Kristen Hirsch MontagBroadway World Minneapolis
April 15, 2016
Bradley Greenwald is a fixture of Twin Cities stages; a performer that regularly draws deserved praise for his performances in opera, theater, music-theater, concert and recital repertoire with the Jungle Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Children's Theatre Company, 10,000 Things, Nautilus Music-Theater, Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, VocalEssence, Frank Theatre, the Illusion Theater, the Guthrie Theater, A Prairie Home Companion and Skylark Opera. (Whew!) Greenwald also is the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in music, the McKnight Fellowship for Theater Artists, and a 2006 Ivey Award.
Greenwald is not known well as a playwright but that's about to change. Previously, he adapted Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Wrinkle in Time" into a libretto for Libby Larsen's opera. Now, writing the book and lyrics for C. at Theater Latté Da, and receiving rave reviews for the production, he may just have a dual career on his hands. Latté Da just extended the run by a week due to popular demand. The show is original and thoroughly enjoyable, and Greenwald's Cyrano is amazing. Get your tickets now (seriously, don't wait to do it), then come back and read this edition of 6 Questions and a Plug to learn more about the play and the playwright.
C. is a brand new musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand's classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac, so the story is probably quite familiar to most BroadwayWorld.com readers, but can you tell us a little about the premise and how similar or different your adaptation is to the original?
The adaptation follows the love triangle of Rostand's play, as well as its basic structure-- Cyrano-who-loves-Roxane-who-loves-Christian-who-needs-Cyrano-to-prove-his-love-to-Roxane-- and includes, of course, his brilliant Balcony Scene. What struck me in Rostand's play was Cyrano's love of language and music and how vital both are to his spiritual and physical existence, as important as food, water and shelter. So I chose poetry and music as the fuel for the plot, over any stylized 17th-century settings or plot machinations. What bowled me over in the Rostand play, reading my direct word-for-word translation instead of the glittering, giddy, sublimely poetic variations of Burgess and Hooker, was the profound love and humanity in these characters. The content of translated adaptations, by nature, must go off on whimsical tangents to satisfy meter and rhyme. I decided I would not write in verse, except when the characters needed to speak in verse. I wanted Rostand's themes of love and language and the ineffable to speak without any camouflaging veneer of a translator's own poetic athleticism.
What was the inspiration or driver for you to adapt the play as a new musical, and is the music all original?
I took on Cyrano as an exercise after writing the libretto for Libby Larsen's opera A Wrinkle in Time. I loved adapting the novel, and wanted to do more. When I asked Peter Rothstein for a subject he suggested Cyrano, because he didn't feel any of the music adaptations of the play had enjoyed any success. When I talked through my take on how I saw music intertwined with the story, he encouraged me to continue. After a year, the exercise turned into a full script for the first season of Theater Latté Da's NEXT in 2013. And yes, all of Robert Elhai's score is original even though some of it may sound like folk songs that have been around forever. That's how brilliant he is.
What is your background in playwriting and writing lyrics for musicals? Did you train in these disciplines as well as acting and singing?
I have no official training in playwriting other than my own experiences with those who have. New work has always been a huge part of my career, so I have watched playwrights and composers struggle and succeed and revise and collaborate, learning from them by singing or speaking what they create, and taking note of when they choose one word over another and why. I wrote a libretto with Steven Epp for Jeune Lune's The Magic Flute, but it was after adapting A Wrinkle In Time for Libby Larsen's opera that I realized I loved writing, and that perhaps my life in different theatrical disciplines might be useful in the realization of a story through music.
You are also starring as Cyrano in the show; has it been challenging to play both roles (of playwright and lead actor)?
I was wary of playing Cyrano while also serving as writer. Peter talked me into it. In rehearsals (and even still in performance) I had to learn to stop listening as the writer and listen as the character, and it was difficult to get the knack of that. But life is all about the acquisition of skills, so I'll chalk it up as one more lesson learned.
This production is the second full production of a new musical for the NEXT 20/20 program by Theater Latté Da; when you first started during the NEXT series, did you always have a full production in your sights for C.? How much has it changed since that first outing?
We had always imagined a full production in theory, of course, because we wanted to make sure we were telling the story in a way that could be realized physically, not just intellectually. The play retained the same philosophy as the draft we performed three years ago, but the script is vastly different. Then it was basically a translated and distilled Rostand script with some Bradley thrown in here and there. Now the script is my own, with Rostand looking over my shoulder.
What are your hopes for this production and do you hope that it will go on beyond you to be produced by other companies?
I hope someone else will be moved enough by the piece to produce it. I would love to see other imaginations take it on, and put their own poetic imprint upon it. It's big and poetic, and it's about beauty. We need to be reminded to look for beauty in the world, and in ourselves. C. reminds us.
What is next for you personally, on stage or in other ways in your career?
The next big project is '66: Talkin 'Bout My Generation, a concert/travelogue/theatrical fantasia at Open Eye Figure Theater. Dan Chouinard, Prudence Johnson, Diana Grasselli and I have done two other theatrical concerts there over the years (on Brecht and Weill, and Jacques Brel). This time we look back to the life and music of 1966, 50 years later. It will be a fantastical contemporary "radio broadcast" with the four of us performing, along with instrumentalists Gary Raynor and Dean McGraw.
Book & Lyrics by Bradley Greenwald
Music by Robert Elhai
Directed by Peter Rothstein
Music Direction by Jason Hansen Adapted from the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Plays now through May 1, 2016 at Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE Minneapolis).
Single tickets are on sale now at latteda.org or 612-339-3003.
Theater Latté Da presents C. March 30 - April 24, 2016. Ritz Theater. Photo by Dan Norman.