Sunday, May 11, 2014

Goodspeed Opera House's own Applegate: David Beach!

Goodspeed Musicals kicks off its 2014 season with Damn Yankees, adapted by Tony Award winner Joe
DiPietro to set the classic in 1952 Boston and pit the Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, beginning through June the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.

SYLVIANE GOLD begins her review in The New York Times by saying, "There’s a clever new offering at the Goodspeed Opera House’s concession counter these days — boxes of Cracker Jack. They help put audiences in a suitable frame of mind for Damn Yankees, the wonderful 1955 musical that won a slew of Tonys and taught the world that 'you gotta have heart.'"

Damn Yankees is a musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop and
lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story is a modern retelling of the Faust legend during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. The musical is based on Wallop's novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.

One of the main characters is Mr. Applegate — The Devil in disguise as a slick salesman.

To bring this character to life in the Goodspeed Opera House's is David Beach.

Angel Reda as Lola with David Beach (© Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
© Photo by Diane Sobolewski
© Photo by Diane Sobolewski
You may have seen David Beach as John Cullum's assistant McQueen in the Tony-nominated musical Urinetown or the Tony-nominated musical Mamma Mia! as Harry Bright.

David and I sat down to do talk about Damn Yankees a few days ago and what brought him to this point. Today, I celebrate David Beach and his body of "worth".
David appeared once before at Goodspeed, at The Norma Terris Theatre in The Great American Mousical, directed by Julie Andrews.
In some ways, Damn Yankees feels like coming home because he knows so many of the people there. It is an amazing experience to be back. However, this time around, it is a much different experience. This is not a "developmental work", although he worked on the script with Joe DiPietro and Daniel Goldstein leading them, but it is not a "new" play like The Great American Mousical was. They each have their own challenges and their own rewards.
photo by Diane Sobolewski
What makes David happy?
His daughter makes him very happy.The fact that she was able to be at Goodspeed for the first three weeks of rehearsal made him so happy. As far as his art goes, what makes him happy are people who work really well together. He grew up thinking he might be a musician, being a pianist or pipe organist. There is much more collaboration, for the most part, in those areas. He was very drawn to the theatre due to the fact that a bunch of people are in a room working together for the same common goal.
This is David's first time doing Damn Yankees. He saw it once.
David in rehearsal with Stephen Mark Lukas/Young Jue Hardy   (photo by Diane Sobolewski)
He didn't even remember it that well. Applegate was not on his "wish list" of dream roles. It would have been if he knew it better. The casting director called and asked if he would come in to read for Applegate. At first, he didn't know. Then he went and looked it up. After reading it, he said of course he would. This version as I wrote about in my blog on Daniel Goldstein has replaced the Washington Senators with The Red Sox.
David knew that it was a Faust tale.
He also knew a couple of songs from it.
David is a big fan of musical theatre, but this was not one of those shows he knew well. It wasn't done in his high school or college. He knew The Pajama Game better than Damn Yankees.
If David had not gone into this profession, he might have gone to law school.
"I would have left that law school to pursue something more creative!"
He might have also become a writer.

David is BRILLIANT as Applegate!
I asked about his process to create what he did on stage. He told me he knew Daniel prior to this but he had never worked with him.
One of the things that Daniel said in the first rehearsal was that he liked things to be "strong and wrong." He said at least put it out there. "If it doesn't work, we'll move on." Further advice was not to do things "pivotly". He desired everyone to take big chances. David's first thought was that he had so much license as the devil.

with Angel Reda (Lola) and Stephen Mark Lukas  (photo by Diane Sobolewski)
If he started thinking, "how did other people play this part?" it would just make it not his own. He began to ask himself, what would make HIM laugh if he saw it?
He desired to have a real "through line". He didn't want it to be bit to bit. He also thought it IS a hammy role. He gave himself a lot of license  and was "ridiculous" in rehearsal. At a certain point, he started taking things away.
What was great about the entire process is that Daniel just let him go and do and try things. David also thought that Applegate had to be childish in a way,  an overgrown kid.One again, David is thinking what
with Angel Reda (Lola)/ (photo by Diane Sobolewski)
would make him laugh at all the things while still doing the basic things that Applegate is trying to accomplish overall.
Prior to his audition, he looked at the sides. At first he thought, "I had no idea how I would make any of this funny." Then he called the casting director and said he was not going in.
Thinking he could not make it funny and knowing that he would know most of the people in the room, he didn't want to be known as that guy that everyone knew who was not funny at his audition. All of a sudden, he had an insight as to how he could make it funny.
He called them back and said, "I will come in!"
(photo by Diane Sobolewski)
Looking at the "breakdown", it said, "part Will Farrell and part Frank Sinatra."
He then thought that if they were asking for something as ridiculous as that, then he COULD be completely ridiculous in the audition. He didn't have to play someone's idea of the devil. If they were giving that EXTREME of a description of this guy, then they would take him as the kind of clown that he can do. He went into his five year old daughter's room, and found everything that was red in her toy chest.
He decided to see how many of her toys could and costume jewelry pieces he could incorporate into an audition.
That's what he did. He kept on pulling things out of his suitjacket that belonged to his daughter.   
A lot of those kinds of things stayed in. A lot of things also got rewritten since then.
David saw the movie a long time ago.      
He saw the Lola clips more recently. He hasn't seen the movie in the past twenty years. He doesn't know Ray Walston's work that well. He knows him just from a cultural point of him being a famous actor. There are certain lines that George Abbott wrote that David can see how they were written for Walston's "meter", his speech pattern. David found himself understanding why Ray Walston was so good in the part based on the lines.
There are certain parts of the show that David is fascinated by because they work differently with different
Other than that, he doesn't feel that he has a "favorite moment" of the show.
Daniel would laugh at David in rehearsals because they both share a similar comic sensibility.
There is an old belief that if your director laughs at you, that you will not get those same laughs from the audience. David was thinking this is going to be hard because both he and Daniel thought it was funny, but they might be the only ones who would think it was funny. The best thing is that when they started playing it for people, they really found it funny as well, especially all the baseball references. David doesn't know baseball, so that was a huge surprise to him. With the baseball references, people got them. He just wasn't aware of them and the history of the Red Sox. That was a HUGE thrill to him, that all of those lines played so well. It meant he didn't have to work as much; audiences are bringing their own history of the dilemma of the team not winning for all those years. Audiences therefore are already invested in the musical.
From left, David Beach, Stephen Mark Lukas and Angel Reda (Credit Diane Sobolewski )
David recalls doing South Pacific once and so many of the audience members had brothers and parents who were in World War II.    
It meant so much to them to experience the show. Those kinds of connections make David very happy.
Daniel knows baseball very well.
He desired to do things that referenced Fenway correctly.
Kristine Zbornik and Allyce Beasley spread the news of a new star player. Credit Diane Sobolewski
When they were looking over the Green Monster, they had to look a certain way. There was one reference to the parking lot that was in the script that would not have been built (the year of the play has been moved from 1957 to 1952).
Ron Wisniski manages the hapless team. (Diane Sobolewski)
That attention to detail is amazing. When David would say to Daniel he was thinking of playing a scene a certain way, Daniel would say, "just do it." All of a sudden, David was bringing in a truckload of stuff to try every day. Daniel never said, David, enough already." He just let him pile on everything that he wanted to do. David would suggest things like, "I really think it would be funnier if I came through the locker the way Lola came in."
Daniel would respond by saying, "I was going to ask you if you wanted to do that." They were so in synch with each other with what they thought would be funny.
Ray Walston recalling The Good Old Days
David kept asking the prop department to make things for him. He wouldn't always tell them what he was trying to do. He just wanted to see if it would play the first time with everyone.During run throughs, David would all of a sudden pull out some new kind of comic business to see if it would work. A lot of those things stayed. David cut some bits, but Daniel was really interested in David doing things that were completely his own. Daniel never referenced other people who had played Applegate and what they had done which was such a gift to David.
(Diane Sobolewski)
He didn't have to worry about Victor Garber, who David thinks is brilliant, had done. If Daniel had said, "Victor did this here"...or "this is what Ray Walston does in the movie", it would have made it much more difficult for him.
David admits that he does not mind "stealing" if something has worked in some other production. There is a long tradition of that happening in the theatre. David did Twelfth Night once.
He researched what famous Malvolios had done with the role. David thinks it is great to steal from what has worked in the past.
The Goodspeed stage is such a small space to begin with. One of the things that David knew about appearing on a stage this size is that he didn't want to rely on a huge special effect. On Broadway, every time Victor Garber came on, there was a huge cloud of smoke and a fireball. David knew that was never going to happen at Goodspeed. They were trying to come up with ideas that would be a "special effect" but that would be low tech.
David Beach, Stephen Mark Lukas and James Judy (Older Joe) at Damn Yankees first Read-through. (c)Diane Soblolewski
David suggested coming in spraying his own smoke out of a can.
Then Daniel said, based on the way David was wearing his hair, it could be as if he was spraying his hair up. That IS one of David's favorite moments because it just makes sense why there is smoke and why Applegate's hair is so odd.
As of this writing, the production is in full swing until June 21st.After the show on Sunday, David returns to New York through Wednesday morning. What he usually tries to do when he gets back to Goodspeed on Wednesday is at least run a couple of his scenes with his mouth so he makes sure his mouth works! He tries to warm up with that. He doesn't like to get to the theatre much before "half hour" as a rule. When there is a two show day, he tries not to do a lot of talking during the day and the next morning.
Because of the way the backstage patterns work, David keeps very focused during the show and keeps the exact "ritual" of when he arrives stage right, or crosses under, because he likes to keep, sort of, in a pattern backstage. According to David, you have to be. There is no room! He does the same "back stage show" so he can be able to play onstage.
If he could sell his soul to the devil for one change in the entertainment industry, what would that be?
He would like to see New York and LA to be the same city! He doesn't like that whole sort of separate "coasts" thing. It drives him crazy.

This company of Damn Yankees is a strong cast. David says it sort of reminds him of Urinetown.
Urinetown (top row, from l. to r.): David Beach, John Deyle, Daniel Marcus; (bottom row): Kay Walbye, Rick Crom, Spencer Kayden, Ken Jennings, Rachel Coloff, Jeff McCarthy, Megan Lawrence, Lawrence Street, Nancy Opel, Victor W. Hawks, and Hunter Foster
    Urinetown, one of his favorite things about that is that everyone was shown off well.
When David did that show, what he loved about the show, is that no matter what part someone was playing, they all had a chance to shine. Everyone had moments that were their little "jewel" moments. 
With the cast of Damn Yankees, everyone is in the spotlight at a certain point and that, to David, is what makes it work so well. You can watch just one person and track them throughout the show and just think that person is so great in this show. It doesn't matter the size of the part. Perfect examples are Kristine Zbornik and Allyce Beasley. If you look in the script, they actually don't have that much "stuff" to do. There moments are some of David's favorite moments in the play because of what they have created when they come on stage.
Michael Mendez in the trio and throughout the show. He has these moments that are so well plotted that it just makes David so happy to see how well cast he is, as is the rest of the cast. The other thing that David really liked when he was watching it, when they were still in the rehearsal room, is that
City Center Encores! Summer Stars production of Damn Yankees
he knew all this comedy stuff because it was all going to be rooted in the Joe/Meg love story. David trying to do the vaudeville stuff wouldn't work if there wasn't a love story rooting the play in such an emotional reality. When he saw how strong that was with Ann Arvia (who I'm interviewing tomorrow), and James Judy and Stephen Mark Lucas, that the comedy would work because people would be invested in their relationship.

What was the moment David remembers most, as a child, in which the arts affected him most powerfully? 
The first time he performed at his school in the second grade something he wrote. He was Ben Franklin and he was electrocuted. He remembers thinking how much power he felt by making people laugh. 
Thank God, he continues to make us laugh!

Thank you David Beach for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

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Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

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Damn Yankees, the Red Sox version, as it appeared last summer at the Ongonquit Playhouse in Maine.
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