All of the extra was what I used to be after in a current interview on the Kennedy Middle with Creel and Jason Forbach, his singing companion in one in all Sondheim’s funniest shows of lyrical wordplay, the comedy quantity Agony. What, I’ve at all times puzzled, goes right into a basic comedian composition: What mixture of wit, showmanship, and method ensures viewers delight? How does an actor preserve the fabric contemporary, evening after evening? And might it even be as a lot enjoyable to carry out as it’s to look at and take heed to?
I’ve liked Agony ever since I first heard it, within the authentic Broadway manufacturing, in 1987. And I used to be particularly desperate to discover it with actors within the charming Into the Woods, which concludes a Kennedy Middle Opera Home engagement , which is able to quickly be in Boston , Philadelphia, Charlotte and past. I suppose that as I dissected the music with them, I engaged in some form of self-analysis: making an attempt to know how a cheerful union of lyrics and music might stick with me so meaningfully for many years.
There’s a lot richness so that you can delve into, defined Forbach, who performs Rapunzel’s Prince, the brother of Creel’s character. It is like you can also make 100 decisions in every line.
These decisions are what I needed to listen to about. How songwriters can translate a plot or an emotional revelation into 32 bars of music is without doubt one of the signatures of musical theater greatness. And Agony is a high-quality instance of the surprising heights that imaginative genius can take us to.
The music is a double decker of cleverness. In Act 1, the place Sondheim and novelist James Lapine imbue fairytale characters with city neuroses, the 2 princes meet within the woods for a hyperbolic lament about their everlasting, pure-hearted mission: the admirably selfless (learn: self-aggrandizing) activity of rescuing damsels in misery. And oh, how tragic it’s to come across so many obstacles to finish the job!
Agony, they sing, All of the torture they study. What’s as thrilling or half as tiring as that which is out of attain?
A lot agita and so many inner rhymes! In Act 2, they repeat the music, this time because the husbands of two of those women, Rapunzel and Cinderella. And we study that they have not modified in any respect. Weighed down by the duties of marriage, they reveal their existential hang-up: an irrepressible urge for journey to seek out different women to avoid wasting.
Agony, they sing now, in order that princes should weep! All the time enthusiastic about virtually something or something in my sleep. The sly reference to sleep has full comedic payoff within the replay, because it turns into clear that the princes at the moment are longing to pursue two different storybook characters, Sleeping Magnificence and Snow White.
The music is the one alternative the princes get in Into the Woods to outline their sibling relationship and rivalry. The lyrics succinctly and intricately unfold their aggressive nature; the observe offers a compelling portrait of how actual brothers typically behave, supporting one another one minute, collaborating in a sport of one-upmanship the subsequent. (Indignant! Much more painful than yours, Rapunzel’s Prince sings at one level, noting that having access to her beloved includes climbing her hair. When you understand she’d go together with you if solely there have been doorways.)
Creel has performed Cinderella’s prince (and the wolf that devours Little Purple Driving Hood) because the revival, directed by Lear deBessonet, opened off-Broadway final 12 months in Metropolis Middle’s Encores! collection, then moved to Broadway. Forbach was understudying earlier than being promoted to Rapunzel’s Prince for the touring manufacturing. Their essential crowd-pleasing duet solely works if they’re strictly in sync, technically and temperamentally. So in some methods the quantity includes a quasi-fraternal degree of dedication.
After performing that, Forbach stated, the 2 cross paths backstage for a direct postmortem. Was like, Oh my god, this or that labored.’ And it did not work. And I will repair that subsequent time. And I am sorry, he stated. It is a enjoyable little precise brotherly check-in to see how the others are doing and what did not land or what could possibly be higher. What I actually admire about Gavin is that there’s at all times the sensation of navigating one thing totally, as if you’re by no means on the finish of the map.
Creel famous that he has carried out Agony with a variety of actors who’ve rotated out and in of the productions for prolonged intervals of time, together with Joshua Henry and Andy Karl. I’ve had the pleasure of coping with so many alternative individuals, he stated. But in addition, in the long run, my prince is totally different with every individual I’m reverse. As a result of it is about relationships.
And about timing. In Agony, the princes step on one another’s moments, end one another’s ideas and compete for the sharpest joke. It is a mind-blowing sport of alpha vs. alpha. Through the reprise, a grievance from the Cinderella prince concerning the 100-foot-deep safety of Sleeping Magnificence results in a musical change of tongues:
Cinderella Prince: If it wasn’t too scrubby
Rapunzel’s Prince: A thicket and not using a trick. Is it thick?
Cinderella Prince: It’s the thickest.
Rapunzel’s Prince: The quickest is to separate it with a stick.
Cinderella Prince: Sure, however even a dot. That is my factor with blood.
Rapunzel’s Prince: Nicely, that is sick!
(The subsequent line is a taunt by Cinderella’s prince concerning the seven dwarfs defending Snow White, whom Rapunzel’s prince is after. The traces written 4 many years in the past now come off as flippant about dwarfism; the higher joke, anyway, the princes arguing about the way to pronounce dwarves.)
The agony of each a verbal duel and a staff effort is even mirrored within the tempo of the tracks. I used to be interested by it final evening as a result of we had been passing by [Potomac] the river and all these crews had been on the market, Forbach stated. The tempo marking on this one is a la barcarolle, which is a Venetian boat music. So the accompaniment is that this rocking backwards and forwards. It is just like the waves, the rhythm, it takes two, you understand, the 2 oars. It would not work until the 2 of us are in sync.
The viewers will get a kick out of the best way the princes attempt to present one another up, however Creel has come to see the act as a gathering of minds, not a conflict of wills. The princes’ comparability of notes because the music progresses evokes mutual sympathy. I by no means see that as competitors anymore, he stated. Oh, torture! That is torture for you! At that time, it isn’t no, me! It is horrible. Its ache.
For Forbach, trusting the emotional paths Sondheim fastidiously paves in Agony has made him higher at his job. Hell arrange a line and I already know my subsequent line as a result of the rhyme is so deliciously excellent, he stated. So it taught me the toughest lesson I needed to study as an actor, which is how straightforward it’s to wish to management all the pieces and be hyper-prepared and never make a mistake, not embarrass your self in entrance of 1000’s of individuals.
However principally, what audiences relate to most is that this free sense of life, that issues can go mistaken or be good or lovely. This present has taught me to be human not solely on stage however in actual life.
Nothing about it sounds painful.
Into the forest, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, guide by James Lapine. Directed by Lear deBessonet. By means of Sunday on the John F. Kennedy Middle for the Performing Arts. kennedy-center.org.