Words Words Words & Music opened Friday, August 24th, 2001 at Danny’s Skylight Room in New York City to unanimous praise from critics and cheering packed houses. It returned to Danny’s for a second sold out run beginning Sunday, October 21st, 2001. The show, its cast and creative team all enjoyed words of praise, awards and honors, including making several “Best of 2001” lists.
The cast reunited the following autumn of 2002 to record this original cast album under the creative, joyous and steady handed guidance of Peter Millrose at his studios. The recording couldn’t have happened without Peter’s support and that of Revolving Shakespeare’s brilliant and loving Producing Director, Daniel Colb Rothman.
The house lights dim, the glissandos of a distant harp swell, the incantations begin:
“Words Words Words” . . . “Oh, for a muse of fire!” . . . “If music be the food of love, play on!” . . . “All the world’s a stage!” . . . “Life is a cabaret!”
. . . and before you can say “Bard of Avon” . . . POOF!
The lights come up to reveal two characters transported to the very unfamiliar territory of a cabaret stage. They are, in fact Rosencrantz and Gulidenstern of Hamlet fame. But these two owe as much of their character traits to the inspirations of Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead) and director Miles Phillips as they do to William Shakespeare. This Rosencrantz is a handsome and charming savant (winningly played by Rob Langeder), and this Guildenstern (the wonderful Liz Donathan) shoulders the additional classic Shakespearean burden of a “secret” that we all know, but he manages to keep from Rosencrantz.
As they try to sort out their new surroundings, Rosencrantz finds a program conveniently placed on a nearby grand piano. That program (combined with the appearance of musical director Jason Wynn sitting at the piano) leads them to the realization that a “theatrical of some sort” is about to begin. The theatrical being a performance of Words Words Words & Music that they are somehow expected to host. After a tentative start (reading over Jason’s shoulder, a little prompting), they find that they do, indeed, seem to know something about this “fellow who wrote plays” and take center stage, just in time to be joined by the rest of the brilliant cast (Stephanie Bonte, Miles Phillips, Dara Seitzman and David McMullin as the hammiest of Hamlets) in a rousing rendition of Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
The players (including Guildenstern) all quickly exit, leaving Rosencrantz to emcee. Finding no one at hand to perform the next role from The Taming Of The Shrew, he characteristically manages to “just know” Were Thine That Special Face, and brings to life a swaggering Petruchio that is not only arrogant and dashing, but reveals a brief, poignant hint of vulnerability.
As Rosencrantz timidly accepts the audience’s applause and backs off the stage, David and Miles enter through the house as those two Boys From Syracuse - Dromio and Antipholus from The Comedy Of Errors. They are each running from women claiming to be their wives, who have mistaken them for their respective twin brothers. In a boisterous blending of Shakespeare’s scene, Rodgers and Hart’s song and classic Vaudevillian style, they vow to flee these foreign shores and return to Dear Old Syracuse.
No sooner do they exit (twice!) than Dara enters as Adriana, the aforementioned wife of Antipholus’ twin brother. She can’t understand why her husband suddenly treats her as a stranger. Yet while she laments the unavoidable heartaches, she ultimately surrenders to fate and joyfully sings the praises of Falling In Love With Love.
Cut to another foreign shore – Egypt. Miles, in a brilliant dramatic turn as Mark Antony, stands alone in the desert, surveying the devastation of a losing battle. In a thrilling combination of Shakespeare’s Antony And Cleopatra and Handel’s Giulio Cesare, he curses the love of the Queen who betrayed him yet calls on the “Aure” or Breeze Of The Sacred Nile to reunite them and lead him to triumph.
As the familiar strains from Bizet’s Carmen accompany him, the hilarious David takes his place in the nook of the piano (Yorick skull, white sailor’s cap and all) in his next attempt at Hamlet. It is destined to be short-lived. For, by now, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a vague memory of that play and are gaining confidence in their knowledge of the canon and insist that this version just doesn’t “feel right.” David slams the skull down on the piano and storms off in a huff - leaving Jason to take the spotlight at the piano as he beautifully sings Proteus’ serenade Then To Silvia Let Us Sing, from The Two Gentlemen Of Verona.
Enter Stephanie as Desdemona. In the scene from Othello, she kneels and prays in preparation for death at the hands of her jealous husband. With rosary in hand and the skull keeping silent watch from upstage, she gloriously sings the Ave Maria from Otello.
As the lights fade on Desdemona, we find Miles and Jason as Guiderius and Arvirigus mourning at the gravesite of another young woman with the haunting song from Cymbeline, Fear No More.
Rosencrantz is drawn back onstage by the sounds of Jason’s driving piano baseline. One errant handclap leads to both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being instantly recruited to form an ad hoc boy band. They provide impressive backup for Dara (in her most dazzling diva mode) in a rocking version of Get You Hence from The Winter’s Tale.
Lights up on Stephanie, in the nook of the piano, taking a crack at Ophelia to the strains of more Bizet, in another attempt at Hamlet. Not on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s watch. “Next!”
Expanding on a line or two from the verse of This Can’t Be Love, Miles, as Prince Escalus, sets the next scene by gently lifting Stephanie onto the piano and recasting her opposite David in a perfect marriage of the balcony scene from Romeo And Juliet and Tonight from West Side Story.
But just as the young lovers kiss, Dara enters as an ever watchful Nurse reimagined with a showgirl past and Jason as a Mercutio with his own reasons for advising against his best friend’s new romance in the bawdy That’s The Way It Happens from Me And Juliet.
Then, in a hybrid that could only happen in this “what if” friendly production: the Nurse, Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet all present their cases to Prince Escalus in a glorious five part deliberation on the nature of love – A Time For Us and Somewhere now reassembled into the thrilling Romeo & Juliet Quintet.
Of course this sparks controversy! It's Not Shakespeare, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern insist as they question the appropriateness of a pop song from a movie in this evening of Shakespeare in song. Jason makes a good argument, but the idea of false advertising seems to strike a very personal chord in Guildenstern and he storms off in a real state of agitation, obviously planning something big. . .
Rosencrantz, however, is struck by the idea of writing more songs for “this fellow’s plays” and soon he and Jason are carried away with thoughts of complilation CDs and late night commercials on A&E and Bravo!
At the blackout the mood turns ominous – a storm is brewing. The cast (conspicuously minus Guildenstern) appears from all points of the house convening on the stage to warn of the folly of man and his dreams compared to the infinite powers of nature in Now The Hungry Lion Roars from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
As the “fairies” scatter on the winds of the storm, in rushes Guildenstern (stunningly beautiful now, dressed in a gorgeous evening gown, clearly revealing what we’ve known all along) as Helena. Helena’s exasperation with her suitors and Guildenstern’s frustration with Rosencrantz (not to mention the stress of being thrown into the ultimate actors’ nightmare) all combine inevitably in her breathtaking torch song Darn That Dream.
Guildenstern’s musical “coming out” to the object of her affection, however, falls on deaf ears. For, while Rosencrantz applauds the performance, he doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that his bosom friend indeed has a bosom. Or does he? Ironically the next play in the lineup is the Bard’s ultimate gender bending comedy Twelfth Night. And Miles treats us to a sampling of the glorious songs Jason composed for him to sing as Feste in the acclaimed New York production - Twelfth Night Medley.
Before the “play is done” strains from Carmen strike up one last time and Miles quickly dons a long beard from inside the piano and gives us his best impromptu Polonius. But this is the last straw for Guildenstern and she and Rosencrantz take center stage – finally giving David his chance to play the “Great Dane” and enlisting the rest of the cast to play all the other roles in their swinging account of Hamlet. As the hilarity ensues: Polonius’ discarded beard is stabbed to death, Rosencrantz showcases yet another hidden propensity – for scatting, a scorned but still boy crazy Ophelia scatters flowers throughout the audience and puts the moves on Rosencrantz, Hamlet and Laertes engage in a thrilling swordfight (Laertes all the while playing the piano and wielding his conductor’s baton) and Hamlet (after killing everybody, save Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) licks the blood off the poison tipped rapier and drops dead. Of course they all wake up long enough to sing the final swinging chords of “to be or not to be!”
As the cast takes bows to the reprise of Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern revel in their successful showbusiness debut and narrow escape from a swinging death in this latest version of their story – by trying out their best thespian voices, intoning “To be!” But Hamlet has a surprise in store, as he reveals two cleverly concealed hangman’s nooses from behind his back, just in time to answer their musical question with a devilishly definite “not to be!” Leaving our hosts to comically “kow tow” one last time before their next journey.
But all’s well that ends well, and this show ends well, as the cast joins hands for one last bow and round of Vaudeville pratfalls, reminding us that “all the world’s a stage” and “life is a cabaret!”
Produced for records by: Revolving Shakespeare
Recorded and mixed by: Peter Millrose
Recorded and mixed at: Millrose Music, NYC millrosemusic.com
Art Direction by: Antonio Pendones at GraphAct graphact.com
Original Illustrations by: Antonio Pendones
Production photos courtesy of: Stephanie Bonte, Miles Phillips, Dara Seitzman