Happy holiday season, everyone. In between my Symphony Space duties, I have been moonlighting over the past couple of weeks, preparing for my Lincoln Center singing and dancing debut. Let me tell you about it.
Lincoln Center? You’ve heard of it, I’m sure. Like Symphony Space, it’s an esteemed cultural center, but it’s thirty blocks downtown and a lot more expensive. You’ll recognize it as you go past it on the M104 bus because it’s the place that’s always under reconstruction, with scaffolding and big plywood boards colorfully masking the construction site. It’s remarkable—since the first of its buildings opened in 1962, most of the buildings in the complex have been gutted and re-built (and re-named) at least once, and in some cases three or four times. I often wish the rest of us nonprofit theatres had the money that’s been spent and is being spent re-building Lincoln Center.
Still, why complain? It’s a wonderful place where many wonderful things happen: the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Chamber Music Society, The Film Society, Jazz at Lincoln Center a few blocks further downtown, and lots more.
My own debut is taking place in Avery Fisher Hall—originally built as Philharmonic Hall—in a production by the Little Orchestra Society of Victor Herbert’s holiday classic, Babes in Toyland. I was invited to play the role of The Toymaker, a role that in two of the various film versions of the classic has been played by Ed Wynn and Bert Lahr.
Now let’s get this straight, friends. It’s not just some comic cameo appearance, it’s a singing role. And in this charmingly staged production by the Little Orchestra Society, conducted by Dino Anagnost, that means dancing, too. So you should see me at rehearsals, surrounded by my singing and dancing toys including Little Bo-Peep, Jack-in-the-Box, the Toy Train, the Tiger, Raggedy Ann, the Panda, the Winged Fairy, and of course the Toy Soldiers and all the rest, trying to keep up: “left-right-left-right-left-right, pivot and turn” (remember the lyrics, and where the fermata comes in the verse!). As of this writing, we haven’t had a run-through yet, but I think I can do it. As the little train said, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”
Why did they hire me? Well, I guess both Placido Domingo and Misha Baryshnikov were busy on Saturday, December 13th, when the two performances take place at Avery Fisher Hall at 11 am and 1 pm. But maybe because in this updated version, the Toymaker’s little shop is threatened by the wicked Real Estate Developer who wants to tear it down to build a high rise but is defeated by the crafty toys and me and my assistant. Maybe they thought my experience with the Symphony Space real estate struggles would give my portrayal of The Toymaker depth.
Can I sing the role? Well, in truth there’s only one big solo song for my character (the rest is ensemble singing), and it’s written in a key that’s just a little high for me. If this were a Thalia Follies song, there’d be no problem. Our Musical Director Lanny Meyers would simply transpose it down to my key. But you can’t transpose an orchestra. So I’m belting out the song and hoping for the best.
The Victor Herbert score remains a lovely set of tunes, which the fine cast sings beautifully. And when I raise the bugle to my lips to summon help in the battle and 140 actual real life toy soldiers march down the aisles of Avery Fisher Hall to Herbert’s classic “March of the Toy Soldiers,” it’s a moment of high theatre. I never like to ask you to come any place but Symphony Space, but if you’d like to bring the kids or grandchildren, you’d better get your tickets now!