Side Man (Broadway)
SIDE MAN by Warren Leight opened at the Criterion Center Stage Right on June 25, 1998, transferred to the John Golden Theatre to re-open on October 20, 1998 and closed on October 31, 1999 after 27 previews and 517 performances.
Produced by Weissberger Theater Group (Jay Harris, Producer), The Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes: Artistic Director; Ellen Richard: General Manager; Gene Feist: Founding Director) and Peter Manning. Adding producers for the John Golden Theatre run Ron Kastner, James Cushing and Joan Stein. Originally produced by Weissberger Theater Group (Jay Harris, Producer), New York Stage and Film Companyand Powerhouse Theatre; Associate Original Producer: RJK Productions
Directed by Michael Mayer; Scenic Design by Neil Patel; Costume Design by Tom Broecker; Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner; Sound Design by Raymond D. Schilke; Hair and Wig Design by Bobby H. Grayson
CRITERION CENTER STAGE RIGHT RUN:
Starring Kevin Geer (Jonesy); Wendy Makkena (Terry); Michael Mastro (Ziggy); Robert Sella (Clifford); Joseph Lyle Taylor (Al); Angelica Torn (Patsy) and Frank Wood (Gene)
Understudies: Jeff Binder (Al, Clifford, Ziggy), Geoffrey P. Cantor (Ziggy, Gene, Jonesy) and Marissa Matrone (Patsy)
Roundabout Administrative Director: Sydney Davolos; Company Manager: Peilin Chou; Production Supervisor: Jay Adler; Production Stage Manager: Andrea J. Testani; Production Manager: Michael Curry; Roundabout Director of Development and Public Affairs: Julia C. Levy; Roundabout Director of Casting and Artistic Associate: Jim Carnahan; Roundabout Director of Marketing: David Steffen; Press Representative: Springer/Chicoine Public Relations;
JOHN GOLDEN THEATRE RUN:
Starring Christian Slater (Clifford); Edie Falco (Terry); Marissa Matrone (Patsy/Terry); Andrew McCarthy (Clifford); Michael O’Keefe (Gene); Robert Sella (Clifford); Angelica Torn (Terry) and Scott Wolf (Clifford)
Assistant Director: Hayley Finn; Assistant Scenic Design: Matt Maraffi; Assistant Costume Design: Nina Depalma; Assistant Lighting Design: Martin Vreeland; Assistant Sound Design: David Gilman
General Manager: Roy Gabay; Company Manager: Alan R. Markinson; Technical Supervisor: Gene O’Donovan; Stage Manager: Brendan Smith; Production Supervisor: Aurora Productions
Casting: Matt Messinger; Roundabout Director of Marketing: David Steffen; Marketing: The Richards Group; Online Marketing: Toby Simkin / BuyBroadway Inc.; Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Advertising: Nappi / Eliran / Murphy, Ltd.
As Founder and CEO of Theatre.com and BuyBroadway.com. The pioneer in moving the Broadway industry onto the internet. The theatre press branded me as “Toby is the man pushing theatre, kicking and screaming, into cyberspace.” What started in 1989 as a Broadway industry service called ShowCall via dialup BBS for members of the League of American Theatre Producers evolved onto the world wide web in the early 90’s, and shortly after this, the vast majority of Broadway shows (starting with my production of Victor/Victoria) and theatrical organizations followed. The “Super site of Broadway” became a publicly traded company, prior to my re-branding it as Theatre.com at the Minskoff Theatre.
Described by Variety Magazine as a “marketing powerhouse“, it was the single largest theatre community in the world with over 180,000 active members (in the 1990’s this was massive). From buying official Broadway tickets and souvenirs, providing detailed global show listings, interactive show study & educational guides, live streaming shows and events (including many Opening Nights live broadcasts), industry news from major theatre journalists, pictures and videos, games, messaging directly to Broadway cast’s backstage or even licensing a musical, theatre.com offered it all in a single, easy-to-use interface to theatregoers globally.
SIDE MAN has been germinating within Warren Leight his entire life.
He has used aspects of it as a stand-up routine he has performed and in short stories he has written. In the summer of 1995 the New York Stage and Film Company under the direction of Mr. Manning presented an early reading of the piece at its summer home in Vassar. That reading featured much of the cast still in it today. That led to a New York reading in the Spring of 1996 at the West Bank Cafe presented by Naked Angels.
In July, 1996, a production was mounted at the NYS&F at Vassar College where it first came to the attention of Jay Harris and the Weissberger Theater Group. (NYS&F, Naked Angels and WTG are all nonprofit off and off-off Broadway companies). In the winter of 1997, Jay Harris and Peter Manning (having left NYS&F) decided to join forces and bring the play in under the auspices of WTG. The production opened in March of 1998 at the CSC Theater – it is not and has never been associated with the Classic Stage Company, just a theater rental – where it received tremendous critical acclaim and audience response. In May, when it came time to move, WTG and Manning were looking in the direction of a larger off-Broadway house. The Roundabout Theater Company had their summer production fall out and approached the SIDE MAN producers. The result was a Roundabout (still in the non-profit realm)/Weissberger/Manning collaboration to continue the play on Broadway.
Reviewed again, and acclaimed by audiences with the same enthusiasm, the play ran successfully all summer until another schedule conflict (Little Me was coming in) forced the producers to make another decision.
Had SIDE MAN played out its run? It had been successfully received off-Broadway, then made the unusual move to a Broadway non-profit known more for revivals. Was that it? Although the Roundabout had sold out continuously over the summer with the show that was an emergency replacement, they chose not to participate as producers in a move to a commercial house.
The Weissberger Theater Group’s Jay Harris and Peter Manning brought in three additional producers, Ron Kastner, James Cushing and Joan Stein. They also brought in a little Hollywood luminescence (Christian Slater, in the pivotal role of Clifford, to replace Robert Sella – who had moved into the role of The Emcee in the smash hit Cabaret), and moved the show – yet again – into a critically and commercially acclaimed legitimate Broadway engagement. The show received its third set of rave reviews in one year – another first!
In January, Edie Falco made her Broadway debut in the role she originated three years ago, when she rejoined the cast as Terry. She was unable to continue with the production when it moved from downtown to the Roundabout because of her ongoing role as a prison matron in the HBO series “Oz,” and she was winning rave reviews as the Mafia wife Carmela in their new series “The Sopranos.”
On March 2nd, Robert Sella returns to the company as Clifford, the play’s narrator and conscience, which he originated downtown, from an 11-week stint as The Emcee in the critically-acclaimed Cabaret.
In March, 1999, the entire original cast that opened the play at the CSC Theater one year earlier was together onstage at the Golden Theater. This has been an incredible journey taken by SIDE MAN and the producers who have brought it along – nurturing it creatively and financially – to become a “Big Hit” from “Small Theaters” to a real contender in the Broadway arena – and more importantly, that absolute rarity – a new American play that touches the hearts and minds of all who see it.
A few notes on the music of the play:
SIDE MAN is about jazz musicians: from their heyday, after the war, through the decline of the big bands and bop, through the rise of rock and roll, to the dark years of the seventies and eighties. A time when many great musicians cobbled together a mix of club dates, unemployment checks, and cash gigs in order to make a living. It is about the sacrifices the musicians, and their families made in service to the sidemen’s passion for the music.
It is also a play about the music.
From the first draft, I wanted the play to be musical. I wanted each scene to have its own rhythm, whether hard driving, or romantic, or mournful, or bluesy. Early on, director Michael Mayer and I discussed one major production question: should the actors play instruments, live, on stage? Michael argued the parts were demanding enough as written. The sidemen–Al, Ziggy, Jonesy, and Gene–age over thirty years in the course of the evening, and they grapple with harrowing emotional choices. Asking them to play like world- class musicians on top of this would be asking for the impossible. Especially because three of the four sidemen in the show are trumpet players. You simply can’t take a few lessons and fake your way through a trumpet solo–it is far too demanding an instrument.
They realized, then, they would need to have recorded solos that brought to life the characters, and the music of their world. With the help of two Sound Designers (first Roger Raines, and later Ray Schilke) I cobbled together a dream team of jazz trumpet solos.
They are supposed to believe the solos they hear in the play are those of the play’s titular sideman: Gene Glimmer–somehow he is Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and Lee Morgan, rolled into one. Which is of course preposterous. But Genie is a beautiful player, a musician’s musician. And as jazz fans will tell you, on any given night, a true sideman can step forward and play a solo that will break your heart, or leave you breathless. Then he’ll sit back down, and blend in so well with the band, that no one but the other musicians will ever remember his name. For a sideman, the possibility of that solo, of that night, made everything else bearable.
About the songs:
I Remember Clifford–is Benny Golson’s memorial to Cliffored, and it is the first song they hear in the play. It is the ballad Gene is playing the moment his son Clifford, whom he named after Clifford Brown, enters the Melody Lounge. Says Clifford: “I walk in and I hear him before I see him. Playing a ballad. You could play me a hundred trumpet solos and I’d know which one was his. My father’s voice.”
Later in the play Clifford learns that even though he hasn’t seen his father in five years, his father plays the song every week. To which
Clifford replies: “Genie on a ballad, break your heart, every time.”
Rockin Chair–is the first solo Terry hears Gene play. She tells her son about it more than thirty years later, because the first night she heard Gene play, is the night she fell in love with him: “Gene couldn’t get me a ticket, so he met me at the stage door. He told me to stay in the basement–but I snuck upstairs and watched from the wings. (they listen with Terry to a soaring trumpet section, and soloing above them, a heartbreakingly beautiful solo) He has a beautiful tone.” From the moment she hears him play, she is hooked.
(I Don’t Stand a) Ghost of a Chance–The title alone makes this ballad right for Terry’s wedding night. A night, she tells Clifford about years later: Jonesy danced with me while Gene sat in with the band. Everyone cut in all night long. Not to dance with me, but to sit in with Gene and the band. Clifford Brown’s warm, knowing tone, and Richie Powell’s delicate piano intro capture the mixed emotions of the evening.
Dahoud–Ghost of a Chance ends, and Terry hopes Gene will dance with her. Instead he launches into Dahoud, an up-tempo, hard-bop number. Terry asks her protector Jonesy, “How do you dance to this?” He replies, “You don’t. You drink to it. That’s another reason why jazz is dying. Let’s go to the bar.”
At the bar they marvel at Gene’s solo (they should, it’s Clifford Brown). Jonesy explains, “Every solo has a beginning, middle, and end when he plays.” Terry asks, point blank, “Do you think he’ll make it?” And Jonesy tells her the truth: “Honey. He’s made it. This is it.”
Cristo Redentor–Jonesy has been arrested for dope, and he’s spent the weekend in jail. He now limps on stage to meet Gene and they understand that his life as a trombone player is over. It is the moment in the play when they first understand the suffering and sacrifices that are part of the sidemen’s life.
Donald Byrd’s stunning gospel work also plays the show out at curtain call.
Land’s End–This great rhythm section (Max Roach, Richie Powelll, George Morrow) helps drive the opening of the second act. The trumpet/saxaphone duet feels intense, the melody complicated and moody. Before a word is spoken in Act 2, the atmosphere has been established: On stage they see the same apartment, ten years later, with ten more years of inherited furniture, broken lamps, tchotchkes… Laid out on the couch is a very pale, seemingly dead Gene. Dressed in a tuxedo. Arms folded over his chest. The apartment is still. Dark.
Chelsea Bridge–Michael Mayer felt that, if they were going to use trumpet players to give musical voice to Gene, Ella’s voice could stand in for Terry. In this almost other-worldly version of the Strayhorn tune, Ella’s haunting, wordless intro captures Terry on a night when she feels alone, and desperate, and on the edge of darkness.
A Night in Tunisia–The side men’s careers are in twilight. Packing up after a long, miserable club date, Al pulls a cassette out of his pocket: “Dig this. Jonesy gave me this tape, it’s going around. Brownie. Clifford. Some guys in Philly found this live recording of him, from the night he died.” And with that begins one of the scenes I’m most proud of in the show. For almost four minutes, dialogue stops, and the side men, and the audience, listen in awe to this astonishing solo. As they watch Al, Ziggy, and Gene listen to phrase after phrase, chorus after chorus, they finally understand their profound connection to their music, a connection they can only share with each other. Many thanks to the production’s director, actors, sound and lighting designers for making this scene a true tribute to Clifford Brown’s transcendent solo. And yes, sadly, it was recorded on the night he died.
Time–is a mournful Clifford Brown/Sonny Rollins duet that underscores a fifteen year time passage on stage. Clifford, his childhood over, watches Terry and Gene circle each other warily in the living room: In time to the music, and his parents’ final slow dance, Clifford explains: “I kept hoping they’d be like old Generals at war, finally realizing they’re all they have; that their memories of how they tried and failed to kill each other would eventually give them a bond. It didn’t work that way.
It Never Entered My Mind–Mile’s muted horn is Genie’s last solo in the play. Clifford listens to his father on-stage, and delivers the play’s coda: “When he’s up there, blowing, he’s totally in touch with everything that’s going on around him. Ziggy bends a note, he echoes it instantly. A car horn sounds outside, he puts it into his solo, or harmonizes under it, a second later. I used to wonder how he could sense everything while he was blowing, and almost nothing when he wasn’t. Now I just wonder how many more chances will I have to hear him blow. If I have kids…
These guys are not even an endangered species any more. It’s too late. There are no more big bands, no more territory bands. No more nonets, or tentets. No more sixty weeks a year on the road. No more jam sessions ’til dawn in the Cincinnati Zoo. When they go, that’ll be it.
No one will even understand what they were doing. A fifty year blip on the screen. Men who mastered their obsession, who ignored, or didn’t even notice anything else. They played not for fame, and certainly not for money. They played for each other. To swing. To blow. Night after night, they were just burning brass. Oblivious.
— Playwright Warren Leight