Last Goodbye Says Hello to San Diego
Workshopped at Williamstown Theater Festival
By: Charles Giuliano - Apr 12, 2013
During the 2010 season a musical that conflated Romeo and Juliet with the music of the gifted Jeff Buckley, who died tragically young, The Last Goodbye was workshopped at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
While clearly a musical in transition in a rave review we stated "Wow, The Last Goodbye, which had its world premiere last night at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, has legs. This smash hit seems New York bound. Catch it first here in the Berkshires and save yourself the Broadway ticket prices. We have the star crossed lovers of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, combined with the cult classic music of the late Jeff Buckley. Like Romeo and Juliet this brilliant musician and composer was plucked from us way too soon. Whom the gods love, indeed."
We met the next day for an interview with the creative team and Buckley's mother.
Lauren Fitzgerald Our high school English teacher came last might and she went into the bathroom to cry for a long time.
Charles Giuliano What is her name?
LF Her name is Diana Masar. I told her last night that I first read Romeo and Juliet in her class. Seeing her made me think about it. Jesse Lenat taught Shakespeare class at University of the Arts in Phililadelphia. When I was in high school he was in college. He came to the high school Michael and I went to. He taught shakespeare to my class. Diane brought him in to do it.
CG What is the age different between you and Jesse?
LF He’s four years older than me and Michael is two years younger then me.
CG Seeing the show I felt very involved. In my review mostly I was a cheerleader. A colleague commented that the writing sounded like an excited teenager. That’s not my usual style but I just became very excited and raved. The review was bit over the top.
LF The way you describe how you interact with The Last Goodbye is how we interact to it. We are committed to it. It’s a little not unlike a baby. Once it comes out it it’s yours and you love it no matter what are its faults and you are committed to it.
CG Discuss the process that has brought the production to Williamstown Theatre Festival. What kind of time line has been involved?
Michael Kimmel It started two years ago to a staged reading. This summer there has been an extended rehearsal that has lasted for five weeks. It started with two weeks of rehearsal in New York and then three here.
CG How did you finance this? It is expensive to develop a musical what has been involved?
MK There are commercial producers attached to it who supported the WTF production.
LF There are investors partners involved in in moving forward. They are quite amazing we have a supportive partnership team
CG Who are they? Can you give me their names?
LF There are five people: Hal Luftig, Steven and Ruth Hendel, Alan D. Marks and Stephen Moore.
CG How did they become involved?
MK We found them.
LF They found us.
LF/ MK We found them when we gave The Last Goodbye a concert reading at Joe’s Pub at Public Theatre last year. It was in their cabaret space. It is the most amazing venue in New York to see anything. We had three sold out to the gills nights. There were lines around the block. We turned people away. Jeff Buckley has a massive underground following he is a force in music world. He is constantly cited as one of the top musicians of our time and an influence for U2, Cold Play, Arcade Fire they all claim him as an influence on their music through decades as well.
CG What is unique and influential about the music of Jeff Buckley?
LF The importance and influence of Buckley? I have a new answer for this. Jeff was obsessed with Nina Simone. She was one of his major influences. I was listening to Simone and she said to the audience when introducing a song “This is a show tune but the show hasn’t been written yet.”
CG What aspect of Simone was he picking up?
LF She told stories. His songs are story songs with a beginning, middle, and end.
MK And full of conflict. Something like "Forget Her" and why it works for two voices. Romeo and Benvolio are talking about Rosaline (Who Romeo is dumping). It’s a conversation that starts somewhere and end up somewhere different.
CG How does that work into the drama? How do the songs integrate with the text of Shakespeare?
MK There is something when I first started this project, a cliché in the moment when he sings in the middle of a break up, that sets it apart from the work of a lot of musicians and how we recall and what he is reporting as opposed to just living.
CG How did the idea evolve of taking the music of Jeff Buckley and combining it with Shakespeare to become the musical The Last Goodbye? Where did it begin?
LF We both did a lot of listening to the music. When Michael first told me about the project he made a CD of all of the songs minus three I was on repeat for a month and listened to it all all the time. We still do. IT was amazing. Michael had this inspiration and the vision of what could be. Everyone who joined on can see it.
MK When I first sat down and thought of "Dream Brother" which is sung at the party where they meet and thought about the story in that song I felt all of it was very odd. Still the thing about the show that makes it exciting to me and others. The entire creative team. There’s us and Khris, Sonya Tayeh and everybody. The arrangements for orchestra are by Kris Kukul. He is also the cabaret director of WTF. His job is to take songs and make them into stories. There is something I never quite said before. There is something about Jeff that is unique. When he did a live show he talked between the numbers. He was a showman and not just a musician. When she sang a little song and then told a big story he was a showman. His live shows were theatrical pieces you can see it on the DVDs of his live performances. He was one of the most entertaining artists you will ever see.
CG It seems a natural that The Last Goodbye is headed to Broadway. But we are also aware of the issues and challenges. By the nature of the show there is a young cast of unknowns. None of the bankable stars that producers look for. There is also a lot of competition for the limited number of theatres. And particularly tough for musicals which are more expensive to stage. But also much greater profit potential. A hit musical earns a whole lot more money than a drama. How much of a draw is the fan base of Jeff Buckley.
MK/ LF It’s a crowded block on Broadway. We don’t talk about it yet. There is a lot of work to be done. To be quite candid there has been no conversation beyond this production and that’s where our focus is. Our goal is to have the show grow and grow by the final performance on August 20. We are striving to create best possible production.
MK I’m still rehearsing. It has evelved even since last Thursday when you were there. (For a preview).
CG How can you keep rehearsing? I though the Equity rule is that after opening night there can be no further rehearsal.
MK We have an agreement with Actor’s Equity and approval from Equity to continue to work on it. We consider it more of a workshop than anything else.
CG What is the Equity process in this case?
LF The contract is with the festival and has nothing to do with us. My role is as creative consultant and we originally produced it with Michael and Kris. WTF produced it here so everything official about the production has gone through WTF. When you have a child you want to take it to be best place in world to grow. This is the best possible place for us. There has been a massive amount of love they have shown us. It has been overwhelming It is the greatest staff and with the best artists. This is an extraordinary place not to mention the community that comes to this theatre.
CG How did this project come to WTF?
LF Justin Waldman, an artistic associate of WTF came to see it at Joe’s Pub and said I want to do it.
MK Excuse me I have to leave for a rehearsal.
CG What is the process from here?
LF It is still ongoing. Michael is in rehearsal right now. We need to work on it. We continue to take notes after very show. We have been in a dialogue with Justin about the show. Nicky (Martin artistic direcector of WTF) saw the same preview you did and also a run through. (He also attended the first act and then switched to Fifth of July on opening night for its second act).
CG How different is it from night to night?
LF It feels very different than when you saw it. We changed some of the songs. And we’ve edited a song. Our designer is still here. Some costumes have been switched out. The light and sound designers continued to work through three previews. We stayed up all night every night. The creative team meets and talks about how to make it better by now it is by no means done.
CG What about the money? What has it cost so far?
LF I’m not the person to ask. My role is involved with creative producing. I will move into other roles as we go along. Thankfully it is not my focus I have a bigger focus.
CG What happens now?
LF We don’t know what we are doing next. That will be clear when we decide after this run. A lot of actors have jobs after this. Damon Daunno who plays Romeo is a big discovery. He just got a Broadway show in Brief Encounter by Noel Coward at The Roundabout.
CG Does he sing in it?
LF There is music in it. It played at St Ann’s Warehouse last year. There is a new cast and it is going to Broadway this season.
CG What will happen to the cast for this production?
LF Everyone in the cast will go on to their next jobs.
CG What is your regular gig?
LF I am the Director of Marketing for The New 42nd street. It is a non profit organization that is charge of historic theatres in Times Square but just along 42nd Street. It has really changed. The former Triple X theatre is now the New Victory Theatre. It’s for kids and families and that’s where I mostly work.
CG During the run at WTF who from New York has come to see it? I assume you are looking for theatres and producers.
LF Lots of people have come. It’s a very tough ticket to get. There have been many special guests and great feedback. It has been a part of our dialogue to get people to see it.
CG How close are you to taking the show to New York?
LF To answer how close we don’t know until we have done all of the work we can here. So we are living in the now. That’s where we live. Just like you didn’t know the music but you responded. If all we had has was fans of Jeff there would be a problem. What I see continuing to happen, which we all pray for, is that there will be a renaissance for him and discovery of this really great artist who left us way too early. There is resurgence already happening. A film is being develop about his life and producer of that film has been spending time here with us. Michelle Sy is in charge of the project. They have a working draft of script and are talking to directors right now. Jeff has mythic status which revolves about how he died and how young he was.
CG He drowned at a young age like the poet Shelley.
LF Yes, like Shelley he was a poetic soul and way he died beautifully is so heart breaking> A freak accident in the Wolf River in Memphis. He was there to record his second album.
CG How well did Grace sell?
LF On line Jeff has a huge following particularly abroad in France, Australia and London. He’s much more well known there than here.
CG In The Last Goodbye the couple Romeo and Juliet are so hot and sexy. More so than I have ever seen in a production.
LF Damon and Kelli are a couple. They met doing this project. That’s quite something for a year they have been together. They are in love there is a lot of energy going on. In Michael’s vision of Shakespeare he’s horny and bawdy. That’s what people did on those stages so that intuition comes from the words. We are faithful to the text. As much as Jeff’s work leads to it. Shakespeare leads to it. In rehearsal we listen to the text. It’s all there.
CG In Peter Bergman’s review he questioned the juxtaposition of the rock music with an Elizabethan text.
LF What makes us steadfast is that references in the lyrics to Shakespeare are just undeniable
CG When we met a couple of years ago you were the publicist for WTF. It seems you are having a life in theatre but in a supporting capacity. How do you see your role?
LF Oh my god when that show goes up every night I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. To see something I helped to create and helping to create in all ways that I can. I told Peter (Bergman a critic) and Bob that I appreciate their thoughts on it. I’m so privileged to have critics who take care in being critics and know what we need to work on and take care in showing up.
CG You make me think I should have been more critical and less enthusiastic. But there were some parts that we so powerful and surprising. Like the androgynous actress who plays Mercutio (Jo Lampert).
LF Mercutio is the heart of it to me. Jo is the heart she’s the dance captain and worked closely with Sonya Tayeh our chorographer. Sonya is destined to be a huge force in American theatre. This is her first theatre show. She choreographs for So You Think You Can Dance so she is well known to the public. This is her first time in theatre and definitely not her last. This is what she wants to do. She touches you on the small screen but experience her choreography in person you really feel it. Sonya and Jo bring it home for me. What happens in many productions is something of a choice. There are versions in which Mercutio is in love with Romeo. This is an interpretation of the text. When Jo auditiond for us two years ago we were trying to figure out what to do with her. It was the most natural thing in the world. We wanted her in it and it becomes what she should be? She was another of our discoveries. We have worked with these young people for two years now. It is a privilege to see them come into their own. They are blossoming in front of us. Talk about being proud.
CG How do you maintain the momentum once this performance closes after just a two week run at WTF? How close are you to making a deal for a New York theatre. I would assume that you are something of a hot property based on rave reviews, sold out shows, and the Buckley fan base.
LF There is not anything definite yet and I don’t want to jinx it. The team we have assembled are committed to this and we together are an extraordinary team. They are psyched they want it as much as we do.
CG Have any New York critics come to the show?
JF The nature of the Nikos Stage is that the national critics don’t review. We only invite the local media. But we have Variety coming tonight.
CG How close are you to New York at this point?
LF We are getting warmer but we.have to stay humble. A huge piece of it is this process. It is humbling to see how people participate in the show. How can you not be amazed. Right now we’re focused on being good parents. We’re not going to stick the kid on stage without any backup. It needs to grow.
(Our interview ended as a camera crew showed up. Lauren greeted them as they were her next appointment. A woman arrived and hugged Lauren. It proved to be Jeff’s Mom, Mary Guibert. When we were introduced what followed was an emotional exchange. As we talked her eyes grew moist as even after all these years there is the sense of loss and memory. We held hands and shared a tender moment. I wasn’t taking notes. But did manage to get a few comments.)
Mary Guibert I happened to be sitting next to a couple. They were older people and he didn’t seem to be aware of the show they were attending. When he learned it was Romeo and Juliet he said to his wife "This better be funny." He did not chortle or snicker a single time. But he noticed when others got the inside jokes. When we got to end of the first act and everyone was clapping he turns to his wife and says "Let’s go." They left. I felt that if that’s the worst that can happen then it’s ok. I had that experience for a reason when he said “How can you do this to Shakespeare?" While there are some from Jeff’s fan side who are not ready for him to be touched in any way. It is so snobbish. Ok, they are entitled to their opinion. They adore Jeff and come for a reason. They want to hear his music and can't bear to hear his music without weaping. Like I try not to do. I can withdraw from an an emotional place that is all tied up in Jeff. What he gave to the world is really good music.
CG Mom what did this show mean to you?
MG Fundamentally having made this choice I can rest on my laurels. This is the right vehicle for his music. Not like some mainstream thing. This is a viral cultural well spring for the next generation. It is there for them when they become parents and grand parents. The musical will be bringing them to like Shakespeare and Jeff’s music. So I can depart from having to deal with his legacy by making this choice. I can now turn down all the other offers. I can make this choice knowing that I was given responsibility for his legacy and I did a good job with it.
Old Globe Press Release
The Old Globe will open its 2013-14 Season with The Last Goodbye, a new musical that marries Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the incendiary songs of the legendary singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley. Conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, the rock musical is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Choreography is by Sonya Tayeh (“So You Think You Can Dance”), and orchestrations, music direction and arrangements are by Kris Kukul. The complete creative team and casting, as well as the remainder of the Globe’s new season, will be announced at a later date. The Last Goodbye will run on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in the Old Globe Theatre, part of the Globe’s Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, Sept. 20 – Nov. 3, 2013.
The Last Goodbye is a remarkable fusion of the classic and the modern, melding Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in its original text and period, with some of the most thrilling rock music of the past 20 years, staged with limitless invention by one of the true theatrical visionaries at work today. That light in yonder window is still the east and Juliet is still the sun . . . but the sound in her bedchamber is all new: the sweeping, emotional and extraordinarily beautiful songs of the late rock icon Jeff Buckley. The Last Goodbye views the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues firmly from the perspective of the young people it impacts most, and the violence, turmoil and passion in the public streets and private rooms of Verona are given voice not only through Shakespeare’s celebrated poetry but also through music that is intimate and epic, raucous and sublime.
“I am deeply proud and very excited to launch the Globe’s 2013-14 Season, and my tenure as Artistic Director here, with The Last Goodbye,” said Barry Edelstein. “This daring, moving and hugely entertaining work brings together many of the things that are central to the Globe’s identity: a classic text, the vibrant energies of the musical theater, a sumptuous and splendid production and a creative team of the first rank in the American Theater. It’s a particular thrill to welcome Alex Timbers to the Globe, an artist whose work delights and surprises and whose sensibility renews the American musical in ways I both appreciate and admire. I know that audiences in San Diego and beyond will love this powerful and original show.”
“I cannot imagine a better launching pad for this project than The Old Globe,” said Mary Guibert, mother of the late Mr. Buckley. “Michael Kimmel's concept, which combines Jeff's music and the Bard's words, lifts the story to another level, entirely . . . and it rocks! I can't wait to share it with the world.”