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When James Lapine learn an excerpt from Sylvia Jukes Morris’s masterly biography of Clare Boothe Luce, he noticed the makings of a play. Dubbed “The Lady of the Century” throughout her illustrious lifetime, the sophisticated Mrs. Luce had been a socialite, a madly achieved author (“The Girls”), the ambassador to Italy, a Republican member of Congress, and the spouse of Henry Luce, the founding father of Time, Life and Fortune magazines.
Although she died in 1987 and is probably going remembered by only a few, a stunning little bit of her historical past was sufficient to seize Lapine’s consideration — and considerably circuitously get him to the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the place his new, dangerous and idiosyncratic musical “Flying Over Sunset” is in previews for a Dec. 13 opening at Lincoln Heart Theater.
Underneath the steerage of her pal, the author and spiritualist Gerald Heard, Mrs. Luce grew to become an aficionada of LSD. You learn that proper. A straight East Coast energy determine, the trendy 50-something indulged within the hallucinogenic drug years earlier than Timothy Leary found it at Harvard. A discontented seeker, she tried it at a weak time in her life; in keeping with the biography, she used acid once more and once more, persuading her husband, her priest and her lovers to partake ceaselessly over the course of six years.
I don’t learn about you, however I’m clutching my pearls. The discordancy is so intriguing — like studying that Katharine Graham went to nude encounter classes at Esalen, or Alan Greenspan was as soon as in a Lynyrd Skynyrd cowl band.
In Lapine’s creativeness, it was a strong leaping off level — for a play about Cary Grant. (Wait a second, we’re getting there). Additional studying revealed that the dapper film star, too, frequently used psychedelics underneath the steerage of a psychiatrist, a footnote which Grant had talked about in a number of interviews. And Lapine already knew that the “Courageous New World” author Aldous Huxley had experimented with medicine as effectively, beginning with mescaline.
No stranger to LSD himself, Lapine — the Pulitzer Prize-winning guide author of “Sunday within the Park with George” — thought of bringing these three very completely different, largely unconnected but celebrated figures, collectively.
On a communal acid journey in Southern California.
Set to music.
The Shocking ’50s
Rising up in Ohio, and later Connecticut, Lapine began smoking pot as a teen. He dropped acid for the primary time whereas in school, and used it ceaselessly whereas finding out for his MFA in design at CalArts. It wasn’t a matter of deep, soul-searching exploration, as it’s for the important thing characters in his present. “For us it was, ‘It’s Saturday night time; let’s do acid,’ ’’ he defined. “On the time I used to be a photographer, and I used to be extra within the visible points of it.”
This was the Nineteen Seventies. However what Lapine about Grant, Luce and Huxley was that they had been flying excessive again within the uptight Nineteen Fifties, not like his personal mother and father, who would have been their friends.
“It was not an introspective period,’’ he mentioned. “It was postwar, and it was all about safety and stability. My dad needed no emotional conversations; no expressions of dismay or unhappiness.”
As with many concepts in Lapine’s artistic life, he approached his frequent collaborator and good pal Stephen Sondheim to jot down the music. (The final authentic musical that they had labored on collectively was “Ardour” in 1994.) He declined the invitation.
“He regrets it now,” Lapine mentioned wryly exterior the rehearsal room on the Beaumont roof just a few weeks in the past.
Lapine turned to the lyricist Michael Korie, whose work on “Gray Gardens” he deeply admired. For the music, his alternative was Tom Kitt, the prolific composer. They’d gotten to know one another on a workshop of “Subsequent to Regular,” although one other director went on to supervise the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical.
The writers had by no means collaborated earlier than; nor had both of them experimented with psychedelic medicine. They simply needed the possibility to work with Lapine. It’s OK, he laughed: “I’ve accomplished sufficient for all of us.”
Nonetheless, Korie was doubtful: “A musical about some entitled Hollywood actors sitting round a pool speaking about their back-end contractual offers and taking cocaine? Not fascinating.”
Then he discovered extra: the drug was LSD, which was authorized within the Nineteen Fifties. These had been characters seemingly on prime of the world, but all coping with personal grief.
And whereas he hadn’t discovered a narrative line, Lapine had written three separate however intriguing scenes, together with one displaying Luce being grilled by a Senate subcommittee over her hawkish views. (The lawyer Lapine consulted about dramatizing historic figures ended up giving his OK, on condition that they had been individuals within the public eye.)
However it was solely after many workshops that the musical’s key conceit got here to life: That the characters would sing solely when on medicine.
They might meet for the primary time on the finish of Act 1. And Act 2 could be one massive journey.
Producing in a Pandemic
Absolutely authentic musicals — these not primarily based on books or motion pictures or pop songbooks — are more and more uncommon on Broadway, and “Flying Over Sundown,” on paper, was definitely authentic. And regardless of the observe data of the artistic workforce, industrial producers had been lower than assured it could work.
After virtually 4 years in growth (and a handful of songs painfully minimize), André Bishop, the manufacturing inventive director of the nonprofit Lincoln Heart Theater, took the possibility. (He ran Playwrights Horizons when a reasonably amorphous “Sunday within the Park with George” got here his approach in 1982.) On the time the thought was to mount the present Off Broadway, on the 299-seat Mitzi Newhouse Theater.
Some months later, the faucet dancer, choreographer and MacArthur Basis genius Michelle Dorrance entered the image, and she is now making her Broadway debut on the present.
As a poor motherless child in London, Archibald Leach made his approach as an acrobat and stilt dancer in music halls, sometimes selecting pockets to assist himself. Rising up, he remade himself into Cary Grant, and in “Flying Over Sundown” he’s performed by the virtuoso song-and-dance-man Tony Yazbeck.
“Once I noticed Michelle’s work,” Lapine mentioned, “it impressed me to have Cary faucet and for her to be our choreographer.”
Dorrance had by no means staged numbers with performers who weren’t skilled dancers earlier than. And he or she pointed to the thick pile of tiny papers filled with notes to clarify why the collaboration has been thrilling. “James likes to mess with issues,” she mentioned. “Watch out that you just love your concept earlier than you intend one thing to James as a result of he’ll fall in love with it.”
After 5 years and seven workshops (a lot of them underwritten by the photographer Jack Shear), “Flying Over Sundown” was prepared for takeoff. The first preview could be March 12, 2020, with the present now slated to run within the bigger Beaumont, Lincoln Heart’s Broadway home.
Throughout a rehearsal break that day, Yazbeck; Harry Hadden-Paton (Huxley); Carmen Cusack (Luce); and Robert Sella (Gerald Heard) gathered to share their emotions concerning the musical, as a result of it is a musical about emotions (and intercourse and loneliness and grief).
“Cleverly, the present exhibits you what the drug does — it exhibits the longing and the thriller,” Cusack mentioned. The musical “forces you to note issues,” Sella added. “It provides you permission to go deep.” Every explorer had profound melancholy they needed to probe. For Luce, it was guilt over the dying of her daughter in a automotive crash. For Grant it was the disappearance of his mom when he was a toddler. For Huxley, it was mourning his spouse, Maria.
Later that afternoon the mayor of New York decreed all theaters closed. The first public preview was canceled; the corporate was gutted. It wasn’t simply the scary virus; they felt able to carry out for paying strangers whose suggestions could be important to hone the present.
Locks had been affixed to the glass doorways of the Beaumont, however Lincoln Heart Theater leaders O.Ok.’d a non-public efficiency that night time for associates and household. (I used to be permitted to attend, too.)
It was all occurring: The full orchestra, the entire firm in full make-up and costume. Somebody filmed with a easy camcorder. Lapine sat within the fourth or fifth row, “feverishly taking notes and sometimes crying,” he recalled.
One second stood out specifically. The scene late within the first act positioned within the venerable Brown Derby, an outdated Hollywood energy restaurant. It was right here that Lapine set the apocryphal assembly between the 4 foremost characters.
When Mrs. Luce mentioned, “Mr. Grant meet Aldous Huxley,” Hadden-Paton instantaneously prolonged his elbow, in a second that was pure 2020. It’ll by no means be repeated, however the sly shock virtually stopped the present.
By March 15, the forged, crew and creators dispersed. There have been weekly Zooms, and on April 16 — what would have been opening night time — they dressed up and toasted each other from close to and far, just about.
Again within the Aftermath
What did you get accomplished in the course of the pandemic?
Lapine wrote a guide, the marvelous “Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ ’’ He additionally made a full-length documentary concerning the author Rose Styron. Kitt launched an album known as “Replicate,” with a lot of his associates and two of his youngsters. Korie started writing two new musicals and continued instructing by Zoom at Yale and Columbia. Dorrance taught on-line courses every single day and created new dances whereas sheltering along with her immunocompromised mom.
And what of the musical? “After we closed,” Lapine mentioned, “I took all my notes and wrote all the pieces down and caught it in a drawer.” Then he went away, quarantining together with his spouse, the author Sarah Kernochan, and their daughter and son-in-law at their home in Martha’s Winery.
“This was form of a novel alternative,” he paused, referring to the Pause. “I like having the gap now to transform it slightly. They need to do that on each present,” he joked.
Some particulars had been up within the air, nevertheless. Yazbeck bought a film in Romania. And the younger firm member Atticus Ware, who performs Archie Leach, is an outstanding dancer, however at 13, Lapine and firm are dreading (awaiting?) his voice altering.
On-line experiences from early previews emphasised how the present defies up to date Broadway’s embrace of straightforward escapism. However nonetheless: hallucinations!
With the musical coming to life after a deeply unmooring and isolating pandemic, its creators contend “Flying Over Sundown,” for all its uncommon dimensions, feels extra pressing than ever.
As their collective journey winds down, Luce, Grant, Huxley and Heard collectively sing: “Every of us is incomplete/Until our paths converge/ Everybody in life we meet/ Mixes within the merge.”
“This,” Lapine mentioned, “is a present about connection.”
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