THE COLE PORTER MUSICAL
MAY NEED A LITTLE TUNING
By Iride Aparicio
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Originally written as an screenplay in l953 by American screenwriter and novelist JAMES DALTON TRUMBO (1905-l976) under the font name IAN McLELLAN HUNTER, “ROMAN HOLIDAY” is a work that demonstrates two kinds of nobility. The inherited nobility of a girl born as a princess, and the innate nobility (The quality of being noble) of a newspaper reporter from New York. What happens to these people when they meet in Rome and fall in love is the story.
Based on the of the 1953 Academy Award® winner Paramount Pictures Corporation film "ROMAN HOLIDAY" and using the music of COLE PORTER, a musical, with book by KATHY SPEER, TERRY GROSSMAN and PAUL BLAKE, was recently created. And because San Francisco fosters the creative energy to get in on the process of creation, on June 6, producers PAUL BLAKE and MIKE BOSNER with director MARC BRUNI, presented to the S.F. audience a Pre-Broadway show of the musical, for a try out, on the stage of the SHN Golden Gate Theatre.
Anne (STEPHANY STYLES) and Joe (DREW GEHLING)
The musical begins with the suave beat of the COLE PORTER’s music in the overture, and continues. Through the work, we hear several not too well-known PORTER’s melodies such as “Why shouldn’t I? “Take me back to Manhattan” and “Experiment,” to name a few, and many well known PORTER's melodies such as: “You do something to me,” “ Easy to love,” “Day and Night” and “Begin the Beguine.” Because many of us have recordings of most of them, we notice that the the creative orchestration of three times Tony/Drama Desk Award orchestrator LARRY BLANK has render them a lighter more modern sound. On Press Night, the orchestra directed by conductor TODD ELLISON and his orchestra played the music on the beat and with energy.
The musical begins with rapidly flashing names of all the European countries Princess Anne ( STEPHANIE STYLES,) had visited before her arrival in Rome. On that night, she attends a ball at her Country's Embassy in Italy, and back into her room prepares for bed.
In her room, in a short dialogue, a secretary, briefs the Princess on her schedule for the next day. Among other things, it includes: baptizing a ship, visiting a children’s center, meeting important diplomats and learning when to say "Yes" or "no" when being asked questions. “Everything I do is so boring” says Anne. Her aunt COUNTESS, (GEORGIA ENGEL) tries to calm her by telling her that when she (COUNTESS) was younger, she had to do the same things. To get her ready for her by the hour schedule for the next day and to calm her nerves her doctor gave her something to put her to sleep. What the bore Princess does, instead of going to sleep is the musical's story.
Impersonating Princess Anne, STYLES, looked royal. She sang her songs in a melodious voice and acted it in a regal way. Playing Anne must have been difficult for the actress, because her written dialogue,in the musical is short and does not give depth to her character.
Anne's dialogue (which is how the audience gets to know the characters) as it was written, does not allow the audience to learn anything about Anne as a person. We know absolutely nothing about her, not even what country she is from. To complicate matters all we know is that Anne is a Princess. These two facts create a problem for the audience because not knowing anything about the "Principal" character of the musical, and this character being Royal, makes it impossible for us to identify with her. or care about what she does or says.
Countess (GEORGIA ENGEL) (Left) and Anne (STEPHANY STYLES)
One way the writers could bring Anne, the Princess, to a level of a “person,” however, would be for them to let her talk. In the musical version of ROMAN HOLIDAY writers SPEER, GROSSMAN and BLAKE who wrote the book, gave Anne an aunt that we only know as Countess. (GEORGIA ENGEL) ENGEL’s role, which she played masterfully on that night, was comic, and its purpose was to make us laugh, and try to calm Anne’ nerves. Their conversation, however, did not moved the plot.
What was needed to move it, is to hear from a desperate Anne telling the Countess, who is really the only person in the musical who the Princess could talk with, how she feels. How hard it is for a girl her age to have her whole life planned for her in advance, with appointments by the hour. And frustrating it is to be "forced" every day to sacrifice everything she wants to do, to fulfill her “duty." She could always claims that she feeling “trapped” in her role as Princess and that many times she just wants to ran away from it all. Dialogue such as this would serve two purposes; It will help the audience understand Anne’s motivation for running away, and grasp the meaning of what her “Roman Holiday” meant for her.
And even if the Countess is in no position to solve Anne’s problem, the simple fact of Anne exposing aloud (to the audience) her pent-up feelings, will give her character (in the audience eyes) the vulnerability she now lacks, and maybe even get the empathy of all those people in the audience who like her, feel “trapped.” in life.
The other principal characters in the musical are Joe Bradley DREW GEHLING, a New York journalist stationed in Rome, Irving JARROD SPECTOR, a newspaper photographer, and his girl friend Francesca Cervelli (SARA CHASE).
L to R Joe (DREW GEHLING) Anne (STEPHANY STYLES) Francesca (SARA CHASE) and Irving (JARROD SPECTOR)
As a character, Joe (GEHLING) is probably the only tri-dimensional character in the musical. The audience learns a lot about him: that he is poor, that he works for a Roman newspaper as a reporter, that he is American, we have a chance to visit his apartment, and we know that what he wants is to buy a plane ticket and go back to Manhattan.
As an individual, we see him as a caring person, trying to help the drunken girl sleeping on a bench on the street that he has never seen before. Paying for her food and taxi, when he does not have any money, trying to help her go home. Trying to give her hapiness. And at the end, being unable to take advantage of her to earn the money he needs. Joe has class and on opening night, GEHLING played his role masterfully.
Aside from being a beautiful Italian girl who sings in a Cabaret and wants to get marry, we know little about Francesca (CHASE) as a character. But CHASE played her role well, danced with grace and rhythim and she practically stopped the show when she sang Begin the Beguine, in the Barge at Castle St. Angelo.
Francesca( SARA CHASE )Center singing with her group
And while the role of Irving (SPECTOR) was small, SPECTOR impersonated his character properly, sang a beautiful “Night and Day” and like Joe, demonstrated to have nobility in his heart.
Aside from its music, singing, dancing and acting which are excellent, what makes ROMAN HOLIDAY unique as a musical are the projections that visually takes the audience on an imaginary trip to Rome where we see the Coliseum, Plaza España, Castel St. Angelo and the Roman streets with houses, people, cars, and flower vendors.
The most marvelous sights in the musical, however are two: (Scenic Design TODD ROSENTHAL) one is the “Life-size” prop of Bocca della Verità (Mouth of truth) the marble mask which stands against the left wall of the portico of the Santa Maria in the Comedin Church. in Rome. The face, representing the mythological god Neptune has a large open mouth where people stick their hands. It is believed in Rome, that if the person sticking her/his hand in the god's mouth is a lier, the god will close his mouth and eat the hand. The other and the most marvelous, is the Trevi Fountain.
Princess Anne (STYLES) and Newspaper man (GEHLING)
Structured as the Golden-Age musicals: using two couples in its plot, with beautiful music and a Waltz as one of the dances, ROMAN HOLIDAY will be a winner in Broadway after it is tuned. On its San Francisco try out night for the press, it received a long and enthusiastic standing ovation.
ROMAN HOLIDAY –The Cole Porter Musical will play at the SHN GOLDEN GATE THEATRE #1 Taylor St. in San Francisco until June 18. For tickets you can go online to www.shnsf.com or call 888-746-1799.