By Jenny Flaumenhaft
Pipe Dream was not a hit on the Broadway stage in 1955, but over 50 years later, the BB&N production of this Rodgers and Hammerstein flop sold out on 80 Gerry’s Landing Road. Opening this year’s winter musical on Thursday, February 28 for three performances, the actors had the challenges of adapting to the drastically different time period and playing bums and prostitutes.
“The subject matter of a flophouse and prostitution house was not appropriate in the 1950s, when America was in a different place,” said Vocal Coach and Musical Director Joe Horning, explaining why the show was a flop when it first opened. “Musically, it had the same rich, lush scoring, and witty lyrics of any Rodgers and Hammerstein production, but it was not fitting for the time period.”
Maxine Phoenix ’14, who played Fauna, the madam of the prostitution house, agreed. “The book itself could use some plot work, but if it was written 20 years later it would have been more appropriate for the time period.”
Director Mark Lindberg said, “Society did not view prostitution as an awful way of life in ’50s.” He explained that despite this, the musical did not say outright that the women were prostitutes.
“A woman in the audience at intermission thought the prostitution house was a sorority,” he added.
While many actresses in the show’s large cast of 32 played prostitutes, male actors played men who lived in the flophouse.
“There’s a tension between how we think of these people in real life and on stage”, he said of all the show’s characters”. These characters celebrate not having ambition and not being driven, which sharply contrasts the priorities of the BB&N society. These different values create a thought -provoking experience for the audience.”
According to Maxine, one of the most fun parts of the musical was playing the off-color characters. “It can be really interesting and fun to play someone completely different from you,” she said.
Mr. Lindberg said, “The secret is you don’t have to get drunk to play a drunk. A good character is written so anyone can imagine themselves living with those circumstances, so anyone can play that character.”
Eva Murray ’13, who played Suzy, a destitute woman who becomes the show’s romantic lead, said, “It’s hard to have the audience feel sympathy for a character as hard-headed as Suzy. I had to give Suzy an identity of a woman trying to find her independence in order to have the audience sympathize with her.”
Mr. Lindberg explained, “Suzy was ahead of her time. So often in theatre we see a spunky woman who is in need of a man to complete her, but in this show Suzy did not need her man, Doc, anymore than Doc needed her.”
Similar to last year’s production of Do I Hear a Waltz, Nate McLeod ’13 (Doc) and Eva played characters with a complex romance.
“Every show is different,” Eva said. “This show had a more upbeat tone, and a plot that was up for interpretation. But Nate and I have a casual chemistry on stage that has been illustrated in both productions.”
Andrew Shifren ’13 played the comical role of Hazel, Doc’s naive friend and one of the flophouse bums. He said, “I made the most of what I had, but Mr. Lindberg helped me a lot in finding the humor in Hazel.”
In part because of the large cast, Mr. Lindberg broke up the star vocal role of Fauna (played by Maxine) into two characters. He introduced Fern, whom Jenna Corcoran ’13 played.
Both Maxine and Jenna said they were surprised by how well it went. Maxine said, “Jenna and I have wanted to work together for awhile now, so sharing the character was really fun.”
Mr. Lindberg said, “Fauna and Fern were meant to be a lesbian couple, but it was not obvious. I wasn’t sure how much to emphasize it.”
In addition to a large cast of unusual characters, Pipe Dream’s challenges also laid behind the scenes.
Although the audience could not see them, the student musicians in the pit band sat behind the flat backdrop scenery, where they played all of the music for the show.
“Participating in the pit band and learning to coordinate not only within the group but also with the actors on stage, whom we could not see, gave me some insight into and appreciation for, how complex theater is,” said Alicia Juang ’13, who played violin and was one of the six student musicians. This was her first time performing in the pit band, and for her, the style was completely new.
“The music was entirely different from anything I’ve ever played before,” Alicia said. “At the beginning, it was daunting to think that we’d have to learn an entire booklet of music within a couple of weeks, but in the end, I think we pulled it off pretty well.”
As for the scenery, Pipe Dream demanded a more complex set design than shows in recent years.
Designer and Technical Director Eugene Warner said, “The musical had 18 scenes, which alternated between big and small design set ups. The setting demanded density. With more scenes than any other musical, the play was multi-dimensional. There were so many props they could not all fit in the shop!”
Mr. Lindberg said he hoped the show was an “escapist” musical.
“I hope that for a little over two hours the audience went into a different world, and with luck, hummed some tunes on the way out. I think the musical got better and better, and in the end, it was really good.”
Photo: Nate McLeod ’13 and Andrew Shifren ’13 contemplate the nature of a tide pool. Featured and gallery photos by Thomas Karol.