Broadway stories at ‘In the Works/In the Woods’ festival

Conversations shed light on our favorite stars

By CASS COLLINS
Posted 12/31/69

FORESTBURGH, NY — “In the Works/In the Woods” had more than fabulous plays and musicals. There was the chance to talk with performers and directors as well. 

A creative …

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Broadway stories at ‘In the Works/In the Woods’ festival

Conversations shed light on our favorite stars

Posted

FORESTBURGH, NY — “In the Works/In the Woods” had more than fabulous plays and musicals. There was the chance to talk with performers and directors as well. 

A creative conversation with Tony-nominated director Sheryl Kaller

My fellow Emerson College graduate Sheryl Kaller (’82) had lots to say about her career on Broadway and beyond, at the Playhouse venue across the road during In The Works/In The Woods Festival at the Forestburgh Playhouse. The “Hello, Boomer” crowd, including yours truly, was in rapt attention throughout  Kaller’s conversation with Festival Artistic Director Matt Lenz. 

After directing off-Broadway plays for a few years post-graduation, Kaller left the stage to raise her children. She says while she was nursing her daughter the infant began to lose weight because Kaller was too busy to make enough milk. That’s when she realized something had to give and it would not be her family. Breaking back into professional theater after her kids were grown could not have been easy, but Kaller’s talent and determination saw her through the very male-dominated doorway of directing a Broadway show. 

At the age of 49, she had her Broadway debut with “Next Fall” by Geoffrey Nauffts. It was a show for which she and others worked hard to get the funding to produce on Broadway, and the last show on Broadway without a celebrity star. On Broadway, says Kaller, “you are working with 14 unions versus two unions in movies.”

She directed Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons,” starring Tyne Daly, on Broadway in 2014. She lobbied hard for the job of directing McNally’s play, telling him she would ”direct the hell out of this play and you should pick me.” 

Kaller says Daly was “one of the best actors she ever worked with,” and that Daly “revered the playwright’s words, including punctuation,” which McNally appreciated.

Her next act will be directing the American Sign Language production of her favorite play, “Our Town” on Broadway in 2022.

A creative conversation with Marc Shaiman

Marc Shaiman is a triple threat (Emmy, Tony and Grammy) award-winning film composer/lyricist and piano savant. He says he has “show business in my fingers.” He is most famous for co-writing “Hairspray,” the musical hit. 

His conversation with Matt Lenz at the Playhouse Tavern stage was a meeting of colleagues who have worked together on “several Broadway shows,” he said. 

Shaiman entered the theatre business at 16, working on a show at LaMama Experimental Theatre Co. with “an intense Israeli director from Carnegie Mellon University.” He left high school at 15 and got his GED, knowing what he wanted to do and where he needed to be. His mother said “What was I going to do? Chain him to the piano?”

To hear him tell it, his life has been an “endless amount of being in the right place at the right time.” At 16 he had a daydream of running down the aisle of a theatre to Bette Midler saying “Oh, Miss Midler, I know every note of every song you ever sang!” and getting a job with her. That daydream actually came true when he was in the theatre while Miss Midler was rehearsing on stage with her backup singers, the Harlettes, and searching for the music for a song nobody in the orchestra had the music for. Marc got his daydream realized when he popped up and said “I can play it for you, Miss M.” That led to a real-life fantasy of moving to L.A. with Bette Midler, and staying in her guest house, having breakfast opposite the famous diva, who was still in her pajamas. “She was too frugal to put me up at a hotel,” says Shaiman. 

It also led to a life-long association with the singer. “We’re recording on Wednesday and she’s driving me nuts!” Shaiman said laughing. Advice from the man who wrote “Good Morning, Baltimore” with his life partner, Scott Rudin?  “Say yes to everything!” It sounds like a formula for success if you’re Marc Shaiman.

‘Holding My Own’ by Didi Conn

Didi Conn doesn’t consider herself a writer. “I never wrote anything,” she says, after presenting her powerful one-woman show, “Holding My Own,” at the Tavern Stage on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the festival. She may not write, but she wrote the heck out of this show. 

You know Didi as the actress who played Frenchie in “Grease” and if you have children who are millennials, as Stacy in "Shining Time Station," the PBS Children's Television series, shown from 1989 to 1993. The actress, who suffered some of the pain of  #MeToo treatment by powerful men in the movie business, found herself “unable to find my funny bone anymore.”  Her solution was to take up boxing. 

Boxing? Really? You have to understand that Didi Conn is a powerful force as an actress, but she is slight of build compared to Big Eddie, the 6’ 7” trainer she worked with.

She is also the mother of a son with Pervasive Developmental Delay, a form of autism. Part of the play shows Conn dealing with Danny’s emotional and physical outbursts, as he grows older and more imposing physically. For Conn, boxing was “training for the unexpected” and gave her the “ability to transcend what I thought was possible.” 

In a chance encounter with Muhammad Ali on leaving a hotel in New York City, she felt compelled to connect with him. The Champ stood with her outside his SUV and she told him part of her story of boxing, inviting him to punch her abdomen, which he did, lightly. They embraced and he told her to “rumble, young lady, rumble!” With “Holding Your Own,” she has done just that.

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