Musical – Paris


Wednesday, February 17, 2010 – David and I arrived early at the Players Theatre Loft, in Greenwich Village, and waited outside for the space to clear so that we could get started. A tall woman walked past us into the loft, Jessica Savage, the dancer, who did not recognize us. She had been unable to meet with David Fletcher, Malou Beauvoir and me prior to the shoot, as planned.

Jessica lists fan dancing as one of her special skills. But there is nothing of the burlesque queen in her demeanor as she warms up. She turns gracefully, like a ballet dancer, while I give her notes. She asks if I want a slow or fast dance, and I say slow. I have not seen her dance, but she has an impressive resume and I have a good feeling watching her. Malou texts me that she will is five minutes late. Good. We will have plenty of time to shoot this 4-5 minute film. Or so I think.

This is my second film to promote my show Paris – A Musical of the 1920s. With two characters, it will be a highly condensed version of the Bricktop scene in the Second Act. Malou plays Bricktop. Malou Beauvoir is an American who traveled with her parents from America to France at an early age. She enjoyed a globe-trotting career in business before turning to singing and acting. And what a voice she has; she has sung in top clubs in Paris and Europe. She is a star with a gorgeous voice, and I am lucky to have her.

David sets up his camcorder. He has prepared a tape of incidental piano music to go over Malou’s dialogue and music for the song itself, “Café au Lait.” The theater sends up a staffer to man the sound-light booth so that I can concentrate on directing. He sets up some stage lighting and says he needs to run an errand and will be back shortly.

Malou arrives with her several dresses. I make a choice, and she and Jessica go backstage to change. Fifteen minutes go by…twenty…David and I make noises at the curtain…twenty-five minutes. Finally, my actresses emerge in costume. Jessica requires half an hour to change and put on make-up—time I have not allowed for.

A new crises arises. When we first met for this film, David and I discovered that the lead sheet, written years ago, reflects an earlier version of the song and does not match the CD version. This means that Malou and David had to learn the song, separately, by ear from the CD. So, should Malou follow the tape David has prepared? Or should David follow Malou’s singing on the baby grand piano in the loft? Words fly back and forth. David is an old musical theater director and has his own band, Washington’s Best. As producer and director, as well as writer, I make the call for David.

Where is the staffer to man the booth? With less than twenty minutes of rental time on the space, we shoot our first take, with David at the piano and me behind the camera. We get in another full take and one aborted take. I see time running out and lock the loft door. I call places for a third take—and hear loud banging on the door. It is the staffer who, ages ago, had promised to man the booth, and now he wants us out. David and I descend on him like wolves. “We’ve been waiting 45 minutes for you!” David, a mild-mannered man, hollers. Okay, we get five more minutes and one more take. Will that be enough?

I leave with Malou a short time later, hurrying past a dreary looking theater troupe waiting to get into the loft. She is hungry, the evening is young. We stop in at Panchitos down the block on MacDougal Street. It’s just like in the movies: producer and star. We slide into our warm booth by the window. Outside the real world walks by in the cold.

The young waiter appears to ask if we want drinks. Casually, effortlessly, I say: “We have just wrapped a film.” Ah, those magic words. The waiter glances over at the fabulous star. A smile slides across his face as visions of fame and glory dance in his eyes.

You can catch “An Evening at Bricktop’s” by following the link on the right.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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Last year, I put poems, artwork and essays on this blog. The response I received, in hits and comments, mainly regarding the essays, has encouraged me to continue in this endeavor. Thank you for your comments, tweets, and support of this site. This year I will also be making short films and putting them on YouTube to generate buzz. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, grabbing the ole world by the ear and giving it a shout, “Hey, look at me!”

The first film is already in the can. That’s an anachronism in two ways: first, it isn’t a film; it’s information stored on a mini-dv tape. Second, there is no “can.” The information was uploaded to my computer where I edited it in Windows Movie Maker, free software that came bundled with my computer, and uploaded it to YouTube for all the world to see.

You can view Paris-A Musical of the 1920s, Act Two, Scene 8, by following the link on the right. I am especially interested in promoting this project, in the hope that it will be staged in our life time—that’s me and my two collaborators: Bowden Simmons and Nicholas Cieri. Nick is the eldest and lives in a tiny apartment in Coney Island these days, with an old friend and a housekeeper during the day. I’d have to say Nick is in pretty rough shape. He walks with a walker when he gets up off the couch at all. He sold or gave away his possessions, and lives mostly on memories and a tiny ray of hope that something of his music will make it into the spotlight while he breathes. When I started Paris a quarter-century ago, he drove a white Lincoln Continental and was full of beans. We were all younger and in better shape back then. Many times he invited me to his apartment to sing me a new song and cook me dinner. Nick made his own meatballs. He has been a real friend to me. You can read more about Paris and listen to some songs on this site, under Categories on the right.

“Hey, world, look at us!”

I’d like to thank my two talented actors, Stephanie Robinson and Adam Kee, for maintaining a high level of professionalism, take after take, in the Players Loft in Greenwich Village, where we staged and filmed the scene. There wasn’t sufficient space in the closing credits to list all the contributions David Fletcher made to the film. He graciously allowed us to meet in his downtown Manhattan loft. He prepared a piano tape to play in synch with Adam’s singing, and recorded the scene on his pro Sony video cam. Double and triple thanks to David. I feel lucky to have met all three.

I am off and running.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

Paris is a two-act musical theater piece written by Hudson Owen, Bowden Simmons and Nicholas Cieri. Other than a workshop production, it is unproduced. We welcome inquiries from anyone interested in producing or aiding in the production, performance or promotion of this work. At the end are three mp3 songs from the show for your listening pleasure. The WordPress player gives them comical titles.

Overview

Before television, rock stars and the bomb, there were writers, painters and composers who, driven by Prohibition and lured by the cheap franc, traveled from America to Paris in the 1920’s where they lived and worked, dominating the local scene and making an important contribution to the Modernist revolution in the arts. Frequently America was their subject. By the end of 1929, after the stock market crash, most of them came home.

This is their story.

You will meet the young Ernest Hemingway, sharpening his pencils at sidewalk cafes and working on the short stories that made him famous, ever ready to administer a boxing lesson to the literati; Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who battle alcohol and each other on the way from one party to another; Robert McAlmon, writer and editor, who put into print the early efforts of expatriate authors.

You will sit in on a soireé with the funny and imperious Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; join the avant-garde in the street struggling over who will lead in the sometimes violent game of Modern Art; drop in on the legendary Bricktop in her restaurant and hear the latest songs; listen to the plight of a Russian nobleman fired from his job as dishwasher in a fancy hotel.

The narrative follows the fortunes of original characters Robert and Louise Harper, who travel from New York to Paris in 1926. Act 1 focuses on Robert’s efforts to make it as a young fiction author in the expatriate community. At the end of the act Louise announces that she is not content with being a “writer’s wife” and wants to become a writer herself. So at intermission we are left with the question what will happen.

In Act 2 Louise becomes the Paris correspondent for the new The New Yorker, and tension develops in the marriage as she strikes out on her own in the free Paris air. The couple becomes estranged and Robert prepares to leave Paris alone as the era winds down. Events come to a happy conclusion in the final scene as Louise joins Robert on the train platform to begin the voyage home.

Character Breakdown

NARRATOR – older gentleman, Maurice Chevalier type

ROBERT HARPER – leading man, early 20s, tenor

LOUISE HARPER – leading lady, early 20s, soprano

ROBERT MCALMON – sardonic, medium build, late 20s, tenor

ERNEST HEMINGWAY – athletic, large build, mid-20s, tenor

SYLVIA BEACH – modest yet spirited, late 30s, soprano

GERTRUDE STEIN – grand dame, large build, early 50s,
soprano

T.S. ELIOT – aesthete, mid-30s, tenor

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD – high strung, medium build, late
20s, tenor

ZELDA FITZGERALD – femme fatale, slender, mid-20s,
soprano

MADAME SELECT – tough older café owner, does not sing

ANDRÉ BRETON – aloof art theoretician, late 20s, does not
sing

TRISTAN TZARA – firebrand art radical, late-20s, does not
sing

ALICE B. TOKLAS – submissive, slender, 40s, does not sing

BRICKTOP – spunky black singer, early 30s, soprano

BOOKSELLER – older gentleman, tenor

PLONGEUR (DISHWASHER) – older Russian nobleman, tenor/
baritone

A cast of a dozen actors, with many filling one principal and one or two minor roles, can do the job. For example, the actor who is principally Scott Fitzgerald can also play Robert McAlmon and André Breton. The actress who plays Zelda can also play Sylvia Beach and Alice B. Toklas. The Gertrude Stein actress will double nicely as Madame Select.

Likewise, the Narrator is available for additional roles such as the Bookseller. The Narrator provides word pictures of scenes that may not be feasible to construct in a low budget production and provides information that might be useful to the audience in this wide-ranging story, as well as being a convivial stage presence.

The decision as to which historical figures to include in the play is, of course, subjective. There are hundreds of characters to choose from. In a longer version of the script, Picasso appears in two scenes in Act 2, Hart Crane becomes a character instead of gossip, and James Joyce is a flesh and blood character.

Songs

Act 1

Bonjour (waltz)
Parisian Couple

They Never Said A Word (tango)
Robert, Louise, McAlmon, Sylvia, Hemingway

We Are Young Lions (march)
Robert, T.S. Eliot, Hemingway

A Book Is A Very Good Friend
Bookseller

Let The World Go By
Robert and Louise

Song of The Poor Plongeur
Plongeur

Kick Off Your Shoes, Louise (can-can)
Louise

Act 2

I Am Parisienne (dance number)
Louise, Gentleman Dancers

The Twentieth Century Rag (tap)
Robert, Hemingway

A Nose Is A Nose Is A Nose
Robert, Louise, Gertrude, Alice, Hemingway

Café Au Lait
Bricktop

I’ll Take You To Heaven (dance number)
Bricktop

Gold Hat Lover (bunny hug)
Scott and Zelda

It’s Raining In Paris (beguine)
Robert

Au Revoir
Cast

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

HUDSON OWEN is the author of Harly, a one act play produced in Manhattan by P.A.S. Artists Group. The End of The Modern World was given a staged reading at Dixon Place, Manhattan. He attended the Roger Hendricks Simon Studio on Theatre Row and the 92nd Street Y Playwrighting Workshop. His poems and essays have appeared in a number of publications. He has acted in New York City.

NICHOLAS CIERI began his theatrical career as a singer. He performed at the Riveria and sang lead with The Overtones. He is co-author of the musical Born To Sing, about the life of Judy Garland, showcased at the Harry Warran Theatre in Brooklyn.

BOWDEN SIMMONS is a graduate of the Wilmington Music School, in Delaware, and has drawn cartoons commercially. She has two theatrical daughters.

Songs:
Gold Hat Lover, Café Au Lait, We Are Young Lions

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