Tag Archives: Cole Porter

Drinking With Stanislavsky

“Is that what you call drunk?”

It was a gentle question from the director, delivered quietly, but the sneer behind it was clear.

I was appalled. I was nineteen and had never had an alcoholic drink in my life. What was wrong with me? How did the director know? What did I do wrong?

Wait a minute.

The question wasn’t for me.

The director, a 22-year-old student himself, was relentless; “You understand this guy’s a drunk…and he’s a hired killer…and he’s in no hurry? You understand that?”

Relentless, as only a student peer can be; “You played that like a cartoon.”

Relentless; “Have you never been drunk in your life?”

Eddie, the actor being skewered; “Well…as a matter of fact……no.”

Amidst the snickers, I tried to become invisible in my shock; (“Holy moly, there’s two of us on the planet!”)

The director, juggling his months-old worldly sophistication with two decades of Southern Kentucky parental expectations, struggled to find a path that would advance his play without making his mama ashamed.

“Well…we’ll need to fix that.”

A date was set. Eddie volunteered his apartment, which was great ‘cause he had the only TV set in our cast. The plan was to rehearse and then take the whole cast over to Eddie’s place and get him drunk. The director would question Eddie during the liquid applications, we might do some of the scenes from the show, and Eddie would absorb a useful sensory memory from which he could draw upon to portray his villain on stage.

Ol’ Constantine Stanislavsky would be so proud.

Cherry vodka was the agreed-upon ingredient: one pint was the agreed-upon dosage. I’m reminded here of the gospel according to Woody Guthrie; “There’s a lotta truth in a pint of whiskey…but not too much in a quart.”

What could go wrong?

Eddie’s character in the play was Irish, sullen, murderous.

Eddie was a big fan of Fred Astaire and Cole Porter and had always wanted to sing.

It was loud. It was full of glee. It was occasionally in tune.

It was useless for the purposes of the show, but it validated my belief in the basic, boisterous, goodness of the human race and the genius of the American songbook.

Unfortunately, it made me miss the late night movie I was hopin’ to see on Eddie’s TV. I think it was Flying Down to Rio, Fred and Ginger’s first film together.

Sigh…

High art demands sacrifice.

A Geezer Remembers; Bill Nave

I have a bunch of video tapes (I almost said “OLD video tapes”). I’ve been transferring them to discs off and on over the last five years. Occasionally I run across one that affects me a little too much.

The other day I picked up the tape of Bill Nave’s 1996 concert on the Guignol stage.

Sigh.

I miss Bill and frankly, as much I cherish living in present-day Lexington, it was an even better place when Bill was here.

Bill established two dinner theaters in Lexington; the Red Mile Dinner Theater (1970’s) and the Diner’s Playhouse (1980’s). There are still veterans of those theaters haunting Lexington’s theater scene today. I’ll let them raise their own hands.

Bill performed and performed well. The list of shows is long, but my favorite was his starring turn in MOST HAPPY FELLA (1983, I think) directed by Dr. Jim Rodgers in the Guignol. I was rehearsing THE FIFTH OF JULY in the Music Lounge (now the Dickens Movement Studio) next door. I’ve written about that experience in this blog before; “Hey, It’s What We Do”. During breaks and after rehearsal I would sneak into Bill’s rehearsals to watch.

Those efforts were important to Lexington theatre.

But the best was Café Chantant.

Café Chantant was his French restaurant. It was elegant, it was tasty, and it was civilized (“civilized” meaning it had a fine wine list).

It also had Le Cabaret in the basement. It was elegant, it was tasty, and it was civilized (“civilized” meaning the ghosts of Noel Coward and Cole Porter regularly materialized). It was open until the wee hours, an unusual thing for Lexington in those days. You could go to the theatre and finish the night at the Le Cabaret. Who knew such a thing was possible?

The company of Le Cabaret was witty, boisterous, a bit tipsy, and fiercely talented. Just when an evening seemed to be spinning into mayhem, Bill would unleash that voice and stun the room into gratitude for just being there to hear it. I loved those evenings.

In the concert on the tape, Bill explains that his first singing teacher was Nelson Eddy. His grandmother had a bunch of Nelson Eddy records (I almost said “OLD Nelson Eddy records”). Bill would listen to them and imitate what he heard. Similarly, my first singing teacher was Bill. He would perform around town in shows and at the Café Chantant. I would hang on every song like a groupie. I would imitate his sound and his demeanor. I never achieved either, but trying led me to far better places artistically than I would have ever found on my own.

Bill was smart, gracious, generous, and he sang like a dream. All of that was in full view on the concert tape.

I still miss Bill.

I Invented Love

“I thought I knew what love was, but…these lovers play new music; haunting me and somehow taunting me. My love was never half as true.” – RAGTIME.

 

I invented love.

That probably comes as a surprise to you, but it’s true.

It happened sometime in the early 1970s – I don’t remember the precise moment – odd considering the importance of the event. Oh yes, I am fully aware that love has been written of by poets for hundreds of years before that. I myself have performed and recited and sung words of love written by Shakespeare, Cole Porter, and Harry Lauder that were written long before I was born. All I can say is there are far more prophets in the world than talk radio would lead us to believe.

I invented love.

I invented it a few years before I invented sex.

Didn’t we all?

I could make a big deal out of it. In a Trumpian mood I could say it was “huge”. Channeling my inner Al Gore I could aver that the movie “Love Story” was written about me. But why? I don’t need it. The glory, the satisfaction, the thrill of knowing that no one else had truly known love before I invented it is enough.

Oops.

How does Bob Dylan say it? “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

I have a tiny role in a production of RAGTIME. That requires me to immerse myself every evening in a room full of 40 to 50 impossibly young dancers and singers who insist upon calling me “Mister” and “Sir”.

I hate them.

I love them.

Utterly.

I could not be more pleased with my companions.

There are moments in RAGTIME precisely……painfully about just that moment of knowing that you are old and successful and still able to grow and experience new things if only you will allow yourself to do so.

At the age of 21 I knew the full glory of what love could be. How could I not? I invented love.

At the age of 65, I’m just beginning to get a glimpse of what the full glory of love can be. That doesn’t denigrate or belittle the loves and passions of the past. It reveals and exalts the fact that we can grow at any age if we allow ourselves to do so. It validates the idea that we can move toward something better and that something better may not be that far away. It may be as near as lyricist Billy Rose says; “back in your own backyard”.

In RAGTIME (America of 1906) characters are confronted with the disturbing possibility that (as the Firesign Theater puts it) everything they know is wrong – or at least could be better and bigger. How do these RAGTIME characters react? It’s the whole story.

On CNN/Fox/MNBC (America of 2016) we are confronted with the disturbing possibility that everything we know is wrong. Can we be better and bigger? How do we react? It’s the whole story.

How did the writers of RAGTIME know that we would need their guidance at this time?

There are far more prophets in the world than talk radio would lead us to believe.

Maybe we can invent a love twice as true as we believed possible. To do so we would have to first accept the tantalizing promise of “new music”.

I’m good with that.