Choreographer Randy Skinner has had hits with a number of revivals, revisals, and others shows based on pre-existing, classic material, from 42nd Street to White Christmas to the City Center Encores! productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, No, No, Nanette, etc. Now he's about to open the Encores! presentation of the Gershwins' 1924 musical Lady, Be Good (February 4-8), directed by Mark Brokaw, with a cast headed by Colin Donnell, Danny Gardner, Jeff Hiller, Erin Mackey, Patti Murin, Richard Poe, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Kristen Wyatt, and...Tommy Tune. Here's my conversation with Randy about what he's been up to lately.
BROADWAYSTARS: It's been a while since we've spoken. What were you working on most recently, before starting rehearsals for Lady, Be Good?
RANDY SKINNER: White Christmas. It's our 11th year, isn't that amazing? Every year, before you know it, you're back doing it again, because we usually cast in May. I never thought about how, with an annual show, it just keeps coming back around so quickly. The show is incredibly successful, and we have new producers this year. It's nice that that happened, because there are still a lot of cities to play. We played Boston this year, which was the third time it's been there.
STARS: Should I ask what you think about the new stage version of Holiday Inn that premiered at Goodspeed?
RANDY: I've not seen it. Some of my dancers were in it, but I didn't get to see it. I don't know what their plans are, but I've kind of heard they're trying to promote it as a musical that can be done all year round, because it really deals with all of the holidays. In fact, the movie originally opened in August 1942.
STARS: Let's talk about Lady, Be Good. I think it's fair to say that very few people know the show.
RANDY: You're absolutely right. I knew the songs from it, but I really didn't know anything else about the show, other than that it starred Fred and Adele Astaire. I think it's one of those kind of lost musicals, but this one happened to be the Gershwins' first. It never helps when the movies use the titles and yet have nothing to do with the shows. That happened a lot in Hollywood, but you end up not really knowing the source material.
STARS: I could never understand that. It's been explained to me that the studios had their own stable of composers whose work they wanted to showcase, but I still think it's very weird to buy the rights to a popular musical and then throw out most or all of the score.
RANDY: Yes. There was also apparently a silent film of Lady, Be Good, but it's considered lost. And there's really nothing of Fred and Adele as a team film-wise, only a handful of recordings.
STARS: The show has a book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson. I know some of the other Guy Bolton shows, and they're really light, charming, and funny. Is this one written along the same lines?
RANDY: Yes, the plot just kind of moves along at a clip. There are romances that go wrong, and then they work themselves out. It's all set at a socialite's garden party; the Fred and Adele characters have been kicked out of their home, and they're hungry, so they crash the party to get a good, square meal. The big songs are the title song and "Fascinating Rhythm." There are two others that are fairly well known: "Little Jazz Bird" has certainly been recorded a lot, and then there's a song called "Hang On To Me." A Fred and Adele recording of that one exists.
STARS: How does the Tommy Tune character fit into the plot?
RANDY: I don't know the uncut version of the original 1924 book, but in our version, adapted by Jack Viertel, he just comes into the party and does these two songs: "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Little Jazz Bird." The role was created by Ukulele Ike, a vaudevillian who came out and did these specialty numbers. We were sitting around talking about, "Who should we get for the specialty? Should we get someone who's known for playing the guitar, or some famous crooner?" Jack was the one who said, "I've got this idea, what do you think about it...?" I go way back with Tommy, so I thought it was a great idea; you have someone you can bring out who can do these two really great numbers that will have a definite attack to them. So I met with Tommy, spent some time in his apartment, and we talked about the show and the numbers. I think he wanted to feel that everyone was on the same page.
STARS: That sounds fantastic.
RANDY: Yes, can you imagine when Tommy comes onstage with an audience like the one at Encores!, that's so savvy? It'll be fun. And I think it's interesting that this is going to be the earliest show ever done by Encores! It's a wonderful cast, and I think audiences are going to have a great time.
Published on Saturday, January 31, 2015
Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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For an archive of all the Michael Portantiere articles, click here.