January 6, 2014
All Iast semester I had been feeling uncharacteristically lazy about this year’s NYFOS@Juilliard show—a program of Jerome Kern songs with lyrics by P. G. Wodehouse called The Land Where the Good Songs Go. I had a fall season filled with fascinating (read: stressful) projects and I contented myself with preparing the songs and duets a little at a time, hopping through all the ensemble numbers in a single group meeting right before we left for winter break. It was the only time the whole cast was in one room. Now, this kind of laissez-faire is not my typical modus operandi. Like a salmon swimming upstream, I used to try to fight my way through a web of scheduling obstacles to “forge an ensemble.” I realized that I usually ended up with a roomful of exhausted students pretending to be patient with my efforts to play teacher. This year, I chipped away at the songs bit by bit and threw the ensembles together in one giddy, fabulous hour. My feeling was that I had either reached a new level of Zen Enlightenment, or completely fallen apart.
Wonderful news: the first day of rehearsal for The Land Where the Good Songs Go was not just smooth sailing—it was, well, water-skiing. Like the famous Blackwing Pencil slogan, “Half the pressure, twice the speed.” The cast was on top of everything, director Mary Birnbaum is a fountain of style and lunacy (I mean that as a compliment), pianist Leann Osterkamp spelled me at the piano so I didn’t have to bang out Jerome Kern for six hours, and I was as happy playing these fabulous songs as a dog rolling in mud.
Highlights? Leann confided that her father is a body-builder. Mary Feminear reclined on top of the rolling bodies of the male cast members and somehow kept singing. Ben Lund stopped time with his rendition of the title song, and Raquel Gonzáles did the same when she sang “Bill.” James Knight leads the way in stage fearlessness (the guy practically defines chutzpah); Alex McKissick seems as if he was born to be a Kern leading man; Joe Eletto has enough charm to light up Manhattan during a blackout. I feel encouraged—no, blessed.