ROUNDABOUT BLOG

From the Artistic Director/CEO Todd Haimes: Merrily We Roll Along

Posted on: January 3rd, 2019 by Roundy Bout

 

When the Broadway debut of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along closed in 1981 after only 16 performances, few would have thought that the story of Merrily was only just beginning. In the coming decades, Merrily would continue to captivate audiences revival after revival, growing and evolving every step of the way. It is quite the testament to the enduring power of Sondheim that this musical, so many years after an initial failure, not only still captures imaginations, but continues to be shaped by them as well.

Now, Fiasco Theater, Roundabout’s Company-in-Residence, has re-conceptualized Sondheim’s classic in a wholly original way. By incorporating additional material from the 1934 George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play on which Merrily is based and choosing to bring the musical’s two dozen characters to life with a cast of only six, Fiasco has trained a special focus on the intimate journey that lies at Merrily’s core.

The journey in question is that of Frank, Charley, and Mary – three friends whose lives we watch unfold in reverse, from the deepest crises of middle age to the first breaths of adulthood. By their forties, commercial success has drowned artistic integrity, and relationships have been dashed against the rocks of career. In their teens, the trio is newly bonded, with a lifetime of aspirations to pursue and more than enough ambition to make them all possible. In between lie all the traps of the American Dream – the siren song of wealth, the empty honor of fame, the instant gratification of desire – each un-sprung as the years wind mesmerizingly backwards.

The story of Merrily We Roll Along is the story of every generation of dreamers who find that the path to success diverges from those things they hold most dear. It is this universality that has solidified Merrily as an immovable, if unlikely, pillar of the musical theatre canon in the time since its premiere. Now, in shedding a bold new light on Merrily’s three central friends, Fiasco has paired the gut-wrenchingly universal with the heartbreakingly personal. And they have harnessed all the most spectacular tools of the theatre to do so, creating a Merrily that is just as precise in its character study as it is spellbinding in its musicality.

Merrily We Roll Along is Roundabout’s second collaboration with Fiasco, with whom we mounted Into the Woods in the Laura Pels Theatre four years ago. Fiasco has been developing their concept for Merrily ever since then, and it has been such a pleasure working alongside them every step of the way to bring their vision to the stage. As our Company-in-Residence, Fiasco plays a special part in Roundabout’s Artist-in-Residence program, which aims to cultivate the next generations of leaders in the theatre and bring fresh voices into the folds of our institution.

Finally, it goes without saying just how much of an honor it is to count Merrily as our eighth Sondheim production, continuing Roundabout’s long and cherished partnership with one of the foremost masters of the American theatre.

As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes

Artistic Director/CEO

Merrily We Roll Along is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre January 12 - April 7, 2019. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


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From the Artistic Director/CEO Todd Haimes: True West

Posted on: December 17th, 2018 by Roundy Bout

 

True West has fascinated me for decades. It begins in a Southern California home on the rather ordinary night that brothers Austin and Lee reconnect after a long estrangement. It ends days later in astonishing, demented, uproarious chaos. In between the tranquility and the turmoil stand all the societal and familial principles meant to keep such chaos at bay, torched one after another in the duo’s delirious struggle for brotherly dominance.

At the crux of their struggle sits, again, something rather ordinary: a screenplay. Austin has been working for years to build himself a screenwriting career, and his first meeting with an influential Hollywood producer just so happens to take place the day after Lee arrives. Lee is a vagabond and small-time criminal who has never written anything in his life, but when he crashes Austin’s meeting, it is his impromptu idea for a machismo-fueled Western that captures the producer’s attention, not the finely-crafted pitch that Austin has devised for the period piece he is writing.

From this single thread, True West playwright Sam Shepard unravels the entire fabric of the American Dream – and Austin’s and Lee’s lives along with it. If a “lowlife” such as Lee can beat an honest, hard-working man such as Austin at his own game, then what of artistic integrity? What of decency, or talent, or character? If the best man cannot win, then why play by the rules at all? Perhaps, as Shepard so methodically reveals to us, there are no “best men,” and the rules are wholly different from what we have been led to believe in the first place.

This is what has captivated me so powerfully about True West ever since it first premiered in 1980. Within the four walls of True West’s quotidian kitchen, the social contract gets turned on its head – and Shepard sacrifices no thrill as he unleashes an absurd, euphoric mayhem upon this unlikely arena. The result is just as viscerally exhilarating as it is existentially alarming, just as intellectually gripping as it is theatrically mesmerizing.

And what a joy and honor it is to bring Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated masterpiece to life with this sensational cast and creative team. Director James Macdonald has brought a bold vision to this production, and Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano – two of the most extraordinary actors of their time – could not make for a more electrifying leading pair. I have long dreamed of the opportunity to revive True West, and with such a remarkable group of artists at the helm, I have no doubt that you will find this show just as enthralling as I do.

As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

 

Todd Haimes

Artistic Director/CEO

True West is playing at the American Airlines Theatre December 27, 2018 - March 17, 2019. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


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Interview with Megalyn Echikunwoke

Posted on: December 4th, 2018 by Ted Sod

 

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor Megalyn Echikunwoke about her work on Apologia.

Megalyn Echikunwoke. Photo by Stephanie Diani

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide you wanted to become an actor? Did you have any teachers who had a profound impact on you?
Megalyn Echikunwoke: I was born in Spokane, Washington. I left there when I was very young and was raised on the Navajo Native American reservation in northeastern Arizona, where I attended public high school until I was 14. Then I moved to Los Angeles. I got my first acting job when I was still young and continued schooling at Santa Monica High School. The Navajo reservation didn’t provide for many arts education opportunities at the time, but I did all I could. In primary school, I was in choir with Mr. Aguirre, and he took an interest in my talent by giving me the lead parts to sing. He insisted that I learn piano so that I could accompany myself, but my mom couldn't afford the lessons. I was in band, and I played the alto saxophone and went around the region competing. I also I did a lot of athletics, excelling in track and cross country. I think I did athletics because I was good at it, and I enjoyed it, and there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. Somehow, I always knew I was meant to entertain and perform, and I had a whole fantasy world built around it. Obviously, I was driven by music and I always took any opportunity to perform. I won my elementary school talent show singing a Mariah Carey song a capella. I had an English teacher in 6th grade who understood the need for arts education and particularly my passions, and she encouraged me and my friends to get together on weekends to produce radio shows. I think we tried to put on a play once, but there were a lot of challenges and not much support. It wasn’t until junior high school in band class that I found a poster on a wall advertising a fine arts academy’s summer programs. I applied for a scholarship and got it, and through that program I really got introduced to the type of arts education that I so craved. I participated in a three-week theatre arts program, and I was one of a few students selected to be featured doing a monologue as part of the cumulative performance. I performed a piece from the Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke. After that performance, I was approached by a man who would become my manager for the next 13 years and who helped me launch my career.

TS: Why did you choose to play the role of Claire in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia? How is this character relevant to you? What do you think the play is about?
ME: When I read Apologia, I was taken with the way Alexi was exploring the different sides of feminism and the eternal existential struggle for women between work and home, passion and duty. I was also struck by how Alexi was able to comment on the charged ideological, political, and cultural issues surrounding the topic and somehow manage to make it so darkly hysterical and relatable. That is a sign of great talent, I think. This is the type of writing that gets me excited as an actor. Claire is relevant to me because I am obviously an actress as is she, and I have had to endure the type of criticism she gets from Kristin. I’ve also had to make tough decisions regarding the economics of being an artist. Alexi poses the question of how an artist can make a living and keep their integrity, and still remain competitive and relevant in a brutally unfair business. Claire’s story and point of view are very important parts of the whole story of being an artist, as well as being a very funny commentary on the absurdity of it all. Claire is a very dynamic character in this story about complex people in a complex world. And what I love most about the writing is that it doesn't shy away from saying that two things can be true at once, and things aren’t so black and white in life. It also seems to be saying that choosing to follow your passion can be a terribly dark and isolated place.

TS: This play tackles the idea that some women are vilified if they prioritize their career over being a mother. It also suggests that Claire has a very tenuous and competitive relationship with Kristin, the central character in the play, portrayed by Stockard Channing. Any preliminary thoughts on or insights into either subject as you are about to begin rehearsals?
ME: Apologia is a play that is taking on many iterations of feminism. I am particularly interested in exploring why the fundamentally competitive spirit that women have towards each other never really seems to fall away in even the most righteous and enlightened women. “Sisterhood” always seems to have its caveats. Alexi has masterfully dissected these ideas, and I am hoping it will be very comical to watch.

TS: Can you talk about the relationship between Claire and Simon, Kristin’s son? Do you see Claire as Simon’s surrogate mother? What thoughts are you willing to share at this point in your process about Claire and Simon?
ME: Rehearsal hasn’t started yet, but I can say that I do think a dynamic exists in this case where both of Kristin’s sons, Simon and Peter, are in state of arrested development and probably searching for a mother in their partners. I don’t think it is an uncommon theme in relationships particularly of a certain generation. And it goes the other way as well when some women are looking for fathers. I’m excited to explore both sides.

Megalyn Echikunwoke. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

TS: How will you collaborate with Alexi Kaye Campbell on his play, which is new to NYC audiences? What type of questions do you suspect you’ll ask him about Claire?
ME: I think each time you work on a new project the collaboration is specific to that. I’m hoping that Alexi will be able to give me insight into his inspiration for the character of Claire and fill in any blanks that I may have missed in the preparation process. That information will be vitally important to the performance.

TS: What do you look for from a director when collaborating on a play?
ME: I am always grateful when a director challenges and encourages me to stretch. One who can understand where I am strong and can encourage me to go further—one who intuitively knows where I am weak and need support and guidance. I want to know where my blind spots are, so that I can address them and grow as an artist. It’s always nice when a supportive, objective voice can help you understand your own talent better.

TS: Are there any roles other than Claire that you are eager to play on stage?
ME: Oh gosh, yes, too many to name. I do have a dream to do an original musical about the life of Josephine Baker. I also always thought a musical about Cleopatra would be fun. I’d love to play Maria in West Side Story and Roxie Hart in Chicago. I’d be interested in a modern adaptation of My Fair Lady in which I’d play Eliza. I could go on and on! I love formidable female characters who do a lot of dancing and singing to get their points across.

TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
ME: Music, travel, dance, literature. I never stop moving and reading and subjecting myself to scrutiny and being uncomfortable and ultimately keeping myself in a perpetual state of being a student. I have never been bored in my life!

TS: Many students will read this interview and will want to know what it takes to be a successful actress—what advice can you give young people who want to act?
ME: First, don’t let people project their ignorance about your abilities onto you. If you are going to do it, make absolutely sure that it is something you cannot live without and that it is authentic to who you are and not about personal vanity. And then knife fight your way through the bullshit and never give up.


Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


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