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The Scarlet Pimpernel

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Camille Claudel

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Summer 2003

Part Four of Five. Back to Part Three...

VOICE: When did you meet Linda?

NAN: I first met Linda very casually in a recording studio. I started getting to know her when I wrote "Storybook." There were many drafts of that song. Frank was planning on doing a demo for PIMPERNEL, and I knew he was going to have Linda sing "Storybook." Linda would look through all the different drafts, and Frank would call to tell me Linda's thoughts, or she'd get on the phone herself. I remember she wanted to sing "Where" 3 times. "Where, where, where is my storybook ending?" So Linda had some input into the song. Then Linda came to my apartment with Frank and sang "Storybook" at the piano, and I remember loving her instantly. At first I felt so neurotic and superficial in comparison to her. It's hard to articulate how I felt. Linda was so natural, so at ease, warm, calm. There is nothing artificial or pretentious about her. And here I was jumping around the room and talking a blue streak. She immediately seemed older than I was, more mature, wiser. (I'm really older than she is.) Anyway, Frank was playing "Storybook" and I remember dancing around the living room, shouting out things like, "Oh, this will be a choreographer's dream!" I really liked Linda, but I think I was a little intimidated by her because I didn't know if she liked me. I felt like I was too showy, and Linda was so good and down-to-earth. And I was a lot younger then, too. I don't think I would feel that way today.

VOICE: But of course you soon became friends?

NAN: Linda and I became friends when we recorded the concept album for THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL in Miami during the summer of 1991. A truly happy time. The recording sessions would start late in the afternoon and go on until two or three in the morning- my kind of time! Sometimes I'd be rewriting a song and sometimes I'd just be in the studio, listening. I was the word police, always wanting the lyrics to be exact. I still do.

VOICE: Sounds like that was a lot of hard work!

NAN: There was free time too. I remember Linda driving me around in the car and we'd just laugh. One day we went swimming in the ocean with Chuck Wagner. The water was so nice and warm, and we spent hours splashing around in the waves, playing like kids. I guess Linda and I bonded in Miami. Although she was younger than I was, she would always give me good advice. It was sort of surreal in the beginning- hearing her sing my words, then hearing them played back, critiquing it, re-doing it. We were all a family down there and I was in ecstasy.

VOICE: Tell us what it was like when your first show finally opened on Broadway.

Nan & Doug Sills
NAN: My adrenaline was racing so high when PIMPERNEL finally opened- again, such a surreal moment. But I have to say that opening night was a time when my heart just broke. Some theatre friends had tried to warn me that the reviews might be bad, but I didn't want to believe them because I'm such an optimist. When the reviews came filtering through at the opening night party, I was completely stunned. About 35 of us left and went to Dave Clemmons' house for our own party. I went with Nick Corley, the director of the original workshops of PIMPERNEL. We all drank and hugged a lot, but ultimately I didn't want to cry in front of everybody so Nick and I left, and I burst out sobbing right there on the sidewalk. Nick was holding me, and, as I was crying into his shoulder, I heard a man's voice behind me saying, "Why is that girl crying? She shouldn't cry. That girl should be happy." The man then just disappeared, and Nick told me the man looked a lot like his father who had died about 10 years earlier. The whole thing felt ghostly to both of us- in the good sense, like some strange spirit telling us everything was going to be alright. But that night my heart was broken. I loved everything about PIMPERNEL- the actors, the crew, the producers, the show itself. I couldn't understand the venom poured out against us. I had a bad couple of days. And then I started to crawl out of it. I'd go over to the theatre about once a week. I'd stand in the back of the theatre and hear the audience laugh, and I'd watch them walk out, smiling, happy. My friend Helen, who was the matron for the Ladies Room, would always tell me after intermission, "Nan- the ladies love it." And we had so many supporters, people on the web, people like Sal Italiano, this guy I didn't even know, a fan really, and he'd go to the TKTS line every day and tell everybody to go see PIMPERNEL.

VOICE: And then came your Tony nomination.

NAN: That was another one of those jumping up and down moments. I was in London working on SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and I was completely engrossed in my work there. Arlene Phillips, the director, liked me to be up on stage with her helping with the scenes. I loved that because I'm such a back-seat director. I'd really like to direct again some day, and Arlene let me be very involved. Two days before the opening, my husband arrived in London. I had literally forgotten all about the Tony nominations because my mind was completely into FEVER. I was up on the stage during rehearsal when I spotted John in the wings and thought, "What's he doing here?" He came on stage and took me by the shoulders and said, "What about Best Musical? What about Best Actor in a Musical? What about Best Book of a Musical? You got a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical." I just screamed! Now the British are not used to screaming Americans, so they kind of stared at me and smiled and then we went back to work.

VOICE: When did you get to celebrate with the PIMPERNEL cast?

NAN: That was another happy period in my life. I had this Tony nomination and FEVER had opened in London to good reviews. I'd just arrived back in the States, and the PIMPERNEL gang had planned a party for our Stage Manager, Steve Beckler, who was leaving. They turned it into a co-party since it was also my birthday that night. We celebrated at Barrymore's and took lots of pictures with all my best friends from the show. I spent so many great nights with the PIMPERNEL family. This one was particularly special because of the show's nomination and the nominations for Douglas and me.

VOICE: You must have been so proud.

NAN: I was. And I thought now we'd continue to run, but after the Tonys, the producers told us they were going to close the show. Really, Bill Haber and Pierre Cossette et al were true kings to keep it open as long as they did because we weren't making any money, and finally the time had come for the party to end. But when I heard the show was going to close, it just felt all wrong to me. You know, from my perspective, I'd go on the web and read all these thousands of messages from people who loved the show, who kept coming back, some people seeing it 40 times, 80 times, whatever. One woman in New Haven told me she'd seen it 103 times "so far." Wow. Anyway, it was like something stubborn inside me that just refused to let it die. Everyone, including my husband, tried to get me to just accept it and move on, but I decided to write a letter to Ted Forstman to ask him to keep PIMPERNEL alive. It was really a business letter, listing all the reasons I felt the show should keep running and what things we might do to improve our chances, and everybody said Ted would just read it and toss it in the trashcan. But he called me the next day and said, "Okay. Let's talk about this." Six harrowing weeks of indecision followed, and finally Ted told me he was joining up with Dave Checketts and Radio City Entertainment and the show would go on. New director, cast changes, new advertising, etc., but yes, the show would live. Bobby Longbottom, who is now one of my closest friends, came in to direct and PIMPERNEL II was born, and this time we got good reviews. We ran for another year at the Minskoff and then moved to the Neil Simon, with a few more changes- Voila: PIMPERNEL III. So we basically ran for three seasons on Broadway, and we hung on by the skin of our teeth the whole time. The show never completely overcame those initial bad reviews. But PIMPERNEL is now being produced in theatres all over the world. I would love to have a production in London's West End. It was all quite a ride. I guess what I'll always treasure most about the whole PIMPERNEL experience are the friends I made. I miss everybody, miss the nights when we'd all leave the theatre and go hang out at Barrymore's or Sam's or Marlowe's. What a time.

VOICE: And now you're embarking on a similar journey with CAMILLE CLAUDEL. How did the project begin?

NAN: The idea to do a musical about the life of Camille Claudel came from Frank and Linda. I'm not sure which of them came up with it. I've heard Linda say in her concerts that she's always bugging Frank to write a musical with a woman as the hero. The character of Camille tantalized Frank, because she was so sexy and an artist. He called me up about five years ago and asked if I would like to work on the show. I basically told him, "No." I thought it might end up too depressing. I tend to be a humor-and-happy-endings type of writer. Well, I just am. I didn't say, "No" as in "No, I won't do it." I did say, "God, Frank, I don't know. It's so dark." But he urged me to look at all the aspects I could relate to as a woman artist.

VOICE: Frank must have been very convincing.

NAN: Well, I started thinking about it some more, and one night it hit me that I could write this role- there were issues in my own life that were similar to Camille's, and I realized I did have something to say. So the work began. We always knew that Linda was going to play the role of Camille, and that was exciting. From the beginning, I've tried to create the role with Linda in mind, but I didn't have to bend over backwards to do that. She has similarities to Camille, too. The character came flying out. When I did rewrites, I'd make adjustments here and there- just language I thought was better for Linda. But the character of Camille- there were no concessions made there. I've been fascinated watching Linda become Camille.

VOICE: Has the show gone through a lot of changes since the readings?

NAN: I insisted from the beginning that CAMILLE CLAUDEL have a lot of humor, which I now realize was a little bit like forcing a square peg into a round hole. I created two characters who were doctors- major characters in the show. One of the doctors, who in the reading was played by my friend David Cromwell, was particularly funny, and Camille's relationship with the other doctor was intriguing- almost another love story in itself. The show, at that point, was set in the asylum, with flashbacks to Camille's life. But after we had a reading in October, it was clear that the doctors had to go. The show was too long and almost everyone agreed the asylum sections were the ones that interested them the least. I realized that I could still use natural character humor here and there, but I was going to have to forget any rip-roaring laughs. So, you know, it's no PIMPERNEL, but I won't let anybody use the "T word" because to me it's not a tragedy. Just the fact that we are doing a show about Camille Claudel means it's not a tragedy. It means that Camille had her impact. She said what she needed to say and lived her life the way she wanted. I mean, everybody has tragic aspects to their lives, but this woman also had passion, a deliciously scandalous sex life, obsessive intensity in her work, and she was brilliant. She did get artistic recognition back then. She was a brave thing. Some of her letters are very funny, always feisty and quite direct. The show does present a woman who gets caught up in the craziness any artist might, but, hey- a little Prozac and she would have been fine. Unfortunately there was no Prozac, and Camille lived in a time when your family could commit you to an asylum and keep you there in perpetuity. So the asylum was in and then out. I've cut old songs and scenes, added new ones, beefed up some parts. The changes keep coming. Because it's an original musical based on tons of biographical research, we've experimented with many paths. I finally put my foot down the other day and said, "Boys! We can't try every possible path- I'll be dead before we're done." So now we're at a really good spot. We've found the flow, the right way to tell the story. It's basically chronological and takes you right up to the time of Camille's commitment. The show ends with Camille singing "Gold." Those words are the ones I want the audience to take with them as they leave the theatre.

VOICE: It all sounds amazing! We know the fans can't wait until the stage debut in August.

NAN: I'm still redrafting! Whenever I hear people say they already have their tickets, I think to myself, "Oh God! People have already bought their tickets and I'm still writing." I guess I'd better finish, right?

VOICE: Tell us about the lyrics you have written for CAMILLE CLAUDEL.

NAN: Since "Gold" is the song that's so familiar at this point, I'll tell you about that one first. I was in New Haven for the opening of the National Tour of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. Frank had given me the melody and said, "This is going to be a ballad-a big love song for Linda." I listened to it and I thought, "No. This is not a love song. This music feels like survival- it's bittersweet, triumphant." I decided that I wanted it to be the last song in the show, and I wanted Linda to come out and sing it all alone in the dark with just a spotlight on her. The title comes from the fact that Rodin always told people that he showed Camille where to find the gold, but the gold she found was truly her own. So I wrote the song and met Frank for a work session at the Shubert in New Haven. He sat down at the theatre piano and I put the lyrics in front of him. He started playing, and I could see in his eyes that his brain was ticking, ticking, ticking, ticking, and he was getting really excited. He was already thinking about the connection between "Gold" and the Olympics, and it just took off from there.

On to Part Five...

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