Leading up to our season premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies on September 9, we’re talking to members of our all-star cast about the show’s legendary songs and what they mean to them and their characters. Yesterday, we checked in with Christiane Noll about her character Sally and the song “Losing My Mind.”
Up next, we talked to Bradley Dean, the man who plays Sally’s long-ago love interest Ben. Like the other main characters in the show, Ben has a signature number in act two that digs into the flaws and insecurities of his character. The deceptive “Live, Laugh, Love” begins by shrouding Ben’s demons with vaudevillian glitz. But as it continues, more and more cracks in the facade begin to show.
Here are Dean’s thoughts on this complex number:
How would you describe the song — its style, the emotion behind it?
“Live, Laugh, Love” is a pastiche song in the spirit of Cole Porter or maybe the golden age of Hollywood. A top hat and cane, laissez faire, song and dance that becomes much more than that as it disintegrates.
What does this song represent for your character?
Ben wears this song like a mask. Trying to mean it, desperate to gather up the pieces of a rapidly crumbling life and paste them together in a Ben-like shape so that he might walk out of this party and back to his functional if unsatisfying life in one functional if unsatisfied piece. Ultimately, the glaring truth of the folly of his life is too blazingly bright to ignore and the simmering pot boils over and all is flooded.
What are some of the challenges of performing it?
Well, thus far we haven’t put the song on its feet so I’m not sure but (spoiler alert) Sondheim talks about the Pirandello quality of this moment, the blurring of the line between actor and character. That is, is Ben forgetting where he is in the song as it devolves or is Bradley the actor not remembering a line? I find that idea incredibly enticing, and I am looking forward to the challenge, but I also sense it will be a very delicate truth to capture.
The score of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies plays like a greatest hits collection, treating listeners to a pristine revue of memorable and emotionally stirring songs. Sondheim nimbly skips between every genre and influence within the Great American Songbook, creating his own canon of showbiz standards in the process.
It’s part of what makes Follies such a brilliant but challenging show for performers — nailing one of these songs is like catching lightning in a bottle.
Leading up to the show’s Rep premiere on September 9, we’re talking to members of our all-star cast about the show’s songs and what they mean to them and their characters.
Up first, we asked the Tony-nominated Christiane Noll about her character Sally’s immense torch song, “Losing My Mind.”
The song takes place during a famous second-act sequence called “Loveland,” where the reality of the play breaks down and its four main characters come face-to-face with themselves and their fears through song.
Here’s what Noll wrote about “Losing My Mind”:
“I feel like Sally has been bouncing all over the place all evening, living the reality she is choosing at the present moment, regardless of the consequences or validity of it.
All four of the main characters, Sally, Buddy, Phyllis and Ben are coming to grips with the choices that they made in their life. When Loveland occurs, each one of them has a bit of a fantastical realization of their true selves, each one as painful as the other.
‘Losing My Mind’ is Sally’s moment to finally be still, finally be honest, and finally relocate that core self which she had lost. I think it leaves her raw but open for the first time in 30 years.
And gosh it’s fun to sing! It’s a torch song that builds until she realizes she has nothing more to give.
I am grateful to be singing it is my key. Most have sung it lower. Barbara Cook sang it in a higher key. I’m in the middle of those. I think that’s the was the biggest challenge, finding a key that allows the low notes to be full and meaty but is high enough the that high notes are thrilling but not hooty! I love it! It feels good to go on this very still journey.”
Five Questions with Bob Trump, The Rep’s resident costuming wizard
The dire warning signs hang all over The Rep’s Costume Shop:
“Property of Bob Trump… DO NOT USE!”
“Hands off Bob’s thread!”
One sign features a photo of Bob himself: a lean, whiskered figure in an American flag bandana and biker leathers, glowering at the camera with a pair of razor sharp scissors held suggestively in his right hand.
Judging solely by the signs and the desperado-style photo, it would be easy to mistake this Bob Trump character for a surly vigilante who cuts costumes by day and cuts people off the road on his motorcycle by night.
The actual man himself, however, is something far more magnificent: a nationally sought-after costumer, published author, a wizard of thread and cloth… and a gentle and humble soul. Bob is beginning his 36th season working in The Rep’s costume shop. Over that time, he’s had a hand in crafting nearly every outfit worn on Rep stages — especially menswear, his forte.
We sat down with Bob to ask him five questions about his role as The Rep’s head draper, his unusual career path and favorite memories.
1. How did you land at The Rep?
Well I grew up just down the street, five blocks from here on Oakwood (Avenue). I actually worked the Opera Theatre season right before Rep season (in 1981). The technical director came into the shop one day and said that one of the first hands had cancelled on their contract the day before work.
So I just called up and said, “You wouldn’t happen to have any openings would you?” “Funny you should call…”
2. Where did your passion for working with clothes come from?
I really liked period clothes growing up. I was always attracted to them.
But when I grew up, I was raised to be an engineer by my family. I studied chemical engineering in college during the oil crisis in the ‘70s. I was supposed to design petroleum refineries. And I just thought, I can’t see myself doing this the rest of my life. I had gotten a job offer from Monsanto to go to the Middle East and design a refinery when I graduated. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, that means I would actually have to do this.”
So I dropped out and I wanted to do something with clothing, (but) I really didn’t know what one did. So I thought I’d do museum work because that could be period clothing. So I got a job at the Historical Society as the assistant to the curator and discovered that was really, really boring to me. Because just putting clothes in drawers and looking at them was not the same thing as making them.
Then I went to Wash U to study fashion design. I was working in the theatre overtime to get arts credits, and discovered that my engineering background was really handy for patterning. I’ve also done alterations at a menswear store, been a costumer for marionettes, all sorts of things.
3. What’s your favorite part of working in The Rep Costume Shop?
To me, the best part is that fact that we have a different designer for every show. It’s not like a factory where you’re just getting in stuff and then doing it. You actually have a different person you’re working with, a different concept you’re working with and different people — the actors are always changing.
4. What does it take to excel in a costume shop like the one at The Rep?
Each person has to have their own skills that work with what we need to do. My particular field is menswear. Since very few people are even interested in doing the men’s clothes, that’s very handy. So I do a lot of men’s suits and period men’s clothes as well as modern-ish men’s clothes. I also do a lot of embroidery and that kind of decorative work.
Each person has to be able to do their own thing. But the division between parts of the shop can be amorphous, so being able to switch back and forth is also handy.
5. Do you have any favorite Rep shows that you’ve worked on?
That’s a tough one, because it seems like every show we work on has something about it that’s interesting or crazy or just unusual, because they’re all different and there’s always something. And I’ve been here long enough that you go through periods where there’s different crazinesses that go on.
The Backstage Blog is your chance to...well, go "backstage" at The Rep. We'll be posting all sorts of insider information, about upcoming productions, about the process of bringing a play from the page to the stage, about design challenges and cast conundrums—everything that goes into making a show special. Check back often for the latest updates!