Call Answered: Conference Call with David Loud & Noah Racey: 92Y's Lyrics & Lyricists: A Good Thing Going: The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration
"Call Me Adam" chats with Artistic Director David Loud and Actor/Choreographer/Director Noah Racey about putting together the opening show of the 45th Season of Lyrics & Lryicists. This year's opener is A Good Thing Going: The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration which will play at the 92nd Street Y from January 10-12 and feature a host of Broadway talent singing selections from the 1970-1981 partnership of Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince, taking the audience behind the groundbreaking musicals Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along.
Scheduled to appear are Broadway's Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Liz Callaway, James Clow, Jason Danieley, and Jeremy Jordan. Click here for tickets!
1. From January 10-12, 2015, you are opening the 45th Season of the 92Y Lyrics and Lyricists series with A Good Thing Going: The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration. How did you two come to work together on this concert event?
David Loud: Noah and I have been friends since Curtains, the Kander & Ebb show that David Hyde Pierce starred in on Broadway. Noah was one of the leads and I was the Conductor, and our dressing rooms were on the same floor. You learn a lot about people when you are constantly encountering them in various stages of undressedness. We had a wonderful two years. Everything about that show was joyful and rewarding, so I try to work with people from that particular experience whenever possible. Noah has a great talent for physicalizing a song, and is just as skilled at working with singers as he is with dancers. He also seems to intuit everything I want to communicate, which saves time!
Noah Racey: I met David Loud working on the show Curtains. I was a part of the earlier work shops and readings and then we took it to Los Angeles for our out of town tryout at the Ahmanson Theatre and then through our year and a half run at the Hirschfeld theatre. He asked me a few years ago to stage a concert he was putting together and we have continued to work together in that capacity ever since.
David Loud: My previous shows at Lyrics & Lyricists were focussed on two terrific composers who are not exactly household names: Burton Lane, who had several major Broadway scores but never quite ascended into the Richard Rodgers - Irving Berlin - George Gershwin - Cole Porter pantheon, and Vernon Duke, an amazing and virtually unknown artist who had flop after disappointing flop, despite the fact that each of his scores contains a few remarkable songs. Both projects were the results of many months of research and arranging, and I loved doing them. For this season, Artistic Director Deb Winer asked me if I wanted to do something "a little less off-the-beaten-path," and I came up with the idea of a Stephen Sondheim show that was different from other Sondheim revues I’d seen or worked on: one that dealt specifically with the shows he created with Director/Producer Harold Prince. I do love the fact that for the Lyrics & Lyricists audience, a Stephen Sondheim evening is considered more "mainstream"…
Noah Racey: I think the obvious reason is that in our industry, for Lyrics & Lyricists, you can't find a more prominent, creative force than Stephen Sohdheim. Ever since his work on West Side Story in 1957, where he established himself as a leading voice in the new vanguard of Musical Theatre writers, he has been at the forefront of the art form in terms of musical sophistication and emotional depth in story telling. It makes perfect sense to have an evening that celebrates the work of the two men who brought those stories to life.
3. What excites you about being the premiere show of this special season?
David Loud: Nothing. It means I have less time to prepare and that I’ll spend all of Christmas orchestrating.
Noah Racey: It's exciting to take part in such a well established series. The audiences for Lyrics & Lyricists are extraordinarily knowledgeable about the material, they tend to know the work very intimately, so you feel at every point in rehearsal that they will recognize and appreciate the intricacies and detail you strive for in staging or interpreting the songs.
David Loud: I’ve worked with all of them before, and they are each truly extraordinary. Great voices, of course, and heavenly to work with, but they also have that essential ability to interpret a lyric in a way that’s fresh and clear. Sondheim songs often require the performer to feel contradictory emotions simultaneously, or to exist in an undecided state, or to change one’s mind in the middle of a thought. They’re complicated and particular and demanding, and I needed singing actors who could do that. How lucky am I to have assembled this astonishingly talented group of artists, each of whom said "yes" within minutes of being asked?!
Noah Racey: The beauty of working with David Loud is that the best of the best say YES! when he asks them to join us. And the man knows EVERYBODY! I have had the honor of staging quite a few concerts with him, and through that work I have learned to trust him completely when it comes to choosing which voices he wants to sing each of the pieces. So, to answer the first question, I did very little!
What excites me about working with these people? EVERYTHING. These 6 performers are supremely gifted, to pick one of their characteristics to praise is to overlook their most valuable asset...versatility. One of the wonderful things about this kind of concert is that it is an opportunity for the performers to do such a wide variety of work, in many instances much more than would be asked for in a typical show. And that is why having these particular actors is such joy. They all bring an astounding array of colors and energies to the table for us to pick from and to round it all out, their vocal chops truly can't be beat. Versatility is the definitely the ingredient that excites me most.
David Loud: Well first I wrote down all my favorite songs from the six shows they did together, but the 92nd St. Y, apparently, is not interested in producing a five-hour concert, so I had to cut a few. I wanted to pick songs that illuminated the essence of each of the extraordinary pieces that they collaborated on, and, of course, once the cast was set, I wanted to tailor it to them, as well. And I try to find an emotional arc for the whole evening…it becomes quite a jigsaw puzzle.
Noah Racey: Two parts popular demand, two parts personal affection. And then a healthy dose of what does Mr. Loud want to play with?
6. What do you hope audiences come away with after attending this evening?
David Loud: A deep appreciation of the six wildly different shows that comprise the Stephen Sondheim/Harold Prince collaboration. As the Artistic Director of this evening, my goal is to make you hear songs that you may think you know as if you were hearing them for the first time, and to try to explain why I think they’re so extraordinary.
Noah Racey: An appreciation not only for the talent and craft of Steven Sondheim, but for the extraordinary collaboration of these two men, because above all, Musical Theatre is a collaborative art form, it is at it's best when it is the melding of ideas between artists.
David Loud: When I was 18, I was cast in the original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along. I was already a huge fan of Sondheim’s work, and the opportunity to be a part of a new show that he was creating with Harold Prince was, well, many things: thrilling, intimidating, challenging, heart-breaking…to watch these great craftsmen working on the show — writing, re-writing, editing, re-staging — for five weeks of previews was the greatest crash-course in Musical Theatre ever offered.
Noah Racey: Their work sets the bar for me in terms of emotional depth in lyric, Musical sophistication, and theatrical storytelling/conflict construction. Musical Theatre as an art form has been undergoing a steady transformation from simple music hall sketches and Vaudeville fun to elaborate, thought provoking, daring, exciting and substantial theatre; and it has been ushered forward through these changes and transformations by artists who asked more of it. Steven Sondheim and Harold Prince did just that, they asked more of the people who gathered together to share stories, they asked more of the music and the ears that would hear it; more of the subject matter and the minds that would digest it, more of everyone involved. We should aspire to do the same, ask more of each other.
David Loud: Impossible, of course, to choose an absolute favorite, but the duet at the end of the first act of Sweeney Todd, "A Little Priest" has always been on my list of major miracles. Funny, macabre, a beer hall waltz with impossibly clever lyrics that illuminates the entire British class system while playing rhyming games and furthering the story. It doesn’t really get any better than that.
Noah Racey: For over all score I have a huge affinity for Follies. I played "Buddy" in college (complete with bald-pate) and the first revival at the Belasco was my Broadway debut. I love the romance, the sense of nostalgia and desperate yearning to reclaim, the love letter to performers, all of it, it's my personal favorite of his scores. For a single song I would have to say "Weekend In The Country." The entire sequence is just breathtaking.
9. What has been the best part about working together? What have you learned from each other?
David Loud: Noah and I seem to have identical taste, which is hard to find in a collaborator. And he often will come up with an off-the-wall staging idea that would never have occurred to me — one that fulfills the song theatrically in a way that a more pedestrian choice would never have achieved.
Noah Racey: Finding people to work with where you can actually watch yourself growing is one of the most exciting aspects of working in theatre. So much of what we do is a question of taste, and you only discover that taste through an attention to detail. When you find people to collaborate with that mirror or compliment your sense of taste...well, that's everything to me. And then there's the fact that everybody is in love with him! David is one of those examples of the best of the best not bringing any kind of unnecessary "starch" or defensiveness to the creative table, his work speaks for it's self. It's no wonder he and John Kander get along so beautifully. For all the refining and searching we did in constructing Curtains it all felt like taking deep, relaxing breaths.
In working with David, I have learned so much about the art form of Musical Theatre. How inseparable all of it is; the staging, the lighting, the intro, the lyric, the melody, the tempo, the interpretation of all of it, it all must work in tandem. And for all of the pearls of wisdom he has given me (and there have been many), when someone as established and accomplished as David defers to your direction and takes constructive criticism from you, you are given the invaluable gift of learning to trust yourself.
David Loud: Do what you love. And if your gut tells you something, follow it.
Noah Racey: Do your homework.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose?
David Loud: Time travel. Is that a super power? I want to go back to the thirties and see a Gershwin show on Broadway!
Noah Racey: The dancer in me insists that it be the ability to fly.
12. If you could be any original flavor Life Saver, which one would you be?
David Loud: Pep-O-Mint.
Noah Racey: Probably raspberry.
13. If you could have a song written about your life, what are some key elements you would want to make sure the lyricist wrote into the song? For example, I've had two theme songs written for me...one for my past radio show and one for a live interview series I used to conduct. The key elements I wanted to make sure got written into each theme song was that I did entertainment interviews and then the lyricists wrote my theme songs around that idea.
David Loud: How lucky I am that my friends are my collaborators and my inspiration.
Noah Racey: It's about rhythm and timing, and letting go into the mystery.
14. How do you want to be remembered?
David Loud: As a good musician.
Noah Racey: Fondly.
David Loud has frequently collaborated with Stephen Sondheim. Among his many credits, Loud was the onstage pianist of the original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along, music director of Broadway’s Sondheim on Sondheim, and music director of A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair, a collaboration between Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis and starring Bernadette Peters at the New York City Center in 2013. For the 2011/12 Broadway season, David was both musical supervisor of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and conductor of the incidental music for Death of a Salesman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Among his other Broadway credits, he was music director of the original productions of Ragtime, A Class Act, Steel Pier and The Look of Love, and the revivals of She Loves Me, Company, The Boys from Syracuse and Sweeney Todd. This past November David was music supervisor for the world premiere of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Little Dancer, directed by Susan Stroman, at the Kennedy Center. He also has the distinction of simultaneously serving as a cast and artistic staff member of two Broadway shows: Terrence McNally’s Master Class, in which he played "Manny" and was musical supervisor; and Kander & Ebb’s Curtains, in which he played "Sasha" and was music director.
Noah Racey, a performer, director, choreographer and educator, made his Broadway debut in the 2001 revival of Follies, and has since appeared in Thoroughly Modern Millie (for which he was also associate choreographer for Rob Ashford’s Tony Award-winning choreography), Never Gonna Dance and Curtains. Noah’s directing and choreographic work has been seen regularly in the Town Hall’s Broadway by the Year series, and for its 2007 summer Broadway Festival production of All Singin’! All Dancin’! He recently starred in Holiday Inn at the Goodspeed Opera House. Noah is founder and artistic director of the internationally acclaimed New York Song & Dance Company.