Archive for the ‘acting’ Category

A Composer’s Education – Part 7

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Les Girls of Iphigenia

This is Part 7 of a multi-part series of posts.  I suggest that you start with Part 1 if you have the time and really want to appreciate the full effulgence.

Les Girls of Iphigenia:

Twelve young starlets play one classic role in the same opera.  Twelve variations of the same young girl facing her death at the hands of her father all in the service of her country.  We wondered if it would work, if the audiences would ‘get it’.  They had no trouble with the concept and the musical/rock opera rode on the giant wings of these twelve amazingly talented women in every performance.

How I loved these women!  Twelve of the top talents in NYC to work with, to write for, to arrange for.  It was a composer’s dream come true.

Over the couple of years of the run, first in workshops in NYC, then in London and then again in performances back in NYC, there were a number of other women who came in and out – understudies, swings and replacements, (Broadway star Patti Lupone was one) but the core twelve were something special and over the years, after the run of the show, I had the gratifying opportunity to watch nearly every one of them blossom into a star on a major scale.

Jullianne

Julianne — Julianne Marshall was our rock.  She was there for the entire run of the show and I can’t remember that she ever missed a performance.  She was a beautiful presence on stage, one of the quieter side of Iphigenia, but the leader of the kettle drum choir – six of the twelve learned to play timpani and would erupt periodically throughout the show in a grand tattoo of rhythmic pounding which represented the war around them.  Julianne would radically change in an instant from demure to powerful when she got those mallets in her hands.

Nell

Nell – Nell Carter was our trumpet.  With a voice that would cut diamonds and shatter glass she was a tremendous presence.  There were moments when I could put Nell on the melody and everybody else on the harmonies and Nell’s voice would still cut through the other eleven and state the theme.  And she was funny – probably our one true comic relief in the cast – with her wide body and her crazy spirit, she could have handled the role by herself in another production.

Nell in Ain’t Misbehavin’

Nell went on to win a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, as well as an Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television.

She also received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her starring role in the long-running 1980s’ sitcom Gimme a Break!.

 

 

 

 

Sharon

Sharon – Sharon Redd was simply beautiful and talented.  She had the fire and had one of those classic R&B voices that you heard on the radio.  Often it was Sharon, singing on commercials, as one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes and finally having a most successful career as a background vocalist, most notably with the group Soirée, which also included among its members Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown.

Trish – Trish Hawkins was the vulnerable side of Iphigenia.  Trish always felt to me like a fresh breath of air from the country.  She was the strongest actress of the group and, consequently, the turn-to girl that handled most of the spoken lines.  I secretly fell in love with her in the course of the run because of her natural beauty and great presence.

Trish with Judd-Hirsch

Later in life she became Lanford Wilson’s female lead in his Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play Talley’s Folly, as well as his Broadway plays The Happy Hooker and Fifth of July.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marion

Marion – Marion Ramsey was the energy!  Here was a blast-‘em-through-the-roof R&B/Gospel singer with serious chops and the great ability to get the audience standin’ up and clappin’.  Her big number was a song called Gate Tender which never failed to bring the house down.

Marion in Police Academy

She seemed always happy and ready for a laugh and was one of the most popular among the girls. She was later a regular on the TV series Cos but is best known for her role as the timid Officer Laverne Hooks in the Police Academy movies.

 

 

Pamela

Pam – Pamela Pentony was our Janis Joplin.  The music of the show covered many pop genres and Pam’s number, I Wonder, was a screamin’ gut wrenching rock n’ roll moment that she just tore up every night.  One wondered how she could sing like that whiskey-voiced and rockin’ and rollin’ night after night.  How could her voice possibly hold out?  But it did – 8 performances a week for a couple of years.  Pam was special.  Everybody loved her because she gave it everything she had night after night, night after night … (more…)

A Composer’s Education – Part 5

Friday, August 17th, 2012

This is Part 5 of a multi-part series of posts.  I suggest that you start with Part 1 if you have the time and really want to appreciate the full effulgence.

 Casting:

The casting of Iphigenia would be problematic because Doug Dyer, the director, and I had decided that only three people could speak in the piece – Agamemnon, played by Manu Topou who had played the king in the movie “Hawaii” that at the time was so popular, Clytemnestra, played by Madge Sinclair, who you might remember from long-running stint in the 1980s as nurse Ernestine Shoop on the series Trapper John, M.D. opposite Pernell Roberts.  She received three Emmy nominations for her work on that show, or perhaps in 1988, she played Queen Aoleon opposite James Earl Jones‘ King Jaffe Joffer in the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America.  Achilles was first played by a young Tommy Lee Jones.

All three were classically trained actors, perfect for the roles and would not sing in the show, but would handle the minimal Euripidean dialogue with aplomb.

The tough casting choice, however, was Iphigenia.  She would have to be a young, beautiful rock/pop/folk singer with powerful acting chops and she would have minimal dialogue, but a tremendous role to sing.  And we wanted a real authentic rock n’ roller – not some theater chick who thought she was hip enough to do it.  We also needed to cast 12 ladies in waiting to be the Greek chorus.

We saw some wonderful talent.  In that day everyone wanted to work at The Public, so the turnout was fantastic.  We easily cast our Greek chorus with 12 of the top twenty-something ladies in NYC.  I was absolutely thrilled with the potential of that chorus and could not wait to get into rehearsal.

But we could not find our Iphigenia.

Finally Joe Papp told us to go into rehearsal without our leading lady for he suspected that she would emerge in the course of our rehearsals from our wondrous chorus.  When Joe said it; you did it, and so that’s what we did.

In the first week of rehearsals I taught only the music.  At the end of each day Doug, Joe and I would meet and discuss our leading candidate for our starring role based on who had been our favorite that day.  And at the end of each day we had a different choice.  By the end of the week we were no further in casting our lead than we were on the first day of rehearsal.  Then Joe had a fascinating idea. (more…)

A Composer’s Education – Part 1

Monday, August 6th, 2012

A Younger Peter Link

I have to blame my father.  He got me started on the drums at the age of 6.  It was my passion as a youth and I never had to be told to go practice.  So I grew up inside the rhythm.  A solid start.

And then there was Jack Eyerly, my first real mentor and our chorus director at Principia Upper School.  He grabbed me up and taught me, stimulated me, believed in me.  And he pushed me, though he never had to push hard.  He mostly helped me see that I could do it – that I had real talent.

And then there was Sanford Meisner, my acting teacher, my life teacher, the man who taught me how to be a creator, how to get inside the character, how to stimulate the emotions, how to concretize the moments, how to hook on to the muse.  He was the best teacher I ever had – besides life.

And finally I was thrust out into the world – age 23, green, naïve, … extremely lucky.

I wrote, with a partner, named C.C. Courtney, an Off-Broadway musical called Salvation.  He wrote book and lyrics and I wrote the music.  We both starred in the show.  It was in the heyday of Off-Broadway when the real action was in the small theaters and Broadway was stale and confused.  Hair was pretty much the only thing happenin’ and the rock musical was very unrealized.  Salvation was an 8-character rock musical that was what one might call “anti-religious”.  Anti organized religion really.

The show was meant to be revolutionary, to slap the audience in the face following in the footsteps of Hair.  It did, and the audience and the critics loved it.  Looking back, it was definitely sophomoric and not a piece that I’m proud of.  But it was Off-Broadway’s biggest hit and ran for 2 years and played in 11 different countries.  Out of the show came a song that was a million-selling hit and #1 on the Billboard Pop charts in the summer of 1970.  It’s ridiculously long title broke all the rules, but also gathered a strange kind of attention – If You Let Me Make Love To You Then Why Can’t I Touch You?

It gave me my start.  It set me up immediately as a NY composer for the theater.  Suddenly I was a Broadway composer and I probably had not seen more than 10 musicals in my life.  I thought, “Boy, this is easy!  Write some songs, be a star, make lots of money.”

Then came the fall.  With my same partner I wrote another musical called Earl Of Ruston.  My partner and I disagreed throughout the experience and actually broke up before opening night, this time on Broadway.  I hated the show and walked away from it.  He was the star and the director, the book writer and the lyricist and held the power this time.  I wanted no part of what I thought was a mess.  The critics agreed.  It flopped and ran for just 4 performances.

My career looked to be short lived. (more…)

As Memory Serves Me – Part 3

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series reflecting on an experience I had as a much younger man as an actor playing a lead role on CBS television’s daily soap opera, As The World Turns.  I recommend, for clarity’s sake, starting with Part 1 if you can.

The ability to memorize nearly anything has been an elusive skill that has unfortunately haunted me all my life.  Ever since the sixth grade when I completely blew my Captain of the Patrol Boys’ speech in front of the PTA, I have struggled with this seemingly simple act.

I jealously watched my wife, Julia, miraculously memorize her solos week after week for seven years and perform them flawlessly when she had her church gig in Boston.  That’s one area where we are polar opposites.

Probably the first reason why I did not continue with my most successful career start as an actor was that I never really felt comfortable in anything I ever did because one part of my brain was always clutching up trying to remember my lines.  Having written well over a thousand songs in my life, I could not sing one of them through for you without having the lyrics in front of me.  The melodies?  Easy.  The words?  Fogeddaboudit!  And so I did.

Mind you, I can teach you how to memorize – I know all the tricks and all the roots of the process – I just don’t even try to do it anymore after a lifetime of failures.

So don’t try and write me your technique to show me how it’s done.  I’m no longer interested – not in this lifetime.

So there …

Yeah, so here I am in this television soap opera struggling with 4 scripts a week, getting through it all somehow, receiving hundreds of letters of fan mail a week, but working under an enormous self-imposed pressure and never really enjoying the work because of this one sticky wicket.  On top of it all, I was then a bit near-sighted and my character was not the eyeglasses type, so I could not read the teleprompters while performing, and was left to my own flawed devices – a boat without a paddle.

With all that said, I shall recount a harrowing story with a peculiar twist.

I played Tom Hughes, a troubled teen just starting college.  On one particular day I had a rather long scene in my dorm room with my roommate, an actor who had just recently been introduced on the show and had only spoken a few lines a couple of times on previous days.

In this scene I was to get out of bed, get dressed and gather my books and papers for class as the scene progressed.  My roommate was to come in the door just coming back from an earlier class and we were to discuss some drama as we both went about our daily business.  The scene, as I said, was long (close to 10 minutes – long for a soap) and there were all kinds of timing problems and blocking to learn in our early morning rehearsals and run-thru for camera.

I remember that, knowing it would be a long and difficult scene, I had put extra time into the preparation in terms of my memory work, so I felt somewhat confident going into rehearsals that morning.  My acting partner was young and somewhat inexperienced and struggled a bit with his lines in rehearsal, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.  It was, however, just enough to put me on my guard and throw things a little off balance. (more…)

As Memory Serves Me – Part 1

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

This is a 3 part series reflecting on an experience I had as a much younger man as an actor playing a lead role on CBS television’s daily soap opera, As The World Turns.

A thousand or so years ago I graduated from college and came to NYC to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater not to be an actor, but to learn the craft of acting so that I could be a director in the theater – my ambition.

Upon graduation from a two-year course at the Neighborhood Playhouse I actually tried my wings as an actor for a couple of years with some success.  Acting, mind you, was not my primary ambition, but here I was in NYC with an acquired skill and, after all, I had to eat.

I spent the summer upon graduation having some remarkable luck doing television commercials – Dentyne, Tropicana, and, as memory serves me, even one for a small new computer company with the weird name of Apple.  I was not at all the best actor in my graduation class, but, looking back, I guess I was just the right look at the right time.

I also had the beginnings of a strong craft under my belt taught by one of the greatest acting teachers in the world, Sanford Meisner.

That summer, as luck would have it, I did 10 national network commercials!  My agent was thrilled.  I was hot!  In demand – and I’ll never really understand why.  But I was out there “doin’ my thing” as the saying went at the time even if “my thing” was :30 (second) and :60 spots of acting.  Nailing my lines down was never a problem in those situations.  After all, how much can you say in that short time span to begin with?  Usually it was just one or two lines.

In the Dentyne commercial it was, “She’s got the freshest mouth in town”, a slogan that became nationally iconic for a period of time, though that had nothing to do with the way that I said it, but more to do with the number of repetitions that the commercial got on television.

As the fall approached and I was already becoming bored with my :60 successes (though not with the royalty checks).  I began to look for larger roles.

Here the famous quote, “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it” applies.  My agent called me one day and booked me for an audition for the TV soap opera, As The World Turns. (more…)

A Visit With Porgy And Bess

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Norman Lewis as Porgy

In my very early childhood my family owned the Broadway Cast Album of the Gershwin’s opera Porgy And Bess – in a beautiful collection of 78s – that would be played around the house periodically for a decade.  When record players no longer came with the ability to play 78s, the collection was probably thrown out (along with my baseball cards) by my mom.

I rue the day.

But I grew up with all those great songs coursing through my head.  I’m not sure I ever really knew the story, but I certainly knew the songs.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to see 5 different productions of the opera, all on Broadway.  My favorite, until yesterday, was the first I saw back in the mid 70s presented by the Houston Opera Company starring Kathleen Battle.  She was simply magnificent in the role – one of the best performances by a vocalist of anyone I’ve ever seen or heard.

Until yesterday, it had been about a decade since I had seen a production and had the tickets not been a gift, I probably would not have gone.  But the gift enabled both the Missus and me to attend a Wednesday matinee starring Audra McDonald and Norman Lewis.  Another friend who had seen it had warned me away from this production because it’s a musical adaptation of the opera – meaning that it has dialogue between the songs and is not sung through as an opera.

So I went thinking that if I didn’t like it, I could always leave at intermission and not be out the $85 ticket price since the tix were free.

At intermission you couldn’t have dragged me out of the theater.  It was, for my money, by far the best production of the Gershwin’s work I’ve ever seen. (more…)

Thoughts On “Mind’s Camera”

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

“Thoughts On ‘Mind’s Camera’” is one of a 12 part series of posts reflecting on the songs of Julia Wade’s CD, Solos, with lyrics from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy and Music by Peter Link.

Focus.  This song is all about focus.

One of the things I miss the most about my new digital camera is that it has an automatic focus.  It won’t let me focus the camera, rather it does the focusing for me.  Many years ago I got totally into my old Pentax for about a decade and shot a coupla thousand pictures of everything imaginable.  What made the pictures most interesting, besides composition and content, was my ability to direct the viewer’s eye to one particular point of the picture.  The ability to focus that old camera made my pictures real personal impressions of life’s moments.

These days, with my digital camera, it decides where the eye should look and that makes my pictures more into what I would call ‘snapshots’ as opposed to artistic choices of my own personal points of view.

Now I often forget my camera and even when I do remember to take it, my pictures are seldom interesting to me.  Even when they’re in focus, it’s not my particular focus, it’s the camera’s focus.  When I do get a good picture occasionally, I just consider myself lucky that the camera and I agreed.

What we choose to see in life, the way we see life, the way we experience life is all a matter of focus.  I witnessed a traffic accident a few years back, and in the aftermath, when the cops were interviewing several people who stood on the same corner and witnessed with me, I was amazed to hear the different recounts and completely disparate recollections of each witness.

Each of us, standing in the same spot, had a different focus, and so told a different story.

Whatever the reason we go through this experience here on Planet Earth, and I sometimes think the whole reason we’re here is to find our way back to our true spirituality, some of us get very lost and make little progress and some of us actually spend some real time moving in the right direction.

Those who progress are simply better focused on the right idea and those who wander and even get lost lose focus and go down the wrong paths.

I had a Sunday School student several years ago who was just an terrific all-American kid – bright, spiritually curious, a good athlete, a sweet and gentle person, and an Eagle Scout with a great future before him.  He’s now in Leavenworth Prison locked up for life on a horrendous murder charge.  He was guilty – no question about it.

I believe he simply lost focus.

The crude creations of mortal thought
must finally give place
to the glorious forms
which we sometimes behold
in the camera
of divine Mind,
when the mental picture is spiritual and eternal.
Mortals must look beyond fading, finite forms,
if they would gain the true sense of things.

How can we stay true to our true selves?  I believe that each of us is God’s perfect child, but some of us get off the track and lose our way.

It happened to me.  I spent a decade of my life with a drug addiction, and though some of that decade was very focused and my career successful, over all, looking back, I was completely out of focus and totally barking up the wrong tree.  I know now that I wasted a decade of my life wandering about. (more…)

I Stood In The Wings… Part 4

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

This is Part 4.  If you haven’t yet read Part 1, 2 & 3, I highly suggest you do so first.

He was a chicken.  I don’t mean he was afraid to do things; I mean he was really a chicken.  Well, not in all actuality, but he was acting a chicken.

Let me explain.

I was performing at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel Ballroom in some unremembered benefit back in the days when I did such things, and after I had finished my act, the stage manager asked me if I’d like to see the rest of the show.  I said that I would and during the blackout and set change for the next act I was quickly led to a front row table right smack at the stage proscenium.  I was so close to the next act that the comedian could have stepped on my head if he wasn’t careful.

I was not, this time, literally ‘in the wings’, but I was so up close and personal that it felt like it.

I do not remember the comic’s name, but I will never forget his act.  It was hilarious and he kept the audience howling with hysterical laughter for a full ten minutes.

Like I said, he was a chicken.  He was totally committed to being a chicken and, of course, he had to be.  His act was so ‘out there’ that he would have bombed horribly if he had not been so committed.  In it, he chicken-scratched, he rooster-strutted, he hen-squawked, he flapped his wings, he clucked, he gave us the best “cockadoodledoo” I’ve ever heard and he chickened about the stage in a total frenzy for the full ten minutes.  What’s more, he wore no chicken costume at all.  Just a man in his pants and shirt, but he impersonated a chicken before our very eyes.  (Or perhaps he imchickenated a person when he finished his act.)

About the only thing he did that was un-chicken-like was that he sweated.  Oh my god did he sweat.  This comic was workin’ the house and was chickening so deeply that he must have lost ten pounds in ten minutes.  The sweat flew off him like he was in the shower and any number of times flew right on me as I sat, fascinated and wet.  I’ve seen men do this in the last frantic minutes of an overtime basketball game, but never such a constant shower on stage – and I’ve never had, before or since, the ‘privilege’ of taking part in anything resembling that shower of activity.

I don’t remember ever laughing.  I remember thinking that he was really funny, and being aware of the audience roaring almost continuously, but laugh myself?  Not.  I was too fascinated with the caloric burn, the intense mad workout and the tsunami-like proportion of his effort as the sweat flew off him like feathers.

I remember thinking that I was glad that I had never chosen to be a comic.  For such a funny thing, it’s just hard work!  He was a big man, which made his particular chicken character even funnier, of course.  He was so committed that I wondered how long, when he finally got off stage, it would take him to transform back into a human being.  Perhaps they had a big bowl of chicken feed and water waiting for him back in his dressing room. (more…)


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