Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Theater feature: Florida Stage gives look of love to soundtrack of the '60s

Dana Dawson and Chris McGovern
in Florida Stage's Some Kind of Wonderful.
(Photo by Ken Jacques)

By Hap Erstein

Where were you from 1960 to 1965, and what were you listening to on the radio?

That's what Florida Stage is asking audiences with its world premiere revue, Some Kind of Wonderful, opening Friday in Manalapan. In celebrating those Camelot years, the company reaches slightly further back in time than last summer’s Dream a Little Dream, its tribute to The Mamas and The Papas.

Florida Stage’s artistic and managing directors understandably went to director Bill Castellino and musical director Christopher McGovern, whose most recent collaboration was this season’s Cagney!, to build the revue from scratch.

“Lou (Tyrrell) and Nan (Barnett) came to us saying, ’We really want you to build something for our audience, for this time of year, that will speak to a certain demographic’,” recalls Castellino. “We wanted to write more than a jukebox musical, we wanted to give them some kind of theatrical experience.”

Researching the early ‘60s, the show’s creators realized something intriguing. “That this was a time in American radio where all the charts were being played on the same stations. You had this wonderful moment where Americans were all listening to Patsy, Ella, Sinatra, Streisand, the Beatles and Motown,” says Castellino. “This was a time when we had this common soundtrack."

So what were the two of them listening to back then? “I was in grade school, at the beginning of grade school,” responds Castellino. “But I have very real memories of getting dressed to go to school, making breakfast and listening to the radio on the refrigerator. I heard everything from A Hard Day’s Night to Goldfinger to Stop! In the Name of Love. And People and Second Hand Rose and Downtown, all that music on the same station."

If McGovern’s memories of those years is more hazy, he has a good excuse. “I was born in 1964,” he notes. “My mom is a big Streisand fan. The first 45 (rpm record) I had was Second Hand Rose. And there was that one album of hers in French, Je M’Appelle Barbra. And I listened to The Supremes, and I love Sonny and Cher.”

Selecting the score for Some Kind of Wonderful was an act of musical archaeology. “We took those song lists for the top 100 hits of those years and we studied them, and then started picking songs that we liked that represented a diversity,” says Castellino. “That’s our thesis, that it was a diverse, eclectic soundtrack.”

Michelle Pereira and Barry J. Tarallo
in Some Kind of Wonderful.
(Photo by Ken Jacques)

Like a chef inventing a recipe, they experimented with the ingredients. They identified the songs they most identified with, “and we put a lot of them in and the started taking some away,” explains Castellino. “This one was too much like that one, and one of Connie Francis might be enough or not. Or we didn’t yet have a song with a Motown sound, so let’s get one.”

“And part of our job is to make people hear these songs again for the first time,” adds McGovern. “Some of these lyrics are pretty good. Lipstick on Your Collar is an example. It has a mini-story to it and the lyric is really good.”

Before rehearsals ever began, Castellino and McGovern spent weeks putting the material into shape, know that it would continue to change up until this week’s previews. “There’s thousands of bars of music that had to be arranged and ready to put in front of singers,” says McGovern.

“The music was all very different, but the idea is to make it all sound like the same show. So some songs are going to be very different than you remember and others exactly as you remembered them.

“And of course your memory’s probably not accurate,” chimes in Castellino.

What subject was on the minds of pop songwriters in the early ‘60s? “Take any decade, any year, primarily people are writing about love,” McGovern says. “For me, you know what’s great about this period? Vietnam hadn’t happened yet, Kennedy was still alive. It preceded all that ’60s turmoil.”

While many shows at Florida Stage have a political or social theme, Some Kind of Wonderful will not be one of them.

“I don’t think this cracker can hold that heavy a piece of cheese,’ says Castellino. “In the show we chose to do, this is not the opportunity to go down that road. It’s a musical revue, a collection of songs that we chose, put in a certain order very much on purpose, to give us a theatrical journey. And that is a worthy enough goal.”

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. July 3-Aug. 30. Tickets: $45-$48. Call: (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837.

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