors. At least I’m making people laugh and there’s a love for theatre that’s apparent in all the different editions.
Don't miss Gerard Alessandrini's 'Anything Can Happen In The Theater' for 10 performances through October 21 at the Triad.