The Angel City Four
(Bob Walton, center, Monica Mancini, 2nd from right)
Leslie Denniston and Randy Graff
in the LA production of City Of Angels
Ruth Gottschall, Joel Grey,
ZORBA (1986) marked my major conducting debut, at the Chicago Opera House, with Anthony Quinn and Lila Kedrova in the lead roles. I discovered a priceless secret of conductors, which they keep tight to the vest: the orchestra will play it anyway, so you might as well relax and have a ball. Anthony Quinn was my first star, the subject of endless warnings and dire predictions before I met him. The result you can guess: he thought I was smart, I thought he was smart, he liked me, I liked him, and he made me his first vocal coach to survive three nights; I spent eight months giving him his nightly vocal warm-up and developing a strange, completely non-verbal quasi-friendship of some kind. He signed a glossy to me, "To Fred Barton. Without you – no voice. Anthony Quinn" – and gave me a piece of his artwork, signed, "To Fred – What would I have done without you?" I made a lifelong friend on this show in Leila Martin, who understudied Lila Kedrova. I assisted Al Cavaliere, who gracefully accomodated my inexperience and gave me polish, technical advice, diplomatic tips, and was generally a prince to whom (Up There) I remain forever grateful. Launching my career as a feather-ruffler, I pointed out in the first two days of rehearsal that they had Quinn singing in Herschel Bernardi's keys, at least a third too high for Quinn's basso profundo (which partly explained the reviews he got musically on Broadway). Although choreographer Graciela Daniele took me to task for meddling in affairs above my 25-year-old comprehension, all the keys were lowered immediately. Add a little vocal coaching, and one other little orchestration adjustment I suggested to help keep him on pitch, and Quinn actually got a good vocal review from the Times on our last stop at Westbury Music Fair. I remember suggesting to director Joel Grey a major plot clarification in the staging which had struck me when I first saw the show under its previous director. The good news is that Grey changed the staging and the plot was clarified (I suggested a second knife – see my future memoirs). The bad news is that this episode encouraged me to think such presumptuous suggestions were welcome from Broadway associate conductors, which of course ain't true. Note to directors: listen to that young guy at the piano – you just never know. Note to young guys at the piano: go ahead, say something. You just never know.
Donna Marie Asbury, Sebastian LeCause
in West Wide Story
AUSTIN MUSICAL THEATRE Everybody knows a kook or two who say they'll start a theatre somewhere, someday. My kooks were different in only one respect – they did it, in a major city, on a grand scale, with fabulous results and phenomenal success. Directors/choreographers/producers Scott Thompson and Richard Byron built Austin Musical Theatre from the ground up, from a pay telephone and a Yellow Pages full of millionaires. It was my privilege to pack my bags and build their music department from 16 less-experienced players to a lean, mean, musical theatre machine of 18 of the best pit musicians I've ever worked with (contracted by Mike Mordecai). AMT's crowning glory was their epic production of The Music Man, starring Larry Gatlin; as Doug Besterman was doing simultaneously on the Broadway revival, I reorchestrated the entire score from the very tame Don Walker originals (having already become a Don Walker skeptic from my work on the Broadway revivals of Zorba and Cabaret). Unlike the Broadway revival, though, I had a magnificent full string section (which used to be considered part of a Broadway ticket price). With a cast of 87 in an enormous hall, the orchestra effort was an enormous personal and critical triumph, as was the entire production for all involved (for you Variety wags, it earned over three quarters of a million in 10 days).
Damon Kirsche, LuAnn Aronson and Sheila Smith
in My Fair Lady