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The Scarlet Pimpernel

Saturday Night Fever

Camille Claudel

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31 March 1999

Part Six of Eight. Back to Part Five...

NR: How much did Bobby have to do with the rewrite?

NK: He certainly was very helpful to me in terms of structure. We had a wonderful week and a half of meetings at Radio City Music Hall with Bobby and me and Ron Melrose and Tom Kosis and David Chase. We would sit around and just bat ideas around right and left. "What if we did this here instead of there?" Like, the "Grappin" thing came out of that meeting. "What if we don't save up the surprise of who Grappin is? What if we tell them?" It was just major, major brainstorming. Then after each meeting, which would be four or five hours in the daytime, then I would go home and write that night. We were really under the gun. We were under the gun to the extent that it got to the point that I didn't even have time to go to the brainstorming meetings anymore and I was just writing and I would be faxing to Bobby one or two new scenes every day. It was wild, it really was. Bobby is a great organizer. He's great at structuring and he's great at style. He and I just had wonderful, productive talks together. Every once in awhile we had something we didn't agree on. He really wanted me to cut Tussaud and I said no. He wanted to cut down Marie and I said no because the "Marie/Tussaud" thing is something that is totally mine and something that I injected when I found out in my research that Madame Tussaud had not only lived at that time, but had been imprisoned and that she first started by molding heads of people who had died in the revolution. When I found that out it just seemed to me such a natural to make her part of Percy's band.

NR: I didn't know that.

NK: Yeah, I think the audience thinks that it's just this fun little gambit, but in fact she really was married to a Parisian vintner named Francois Tussaud and her name really was Marie Grosholtz and she really was an artist and she started modeling the heads and she really was in prison, and I just felt like, "This is just too perfect. I'm going to make her a character and I'm going to make her a really strong character who resents this revolution and who fights against it." So, I was unwilling to let her and her husband go as characters. They were very important to me.

NR: (laughing) And you'll definitely have to spell Grosholtz for me. It's not in the program anywhere. I've looked.

NK: No, you know where I found it? The summer that I wrote the book I had already started thinking about using her as a character. I went to Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London in July of '93. I went without my husband because he said, "I AM NOT going to the wax museum with you." So, I went without him and was fascinated. I saw all of her early works. I got the booklet from the museum and that told about her early life, that her name was Marie Grosholtz and she married Francois Tussaud.

NR: That's a great line. That gets applause every night.

NK: I wish they knew. I wonder if I shouldn't have put a note in the program, but she was part of that whole revolutionary scene and she really was at one point imprisoned and maybe about to go on the block herself. The fact that I have her working with Percy's band is fictional, but she really was there in the thick of it.

NR: Are there parts of the old show that you miss?

NK: Hmmm, yeah. The old show really was such a different entity from the new show. I don't know. I mean, I'm very glad that the old show is preserved in Lincoln Center and I'm now going to get on the producers' backs to get this new production on tap at Lincoln Center too. I think it would be very interesting for anyone who wants to go in there and contrast the two because the main difference is a stylistic one, and that's major. The first one has this extremely loose quality to it and the new version is very tightly woven, and quite frankly, it's this new version that will work, and has worked commercially. So that, saving the life of the show meant doing that. It meant structuring it better, making it more clear, bringing in choreography, tightening it. And it also meant doing things like taking out what everyone loved so much which was Douglas' nightclub act at the beginning of Act 2, but it just would have been out of place in this show. I know that a lot of the actors feel that they love the old show and they miss the old show. For me, it's like two different children and I love them both for different reasons. But I do know that this version is the version that has legs on it and can travel and the other one didn't.

NR: This one is not as dependant on the star either.

NK: No, not at all. That was a very deliberate thing that Bobby and I did as well, which was to really beef up that triangle and to really make sure that this was a show that could be done by someone other than Doug Sills.

NR: Is there a song or a scene that you're most proud of?

NK: It's sort of funny you should ask that because the other night we had dinner with some friends and one of them asked me what song I had ever written that I liked the most. I really stopped and was thinking. There were a lot of different possibilities going through my mind including things that are not in Pimpernel, when Douglas interrupted and said, "Well, it's got to be 'Into the Fire'" and proceeded to actually tell me things I didn't know before, like, firemen in fire houses play it. Also, what I did know because I got a phone call from a guy in the army who said they wanted to make it the theme song for the Green Berets. I was thrilled, just thrilled. They're having a big ball in April or something and they're going to have a whole Special Forces Chorus do "Into the Fire." In many ways, "Into the Fire" is the song I'm proudest of because I still vividly remember sitting down at my desk and writing that song and wanting so badly for it to end up being a song that would inspire people and get their adrenaline running.

NR: And you came up with the staging, which is incredible. It's magnificent, it really is.

NK: Oh, yeah. When I wrote that book, I kept thinking that somebody would come along and tell me it was impossible. I can't tell you how amazed I was when people said, "OK, now we have to figure out how we're going to do this shift from the library into the boat." I kept waiting for somebody to say, "Nan, we can't do that" and nobody ever did! That was what I wanted. I knew that dramatically what I had to do was get from Percy and his men deciding to do this to it being ongoing because there just wouldn't be enough time to show the first rescue. So, I knew what I had to do was essentially go from the library scene to "and now they've been doing it for five weeks." The only way I could see to do that was to do this transition from the library, onto the boat, into France, and the next thing that happens is that Robespierre comes out and says that this has been going on for five weeks.

One of the things that really has been fascinating for me, both with this and with Saturday Night Fever has been the fact that you can write things in your scripts that you think, "Nobody's going to let me get away with this" and then people will turn around and say, "OK, now how are we going to do this?" It was amazing to me.

On to Part Seven...

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